THE LAST TWELVE MONTHS HAVE BEEN something I thought I would never experience, as I am sure most of you have thought. When my state passed stay at home orders, I thought the only time I would be told to stay indoors was during a tornado or the threat of nuclear fallout. The only crisis I have lived through of this magnitude was during the AIDS epidemic. Though the transmission method was different, there still was a fear early on of getting to close to people. Back then the fear was unfounded; now it is real and could be the difference between life and death. I have known healthy individuals who caught this virus and succumbed to it. The suffering of being alone in a hospital bed as one’s lungs are slowly being squeezed of their last breath is a brutal experience. What makes this virus extra scary for me is how random it is in who will experience its affects. Some people don’t even know they are infected while others can get severe headaches, high fevers or death. I remember during my time at home, looking out the window and seeing the streets void of any human life. Pigeons scanning the sidewalks for a morsel of food, squirrels crisscrossing streets with less hesitancy and noticeable to me, less debris. WITH THE LOCKDOWN IN PLACE, THAT also meant I could not go to the health club to work out, to restaurants, to theaters and so on. Suddenly Saturdays took on extra meaning because that was the day, I would order carryout, to help the nearby local restaurants. Food took on a different importance; instead of eating for sustenance, I was eating for comfort. There was a manmade lake close to my house that I had never seen. I drove to it so I could get my steps in by walking the circumference of it. Seeing the ducks take off and land on the water was something I had never seen except on television. When the weather got too cold outside, I started walking/jogging in an underground parking garage. Little did I know that the space would become by sanctuary of peaceful calm. Staying in touch with friends/relatives took on a new meaning. In the past, there usually was an activity attached to getting together; but now, just being able to open a window and talk to a friend who was outside on the front lawn was a joy. Sitting outside to watch the sun set felt more monumental than during pre-COVID. Hearing silence except for the birds in the trees was a new experience. Little did I think that living a temporary restricted lifestyle would allow me to appreciate the little things that can go unnoticed on a typical day. This Oscar nominated and film festival winner can explain things better than me. JUST WHEN A SCHOOL BAND TEACHER feels things are looking up, he finds himself in an unfamiliar place where passion comes into question. With Jamie Foxx (Just Mercy, Robin Hood) voicing Joe, Tina Fey (Date Night, Sisters) voicing 22, Graham Norton (Eurovision Song Contest: The Story of Fire Saga, Another Gay Movie) voicing Moonwind, Rachel House (Thor: Ragnarok, Baby Done) voicing Terry and Phylicia Rashad (Creed franchise, This is Us-TV) voicing Libba; this animated, adventure comedy had a lot going on with it. As to be expected from a Pixar movie, the animation was inventive and fun. There were some scenes that were rich with details, but others I found to be somewhat average. The script was different to me; I found it to be esoteric in nature. Young viewers may not understand the meaning of some scenes and might ask for an explanation. From an entertainment standpoint, I did not feel the sense of joy I normally do with a Pixar film. I did however appreciate the message; I only wished there had been more musical interludes.
DESPITE BEING TOLD NO TWO WERE alike, I wanted to see for myself. During the next snowfall, I tried to catch and see if each snowflake was truly different. My experiment was not really thought out completely; but in my defense, I was a little kid who wanted to see if the teacher was right. The snowflakes that landed on my gloved hand all looked similar to me; I just wished I had a magnifying glass to see up close the flakes. In our schoolbook, the pictures of the flakes were finely detailed and each one was unique. I remembered at the end of our lesson that day, the teacher had us take out a sheet of paper, fold it up and use a scissors to cut out different shapes along the edges. Once we were done, she told us to unfold the paper to see the snowflake we created. It was a fun trick that we enjoyed, as each of us compared our paper snowflake to the ones being held up around us. Though several flakes looked similar, none of us could find two snowflakes that looked identical; the teacher was correct. I liked the idea of each flake being different; my adult mind would say being unique. I FOUND MYSELF RELATING TO THE snowflake because I felt I was different from my classmates. Overall, most looked and dressed in typical school wear, some even shared similar likes and dislikes; but there was no mistaking I was the only one like me. I say this because I felt my differences were something that no other student in my classroom had ever displayed in the slightest way; I felt completely alone in this regard. Growing up in a time where everyone looked like they were trying to match each other, both in fashion and thought, I found myself out of synch with the majority. As I grew older that chasm between me and other students grew wider. Some classmates started to ignore me while others started acting out with hostility towards me. I did not understand; I was just being me. There was nothing different I was doing in my daily routines at school; but for some reason, several students picked on me. If I had my grown adult mind at that time, I would have realized they were acting out with their own insecurities, wanting to be part of the herd and not stand out. That was not me; I started to embrace my differences once I was old enough to understand them. The idea of people reacting and being different in this dramatic, crime action story is what attracted me to watch this film. A NEW DRUG WAS BEING PUSHED out by the drug dealers in New Orleans. Its claim was it could give you a superpower for 5 minutes; what you did with it was up to you. With Jamie Foxx (Ray, Law Abiding Citizen) as Art, Joseph Gordon-Levitt (The Walk, Don Jon) as Frank, Dominique Fishback (The Hate U Give, Night Comes On) as Robin, Rodrigo Santoro (The 33, Ben-Hur) as Biggie and Courtney B. Vance (Office Christmas Party, The Hunt for Red October) as Captain Craine; this science fiction film’s story had a great premise to build on. Casting Jamie, Joseph and Dominique increased the chances for this pseudo superhero movie to succeed; however, the script did not provide enough power to catapult this picture into the top tier of this type of genre. The story had a level of predictability as it incorporated several themes that have been done better before. I still enjoyed watching this movie, mainly because of the acting and comic book flavor of the scenes. There were some scenes that were too dark visually for me. I wished the writers had dug deeper into the dark side of the characters, along with expanding on the uniqueness each of us possess inside.
THERE WAS NO WAY I COULD stop the color in my face from draining. I was in a state of shock. It was an hour before I was going to get off from work and the owner of the company had called me into his office. I knew him better than some of the other employees because I worked both in the retail and wholesale parts of his company, when I wasn’t in school. In fact, when he opened a 2ndstore in a large shopping mall out in the suburbs, I helped set up the shelves with stock. So, when he asked me into his office, I did not think much of it. When he closed the door behind me as I walked in, I knew something was different. As I sat across from him, he began to tell me about the inventory being off, that items were coming up missing. I thought maybe he wanted me to take a bigger part of the inventory process, but that was not the case. He asked me if I had seen anything odd going on. I told him no and that I was surprised to hear such a thing. My face had not turned white up to this point; however, when he said he wanted to talk to my parents I could feel my face changing. He said he was asking the same of the other employees who were also in high school. EMBARRASSMENT, FEAR AND ANGER WERE THE predominant feelings coursing through my body as I sat there. Despite not having any knowledge about the missing stock, I was angry that I was being considered a suspect. Logically I knew it made sense for the owner to question his employees; but I still felt like I was being accused of something I had no part in. It was an awful feeling. My mind was showing me a series of movie scenes depicting courthouses, jails, tearful testimonies; my imagination was running amok. The other thing that came to mind was the possibility I might be considered an accomplice because I was friendly with the other employees. The anger portion I was feeling was due to the idea one of my friends, who I had been working alongside with for over one year, could be a thief. It was all upsetting to me, and I did not know how my parents would take the news about them having to come in to talk to the owner. All this hassle and confusion just because I essentially was in the wrong place at the wrong time. The magnitude of my situation didn’t come close to the main character’s situation in this dramatic film based on a true story; but I understood what he had to be feeling. LIVING ON DEATH ROW, ONE DOESN’T get hopeful; even when your Harvard educated lawyer is willing to fight for your life. With Brie Larson (Captain Marvel, Short Term 12) as Eva Ansley, Michael B. Jordan (Creed franchise, Black Panther) as Bryan Stevenson, Jamie Foxx (Robin Hood, Ray) as Walter McMillian, Rafe Spall (The Big Short, The Ritual) as Tommy Chapman and Tim Blake Nelson (Fantastic Four; O Brother, Where Art Thou?) as Ralph Myers; the story in this film festival winning movie was horrifying to me at times due to the injustice and discrimination that was taking place. The acting was strong and solid from the cast; in fact, they really carried the story along. For most of the time I took the script to be truthful; however, there were a couple of scenes, especially one close to the end, where I felt it was the writer’s option to make something up to pull in the audience deeper into the story. Besides that, I still cannot get over what Walter had to go through for all those years.
IT WAS GOING TO BE A NIGHT AT the theater, to see a stage version of a classic musical movie. I remembered parts of the film and its iconic soundtrack. Back when the movie was made the studio used actors who were already considered legendary figures. The musical I was going to see now got its start on Broadway; I was seeing a version of it at a popular, regional theater. One big difference between the two productions I already knew and that was the regional theater staged their shows in the round, where the stage was in the middle of the theater and the audience sat all around it. This was not going to be a problem since I had been to this theater several times and all their shows were staged with the audience in mind, making sure the cast had plenty of opportunities to face each side of the audience. Sitting in my seat with the lights dimmed, the orchestra began to play. I listened to the familiar music, recalling the scene where the music was used in the movie. From there the musicians began to play something that was unfamiliar to me; I had no recollection of it. Little did I know there was more to come. MAYBE PART OF THE BLAME FALLS ON me for having high expectations. You see, I expected this production to have the same high caliber of singing and dancing as the movie. The male lead’s singing voice was not able to bring the same joyful power as the actor from the film. This one particular song from the movie that still gets airplay today was not given its fair amount of stage time; the cast only sang one refrain from it. I could not believe it. After looking forward to seeing this movie come to life, so to speak; I was let down by what I was watching on stage. This production was nothing like the movie. I do not know how you feel about it, but I do not like when things are loosely created out of established stories. If they would have given this stage show a different title then I would not have had the same reaction, except for the male lead’s singing. Call it whatever you want but do not sell it as a similar production based on the classic story. It is not always a good idea to introduce some random idea that has no place to reside in a story just to freshen it up. This action adventure picture is proof of it. RETURNING FROM THE WAR FRONT ROBIN of Loxley, played by Taron Egerton (Eddie the Eagle, Legend), came back to a home in ruins and a girlfriend who no longer was there. Adding in the poverty he was seeing all around him, there was only one thing Robin could do; he would have to go undercover. With Jamie Foxx (Ray, Law Abiding Citizen) as Little John, Ben Mendelssohn (Animal Kingdom, Rogue One: A Star Wars Story) as Sheriff of Nottingham, Eve Hewson (Enough Said, Bridge of Spies) as Marian and Jamie Dornan (Fifty Shades of Grey franchise, A Private War) as Will Scarlet; this thriller was silly, both in the script and visually. I dislike when writers introduce things into the story that were never part of the time period. An example here would be a version of a Gatling gun for arrows; how in the world did the writers come up with this for Robin Hood? I guess they were too busy creating elaborate fight scenes. The miscasting of Taron and Eve was evident since there was no chemistry between the two. Dressed in odd clothing and ridiculous special effects this film succeeded in one thing: it robbed me of my available time.
1 2/3 stars
ONCE upon a time employees took pride in their work. Whether it was an office clerk, salesperson, mechanic or repair person; doing a good job used to mean something. Maybe because the business climate changed over the decades from an employees matter mentality to workers now being considered just a disposable statistic, it is not only sad but can be frustrating for the public. Presently I have friends who have been dealing with a large phone carrier for over 2 months, to get them to transfer their business phone lines to another party. Every single time my friends call customer service they get a different answer to the same question. Right now they have received 8 different responses where one representative says they need the new party’s permission to change the phone line to that party, but another rep says they can do it without any permission. Yet nothing ever gets done. WHAT I have found these days are employees who take their pride to cockiness. They really are not feeling good about doing decent work; they are doing it so they can boast and make themselves feel better than the people around them. I do not know about you but it takes a lot of energy for me to keep a straight face while a worker talks down to me in a condescending way. When I encounter someone bragging about something they did at work, that they think was extraordinary, all I want to ask them is, “Isn’t that part of your job responsibilities?” And companies want to know why consumers are switching to online shopping. It only takes one bad employee to color a person’s perception of that company or organization. This crime thriller will show you what I mean. POLICE officer Vincent Downs, played by Jamie Foxx (White House Down, Law Abiding Citizen) found himself being hunted down after he stole a drug shipment from a crime family. His problems got worse when he discovered the family kidnapped his son Thomas, played by Octavius J. Johnson (Coldwater, Ray Donovan-TV). Set in Las Vegas this action film told a story that has been done repeatedly before. The problem was this picture did not offer anything different with this genre. With Michelle Monaghan (Patriots Day, Due Date) as Jennifer Bryant, Dermot Mulroney (The Grey, My Best Friend’s Wedding) as Stanley Rubino and Scoot McNairy (12 Years a Slave, Non=Stop) as Novak; the only actor I thought did anything well was Michelle. In fact I wish the script had been written more around her character for she was the only one where I felt I had a connection. Jamie brought nothing to his role and the script only made things worse for him. C’mon, he has a bleeding wound that seems to only hurt when he needs to take a pause to catch his breath between stunts. Otherwise he is fighting and dodging bullets all over the place. Plus I find it ridiculous to have the bad guys shooting so many bullets but none of them have good aim. This movie was a tedious one to get through; I really would like to know if the people behind this film felt pride in what they created for the moviegoer.
1 ½ stars
It seems as if more people and companies are playing some type of angle with their actions. For example take a look at the larger containers of juice that go on sale at the grocery store. They have those big, bold sale tags that draw customers to the product; but if you look at the cost per fluid ounce, the juice on sale is still more expensive than the smaller containers. Get a load of this; with two of the movie chains I frequent, I am a member of each one’s rewards program. One chain gives you $10.00 back for every $100.00 you spend on tickets and food items. The other one also returns $10.00 to you, but after you have see 100 movies. Now granted I may not be the best example since I see a ton of movies, but which rewards program do you think is the better deal? The thing I find most annoying is the 2nd movie chain example shows advertisements for their rewards program before the movie starts; touting it as if it were the greatest thing to come along since penicillin. As I said earlier, everything has to have some type of angle these days. UGLINESS may have been all around her, but it could not bring down her positive attitude towards life. Annie, played by Quvenzhane Wallis (Beasts of the Southern Wild, 12 Years a Slave), was convinced good things would come her way. Her accidental meeting with businessman Will Stacks, played by Jamie Foxx (Law Abiding Citizen, Dreamsgirls), would prove her point; even if Will did not know it yet. Between stage, screen and television I have seen several versions of this classic story. This Golden Globe nominee had the most radical changes done to it in my opinion. For this comedic drama there was more of an emphasis on material things as Jamie’s character had all the trappings of a big time company’s CEO. My favorite character was Rose Byrne (Neighbors, Insidious franchise) playing Grace. And that is all I liked about this utterly lifeless film. In the worst case of miscasting I have seen in a long time, Cameron Diaz (The Holiday, The Other Woman) as Miss Hannigan was so dreadful; she had none of the wicked fun of past actresses who played the iconic role. The dance numbers were stale and poorly directed. I was so stunned by the dullness of this film. The new songs they inserted at the cost of some original ones were unmemorable; it was somewhat hard to think of this film as a true musical. I cannot recommend this picture because it felt like the producers’ angle was to play on people’s memories of the story, to get them into the movie theater.
1 3/4 stars
Nothing came to mind; this was quite unusual because it had never happened before. I wondered if I was still suffering from the overdose of tryptophan I ingested during the past holiday weekend. Maybe I should not have tried the variety of desserts that caused me distress from that post sugar high. I did not think it was the mediocre movies that played this past weekend; or maybe, they actually lulled my brain into a quiet stupor that it had not reawakened from as of yet. The pessimistic voice inside of me was audible; telling me I was a fraud and this had all been a sham. Those who regularly read my movie reviews know I start out talking about the personal connection I made to the film. I have always said as long as a movie can move you then it has done its job. It was the strangest thing however when I started to write my review today; for the life of me, I could not recall one iota of a connection I felt to this comedy sequel. HAVING left their jobs best friends Nick Hendricks, Kurt Buckman and Dale Arbus; played by Jason Bateman (Bad Words, Up in the Air), Jason Sudeikis (Hall Pass, We’re the Millers) and Charlie Day (Pacific Rim, It’s Always Sunny in Philadelphia-TV); decided to start their own company to be their own bosses. They thought everything was working out perfectly after they showed the product they invented to wealthy investor Bert Hanson, played by Christoph Waltz (Django Unchained, Carnage). However, their meeting with Bert would lead the friends to come up with a diabolical plan. If you did not see the previous film to this sequel, it probably will not make too much of a difference for you in following the story. Jennifer Aniston (We’re the Millers, The Bounty Hunter), returned as foul-mouthed Dr. Julia Harris. I honestly could not find any positive things to say about this picture except that I was grateful it was less than 2 hours long. The gags and jokes were juvenile and monotonous; even with both Jasons’ quick sharp deliveries. The story had very little connection to the previous movie which led me to believe this film was a labor of love for the paycheck. If you saw the film trailer then you have seen the majority of what this film will be. For the most part I was bored, finding very little to even chuckle at during the scenes. To tell you the truth, the story was a cheap knockoff to a couple of previous movies that did the job better. I guess it was a good thing after all that I could not find a personal connection to this dreadful film. Strong language was used in the film.
1 1/2 stars
It can be a heart wrenching experience to be on the receiving end of a change without any explanation. Imagine after dating someone for several months they one day tell you they can no longer do this and say goodbye. You are left with a hole inside of you that will not heal properly. You can fill it with anger, vowing you will never let someone get that close to you again or you can push yourself to find someone else to fill the emptiness inside; but in the back of your mind a seed of doubt took hold that maybe you did something “wrong” that drove your boyfriend/girlfriend away. I also have to believe being let go from a job without being told a reason why has to be brutal. How about a child who has enough awareness to know they are being given up to someone else? I cannot even comprehend what ramifications would emerge from it, which is why I thought the strongest part of this action adventure sequel was the back story about the parents of Peter Parker aka Spider-Man, played by Andrew Garfield (The Social Network, Boy A). In his attempt to find out the reason why his parents left him, Peter would discover a surprising secret buried at his father’s former employer, Oscorp. The big plus to this movie were the special effects; I especially liked the way they incorporated iconic landmarks. With the single exception of Sally Field (Lincoln, Mrs. Doubtfire) as Peter’s Aunt May and Emma Stone (Gangster Squad, The Help) as Peter’s girlfriend Stacy, I did not find much else to like about this overindulgent fantasy film. Jamie Foxx (Law Abiding Citizen, Ray) looked better than he acted as Max Dillon aka Electro and Dane DeHaan (Lawless, Kill Your Darlings) would have been a better Harry Osborn if the writers would have left him alone. There were too many villains, too many story lines and too much whining to make this an exciting movie for me. The majority of the blame has to fall on the writers. I felt they were trying to outdo any current superhero movies by making Spider-Man deal with so many different issues in this one film. They needed a good editor to clean up the voluminous scenes, making a tighter story and shortening the film’s 2 hours and 23 minutes running time. If this sequel is any indication I will not be upset if the movie studio does not make a 3rd film; I do not even need to know the reasons why. There was one surprise scene in the middle of the ending credits.
2 1/4 stars
Even if one has not visited an iconic building, they can still be upset upon its destruction. When I travel to a new city I always seek out buildings of historic significance. Whether it is an ancient structure or a world renowned architect’s masterpiece, I enjoy seeing the architecture in every place I visit. I have only seen the Capital in Washington, DC from the outside; yet, I felt a twinge of sadness when it came under terrorist attack in this explosive action film. During the horrific incident John Cale, played by Channing Tatum (Side Effects, Magic Mike) and his daughter Emily, played by Joey King (Oz the Great and Powerful, Crazy Stupid Love) were taking a tour of the White House. With President James Sawyer, played by Jamie Foxx (Django Unchained, Ray) in residence, the building went into lockdown mode. Talk about being in the wrong place at the wrong time; but for who, as the attackers were not counting on someone like John Cale being in the White House. My sadness over the destruction of the Capitol was overshadowed by my dread over the ridiculous script for this film. It did not know whether to be an exciting action drama or a high stakes comedy. Some of the dialog was utterly looney, with no help from Channing and Jamie. Thrown into this mess was Maggie Gyllenhaal (The Dark Knight, Won’t Back Down) as secret service agent Finnerty, Richard Jenkins (The Visitor, Step Brothers) as politician Raphelson and Jason Clarke (Zero Dark Thirty, Lawless) as terrorist Stenz. I felt bad for these three individuals being stuck in this uninspired movie. To its favor, the film had good explosions and fights. If the writers had kept the story presidential without the attempted humor, I think this would have been a better film. Also, I was annoyed when the good guy characters did ignorant things; I felt as if the writers were underestimating the viewers’ intelligence. If you have nothing else to do and have never taken a tour of the White House, I suppose there would be no harm in watching this film. One of the funniest things to me was reading the credits, where I saw the film was filmed in Montreal, Canada. There were several scenes with blood and violence.
1 3/4 stars
One of my first bosses thought he inherited a kingdom instead of a business from his father. I had an inkling of this during my first week at the job. The owner came into the warehouse, took off his shoes, handed them and a shoe shining kit he was carrying to an employee and told the worker to go shine them. I was flabbergasted by the owner’s behavior. Later in the week another incident left me shocked and disgusted. My boss came into the warehouse, walked up to a different employee and handed him his hairbrush, telling the man to take it into the bathroom and clean it. I was prepared to quit if I was ever asked to clean something of his. As it turned out, because I was a good driver, the owner would give me the keys to his expensive luxury car to do errands for him and his mother. I was agreeable to this type of task. This was my introduction into the work world. Luckily I never experienced the bosses that were in this wild comedy. Jason Bateman (Identity Thief, Up in the Air), Jason Sudeikis (The Campaign, Hall Pass) and Charlie Day (Going the Distance, A Quiet Little Marriage) played best friends Nick Hendricks, Kurt Buckman and Dale Arbus. During a night of drinking and commiserating about their vile bosses, the trio plotted a way to do away with their evil superiors. Though the premise was over the top, the cast really made this film fun to watch. I was stunned by Jennifer Aniston’s (Wanderlust, The Bounty Hunter) performance as Dr. Julia Harris, D.D.S.; not her usual type of role and she nailed it. Along with Kevin Spacey (Moon, The Usual Suspects) and Colin Farrell (Total Recall, Seven Psychopaths), these actors were wickedly contemptuous in their roles. A fast paced, joke laced, crazy caper movie; you may find it totally unbelievable. Before you judge this film because you cannot believe there can be such bosses in the real world, remind me to tell you about another boss I worked for who would steal our customer’s eye glasses. Some scenes with strong language.
2 3/4 stars — DVD