THERE WAS AN OLD SET OF blocks I found in my toy box. It must have been handed down because the color used on the wooden blocks was faded and worn out. Each block had a letter of the alphabet, but I never used the blocks to make words; instead, I used them to make more important things. Stacking the blocks one on top of another made a tall lookout post, with certain letters like “U” and “M” being hidden cannons and machine guns. I would use the blocks to build a wall that was used to surround a moat filled with alligators. One of my favorite things to build were these unusual shaped structures that I pretended were buildings used for outer space outposts. The letters carved into the blocks were windows or shades to protect the inhabitants from the effects of a sun. My imagination would be all over the place as it was being nurtured while playing with these old, wooden building blocks. Every time I would play with them I would discover new adventures and places to explore. IT WAS SOON AFTER I STARTED playing with other toys that would feed my imagination. I remember a box that contained these miniature logs with notches carved towards the ends, like ones used to make a log cabin. However, I used mine to build bridges that would carry visitors over churning rapids or deadly volcanoes. You are probably saying a bridge would never last over an active volcano; but in my world, the logs were made of a secret element that allowed them to withstand the heat from the lava churning inside the volcano, that was preparing to spew up and out. Most of my building type toys were of a smaller scale; in other words, I could create whatever I wanted but it would not be life-sized. That all changed when I received a gift of Styrofoam blocks from a friend of mine. These blocks were bigger than anything I had in my possession. They would interlock using the three pegs sticking up from the top into the three holes that were at the bottom of each piece. The key was not using all three pegs into another piece. All I had to do was use one of the pegs at the ends and I could form a curving wall to form an igloo or fort that was big enough for me to sit in. Add a towel or bedsheet at the top and it would become an awning. There was no limit to my imagination with any of my building toys. The same could be said for the writers of this animated action sequel. LIFE DRASTICALLY CHANGED THE PAST FEW years from everything being awesome to everything being destroyed. The only citizen who kept a positive attitude was Emmet Brickowski, voiced by Chris Pratt (Guardians of the Galaxy franchise, The Magnificent Seven), but that was about to change. With Elizabeth Banks (The Hunger Games franchise, Pitch Perfect franchise) voicing Lucy, Will Arnett (Show Dogs, Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles franchise) voicing Batman, Tiffany Haddish (Night School, Nobody’s Fool) voicing Queen Watevra Wa’Nabi and Stephanie Beatriz (Short Term 12, The Light of the Moon) voicing General Mayhem; the previous cast returned with a few new additions in this adventure film. The actors were all in tune with their characters, delivering the finely tuned humor in the script. As with building blocks, the writers had free rein to go anywhere they wanted with the story. For the most part, they did a good job; however, I think they defaulted to the safe side to avoid risking damage to this burgeoning franchise. The entire family will find something to enjoy in this picture. If there is going to be a third installment, I hope the writers see it as an opportunity to build something new and fresh for these building block pieces.
THE BOAT SLID DOWN THE ramp and floated into the dark tunnel. Voices were echoing off the walls but I did recognize or actually remember what was being said. When we came out of the tunnel I saw a town being pillaged as flames were licking the air from various structures and objects. A couple of the citizens were being chased around in a circle while there were men strewn on the ground in obvious states of intoxication. My memories were being rekindled; I had been to this town before, many years ago. I was prepared for the cannon going off as my boat came upon a battle scene. There were people in other boats who yelled in surprise at the bomb’s explosion. We did not stay long as our boat had us moving away from the scene. Funny after all these years I still knew the last thing I was going to see was a man sitting on top of a bridge raising a bottle up in the air to give us a cheer. DURING THE ENTIRE DAY I came across so many other incidents where I was recalling how I felt the first time when I was on the same amusement park ride years ago. There is something about going back to an amusement park after being away from it for so many years. Many of the rides I rode that day were the same ones I did before except for a little updating and tweaking by the park’s owner. I still enjoyed myself though I discovered something new on the faster rides; I was now getting dizzy and queasy from them. What was up with that? Something else I noticed; this time around I was missing the element of surprise and wonder that I had the first time I rode the rides. Not that this ruined my time; I still enjoyed myself. Also, I was able this time to skip some rides because I remembered I did not care for them when I rode them last. What sustained my interest and sense of fun was my memories and the feelings of nostalgia. As I was riding an attraction I was reminiscing about my previous time. Thinking about the shock and surprise allowed me to see the rides through gentler eyes. I was less critical about how tight fitting some of the rides were and a bit corny at times. It is fun to revisit things from one’s past; but when doing so, it helps if you keep your expectations low. The same could be applied to this action, adventure science fiction film. WHEN THE ISLAND CONTAINING the dinosaurs from Jurassic Park was being destroyed by active volcanoes, there was little time for Claire Dearing and Owen Grady, played by Bryce Dallas Howard (Gold, Pete’s Dragon) and Chris Pratt (Passengers, Guardians of the Galaxy) to waste if they wanted to save the dinosaurs from extinction again. With Rafe Spall (The Big Short, Hot Fuzz) as Eli Mills, newcomer Isabella Sermon as Maisie Lockwood and Justice Smith (Paper Towns, Every Day) as Franklin Webb; the dinosaurs were the main attraction in this picture. I did think Bryce and Chris worked together wonderfully; they certainly have chemistry. I found the special effects and the soundtrack made this picture more exciting than what the script was attempting to do. The story was a bit odd to me and the script had some holes in it. An example would be the disappearance of one of the characters and we never found out what happened. For a good popcorn movie that has some exciting action in it, this would be the film to see. If you have not seen any of the previous installments you might enjoy this more than someone who has seen the other ones.
2 1/2 star
THE man’s wavy untamed hair in the photograph was the closest looking to his own. No one else in the photo album had hair similar to this man, so there was a good chance that man in the photo could be his father. The young boy would pull out his mother’s photo album anytime he was feeling sorry for himself. Sitting on the sofa with the album in his lap he would stare at this one particular photograph of the man with the wavy hair and wonder what the man was like. The little boy would get lost inside his imagination, placing himself next to his possible father in a variety of scenarios. They would be at the amusement park; sitting side by side in a roller coaster that was about to climb up a steep embankment, their hands tightly clenching their shouldstraps with their legs pressed up against each other. For several years the young boy believed his real father was out there somewhere. SOME people were born into a family while others created their own. A basic definition of family is a group of people related to one another. It could be by blood or there may be something else in common. I have a friend who has a family by birth. Though she continues to try over and over, her and her family have different expectations or maybe it is just different feelings of what makes a family. She has been disappointed more times than not with her so-called family. The only time they do something as a family is if it is convenient for her siblings; they have never gone out of their way for her. So the windup is my friend has started to create her own supportive family among her friends. This action science fiction film will show you what my friend did in her life. SETTLING into their roles as the Guardians of the Galaxy, the group of friends encounter strong forces that will test the bonds they have recently formed with each other. This adventure sequel starred Chris Pratt (Jurassic World, Passengers) as Peter Quill/Star-Lord, Zoe Saldana (Star Trek franchise, Nina) as Gamora, Dave Bautista (The Man with the Iron Fists, Spectre) as Drax and Michael Rooker (The Bone Collector, Jumper) as Yondu. Right from the start this picture grabs you with its special effects and action packed scenes. And just like the original movie, this one also had a great soundtrack. I thought the script was intriguing with its strong theme of family. Not wanting to get too deep with this theme the writers did not forget to include the same type of humor that was used in the last film. Now this brings me to my issue with this movie; it unfortunately was not the first one because since we are familiar with the new franchise, this installment did not have the same fresh quirkiness because I had seen it before. I do not consider this a major complaint; I still laughed and enjoyed the action. If you are not a fan of science fiction I am not sure you would get totally into this picture, but I am sure you would not be able to stop your feet from tapping along to the music. There were three extra scenes during the credits and one more brief scene at the end of the credits.
THE word “home” is one of those words that can immediately stir up the emotions inside a person. For some hearing that word brings childhood memories such as family dinners around a large oak table topped with a linen tablecloth or being taught by your parents the rules to a new game you received for your birthday. Other individuals may hear the word “home” and immediately feel an icy sense of dread stealing down their spine or a fitful night of sleep caused by deep hunger pains. No matter the circumstances, a home can have a powerful affect on each of us. WHEN friends of mine who grew up out of state talk about going home for the holidays, I take that to mean they are going to visit their family and friends back where they grew up. That does not stop me from sometimes asking what they mean when they say “home.” I am not trying to be a jerk; I am just curious if they feel like the place they currently live in does not feel like home. I find some of my friends’ answers interesting to my question. Some of them feel if they were in a committed relationship their place would feel more like a home, while others have expressed apartment living is not the same as being in a house. Having grown up in apartments I do understand the difference somewhat since I have been living in a house. However my definition of home has grown to incorporate the city where I was born and live in. There is something else inside of me that defines home and it has nothing to do with the material trappings that demarcate one’s living space; it has to do with the heart. You see any place can be a home if it is built on a foundation of nurturing elements such as comfort, peacefulness, safety and love. Now imagine what the main characters were thinking in this science fiction drama. DURING a 120 year journey to a distant colony a ship malfunction accidently wakes up from a state of stasis passenger Jim Preston, played Chris Pratt (Guardians of the Galaxy, Jurassic World), ninety years to early. He did not sign up to spend the rest of his life alone on a ship full of non-available passengers. This adventure romance had a string of enticing special effects and sets. With Jennifer Lawrence (American Hustle, Joy) as Aurora Lane, Michael Sheen (Midnight in Paris, Twilight franchise) as Arthur and Laurence Fishburne (Mystic River, Akeelah and the Bee) as Gus Mancuso; I found myself curious with the story’s concept of long term space travel. The chemistry between Jennifer and Chris felt authentic to me; however, with the poorly thought out script they floundered in their roles. I was bored for the first half of this space romance and was annoyed with the obvious goofs in the scenes. Being selected for a holiday opening I felt this film was not properly thought out in ideas and execution. I am sad to say that this film was not the best choice to leave the comfort of my warm home on a cold day.
1 ¾ stars
It only takes a few minutes after the alarm goes off before the sense of dread awakens inside of you. With a heaviness that weighs you down, you would think it would be thick enough to fend off any physical blows. Sadly it does not prevent it. When you are living with dread, you really have no idea how much energy it takes away from you. Like a straw continuously seeking out the last drops of a bottomless glass, dread constantly makes it presence known no matter what you are doing to distract yourself from it. Unfortunately I know too well what I speak of; dread was my unwanted friend for an entire school year. My daily walk to school was devoted to planning out what escape routes I would use for the day. One never wanted to be caught navigating the same route each day because it could provide for an easy ambush. Bathrooms were always avoided between class times. Instead I would either ask for a hall pass during the class or wait for a free period; I had to wait for a time when it would be less likely anyone would be lying in wait for me. Unless you have been bullied, you may not understand what it feels like to always be on the defensive throughout the day. I was not the only one who was targeted and that was something I never understood. The general population, whether it is in a school or a town, is usually so much larger than the bully and their cohorts; yet the masses rarely band together to stop the bully. At least that has been my experiences. It was hopeful to see that was not the case in this action western remake of a classic film. DETERMINED to take over the entire town Bartholomew Bogue, played by Peter Sarsgaard (Orphan, Jarhead), gave the townsfolk an ultimatum. One citizen, a recent widow due to Bartholomew, was willing to fight for her land; but she needed help. Starring Denzel Washington (The Equalizer, Training Day) as Chisolm, Chris Pratt (Guardians of the Galaxy, Jurassic World) as Josh Faraday and Ethan Hawke (Born to be Blue, Good Kill) as Goodnight Robicheaux; the only actors who stood out for me were Ethan, Chris and Peter. I thought Denzel was a generic version of the character, not quite believable. The filming of this movie was the highlight; the outdoor scenes were the best. As for the action scenes some really popped out with intensity while others seemed scattered and all over the place. I really felt the script was what prevented this picture from achieving its lofty goals. The reason I say lofty is because it was obvious everyone involved was trying to make this a modern classic, even taking on the original music during the ending credits. Unfortunately it did not work; overall this film production was uneven. There were parts I could get into but then other times I found them bland. Also this movie was way too long; it could have used some extra editing. I am sure the film studio wants this picture to punch its way to the top of the box office charts; however, I do not think the other movies will let it stay there.
2 ½ stars
The clanking metal sound still reminded me of an anchor being pulled up ship. Looking over at the roller coaster I recalled how that first steep drop took my breath away; literally, I was so tensed up I forgot to breathe as we dropped into what felt like a free fall down the tracks. Today there would be no way I would go on that ride again. As I have gotten older I no longer find heights attractive. I did go on the virtual spaceship ride, noticing the seat seemed smaller with my knees now reaching the back of the seat in front of me. Though I still enjoyed the ride I knew now when to brace myself before the ship engaged in a pretend aerial dogfight in outer space. Walking through the amusement park that I had last visited years ago, I still enjoyed going on the rides and attractions. Some of the larger rides had been freshened up with new parts or simply just a coat of paint. There was one ride where the computer graphics finally looked futuristic compared to the ones they had previously. I think part of the fondness I still had for the park was the memories from my previous visits that accompanied me during the day. There was no need to run from ride to ride, I could take my time and be more selective since the surprise factor was gone for me. OVER twenty years have passed since the tragic ending to Jurassic Park. Updated and marketed to a new generation, Jurassic World park attendance had been strong. However market research had shown for the park to remain profitable it needed to come up with a bigger and better attraction to keep people coming back. Its newest attraction had something else in mind. This action adventure film had incredible special effects; the dinosaurs seemed like actual live creatures being filmed alongside the actors. Chris Pratt (Guardians of the Galaxy, Parks and Recreation-TV) as Owen and Bryce Dallas Howard (The Help, The Village) as Claire were the main characters, both did a good job. I did not mind any of the actors to tell you the truth, even though the script did not give them any room to grow; they were pretty much two dimensional. If you are not familiar with Jurassic Park, then I believe you will get more out of this science fiction film than I did. I found it predictable, especially when some scenes were similar to ones in the previous movie. With that being said, there is no doubt in my mind that you will find this picture fun to watch and even exciting in parts. It was marketed to be a summer blockbuster and it will succeed. Wait a second, wasn’t that the same marketing idea the park had for their newest attraction?
2 3/4 stars
Any story or event becomes enhanced with the addition of an unexpected surprise. If I were to tell you that every 25th person who visited my movie site would get a gift card to a movie theater, I am sure the people who received the cards enjoyed reading my reviews more than the ones who did not get a gift card. If I read a news story about someone doing an extraordinary feat in the middle of a crisis, like a person lifting a heavy piece of machinery that accidentally rolled on top of a child, I feel more invested in the story and will probably remember it for a longer time. There was the time I was at a friend’s wedding reception where his introverted cousin, who used to hang out with us, was called up to give a toast. Instead of giving a speech filled with embarrassing or funny tidbits about the groom, the cousin had secretly made arrangements with the band and performed a couple of my friend’s favorite songs. The big surprise was no one knew the cousin could even sing; he amazed everyone with his incredible voice. So you see, experiencing the unexpected can provide a memorable time. SURPRISED by the unexpected was used to the maximum to enhance this science fiction adventure film. Chris Pratt (Delivery Man, Moneyball) played Peter Quill, a space traveler who was being hunted down after he stole a mysterious metal artifact. Only the evil Ronan, played by Lee Pace (The Hobbit franchise, Lincoln), had an idea what the metal object contained and he was determined to get it from Peter. This action movie had one of the most unusual opening scenes I had ever seen in the superhero genres; I suggest you do not come in late to the movie. Speaking of the superhero genre, the cast in this fun film consisted of some of the most unlikely characters and I do mean characters one will ever see as superheroes. Besides Peter who preferred to be called Star Lord, there was Zoe Saldana (Star Trek franchise, Columbiana) as Gamora, Dave Bautista (Riddick, The Man with the Iron Fists) as Drax, Vin Diesel (Saving Private Ryan, Boiler Room) who voiced the character Groot and Bradley Cooper (American Hustle, Hit and Run) who voiced Rocket. I loved this movie on so many levels. First was the awesome soundtrack; it pretty much played out like an extra character of the cast. The humor, snide remarks, action and special effects were terrific, all fitting together to create something different from any previous superhero film. There was not one time where I felt bored; every scene provided something to look at, feel or think about. I had no idea this motley crew would help make this picture a total, unexpected surprise for me. There was a brief extra scene after the credits.
3 1/2 stars
It does not come with batteries nor does it need to run with any other power source. What I am referring to is our imagination and creativity. From the back porch of the 3rd floor apartment I grew up in, I could see to the end of the block. Each backyard was a different kingdom in my fantasy world. Taking empty plastic dishwasher bottles with their push-up tops, I would fill them up with water and they would become bombs I would use to protect my castle. When I had to go on a fact-finding mission, I would use the back alleys covered with gravel to cover my tracks. During these missions I would hold out a ballpoint pen at arm’s length, turning it into a spaceship that was protecting me from any enemy missiles. I could spend hours outside coming up with several activities that were fueled by my imagination; some incorporated my friends while others had to be done secretly by me. The creativity coming out of the writers’ imagination for this animated action comedy reminded me so much of my childhood. I believe everyone could relate to something in this fun film. Chris Pratt (Her, Wanted) voiced happy-go-lucky Emmet Brickowoski who loved everything he did in his structured life. One day an unusual misstep brought him in contact with Wyldstyle, voiced by Elizabeth Banks (The Hunger Games franchise, People Like Us), who mistakenly believed he was the chosen one to save the world from the evil Lord Business, voiced by Will Ferrell (Stranger Than Fiction, Step Brothers). The kaleidoscopic explosion of colors, rapid fire comments and crazy scenes kept me on my toes; in fact, I feel I need to see this movie again because I felt I was missing some of the details. I understand the cast did their recordings together instead of the usual way of each actor being by themselves in the recording booth. It made a difference in my opinion; there was a stronger fluidity to the verbal exchanges. Will Arnett (Blades of Glory, Arrested Development-TV) as Batman/Bruce Wayne, Liam Neeson (Schindler’s List, Taken franchise) as Bad Cop/Good Cop and Morgan Freeman (Million Dollar Baby, Now You See Me) as Vitruvius were just a few of the voices that stood out for me. There was so much that was good about this film that I do not feel I even have to tell you about the minor stuff. The bottom line for me was this movie took a familiar product and with a big dose of imagination provided me the opportunity to have a fun time while recalling some fond memories from my youth.
3 1/4 stars
Walking down the grocery store aisle can be dangerous for me. Besides my desire for foods that are not the healthiest, my eyes can easily spot the words “new” and “improved” on any package. When it comes down to it I am a marketer’s dream shopper because I am easily swayed to try new food items. If they fit into my world of approved foods I am always adventurous to bring home new stuff and taste it. Sometimes I hit the jackpot when the product tastes so good, I do not want to brush my teeth for hours, letting the sumptuous taste linger in my mouth as long as possible. Other times it is a bust and I bring it to the office, hoping someone will get a positive experience from it. When it comes to a product’s packaging that claims a new fuller taste or improved flavor, I am aware it is more of a gamble. I have been disappointed when I brought the package home only to find the improvement consisted of shrinking the size of the food. To make matters worse, I can see it was done to make the package look fuller, but the net weight was reduced and I am being charged the same price as the former package. Stuff like this ticks me off as I am sure it would you too. I have to tell you I felt the same way about this comedy remake of the French Canadian film Starbuck, which I reviewed here previously. This American version starred Vince Vaughn (The Internship, Couples Retreat) as David, a delivery driver who discovered he was the father to 533 children, due to a mixup at the fertility clinic he donated at years ago. If a film studio wants to do a remake I do not have an issue with it. However, if it is going to be done I expect to see and experience things differently than the original; otherwise, what is the point? The biggest flaw in this movie was Vince Vaughn. I am tired of him playing the same role now in every one of his movies, it does not provide any entertainment value to his films. Supporting characters Brett, played by Chris Pratt (Moneyball, Wanted) and Emma, played by Cobie Smulders (Safe Haven, Now I Met Your Mother-TV) at least tried to act in this dud. Another thing that annoyed me was the obvious manipulation of emotions the writers were trying to do in the script. It did not work for me. Save your money by skipping this film and go rent Starbuck instead.
1 3/4 stars