AS I LISTENED I THOUGHT IT was an ingenious plan. It was a time before cellular phones and my friend was telling me how her family would take a road trip. When relatives were included on their road trips, involving more than one car, the drivers would create a way of communicating with each other. They would flash their auto lights in a specific way, similar to Morse code, to say they needed to stop for a restroom, a break, gas or a meal. Alternating between the right and left turn signals would mean someone in the car needed to stop at a bathroom. If passengers were getting hungry then the driver would either flash the lights 3 times or tap the brakes 3 times in rapid succession to signal the other driver. I was impressed with the plan and realized the introduction of the smart phone sure made traveling by automobile a whole different experience than what it used to be. If I thought about it I could have questioned why the cars needed to follow each other; but I could understand the reasoning behind forming a caravan. You know, the safety in numbers train of thought. FAMILY VACATIONS PROVIDE A MULTITUDE of experiences. The ones I experienced were predominately for visiting relatives who lived out of state. So, when people talk about the type of vacations they would do as a family, I am curious to hear about them. I remember listening about a family who took nature trips in some of the national parks across the country. There was one trip where they went hiking with their two small children and soon discovered the trail was not geared for a novice; the kids were scared and complaining. I looked up the place where they went and was stunned that someone would look at it and think small children could handle the climb. Heck I was not sure I could even do it! As another example I have some relatives who love getting into the car and driving to obscure tourist type places that you would never find on a “best of” list for vacation spots. They would take a vacation to find the largest ball of yarn or drive to visit the mustard museum in some small town in a different state. Usually they would find a variety of curiosity spots to stop at along the way. I am good with whatever “trips your trigger” for a family vacation; that is why I went to see the latest installment of this animated comedic, family film. FEELING HER FATHER NEEDED A vacation from running the hotel Mavis, voiced by Selena Gomez (Getaway, Spring Breakers), came up with a brilliant idea. She booked the family on a boat cruise. For her father Dracula, voiced by Adam Sandler (The Wedding Singer, Big Daddy), it would be more than just a boat ride. With Andy Samberg (That’s My Boy, Brooklyn Nine-Nine-TV) voicing Johnny, Kathryn Hahn (Bad Moms franchise, Afternoon Delight) voicing Ericka and Jim Gaffigan (Chappaquiddick, Away We Go) voicing Van Helsing; this third installment was more of the same I am afraid to say. Little children might enjoy this picture because of all the monsters; but overall, I did not find much humor in the story. The visuals and animation were certainly fun, but they were not enough to support the feeble script. Pretty much a majority of this film was a series of sight gags. Surprisingly there was a message in the movie regarding inclusion, but chances are it will get lost on the youngsters. The only other thing to say about this picture is to make sure you bring a life jacket or a lifeboat because this boat is taking on water.
IT SOUNDED LIKE A SOLID game plan. We were going to drive an 18 foot van filled with all of his furnishings from Arizona to relocate him to Colorado. Attached to the van would be a trailer to haul his car. Since he had more experience than me driving trucks it was decided he would do all the driving and I would be the navigator. We left on a hot sunny day; the air conditioning in the cab groaning as it tried to lower the temperature. I joked that I felt like we were starring in a remake of an old Lucille Ball movie where her and Desi played newlyweds that decided to drive a trailer across country. We christened the truck and trailer the “Beast” because it felt so massive to us. Neither of us realized with it being packed full, our ability to keep up with traffic made it feel as if the truck was lumbering like a grizzly bear looking for a place to hibernate. All things considered we could not complain; the weather stayed sunny, there was no construction or road blocks and our route would mostly be all highway driving. ONCE WE DROVE INTO COLORADO our drive would take a perilous turn. The Rockies stood ahead of us, as if they were daring us to try and get through them. It did not occur to either of us that the bogged down van would struggle through the mountain passes. Actually going uphill was not as scary as downhill. There were some cars that honked at us because we were not keeping up with the speed limit; like we had a choice, the poor van felt like it was trembling in fear. I wanted to ask about the sounds I was hearing out of the engine; but my friend was concentrating so hard on keeping the van steady, I did not want to distract him. We were halfway through the mountains and it was still light out gratefully; we did not want to be stuck there after sundown. It was not until we were finally going downhill before I felt any calmness. It did not last long because anytime we were going downhill the van wanted to go faster. It was like the Beast had woken up, ravenous for a meal. My friend had to ride the brakes which caused them to heat up and emit this burning smell that filled the cab. I was freaking out, afraid the brakes would give out and we would hurl down the road, knocking drivers out of the way. Never had I been so frightened and vowed I would never be part of such a plan again. Too bad there was no one among the young adults in this film festival nominated, dramatic comedy that had the same feelings as I did regarding their plan. WHEN HER MOTHER’S BOYFRIEND’S SON comes to live with them Erica, played by Zoey Deutch (Why Him? Everybody Wants Some!!), doesn’t want anything to do with him. That is until he tells her a secret about a man she has been crushing on. With Kathryn Hahn (Bad Moms franchise, Bad Words) as Laurie, Adam Scott (The Vicious Kind, Step Brothers) as Will and Eric Edelstein (Jurassic World, Green Room) as Dale; I felt the script was written to shock the viewer from the get go. The story had some similarities to others of this type but what pulled me in was Zoey’s amazing performance. She really took over the screen from everyone else; I honestly had no idea she could act this well. As a whole this movie watching experience was a mixed bag. There were scenes that felt fresh and new, but then others seemed redundant to me. Honestly I still am not sure I cared for the way the story ended. Maybe with more planning from the writers and director this film would have had a bigger impact on me.
2 ½ stars
PRETEND YOU CAME FROM a far, far away land or even distant planet and observe the actions some people go through for their holiday celebrations. Morning, noon or night you could see drivers arguing over parking spaces. The landscape void of all vegetation has building blocks of cement and steel doing everything in their power to entice citizens to walk through their doors and buy the merchandise inside. Speaking of merchandise, there are colorful displays everywhere inside these buildings that try to catch your eye. Music played only during the autumn/winter months continuously enters your ears; more than likely repeating itself at some point. Rolls of paper have to be replaced in cash registers throughout the store because of all the gift receipts being printed out. And the most arduous times during this period take place when there is something called a “sale.” During this time you might see people bumping into other people as they seek and consume marked down items. RETURNING TO THEIR HOMES the frenzy does not stop as the end of the year nears. Lists are made for all of the foods one wants to have in their possession. Some people will stress over the preparation of the meals while others will just have others bring in the food. People risk life and limb to hang decorations all over the outside of their houses and across their land. Frustration can spike when after strings of lights are hung to outline the edges of one’s house and one of the bulbs does not light up when the switch is turned on. Inside the decorations can have a particular theme or be a conglomeration of ideas brought together to make the house look festive. One interesting thing of note revolves around the concept of gift giving. It may appear that the younger the person is the more gifts they want to get. This concept of gift giving comes with its own unique form of stress. Will the recipient like the gift, will it fit, will it be too hard to put together; these are some of the thoughts that many individuals get when their minds are focused on gifts. If that was not stressful enough, what could be worse than answering the door to an unexpected guest? If you want to find out then watch what happens in this comedy adventure. FEELING THE STRESS OF the holiday’s fast approach friends Amy, Kiki and Carla; played by Mila Kunis (Oz the Great and Powerful, Friends with Benefits), Kristen Bell (The Lifeguard, Hit and Run) and Kathryn Hahn (The Secret Life of Walter Mitty, We’re the Millers); were not prepared for the ultimate stress—their mothers’ surprise visit. This sequel represents the bad aspects of making a sequel. Where I liked the first movie, I was bored through most of this film. On top of it I found a mean spiritedness to the story. The introduction of each one’s mother has been done before and I found some of the scenes ludicrous. There was no new humor mined with this mother/daughter story line. The cast was fine though I thought Christine Baranski (Into the Woods, The Good Wife-TV) as Ruth and Susan Sarandon (The Lovely Bones, The Meddler) as Isis were typical choices; one was stuck up and the other was the laid back hippie. Though there were a couple of chuckles here and there, I found this film as stale as year old fruitcake.
1 ½ stars
What I am about to say may sound completely foreign to some of you, as if I lived on a different planet. It is okay because I have seen the generational shift and what was the norm for me does not apply to the present anymore. When I would come home from school I only stayed for enough time to put my books and supplies away before heading out to meet up with my friends. Depending on the day or our moods we would play games, go to the music store or climb trees, along with a variety of other activities. Of course if I had a school project there were times I could not participate and spent the afternoon at the library. There really was not much structure for any us. Sure there were days where someone had to stay home and work on their homework; depending on the amount, I used to do my homework after dinner. That was then, I am aware things are different now. I have seen and heard the schedules some kids have these days and it leaves me exhausted just hearing about it. Some children’s parents keep up a rigorous schedule of after school activities, such as soccer, science lab, painting; essentially any and everything from the arts, science and sports. I see these small children toting these massive backpacks that I am surprised don’t make the kids fall over. From some of the conversations I have heard from parents it seems peer pressure plays a major factor in this constant need to keep their kids occupied with extracurricular activities. The thought of being considered a “bad mom” seems to be enough motivation to keep up with the majority; or does it? FOR all intents and purposes Amy, played by Mila Kunis (Friends with Benefits, Jupiter Ascending), did it all. She had a job, took care of the kids, participated in the PTA and kept the household going. Everyone has their breaking point and sometimes it takes only one thing to break everything down. As I sat and watched this film it occurred to me I could not remember the last time I had heard so much laughter from an audience, including myself. This comedy had extremely strong language and inappropriate humor; you have been warned. From the comments I heard afterwards it appeared as if most women who were mothers could relate to this picture. Along with Mila there was Kathryn Hahn (We’re the Millers, This is Where I Leave You) as Carla, Kristen Bell (The Boss, Veronica Mars-TV) as Kiki and Christina Applegate (Vacation, Hall Pass) as Gwendolyn; these four women were outstanding in their roles. Despite the non-believability to some scenes the comedic strength of these actresses propelled the story throughout the movie. The soundtrack fit perfectly with the scenes and I thought the use of slow motion accentuated the humor. As a side note the majority of the movie goers were female; but, the men who were there laughed just as much as the women. I think most anyone would find this comedy entertaining. And no one would judge any of you with children for letting loose and having a good time watching this film.
Walking into a room where the strangers are related to you by blood means nothing to a young child. It even sounds icky. I remember as a young kid meeting a relative who was 2 generations removed from me. She was quite short and frail looking with dull white hair tied up into a bun on top of her head. Taking my cues from the adults going up to her, when it was my turn to be introduced to her I carefully wrapped my arms around her when she came over to hug me. It was the only time I ever saw this person but I still have that memory. When one is a child, it can be a scary experience meeting some stranger who you were told is your relative. Before I had ever heard the word dementia I remember going to a nursing home to visit a relative. As I walked into the place the bright fluorescent lights sounded as if they were humming as the smell of bleach hit me like a moist fog. There was a woman sitting on the side dressed in a housecoat and torn sweater. She greeted us with a loud “howdy” and continued to say it over and over. I already was on edge and felt uncomfortable as we walked into a large dining hall. There were some people who were dressed up as if they were attending a fancy social function while others sat motionless while nurses tried to slide spoonfuls of nondescript food into their mouths. As a kid, visiting older relatives sometimes took on a scary aspect. BECCA and Tyler, played by Olivia DeJonge (The Sisterhood of NIght) and Ed Oxenbould (Paper Planes; Alexander and the Terrible, Horrible, No Good, Very Bad Day) were going to visit their grandparents for the first time. They hoped to document their time spent there and find answers to why their mother stopped talking to her parents years ago. This comedic horror film from writer and director M. Night Shyamalan (The Sixth Sense, The Village) was a vast improvement from his recent movies. I particularly enjoyed the filming of this story, where certain things were just slightly out of focus while characters were being filmed off center. With Deanna Dunagan (Dimension, Running Scared) and Peter McRobbie (Lincoln, 16 Blocks) as Nana and Pop Pop, I thought the cast did an exceptional job with their characters. They added believability to the premise of the story. On the down side, I found some scenes lacked intensity. This may have been due to the mix of comedy with horror; in my mind they sort of cancel each other out. In addition I felt several stereotypical actions for shock value were just thrown into the mix. This was a step in the right direction for M. Night Shyamalan. My visits to relatives were not as scary as this one.
2 1/2 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
It is so much easier to help people fix or solve their issues than one’s own. I fall into that category of people who do not like change for myself. It is simple for me to stick with a known routine instead of trying to alter it, even if I find it taxing. You never know what the unknown has to offer. Regarding someone else, I can easily dole out the advice that I believe can help them. Isn’t that like being a doctor because I have heard they make the worst patients? Having a streak of doom and gloom inside of me, I at least am aware how easy it is for me to remain in a rut. This is why it was so easy for me to understand where the main character was coming from in this dramatic comedy. Kathryn Hahn (Step Brothers, How to Lose a Guy in 10 Days) played frustrated stay-at-home mom Rachel. Tired of the monotony in her life with her husband Jeff, played by Josh Radnor (Liberal Arts, How I Met Your Mother-TV); Rachel decided to take in exotic dancer McKenna, played by Juno Temple (Killer Joe, Atonement), to become their son’s nanny. There was an interesting switch of sweetness and sourness among the scenes in this Sundance Film Festival winning film. It took little effort to go from a humorous situation right into a poignant predicament. Part of the reason for that was due to the excellent directing. Kathryn had perfect comedic timing as she delivered some smart fun lines. I thought her interaction with Juno was in flawless balance; each of them was able to play off the other’s energy. Jane Lynch (Role Models, Glee-TV) played a great character as Rachel’s therapist Lenore. The script provided a twisted, keen take on suburban living; allowing secondary characters to have a bit of time in the spotlight. There were a few scenes that were uneven, but they did not last long. I do not know if I really believed the ending to this film but that may be due to my own way of looking at things. Each of us handles our issues in our own way. I find it fascinating how we react to them so differently.
2 1/2 stars