IT IS SAFE TO SAY the majority of us has experienced the feeling of shock. Hopefully it was the type of shock that surprises or dumbfounds you; you know, like seeing a driver do something ignorant and illegal or seeing a parent pouring a soft drink into a baby bottle to feed their child. I used these two examples because I actually was a witness to them. For the driver they were impatient and did not want to continue creeping along until they got to their exit off the highway. So the driver drove off the road, down the gully running alongside then up the steep grassy hill. Their car looked like it was sliding down sideways but they just gunned the engine and eventually made it to the exit. So something like this would definitely be placed in the “shock” category in my book. NOW THERE IS A DIFFERENT FORM of shock; the only way I can describe it, is that it numbs one’s brain. As if your brain becomes paralyzed, all the synapses lose current and stop connecting with each other. For the most part I tend to see this type of shock only on television shows and in movies, which is a good thing. I hope it is the same for you. Only a couple of my friends that I have known for years can tell when I am experiencing something close to this kind of shock. Years ago my friends made a surprise birthday party for me; I was totally unaware of it. When I walked into the place a photo was taken of me so there is proof on my face that I was completely stunned by the surprise. At least the shock was for a good thing because on the flipside getting “bad” news can certainly stop someone dead in their tracks as they say. I do not remember (see I am already preparing you for the shock) if I told you about an incident that happened during my medical scare last year. One evening I received a phone call from a doctor that was unfamiliar to me. I was at the movie theater waiting for a film to start. The doctor began telling me about my recent tests and said there was something else he wanted me to have checked out. If these were the only words he had used I would not have freaked out, but when he said “you need to do it sooner than later” my brain immediately short-circuited. For that reason I could appreciate on some level what was going through the brain of the main character in this historic drama. THE FEAR OF DROWNING COULD have easily been a factor in Ted Kennedy’s, played by Jason Clarke (Zero Dark Thirty, Everest), behavior after the car he was driving plunged off a bridge. That one car accident would alter the course of history. This film festival nominee also starred Ed Helms (Vacation, Love the Coopers) as Joseph Gargan, Jim Gaffigan (Away We Go, Going the Distance) as Markham and Bruce Dern (The Hateful Eight, Nebraska) as Joseph Kennedy. This movie played out like a docudrama; there were times where I believed what I was seeing but then other times I felt the story was being embellished upon to create some excitement. Jason was excellent in the role as was Bruce Dern; as for the rest of the cast they were more background players for me. I would have appreciated if the script delved more into the history of the characters, especially the relationship between Ted and his father, but I understood this film was focused on one major incident. Since I would have no idea if what I witnessed in this movie actually happened, I left the theater with mixed emotions. It certainly was a tragic event, but I did not feel invested in the story.
2 ½ stars
I WAS SYMPATHITIC TO the sisters’ plight. Each from the same mother had been adopted at birth; raised by their adoptive parents in the same home and yet they were nothing alike, except in appearance. Where daylight is different to nighttime, so were the sisters in temperament, personality and mannerisms among other traits. As the two girls grew older they found something in common; this was a rarity in itself. They each became curious about who were their birth parents. Having matured with more self-awareness, the sisters felt this need to seek out their birth parents; if not in person, at least hopefully to get medical and health backgrounds on both. You see one sister had health issues besides having an addictive personality; the other one had a different type of health issue regarding a disease. I could only imagine what was going through their minds having to deal with adult issues without having any family history about them. I know when I go to the dermatologist he always asks me about my parents’ health history when looking at something on my skin. I am sure if I were to tell him my parents had the same thing, he would act more cautiously in his assessment. If the sisters’ were in the same position I am sure it would be upsetting if they had to tell the doctor they did not know. PULLING OUT THE GENES from the family gene pool is at best a crapshoot. Just like the two sisters I mentioned, I find the whole genetic aspect to humans fascinating. One thing that intrigues me is how one family’s children all look like one of their parents, while another family has children that look like they were conceived by completely different parents. Now what do you think about a family who has both birth and adopted children, where they all share common characteristics? There is a current popular television show that has this very same scenario and I find myself getting drawn more and more into their stories. I have said this before: babies come into this world with a blank slate; they do not know about hate or prejudice, they learn it. With that in mind I can understand why many children are curious or not interested to know the individuals responsible for bringing them into this world. That feeling was quite evident in this comedic movie. TWIN BROTHERS KYLE AND PETER Reynolds, played by Owen Wilson (Wedding Crashers, No Escape) and Ed Helms (Vacation, The Office-TV), were stunned that their mother Helen, played by Glenn Close (Air Force One, 101 Dalmatians franchise), kept a secret from them about their father for all these years. The only thing the brothers wanted to do was find their birth father. Among the celebrity cast, this film had J.K. Simmons (The Bachelors, Whiplash) as Roland Hunt and Katt Williams (Norbit, Scary Movie 5) as the hitchhiker. I was surprised with such a prominent group of actors that the movie studio approved such a dismal script. The story may have sounded fun but I am here to tell you there was little fun in this picture. Between slapstick humor to touching brotherly love I could not tell what the writers wanted to create, a heartwarming story or a funny road trip one. It was embarrassing to see some of the actors in this mess; though I enjoyed J.K. Simmons’ part. As for Owen he was a generic version of himself; it was the same thing I have seen before. Sadly I had no sympathy for the brothers or the story in this movie.
1 ½ stars
THE ABSENCE OF a single conversation can steer a relationship off course and down an embankment towards rocky terrain. When someone says “they were afraid to tell their significant other” or do not want to say anything “because they won’t understand what I am saying anyway,” I want to give them a time out. I may understand why the person does not want to confront their partner but the bottom line for me is this: if you are in a committed relationship there should be no fear for one to express their feelings and thoughts. I had a friend who was afraid to tell her husband she was feeling lonely in their relationship. Her husband would go out with his friends to drink or play sports on a consistent basis. She would be left at home. Now granted she could have easily made plans with her friends, but for her it would not have solved the fundamental issue. The issue being she wanted to spend some down time with her husband after their busy work week schedules. WHEN I WITNESS couples not sharing their feelings with each other I fear they are laying down the groundwork for a life of miscommunication; that is if they choose to remain together for that long. More times than not this not talking to each other situation usually brings in to the relationship anger and resentment. In turn a game gets set up where one person does something they know will irritate their partner; then the partner returns the favor by doing something equally as irritating back. It becomes a vicious cycle that only places more negativity on the relationship. I find it sad and if given the opportunity to express my thoughts I will share them with the couple. Something I always recommend is therapy, to get an outside person involved to mediate and help the couple learn how to communicate their feelings to each other. I can see where the idea for this comedy came from regarding the issues facing the couples in this movie. LOOKING TO PROVE her theory about marriage researcher Vivian, played by Dolly Wells (Bridget Jones franchise, 45 Years), chose what she believed to be the perfect couples to participate in her documentary. Each couple had issues, maybe more than Vivian had bargained for. Starring writer and director Lake Bell (In a Word, No Strings Attached) as Alice, Ed Helms (Love the Coopers, Vacation) as Noah, Mary Steenburgen (The Proposal, What’s Eating Gilbert Grape) as Cybil, Paul Reiser (Whiplash, Mad About You-TV) as Harvey and Amber Heard (The Danish Girl, Drive angry) as Fanny; this was a well chosen ensemble for this story. As I mentioned the idea for this story was sound in my opinion; but it did not always translate to the script. Where some scenes had humor and real life situations, others fell flat and were not realistic. It was as if there was more than one story going on at times which attributed to the loss of focus. I was periodically bored and never felt like I fully knew any of the characters. In the past I have enjoyed Lake Bell’s work and performances, but for this film the directing did not help in jumping from one couple’s story to another. I am afraid for a story about communication and marriage; this movie did not do a good job in proving its point. There was a brief extra scene during the beginning credits.
1 ¾ stars
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
Whenever I see the city of my birth up on the big screen I immediately get a sense of pride. Even if the story shows an ugly side to the city, I enjoy seeing familiar surroundings. Let us face it, every city has positives and negatives; I choose to stay upbeat about my city and its possibilities. I have lived my whole life in the same city and have seen historic events throughout the years. When friends or family come into town you can always count on getting at least a mini tour of some area of the city or a visit to a local restaurant. I think having pride about the place you live in sends out a positive message. Not to come across as being too judgmental but I think if people took more pride in their surroundings and city it would become infectious to others. Having a good feeling can only create a better life, don’t you think? You have nowhere further to look than to your city’s local sports team to see the exuberant pride gushing out of the fans. If you have never been to an event where everyone around you was acting out in unison to a common pride, let me tell you it can be a heady experience. Please keep in mind I am not even talking about the people who over indulge in their celebrations. There was an exhibit that came to one of my city’s museums that was only going to be shown here, nowhere else in the country. You should have seen how all the people attending this exhibit were so excited and full of pride that the city snagged such an exclusive event. I even got so wrapped up in the enthusiasm I wound up buying a couple of T-shirts from the gift shop that was set up at the exit of the exhibit. It really is a good feeling to share your pride in something which is why I could relate to the fans sitting in the audience of this record breaking event. HOMETOWN native Kevin Hart (Central Intelligence, The Wedding Ringer) wanted to have a concert in the city he grew up in, Philadelphia. His love of the city helped break a record. This comedy movie for the most part was filmed at Philadelphia’s Lincoln Financial Field. The opening and closing scenes were created as a big joke on how Kevin would pay for this comedy concert. It also gave him the opportunity to interact with Halle Berry (X-Men franchise, The Call), Don Cheadle (Iron Man franchise, Hotel Rwanda) and Ed Helms (The Hangover franchise, Vacation). Let me first tell you I am not a fan of Kevin’s films because I feel he does the same character over and over. As for his style of humor, there are a few amusing bits he performs; but generally I am not a fan of using foul or vulgar language to get a laugh. If you enjoy Kevin’s work then you will have a fun time watching this concert. For me this picture was just okay; however, I enjoyed seeing a stadium full of people all sharing in a good time.
It was known as the fancy tablecloth but in actuality it was no different from any other one. The only difference was it only came out once a year for the holiday. The house would be filled all day with the warm smells of favorite foods being prepared in the kitchen. This was the only time where that cherry red gelatinous ring would make an appearance. It was created in a metal mold that had flowers etched in the bottom. Inside of it were pieces of various fruits that looked like they were captured and put into suspended animation. I have to tell you it was the weirdest looking thing on the dining room table. In spite of it this was my favorite holiday as we all came together to celebrate and eat. I do not think it started out as a tradition but people sort of fell into a set routine where each person would do the same thing every year. For example, the same person always brought this dessert made from an old family recipe that had to be doubled and tripled in size over time because everyone would fight over it. Another person would always make and bring sweet and sour meatballs that had a secret ingredient of grape jelly. All of these things fell into a tradition and became part of the holiday and part of our celebration. I of course being the most comfortable with routines appreciated that these things turned into our yearly tradition. Fortunately or unfortunately as the yearly guests became part of a couple they would bring new people into our traditions. Sometimes it worked and sometimes it did not. CHARLOTTE and Sam, played by Diane Keaton (The Godfather franchise, Annie Hall) and John Goodman (The Gambler, The Big Lebowski), wanted the family to all come together one last time for the holidays. Like any family, some would be coming with extra baggage. This comedy had an impressive cast of actors. Besides Diane and John there was Marisa Tomei (Spare Parts, The Lincoln Lawyer) as Emma and Ed Helms (We’re the Millers, The Hangover franchise) as Hank. With the few dramatic scenes in the movie the actors were easily able to pull them off. Sadly I would rather have had more such scenes because the majority of the story was so basic and idiotic I was bored to tears. I was stunned that these actors agreed to do something that was so poorly written. Diane’s role seemed identical to some of her recent previous ones; there was no difference between them. Not only did I not find anything funny, the entire audience around me must have felt the same since there was dead silence through the film. I only hope the studio does not want to start a tradition by doing a sequel. There was an extra scene during the credits.
1 3/4 stars
When I used to hear the word vacation I knew that meant we were taking a road trip. My preparation consisted of getting the latest comic books, magazines, along with plenty of snacks; what clothes to bring was less important to me. With the entire back seat of the car as my living space throughout the trip, I could stretch out and nap when there was nothing interesting to see out the car windows. I not only have hundreds of fond memories from those road trips, but I can recall all the not so nice things that I experienced going across the country. For example there was the trip we took to Florida where the driver was the son of family friends. He wanted to take the shortest amount of time to get to our destination so bathroom breaks were scheduled based on time not need. There was one long stretch where I started to cry because I had to use the bathroom so badly. There was another trip where we planned to stop overnight so we could rest up and arrive for lunch the next day at our destination. Unfortunately the motel we had reservations at had mice and cockroaches leading us down the hallway towards our room. We did not even bother making it to our room before turning around and leaving that place. Oh and I cannot forget the motel room that had a bathroom that looked like a crime scene. Vacations should not have to be hard; someone needed to tell the family in this adventure comedy. HOPING to give his family the same fond memories he experienced when he was a kid Rusty Griswold, played by Ed Helms (The Hangover franchise, Cedar Rapids), decided he was going to take the family on a vacation to Walley World. There certainly was going to be a lot of memories made from this road trip. This story was not a sequel or reboot; what it did was take the character of Rusty from the original film and have him be an adult with a family of his own. Christina Applegate (Hall Pass, Anchorman franchise) played Rusty’s wife Debbie. Five minutes into the picture and I was immediately turned off by the story. Essentially the writers tried to make jokes out of the younger son bullying his older brother and I found it offensive. This went on for over half of the film and I did not find it funny at all. The rest of the jokes consisted of crude bathroom humor and dull sight gags. The only plus in this movie was Leslie Mann (The Other Woman, This is 40) and Chris Hemsworth (The Avengers franchise, Rush) as Audrey and Stone Crandall. If I had known I would have put in a 60 hour work week instead of taking time to go see this boring film.
1 1/2 stars
Being the designated driver for some of my friends, I have been stuck staying at a nightclub until closing time. When the lights came on I was stunned how the entire place radically changed. When we first arrived at the club there were colored strobe lights sparking everywhere, narrow spotlights searching the dance floor while a cool, low fog circulated around our feet. At the end of the evening the room was flooded with harsh white light, exposing stained dark walls and a floor littered with confetti and crepe paper streamers. Some of it was clumped together on parts of the floor where drinks were spilled. At one of the leather clad booths along the wall, there was a passed out patron. As you can see it was not a pretty picture. The same could be said for this tired film. Consider this movie the last call of the franchise. Phil, Stu and Justin; played by Bradley Cooper (Limitless, Silver Linings Playbook), Ed Helms (Cedar Rapids, The Office-TV) and Justin Bartha (National Treasure franchise, The Rebound); participated in an intervention for Alan, played by Zach Galifianakis (The Campaign, Due Date). On the way to the treatment center; the Wolfpack was ambushed by Marshall, played by John Goodman (Argo, Flight). Holding Doug as hostage; Marshall gave the rest of the gang three days to find Mr. Chow, played by Ken Jeong (Community-TV, Pain & Gain). The story was one dimensional; in other words, it seemed as if they planned the jokes first, then wrote the story around them. The problem was the lack of humor; the jokes were utterly stale. Using Alan’s questionable feelings towards Phil as a continuous joke quickly became old. The character of Mr. Chow derived his humor by being inappropriate for these politically correct times. When the first movie came out it was a novel and fresh idea. I found the film to be dreary and lazy. Consider this film a reminder to never stay beyond last call.
1 3/4 stars
Some people may find signs in burnt toast or water stained walls, others acknowledge no such occurences. Was it a sign when years ago I had locked myself in an apartment basement, while a couple of bullies were pounding on the door and the skies opened up with a fierce downpour of rain? As they ran for shelter, I was able to escape and make my way home. As a kid, I took it as a huge sign. Interestingly, the character of Jeff in this movie, played by Jason Segel (Forgetting Sarah Marshall, The Muppets), spends his time trying to make sense of what he believed to be signs. His brother Pat, played by Ed Helms (The Hangover, Cedar Rapids), was the opposite. He had a plan in life or so he thought until one day he spotted his wife out with another man. Though it appeared the brothers did not get along, Jeff helped his brother with his plans, using signs to guide his actions. It was an interesting premise for a movie and it was a relief to see Jason Segel act without his comedic shtick. There were no big laughs in the movie; instead, scenes were set up to induce a chuckle or smirk from the viewer. I enjoyed the even pacing of the film and was taken by surprise, shall we say,with the twist of fate event.
2 2/3 stars