THE last time a new updated version of an electronic device came out I happened to be at the shopping mall. A long line of people snaked halfway across the mall, waiting for the store to open. During my college years I remember standing in line for hours to buy tickets for a rock concert, but waiting in line for an extended amount of time just to buy a cell phone or computer device seemed odd to me. Being the curious type I walked up to a few of the waiting people at various places in line to ask them why they were there. After they would tell me I asked them if this was a 1st time purchase of the device or were they upgrading to the latest version. Only one person was there to buy their first phone; everybody else just wanted the newest device. As a sidenote every person I asked had their phone out and it appeared to me they were in perfect working condition. On one hand I can understand if someone wants the latest device but on the other, the devices are not cheap and really how much would the new items change the owner’s life. THERE is one other aspect I have noticed that motivates people to buy the latest things. I believe there is a fear the person will appear old or out of touch by other individuals. I see it in myself, not that I run my life based on what other people think of me. Every time I go to the bank the teller asks me to slide my ATM/debit card in the card reader right after they say hello. I used to say I do not have one but got tired of saying each time; so now, I simply hand them my driver’s license. More times than not the teller will look up at me and say, “You don’t have an ATM card?” The looks I get from the various tellers borders on disdain or incredulousness. You would think I had committed some horrible transgression. Just because I do not have an ATM card doesn’t mean I am an old fogey; I choose to only get things that add value to my way of living. Not having an ATM card makes me feel safer that my account will not get hacked. Some things still have worth even if they have a new replacement and this message comes across in a strong way in this animated adventure comedy. LIGHTNING McQueen, voiced by Owen Wilson (No Escape She’s Funny That Way), was on top of the world until he was beaten by a younger race car. Though others counted him out he still believed he had something to offer. This latest sequel in the franchise also starred Cristela Alonzo (Cristela-TV, Hey It’s Fluffy-TV) as Cruz Ramirez and Chris Cooper (Demoltion, Adaptation) as Smokey. I thought the animation was outstanding; there were some outdoor scenes that made me wonder if the backgrounds were real and only the cars were drawn in. The script had value especially due to a couple of the story lines. However there was a long lull I experienced as the car races seemed too long. I actually enjoyed the beginning and end parts to this film. Part of the reason could be attributed to the limited audience the writers were writing to; there was little comedy and what there was would only be appreciated by a younger crowd. With a little more detailing and tweaking this would have been a more exciting movie. There was an extra scene at the end of the film.
2 1/2 stars
AWKWARDNESS is the initial feeling but depending on the crowd it can hopefully be replaced with something more on the pleasant side. There have been occasions where I have accompanied a date/friend to one of their family or business functions. Personally the business ones are easier for me because there is nothing expected of me; if my date is involved with others no one usually comes over to fill “the void.” At family functions there is always a relative who can’t wait to get me alone to either pump me for information or try to turn me into their personal confidant. Of course more of this takes place when I am the date instead of the friend. There are some relatives who want to know my intentions; others have no problem grilling me like FBI interrogators asking how we met, what I do for a living, where is my family from and so on. I have to just sit there with a smile on my face, choosing how to deflect some of their questions. When the environment is like this it really becomes tedious for me. However I would never do anything to embarrass the person who brought me. NOT wanting to sound like Mr. Gloom & Doom, there have been other times where I had a wonderful time. Some of the business functions I have attended have been close to obscene due to the amount of money that must have been spent on the affair. One dinner was held in a ballroom where the doorways were manned by immense ice sculptures in the shape of swans. Inside the room dining tables were set up with gold and silver tablecloths. On each table tall vases sat, filled with those fake ice cubes that light up in colors. Sprouting out the top were sprays of floral plants. The food was outrageous and plentiful; I would need more of your time to describe it all. And the ultimate feature was having a popular band performing for us. So you see these types of events can be a hit or miss; this is why I gave the main character in this dramatic comedy credit for agreeing to the travel arrangements. WHEN her producer husband Michael, played by Alec Baldwin (Blue Jasmine, 30 Rock-TV), had to cut their trip short due to his work; Anne, played by Diane Lane (Unfaithful, Night in Rodanthe), agreed to travel by car to Paris with his business associate Jacques, played by Arnaud Viard (Higher Still, Carole Matthieu). It would be a road trip with unexpected turns. This romantic film written and directed by Eleanor Coppola (Hearts of Darkness: A Filmmaker’s Apocalypse, Coda: Thirty Years Later) had two big things going for it: beautiful scenery and great looking food. Initially I felt I was connecting with the character, having been “stuck” with someone I did not know. But as the story unrolled I felt like I was a 3rd wheel in their carpool. The script and directing did nothing to enhance the characters. I appreciate Diane’s acting ability but felt she was wasted here; there was no character development. The only one I found interesting was Alec’s character, but he was used sparingly. At one point I felt I was on one of those touring tourist buses where the driver is rambling off tidbits and statistics about every single place to the point of almost numbing their passengers. If I knew this was what was going to happen on this trip I would have booked a flight instead.
THERE always seems to be at least one in a crowd. Whether it is in the classroom, the office or a group of friends; usually one person is the prankster or jokester. I did not have the courage to act out in the classroom; however, I discovered I was quite good in coming up with a plan and then letting someone else execute it. I think the statues of limitations have long expired so I am okay to mention one of my pranks, keeping in mind I am not boasting or full of pride about it. There was a strict teacher we had who made some of us kids’ lives miserable. Looking back now I would not use the word “miserable,” but to a 9 year old who did not know better, the teacher was labeled bad. I discovered if you removed the cylinder of ink from certain pens they could be used to shoot spitballs. But I took it a step further; if you roll one end of the empty pen in lip balm and blow hard on the other end, it would jettison the glob of balm. If it was aimed at the blackboard it would leave a greasy mark. The teacher came into the classroom one day and discovered he could not write on the blackboard due to all the grease spots. THROUGH my early school years I actually did not do many pranks. I was never one to embarrass a classmate, like that student who glued another student’s schoolbook to their desk. The only time I would consider doing a prank against a student is if they hurt me. And even then I would have had to be 100% confident that the joke could never be traced back to me. I am not a mean spirited person, but I used to be a big fan of getting revenge. If I wanted to get back at someone I would have to do the prank myself, not even telling my friends. I was good at keeping a straight face even when my friends would ask if I was the one who did such and such prank. Little did I know I would have something in common with this animated, action comedy based on the bestselling children’s book series. BEST friends George and Harold, voiced by Kevin Hart (The Wedding Ringer, Central Intelligence) and Thomas Middleditch (Kong: Skull Island, Silicon Valley-TV), were always coming up with pranks to upset the school principal Mr. Krupp, voiced by Ed Helms (The Hangover franchise, Vacation). The 2 boys thought they had created the ultimate prank when they hypnotized the principal into their comic book hero, Captain Underpants. The joke was on them though. I was not familiar with this story; based on the kids who were in the theater with me, I would say the books must be written for the 4-8 year old crowd. As a result the humor in the script was geared more to that age group. There was nothing done that I found to be laugh out loud material, more on an amusing level. Some of the animation was similar to the style of those Saturday morning cartoon shows; it was imaginative. What saved this film for me was how life lessons (which I assume are part of the books) were presented into the story. Even if the focus was on pranks, at least something positive was coming out of the events. I was just glad I no longer have to be part of any pranks.
2 ½ stars
THEY appeared to know each other but were not friends. Dressed similarly in tank tops and baggy sweatpants; they kept an eye on each other, thinking they were being discreet. I knew better because I would notice the things they did while working out on the fitness floor. Before or after my class I would hang out on the fitness floor to do some strength training exercises. Seeing these two young guys in the same area for several weeks, I started to notice they were not workout buddies; they were competing with each other, attempting to exert their dominance by being the best. What I mean is they would try to out lift each other using free weights. If one guy was doing chest presses, the other would start to do them but with slightly more weight on the barbell. Once the first guy caught sight of his “opponent” lifting more weight, he would stop and add more weight. This pattern would go on until they went from doing 15 reps down to 1; it was comical to watch. THERE is something about some men’s testosterone that pushes them over the edge. Those two guys on the fitness floor are still at it, trying to top each other. Since I am at that between age, between birth and death, I can sit back and just observe some of these antics and shake my head. And trust me it is not just the younger generation; I still get from time to time some older member coming up to me in the locker room and making some lewd comment about me teaching “a classroom full of ladies.” Without being rude, since I am an employee of the fitness center, I find a way to give them a quick response that masks my displeasure and get away from them as quick as possible. I felt the same way about watching this action dramatic comedy. FORCED to do community service former Olympic swimming champion Matt Brody, played by Zac Efron (Dirty Grandpa, Neighbors franchise), thought being a lifeguard would be a no-brainer of a job. That all changed when a dead body washed up on shore. This film loosely based on the television show starred Dwayne Johnson (The Fast & Furious franchise, Pain & Gain) as Mitch Buchannon, Priyanka Chopra (Don franchise, Quantico-TV) as Victoria Leeds, Alexandra Daddario (The Choice, San Andreas) as Summer Quinn and Jon Bass (Loving, All Nighter) as Ronnie Greenbaum. I vaguely remember the TV series but I am sure it was nothing like what I saw in this movie. For me the best part of this film was Dwayne Johnson, Zac Efron and the outtakes at the beginning of the credits. One cannot help but enjoy Dwayne’s effort and Zac’s comedic timing. Outside of that the story was overloaded and bulky; sort of like Dwayne’s muscles and Zac’s attitude. The script was awful as it was filled with foul language and sexual references. I did not find it funny simply because more than one or two swear words or sexual innuendos is cheap humor in my opinion. Now there were a few fun sarcastic lines in the script, but there was not enough to entertain me for the duration of the picture. Based on the crowd in the theater, the main purpose for seeing this film as far as I could tell was for the eye candy. No matter how many lifeguards were in this movie, it could not be saved.
1 ½ stars
THE landscape tilted down as I peered out the airplane’s window. I was looking forward to a peaceful ride. The day was clear except for small clumps of clouds that looked like wadded up paper towels discarded across the sky. We were close to reaching our flying altitude when I heard a faint noise. It sounded like a sad pet uttered a whimper. There was a slight pause before a piercing wail filled the cabin. It was a baby I had not seen when we boarded. I thought after a minute the parent(s) would have done something like give the baby a bottle, a toy, a set of keys, something to distract the child. Maybe they did, I could not see though since they were sitting closer to the front. As I sat in my seat I stared up at the FASTEN SEATBELT sign, hoping it would turn off. With no sign of stopping if the parent(s) were not going to take the baby to the restroom, I would go to it to get away from the crying. Needless to say the flight was not pleasant. LIVING a full life means there will be celebrations as well as challenges. Let me include into that equation annoyances. I cannot imagine someone getting through life without ever becoming annoyed by something. Of course the question is what does one do when they become annoyed? Being stuck at a railroad crossing due to a long, slow moving freight train is annoying to me; however if there is no alternative route as an option, there is no point in me staying annoyed. It is out of my control, so I just turn the radio up louder and wait it out. It is funny, I found myself in a similar predicament while watching this family comedy film. Sure I could have walked out, but who then would have warned you? THE special occasion of Meemaw’s 90th birthday was the catalyst for the Heffley family hitting the road to be part of the celebrations. Unfortunately for Greg, played by Jason Drucker (Barely Lethal, Every Witch Way-TV), that meant he would not be able to go to the video gaming convention. Starring Alicia Silverstone (Clueless, Batman & Robin) as Susan Heffley, Tom Everett Scott (La La Land, Dead Man on Campus) as Frank Heffley and relative newcomer Charlie Wright as Rodrick Heffley; this latest installment of the franchise had new cast members. It did not make a difference to me but I understood some fans of the series were upset. After seeing this picture the change of actors was the least of this movie’s problems. Both the script and directing were poorly done; if you saw the trailer then you saw the best parts. I was uncomfortable with the story; I found it whiney and disrespectful. There was nothing funny taking place or let me say I did not find the pranks and embarrassing situations amusing. It seemed as if there was little thought put into the script. Besides not being funny, there was not one element of surprise; the set up and payoff could be seen a mile away, which is where I wished I had been from this film. Here is something interesting: I have never sat in a movie theater and seen so much foot traffic from the audience. Kids and parents were constantly walking in and out during the entire showing of this movie. If I wasn’t annoyed already, there was a parent sitting down in front who played with her cell phone for ½ the time.
1 ½ stars
FIRST introduced in the 1960s these toaster pastries have been sampled by millions of people. They were a novel idea; some ate them in lieu of a full breakfast, while others snacked on them between meals or as a dessert. I am sure the idea of having a convenient sweet item with a long shelf life was a revelation for many people. When they first came out there were only 4 flavors: blueberry, strawberry, brown sugar cinnamon and apple. Presently there is a variety of flavors and frostings to cover almost anyone’s taste preferences. Just on the news recently there was a report the manufacturer teamed up with a candy company to come out with candy flavored fillings in these pastries. My first reaction to this combination was negative. But as I thought about it I realized I had not had one of these pastries in decades. If there was a market for these flavor combinations, who was I to judge them? It was not like the other fillings were not sweet, so what would be the difference except personal tastes. WHENEVER something is going well, it almost never fails the company looks for other ways to cash in on their success. Take a look at the fashion industry; if a designer has success with their line of clothing pretty soon their name could pop up on kitchen products, home furnishings or sports related products. Personally the name is not what motivates me to make the purchase; it depends on value and worth for me, besides liking it or not. I sort of feel the same way about movies. If the story looks good, I would go see it regardless of who the studio cast for the roles. Since I enjoyed the previous movies by both of the actresses in this comedy, I was sure I would have a good time watching this film. The buzz surrounding this movie was the addition of the one actress who had been away from acting in pictures for over a decade. Everywhere you looked the talk was how the 2 main actresses would be great together. AFTER Emily, played by Amy Schumer (Trainwreck, Inside Amy Schumer-TV) was dumped by her boyfriend the only person she could get to take his place on the non-refundable vacation package she bought was her mother Linda, played by Goldie Hawn (The First Wives Club, Death Becomes Her). The trip would bind the mother and daughter in ways neither ever imagined. With Ike Barinholtz (Suicide Squad, The Mindy Project-TV) as Jeffrey, Wanda Sykes (Evan Almighty, Monster-in-Law) as Ruth and Joan Cusack (Working Girl, Say Anything) as Barb; the story started out fun. I enjoyed the style of humor and jokes. Unfortunately the story or to be more exact the script quickly went south, no pun intended. The majority of the scenes turned into a mixture of crudeness, silliness or non-believability. I was embarrassed for Joan in particular in regards to her role. It was such a waste of a prolific actress; which leads me to Goldie and her role. Though I was happy to see Goldie back in a movie and she really gave it a good try here, the script did her no favors. If the writers had focused as much energy on the script as the studio did on Goldie, something hilarious could have happened here. Instead I was left with very little to laugh about or enjoy.
1 ¾ stars
SHE was a working mom and believed she was setting a good example for her daughter. To drive the point home she would clarify things by saying she worked outside of the home, at a paying job. Though she did work away from home, she made a point of always being at any of her daughter’s school functions. She would drive her daughter to school before work, put in a full 8 hour work day and get home afterwards to make dinner, put a load of laundry in the wash and return back to the high school at night because she was on the activities committee. Most of the mother’s days followed this type of pattern, but she did not mind; all she wanted was for her daughter to have as many possibilities available as possible regarding her future. So imagine her horror when she asked her daughter what she wanted to study after she graduated high school and the daughter said she was not sure she wanted to go to college. Trying to stay calm and composed she asked her daughter what she wanted to do in life. The daughter replied she wanted to be a stay at home mom. THERE was nothing wrong about being a stay at home mom but the mother’s concern was her daughter becoming dependent on someone else. If something was to happen in the marriage and the daughter found herself alone, how would she support herself and her children? The mother was worried about her daughter. I could understand where the mother was coming from with her concern for her daughter. Being strongly independent I know I would have a difficult time if I had to depend on someone else. There was a friend of a friend I knew who always managed to date wealthy individuals. It was not unusual for this person to walk into a party with a fancy jacket or a new expensive watch that they would have received from their date. The relationships never seemed to last long and I always wondered if these rich people just got tired of always supporting their love interest; it could happen, just see what took place in this comedy film. AFTER his wealthy wife replaced him with a younger man Maximo, played by Eugenio Derbez (Instructions not Included, Jack and Jill), had nowhere to go. He had no money of his own, nor any marketable skills. His only choice was to see if his estranged sister Sara, played by Salma Hayek (Lonely Hearts, Once Upon a Time in Mexico), would take him in. Including Kristen Bell (Bad Moms, Forgetting Sarah Marshall) as Cindy and Linda Lavin (Wanderlust, The Intern) as Millicent, this movie told a story I had seen previously in other films. There were several amusing scenes in this picture; however, nothing was unique or special about it. I did enjoy the character of Hugo, played by Raphael Alejandro (Badge of Honor, Kindergarten Cop 2), but it was obvious what was going to happen to him. Honestly there was nothing “wrong” with this movie; it was just average. In fact, this film had an old school feeling to it, where its physical and verbal humor seemed as if it were mined back in the 70s. I am afraid there just was not much in this picture to motivate me to give it a better rating. Several scenes were spoken in Spanish with English subtitles.
ACTIONS speak louder than words. Sometimes they do more than just speak louder. There are some people who do things with little fanfare, but their actions have a profound effect on many. Recently on the news I saw there was an anonymous donor who provided enough funds to rebuild a charitable organization’s offices after they were damaged by a tornado. Another news source reported on a patient who needed a kidney transplant. A donor had stepped forward after hearing the patient’s story. This donor had no connections to the individual, but after hearing the patient’s story he said he felt it was the right thing to do. He did not want any compensation or recognition for his healthy kidney, nor did he want any fuss. Of course the news sources jumped at the chance to bring a “feel good” story to the public. During these current times I find it refreshing to find individuals doing good deeds without the need to broadcast or brag about them to the world. LOOKING towards the opposite end of the spectrum, there are individuals who have no idea their actions can have a negative impact on people. How many of us have experienced at work where one worker does something shady or let me say “against policy” that causes the company to install a new procedure that affects all the workers? I was employed at a company where the owner was carrying on an affair with a woman who was not his wife. Luckily I did not get sucked into the drama, but several employees were put in an uncomfortable spot when the wife would call looking for her husband. The employees were put in an awkward place because they had no choice but to lie to the wife if they wanted to keep their job. You might be thinking the affair would not last long and you would be partially correct. Some did not last long but there was always some other woman waiting in the wings. I so wanted to tell the owner to take a look around and see how his actions were affecting his employees. Too bad he did not have the insight that the main character found in this fantasy comedy. GLORIA’S, played by Anne Hathaway (The Intern, Rachael Getting Married), constant drinking was having an effect on her boyfriend Tim, played by Dan Stevens (Beauty and the Beast, The Guest). She could not see what her actions were doing to him, let alone to people nowhere near her. This film festival winning movie’s story was quite unusual. It started out slow or more to the point confusing to me; however, once I felt I understood what Gloria’s drinking represented I was able to sit back and enjoy this quirky film. Anne did a wonderful job of acting with her character and the bonus was watching her play against Jason Sudeikis (Masterminds, Mother’s Day) as Oscar. He was amazing in his ability to switch back and forth between comedy and seriousness. I honestly do not see this picture going into wide release because I would not consider it a mainstream movie. However the story really had a way of pulling in the viewer; one only needed to suspend reality and watch how actions speak louder than words at times.
NO matter how hard one works it seems as if that finish line keeps moving further away. I am referring to those plans put in place for retirement. Besides the big element of the “unknown,” the unexpected expense, it seems as if the rules and the times keep changing faster to any adjustments one tries to execute. The age of 65 used to be the goal line for retirement; now it gets pushed back depending on the year one is born. There is a grocery store I occasionally use that has a couple of small sections put aside for clearance items. One of them is in the produce section of the store and I have to tell you it is hard sometimes to watch the elderly shoppers pouring over the bruised or wrinkled fruits and vegetables, looking for one that would still be edible. I wonder what my retirement will be like when I am on a fixed income; would I be one of those shoppers looking for a bargain that potentially could make me ill? AS my friends and I grow older our conversations about are retirement years has increased. Some amongst us have multiple insurance policies to cover a variety of scenarios; others have focused on savings that they will be able to draw on once they are no longer working. One of the big concerns we all share is whether we will be able to still live independently, under our own roofs. No one in my circle of friends has had something good to say about nursing homes unless they had a super wealthy relative, who could afford one of those luxury retirement communities set up like a condominium building. They would have to buy the apartment outright and when they died the living space would revert back to the association. Since none of my friends or me could afford such an arrangement, we have come up with some creative ways on how we could take care of each other. I will tell you the option that was chosen in this comedic crime film never occurred to any of us. RETIRED friends Joe, Willie and Albert; played by Michael Caine (Inception, Batman Begins franchise), Morgan Freeman (Driving Miss Daisy, The Dark Knight franchise) and Alan Arkin (Get Smart, Argo); were falling deeper into debt. After witnessing a crime, Joe got an idea that would solve all three friends’ money issues. Directed by Zach Braff (Garden State, Scrubs-TV), the only reason to see this film is to watch these three actors, along with Christopher Lloyd (Back to the Future franchise, Taxi-TV) as Milton and Ann-Margaret (Grumpy Old Men, Any Given Sunday) as Annie, working together. It would have been more interesting to watch them if the script had not stayed on the light side; the humor and emotional parts were rather wishy-washy. Putting aside my dilemma with celebrating crime situations, I thought the lead up story was a good motivator for the action. When the film came to an end I was left with the same feelings I had with yesterday’s picture, just a sense of “blah.” In my opinion it was a crime to have used these actors for such an uninspired script.
AT some point in time I am sure many of us have felt alone, as if we were the only one. I feel it is a valid point; however, my question is what does a person do about it? That feeling of being out of synch from those around you can really do a number on you mentally. Imagine if the co-workers around you all share a fondness for a particular activity which you are not interested in; you could be left out of their conversations or out of office activities. One scenario I have seen numerous times is when one’s circle of friends goes from being single to being a part of a couple. As friends begin to couple up it is understandable there is some adjustment and before you say, “no there is not,” let me say there are a variety of reasons couples may prefer doing things with other couples. I am willing to bet if you were in a relationship that later dissolved, you would have felt alone as your coupled friends came to your support. A particularly difficult time for me took place during my freshmen year of college. I had gone to an out of state university that no one else from my high school was planning on attending. Alone in a foreign city was tough for me, especially because I was the only freshman on my floor; the other residents were all graduate students. It was not until one of my classes held a panel discussion with outside guests that I first felt a connection to some similarly minded students. It was as if a secret door had opened in the middle of the 30,000+ student body and I finally stopped feeling as if I was the odd man out. It was an eye opening experience, not so dissimilar from the one that takes place in this animated adventure comedy. WITH a secret map in her possession Smurfette, voiced by Demi Lovato (Glee-TV, Sonny with a Chance-TV), takes off on a journey that will show her things that she has not found in her own village. Including Mandy Patinkin (The Princess Bride, Homeland-TV) voicing Papa Smurf, Julia Roberts (Mother’s Day, Closer) voicing SmurfWillow, Joe Manganiello (Magic Mike franchise, True Blood-TV) as Hefty Smurf and Rainn Wilson (Juno, The Office-TV) as Gargamel; this movie was geared more for the younger child. The animation was colorful and there were many scenes filled with action. Honestly, I felt like I was watching one of those old Saturday morning cartoon shows I remember as a kid. I appreciated the dual messages the writers were trying to get across to the viewers; however, I found the story in general mediocre. There was nothing either good or poor about this picture; it was predictable and a little bland for me. Granted I was never into the Smurfs while growing up, but I thought the writing could have been more creative to add heft to the fun and excitement factors. As a whole I was left with a bland feeling about this movie; I could have (if I was into the Smurfs) easily have waited to see this some Saturday morning on television, while eating a bowl of breakfast cereal by myself.