I FELT TRAPPED IN THE MIDDLE of a group of strangers, with no way to get out. It was the weekend and I was a guest at a party where everyone knew each other except for me. The introductions had all been been made as I found myself an empty seat among a small group of guests, who were sitting outside at the back of the house. No one was being mean to me; they just did not engage me into any of their conversations. Well actually there really weren’t multiple conversations going on amongst this group; there was one individual who was orchestrating the conversation. Everyone else was just listening to him and occasionally making a comment or agreeing with this fellow’s statements. As I quietly sat there I heard this person talk on a variety of subjects. He went from camping stories to traveling ones to skiing escapades to stories about his son’s achievements. Since I had never met him before I did not want to make a snap judgement based on a few of his stories. But do you want to know something? As the other guests nodded their approval or chuckle at this guy’s escapades, I could not help but feel that this man’s conversations were simply a way for him to brag about himself. THERE WAS ONLY SO MUCH I COULD endure before I excused myself to find a place to sit somewhere far from this braggart. Later in the evening I discovered an interesting fact concerning that man. It turned out he was the husband of a woman there who had a prominent position with the same company as several of the guests at the party. You may be asking why this was an interesting fact; I will tell you why. There was a reason why this husband spent a majority of the evening talking about himself. With his wife in an important position, it appeared to me he was feeling threatened by it. Sitting with his wife’s co-workers, this man wanted to show everyone that he was just as important or dominant or successful as his wife. Not speaking for the other guests, but now that I knew about this extra piece to the puzzle I felt sad for the guy. Instead of working on his confidence to be a supportive partner in the relationship he had to sit and regale the guests with stories about his so called incredible achievements. I could not imagine anyone at the party thinking any less of him. This animated action comedy has a similar situation with its main character, go ahead and check it out. TIRED OF NOT BEING TAKEN SERIOUSLY as a superhero Robin, voiced by Scott Menville (RoboCop, The Hunger Games: Catching Fire), decided the way to step out from the shadows of the popular superheroes was to get a movie made about him and the rest of the Teen Titans. All they needed was a villain to vanquish and a top director. With Kristen Bell (Bad Moms franchise, The Boss) voicing Jade Wilson, Will Arnett (When in Rome, Jonah Hex) voicing Slade, Greg Cipes (Fast & Furious, Club Dread) voicing Beast Boy and Khary Payton (The Walking Dead-TV, General Hospital-TV) voicing Cyborg; I was pleasantly surprised at how fun this movie was to watch. The humor was sophisticated enough to please the adults in the audience as the script took swipes at the whole superhero genre. Where I had difficulty was the direction of the story; it stayed at a non-stop clip through the entire picture. I enjoyed the old school animation and it fit right in with the sarcastic script. Too bad I didn’t go see this film in lieu of sitting and listening to someone trying to make himself feel important.
2 ¾ stars
THERE HAS ONLY BEEN a small handful of individuals I have known who had a natural ability to excel in their life’s journey. Things came naturally to these people, where they did not need to be schooled or guided in conquering their dreams/goals. I am sure when you were in school you had at least one student who did not study before an exam and yet would still get a perfect score. From my college days I remember a student in one of my writing classes who had a book and few short stories published before the semester even began. The entire class looked up to this individual. Even outside a school setting I know a young adult who already is displaying an uncanny ability when it comes to electronics. Without any instruction, he wired and set up a burglary alarm system for his family’s home. NOW THERE ARE SOME people who excel at something but they need to work at it. You know that old joke about how does one get to Carnegie Hall and the answer is practice, practice, practice? Some individuals work hard trying to achieve their dreams. Whether it involves mental concentration or physical training, the individuals in this group sacrifice social interactions among other things to reach their goals. I am a firm believer in people attempting to reach their dreams; for it is better to have tried then spend the rest of one’s life wondering what life would have been like if they had at least attempted to reach their goals, in my opinion. I am sure it has crossed some of your minds, especially if you have watched some of those reality shows, that there are some people who should stop trying to be something they will never be. I know what you mean since I have seen a couple of those singing and dancing reality shows where some of the people auditioning show no talent for the task. It would not be fair for me to judge, but see how you feel about the main character trying to reach his dream in this dramatic comedy based on a true story. REFUSING TO ACCEPT THE negative comments about his acting abilities Tommy, played by James Franco (The Interview, Why Him?) not only liked the idea from his friend Greg, played by Dave Franco (Warm Bodies, Now You See Me franchise), he agreed to it; they would make their own movie to star in. This film festival winning picture also starring Seth Rogen (Funny People, Neighbors franchise) as Sandy, Ari Graynor (The Sitter, Mystic River) as Juliette and Alison Brie (Sleeping with Other People, Mad Men-TV) as Amber; was hilarious in parts. I and the audience around me were laughing out loud. The story is so bizarre it took me some time to actually believe this was a true story and not some big satire. Interestingly I was initially annoyed with James’ character, but after awhile I realized he was doing an excellent acting job playing this mysterious, odd character. I also enjoyed the variety of cameo roles that popped up throughout the movie. As I mentioned earlier it took me time to get into the story; I was confused by the script and was getting “antsy” for something to take place. However with James’ directing and the absurd idea behind the story coming to life, I had to applaud the achievements that were on display by the end. It goes to show you, follow your dreams because you never know where they will lead you.
3 1/3 stars
MY enjoyment in learning something about a celebrity’s life predominantly comes from only one source. Actually hearing about an individual’s personal experience or shall we say exposure to a celebrity piques my interest. Sure there maybe something reported in the news or entertainment shows; however, I never pay attention to the gossip magazines. Let me show you what I mean without sharing the celebrity’s name just so I do not get sued or something. THERE is a friend of mine who was an extra on a popular television show. He had direct contact with one actor in a scene that had a few extra tapings with different camera angles, over a couple of days. It took place mid morning and my friend told me the actor smelled of alcohol each day before they even started to film. In fact, when my friend was pouring fake drinks for the scene, this actor insisted his drink has real liquor. Now gaining this little insight doesn’t change my opinion of the person unless he does something stupid, like driving, while under the influence. However, if I discover a celebrity is prejudiced against any type of minority I discard them totally. Some of you may already know there are a couple of actors whose films never get reviewed by me because I will not support them in any way, especially by giving them money to see their pictures. Putting that aside, one other thing I get a kick out of are the movies that have for at least part of their story a portrayal of an actual famous person. The fun factor in this comedic drama for me was seeing the “life” of Howard Hughes. RECENTLY transplanted to Hollywood, California Marla Mabrey and Frank Forbes, played by Lily Collins (The Blind Side, Mirror Mirror) and Alden Ehrenreich (Blue Jasmine, Beautiful Creatures), wound up working for the same employer; the famous Howard Hughes, played by Warren Beatty (Bonnie and Clyde, Dick Tracy). Working for the billionaire meant they would have to follow certain rules. This film festival winning romance written and directed by Warren had a great cast of actors such as Matthew Broderick (Glory, Ferris Bueller’s Day Off) as Levar Mathis and Candice Bergen (Miss Congeniality, Murphy Brown-TV) as Nadine Henly. I thought the sets and costumes were accurate and visually pleasing. As for the story there were parts of it that captured the essence of those madcap comedy films from the 1940s; however, there were times where the script got bogged down. It felt like there was so much going on that the viewer was only getting the highlights of the characters’ lives. I found the story line involving Howard to be more entertaining; in turn, a stronger presence on screen in my opinion. Maybe because of my interest in real life individuals I was more interested in Warren’s scenes, though I thought he did a good job of acting. Just now it occurred to me that Warren’s kinetic performance partially mirrored the pacing at times during this film. Overall I enjoyed watching this movie, wondering if any of the scenes involving Howard Hughes were based on any real life events besides the obvious ones shown.
2 ½ stars
The two had grown up in the same small city, got married and had adequate jobs. Upon first look their life together looked fine. Truthfully there was nothing wrong except their dreams and hopes eventually outgrew the city. Each of them wanted something more. They knew it was time to make a change; so they pared down their belongings and moved out of state to a large metropolitan city. Going from a quaint colonial style house to a 2 bedroom walk up apartment was an adjustment; but it was worth it because their new city could support their dreams. After finding jobs and settling into the rhythm of their new life they explored the city, started doing volunteer work and signed up for various meet up groups; all in the hopes of expanding their social network. As time went on one of them was earning some success at their job, advancing up the ladder as they say. The other did not have such luck and started to feel they were reaching a dead end. With all the expenses of living in a big city compared to their hometown, quitting a job was not in the cards just yet. The two maintained a strong supportive bond between each other, but their shared responsibilities started to go out of alignment. As the one was gaining financial success the other only had incremental raises. The financial divide kept growing to the point where a discussion ensued about remaining in the city. Where one was finally reaching some of their life’s goals, the other felt the city could not offer them what they needed to succeed. It was a conundrum. HOPING to find success Bobby Dorfman, played by Jesse Eisenberg (The End of the Tour, Now You See Me franchise), left his home in the Bronx and moved out to Hollywood. It could not hurt having an uncle out there who was a famous agent. Written and directed by Woody Allen (Midnight in Manhattan, Magic in the Moonlight) this comedic romance had a spectacular look to it. The 1930s décor and style made this film a real treat to watch on the big screen. The perfect accompaniment to the visual aspect was the soundtrack; I thoroughly enjoyed the jazzy music. Starring along with Jesse was Steve Carell (The Big Short, Freeheld) as Phil Stern, Kristen Stewart (American Ultra, Still Alice) as Vonnie and Blake Lively (The Shallows, The Age of Adaline) as Veronica. Though I enjoyed all of them I have to say if they ever decide to do a film biography of Woody Allen then they need to cast Jesse. Using Woody’s words Jesse was perfectly cast in this film. There were parts in this movie where Woody was doing narrations and when the scene moved to Jesse talking it was almost identical in speech. The script was fun with some excellent lines in it, though I did find it somewhat predictable. For a Woody Allen comedy this was more like a light version. I felt there could have been more to mine in the story. It was great film to watch and listen to; I just wish it would have succeeded more in telling a good story.
2 ¾ stars
It did not matter that she was fond of him or even possibly in love with him, people were already passing judgement. She had met him in college during a social function on campus. They started out as friends, but it quickly moved into a romantic relationship. Several of her friends finally showed their true colors when she started dating this man. The reason being the man aka boyfriend was of a different race. Now some of her friends did not react at all, it did not matter to them; as long as she was happy that is all that mattered. But some of her so called “good” friends thought it was wrong. Personally, I was shocked by their reactions since I felt it was no one’s business who she dated and ultimately, why it should even matter to anyone else. The sad part of it was from that moment on she was labeled, though she did not know it. Even passing acquaintances made up their mind about her and her boyfriend without ever meeting him. It reminded me of another friend of mine who was dating someone of a different faith. Their parents were wildly upset about it and barely hid their feelings on the subject. As you may be wondering, this only pushed my friend harder to make the relationship work. However, after a year of dating the two decided they would be better off just being friends. These two events really opened my mind up to the fact there are many people in this world who make snap decisions about individuals without ever meeting or knowing them. HOLLYWOOD’S top screenwriter Dalton Trumbo, played by Bryan Cranston (Argo, Breaking Bad-TV), lost his status due to his political views. The only weapon available to him to fight back was his words. Based on a true event this biographical drama was a fascinating story to me. It was startling to see Hollywood back in the 1940s and 50s during this period of Dalton’s life. With Diane Lane (Man of Steel, The Perfect Storm) as Cleo Trumbo, Louis C.K. (Blue Jasmine, Louie-TV) as Arlen Hird and Helen Mirren (Woman in Gold, The Queen) as Hedda Hopper; I felt like I was getting a Hollywood history lesson. The acting was exceptionally good, particularly by Bryan. The story is an important one I believe and I just wished the script had done a better job of it. There were times where I felt scenes lost their magic and turned dull in a cartoonish type of way. It was possible the directing did not help out because the story moved in a blockish way, coming across more like skits. However, a treat for me was seeing portrayals of old-time actors and directors like Edward G. Robinson and Otto Preminger being played out in this story. I think the subject matter in this film is just as relevant today as it was back then. One can only hope people watch this movie before making up their minds.
I can only imagine what it must have been like to sit in one of those old movie palaces with the etched terra cotta walls, marble countertops and various sculptures plus murals adorning its grand lobby. Settled into one of the plush velvet covered seats with the wooden armrests that were polished to a high gloss, there had to be an electric energy in the air when this actor was up on the large movie screen. The reason I say this is because I remember seeing his movies on television when I was a little boy. Whether he played a pirate who was secretly conspiring with Queen Elizabeth I to pick off Spanish ships or robbing from the rich to give to the poor; to me he was the ultimate hero. I remember one Halloween I wore a pirate costume but at each house I visited I would tell them I was Errol Flynn (The Sea Hawk, Captain Blood). During his lifetime there was no social media or reporter frenzy like there is today. Scandals may have been reported via word of mouth, but with Errol his outrageousness went beyond any behind the back whispers. KEVIN Kline (Last Vegas, Wild Wild West) portrayed Errol Flynn in this dramatic biography that focused on the movie star’s last years. The story focused on Errol’s infatuation with a young girl named Beverly Aadland, played by Dakota Fanning (Man on Fire, The Runaways). With a celebrity obsessed mother named Florence, played by Susan Sarandon (Tammy, Thelma & Louise), the young starlet wannabe and older actor would set off a controversy that would rock Hollywood. Since I was not familiar with this story I did ask a couple of people if they remembered this chapter of Errol’s life. They in fact did remember the incident, confirming parts of this film for me. Kevin Kline did an admirable job playing Errol. He may not have had the same suave golden charm of Errol but he was still able to pull it off. As for Dakota I was surprised how much I did not care for her in this role. Her acting was bland and lifeless to me. Compared to Kevin and Susan she stood out as a joke; though I have to say, I did not think Susan was all that great either. For such a character from the golden age of actors, this movie fell flat; I was periodically bored as I would glance at my watch to see if the film was almost over. It is never a good sign if I have to look at my watch during a picture. Such a poorly written script, this film did not put the life into an actor who was larger than life.
1 3/4 stars
A majority is defined as being the largest segment or party of a larger group. Being part of the majority gives one some added liberties or shall I say freebies in life. Whether in government or a condominium association when you are part of the majority you get to set the rules. I believe each of us at some point in our life has been part of both a majority and a minority. Having grown up in a large city, when I went to summer camp I was in the majority of fellow campers who came from the city as opposed to the suburbs. However, when I was in college I had a class where I was the only person who came from the city; all the other classmates had grown up on farms. I am well aware in the scheme of things this example is a minor issue. There are some huge hurdles to overcome when one is considered as a member of a minority based on skin color, religion, gender or body shape; along with a multitude of other various factors. Decades ago Hollywood was even less diverse than it is presently. For someone who was not part of the majority it was tough to break-in and be part of the moviemaking magic. STRUGGLING as a young man Mario Moreno had a gift for making people laugh. From modest beginnings he would eventually become the most popular comedic actor in Mexico, known as Cantinflas. Could he accomplish that feat in Hollywood, however? I had no idea what this movie was about until I was told which roles Cantinflas played in American films. As soon as I heard the moive titles, “Around the World in 80 Days,” and “Pepe,” I immediately remembered this actor. This biographical drama showed what Cantinflas encountered as he stayed focused on doing what he loved to do–make people laugh. Oscar Jaenada (The Losers, Pirates of the Caribeean: On Stranger Tides) portrayed Cantinflas and I have to say I thought he did a wonderful job of acting. Along with Michael Imperioli (The Lovely Bones, The Sopranos-TV) playing producer Michael Todd and Ilse Salas (Gueros, Locas de Amor-TV) as Valentina Ivanova, the acting overall was believable and enjoyable to watch. The main issue I had with this film was the script; it seemed as if the viewer was only getting snippets of Cantinflas’ life, never getting deep down into the emotional aspects about the occurrences in his life. Though I was mostly entertained by this picture, I left the theater wishing I had seen “Around the World in 80 Days” again; it would have been more entertaining. Portions of the movie had Spanish dialog with English subtitles.
A funny movie that captured the screwball comedy genre of the 1930’s and 40’s, I got a big kick from watching this DVD. The setting was the French Riviera where seated at the hotel bar was Irene, played by Audrey Tautou (The Da Vinci Code, Coco Before Chanel), celebrating her birthday. Her companion, a much older wealthy gentleman, had fallen asleep in their hotel room. You see, beautiful Irene was a gold digger. Spotting the well groomed Jean, played by Gad Elmaleh (Midnight in Paris, The Round Up), she believed she found a younger replacement for her aging boyfriend. Plus it did not hurt that Jean, a bartender at the hotel, brought her up to one of the swanky suites, pretending it was his place. From this point on, the movie took off on a madcap game with Irene and Jean as the contestants. I thought the chemistry between the two stars was flawless, along with Gad’s impressive comedic timing. There was something about his demeanor and facial expressions that reminded me of Buster Keaton. The film kept a steady level of zaniness and the reading of the subtitles was not an issue for me. It was a wonderful surprise to experience that old time Hollywood fun via France. French with English subtitles.
3 stars — DVD
When I am not teaching my classes, some days I can be found in aisle 9, candies and cookies, of my local grocery store. The rush I get while I peruse the assortment of delicious treats was the same feeling I felt at the opening scene of this combo animated and live action movie. My television screen was filled with delectable sweet delicacies from the Easter Bunny candy factory. I enjoyed the beginning of this fanciful film. The story was about the Easter Bunny’s son E.B., voiced by Russell Brand (Arthur, Get Him to the Greek), who did not want to take over for his Dad and become the Easter Bunny. Instead, E.B. wanted to become a famous drummer, running away to Hollywood to fulfill his dream. It was at this point of the movie where things began to fall apart for me. Enter James Marsden (Enchanted, Hairspray) as Fred O’Hare, an unemployed slacker who accidentally injured E.B. with his car. From the wonderful opening the rest of the movie was lackluster with primitive humor. What could have been an interesting story just never clicked with me and I found myself being bored. Out of the choices available to see an animated, fantasy movie; I felt like I just pulled out the green Life Saver from my assortment pack–my least favorite flavor.
2 stars — DVD