IT WAS OUR PASSION FOR WORKING out that sparked our friendship. Meeting at the house of mutual friends, I knew immediately he was into fitness. My first clue was the food he had on his plate. From all the choices available at the buffet table, he chose the items with the least amount of carbs. Also, he was wearing a light colored T-shirt that was stretched to the max across his chiseled torso and bulging biceps. It was over at the table set up as the bar, where I made a comment about his plate of food. He, in turn, asked where was my plate. When I explained I stop eating 5 hours before going to sleep, I could tell my comment piqued his interest. From there we got into a discussion about health and exercise, sharing our journey into fitness. I shared stories about witnessing the effects brought on by family members’ poor health and how I started questioning the things I was doing that might trigger into action those same poor genes I shared with them from the family gene pool. It turned out we had a similar history that motivated us to take better care of ourselves. Before the evening was over, we both had a good sense of each other and agreed to hang out at some point. FROM THAT RANDOM MEETING AT THAT party, we wound up becoming pretty good workout buddies. When time permitted we would meet at the health club and become each other’s coach and spotter. It must have been 6 or 8 months later when he got the news that would change his life forever. On a routine doctor visit it was discovered he had a serious disease. Because he was so fit, he did not notice the early symptoms. From that point on things changed, as you would expect. He still met me at the gym but not as often; not because he did not want to, but because he was busy getting his house ready to sell. Upon getting the news, he decided he did not want to live and die in a cold climate. Instead, he planned on moving to a warmer city on the west coast. He still kept close to his workout routine but the times did not mesh with my availability. By the time we were in the middle of the autumn season, he had sold most of his furnishings, grew a beard and bought a house. Though he hadn’t finalized the sale of his current house, he wanted to get out and start enjoying the days he had remaining in a warm climate. I was impressed with his matter of fact actions in completely uprooting himself to seek out comfort for his remaining days. I don’t know if I would have the same courage as him or the main character in this dark comedic drama. UPON RECEIVING DIRE NEWS ABOUT HIS HEALTH Richard, played by Johnny Depp (Pirates of the Caribbean franchise, Black Mass) changed the way he was teaching his classes and also the people around him. With Rosemarie DeWitt (Your Sister’s Sister, Rachel Getting Married) as Veronica, Odessa Young (Assassination Nation, The Daughter) as Olivia, Danny Huston (The Aviator, The Constant Gardener) as Peter and Zoey Deutch (Before I Fall, Dirty Grandpa) as Claire; this film festival nominee had a decent cast of actors. Johnny was ok but he did not provide me with something new that I had not seen before. The script had an occasional glimmer of hope, but I felt it lacked in developing the characters. There were several chances for this story to well up into an emotional peak but I felt the writers wanted to play it safe. So instead what was left for the viewer was a repeat of actions and emotions; as if, the writers wanted to not only numb the main character but the audience as well.
THE TICKETS WERE A PRESENT TO ME, for a revival of a Broadway musical that was touring the country. I had seen this production a couple of times before, let alone various video clips of it with several iconic actresses starring in the lead role. The actress in this current production was a “heavy-hitter” having won various awards, including a Tony award. I was excited to see her since she had the acting chops and the vocal power to carry off this demanding role. Arriving at the theater we made our way to our seats, which turned out to be directly center to the stage. There were no sight obstructions, nor any issues with the people in front blocking my view because we were looking down at the stage from an elevated height. At the posted time the lights in the theater dimmed except for one spotlight directed at the musical conductor. Classic songs from the musical score were touched upon during the overture before the curtain came up and there on stage was the Tony winning actress. The crowd erupted with applause as the orchestra paused a moment for the clapping to die down. It was not long until the first song was to be sung in the story by the actress; I was excited to hear her voice again. WHAT CAME OUT OF HER MOUTH was a voice that was unfamiliar to me. I did not know if she had a cold or the years of singing had taken their toll on her vocal cords; but she could barely hold a note. My disappointment weighed on me like a heavy knapsack strapped to my back. She was the lead, so she was expected to carry a major portion of the script and songs. Though the sets were beautiful, and the rest of the actors were good, I was underwhelmed with this production. I knew how good this musical could be and what I saw did not carry me to the end of the story; instead, it had to pull me along on broken legs. That is how disappointed I felt, let down with the singing which I knew could have been enthralling. Ultimately, I was glad I saw this production; especially since it was a gift to me, but it did not work out that way. We talked about the actress afterwards and everyone felt the same as I did. I am willing to bet those friends would feel the same way as I did when I saw this latest installment from the world of Harry Potter. WITH THE ESCAPE OF THE WARLOCK GRINDELWALD, played by Johnny Depp (Black Mass, The Lone Ranger), the wizarding world would find itself in jeopardy of splitting apart. It would take someone extraordinary to go against Grindelwald and remain alive. This adventure fantasy starred Eddie Redmayne (The Theory of Everything, The Danish Girl) as Newt Scamander, Dan Fogler (Balls of Fury, Don Peyote) as Jacob Kowalski, Katherine Waterson (Inherent Vice, Alien: Covenant) as Tina Goldstein and Jude Law (Anna Karenina, The Grand Budapest Hotel) as Albus Dumbledore. Let me start out by saying I bought magical wands for family members; so, you know I was looking forward to this 2nd installment. Visually this film maintained the fun and creative special effects as the previous ones. There were new characters introduced, all laying the groundwork to fill in the paths toward the Harry Potter stories. Don’t get me wrong, I enjoyed these aspects of the film; but the story/script was weak. This movie lacked the excitement I had grown to expect, feeling like we went from one crisis to another with too many story lines thrown in. I almost felt as if this production was partially “phoned in” because it lacked the “magic” that was found in the Harry Potter films. Whether I felt obligation or a sense of duty, I would have gone to this film regardless; however, I do not want to feel as if I am being given a so-so effort in the creation of this franchise.
NOT ONLY HAD I NEVER seen one, I never even heard about them. Walking into their house for the first time, I was introduced to a pleasant couple who were friends with my friend. They were hosting a get together and my friend brought me along. After the introductions they led us into their living room. It took me a moment to take it all in but across most of the flat surfaces in the room, such as shelves and tables, there were these ceramic gnomes everywhere. It was so utterly odd to me and there were so many of them; all different kinds from wizen elderly males to young teenagers to busy looking females. Evidently the expression on my face telegraphed my surprise for the hosts took the liberty of telling me the history of several of their gnomes. I found out the artist who created them always placed some type of object on the piece as a surprise. Oh and I almost forgot, each gnome had a name and a history about their life. SEVERAL YEARS LATER I WAS killing time in a resale shop. As I made my way through the aisles I came to a section that held house wares. There was an entire shelving unit filled with the same type of gnomes I remembered from that dinner party back then. All of them were lined up into rows as if they were all sitting in a theater to watch a movie. I never knew how much were the original prices for these gnomes, but I could not resist checking what they were being priced at in this resale store. A majority of the larger ones were priced at $5.00 and the smaller ones at $3.00. I had to assume this was a major bargain. What is that saying, one person’s junk is another person’s treasure? Based on the traces of dust covering some of the gnomes I assumed they had been sitting there a long time; I guess there is not a need for people to have gnomes in their house or garden currently. It is funny because I wound up feeling the same regarding this animated, adventure comedy sequel. AFTER SETTLING INTO THEIR NEW home Gnomeo and Juliet, voiced by James McAvoy (Split, The Last King of Scotland) and Emily Blunt (The Girl on the Train, Into the Woods), expected with a little work to have the perfect garden. However when their fellow gnomes went missing the only one who could hopefully solve the mystery was the top detective Sherlock Gnomes, voiced by Johnny Depp (Black Mass, The Long Ranger) and his companion Dr. Watson, voiced by Chiwetel Ejiofor (12 Years a Slave, 2012). The idea for this story was cute in this film. With decent animation and a soundtrack provided by Elton John’s songs I thought this would have been a fun film. Just as I was stunned seeing all those gnomes in that couple’s house, I was dumbfounded by how poorly written was the script. This picture was boring to me; there was nothing funny or cute about it. Maybe a narrow group of children would like this film; but where I expected a theater with children to be noisy, in my viewing there were barely any sounds coming from the audience. I had to fight to stay attentive to what was going on in the story. For the most part I felt myself wanting to doze off, but forced myself to stay awake. It was a late viewing for me, but that was not the reason. Like the fate of Beanie Babies and pet rocks, this movie will probably make it to the discount bin in quick time.
1 ¾ stars
THE SET OF DOORS was still massive looking under the prominent archway sticking out from the building’s façade. Crossing over the threshold the first open area available was a huge lobby. The floor was well worn; the once polished tile was now tired and dull. The ceiling was made up with an elaborate maze of wooden beams that crisscrossed in such a way to form star shapes. Some of the stars had long chandeliers hanging down that threw off just enough light to barely encompass the lobby. There was a grand staircase that started in the middle of the area then swept up like a curl of blonde hair to the 2nd floor. At the top of the staircase just beyond was a wall of stained glass that looked like it was covered in a dark veil; the light coming from behind was no longer strong enough to shine through completely. Behind the staircase on the main floor was a row of doors, each one numbered. NO MATTER WHICH DOOR one walked through, there were railroad tracks waiting on the other side. The platforms were for the most part clear of debris; but there were splotches of dirtiness looking like broken shadows that died on the floor. The lighting was weak, needing the assistance of any light source coming through the glass ceiling above. Not every track had a train unloading or waiting for passengers. As for the train cars that were present, there was not one that did not look like it had gone through some type of battle. With bruises, scrapes and nicks; the cars were so old they would always squeal their aches and pains when leaving the station. Inside the cars one would be challenged to find a seat that did not have a rip in its fabric or graffiti displayed somewhere on the front or back. A passenger’s comfort was not taken into consideration when the cars were manufactured; the main focus was determining how many seats could be stuffed into each car. Seeing the passenger train in this dramatic, crime mystery made me wish I would have had an opportunity to experience such an elegant ride. WHEN ONE PASSENGER WAS found dead in their cabin it was up to Detective Hercule Poirot, played by Kenneth Branagh (Dunkirk, Jack Ryan: Shadow Recruit) to find the killer before another passenger wound meet the same fate. Based on Agatha Christie’s novel this movie directed by Kenneth Branagh was a beautiful representation of a time long passed. With Daisy Ridley (Star Wars: The Force Awakens, Silent Witness-TV) as Miss Mary Debenham, Leslie Odom Jr. (Red Tails, Person of Interest-TV) as Dr. Arbuthnot, Penelope Cruz (The Counsellor, Head in the Clouds) as Pilar Estravados and Josh Gad (Beauty and the Beast, Marshall) as Hector MacQueen; the cast was filled with heavy hitting actors. I truly enjoyed the way this movie was filmed because it was beautiful to watch. However with the script being so lifeless I had to wonder why the studio hired such a talented cast only to have them do nothing. There were some actors that I cannot recall if they had more than 4 lines; it was silly especially since Kenneth was in almost every scene and in the viewers’ faces. Drama and intensity were missing from this picture. Considering the circumstances taking place there needed to be tension, thrills and excitement; none of that was present in this film. I felt this remake took the story and put it in a pretty package to entice viewers, only to have them open it up and realize they already had seen a better version sometime before.
ONCE again I was dressed up as a clown. I actually had no complaints about the costume; it was custom made using satin fabric. The buttons down the front were these big colored pom-pom looking things. Though the outfit was not made for me, it had been handed down; only a few adjustments were needed for me to safely walk in it. There was a cone shaped hat with another of those pom-poms attached on top that completed the outfit. I could only wear the hat for a short time before the strap holding it down on my head started to irritate under my chin. The first time the costume was worn by the original owner, they won a costume contest at a local theater. By the time I got the outfit, it was still in good shape. Why wouldn’t it be? It was handmade with strong stitching and detailing. You could not compare it to one of those store bought costumes for the fabric was thicker and it must have had better elastic because the cuffs of the legs still were able to hug my ankles, helping the balloon effect of the pants. AFTER wearing the clown costume every Halloween for a few years I finally was able to pick out my very own outfit. The reason was due to me outgrowing the pants, both in length and width. I remember spending the longest time at the toy store deciding what I wanted to be. I looked at the popular outfits like a soldier and pirate, but it seemed like all my friends were picking those outfits to wear. Finally I decided to become an astronaut; I thought the white spacesuit was cool with its fake badges and big pockets. And of course the big feature was the helmet though I had wished the visor would have been real. You would have thought I would have been thrilled to walk the neighborhood in my new outfit but I did not experience that feeling. After wearing the same costume for a few years I was just getting to the age where I really did not care to go trick or treating anymore. It is a similar feeling to what I experienced watching this action adventure fantasy. WITH the rumors possibly being true about Poseidon’s trident, opposing forces were in a mad dash to gain the powerful device. Starring Johnny Depp (Black Mass, The Lone Ranger) as Captain Jack Sparrow, Javier Bardem (The Gunman, No Country for Old Men) as Captain Salazar and Geoffrey Rush (The Book Thief, The Best Offer) as Captain Hector Barbossa; the best acting came from Javier and Geoffrey. In fact I could watch Javier if there was a spinoff to this film franchise. The reason being the story here was a hodgepodge. It did not help that I thought Johnny brought nothing new to the role; besides the script felt a bit tired with the same type of things seen in the previous films. Having said that, I will say I enjoyed the special effects in this picture and there were a lot of them. The majority of the scenes were action based, almost to the point of one after another after another. One other issue I had was the length of this movie; I felt it needed another round of editing. If you want light familiar fare to make the time go by then this newest installment might satisfy you; however, don’t be surprised if it leaves you wanting more. There was an extra scene at the end of the credits.
The multi-colored pennants hanging off the building were so thick in numbers you would have thought this was the launching of an armada instead of a grocery store’s grand re-opening. I could tell before I pulled into the parking lot that something must have been going on because traffic was busier than usual. As I walked into the store I immediately noticed all the shopping carts were replaced with polished black, extra wide carts. Later I would discover I missed the squeaky wheels of the old carts because they used to announce my arrival to the shoppers lost in thought IN THE MIDDLE OF THE AISLE, blocking passage. Starting at the produce department all the previous stand alone racks were replaced with these “islands” built of wood with multiple shelves perched on top in a pyramid shape. The produce was carefully lined up on these shelves that were covered in some type of felt or Astroturf. I almost needed sunglasses from the super bright lights that were hanging down from a newly revealed bare ceiling. All the signage was bigger and easier to read. I felt like I was in a brand new store though I had been shopping in this place for years. From my shopping list I saw I needed apples, pears and green peppers. At one island up ahead I could see the green peppers circling the lowest shelf. The shelf above had red peppers and the top shelf was filled with yellow. Looking at the peppers close-up I discovered, though the store was remodeled, the produce hadn’t changed; you had to hunt through to find a pepper that was not bruised or shriveled up. As they say the store was all flash with no substance, just like this fantasy film. ALICE Kingsleigh, played by Mia Wasikowska (Crimson Peak, Jane Eyre), returns to Wonderland to help her good friend Hatter Tarrant Hightopp aka Mad Hatter, played by Johnny Depp (Black Mass, Into the Woods). Her journey would take her back in time. This adventure film was utterly imaginative and colorful to watch on the big screen. With most of the previous cast returning like Anne Hathaway (The Intern, The Dark Knight Rises) as Mirana, there was a new addition with Sacha Baron Cohen (The Brothers Grimsby, The Dictator) as Time. He was fine though nothing real special. Maybe I was expecting the writers to use his comedic talent fully than what they wrote for him. In fact, this brings me to my main complaint about this film; it was not fun or entertaining. The story was more of a downer as were the characters. It seemed like a long time before the story picked up but by that time I did not care anymore. I remember sitting in my seat and wondering if this is what Lewis Carroll had in mind? The story lines separately may have been good by themselves, but mixing them all in one movie just made things messy in the telling of this story. This movie was like one of those Corpse flowers that is pretty to look at but smells foul.
I used to live near this great restaurant that served these incredible french fries. They were hand cut with some of the potato skin left on them. They were always served separately on their own plate which I thought was a great idea, because you would get more fries than if they were placed next to your entree on the same plate. Besides, this way you could douse them anyway you wanted with ketchup. What made this place standout from other restaurants was the personal touches the staff did for the customers. If your bowl of soup cooled off before you finished it, they were always glad to bring a cup of steaming broth to warm it up. Another thing that made this place standout from others was the way they would hand mold their burgers. No matter what you ordered it always looked and felt like a home cooked meal. When the owners wanted to expand they brought in new business partners. On the outside nothing looked different; there was the same creaky front door and the same counter with its maroon colored stools, where the cushioned seats would spin a full 360 degrees around. However, I soon noticed some subtle changes with the food. The french fries were no longer hand cut; the process became automated, where the potatoes were put through a machine to cut them up. The cloth napkins were replaced with disposable paper ones that were barely big enough to wipe your hands clean. All the personal touches and care that went into cooking the food became automated and it was never the same. I lost interest in the place since my last visits were never as satisfying as the ones with the original owners. This is the same way I have felt about Johnny Depp. His recent films were not entertaining to me since it was obvious he was on automatic. Just slap makeup and costumes on him and it was the same thing over and over. All of that changed with this dramatic crime film. BASED on true events Johnny Depp (Alice in Wonderland, Finding Neverland) played James “Whitey” Bulger, a mobster who with the help of the FBI became Boston’s biggest crime boss. The acting performance by Johnny was stunning; it reminded me of his acting from years ago. With Joel Edgerton’s (The Gift, Zero Dark Thirty) wonderful performance as FBI agent John Connolly and Peter Sarsgaard (Orphan, Jarhead) as Brian Halloran, the acting was of a high caliber for this story. I only wished the script had offered more details. It felt like things were quickly taking place without any explanation just to keep the film under a certain time. Despite this I found the picture compelling enough to keep me involved through most of it. I just hope Johnny will continue to take on roles that push him to really act in them, instead of going on automatic. There were scenes with violence and blood in them.
Sadly I have seen a person go into shock due to an automobile accident. It looked as if they had been powered by batteries that were quickly losing power as their physical movements were grinding to a halt. There was a numbness that came over them as they became unaware of their surroundings. Gratefully the shock I am referring to today is the kind where you cannot believe what your eyes have just seen. I was rummaging through my memory, looking for a time where I had that reaction of disbelief and what came to mind was the first time I visited Las Vegas, Nevada. One of the shows I saw there was a pseudo circus type of troupe but without the animals. I sat there in disbelief as I watched these human beings performing non-human things; it was a night filled with fanciful magic that continues to stay with me to this day. Since I started posting my movie reviews I cannot recall having such a reaction of shock like I had to this film. I think the best way I could describe it would be to say I was dumbfounded and had a difficult time processing what I was witnessing on the big screen before me. JOHNNY Depp (The Long Ranger, Transcendence) played well known art dealer Mortdecai. When a famous painting was stolen, Mortdecai was brought in by England’s secret service to assist them in retrieving the artwork before it fell into the hands of a hostile group. There was something special about this painting. I literally sat in astonishment as I watched this action comedy. This movie was so bad and I do not mean that in a good way. Someone needs to tell Johnny it is enough already; this is not acting anymore. He just talks with an accent and mimics to the camera; it is utterly tiresome. I would love to know what Gwyneth Paltrow (Iron Man franchise, Running with Scissors) as Johanna, Ewan McGregor (Big Fish, The Impossible) as Martland and Paul Bettany (Legion, A Beautiful Mind) as Jock were thinking by agreeing to be in this movie. The story, the script and the acting were all awful. I think I am still shellshocked because I can barely type out my thoughts on this review. It seemed as if the producers were trying to create a mashup of Austin Powers and Inspector Jacques Clouseau, with the hope of creating a new franchise. I hope it does not happen because this movie was like an unfinished painting that did not dry and all the colors ran together to form brown. As a side note, the 8 pm Saturday night showing of this film, in an approximately 300 seat theater, had 22 people in attendance, including me.
1 1/3 stars
I would not say it is an irrational fear; it is more of a mistrust I have of computers. Sure when they do what they are supposed to do they can be wonderful; but, when they do not function properly, they can be a nightmare. I do not understand how a computer can follow the same procedure ever day then all of a sudden one day it cannot perform it. This drives me crazy. I used to work at a company where the corporate offices did very little of their daily requirements on a computer. The owner never wanted to see the departments’ routines come to a standstill due to a power outage or computer virus. I could understand the reasoning behind such actions because I have worked at companies where their entire operations were done by computers. It made things easier in some ways but when the computers would go down, the entire company would come to a complete stop. Do not get me wrong, computers certainly have enhanced our lives; but at what cost? This dramatic mystery movie delved into the possibilities of what the computer could do to elevate the life of mankind. Johnny Depp (The Lone Ranger, The Tourist) played Will Caster, one of the most respected researchers in the field of artificial intelligence. With his wife Evelyn and fellow researcher Max Waters, played by Rebecca Hall (Closed Circuit, The Prestige) and Paul Bettany (Margin Call, Inkheart), working alongside him; Will was working to create a machine that would have self-awareness. There would be no limits to the advancements that would benefit mankind…or would there be? This science fiction movie had a sharp, cool look to it. I liked the premiss of the story and felt it was relevant since we now have operating systems that verbally communicate with us. The cast which also included Morgan Freeman (Last Vegas, Million Dollar Baby) as Joseph Tagger and Kate Mara (Transsiberian, The Open Road) as Bree were solid but the script did not allow them to excel at their craft. Johnny Depp was actually the weak one out of the group. There were some parts, like Bree’s scenes with members of her gang, that did not make much sense due to the lack of back story. I thought the director’s pacing in this film was quite poor; I sat through passages where I was just bored. One could say this film created by humans was ironic since it had the emotions of a computer.
1 3/4 stars
The first musical notes may not be recognized by younger people, but almost everyone else will know the William Tell Overture. As soon as I hear the music I can recall the excitement I had seeing a majestic white horse standing on its hind legs, the rider dressed in white except for his black mask as he exclaimed, “Hi-Yo, Silver! Away!” Danger, thrills, disguises and chases are things I associate with the Lone Ranger. He was a strong character who fought for justice, alongside his Native American companion Tonto. In this action film you at least get the white horse. For nearly 2 1/2 hours you get a boring, ridiculous mess of a movie. Johnny Depp (Dark Shadows, The Rum Diary) played an ancient Tonto telling in flashbacks his story of witnessing the transformation of John Reid into the Lone Ranger, played by Armie Hammer (Mirror Mirror, J. Edgar). I am tired of movie studios slapping bizarre makeup and costumes on Johnny, thinking that is all that is needed to make a memorable character. Sure, I remember the outfit but I also remember Johnny hardly did any acting worth noting. Partners need chemistry to convince the audience that they have a solid bond and are there for each other. I did not feel any such thing between Armie and Johnny. Having the older Tonto tell the story was utterly useless; it did nothing to enhance the story except the duration of the movie’s running time. The explosions were well done and a couple of chase scenes had some thought put into them, but it was like watching fireworks. The story was so disconnected I felt I was just watching one fight after another. The only decent acting came from Tom Wilkinson (Michael Clayton, The Debt) as businessman Cole and William Fichtner (Contact, Black Hawk Down) as outlaw Butch Cavendish. The best way to watch this film would be going out for a meal at the start of the movie then arrive back for the last 1/2 hour of the film. At least you will get to hear the William Tell Overture. Better yet, download the music and look for an old episode of the television show to watch. There were a couple of scenes with blood and one particularly disturbing scene.
1 2/3 stars