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.
The pairing of the words pain and gain is something I associate with working out. I have heard gym teachers tell their students, “work through the pain” or “you won’t get stronger if you don’t feel the pain.” To me these are not words of encouragement. The closest I come to saying something like that in my classes is to say, “it is ok to feel a muscle working.” I am afraid members could injure themselves if they think that feeling pain is the only way to know they are doing the exercises correctly. Thanks to this action film I now have a different association for the words pain and gain. I will always remember how painful it was for me to watch this film and how I wanted to gain back the time I lost. Based on a true story, director Michael Bay (Transformers franchise, Armageddon) filled this movie with an abundance of blood and violence. The actual story was so outrageous that I kept thinking that what I was seeing on the screen could not have really happened. And herein was one of the issues I had with Michael’s directing; there was so much time devoted to showing the violence I never got a real sense of the three main characters. Mark Wahlberg (The Fighter, Ted), Dwayne Johnson (Snitch, Get Smart) and Anthony Mackie (The Hurt Locker, Real Steel) played bodybuilders Daniel Lugo, Paul Doyle and Adrian Doorbal. Not wanting to spend the rest of his life as a personal trainer; Daniel Lugo hatched a plan to kidnap his wealthy client Victor Kershaw, played by Tony Shalhoub (Hemmingway & Gellhorn, Monk-TV), for his money. With Paul and Adrian on board; what was to have been a fast, easy job turned into a cluster blunder. The only good acting came from Tony Shalhoub and Ed Harris (The Rock, A History of Violence) as Ed DuBois. If Dwayne Johnson’s goal was to look like a moving mountain, he succeeded. Maybe with the story being so unbelievable, Dwayne wanted to look as non-human as possible. After some time I was bored with this film. Though I did not get pumped up by the story, I did get a sudden urge to go to the health club and work out.
1 3/4 stars
The sun was about to open its eyes, sending the first ray of light into the softening blue sky. Enemy soldiers were perched strategically around waiting for the signal to begin their assault against the base. What the enemy forces did not know was the soldiers on base were prepared and had a secret weapon. The Roller Blaster was prepped for maximum coverage to drive a wedge through the enemy. Its design was simple; made of the cardboard tube from a roll of paper towels and marbles for ammunition. I came up with the design one day while I was playing with my toy soldiers as a little boy. You should have seen how the marbles would roll out of the partially lifted tube and knock down the enemy soldiers. Not that I want to brag, but this action movie could have used some of my imagination. The G.I. Joes had to battle an evil plot that not only threatened their very existence but could bring down the government of the United States. Channing Tatum (The Vow, Magic Mike) and Dwayne Johnson (Snitch, Race to Witch Mountain) played G. I. Joe commanders Duke and Roadblock. The bantering between the two of them was pitiful; in fact, the entire movie was filled with every cliche you have heard from every action movie. And can someone tell me when Bruce Willis (Looper, Die Hard franchise) became the godfather of the testosterone thriller movies? Playing General Joe Colton, Bruce was no different then he had been in his past several films. I could have forgiven the cheesy script and crazy plot if the fight scenes had been creative. Except for one fight scene, the rest were lackluster. The problem was director Jon M. Chu, known for the Step Up movies. Filming dancers and ninjas should not necessarily be different, but the fighting was confusing here. If it would have helped make a better film, I could have offered the G.I. Joes my Roller Blaster.
1 3/4 stars
Throughout the animal kingdom there are numerous examples of the mother and father protecting their young. A docile animal turns into a ferocious killer when her or his child is being threatened. Among humans, how many of us have heard amazing stories of a parent’s sudden super human strength to save their child? Though I am not a parent, I can understand that protective instinct. When my niece and nephew were little, whenever we were out in public, I usually walked behind them and their parents. It was something that instinctively occurred in me; looking out for any potential danger that might bring harm to them. Starting out with the similar premise of a parent protecting their child, this action film had everything in place to create a tense story inspired by true events. With his son jailed for possession of drugs, it would take something creative for John Matthews, played by Dwayne Johnson (Tooth Fairy, The Rundown), to get his son out before the hardcore inmates would beat his son to death. Striking an unusual deal with district attorney Joanne Keeghan, played by Susan Sarandon (Arbitrage, Mr. Woodcock), John would go undercover to set up a sting operation for the Drug Enforcement Administration. Let us do a quick review here: we have a parent willing to do anything for their child, dangerous inmates and drug dealers. Sounds like an exciting movie to me; I was completely wrong. It seemed as if all the actors had the life sucked out of them, going through their motions in a deflated state. I gave credit to Dwayne Johnson for taking on a serious role, but his inexperience in a dramatic role led to a poor performance. Besides Susan Sarandon getting a badly written role, I was stunned with Benjamin Bratt (Miss Congeniality, Love in the Time of Cholera) as drug kingpin Juan Carlos “El Topo” Pintera. There was zero depth to his character. The only thing that resembled excitement was the car/truck chase scene and Barry Pepper (Broken City, True Grit) as Agent Cooper. I can only imagine what the parents of the writers and director must feel about their children’s work after seeing this dull film. Brief scenes with blood.
1 3/4 stars