I WAS SYMPATHITIC TO the sisters’ plight. Each from the same mother had been adopted at birth; raised by their adoptive parents in the same home and yet they were nothing alike, except in appearance. Where daylight is different to nighttime, so were the sisters in temperament, personality and mannerisms among other traits. As the two girls grew older they found something in common; this was a rarity in itself. They each became curious about who were their birth parents. Having matured with more self-awareness, the sisters felt this need to seek out their birth parents; if not in person, at least hopefully to get medical and health backgrounds on both. You see one sister had health issues besides having an addictive personality; the other one had a different type of health issue regarding a disease. I could only imagine what was going through their minds having to deal with adult issues without having any family history about them. I know when I go to the dermatologist he always asks me about my parents’ health history when looking at something on my skin. I am sure if I were to tell him my parents had the same thing, he would act more cautiously in his assessment. If the sisters’ were in the same position I am sure it would be upsetting if they had to tell the doctor they did not know. PULLING OUT THE GENES from the family gene pool is at best a crapshoot. Just like the two sisters I mentioned, I find the whole genetic aspect to humans fascinating. One thing that intrigues me is how one family’s children all look like one of their parents, while another family has children that look like they were conceived by completely different parents. Now what do you think about a family who has both birth and adopted children, where they all share common characteristics? There is a current popular television show that has this very same scenario and I find myself getting drawn more and more into their stories. I have said this before: babies come into this world with a blank slate; they do not know about hate or prejudice, they learn it. With that in mind I can understand why many children are curious or not interested to know the individuals responsible for bringing them into this world. That feeling was quite evident in this comedic movie. TWIN BROTHERS KYLE AND PETER Reynolds, played by Owen Wilson (Wedding Crashers, No Escape) and Ed Helms (Vacation, The Office-TV), were stunned that their mother Helen, played by Glenn Close (Air Force One, 101 Dalmatians franchise), kept a secret from them about their father for all these years. The only thing the brothers wanted to do was find their birth father. Among the celebrity cast, this film had J.K. Simmons (The Bachelors, Whiplash) as Roland Hunt and Katt Williams (Norbit, Scary Movie 5) as the hitchhiker. I was surprised with such a prominent group of actors that the movie studio approved such a dismal script. The story may have sounded fun but I am here to tell you there was little fun in this picture. Between slapstick humor to touching brotherly love I could not tell what the writers wanted to create, a heartwarming story or a funny road trip one. It was embarrassing to see some of the actors in this mess; though I enjoyed J.K. Simmons’ part. As for Owen he was a generic version of himself; it was the same thing I have seen before. Sadly I had no sympathy for the brothers or the story in this movie.
1 ½ stars
For endless hours of entertainment there is nothing like watching a newborn baby. Their facial expressions, the laugh they emit when you play “Peek-a-Boo” with them, the soft pudgy limbs; babies can ease pretty much any person’s mind of stress. In my yoga classes I tell new members that we were born with incredible flexibility. All they need to do to be reminded of it is to watch a baby move. As we grow and take on life’s challenges some of our flexibility may diminish; hopefully in class we can get re-introduced to that flexibility once again. Babies are not the only source of joyfulness or inspiration; there are many animals that at birth provide unlimited fun moments. The obvious ones would be puppies and kittens. Who doesn’t stop to look at a puppy or kitten playing? I believe I have mentioned I have a neighbor who fosters kittens and every day I get a show of them scampering and playing around their room. It was especially amusing to me the day I saw one kitten standing up and leaning on the closed door as another kitten was standing on them, as if they were forming a kitten pyramid up to the door handle. Just seeing the amount of cat and dog videos on my social media sites, I know I am not the only one who loves watching animals. This same neighbor has a food blog and when I asked her how she got so many followers to her site, she said all she had to do was post pictures of cats. Every time she posted a picture of one of the cats and kittens she was fostering, she would get new followers. Maybe that is why this comedy fantasy started out by showing cat videos. SUCCESSFUL businessman Tom Brand, played by Kevin Spacey (Elvis & Nixon, House of Cards-TV), was on the verge of his company’s latest achievement coming to fruition; the completion of North America’s tallest building. Pre-occupied with so much going on, Tom gave little thought to his daughter’s birthday request when he chose Mr. Fuzzypants from Felix Perkins, played by Christopher Walken (The Family Fang, Stand Up Guys), the odd proprietor of the pet store. This family film’s selling point was the cat. On a visual level, it was enjoyable watching the cat or the CGI cat doing the physical activities required for this story. However, the script not only did not help the cat; it did no favors for fellow cast members Jennifer Garner (Danny Collins, Dallas Buyers Club) as Lara Brand and Cheryl Hines (The Ugly Truth, Curb Your Enthusiasm-TV) as Madison Camden. The characters were more like cartoon ones than actual humans. As for Jennifer and her role, I really think she needs to do something different. The past few films she has been in she essentially is doing the same thing repeatedly. The story was predictable and one dimensional; there was little I found funny and for the most part I felt I was watching video clips taken from other movies. Actually more like videos that went viral. Maybe the film studio should have instead stayed with the cat videos for 90 minutes.
1 ½ stars
She would be woken up in the middle of the night and told to pick out one thing in her room to take with her. It had taken place so many times that she already knew which doll she would choose to take on their trip that only had an arrival destination, never a return trip. Extra clothes were never taken because each family member always had one piece of baggage that was already filled up with clothing. All of the stuffed pieces of luggage were kept in the basement, ready to go in an instant. She remembered very few of the trips since all of them always took place in the middle of the night when most of the neighborhood was fast asleep. Quietly the family would pile into the car while her Dad filled the trunk with the suitcases, careful to close the trunk with the least amount of noise. Leaving their home behind she usually fell back to sleep before they reached the highway. It was not until the sun peeked up out of the east before she would wake up with her doll clutched close to her body. Though these trips always involved sadness, having to leave friends and neighbors behind, they were expected because of their father’s line of work. He had told the family because he worked for the FBI, they would have to relocate periodically after his assignment was completed. Since all of his work was top secret, they had to evacuate their residences in the middle of the night, under the cover of darkness which was the exact same reason she would read in some of her mystery books. It was not until she was about to graduate from middle school that she found out her Dad did not work for the FBI; he was wanted by them. AFTER their conceptual performance artist parents Annie and Caleb Fang, played by Maryann Plunkett (The Squid and the Whale, Blue Valentine) and Christopher Walken (Jersey Boys, A Late Quartet) went missing under disturbing circumstances; Annie and her brother Baxter, played by Nicole Kidman (Paddington, The Railway Man) and Jason Bateman (The Gift, Bad Words) agreed to meet at their parents’ house to figure out if indeed there was foul play involved or was this another one of their parents’ public stunts. This comedic drama directed by Jason Bateman had a curious, different type of story that kept me totally interested in it. Grant you it was pretty easy to do with the wonderful acting from the cast. I enjoyed the way flashbacks were inserted into the story; some of them were wild ideas that involved the children being incorporated into the parents’ artistic endeavors. Jason did a sensitive job in directing the actors through the script because their performances were multi-layered. I do not know how popular the novel was that this mystery film was based on; but with such an off the wall story, I was mesmerized by this picture. Just where was the Department of Children and Family Services?
As I walked into the conference room I saw most of the seats were filled with participants. There was energy in the air; the only way I could describe it was nervous anticipation. This was going to be a workshop with active participation. Most of the people I saw as I looked for a seat were talking and laughing; it seemed as if a lot of participants knew each other. At the edge of one of the many rows of lined up chairs sat an older man. Upon first glance he looked like he was sitting on a deserted island because no one else sat around him. In his lap was the same course materials everyone else had received. It struck me as odd that all the seats around him were empty. I decided to take one of the seats behind him and settled in as I pulled out my paperwork from my messenger bag. While I looked for this workshop’s outline I was able to hear the conversation from a small group seated a couple of seats down from me. Out of the corner of my eye I quickly realized their comments were about the older man. I do not think he realized their conversation was about him or if he did, there was no reaction on his part. It surprised and saddened me that anyone would question a person’s desire to learn something new. Just because he was older and did not “look” like the average participant was no reason to make fun of him. If you are wondering, I did walk over to them to express my feelings. No one has the right to squash another person’s dreams. INSPIRED by true events Michael “Eddie” Edwards, played by Taron Egerton (Legend, Kingsman: The Secret Service), always wanted to be an Olympian since he was a little boy. No amount of bruises, broken bones or taunts would stop the strongest muscle in his body, his heart. This film festival winning comedic drama had a ready-made, feel good story. With Hugh Jackman (X-Men franchise, Pan) as Bronson Peary and Christopher Walken (Jersey Boys, The Deer Hunter) as Warren Sharp I did not recognize Taron at first. His acting made for a believable and lovable character. I enjoy an underdog type of story and only had wished the script was not so comical. It took away the authenticity of the characters in my opinion and the soundtrack did not provide any help either. There was a predictability to the script that did not allow for much character development. At one point it seemed as if I was just watching one sight gag after another; I was missing the drama to the story. I think what saved this film was indeed the incredible story and that is why I think the writers did not invest as much as they could in developing the story. Besides c’mon, who does not like to root for the underdog?
2 1/2 stars
There are two very important elements needed to transform a dream into reality: passion and determination. One must feel a deep desire inside that bubbles over the flames of possibilities. In addition, one must have the strength to remain committed to their long term goal. When I started out to become an aerobic instructor I had to audition in a variety of undesirable places across the metropolitan area. I would be placed in racquet ball courts where my recorded music would bounce off the walls, creating a blur of musical tones as I strained to remain on the beat. At a few clubs I was introduced to the fitness director who would look at me with disgust, as if they had just scrapped me off the bottom of their shoes. None of this deterred me; I was determined to get my style of teaching into health clubs and eventually succeeded. Regarding my movie reviews, I have had to do some creative scheduling to make sure I can see the new releases as quickly as possible. Sometimes this means I am seeing 3 to 4 films in one day; but it does not phase me, I am determined to offer the best possible service I humanly can. Would I like to be a paid movie critic someday; you better believe it. I keep the dream alive and the dream keeps me alive. There was a man in this dramatic musical film who also was determined to see his dreams come true and his name was Frankie Valli, played by John Lloyd Young (Jersey Boys-Broadway). Though you may be familiar with the voice and the music, there was a story of failure and success behind the singing group Frankie Valli and the Four Seasons. Inspired by a true story this biographical film was directed by Clint Eastwood (Gran Torino, Unforgiven). The singing numbers were the best part of this movie. I found the story to be as dramatic and startling as a classic opera; however, due to the script and direction, there was no life in this dull picture. Having seen the staged play, this production had the life sucked out of it. Personally I do not enjoy seeing an actor come out of character to talk to the viewing audience; it was done here multiple times. For me it took away the magic of the story, creating a pause to the dramatic build up. The strongest character in the cast was Christopher Walken (The Deer Hunter, Stand Up Guys) as Gyp DeCarlo. I am sure there are many people whose dream was to see this story come to the big screen; it was a shame it could not have been told better.
2 1/4 stars
True friends are the bright lighthouses that help illuminate your life’s path. There to offer support, concern and love; friends are the safe keepers of one’s history. Part of my inner circle is made up of friends from my childhood. We may not see each other often; but when we do, our conversations do not miss a beat from our previous time together. With one friend, we leave each other daily voice messages on each other’s phones. Just to say hi and stay updated on daily events; this is how we keep track of each other. Like those friends you can have non-verbal conversations with, the relationship between friends Val and Doc was the highlight of this movie. Al Pacino (Scarface, The Merchant of Venice) and Christopher Walken (Seven Psychopaths, Hairspray) did a masterful job playing long time con men Val and Doc. Their looks, their pauses all contributed to a wonderful and believable performance. Being released after 28 years in prison, Val and Doc set off for one last night out on the town before Doc had to complete the job he was hired to do–kill Val. The two men spring their good friend Hirsch, played by Alan Arkin (Argo, Get Smart), from his retirement home and head out to adventure in a stolen car. The three actors made this crime film. I appreciated that the script was tailored to their ages instead of trying to portray them as younger action heroes, like some recent movies have done with their movie stars. The actors did their best with the script which I found muddled and loose. The story went with an easy sentimental value instead of tighter excitement; it took some time for the pace to pick up. Part crime and part comedy, the movie had an identity crises that could have been solved if the writers had given more to these aged to perfection actors.
2 1/2 stars
They say music soothes the savage beast. I beg to differ, music can do much more. There is some music that affects me on a physical level, where I get the urge to tap my foot or shake my hips. Then there is certain musical pieces where I feel as if I am being transported along a winding road with sloping curves and gentle hills. I have certain songs associated to special occasions that have occurred throughout my life. For example, I have a pop song that reminds me of my trip to the Badlands every time I hear it. Then there is the song I played repeatedly when I was a child that brings back memories of me playing on our back porch on a warm sunny day. As music has always been important to me, so was it in this dramatic movie. A famous string quartet struggled to stay together when resentments, love and illness came to light. It seems as if this is the year of Christopher Walken (Seven Psychopaths, The Maiden Heist) who played Peter Mitchell, the eldest member of the quartet. He was excellent playing a vulnerable, emotional widower. Philip Seymour Hoffman (The Master, Moneyball) can always be counted on giving his characters life, which he fully did as Robert Gelbart in this movie. I have enjoyed Catherine Keener’s (Into the Wild, The Interpreter) past performances; however, I felt she was not fully utilized as Juliette Gelbart. Though the acting was well done, I felt the story veered off into a sub story that was less interesting for me. If the writers would have kept their focus on the group dynamices and go deeper into each character, the movie would have been better. It would have been nice if there was more music being played to get through the boring parts.
2 2/3 stars
A pet is a part of the family. The unconditional love, their eyes filled with devotion looking up at you; there is nothing better. When I would come through the front door and see that dog tail whipping side to side I would say, “Who wants a doggie massage?” Immediately Baldwin would plop down at my feet, waiting for his rubdown. That is a fond memory I keep close to my heart. Presently the far western suburbs where I teach are being warned not to let their small pets outside alone due to coyote attacks. The idea sends chills through me. Now imagine my confusion when I heard what the story was in this comedy. Struggling screenwriter Marty, played by Colin Farrell (Alexander, Total Recall), had two crazy friends Hans and Billy, played by Christopher Walken (The Deer Hunter, Hairspray) and Sam Rockwell (Moon, Everybody’s Fine), who were dog kidnappers. They would do it for the reward money. Like me, you have to wonder how this could be a funny movie. This was one twisted film filled with great one liners. Christopher Walken was at his crazy best and may get a nomination for his role. When Billy and Hans unknowingly took the Shih Tzau of LA criminal Charlie, played by Woody Harrelson (The Messenger, Zombieland), their lives would not only be put into jeopardy, but they would become fodder for Marty’s new script. As you can imagine this was no ordinary comedy. Think of this wild film more like a fine rich broth, spiced up with a touch of Tarantino and a smidgen of the Coen Brothers; the offbeat dialog was precisely delivered by the incredible actors for maximum affect. Seeing what someone will do to get their beloved pet back will surprise you and amuse you. Scenes with graphic violence and blood.
3 1/4 stars