DURING MY SCHOOL YEARS, MOST OF the best advice I got was from people I hardly knew at the start. There was a time during the day where I was removed from a study period because of a couple of bullies in the study hall. Since I played piano, I was assigned to take my study time in the school band’s office. I remember the first time I walked into the office, carrying my acceptance note. There were various string and horn instruments either sitting on stands or hanging on racks, with an upright piano in the far corner. The students in the room were individuals I recognized from walking the hallways but had never seen in my classes. Also, they were older than me; the majority were seniors. Once I was signed in, one of the students asked me what instrument did I play? When I said piano, he asked me to take a seat at the piano and play something for them. My first instinct was that I was being set up for some kind of prank, but I walked over and sat down on a piano bench I wasn’t sure could support my weight. I wondered for a moment on whether to play a classical piece of music; but thought for sure I would be teased for it. Instead, I played a Beatles’ song. Once I was done playing the several students in the room came over to congratulate me on being their new mascot. AS THE WEEKS PASSED BY, I became friendly with one of the seniors who had helped me a few times with my homework. He was a trumpet player who planned on going to an Ivy League school to become a doctor. Many times, we would just sit in the band office and talk about what was the latest going on in the world. However, he greatly helped me on how to navigate the time I would have at our school. Because of him, I found a safe place I could hide when my gym class was being held outside. This was valuable information to me because of the bullies in class who loved picking on a group of us outside when the gym teacher was not in sight. This senior also explained to me how I should apply to colleges when the time came for me to do so. The one thing I always wanted to know was whether he put in a good word for me because my music teacher became protective of me through the year. Either way I was grateful for their advice and help which I felt the young man in this dramatic movie was feeling as well on the advice given to him. FORCED TO LIVE AT HIS GRANDPARENTS’ house, a young boy finds a father figure at the local bar, to fill in for the father he has never seen. With Ben Affleck (The Way Back, The Accountant) as Uncle Charlie, Tye Sheridan (Ready Player One, Mud) as JR, Lily Rabe (No Reservations, Miss Stevens) as Mom, Christopher Lloyd ( Back to the Future franchise, Call of the Wild) as Grandpa and Rhenzy Feliz (All Together Now, Runaways-TV) as Wesley; this drama set in Long Island, NY was based on the memoir and I have to say, it was a beautiful story. However, it is a story we have seen before; but the difference is the incredible performances within the cast. Ben, Lily and Christopher were outstanding with their acting. The story is touching, providing a good deal of emotions. However, I would have appreciated if the writers had gone deeper into the characters; so, I could have felt more of a connection to them. With the sets and George Clooney’s direction, I enjoyed watching this even, slow paced film. The title of this movie pretty much says it all; this was overall a tender story.
2 ½ stars
NO MATTER WHAT TOOK PLACE, THE one thing you could not do was cry. At least that is what was instilled into every boy in school. Not that I remember someone ever telling me that exactly, but I learned right away after one tear broke free from my eye and slid down my face. The teasing and name calling started immediately before I could get up from the ground. I was not sure if I was purposely tripped while running in the schoolyard; but I fell face forward onto the asphalt, ripping my pants and scraping off the skin of my knees and the palms of my hands. If someone asked if I was okay, I did not hear them through the laughter. I did not take it personally since the same thing happened to anyone who fell. Though if you were a girl you did not get teased about crying. How or why that distinction took place, I had no idea; it was just acceptable or maybe it was tolerated better if a girl was crying instead of a boy. One of the worst labels a student could get was being called a “crybaby.” Getting that label would put you on a quick path to being known as a sissy, at least amongst the boys. FROM THE EARLY TRAINING THAT TOOK place in elementary school, many boys grew a veneer of toughness. Some of the male students tried out for a sports team, figuring what they lacked in striking an opposing stature would be filled in with their athleticism. For those of us who wouldn’t or couldn’t compete in sports, we were left to fend for ourselves. A disconnect grew between those boys who were successful in portraying a tough exterior and those who chose not to or could not display toughness which by the way translated into manliness. Growing up in that kind of environment made me feel like something was wrong with me. By the time I made it to college, I found myself feeling more comfortable around female students than male. What drove this home for me was when I went to a fraternity’s open house during orientation week. Their house was this old Georgian style home with two white pillars that framed the front doorway. Going on a tour of the house, I heard about the history of the fraternity and its illustrious achievements in sports and community outreach. I do not know how to say this, but all the talking points I was hearing had competitive undertones that turned me off quickly. It seemed to me they were only interested in accepting those students who could display a “macho” exterior; something I sorely lacked. After watching this film festival nominated drama, I am so glad I never tried to be a pledge. HOPING TO SUCCEED WHERE HIS FATHER failed, college freshman Zurich, played by Trevor Jackson (Superfly, Eureka-TV), was determined to survive his chosen fraternity’s hell week, no matter what he was expected to do. With Tosin Cole (Star Wars: The Force Awakens, Unlocked) as Frank, DeRon Horton (Dirt, Dear White People-TV) as Square, Alfre Woodard (12 Years a Slave, Annabelle) as Professor Hughes and Steve Harris (The Rock, The Practice-TV) as Dean Richardson; there were times when I felt I was actually watching pledges during hell week. The acting was cohesive among the cast which made there trials more realistic. I thought the script was decent; however, I wished the writers would have dug deeper into the students’ mentality and backgrounds. There was a level of predictability to the story; yet, I had to wonder how true the hazing incidents were being inflicted on the pledges. Maybe because I do not define masculinity in the same way as these fraternity brothers did; but they certainly proved I made the right decision when I chose not to pledge a fraternity when I was back in college.
2 ½ stars
HAVING children less than 4 years apart in age, I asked how he was preparing for the overlapping college costs. When I was growing up I do not think parents thought as much about it as they do now. When I hear how much tuition costs currently, I cannot imagine how a family can navigate the burden of putting their kids through school. I used to work with a woman who had 6 children; each one was 2 years apart in age. If you do the math, she would have multiple financial costs of college weighing down on her for years. Maybe she expected all of her kids to get scholarships, but I so wanted to ask her how she was going to pay for all the schooling. Since it was none of my business I was not going to pry. There are adults I know who are still paying off their student loans even though they have been out of college for 20-30 years. UNLESS the child invents the latest computer app or web service becoming a millionaire and skipping college, many parents are left to come up with creative ways they and their children can meet their financial obligations. Now I realize not every child will go to college; in my circle of friends and family it was a given that we all had to continue our education after high school. I knew one parent who worked 2 jobs during the week and a part time job on the weekend to help defray the college costs. There are several families I know who steer their children to a 2 year college for an associate’s degree to complete the basic required courses; afterwards, they transfer to a 4 year university to complete their studies. By doing this their costs are less than going directly to a 4 year accredited school. I have heard of a variety of options parents have employed to save money for their children’s college costs, but I have never heard of the idea the parents in this comedy came up with to put their child through school. AFTER spending their daughter’s college funds parents Kate and Scott Johansen, played by Amy Poehler (Sisters, Mean Girls) and Will Ferrell (The Other Guys, Daddy’s Home), needed to come up with a way they could put their daughter through school. Thanks to their friend Frank, played by Jason Mantzoukas (Dirty Grandpa, The Dictator), there was a way the couple could swing it. This comedy also starred Ryan Simpkins (A Single Man, Revolutionary Road) as Alex Johansen and Nick Kroll (My Blind Brother, Parks and Recreation-TV) as Bob. I will say the idea to raise college money was creative; I was curious to see how it would play out in the story. There were a couple of laughs that came out of the script; however, for the rest of the script I was not getting into it. The acting was nearly non-existent from Amy and Will. They were no different from any of their other characters including their stints on Saturday Night Live. Making rude or vulgar comments usually do not lead to laughs and this script was no exception. Adding in the high level of predictability, I was bored most of the time. I hope this does not come across as rude but the people associated with this dud need to be schooled on how to create a smart, fun comedy. No passing grade for this one.
1 ½ stars
QUICK with a quip, he always placed himself in the front row of class. A good portion of the female members in class enjoyed having him stand in front of them. He had a good sense of rhythm which enabled him to pick up any new exercise moves in class. I knew this to be true because he attended my group fitness class for several months. Just a smidge shy of being 6 feet tall, he easily moved across the floor and had a good sense of body awareness. I knew some of the members watched him move because I always faced the class when teaching, so could see what their eyes were focused on. Usually members will look at themselves in the floor to ceiling mirrors behind me; but there was something about this guy woman preferred watching instead. AFTER attending class every week for several months he did not show up one day. A few members questioned where he could be, but other than that the absence was treated as an aberration. When he did not show up for the following class more members started asking about him. I had not heard anything. A few weeks had gone by and he still had not returned to class nor was seen anywhere else in the fitness center. Once in awhile a member would bring up his name but for the most part he became a memory. A few months afterwards I was walking down to the aerobic studio to teach a class and a member stopped me in the hallway. She asked if I had heard the news about that member who disappeared from class. I told her no; so she quickly proceeded to tell me about an article in the newspaper concerning a missing female roommate who was found dead in the truck of her car that was abandoned at the airport parking lot. Our former class participant was charged with the murder. The news traveled fast through the fitness center and everyone wondered how such a fun, happy go lucky guy could commit murder. This horror thriller may have provided the answer. COLLEGE friends Elliot, John and Sasha; played by Douglas Smith (Miss Sloane, Big Love-TV), Lucien Laviscount (One Night in Istanbul, Honeytrap) and relative newcomer Cressida Bonas; began experiencing frightening visions when they rented out an old house that had a past. Before the movie started I glanced around the theater and realized I had to be one of the oldest people in the auditorium. The crowd was predominantly high school and college aged people. Not that this would make any difference to me but the fact they seemed disappointed at the end of this poorly done film told me it must have been more horrible than I believed it to be. The story was bits and pieces of other movies and most importantly there was nothing scary about the villain, let alone any of the scenes. With a bare bones script there was nothing to lift the actors up into at least a mediocre level of acting. Maybe the trailers were enticing but this would be a waste of your time in my opinion.
1 ½ stars
There are several names I am familiar with such as cousins’ club, sibling night or family day. All these terms mean essentially the same thing: time is put aside to spend with one’s family. When I was growing up Sunday was family day for me; every Sunday was spent at a different relative’s house. It was an occasion for relatives to spend time together. Meeting on a frequent and consistent basis allowed all of us to grow up together and be aware of each other’s daily life for the most part. It was fortunate that the majority of the relatives lived no further than 1 hour away from each other. Now there are some families that hold a reunion, so all the family members get a chance to get together no matter where they may live. A specific date is chosen and word goes out to everyone to meet at a specific place and time. When a long passage of time has passed between visits there tends to be a lot of catching up to do between the relatives. I know how fun and exciting it can be to meet relatives that one has not seen for a long time. The happy occasion lends itself for some family members to continue the euphoria of the visit and plan another get together shortly after, “shortly” being a relative term. It is these next meetings that can turn out to be a letdown, compared to the previous get together. All the bringing up to date information was already covered and one discovers that there is not much else to talk about because with daily life events not being shared so often, people start to grow apart. For example it has been a long time since I have seen this family. WHAT Toula’s, played by Nia Vardalos (I Hate Valentine’s Day, Connie and Carla); father Gus, played by Michael Constantine (The Juror, Room 222-TV), used to tell her he now was telling her daughter: that she needed to find a Greek boy and marry him. The family could not understand why the young girl wanted to go away for college. This romantic comedy brought back some of the fun characters we enjoyed from the original movie, such as Aunt Voula and Maria, played by Andrea Martin (Wag the Dog, Delivering the Goods) and Lanie Kazan (Beaches, My Favorite Year). Though I was happy to see Voula’s extended family, I quickly lost interest in them due to the lame script. What made the first film funny and charming was rehashed for this picture which made it goofy and boring. The same types of jokes were used so often that it was easy to predict what was going to happen next. A sense of heart was missing from the script, replaced with dull mugging and humor. If this family has another reunion down the road I may have to decline the invitation; I did not have any warm feelings for them in this movie.
1 ¾ stars
There are just some days I want to do something crazy and out of character for me. Do you ever have one of those days where you would like to be someone else? I have mentioned to friends from time to time that it is hard being me some days. Usually I have been overwhelmed with a variety of things just before I get to the point of saying this to my friends. Maybe that is one of the reasons I like to take quick weekend trips by myself to different places; I get to be someone else for a brief moment. When I am strained for time and feel like I am going to go crazy, retail therapy has always been a good backup for me; though it is not always a good use of funds. I have been known to buy some small appliance or electronic device and leave it unopened on the floor for weeks or months before getting around to using it. Recently I have tried to modify my behavior and when I feel I am going to go on a shopping spree, I go to the grocery store instead to buy boxes of breakfast cereal. It is a cheaper and more useful purchase. Now I know on the scheme of things these actions may not be very rational but they make sense to me, for there are plenty examples around us of a whole lot of people acting quite irrationally. Some individuals can be down right scary in what they do, just watch what happens in this dramatic mystery. EXCITEMENT was going through the small college on news of the hiring of philosophy professor Abe, played by Joaquin Phoenix (Walk the Line, The Master). The school got more than they bargained for once Abe was on staff. Written and directed by Woody Allen (Midnight in Paris, Sweet and Lowdown), I thought the cast which also included Emma Stone (Aloha, The Help) as Jill and Parker Posey (Party Girl, The House of Yes) as Rita was excellent. Sadly I found the script did not benefit these actors. At times there would be a scene that was intelligent and witty; but then it would be followed with a bland one where I felt the dialog was a series of blah, blah, blahs. If this makes any sense, the scenes were too wordy and only bogged down the story from moving forward. Woody has an interesting way of turning a sentence into a breath of fresh air; there have been previous films of his I have enjoyed. But with this picture I found myself becoming bored at times. If I were looking to find something irrational about this whole movie viewing experience I would have to say it was me paying full price to see this dull film.
1 3/4 stars
They may be called a bestie, a homeboy, a BFF or bestbud; but they all refer to a best friend. This is the person who has the ability to step into your shadow and know what is going inside your head before you utter a single word. The two of you share a certain rhythm that permeates into your physical and emotional state, allowing both of you to share in similar reactions. Once a bond has formed between the two of you, it grows deeper and fuller throughout life like the roots of a mighty tree. Except for a conscious parting of the ways, there is nothing that can interfere with the tightness you each feel towards the other. Now this does not imply that the relationship will never evolve because it will. When one of the pair meets someone who they want to hang out with or date, it cannot be helped that the dynamics will change between both of you. Depending on the situation there may be hurt feelings or a sense of abandonment. In this action comedy Officer Schmidt, played by Jonah Hill (The Wolf of Wall Street, Moneyball), was feeling left out when his partner Jenko, played by Channing Tatum (The Vow, White House Down), started hanging out with football quarterback Zook, played by Wyatt Russell (This is 40, Cowboys & Aliens). In this sequel Schmidt and Jenko had to go undercover as college students to try and find the drug dealer who was selling a lethal drug on campus. This crime film does not hide the fact that the story is essentially the same as the previous movie, where the partners were pretending to be high school students. In fact the characters joke about it in a tongue and cheek type of way. Ice Cube (Ride Along, Friday) who reprised his role as Captain Dickson had more scenes in this film, a couple were quite funny. Everything that made you laugh in the first movie was incorporated into this sequel. I enjoyed the stunts, gags and dialog for the most part; it was obvious Channing and Jonah were both having a good time. The issue I had with this version had to do with the jokes; the writers let some of them drag on too long. The first time may be funny but to come back to the same themes over and over got old for me. I wished they would have expanded the story more than they did; but I understood they did not want to tamper with a winning formula. However, I have to tell you I thought the ending credits were more creative than parts of the movie. There was an extra scene at the end of the credits.
2 1/2 stars
I do not know what it is about talking to a casual acquaintance or a stranger that enables people to open up about their feelings. There have been several occasions where a member from my class has divulged information of a more personal or intimate nature. I have heard of hairdressers being a personal confidant to their clients but I have not heard anything about fitness instructors. Possibly it may have to do with knowing there is a finite amount of time available or that I am not a member of the health club, just an instructor. From my own experiences I will say there is something about visiting a new place that for some reason makes me more comfortable talking to strangers. I have no problem sharing my feelings or thoughts to the point where it creates an immediate sense of intimacy. It just seems like the opposite way of doing things; where you would want to create that budding closeness with someone you know or are interested in, not a total stranger. I am sure I can dig inside of myself and talk about feeling less pressure or being unguarded due to the foreign surroundings; however, I will forgo adding more length to this review and just say I have experienced something similar to the story in this romantic comedy. Vera Farmiga (The Conjuring, Up in the Air) and her real life sister Taissa Farmiga (The Bling Ring, American Horror Story-TV) played mother and daughter Edith and Audrey Martin. Andy Garcia (The Untouchables, City Island) and newcomer Spencer Lofranco played father and son George and Conrad Hartman. During the college tour for their children, Edith and George found themselves on a different tour than the one their kids were on. I was fine with the setup for this film festival winning movie. The good acting was certainly a plus to the uneven script. The concept of two strangers spending the day together I got; but I thought some of the scenes were forced and somewhat ridiculous. An example would be the marijuana scene. There were some parts in the movie that were predictable, but since I was enjoying the acting I was a bit more forgiving. This does not have to be a movie you need to run out and see at the theater; waiting for the DVD would be good enough. Maybe because I have had a couple of long distance relationships in the past, this film was easier for me to digest.
2 1/3 stars
It felt as if I was receiving the winning lottery ticket when I was handed my high school diploma. I saw it as my opportunity to become someone different. You see, I was tired of being a punching bag and a punch line in high school. One of the reasons why I chose the particular university I attended was, as far as I knew, no one from my high school had applied there. The summer prior to attending the fall semester, I let my hair grow out to its natural curly state, began an exercise and diet program and most importantly, found student housing off campus. My studio apartment was on a floor that had mostly graduate students. Being the youngest and newest on the floor, the older students not only helped me navigate my way through the university system, but looked out for me. It was a whole different world for me, where I was finally able to be myself and not be judged. Having always felt that peer pressure was a highly infectious disease; I immediately understood where valedictorian Brandy Klark, played by Aubrey Plaza (Safety Not Guaranteed, Damsels in Distress) was coming from in this story. Determined not to still be a virgin by the time she started college, Brandy made a to do list of all the activities she felt she needed to achieve her goal. This comedy was filled with a multitude of strong, crude, graphic language and scenes. I did not have an issue with it, understanding the attraction to this film was having the story being told from a woman’s point of view. To verify my reactions, I imagined scenes where the female characters were male and came to the same conclusion: I did not find this movie funny. There were pockets of humor here and there, but overall I felt the movie was on overkill. Brandy’s relationship to her older sister Amber, played by Rachel Bilson (Jumper, Hart of Dixie-TV), was similar to other sister relationships done before. I felt more humor could have been mined from Brandy’s parents Judge and Mrs. Klark, played by Clark Gregg (The Avengers, 500 Days of Summer) and Connie Britton (Conception, Friday Night Lights-TV). As for Bill Hader (Superbad, Saturday Night Live-TV) playing pool manager Willy, his character was no different then the characters he did before on television. I did find the crisp pacing led to tight, steady scenes. If only the to do list in making this movie had been double checked.
1 3/4 stars