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
LIFE as you know it can burst apart in a seismic moment when you are introduced to your new baby sister or brother. If you are the first born it probably is a bigger adjustment than it would be for those born after you. When you are the only one, you benefit from your parents devoting their attention solely on you. With multiple children in the family the parents may feel as if they are spending equal time with each child; but the perception from the child’s point of view may be totally different. It stands to reason before that baby arrived the only child was the sole focus; now 2 siblings will vie for the attention of Mom and Dad. It does not stand to reason that the scope of your parents’ attention will double with each new child coming into the household. If that was not enough then there is the whole issue about birth order and the characteristics associated with it; such as the middle child gets the least attention and the youngest of the siblings gets spoiled. THE thing that stuns me the most about families with more than one child is how these early, shall we say, landmines can lead to the deterioration of family ties. I recently was talking with someone who expressed they do not talk to their brother. When I asked what they meant, they told me they have not had any communication with their sibling for years. Personally I cannot understand how siblings could dissolve to a level where it was preferable to end all communication between each other. One has to wonder where the parents and their involvement in the upbringing of these children were during the siblings’ formative years. The answers may be found in this animated family comedy. THERE was something different about the baby, voiced by Alec Baldwin (The Departed, 30 Rock-TV), who came into the life of Tim, voiced by Miles Christopher Bakshi (Shrek franchise). For starters the baby was dressed up in a suit. This movie was geared towards the older siblings of a family. I felt part of the humor and sight gags were pointed more to the 6-10 year olds; however, a good portion of the script had the parents in mind, with the type of jokes and references on display. I am not sure if younger children will have as much fun watching this film. Alec was perfect in the role, though Steve Buscemi (Reservoir Dogs, Fargo) as Francis Francis, TV talk show host Jimmy Kimmel as Dad and Lisa Kudrow (Easy A, The Comeback-TV) as Mom held their own. What I enjoyed about this movie besides the humor was its retro look; the visuals reminded me of some of the cartoon shows I used to watch when I was a kid. Underneath all of this I thought the writers did a wonderful job in introducing the lesson of the story. Maybe parents will see the lesson to learn early on, but for children it came across in an imaginative way. Pitting this against other recent animated films, this one may not have all the bells and whistles; however, as the baby of the family I refrain from making such comparisons. There was a brief extra scene in the middle of the credits and another extra scene at the end.
2 3/4 stars
WHEN I ask why they are attracted to that certain feature of the individual, the answer is never the same. It is perplexing to me how people acquire a particular attraction to a person’s height, hair color or body type. Friends of mine to this day test me because they cannot believe I do not pay attention to the surface details of an individual. They will point at someone and ask me if I would be attracted to that person. Each time I have to tell them I do not know until I have had a couple of conversations with that particular individual. Maybe from my studies in psychology I attempt to rationalize a person’s tastes in potential dates. In some circles of thought one could say one of the reasons a person is attracted to redheads is because they are less available, rarer if you will. This person wants to stand out from the pack. Someone may be attracted to facial hair because it represents a father figure, an authoritarian. There are so many different interpretations, yet they still do not answer my fundamental thought: why should it make a difference what a person looks like? You can have what looks like the most perfect apple in your hand, but it still may be rotten underneath the skin. TAKING this a step further, I feel the same way about a person’s ethnicity. The only thing a person’s ethnic makeup tells me is what region of the world their ancestors were born. After taking in the cultural differences, I do not find anything different between people of different races. Each group produces geniuses, thieves, liars, bigoted and loving people. I find this whole discrimination thing puzzling and troubling. People are quick to make judgments about individuals solely based on skin color; I just do not get it. From what I have said you may begin to suspect, this fairy tale is one my favorite stories from childhood. SIMPLY by plucking a single rose off a bush Maurice, played by Kevin Kline (Cry Freedom, My Old Lady), was imprisoned by a monstrous beast, played by Dan Stevens (The Guest, Downton Abbey-TV). If it was not for his daughter Belle, played by Emma Watson (The Bling Ring, Harry Potter franchise); Maurice would have never survived the ordeal. This live action, fantasy musical was based on the animated film version of this story done in the 1990s. With Luke Evans (Dracula Untold, The Raven) as Gaston and Josh Gad (The Wedding Ringer, Jobs) as LeFou, the cast members not associated with singing surprised me with their vocal abilities. Emma took her character and made it a somewhat more modern and determined figure. I do not know if it was because of this or not, but I found her interactions with the Beast emotionally too fast. She never had a sense of revulsion upon meeting the Beast; in other words there was a lack of tension between the two. The same argument could be made with other portions of the film; the story was quickly pushed from one action scene to another I felt. At least the creativity and imagination that went into the sets and individual pieces were thoroughly entertaining. Along with the wonderful musical score and beautiful story, there are more things to like about this film than not. Maybe just do not look too deep under the surface to find the cracks.
FROM my experiences I know every person treats religion differently. I also am aware of the differences between someone who is religious compared to a person who is spiritual. Some years ago I knew a man who went to temple every day to pray. He followed his religion’s customs and traditions fully, handing them down to his children. The interesting thing was after he died his wife stopped following the rituals; not totally but she became more relaxed about the structure shall we say. I know another person who partakes in all the customs of her religion, but her actions are not of a religious person. Just because you attend services and donate money to charity does not automatically make one religious. In other words you have to practice what you preach. This person discriminates against a variety of minorities; I am talking blatantly speaks out against them. I just sit and wonder how they can justify their actions based on how much they talk about their religious participation. THOUGH I understand the circumstances were devastating for the individual I still find it curious when they suddenly become religious. I have experienced this myself on some level at a time when I felt there was no hope of me coming out unscathed. It took place one of the times I was being chased by a group of bullies after school. Hiding behind a couple of garbage cans on the back porch of an apartment building, I could hear them below me. They must have been looking up at the porches of the 4 storied building before running up the stairs to only check on the top floor they could not fully see from the alley. I remember praying to God to keep me hidden from them until they came down the stairway and were long gone. Due to this experience I have gained insight or maybe it is sensitivity to the actions taken by someone experiencing tragedy, like the family in this inspirational fantasy drama. DEEP into depression from a tragic event Mack Phillips, played by Sam Worthington (Clash of the Titans franchise, Avatar), one day received a letter in his box without a postmark. It was from someone he stopped believing in. Based on the bestselling book this fantasy movie also starred Octavia Spencer (Hidden Figures, The Help) as Papa, Radha Mitchell (Man on Fire, Looking for Grace) as Nan Phillips and Tim McGraw (The Blind Side, Country Strong) as Willie. I appreciated the idea behind this film’s story and felt the cast was certainly capable to bring the story to life. My issue lies with the director; the pacing was slow to the point I felt the story was dragging. Add in the script being stacked in favor of manipulating the viewers’ emotions to shed tears, I did not find this a pleasant movie watching experience. If the story would have been told in a more even handed way, allowing the audience to come to their own conclusions, I feel the film would have been better all around. Sitting next to me through this picture were a couple of friends who are more religious than me. Asking them what they thought, they felt the same way I did about the movie. The story was a sad one that did not give them a sense of comfort due to the poor writing and direction.
2 ¼ stars
HE was startled when his significant other’s mother was handed the mobile device to introduce herself. She lived out of the country and her “baby” was visiting her for the holidays. During their Face Time date he was asked if he wanted to meet the mother; he could hear her in the background because the sound of her voice had the same lyrical quality he had grown to love. Though nervous he said yes to the request and was pleasantly surprised at her warm smile; again similarities calmed him, next it was her facial features. The conversation was easy and he quickly felt relaxed as they chit chatted about their common love, her child. For a first conversation he felt good about it and thought she might make a wonderful mother-in law. MEETING for the first time the parents of your significant other can be an eye opening experience. Depending on the conversation one could feel a variety of emotions all across the spectrum. I had a friend who upon meeting her boyfriend’s parents walked away with a negative feeling that only grew in time. By the time my friend was engaged there was open hatred between her and the parents. On the other hand I knew someone who totally loved his in-laws; in fact, he insisted on calling them Mom and Dad since the three of them had more affection for each other than what he had growing up. I just realized from my past relationships most of their parents were deceased or if they were still alive they did not communicate with them. So I guess you can say my experience with in-laws is through my friends and family. Some of the stories I have heard were right out of a comedy show or a soap opera. If anything I can at least say listening to their experiences has groomed me on what I need to do to be a “good” son-in-law. Too bad the boyfriend in this comedy did not pay attention. FOR the holidays Stephanie Fleming, played by Zoey Deutch (Vampire Academy, Everybody Wants Some!!), wanted her family to come out to visit her at Stanford so they could meet her boyfriend Laird Mayhew, played by James Franco (The Interview, Spider-Man franchise). The holiday visit would not be such a merry time for all. With Bryan Cranston (Trumbo, Argo) as Ned Fleming, Megan Mullally (The Kings of Summer, Will & Grace-TV) as Barb Fleming and Keegan-Michael Key (Keanu, Tomorrowland) as Gustav; the idea for this story I felt would be relatable to most viewers. I thought Megan and Bryan were good in their roles but I have to tell you I thought the script was all over the place. There were a couple of funny scenes here and there but a good portion of the time I was bored seeing the same type of antics happening over and over. In addition there was nothing new offered in this story about the father meeting the boyfriend for the first time. There was strong language repeated throughout the film along with sexual references. As far as I was concerned this was a meeting that did not have to take place for the family in this film nor for me in the movie theater.
1 ¾ 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
HAVE you ever met someone and there was an immediate, familiar comfort between the two of you? There was very little or none at all the two of you knew about each other, yet you would listen to what they had to say and you had the sense you knew about it already. This recently happened to me. I only knew a few details about the person before our scheduled meeting. Introductions were made and as we sat down we started up a conversation that was void of any silent moments. Each of us found a rhythm to our speech that was open and real as if we had been friends for years. THE same feeling can be found between long term friends who have been out of touch for a long duration. You must have experienced it at some time I would think. I have a few friends who live out of state. One in particular I had not seen for several years; however, when we finally got together it was as if no significant duration of time every happened between us. We started right up where we left off our previous time as if we had seen each other a few days ago. In situations like this I tend to feel a warm familial connection to the person. Now here is the funny thing, I had this type of reaction to seeing this adventure family film. Being a big fan of the Harry Potter books and movies, I immediately formed a connection to this story that takes place 70 years before Harry Potter arrived in the magical world. ARRIVING in New York City to seek out a particular magical creature Newt Scamander, played by Eddie Redmayne (The Danish Girl, The Theory of Everything), was waylaid by a No-Maj (American for Muggle) who mistakenly wound up with Newt’s suitcase filled with magical creatures. This family movie did not disappoint with the abundance of magical special effects. Set in the 1920s I thoroughly enjoyed the sets and costumes. With Dan Fogler (Fanboys, The Goldbergs-TV) as Kowalski, Colin Farrell (The Lobster, Total Recall) as Graves, Katherine Waterson (Inherent Vice, Steve Jobs) as Tina and Ezra Miller (We Need to Talk about Kevin, The Perks of Being a Wallflower) as Credence Barebone; I thought the actors were good with their characters but had no chemistry between each other. Between the script and the directing, I found the movie on a whole a bit stagnant in some places. It went from a slow pace to a frantic action scene causing an unevenness in the pacing. From what I heard I understand this will be the 1st of 5 films, so I understood this movie would be more of an introduction to all the new characters. In addition, it was very hard not to compare this picture to the Harry Potter movies. This may sound odd but I found several characters were lacking personality; I could not tell you much about them. However with me having an immediate connection to the magical world depicted here the flaws in this film were smoothed over.
2 3/4 stars
ONE of my first supervisors in fitness was a woman; I was one of only two male fitness instructors on staff. It was not a big deal to me because I did not care about my boss’ gender. My concern was having a boss who would support me since the job there was early in my health and fitness career. All went fine for the most part, but I have to say the staff meetings annoyed me and the other male instructor. Half the meeting the two of us would sit there as the other instructors talked about their kids, hot looking celebrities, fashion and female health issues; in other words, nothing about the health club or its program. Gratefully this was not the norm because as I added more health clubs to my schedule I had other female supervisors and that type of conversation never happened during our meetings. GOING on a parallel course was my business career. I will never forget one of my first jobs where I was hired around the holidays. At a family function I mentioned the new job and a relative asked if I liked my boss. I used a pronoun to refer to my boss by saying, I thought she was cool. The relative had a puzzled look on their face and asked me if I felt okay having a woman as a boss. In my head I was screaming, “Are you kidding me!?” I told them it made no difference to me if my boss was a man or woman. As far as I was concerned good or bad bosses are not based on gender. Since I am speaking about gender in the work place I cannot confirm if true but I read a statistical piece that stated, based on current trends, women will reach parity with men in the workplace in 170 years. That means women will have equal pay and ½ of the bosses will be female. With that little tidbit how can you not love the 13 year old girl in this film festival winning documentary? HAVING been born into a family with a long line of eagle hunters all Aisholpan wanted to do was be one of them. The only problem with that was her being a female. This family adventure film was absolutely gorgeous to watch on the big screen. The aerial views of Mongolia’s landscapes were beautiful to me. I have always been a fan of eagles, ever since a camp counselor brought one to our class one day, so this story intrigued me greatly. What I found charming about this film was its simplicity. Seeing and hearing about the townsfolk along with me witnessing a lifestyle foreign from mine, I found myself being drawn into Aisholpan’s life. Especially with our current times this coming of age and female empowerment story seemed so appropriate. Let me add I thought it was genius to have Daisy Ridley (Star Wars: The Force Awakens) narrate this documentary. One of the best things about this movie happened at the end; all the women and men in the audience applauded during the ending credits. Kazakh was spoken with English subtitles.
3 1/3 stars
THE main dinner entrée was being passed around the table, leaving wisps of steam in its path. Each guest was putting a portion of it on their plates. However halfway around the large oval table one guest reversed course and sent the platter back from the direction it had traveled. The guest on the other side who did not get a chance to take some of the entrée did not say a word. It only took the platter traveling backwards a couple of places before a guest asked everyone seated around the table if they had gotten the main course. Half the people around the table said no and the platter made its way around to the rest of the guests. By the way all the guests were related to each other. THAT guest who reversed course was a sister to the woman she snubbed sitting next to her; they do not speak to each other. As the meal progressed there was an uncle who was telling his brother-in-law what he should have done differently in raising his children. A few seats down from him was a relative who had no filters and after they took their first bite into the main entrée they announced to anyone who would listen that the food was overcooked. If that was not enough, sitting next to this individual was a cousin who was complaining to another cousin about a relative who was not in attendance who they felt had awful taste in clothing and was too heavy to wear that type of clothing anyway. To an outsider who was privy to this circle of relatives they would view all of the guests as vipers. However, not all families show their true colors to outsiders. The family in this dramatic comedy was no different. CELEBRATING his first Christmas without his wife all Walter, played by Danny Glover (The Color Purple, Shooter), wanted for the holiday was to have all of his children with him without any arguments. Considering his kids he may have wished for too much. With a cast that included Kimberly Elise (Diary of a Mad Black Woman, For Colored Girls) as Cheryl and Gabrielle Union (Think like a Man franchise, Top Five) as Rachael, the two actors that stood out the most were Mo’Nique (Precious, The Parkers-TV) as Aunt May and J.B. Smoove (We Bought a Zoo, The Sitter) as Uncle Lonnie. These 2 characters could easily be spun off into their own film. As for this picture there were some fun scenes along with a few touching ones. I do have to say if Mo’Nique and J.B. Smoove were not in the movie I would have been bored more than I experienced. The reason being was the story followed a formula for family dysfunctions. Or maybe I am just used to these types of events. Lol But seriously it was easy to figure out the punch line to the gags and jokes. For lighter fare this movie would be fine to watch if you want to chuckle or laugh, but this film does not reveal anything special. I cannot say you would get coal in your stocking for going to this comedy but maybe you might want to wait for a holiday sale.
2 ¼ stars
Times have certainly changed and I bet some of you will be surprised to hear how things used to be when someone was expecting a baby. Years ago the new mother spent more time in the hospital before coming home. Nowadays the way things are going I am surprised one doesn’t need a referral from their primary doctor before going to the hospital to deliver a baby. And once you deliver you are sent home as quickly as possible. If she already had any young children at home more than likely they were not allowed in the hospital right away to see their new baby sister or brother. The mother would have to find a relative to stay and watch her child/children while she went to the hospital. I know what I am about to say will seem dated and I am aware in some circles they still would not approve but there used to be negative connotations associated with being a single mother. Growing up I can only recall one person who was a student who became pregnant. She disappeared; none of us knew what happened to her. Currently most people look upon the birth of a child as a joyous occasion. With the definition of family evolving where a family can be related by blood or not, I think deciding to have a child is an important decision. Even the method of delivery has expanded from what was available back then. Presently one can deliver a baby in a filled up bathtub, a birthing chair or even at home; they do not have to go to a hospital necessarily. Honestly does it really matter? As long as a baby is brought into this world with love and want it does not matter how they get here. See for yourself in this animated comedy. HAVING gotten out of the baby delivery business and into delivering packages employee Junior, voiced by Andy Samberg (The To Do List, Poster: Never Stop Never Believing), of internet company Cornerstone.com must find a way to deliver a surprise unexpected baby without his boss finding out. This adventure film also had Katie Crown (Bob’s Burgers, American Dad!) voicing Tulip, Keegan-Michael Key (Tomorrowland, Keanu) as Alpha Wolf, Jordan Peele (Keanu, Wanderlust) as Beta Wolf and Kelsey Grammer (X-Men franchise, Any American Carol) as Hunter. Colorful and filled with scenes that were supposed to be humorous, I found the story odd. There was too much going on with the multiple themes taking place throughout the story. I thought the scenes with Alpha and Beta Wolf were the best. If the writers would have focused on one of the story lines I think this would have been a better film. There were times where I was bored, especially with some scenes that seemed like filler. It was a shame because the theme having to do with family had a good message to convey. I suspect the youngest of children will enjoy this film and I do not recall any scenes that would be terribly frightening for them. Mixing the old ways with some of the new ones this movie may have shown you how to deliver a baby; it just was not the best in delivering entertainment.
1 ¾ stars