GOING THROUGH MY HOUSE TO FIND items I could donate, I discovered a couple of toys hidden behind some blankets up on a closet shelf. I needed a stepstool to help me retrieve them from the back of the shelf. It had been years since I saw these toys, but I immediately recognized them. One toy was a construction set or to be more accurate a combination of several sets. The set contained miniature metal beams/girders ranging in length from 3 to 8 inches long. There were a variety of screws, washers and nuts to use to attach the girders to build something out of them. I loved playing with this toy when I was a kid. Anytime I had free time, I would place all the set’s pieces in the middle of the living room floor, then start pulling different items and shapes together to build something. I never followed a plan; instead, I would use my imagination to build things from castles to forts to parking garages. In fact, one of the things I made came out so well I was able to submit it into my elementary school’s science fair. It was picked to go on display in the school library for a month. THE OTHER TOY ON THE SHELF was the game of Scrabble. This was one of my favorite games for years. Even if I could not find someone to play with, I would play by myself by forming words on the gameboard with the wooden tiles I picked from a pile I created inside the game’s box top. I found a chair to sit on so I could open this ancient game that had been in my family before I was born. The box was so old that 2 corners of the top lid were worn away, where the sides hung down loosely like airplane flaps. I rubbed my hand over the tiles, feeling the memory of them refresh in my mind. The wooden tile holders the players would use were lined up on one side of the box; I removed one and noticed for the first time it looked like molding from the ceiling of a room. Out of all the tiles there was one that had a darker shade to it; it was the free letter tile. I randomly turned over a tile and discovered I picked the dreaded Q tile that was worth 10 points. It was great if one could use it, but I hated that tile if I got stuck with it at the end of the game. So many memories of past games I played flooded my mind, I had to take a break and sit down to play a game with myself. Certain games have a magical pull on us, like the one in this action, adventure comedy. THOUGH THEY VOWED NEVER TO PLAY the game again, a group of friends had no choice but to play it if they wanted to save their missing friend. With Dwayne Johnson (Skyscraper, Fast & Furious franchise) as Eddie, Karen Gillan (Guardians of the Galaxy franchise, The Circle) as Martha, Jack Black (Margot at the Wedding, The House with a Clock in its Walls) as Bethany/Fridge, Kevin Hart (Night School, The Upside) as Mouse Finbar/Fridge and Awkafina (Crazy Rich Asians, The Farewell) as Ming; this sequel showed the cast having a good time with their characters. The story was a bit confusing with its multiple story lines and changing characters; however, with all the fantasy things happening I was not bothered by it. The special effects were fun and exciting as well as the humor was consistent with the previous film. It took a little time before I became interested in the story; I felt the script dragged in the beginning because I enjoyed the last half of the movie better than the first. Despite a couple of things not making sense and the feeling of déjà vu I was experiencing, this was light fare to sit through this holiday season. There was an extra scene early in the ending credits.
2 ½ stars
LEARNING THE HISTORY ABOUT FAMILY MEMBERS can be a fun experience. Some of the things I found out about my relatives seem so out of character to the people I knew. There is a relative of mine who holds the patent on some particular lint trap that is part of a washing machine. Another family member was a gangster. In the family I had an umbrella maker, a butcher and the owner of the first cable boxes that came into existence. As you can see the list is quite varied and I get a kick out of the randomness of it. Recently I was talking with a friend about a movie that is coming out later in the year. Based on the trailer I mentioned I was looking forward to seeing this film about Mary, Queen of Scots. You will not believe what he told me about Mary; his family history has a branch of it that is loosely tied to Mary. Listening to the connections between the deceased relatives, I was struck with the fact he was able to remember who married who and whose brother’s sister-in-law was part of the genealogy trail. It was astounding listening to so many generations coming from this one side of his family. THERE IS NOTHING AS FASCINATING IN my family tree as my friend’s; but if I had such knowledge on the history of my family, I wonder what historical facts I would find out about my deceased relatives. One of the things I know is which countries some of my relatives were born in. I remember in school I would check out books from the library that pertained to these countries, wanting to learn about its history and how it came into being the mother and fatherland of my relatives. My knowledge barely goes back 3 generations of my family. Pretty much all I know is how relatives made their way to America. One relative was sent here with her sister when they were in their teens. She was going to be married off to someone she knew back home who had been sent over earlier to get established in a city. I have other relatives who did not want to migrate but had to because of war. There was a story told about brothers who as children had to be hidden in the forest to escape being kidnapped or worse killed by enemy forces. Though the young boy in this family fantasy only had to be shipped to the state of Michigan, he found out there was something special about him and his family tree. ORPHANED DUE TO THE DEATH OF his parents Lewis Barnavelt, played by Owen Vaccaro (Daddy’s Home franchise, Mother’s Day), was sent to live with his uncle Jonathan Barnavelt, played by Jack Black (Goosebumps, Jumanji: Welcome to the Jungle), who was an odd man. There was a reason why Jonathan was different. With Cate Blanchett (Ocean’s Eight, Thor: Ragnarok) as Florence Zimmerman, Kyle MacLachlan (Blue Velvet, Dune) as Issac Izard and Renee Elise Goldsberry (Sisters, The Good Wife-TV) as Selena Izard; this comedy film was aided by the chemistry between Cate and Jack, which granted seemed an oddball pairing. They were fun together and I enjoyed the way the film started out. I thought it was strange to have Lewis presented with his aviator goggles and bow tie, but at first I did not mind. It was not until the story moved into the 2nd half where I started losing interest. This is where the script was muddy with different references. For me I felt the story was becoming more of a cartoon, meaning silly. With a little more history, development and originality; this picture would have been more enjoyable for me.
1 ¾ stars
EVERYTHING THAT ONE IS BORN WITH works together to achieve a harmonious state throughout the body. This is part of my belief system, that we can achieve this harmonious state when we are in balance. I know when I am stressed I usually can figure out what is causing it. With the schedule I keep there are multiple opportunities for me to get stressed out. I find myself thinking about what I need to do instead of being present in the moment. When I am in this state of mind I am much more forgetful, which in turn causes me further stress. It feels like I am jogging in one of those hamster wheels that goes around and round without going anywhere; there is no down time for me. To get back in balance I would need to stop overbooking myself and take some “me” time. The body and mind are so connected; when one is lacking something the other tries to compensate. Well known examples of this would be Ludwig van Beethoven and Helen Keller. Though he lost his hearing his mind filled in the tones he was putting together for his musical pieces. Helen was blind and deaf but her mind and sense of touch for signing were extraordinary. RECENTLY I WAS OBSERVING A martial arts class. One of the participants had underdeveloped arms; they were small for their body size and looked as if they stopped growing at the elbows. I watched this member as the class was put through a variety of exercises. It was incredible to see how the lack of arm strength was made up by the amazing leg strength they incorporated into their one on one exercises. I know it is a cliché to say “when there is a will there is a way;” but in the case of this student, their mind and body found a way for them to be an active participant in the class. I am in awe when a person is denied one sense or body part and another one fills in the gap. People who are blind tend to have exceptional hearing capabilities. Or those confined to wheelchairs usually have powerful upper body strength. In the case of the main character in this biographical dramatic comedy, I started out not being sympathetic towards him; however, as the story unfolded I found myself going with him on his journey of discovery. A NIGHT OF PARTYING AND DRINKING led to a horrific accident that would change the life of John Callahan, played by Joaquin Phoenix (The Master, You Were Never Really Here), in unimaginable ways. Based on a true story this movie also starred Jonah Hill (War Dogs, True Story) as Donnie, Rooney Mara (Carol, Side Effects) as Annu, Jack Black (The D Train, Jumanji: Welcome to the Jungle) as Dexter and newcomer Tony Greenhand as Tim. The fact that I went from being an unsympathetic viewer to admiring Joaquin’s character tells you how impressed I was with his acting skills. He has an eclectic body of work already and each character he does always leaves me amazed at his acting abilities. The rest of the actors were not slouches by any means; they were wonderful. I felt the director handled not only them gracefully but did a beautiful job with the script. Nothing came across as preachy or inspirational; the director took what was a tragic event and found a way to mine the humor and sadness in equal portions. As for the story, the theme may have a familiar feeling to the viewer; however, the execution of it makes it worthwhile to watch. If for nothing else this story will show you not to give up hope because when you lose one thing, something else will take its place.
AS WE WERE LEAD to our table I looked out across the dining room and saw miniature lighthouses at a majority of the tables. The glow I was seeing came from the electronic devices being used at these tables; with the users being adolescents and young children. Some had tablets, others had phones; but they all looked like they were drugged as they were staring at their glowing screens. There were no interactions being initiated by others sitting at each of their tables. Some of the little ones looked as if they were hypnotized; they were so absorbed by the antics taking place on their devices. I totally understand parents wanting to keep their children occupied during a meal out at a restaurant. Honestly who wants to be the parents of a crying child in a public place? But as I looked at these kids I had to wonder how they interact with other children? GRANTED I AM NOT current with the types of video/electronic games children play with these days, but I have heard kids will play with their friends without ever leaving their house. It is some type of video game where you log on as a player and play with a friend across the street or across the country. My electronic days took place when Space Invaders and Centipede were the top games, so I am ignorant when it comes to current activities. And you know that is okay by me. I would not trade the times I sat on the living room floor playing board games with my friends. There was one game where you had to negotiate with your opponent, buying and selling parcels of land like a realtor. To this day I still love the game Scrabble or do not laugh, playing charades. There was nothing like a rainy day to be at a friend’s house playing games, stopping for a snack then returning afterwards to finish up and see who would win. Though each of us was competitive, we knew better than to gloat excessively if we were the winner because there was no guarantee you could win the next time. Looking back at those times I realize playing together face to face was a bonding experience and the perfect introduction to teamwork. The same could be said for this action, comedy adventure. FORCED TO CLEAN OUT a storage room for detention, four high school students discover an old video game they decide to play. They would soon discover they had to win at it if they wanted to stay alive. This enjoyable film starred Dwayne Johnson (Baywatch, San Andreas) as Spencer, Kevin Hart (The Wedding Ringer, Central Intelligence) as Fridge, Jack Black (King Kong, Bernie) as Bethany, and Karen Gillan (Guardians of the Galaxy franchise, Doctor Who-TV) as Martha. There is no getting around the fact that Dwayne has an easy appeal that draws the viewers into any of his characters. With this role he was the perfect choice to play this physically strong, brawny type who was easily scared. Jack Black did a wonderful job as Bethany; the self absorbed, selfie taking high schooler. The director did a great job to keep the pacing on track throughout the story. This fun movie would be enjoyable for the whole family; the villains were more of the creepy type instead of the bloody, scary kind if that makes any sense. I would classify this type of picture as a good escape film; it was made to be humorous and fun. In addition I enjoyed the message of teamwork and as a bonus got to reminisce about the games I used to play when I was younger.
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.
When I see they have a book in their hand or I know they like to read books, I feel those people will understand me quicker. I hope that does not sound judgmental, but it just seems I do not have to explain myself as much to a book reader. Maybe I think like this because I know what type of affect books have on me. They take me on a trip to another place without ever leaving my seat. The words paint a picture inside of my mind that let me experience things outside of my daily life; in turn, these pictures are projected on the back of my retinas transporting me into the shadows of the characters and places. Another benefit of reading is the way stories’ conversations open up my mind. It is like my brain is always under construction as new roads are constantly being paved to lead me to undiscovered lands of thought. I have mentioned in the past how I like seeing the movie first before reading the book; it provides me the voices I need to keep the characters separate in my head. In a way I believe books have given me the tools to be a better storyteller. Where movies allow me an instant escape through a portal to a different place, books have a way of becoming our friends. Now when the two come together, well check it out for yourself in this adventure comedy. Unhappy moving from a big city to a small town, the one plus to it for Zach, played by Dylan Minnette (Prisoners, Let Me In), was having a cool neighbor named Hannah, played by Odeya Rush (The Giver, The Odd Life of Timothy Green), living next door to him. Unfortunately her father did not feel the same way towards Zach. This comedic horror film was based on the wildly popular Goosebump series, though I do not know how much the story in this film had in common with R.L Stine’s books. Surprisingly I liked Jack Black (King Kong, Bernie) in the role of R. L. Stine since I have not been a big fan of his in the past. The rest of the cast which also included Ryan Lee (Super 8, This is 40) as Champ was quite good. There was a lot of physical activity throughout the film, maybe a bit too much; though I thought the special effects were fun. For young kids this hectic pace will keep them entertained; I just wanted a few places where there could have been some down time before ramping up the pace again. Though I have not read the books, the story was easy to follow and I could see why these books were best sellers. After seeing this fantasy film I would like to read a couple of R.L. Stine’s books to compliment what I had just seen on the big screen.
2 2/3 stars
A funny thing happened to me when I went to see this movie. There was a smattering of people seated in their seats as I walked into the theater. I immediately saw there was a couple sitting in one of my preferred seats. A seat on the aisle that is 1/4 to 1/3 up the rows of seats is my favorite spot to watch a film. As I started walking up the stairs to find a seat, I saw the woman sitting in what should have been my seat staring at me. I made eye contact, looked away, then looked back to see she was still staring at me with a puzzled look on her face. Due to the subdued lighting I could not make out her facial features until I was closer to her. Once I saw her face an image appeared in my mind of a little girl who went to elementary school with me who used to wear a satin ribbon tied in the back of her hair; they both had the same face. I spoke the little girl’s name to the woman in the seat and she spoke mine, saying she would not have recognized me if it was not for my photo on my movie review site. We had not seen each other since high school, having gone through elementary school together. What a coincidence that we bumped into each other after all these years at a theater that was about to show a film about a class reunion. JACK Black (School of Rock, Bernie) played Dan Landsman who was the head of his high school class reunion committee. When by chance he saw his former classmate Oliver Lawless, played by James Marsden (X-Men franchise, Enchanted), in a suntan lotion commercial on television, Dan became obsessed in getting the actor to come to the class reunion. If he could deliver the actor Dan was sure he would finally be considered one of the cool kids. There were some good themes underlying the story in this picture, but the implementation of them was awful. The writers took the ideas to such an extreme that I found many things not believable and frankly ridiculous. Kathryn Hahn (We’re the Millers, The Secret Life of Walter Mitty) as Stacey Landsman and Jeffrey Tambor (The Hangover franchise, Arrested Development-TV) as Bill Shurmur were wasted in this movie. I felt Jack Black offered nothing new, just doing his usual schtick. The only one I believed in was James’ character. After the movie was done my former classmate came up to me to tell me how uncomfortable the two of them were watching this film. I agreed with them wholeheartedly. To get the horrible scenes I had suffered through out of my mind, I sat and reminisced about our time back in elementary school.
1 1/3 stars
After his movies Year One and Gulliver’s Travels, I went to see this Jack Black (Be Kind Rewind, Tropic Thunder) comedy with some trepidation. I cannot tell you how shocked I was at his performance in this movie; it was one of his best. Portraying Bermie Tiede, a mortician; Jack had the perfect blend of comedic timing and fastidious attitude in this mockumentary based on a true story. Living in a small Texas town Bernie stood out from the other residents. It did not matter since he was loved for all the good work he did around the community. Even when he struck up a relationship with the town’s bitterest, wealthiest, elderly Marjorie Nugent played by Shirley MacLaine (Valentine’s Day, In Her Shoes); the town folk thought Bernie was a saint. It was a real stitch watching this humorous film. I especially enjoyed how scenes were spaced apart by various resident interviews, commenting on their thoughts about Bernie and Marjorie. The acting was excellent from everyone, including Matthew McConaughey (The Lincoln Lawyer, Two For the Money) in his role as Danny Buck. Since I did not know anything about the story, I was completely surprised to discover this wild story was really true. As the credits began, we saw pictures of the real characters. Jack Black certainly redeemed himself in this funny film.