I WAS SITTING ON THE COUCH, deep into a mystery novel, when I suddenly felt a puff of air on the back of my neck. In the seconds I needed to alter my thought process back into the real world, that puff of air was replaced with something wet. As I leaned forward to turn around, there on the back of the couch sat my relatives’ cat; I was so into reading my book I had not noticed the cat jumping up onto the couch to get behind me. I chuckled to myself as I settled into my spot to get back to reading my book. The cat had other plans for me. He tentatively placed his paw on my shoulder as if he were testing the temperature of water. The next thing I knew, he got up onto my shoulders; paused for a moment for sniffing and pressing his paws around my upper back before he stretched himself out and plopped himself around the back of my neck. I asked him what he thought he was doing as I smoothed out the fur on the part of his legs, I could see that were hanging down in front. He was such an easy-going character; so, I went back to my reading while the steady drone of purring played in the background. THOUGH I NEVER HAD A DOG OR cat as a pet when I was growing up, I had several relatives who did. This offered me the luxury of playing with them without the cleanup or mess. One relative had two black cats with white diamonds on their chests. They were not related but they certainly looked like a father and son duo. The older one had a nervous personality, where he was always suspicious and skittish. If I came over with a new toy, I would have to leave it out in the open in the middle of the floor and walk away from it. He would wait until I left the room before he would come out from under a piece of furniture and circle the toy, stopping in his tracks periodically to see if the toy would do something. Slowly he got closer to the toy, always on guard. When he finally got to it, he would take a sniff before swatting it to see what it would do. I could spend hours watching him and his methodical ways. In general, I have always enjoyed watching and playing with cats; that is, until I saw this comedic, family drama film. ONCE A YEAR A GROUP OF CATS come together to see which one will be chosen to start a new life. One of the cats however planned on stacking the deck in his favor. With newcomer Francesca Hayward as Victoria, Idris Elba (The Dark Tower, The Mountain Between Us) as Macavity, Judi Dench (Victoria & Abdul, Philomena) as Old Deuteronomy, Rebel Wilson (How to be Single, Isn’t it Romantic?) as Jennyanydots and Jennifer Hudson (The Secret Life of Bees, Dreamgirls) as Grizabella; I am at a loss for words to describe my experience sitting through this odd movie. Having seen the stage play, the transfer of it to the big screen took away a lot of the magic and wonder of seeing the cats perform both on stage and in the audience. Here, I found the actors looked weird and had no screen presence except for Jennifer Hudson. Her scenes were the best in my opinion. Since there really was never a plot to the story, sitting in the theater listening to one song and another; I would have preferred if I could have watched them as music videos on TV or the internet. Visually this picture was pleasing to see with its fanciful scenes and sets; however, it was not enough to keep me engaged. If you have a choice, I would recommend instead of watching this bizarre experiment you volunteer your time at an animal shelter.
1 ¾ stars
SEVERAL YEARS AGO, IN MY HOMETOWN there was a trial where the children of the deceased were suing their stepmother. She was the beneficiary of her husband’s estate according to the will; the children would only receive a nominal amount of money. They were quite upset as you can imagine; especially, because they felt their stepmother only married their father for his money. I should mention the stepmother was 30 years younger than her husband. Now before you question whether I might be subtly being judgmental, I have known both married and dating couples who have had a wide difference between their ages. They were happy together and I was happy for them. What made this trial curious to me was the fact the couple had been married only a couple of years after a brief dating period. It is funny, the only time I might become aware of such cases is when money plays a factor. To be honest I do wonder at times what a couple has in common when they are generations apart. Wasn’t there a celebrity case where the age difference was 40+ years? I would be interested to see, if money was not part of the package would the younger person still be interested in the individual? WITHIN THE CIRCLES OF PEOPLE I have encountered I have met those who were aggressive in finding a mate. There was a woman who researched the men she dated. When I say research, she would try to get her hands on their credit report, use a friend at the Department of Motor Vehicles to see if the potential mate had a driving record, along with looking for any type of criminal activity. It was startling to see what lengths she would go to filter out those she felt were not suitable love interests. I found it offensive when someone would tell me they did not see themselves with the person they were dating but continued to stick around because they liked the attention and gifts they were getting from the person. To me, people like this are just being mercenary, taking advantage of the individual’s kindness. Maybe these people know they are being taken advantage of; then in that case, I have nothing to say about it. There are all kinds of people out there and what works for one may not work for the other. You might not believe what some people will do for love; for example, the couple in this dramatic thriller may surprise you. THERE WAS SOMETHING ROY COURTNEY AND Betty McLeish, played by Ian McKellen (The Lord of the Rings franchise, Mr. Holmes) and Helen Mirren (The Queen, Anna), saw that attracted them to each other. The question however, what exactly was it? With Russell Tovey (The History Boys, Looking-TV) as Stephen, Jim Carter (Downton Abbey, The Oxford Murders) as Vincent and Mark Lewis Jones (Little White Lies, Star Wars: Episode VIII – The Last Jedi) as Bryn; this film shined because of Helen and Ian. They were wonderful to watch and truly did an amazing job with their characters. At times the story played like an Agatha Christie or Dan Brown novel with its twists and turns. The script kept me engaged until it got closer to the end where I was left disappointed; I did not care for the way the story ended. It came across to me as if it was done for a quick way to get out of the tale the story had woven. Too bad because with a little more tweaking and building up more depth to the characters this film could have been an attention grabber. I did not feel used buying a ticket to see this movie; however, I would have appreciated getting more for my money.
2 ½ stars
Presently when I look towards what my future may be, I cannot make out any distinct elements to it. As if just beginning to wake from a slow long slumber in the middle of a morning fog, retirement has never been something that has made its presence known in my awarenesses. Only recently do I wonder what my life will be like in the years to come. I imagine there will be an older version of myself with deeper lines etched into my face like small creeks that have run dry. The mirror in my house may appear to have a layer of permanent dust on it because my outline always appears fuzzy. Will I still be teaching fitness and yoga classes; I would like to think so, though maybe my energy level may not be able to reach its former high. Maybe I will be leading a walking class instead of a cycling class. Age is such a contradiction. On the one hand it is assumed we acquire more knowledge the older we get; however, we may not be able to do as much with it as we age. What sense does that make? I am known for telling my yoga classes, when we are in the middle of a challenging pose, that we are doing this now so we can get out of a chair by ourselves when we are 90 years old. I really do believe this to be true. For me I need this as a fundamental pillar of my retirement years. RETIRED to the country to tend to his bees the famous Sherlock Holmes, played by Ian McKellen (The Hobbit franchise, X-Men franchise), has one old unsolved case that still troubles him. His failing mind cannot bring back all the clues he needs to solve it. I mean this as a compliment; everything about this film festival winning crime drama was window dressing for Ian’s amazing performance. The idea of the story was brilliant, based on the novel of the same name. In addition the cinematography was exquisite for both story lines and the acting from Laura Linney (Hyde Park on Hudson, The Savages) as Mrs. Munro and relative newcomer Milo Parker as Roger fit in perfectly with Ian and his character. Even the small humorous throwaways about the real Sherlock Holmes compared to Dr. Watson’s version were a nice balance as we learn more about the unsolved case. Since I grew up watching the old Sherlock Holmes movies with Basil Rathbone, it took me a few minutes to readjust my mind and let Ian fill in the elements for this version of Sherlock. It was an easy adjustment. By the end of this film I felt I had seen the real Sherlock Holmes honestly dealing with life in his older years.
3 1/4 stars
It has been a long time; some people had relationships that were of a shorter duration. When we first met my eyes were dazzled by your beauty and my mind was tickled by your fanciful creativity. You showed me places I had only read about in books, never imagining I would see them come to life. I so enjoyed listening to your stories as the images you created appeared before my very eyes. You had this ability to sweep me away to a place where I could forget my problems and let the little boy inside of me come out to play. The years have been good to us. Like any relationship we settled into an easy comfort as we grew old together. Though my hearing and vision may not be as good as it used to be, I still looked forward to the tales you would tell me. After all this time I very much appreciated the fact you did not judge me if it looked like I was about to doze off during your storytelling; you know I never did. By the way, whenever I needed to take a bathroom break I always quickly ran there and back so I would not miss much. DIRECTOR Peter Jackson (King Kong, The Lovely Bones) and I started our journey back in 2001 at the release of his first film from his Lord of the Rings trilogy. Twenty-three years later we meet again for the last movie of his Hobbit franchise. This film festival winning adventure fantasy was just as spectacular visually as the previous ones. I particularly admired Peter’s eye for detail when it came to the scenes. Besides returning cast members Ian McKellen (X-Men franchise, Gods and Monsters) as Gandalf and Martin Freeman (Hot Fuzz, The World’s End) as Bilbo Baggins, there was newcomer Billy Connolly (The Boondock Saints, Quartet) adding a bit of life with his character Dain. Let me start by saying I enjoyed this film more than the previous one. Smaug the dragon, voiced by Benedict Cumberbatch (The Imagination Game, Sherlock-TV), who ended the last movie began this one with a fiery blast. What it boiled down to for me (no pun intended) was the script could not match the visual technical achievements of the scenes. After all this time there was a tired feeling to the last couple of pictures. It seemed as if this final installment was repetitive, with added fillers. For me watching a nearly one hour long battle scene was a laborious undertaking; it lost intensity as it went on. There was a “let us throw everything at them” quality to it. I am, however, glad I saw this movie. Our relationship may not have been as fresh as it once was, but I could not stand Peter up.
2 2/3 stars
The words had just passed my lips when I realized these were not the correct ones to utter at the moment. I inhaled with the same force I use with a straw in a chocolate peanut butter milkshake, but it was to no avail; the words were out in the open for everyone to hear. If only I had the opportunity to do it all over; but then again, there are so many times I wish for that chance. Almost every checkout line I choose winds up with a customer ahead of me who has some type of issue that will require a price check or swapping out a product. Recently I was running late for work. I had just missed the green light at an intersection that has an unusually long wait period between signals. It was a split second decision and I veered off into a restaurant’s parking lot to avoid the wait. As I was about to exit on the opposite side a police car was sitting there waiting for me to leave the lot. If only I could have turned time back, I would have saved myself from a moving violation ticket. I would have a better understanding of time travel if it personally affected me. In movies I get lost by the explanations or logistics of it. However, in this action adventure film I had no problem. Due to a particular event in history, both humans and mutants (individuals with special abilities) were being targeted for elimination. A plan was developed to send Logan/Wolverine, played by Hugh Jackman (Prisoners, Australia), back in time in an attempt to alter the outcome of the specific incident, change the course of history and hopefully save mutants in the future. What drove this fantasy film to excellence was the well thought out script and amazing special effects. I especially liked the way humor was injected into scenes without taking away from the building tension. The other main force that made this movie special was the cast. I thought Jennifer Lawrence (Silver Linings Playbook, The Hunger Games franchise) as Raven/Mystique, Michael Fassbender (The Counselor, Shame) as Erik Lehnsherr and James McAvoy (Trance, The Last Station) as Charles Xavier were outstanding. One of my few and minor complaints was not seeing enough of Patrick Stewart (Safe House, Star Trek franchise) as Professor X and Ian McKellen (The Hobbit franchise, Emile) as Magneto. Though there were a couple of things where I did not understand the logic, it really did not matter; this fantasy film delivered a high dose of exciting entertainment and suspense. In fact, I would not need the ability to turn back time because I would willingly go see this movie again. There was an extra scene at the end of the credits.
3 1/2 stars
Some of the things home means to me are comfort, peacefulness, safety and refuge. This pertains to my present location. Home also has a special meaning when I think of the place where I grew up. There were neighbors who lived across, below and around the corner from our apartment. If I wanted to talk to my cousins who lived on the other side of the building all I had to do was open the bathroom window and call out their names. The other neighbors in the building were just like family to me. It meant nothing to go pick up something at the grocery store for a neighbor, especially since they would give me extra money to buy myself some candy. Years later when I found out our old apartment building was going from rentals to condominiums I was heartbroken. How could the apartment I was born in now be owned by someone? As long as it was a rental I could still imagine each person living there was only temporarily residing in my childhood apartment. Home can be a powerful connection which explains the motivation that drove the dwarves of Erebor to reclaim their land taken away by the greedy dragon Smaug. Led by Thorin, played by Richard Armitage (Captain America: The First Avenger, Robin Hood-TV), the dwarves were helped on their perilous journey by the Hobbit Bilbo Baggins, played by Martin Freeman (Love Actually, The World’s End) and Gandalf the Grey, played by Ian McKellen (X-Men franchise, Gods and Monsters). The landscape that director Peter Jackson (King Kong, The Lovely Bones) laid out in this fantasy film was exquisite. It looked as real and amazing as any of the incredible landscapes that would be considered a wonder of the world. The action was close to nonstop as possible to the point where I felt it was overkill. For me this was the movie’s downfall. There were so many action scenes that the story never developed fully. For the life of me I have no idea what was the reason for the secondary story line regarding the elf Tauriel, played by Evangeline Lilly (Real Steel, Afterwards); it came out of the blue and made no sense to me. Due to the excess of fight scenes in this adventure film, their repetitiveness only added to the times where I was getting bored. Clocking in at 2 hours and 41 minutes, this was a movie that felt longer because it did not have the magic that was present in the The Lord of the Rings franchise. To end on an up note I thought the dragon Smaug was a technical achievement. It was a shame the dwarves not only had to fight evil forces if they wanted to get back their homeland, they had to battle a bad script.
2 3/4 stars
There is a certain beauty in nature’s untouched landscapes. Having traveled across the United States, visiting 47 out of the 50 states to date, I have been incredibly grateful for what I have seen. I felt I was on a different planet while trekking through Badlands National Park and when I was at Yellowstone National Park, I finally understood the line “purple mountain majesties” when I saw them with my own eyes. Without special effects or being touched by man, earth can provide us an unbelievable movie set. Sitting in the movie theater with my 3D glasses on, I felt I was watching a PBS special. Scene after scene after scene of fantastical landscapes filled with soaring mountains and unfurling waterfalls, I did not know where to look first. If this was only a travelogue then this would be wonderful in its own right. But this was a movie, so I wanted a story to connect the beautiful and exciting images before my eyes. It felt to me as if the special effects were thought of first and then the writers put a story to them. Starting a new trilogy, I understood there would have to be a groundwork of explanations laid down to get the movie audience on the same page; however, it made for a slow pace in the beginning. Martin Freeman (Love Actually, Hot Fuzz) played Bilbo Baggins, a hesitant Hobbit who went along with a band of Dwarves to reclaim their mountain home from the dragon Smaug. Richard Armitage (Frozen, Robin Hood) was the Dwarf King Thorin who with the wizard Gandalf, played by Ian McKellen (X-Men franchise, Stardust) lead their group through perilous lands filled with goblins, giant spiders and other deadly creatures. Where the beginning of this movie was disappointing, the last half of this 2 hour and 49 minute film came together for me. Director Peter Jackson and his special effects team did an amazing job, bringing a new and improved Gollum, played by Andy Serkis (Rise of the Planet of the Apes, The Prestige) to the screen. The facial expressions on Gollum and the other fanciful beings were truly realistic. With the excitement ratcheted up, the steadier pacing and deeper chemistry between characters; I thoroughly enjoyed the movie by its conclusion. If only more attention had been given to the story as the special effects this would have been a masterpiece. As I was leaving the theater, if they had been selling postcards of the movie’s landscapes, I would have bought several to mail out to my friends.
2 2/3 stars