THERE WAS AN EERIE GLOW throughout most of the apartment. It was not caused by sunlight or incandescent lightbulbs; the only way I could describe the color, was to say it was a cross between bright fluorescent with bright neon greenish white. We were picking up a friend’s friend at their house which none of us had seen and our friend never warned us. As all of us entered the apartment I noticed an aquarium in one corner with the source of the erie glow perched above it. As it turned out almost every room had 1 to 3 aquariums set up with the same type of light. I did not recall fish tanks having a light above them, but I never had fish for pets. However these fish tanks had no water in them and the top parts were covered with a heavy metal mesh. One of my friends asked about the aquariums. It turned out they were not empty but each of them held a snake. I am not talking worm size or small garden variety; they were jungle sized snakes. I have only seen these type of snakes in a zoo or adventure/horror film. THE OWNER OF THESE SNAKES had them as pets. Pets, I wondered; did he actually take them out and pet them? I was never a fan of snakes and I got creeped out when the owner took one of his snakes out and draped it around his shoulders. A couple of my friends petted the reptile when offered, but I declined. I had to admit I had a bad attitude about all of it, but as the owner explained his reasons and fascination with snakes I realized I had no right to judge him on his choice of pets. When I thought about it more, I came to the conclusion what really is the difference between having fish or snakes as pets? They are not for me but if they provide comfort to someone else, so be it. For many people pets are part of their family. Animals provide unconditional love, affection and even emotional attachments. Some pets are more like family to us than our own relatives. It certainly was obvious in this action, adventure science fiction film. AS THE GORILLA HE RAISED from infancy was growing in unheard of speed and massive height Dave Okoye, played by Dwayne Johnson (Baywatch, Jumanji: Welcome to the Jungle), would not give up on his friend; even as everyone around was becoming frightened. With Naomie Harris (Moonlight, Skyfall) as Dr. Kate Caldwell, Malin Ackerman (Watchmen, 27 Dresses) as Claire Wyden, Jeffrey Dean Morgan (Red Dawn, The Losers) as Harvey Russell and Jake Lacy (Miss Sloane, Obvious Child) as Brett Wyden; the first thing I have to say is this: there is no way one cannot like Dwayne Johnson. In this role he fits right into his comfort zone of acting. I have seen this exact style in his recent films and I hope he starts mixing it up a bit. Granted I believe he knows his capabilities and limitations, so picks projects that suits his acting abilities. In this big production of special effects set in Chicago, the story had some holes in it as well as the script. I thought the dialog was childish at times and felt the movie was cartoonish. However I was not put off by it because I liked the special effects. This is the type of picture I call a “popcorn film;” one where you do not have to think much, just sit back and watch it. If one can watch “stupid pet tricks” then they will have no problem with this movie.
2 1/2 stars
AS WE WERE LEAD to our table I looked out across the dining room and saw miniature lighthouses at a majority of the tables. The glow I was seeing came from the electronic devices being used at these tables; with the users being adolescents and young children. Some had tablets, others had phones; but they all looked like they were drugged as they were staring at their glowing screens. There were no interactions being initiated by others sitting at each of their tables. Some of the little ones looked as if they were hypnotized; they were so absorbed by the antics taking place on their devices. I totally understand parents wanting to keep their children occupied during a meal out at a restaurant. Honestly who wants to be the parents of a crying child in a public place? But as I looked at these kids I had to wonder how they interact with other children? GRANTED I AM NOT current with the types of video/electronic games children play with these days, but I have heard kids will play with their friends without ever leaving their house. It is some type of video game where you log on as a player and play with a friend across the street or across the country. My electronic days took place when Space Invaders and Centipede were the top games, so I am ignorant when it comes to current activities. And you know that is okay by me. I would not trade the times I sat on the living room floor playing board games with my friends. There was one game where you had to negotiate with your opponent, buying and selling parcels of land like a realtor. To this day I still love the game Scrabble or do not laugh, playing charades. There was nothing like a rainy day to be at a friend’s house playing games, stopping for a snack then returning afterwards to finish up and see who would win. Though each of us was competitive, we knew better than to gloat excessively if we were the winner because there was no guarantee you could win the next time. Looking back at those times I realize playing together face to face was a bonding experience and the perfect introduction to teamwork. The same could be said for this action, comedy adventure. FORCED TO CLEAN OUT a storage room for detention, four high school students discover an old video game they decide to play. They would soon discover they had to win at it if they wanted to stay alive. This enjoyable film starred Dwayne Johnson (Baywatch, San Andreas) as Spencer, Kevin Hart (The Wedding Ringer, Central Intelligence) as Fridge, Jack Black (King Kong, Bernie) as Bethany, and Karen Gillan (Guardians of the Galaxy franchise, Doctor Who-TV) as Martha. There is no getting around the fact that Dwayne has an easy appeal that draws the viewers into any of his characters. With this role he was the perfect choice to play this physically strong, brawny type who was easily scared. Jack Black did a wonderful job as Bethany; the self absorbed, selfie taking high schooler. The director did a great job to keep the pacing on track throughout the story. This fun movie would be enjoyable for the whole family; the villains were more of the creepy type instead of the bloody, scary kind if that makes any sense. I would classify this type of picture as a good escape film; it was made to be humorous and fun. In addition I enjoyed the message of teamwork and as a bonus got to reminisce about the games I used to play when I was younger.
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
SITTING on the sofa after a satisfying meal I was waiting for the punch line to the story that was being told to us. It was not because the story was exciting, though it was the 1st time I heard it some years ago, or that the storyteller always had an animated way of telling a tale; I actually had heard this story enough to be able to retell it without any coaching. The reason I was waiting for the ending of the story was so I could get up and go to the bathroom without appearing rude to the story teller or the other people sitting around. The first time I heard the story I remember how all of us were laughing hysterically; it really was a funny set of circumstances that happened to the story teller. However after hearing the same story again and again, it had lost its surprise and funniness. For my way of thinking once a funny story has been told it needs to go into retirement, put away on a shelf only to come out on special occasions as a reminder about a particular person or period of time. THE retelling of jokes or stories only robs them of their uniqueness. After a time the listener you are trying to entertain is simply lulled into boredom. This reminds me of a person I know who does not fully grasp the art of joke telling. Every time they tell a joke they have to explain the portion of it that they find particularly amusing. This is never a good idea; if you have to explain a joke then it is not a joke. There have been times where I find myself sitting and listening to them and I immediately know anything I might find funny will be weighed down with this explaining thing that will make me cringe into wishing they would stop talking. Telling something over and over again is not exclusive to parties and family gatherings; it can be found in movie franchises. FAMILY was the most important thing to Dom, played by Vin Diesel (The Pacifier, Billy Lynn’s Long Halftime Walk). Then why did he turn his back on them? Starring Jason Statham (The Expendables franchise, The Mechanic franchise) as Deckard, Dwayne Johnson (San Andreas, Hercules) as Hobbs and Charlize Theron (Monster, Mad Max: Fury Road) as Cipher; the script for this action crime thriller was the weak link. The action scenes kept coming over and over, most connected by cheesy dialog. I will say the action was outrageous as the stunts were things the viewer has come to expect from this franchise. Another positive point about this movie was Charlize Theron; I found her acting to be above everyone else in the cast. After so many years with this franchise the writers needed to do something different in my opinion. I found some of the characters’ conversations were so typical of past films that I found myself becoming dazed and tired. Good thing there was always some over the top action scene ready to unfold right afterwards. This film franchise has had a long run but based on this installment it might be time for this group to take the exit ramp and take a rest. It might do wonders for them.
2 ½ stars
THERE is no shame in having or wanting a savior in one’s life. Depending on what has or could happen there is nothing wrong with getting help. Imagine an individual who had been unlucky in love to the point where they shut down their heart, putting up ironclad walls around it, to avoid any more pain. Then unexpectedly someone comes along who has the magic key to unlock the heart’s defenses, releasing the pent up love to be shared by two. Wouldn’t you say that person with the key was a savior. I know the word savior is used in a religious context, but it also can refer to a hero. The funny thing about heroes I have noticed has been the change or to be more precise the evolution of what is a hero today. YEARS ago heroes were considered to be handsome and male. At least it was in the movies, which was a reflection of the public’s perceptions of a hero. They were usually virile masculine figures who rode in to save the day. If you do not believe me just take a look at the animated films Cinderella and Snow White. As perceptions changed so did our heroes. They soon were not always the epitome of beautiful or handsome and more importantly they were not always male. One of my early saviors was a woman, so I was glad to see gender was finally being taken out of the equation regarding heroes. Some of you might remember the hoopla in the press surrounding the first American female astronaut. And there might be several of you out there who remember when the Starship Enterprise was commanded by a female captain. The times are changing and in this animated comedy there is a new hero to add to the list and her name is Moana. HOPING to correct a wrong that has plagued her father’s village; Moana, voiced by newcomer Auli’I Crava, set off across the sea on a perilous journey. This comedy adventure story was set in ancient Polynesia and I have to tell you the animation was an outstanding palette of colors. With Dwayne Johnson (Central Intelligence, Pain & Gain) voicing Maui, Rachel House (Hunt for the Wilderpeople, Whale Rider) voicing Gramma Tala and Temuera Morrison (Star Wars franchise, Once Were Warriors) voicing Chief Tui; the stars of this film were Auli’I and Dwayne. Auli’I had a beautiful singing voice which had the good fortune of singing songs written by Lin-Manuel Miranda (Hamilton, Into the Heights). As for Dwayne his comic timing added a fun element to his character and the story. I thought the script was well written and appreciated the influence of real mythology into the story. Overall there was a familiar template that was followed for these types of animated films but truthfully I did not mind it much. I think the message it was conveying was a worthy and important one that demonstrated the image of a female hero. Except for one scene that might be scary for very young children, this film would be something the entire family could enjoy. So feel free to be a hero for suggesting this fun film.
3 ¼ stars
From acts of kindness heroes are born. Some heroes may reach mythical proportions in the minds of the recipients. For me it was that classmate in kindergarten who taught me, the only left-handed student in class, how to properly cut paper with a pair of scissors. For the rest of my elementary school years that student could do no wrong in my eyes. In turn, it was not until years after high school I discovered a kindness I showed a fellow student had an effect on them. I know from personal experience when the act of kindness fights its way through the terror of the moment it can be monumental. It was during a P.E. class and the boys were changing in the locker room. There was this one boy who was a target for a group of bullies. I do not know if it was because he was short, quiet or did poorly in sports; but he got picked on a lot. One day one of the bullies decided to wait for the exact moment when this student was undressed before pouncing on him. The bully and his sidekicks came up from behind, pinning the boy’s arms back as they started dragging him away from his clothes hanging in the locker. One of the sidekicks ran ahead and opened a window as wide as it would go. The three hoisted the boy who was screaming and kicking up onto the window sill then pushed him out, only holding him by the arms. Hanging out the window without any clothes on, the frantic boy did not know some students had run to get the coach to come down into the locker room. Those students were not thinking about becoming heroes. YEARS after high school Calvin Joyner, played by Kevin Hart (The Wedding Ringer, Get Hard), received a Facebook friend request. It came from someone who had fond memories of Calvin when he was a student in high school. Calvin on the other hand had only one memory about this individual. This comedic crime film threw me for a loop due to one of its scenes; you will understand what I mean after seeing the film. I had to quickly regroup myself to focus on the movie. As some of you know I am sensitive whenever a bully is part of the story. The casting of Dwayne Johnson (San Andreas, Pain & Gain) as Bob Stone in this picture was a perfect choice. Besides his affable nature I have to tell you I was impressed with his comedic skills. Kevin was yet again the same type of character he has played in his past movies; but here I felt Dwayne outshined him. Rounding out the main cast was Danielle Nicolet (All-Stars, Third Rock from the Sun-TV) as Maggie and Amy Ryan (Escape Plan, Gone Baby Gone) as Pamela Harris. There were times where I laughed out loud; I enjoyed the make-up of the story more than its execution. I thought the script was simple and tailored for Kevin and Dwayne to the point that the writers expected the two actors would create the funny moments. The easy to follow story did not keep me interested; it was Bob Stone’s transformation from high school to adult life. Heroes certainly come in all sizes.
2 2/3 stars
I traveled halfway across the country only to find out we were no longer going to be a couple. It happened within 1 hour of me stepping off of the plane to find out they, “could not go on like this,” whatever that was supposed to mean since I did not get a clear answer when I asked, “Like what?” Returning back to the airport for my connecting flight, I had enough time between flights to call a close friend. I called them up so I could lament over the abrupt ending of my relationship and complain about why I had to travel all the way to a remote area of the country just to be told this; why couldn’t they have told me before they took this summer job that kept them away for the summer? As we spoke on the phone my free ear heard a high pitched tinkling noise of glasses clinking together. I did not focus on it until I started feeling the floor shaking beneath my feet. The sound was coming from a tourist gift shop near the waiting area I was standing in. The banners and lights that were suspended from the ceiling began to wave in unison. It took me a moment before I realized an earthquake was taking place; I never experienced one before in my life. People started to scream as items were being knocked off of their perches; I dropped to the floor. Was this upheaval I was experiencing a manifestation of my emotional turmoil? Just as suddenly everything came to a quiet standstill. I started experiencing a similar anxiety at the opening scene of this action film, so do not come in late. CALIFORNIA rocked by a massive earthquake rescue-chopter pilot Ray, played by Dwayne Johnson (Fast & Furious franchise, Hercules), had to navigate through the chaos to try and find his daughter Blake, played by Alexandra Daddario (Percy Jackson franchise, Texas Chainsaw 3D). This dramatic thriller, emphasis on the thrills, was one heck of a visual ride through California. The special effects were unbelievable and intense. I saw it in 3D but do not feel it is a must; the only reason was due to the time of the showing that it wound up being in 3D. With a cast that included Paul Giamatti (Romeo & Juliet, Sideways) as Lawrence and Carla Gugino (Watchmen, Sin City) as Emma, they all did their best with the poorly written script. Everything was so obvious from a mile away due to the formula the writers followed for disaster film 101. At least Dwayne and Paul were perfectly cast; one was affable and the other did a great portrayal of frantic intensity. Sadly this action movie did not completely rock me; but for a mindless escape, it provided enough thrills to keep me interested.
2 1/3 stars
It is not always an easy adjustment going from purchasing fun things to practical ones. When I was a little kid I used to wish for a flying car like the ones I would see on my Saturday morning cartoon shows. Instead we always had a four door sedan. When I could buy my own cars; I went for the smaller ones with stick shifts that made the cars take off real fast. I enjoyed the way my cars would hug the curb, barely slowing down into the turn as the engine roared. As I got older I started to notice how my friends and I were getting out of the car; turning our bodies sideways so we could get our feet out on the ground before leaning way over to lift ourselves out of the deep seats. Every day sitting in rush hour traffic took a toll on my fondness for not having an automatic transmission. The thing that pushed me away from having a small car was my alley in wintertime. Whenever there was a heavy snowfall my car would get stuck in the snow because it was so low to the ground. It was frustrating since I had to spend time shoveling the car out just to get it freed and back into the garage. So I went from a sports car to a small SUV; but now, I have seen cars that can fly. SETTLING into domestic life was supposed to be easy compared to what the group of friends had encountered previously in their lives. They were being targeted by Deckard Shaw, played by Jason Statham (Homefront, The Expendables franchise), the brother of a drug dealer the friends had taken out. Dominic Toretto and Brian O’Conner, played by Vin Diesel (The Pacifier, Boiler Room) and Paul Walker (Brick Mansions, Eight Below), with the rest of their friends would have to take one last ride to try and save their lives. This action thriller had its work cut out for it since the previous film in the franchise had many high octane action scenes. The driving stunts in this movie were unbelievable; one needs to check their common sense at the door however before viewing them. I felt the stunts were thought of first before the writers decided what would happen in the rest of the scene. Except for a few slow parts, action was the main character of this crime film. I have to say it was a bit sad seeing Paul Walker, knowing he had died in a car accident not related to this movie. However, there was a touching tribute to him in this picture. As long as you realize you have to suspend logic and common sense before sitting through this movie, you will be taken on one heck of a ride. Now I just want one of those flying cars.
The strongest ones seemed to be the biggest jerks as far as I can remember. They were athletically inclined; able to throw or hit a ball harder than anyone else. If a ball was not available, which was usually the case during the rest of the school day; they had no problem knocking a student down in the school’s hallways. If nothing else then anything a student was carrying was fair game; it was not uncommon to hear textbooks smacking the floor between periods. I was one of the larger boys, but it was not from muscles. As a result my negative perceptions of those who were strong were formed quite early. It was not until new neighbors moved in across the street when I met an exception to my mindset. He was my age but taller than most of the students in our class; English was his 2nd language but no one would know. I would hear the way his family talked to each other whenever I bumped into them outside our apartments. There was a politeness about him that was foreign to most of the athletes in my class. During any contact sports, he would be the only one who would offer a hand to a fallen opposing teammate. Yet no one ever picked on him as if his unusual name and mannerisms made him mysterious; no one wanted to take a chance by confronting him. I had this crazy notion that as long as I could reach and step into his expansive shadow, no one would pick on me. HERCULES in this action adventure film reminded me of my former neighbor. Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson (Pain & Gain, Snitch) went through a grueling workout regimen to play the part of the Greek demigod, Hercules. Directed by Brett Ratner (Rush Hour franchise, Tower Heist), this fantasy film was all action with a story similar to a graphic novel. Hercules was a muscle for hire, who with a close band of friends, agreed to train Lord Cotys’, played by John Hurt (V for Vendetta, The Elephant Man), soldiers even though they sorely lacked fighting skills. The unprepared troops were forced into a battle that Hercules was not sure they could win. Though the fight scenes were big and over the top, the story was weak in my opinion. I felt there was such a disconnect between the battles and the drama that I became bored with what appeared to be the same thing happening over and over. Too much brawn and a poor script made this just an okay film; nothing that will muscle it into the top spot at the box office. There were scenes of violence and blood.
2 1/4 stars
I return to the race track, ready to take on my all to familiar opponent. We have raced many times before. My silver car has a lightning bolt across its hood. As the timer reaches zero, I gun the car and off we go. The first curve is easy, followed by a short straightaway. My rival is matching my every move as our cars are side by side. I know the next curve leads to a short drop; I have to be careful not to let the car jump to high off the pavement. Just as I come out of the turn; my nemesis’ car swings wide, its back end tapping my side panel. If I had not braked immediately, my car would have skidded off the track. Because of that bump my slot car loses to my cousin’s car. Anytime I was over at his house, we would immediately head out to the slot car shop to race our cars. That thrill of speeding returned while watching this high octane action film. I barely remember the previous installments of this franchise and it was okay. This story picked up where the last movie ended; with their $100 million dollars Dominic Toretto, played by Vin Diesel (The Pacifier, The Chronicles of Riddick), and his friends were scattered around the world, enjoying life. The only thing missing for the group was being able to go back home to the States. One day the one person who could offer them the opportunity to go home showed up at Dom’s place. Hobbs, played by Dwayne Johnson (Pain & Gain, Snitch), needed Dom and his gang to get behind the wheel again and track down the mastermind behind the team of precision driving thieves, stealing highly classified government secrets. The dialog was kept to a minimum, making room for insane driving stunts and crazy fights. The automobiles were the real stars of this movie. Humor was used as an additive for some of the scenes, mostly handled by Tyrese Gibson (Transformers franchise, The Take) as Roman and Chris “Ludacris” Bridges (Tropic Thunder, No Strings Attached) as Tej. I liked the fact that this film kept things simple; the focus was on the action, accompanied by a straight forward story about the things people do for the sake of their family. Fast cars was the hook for me; but then again, I know a thing or two about speed. My guess is I am the only person you have ever met who received a speeding ticket in a national park. A few very brief scenes with blood.