EVERY YEAR AT THIS TIME ME and a variety of family members would make our pilgrimage to the wealthy suburb where all the fancy holiday decorations lived. We were a caravan of cars that traveled close to each other as we made our way along the city streets, always staying in the right lane. Nothing I saw compared to the decorations that were on display in this neighborhood. There was one house we drove by, where we would roll down our windows, because they had a full mechanical chorus singing on the front lawn. The house next door had life sized wooden soldiers that reminded me of the Laurel and Hardy movie, “March of the Wooden Soldiers.” The soldiers were lined up all along the walkway leading up to the house’s double front doors, besides protecting the edges of the front lawn. One of my favorite houses had a group of elf puppets dancing and twirling across the front porch while a waving Santa and his reindeer were parked on top of the roof. As a little kid it seemed as if we were riding up and down the neighborhood’s streets for hours because of so many decorated houses. Some houses displayed the same decorations year after year; but others always had something new each holiday season. Though there were not many, I always felt bad for the houses that only had a couple of decorations or a single string of lights. AT SOME POINT AS I WAS getting older, I began to question the purpose for someone to have so many elaborate decorations; what did these items represent to the owners? Did having more decorations mean that one was more religious? I wondered if all the displays were due to that “keeping up with the Joneses” syndrome. For someone to celebrate the holiday, they had to have decorations? I took it a step further; how did it come to pass that putting up decorations was part of the holiday. And what about having a tree in the house; what was the reason for getting ornaments and hanging them on the tree? I started looking at everything and wanted to know where and how did all these customs come into being. Even Santa Claus, what took place centuries ago that people began to talk about a man with flying reindeer, who was able to leave a present in every single decorated house around the world? There are times when I hear someone talk about the amount of presents they have to buy and how much stress this places on them, where I wonder why do they have to buy so much stuff; what does all this stuff have to do with celebrating the holiday? Well, I finally can get some answers because of this Oscar nominated animated movie. SENT TO A REMOTE TOWN TO open a post office, the postmaster’s son Jesper, voiced by Jason Schwartzman (Moonrise Kingdom, Listen Up Philip), finds a place where all the citizens are fighting each other. The last thing they want to do is mail a letter. If he wants to get back home, he will need to find a way to get people to use the mail. With J.K. Simmons (21 Bridges, Whiplash) voicing Klaus, Rashida Jones (The Social Network, Celeste & Jesse Forever) voicing Alva, Will Sasso (The Three Stooges, Southland Tales) voicing Mr. Ellingboe and Joan Cusack (In & Out, Working Girl) voicing Mrs. Krum; this film festival winning adventure comedy was a pure treat to watch. The story was laid out beautifully, which goes the same for the old-fashioned animation. It may be possible that younger viewers may not get the wonderful message embedded into the script, but it would be okay because there were so many entertaining scenes throughout the picture. I could absolutely see this film becoming a holiday classic; it was so well done on every level.
3 ½ stars
IT DOESN’T TAKE MUCH FOR SOMEONE these days to get a reputation. I am guilty in being quick to judge someone based on their actions. There was an employee I used to work with who I determined was addicted to her phone or more specifically, watching videos on her cell phone. The reason why I quickly came to this conclusion was because the first few times I had to consult with her about business, she did not hear me walking up to her. She was peering down at her phone, ear buds stuck in her ears, while her computer screen showed it was in sleep mode. I had to repeat myself to get her attention before she would look up at me and remove her ear buds. The first couple of times I thought she was listening to music; but I soon discovered she was watching a television show. Maybe I am old school, but I was stunned by her audacity to sit at her desk and watch a TV series while the rest of us were working. Did she think she was being paid to watch television? From my first few encounters with her I determined she was not an ideal worker. One could say she was lazy, distracted, clueless, unmotivated or several other adjectives if they chose; I decided she was unreliable because of all the TV she was watching instead of doing her job. NOW MAYBE THAT EMPLOYEE WAS GOOD at her job and able to keep up with her workload while watching television. I think most people make snap judgements about others based on what they see—on the surface. There was a time when friends of mine would not include me when they went out to the clubs, because I did not drink alcohol. I did not know that was the reason at the time. I found out when I asked a friend about it and he said the group thought I would not be a fun addition because I did not drink. I asked him what one had to do with the other; he could not come up with any proof. After that, I was included in the group’s activities and in my own way, showed them one should not make assumptions or judgements without seeing things for themselves. As I am getting older, I discovered I do not have control over people’s perceptions about me. As long as I am doing what I am supposed to be doing then that is all that matters to me. The main character in this dramatic, crime film could certainly relate to this. WHEN SEVERAL POLICE OFFICERS WERE KILLED one night detective Andre Davis, played by Chadwick Boseman (Black Panther, Marshall), was put on the case specifically because of his reputation. One never wanted to be facing him when he had a gun in his hands. With Sienna Miller (American Sniper, The Lost City of Z) as Frankie Burns, J.K. Simmons (The Front Runner, Patriots Day) as Captain McKenna, Stephan James (Race, If Beale Street Could Talk) as Michael and Taylor Kitsch (Battleship, Only the Brave) as Ray; this action movie benefited with Chadwick in the lead role. I thought he did the best he could with the script. Unfortunately, the story was predictable, and the script did not help disguise it. Nonetheless, I enjoyed watching this film due to the acting and chase scenes. There were several scenes with blood, but gratefully nothing I found gory. As some of you may know, I do not sit and try to figure out where the story will go when I watch a movie. With this picture, I quickly figured out who were the “bad” people. It did not ruin the viewing experience for me, but I was glad I did not pay full price for my ticket.
2 ½ stars
NO MATTER WHERE ONE PLACES THE “BAR” there is always someone or something to cause it to be raised. Just look at the evolution of television. We started out with the Riccardo’s from I Love Lucy; they were not allowed to sleep in the same bed, despite being married to each other on the show and in real life. The censors would not approve them being filmed in the same bed. From that point in time there were a few television shows that had partial nudity if it was in the context of a documentary or historical event. The show that comes to mind is the mini-series Roots. Things took a bigger change in the 1990s when the TV shows “NYPD Blues” and “Once and Again” had episodes that contained nudity. For some viewers this was a big shock. Let me also add while this evolution was taking place there was another one going on that pertained to language. Scripts started showing up with slang and curse words in the dialog. I can still remember my shock hearing a TV character uttering a curse word; it took me by surprise even though I was a user of the word. Little did any of us know the explosion of nudity and swear words would be amplified upon the arrival of cable television. HONESTLY, I HAVE NOT GIVEN IT A lot of thought, but I wonder if there might be a connection between this viewing evolution, which by the way has led to reality shows, to blurring the lines between personal and professional lives. The reason why I am bringing it up is from my observations on how people focus their attention on other people’s personal lives. Look at some of the reality shows where people are being filmed 24 hours a day or the dating and swapping partner shows; I have no interest in such things. Two things I learned growing up; first, curse words were just adjectives. Derogatory words about race, gender, ethnicity and sexuality were the “bad” words. Secondly, if no one is being hurt, held against their will or abused; I do not care what they do in their private life. This fascination with people’s personal lives is weird to me. With the aggressiveness of photographers and reporters, there evidently is a market to sell intimate stories about celebrities and such. People judging and making decisions essentially about strangers is a waste of time and money, in my opinion. The reason I have been pondering this is due to today’s biographical drama. As I was watching it, it occurred to me that the events in this film were the beginning of people’s obsession with other people’s personal lives. APPEARING TO BE RIDING A WAVE OF popularity Senator Gary Hart, played by Hugh Jackman (The Greatest Showman, Eddie the Eagle), had his eyes set on the White House. A simple photograph would cause a detour in his campaign. This film festival winning movie also starred Vera Farmiga (Boundaries, The Commuter) as Lee Hart, J.K. Simmons (I’m Not Here, The Bachelors) as Bill Dixon, Mark O’Brien (Arrival, Bad Times at the El Royale) as Billy Shore and Molly Ephraim (Cricket, Last Man Standing-TV) as Irene Kelly. Set in the 1980s, what I found the most curious was the idea that Gary’s election campaign was the beginning of tabloid journalism. In fact, it was this aspect of the script I found the most interesting. I did not think the script otherwise was well written; it seemed as if events were broken down into cause and effect without much time spent on learning about the characters. I think a political junkie would enjoy this picture more than the average moviegoer. Maybe it is due to my disinterest in a person’s personal life, but I did not find this film very exciting, sordid details and all.
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
DURING my daily commute to work I pass 3 makeshift memorials that were set up by the side of the road. What they have in common are floral arrangements, ribbons and sadness. My guess is each person from the memorials perished from an auto accident. How tragic it must be for the family; based on past news articles, I can only imagine the circumstances of the accident. I remember one involved a boy riding his bicycle who was struck by a car that swerved out of the way of a tarp that fell off of a truck in front of them, momentarily blinding the driver. Can you imagine if this took place in front of the boy’s house and the family sees the memorial every day? I do not know how I would handle it, seeing a reminder outside my door every day, even without a memorial. RECENTLY I was driving through my old neighborhood with a friend who was curious to see my old stomping grounds. Driving through several blocks, I shared memories and tidbits while pointing out various places. As I drove by one particular building I started to tear up from the flood of awful memories associated with the place. My friend saw the change in me and asked what was going on inside of me. Taking a breath I started to tell them about some of the horrible things that were done to me when I was much younger. It felt like I was reliving them as I spoke them out loud. Though I believe each of us learns something from every experience, thinking about that time after all these years still made me feel sad and angry. I do not think I am alone in saying recalling tough, challenging events in the past is a hard thing to do; this is why it was not easy for me to watch this dramatic historical thriller. FROM an act of terror during the Boston marathon the citizens of Boston united in a powerful way. This film festival winning movie written and directed by Peter Berg (Deepwater Horizon, Lone Survivor) starred Mark Wahlberg (Deepwater Horizon, Daddy’s Home) as Police Sergeant Tommy Saunders, Michelle Monaghan (Sleepless, Source Code) as Carol Saunders, John Goodman (10 Cloverfield Lane, Love the Coopers) as Commissioner Ed Davis and Kevin Bacon (Black Mass, Elephant White) as Special Agent Richard DesLauriers. I felt Peter presented a thoughtful, reflective story that did not sink into dramatic hyperbole. Because the script was sensitively written I thought the actors did fine in their roles and in regards to Mark he was in his element. Since I was quite familiar with this story, knowing people who were affected by it, I thought I would not have been as engaged in the movie. It turned out I was very much into the film as there were multiple scenes that showed the things taking place away from the public; it was fascinating to watch. I will say it was not easy to sit and watch this movie due to seeing the violence and injuries again. The images I remembered all came up as the story unfolded on the big screen. Let me just say if you have the stomach to revisit this event then it is worth watching this well done film.
GREAT results can happen when one’s dream remains in a somewhat fluid state, like a soap bubble that grows with the input of more air. A young person grew up with the dream of living in the country, where her art studio would inhabit the abandoned barn on her property. Her skills as an artist were refined over the years to the point she was able to earn a living selling her works. From each sale she took a portion of the profit and squirreled it away to eventually become the down payment for her dream. But something happened when she fell in love with a man who had his own dreams. Ever since he was a young boy he wanted to live in a high rise apartment building that had a doorman. All of his schooling was laid out towards making his dream come true; he finally had his dream job that took him to all parts of the world. The only thing left was to save up and find that special apartment that would be his home base, a secure beacon high above the city. DREAMS have always been a part of my internal motivations. The story I wrote to start out this review is similar to something I experienced when I met someone who had their own dreams. Trust me it was not the easiest thing to do, to let someone else’s dream form a bond with my own; however, once I realized our dreams could blend together without losing our goals it got easier. A relationship is partially a negotiation, a compromise; the key is paring down to the important aspects of one’s dreams then finding a way where they can remain intact within the new dream being formed between two people. Let the couple in this musical movie show you. SPARKS formed right from the start when aspiring actress Mia and jazz musician Sebastian, played by Emma Stone (The Amazing Spider-Man franchise, The Help) and Ryan Gosling (The Big Short, The Place Beyond the Pines), first met. Each came into the relationship with a dream; the question was how to achieve it. This comedic drama started out with a bang by having a big, opening musical number. If you are not a fan of musicals and their history there is a good chance this film will not have a strong impact on you. I knew Ryan had a musical background but did not know Emma could sing; both of them had a wonderful chemistry together. With J.K. Simmons (Whiplash, The Closer-TV) as Bill and musical artist John Legend (Soul Men) as Keith for part of the cast, the story was partially an homage to those old fashioned musicals from the 1930s and 40s. The dance numbers were fun but I found the music only okay, nothing very memorable. The allure of this film I believe is due to its novelty; there hasn’t been a good film in this genre recently. I will tell you I enjoyed this movie, especially the story line; however, I was a bit confused to the point I felt I must have missed something, wondering if I needed to see the movie again. Maybe from the unavoidable buzz I was hearing I dreamt this was going to be one of my 4 star movies.
Water seeking its own level is a way I look at people who have an overabundance of one attribute. Let me show you what I mean. If I saw a person who was extraordinary in a sports activity I would soon discover they were deficient in another part of their life. Not to make this sound like a given but within my small world this seemed to be the norm. There was this boy in school who was a genius when it came to mathematics. He had little skill in socialization, often times he would be off and away from the other students. Because he showed this amazing side of himself and the teacher did nothing to bridge the gap between him and the rest of the class, the other students shied away from him. He had a hard time through high school, though he only stayed for a couple of years before getting a scholarship to MIT at the age of 15. I hope this explains what I mean by water seeking its own level; because math skills took up a majority of this person’s brain, other skills were not fed as much. Hopefully I am making sense here; because there was a time (or maybe it still happens) when people did not take the time to find that special skill in a person. I feel each person has abilities but some don’t translate well. Another way of saying this would be to describe human beings as a recipe. If there is too much sugar they are extra sweet; if they are mean spirited then there is not a lot of goodness in them. Everything has to find a way to balance out inside of us some way. CHRISTIAN Wolff, played by Ben Affleck (Gone Girl, Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice), had a father who refused the advice of doctors on how to treat his son. It was because of his decision Christian was able to take care of himself as an adult. This action crime drama twisted its way inside of me. With Anna Kendrick (Up in the Air, Pitch Perfect franchise) as Dana Cummings, J.K. Simmons (Whiplash, Labor Day) as Ray King and John Lithgow (Interstellar, Love is Strange) as Lamar Black; the story grabbed me on several levels. First I thought the way the writer handed the subject of autism was both sensitive and humorous. Ben did a wonderful job and I especially liked the chemistry between him and Anna. They were not only sweet together but plausible. I thought the flashback scenes would have been a distraction but on the contrary they only added a real depth to the characters. Now keep in mind I never look ahead while watching a film to try and figure it out. This film took me by surprise with the twists and turns that took place. Keeping this real, let me tell you there were a few scenes that did not ring true; but in the scheme of things, it did not matter to me. The movie took an important subject and made it part of an entertaining story. Now if I could find an accountant like this one; or on second thought, I would be glad to wait for a sequel to this film.
Rarely did a day go by where she did not stick her head out the window to yell her son’s name. If the atmosphere in our neighborhood was conducive to producing fog, she would have been perfect as a foghorn; that is how loud and piercing her voice was from the 2nd floor window. Everyone in the neighborhood knew of her. She actually was a fun mother who was the first one to help out at any school functions and kept her home fully stocked with candy and treats for any guests. Though if you were to ask her son what he thought of her, he may have had a slightly different opinion. He always had to call her if he was going anywhere out of range from her vision. If he went over to a friend’s house he had to call her when he got there and when he was on his way home. There were a few boys who would tease him about it but the rest of us kept quiet. I thought it was better than the mothers who wanted to actually come out and play with us. Not the kind who would agree to be our pitcher if we were one player short; I am talking about the ones who wanted to participate in snowball fights or king of the hill. They would even dress in a less adult way where one would not first think they had kids; it was just weird to me. And especially when you get towards that adolescence age where you don’t want any parents around as you are feeling more independent, it can turn into an embarrassing situation. AFTER her husband died Marnie, played by Susan Sarandon (Tammy, Robot & Frank), needed a hobby. What better one to have than her daughter Lori, played by Rose Byrne (Neighbors, Spy)? This comedic drama started out in familiar territory to the point where I thought it would become obnoxious. But here is the beauty of it; in its sly way the script took me to a whole different place. Let me start out with the acting; besides Susan there was J.K. Simmons (Whiplash, Terminator Genisys) as Zipper and Cecily Strong (The Boss, The Bronze) as Jillian. I was surprised at the different type of character J.K. performed, doing a wonderful job. Then there was Susan, she was sensational in the role. The two actors really formed a connection on screen. I enjoyed the way the script took her on a journey and I am not referring to her traveling from New York City to Los Angeles; it was a well told story of an individual’s growth. Regarding the comedic scenes, I think most viewers will react favorable because of familiarity with the circumstances. Continuing with the Mother’s Day theme from the weekend I feel this film should have been the one to market more than the one I reviewed this past Monday. I recognized several mothers I knew from my childhood in this picture and did not have to hear my friend’s name being shouted out from the window.
3 ¼ stars
I was told there are beings who walk the planet robbing people of their energy; they are referred to as “Energy Vampires.” This is what I heard at a convention I attended some time ago. At first I did not quite understand what the presenter was talking about; but after a few examples were given and I later experienced it for myself, it made perfect sense. Let me see if I can explain it to you. Have you ever been at a party where one person dominates the conversations? They may be humorous, crack jokes or do some physical antics to provoke a response from people; however, the underlying current to all of their manipulations is to be the center of attention. This explained why I had such an uncomfortable time being around my friend’s boyfriend. Anytime we would get together he would dominate the conversations; no matter the topic he would bring it back to talk about himself. You may have experienced something similar, where the person throws out a question to you but they really are not interested in your answer. They just want to use the query to talk about themselves. If we played cards or a board game he was merciless; he had to always win. It was exhausting, I always felt tired after being around him. I did not realize it at the time but this guy was sucking the energy out of me and frankly out of the entire room. It came to the point where I had to limit my time around my friend and curtail the times we would play games. Luckily I had the option available to not be around them; but sometimes there is not an option and one has to face up to the challenge. WHEN the evil Kai, voiced by J.K. Simmons (Whiplash, Juno), began eliminating the kung fu masters from across the land Po, voiced by Jack Black (Goosebumps, Bernie), could not walk away. He would have to confront the evil force and need help to do it. This animated action film had wonderful sharp animation. Visually I was impressed with the look of this adventure picture. With Bryan Cranston (Argo, Trumbo) as Li, Angelina Jolie (Malefiecent, Salt) as Tigress and Dustin Hoffman (Meet the Fockers franchise, Wag the Dog) as Shifu; the story was well thought out and made this sequel quite enjoyable to view. The humor was age appropriate and the writers took care not to make the subject matter too dark for younger viewers. Though I have seen the previous 2 films I do not think it is necessary to see them before seeing this movie. As a matter of fact I liked this one the best out of the three. The audience from what I could tell was into this film, both adults and children. This film was a good reminder that one cannot always run away.
Something I say to remind me there may be additional opportunities is the saying, “It is not written in stone.” I do not know how this saying came to be, but what it means to me is I do not have to remain in the same place forever. In other words, I can make a decision to learn a new exercise program and discover it is not suitable for me. Just because I agreed to do it does not mean I have to teach it the rest of my life. Maybe a better example is when a friend of mine was out of work. Enough time had passed where their funds were almost depleted. A job offer finally came up that wasn’t exactly in their field and they were not sure they wanted to take it. I explained just because they accept the offer doesn’t mean he will have to stay there the rest of his life. The important thing was to start earning an income and down the road see what opportunities open up for them. This may sound hokey but we can be whatever we want to be. I have rewritten my life’s path several times, going from wanting to be a veterinarian to a fitness presenter to a movie reviewer. Each portion of my past journey has led me to my present destination. KEITH Michaels, played by Hugh Grant (Music and Lyrics, About a Boy), was an Oscar winning screenwriter. So what happened to him where he had to leave Hollywood and take a temporary teaching position at a small east coast college to earn a living? This romantic comedy felt like a well-worn blanket; it felt familiar besides having Hugh’s typical dry wit and humor. To tell you the truth I was surprised this movie had such a stellar cast. There was J.K. Simmons (Whiplash, Labor Day) as Dr. Lerner, Marisa Tomei (Spare Parts, The Wrestler) as Holly Carpenter and Allison Janney (Liberal Arts, Bad Words) as Mary Weldon; all of them were wonderful in this easy to watch film. I cannot remember the last time I saw Hugh in a movie but he still was able to play that type of character who was part selfish, part snob and part lovable sheepish bloke. The story was simple; there was nothing really new about it. However, because of the cast I enjoyed watching this movie. There would be no reason to run out and see this film right away; I think this picture would be perfect to watch on a lazy, cloudy day when you have few commitments. You do not have to take my word though; you can watch it anytime you want.
2 1/4 stars