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
IT OCCURRED TO ME THAT I was watching different groups in this movie, with origins that spanned the globe, working together as one. There weren’t any indications of dislike, envy or hatred; in fact, it seemed as if their differences enhanced their capabilities to do good. They all had different physical differences. Some were darker, some were smaller, some had both dark and light color mixed in them and it did not matter. What a world they were living in where these things had no bearing on one’s feelings. I would have enjoyed experiencing the world they were living in. Those that were quite big were not picked on or made fun of, unlike my own past experiences. One was handicapped, and it appeared to me no one treated them different from anyone else. If I had seen this as a kid, I would have been surprised because of what I saw growing up. There was a student in class who had a health condition, something to do with their blood, that prevented her from participating in any physical activity. This student was shunned by other students; they considered her weird. Granted, they did not know the details of her situation; but, why did they immediately choose to treat her different was perplexing to me. RELIVING THESE MEMORIES MAKES ME NOW wonder if humans have an inherit tendency to shy away from others that are different or is it something that must be taught. Isn’t that a frightening thought if adults have been handing down that fear to their offspring. Based on what I have been seeing and hearing presently, it seems as if more people are less tolerate of those they perceive to be different. Because of the differences between us, I feel we are seeing more conflicts around the world. People are fighting and arguing for the simple reason they cannot accept someone being different. It does not matter if it is politics or religion or lifestyle; there is a pack mentality that gets formed where people only want to live with their own kind. I am saddened by what I read in the newspapers. Young adults are being killed because they dress and act different than what is “expected” of them. It is horrific, and it is wrong. So much more can be accomplished when the participants come from different backgrounds, to bring their unique skills to the forefront. Maybe those that do not believe me should take a look and see what the different animals in this animated, adventure comedy accomplish by working together. A WHOLE DIFFERENT WORLD AWAITS MAX and Duke, voiced by Patton Oswald (Young Adult, The Secret Life of Walter Mitty) and Eric Stonestreet (The Loft, Modern Family-TV), when their family takes a vacation out in the country. How will Max handle so many new experiences? With Kevin Hart (Night School, The Upside) voicing Snowball, Harrison Ford (The Age of Adaline, Raiders of the Lost Ark franchise) voicing Rooster and Jenny Slate (Obvious Child, Gifted) voicing Gidget; this sequel came with its own built in charm. If you enjoyed the 1st film, you will enjoy watching this picture. The humor was fun, and the animation added to it. The children in the audience certainly were having a good time watching this movie. Now it appeared to me the movie studio did not want to deviate from the winning formula of the past film; however, by doing so there really was not anything new in this sequel. I thought there were too many story lines taking place at the same time. But here is the thing though, it did not take away my enjoyment from seeing what was happening in the story. Though there was nothing new with the characters, I liked seeing the way they worked together to tackle issues. Now if only they could teach humans that lesson.
2 ½ stars
THAT NEW CAR SMELL IS SOMETHING some individuals want to experience every year. For me, by the time I trade in my vehicle, that smell is a distant memory replaced by enough odors to keep an olfactometer busy for years. In a previous review I mentioned how it seems to me everything being made these days is disposable. Cellular phones are heavily marketed to entice people to give up the one they have for the latest model with new features. Automobiles, though I do not consider them disposable, get released every year with either a major overall done to the model or minor tweaking of options. When I bought my car a friend of mine wound up getting the same model. After one year they traded theirs in for the new version. Keep in mind there was nothing wrong with their car, but they wanted the “latest and greatest.” The only difference I could see between our vehicles was their front grill had a different pattern and the rear taillights had the LED lights spaced further apart into 3 small sections, instead of one full rectangle. I am sorry, but that would not be enough for me to trade in a perfectly good car just for a couple of cosmetic updates. FOR A VARIETY OF REASONS THERE are people who like to have the newest or latest updated version of something they already have in their possession. I remember when I was much younger I was into the sugary cereals. One of my favorites after several years was being in the manufacturer’s terms, “re-formulated,” to provide a stronger taste. On the front of the cereal box they added the tagline: New and Improved. Even if I had not seen those words, I immediately could tell something was “wrong” with my cereal. I did not like the taste because it was now too sweet for me. All I tasted was sugar instead of the variety of grains that were used in the manufacturing of the flakes. It was so disappointing to me that I even called their toll-free number to complain about it. The excuse given to me was the taste had been based on the market research they did with consumer test groups. Truthfully, I did not care about any test groups; they were screwing around with my cereal. Not everything gets better necessarily when it is updated, in my opinion. If you would like to see some proof then watch this current version and compare it to the French one I reviewed called, The Intouchables. PARALYZED FROM A SEVERE ACCIDENT PHILLIP Lacasse, played by Bryan Cranston (Trumbo, Argo), needed constant care. It would take someone highly qualified and capable; so why did he choose Dell Scott, played by Kevin Hart (Night School, Ride Along franchise), an inexperienced ex-convict? With Nicole Kidman (Aquaman, Boy Erased) as Yvonne, Aja Naomi King (The Birth of a Nation, Four) as Latrice and Jahi Di ‘Allo Winston (Proud Mary, Feed the Beast-TV) as Anthony; this film festival winning comedic drama had potential. Based on a true story, I thoroughly enjoyed the French version; so, I was open for this Hollywood version to be just as good. Bryan and Kevin had some scenes that worked well, but I felt the script did not give them the opportunity to really show what they could do in the acting department. Bryan, I expected to give a fine performance; but, I was surprised to see Kevin attempting a little bit more than what he has done with his previous roles. Nicole seemed out of place to me. There were parts of the story that I felt were included to manipulate the viewers. If you haven’t seen The Intouchables then you will possibly enjoy this film.
EVERYONE HAD TO SIT AND WATCH the short film; it was part of the curriculum. As the projector started up I could hear the soft clapping of the film as it looped around in front of the intense lightbulb inside the machine. Up on the screen scratchy frames in black and white counted down from the number 10. As soon as the opening frames to the story appeared on the screen you could hear moans throughout the classroom. There was an old car driving across the screen with these bulbous chrome hubcaps on the wheels. I say old because I knew the car was decades old; there was a radio antenna sticking up on the front, off to the side of the hood. The bumpers were nowhere near up to current federal safety standards and the most telling part was when the driver had to roll down their window using a small crank attached to the inside of the car door. This was my introduction to driver’s education class during high school. The people in the film wore clothing from another era as they drove and walked around what looked like a city landscape from decades ago. Most of the students in class laughed at this old, tired movie. OUT OF MOST OF THE STUDENTS in the class, I was one of the few who already knew how to drive. I was taken to empty parking lots and taught how to drive; so, by the time I had to take driver’s education I already knew the rules of the road. Everything I saw in the film I had already done or studied in the handbook. For me the movie was boring, more an amusement from bygone times. Seeing what things used to look like kept my interest, but at times my mind wandered. I had been doing three point turns for months; how many more times did I need to see it being done in the educational film. With the room dark and me bored from the repetitive instructions being recited to us in a monotone tone by the narrator of the movie, it took a lot for me to stay awake. I wondered how many students throughout the years had to sit and watch this picture. To tell you the truth I was surprised the film had not become frayed and fragile after all this time. It is funny; though today’s movie was done recently, I quickly lost interest because I had seen it all before and that includes a couple of performances. A GROUP OF ADULTS WITH BIG dreams attend night school hoping to graduate by getting their GED, their General Education Diploma. If they wanted it, they would need to pass one tough teacher’s class. This comedy starred Kevin Hart (Grudge Match, Central Intelligence) as Teddy Walker, Tiffany Haddish (Girls Trip, Keanu) as Carrie, Taran Killiam (12 Years a Slave, Killing Gunther) as Stewart, Rob Riggle (Midnight Sun, 21 Jump Street franchise) as Mackenzie and Mary Lynn Rajskub (Safety Not Guaranteed, Mysterious Skin) as Theresa. The concept of the story was decent; but I must tell you the script was just a generic blueprint pieced together from what appeared to be all other comedies Kevin has done. He was the same character in this as he has played in his previous movies; it did nothing for me. Tiffany has excellent comedic timing and strong physical comedy, but the script did little for her talent in this story. I was periodically bored throughout the picture and it really was a shame because there is a good message the writers were trying to get out. If I was grading (which I am come to think of it) I would give this movie a D+.
1 ¾ stars
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.
THERE always seems to be at least one in a crowd. Whether it is in the classroom, the office or a group of friends; usually one person is the prankster or jokester. I did not have the courage to act out in the classroom; however, I discovered I was quite good in coming up with a plan and then letting someone else execute it. I think the statues of limitations have long expired so I am okay to mention one of my pranks, keeping in mind I am not boasting or full of pride about it. There was a strict teacher we had who made some of us kids’ lives miserable. Looking back now I would not use the word “miserable,” but to a 9 year old who did not know better, the teacher was labeled bad. I discovered if you removed the cylinder of ink from certain pens they could be used to shoot spitballs. But I took it a step further; if you roll one end of the empty pen in lip balm and blow hard on the other end, it would jettison the glob of balm. If it was aimed at the blackboard it would leave a greasy mark. The teacher came into the classroom one day and discovered he could not write on the blackboard due to all the grease spots. THROUGH my early school years I actually did not do many pranks. I was never one to embarrass a classmate, like that student who glued another student’s schoolbook to their desk. The only time I would consider doing a prank against a student is if they hurt me. And even then I would have had to be 100% confident that the joke could never be traced back to me. I am not a mean spirited person, but I used to be a big fan of getting revenge. If I wanted to get back at someone I would have to do the prank myself, not even telling my friends. I was good at keeping a straight face even when my friends would ask if I was the one who did such and such prank. Little did I know I would have something in common with this animated, action comedy based on the bestselling children’s book series. BEST friends George and Harold, voiced by Kevin Hart (The Wedding Ringer, Central Intelligence) and Thomas Middleditch (Kong: Skull Island, Silicon Valley-TV), were always coming up with pranks to upset the school principal Mr. Krupp, voiced by Ed Helms (The Hangover franchise, Vacation). The 2 boys thought they had created the ultimate prank when they hypnotized the principal into their comic book hero, Captain Underpants. The joke was on them though. I was not familiar with this story; based on the kids who were in the theater with me, I would say the books must be written for the 4-8 year old crowd. As a result the humor in the script was geared more to that age group. There was nothing done that I found to be laugh out loud material, more on an amusing level. Some of the animation was similar to the style of those Saturday morning cartoon shows; it was imaginative. What saved this film for me was how life lessons (which I assume are part of the books) were presented into the story. Even if the focus was on pranks, at least something positive was coming out of the events. I was just glad I no longer have to be part of any pranks.
2 ½ stars
Whenever I see the city of my birth up on the big screen I immediately get a sense of pride. Even if the story shows an ugly side to the city, I enjoy seeing familiar surroundings. Let us face it, every city has positives and negatives; I choose to stay upbeat about my city and its possibilities. I have lived my whole life in the same city and have seen historic events throughout the years. When friends or family come into town you can always count on getting at least a mini tour of some area of the city or a visit to a local restaurant. I think having pride about the place you live in sends out a positive message. Not to come across as being too judgmental but I think if people took more pride in their surroundings and city it would become infectious to others. Having a good feeling can only create a better life, don’t you think? You have nowhere further to look than to your city’s local sports team to see the exuberant pride gushing out of the fans. If you have never been to an event where everyone around you was acting out in unison to a common pride, let me tell you it can be a heady experience. Please keep in mind I am not even talking about the people who over indulge in their celebrations. There was an exhibit that came to one of my city’s museums that was only going to be shown here, nowhere else in the country. You should have seen how all the people attending this exhibit were so excited and full of pride that the city snagged such an exclusive event. I even got so wrapped up in the enthusiasm I wound up buying a couple of T-shirts from the gift shop that was set up at the exit of the exhibit. It really is a good feeling to share your pride in something which is why I could relate to the fans sitting in the audience of this record breaking event. HOMETOWN native Kevin Hart (Central Intelligence, The Wedding Ringer) wanted to have a concert in the city he grew up in, Philadelphia. His love of the city helped break a record. This comedy movie for the most part was filmed at Philadelphia’s Lincoln Financial Field. The opening and closing scenes were created as a big joke on how Kevin would pay for this comedy concert. It also gave him the opportunity to interact with Halle Berry (X-Men franchise, The Call), Don Cheadle (Iron Man franchise, Hotel Rwanda) and Ed Helms (The Hangover franchise, Vacation). Let me first tell you I am not a fan of Kevin’s films because I feel he does the same character over and over. As for his style of humor, there are a few amusing bits he performs; but generally I am not a fan of using foul or vulgar language to get a laugh. If you enjoy Kevin’s work then you will have a fun time watching this concert. For me this picture was just okay; however, I enjoyed seeing a stadium full of people all sharing in a good time.
On the way back from vacation I was able to stop and have dinner with a long time friend; we go back many years. For all this time I never heard a word from them about wishing or wanting a pet. I cannot even remember them ever stopping to pet a friend’s dog or cat. So here we are sitting at a restaurant catching up on what was new in each of our lives when he tells me I have to see this video. Taking their phone out they click on a couple of buttons then hand the phone to me. I am watching a video of two dogs playing in a back yard. Without seeing the video, only listening for audio cues, they narrated the different scenes in the video. Not only were they telling me what I was watching, they were sharing the dogs’ thoughts with me. The dogs’ thoughts? I heard how one of the dogs runs outside and lets everyone know they are there, racing up and down while barking. The other dog was a thinker; he would observe everything around him before acting on it. I sat there in disbelief as my friend went on about these 2 dogs, placing human emotions and thoughts on them. Not that I am judging, being an animal lover I absolutely got it; but I was amazed I never saw or heard a clue my friend would be so in love with these dogs that they babysat 2-3 times a week. This is the power pets have over some of us. MAX, voiced by Louis C.K. (Turbo, Blue Jasmine), was living an idyllic life with his owner Katie, voiced by Ellie Kemper (Bridesmaids, Sex Tape), until one day she came home with Duke, voiced by Eric Stonestreet (Identity Thief, Modern Family-TV); who was to become his new brother. Max did not want this dog as his brother. This animated comedy had a well chosen cast of actors such as Jenny Slate (Obvious Child, Girls-TV) as Gidget and Kevin Hart (Central Intelligence, The Wedding Ringer) as Snowball to voice the memorable characters. I enjoyed the beginning of this family movie and thought the story was fun; the idea of pets having a secret life was brilliant. However when the story line changed and focused on Kevin Hart’s character I felt the story lost some energy besides the fun factor. Despite some fun lines and excellent animation I found myself getting bored during several places. Maybe my reaction to this picture was due to the high caliber of recent animated films, but this film was missing a sweetness to it. The humor was never at a laugh out loud type of level and not that I expect all animated films to have a learning moment in them, but I was left with just an okay feeling towards this movie. I will say the next time I am around someone’s pet I will be watching them closely to see if I can figure out what they are thinking. There was an extra scene in the middle of the ending credits.
2 3/4 stars
From acts of kindness heroes are born. Some heroes may reach mythical proportions in the minds of the recipients. For me it was that classmate in kindergarten who taught me, the only left-handed student in class, how to properly cut paper with a pair of scissors. For the rest of my elementary school years that student could do no wrong in my eyes. In turn, it was not until years after high school I discovered a kindness I showed a fellow student had an effect on them. I know from personal experience when the act of kindness fights its way through the terror of the moment it can be monumental. It was during a P.E. class and the boys were changing in the locker room. There was this one boy who was a target for a group of bullies. I do not know if it was because he was short, quiet or did poorly in sports; but he got picked on a lot. One day one of the bullies decided to wait for the exact moment when this student was undressed before pouncing on him. The bully and his sidekicks came up from behind, pinning the boy’s arms back as they started dragging him away from his clothes hanging in the locker. One of the sidekicks ran ahead and opened a window as wide as it would go. The three hoisted the boy who was screaming and kicking up onto the window sill then pushed him out, only holding him by the arms. Hanging out the window without any clothes on, the frantic boy did not know some students had run to get the coach to come down into the locker room. Those students were not thinking about becoming heroes. YEARS after high school Calvin Joyner, played by Kevin Hart (The Wedding Ringer, Get Hard), received a Facebook friend request. It came from someone who had fond memories of Calvin when he was a student in high school. Calvin on the other hand had only one memory about this individual. This comedic crime film threw me for a loop due to one of its scenes; you will understand what I mean after seeing the film. I had to quickly regroup myself to focus on the movie. As some of you know I am sensitive whenever a bully is part of the story. The casting of Dwayne Johnson (San Andreas, Pain & Gain) as Bob Stone in this picture was a perfect choice. Besides his affable nature I have to tell you I was impressed with his comedic skills. Kevin was yet again the same type of character he has played in his past movies; but here I felt Dwayne outshined him. Rounding out the main cast was Danielle Nicolet (All-Stars, Third Rock from the Sun-TV) as Maggie and Amy Ryan (Escape Plan, Gone Baby Gone) as Pamela Harris. There were times where I laughed out loud; I enjoyed the make-up of the story more than its execution. I thought the script was simple and tailored for Kevin and Dwayne to the point that the writers expected the two actors would create the funny moments. The easy to follow story did not keep me interested; it was Bob Stone’s transformation from high school to adult life. Heroes certainly come in all sizes.
2 2/3 stars
It is hard to tell someone what they are attempting to do is not very good. I am not referring to someone’s behavior or actions per se, more as a reality check to a person’s desire. Many of you may have seen these reality shows where a person auditions to be part of the program, as a singer or dancer. I am all for encouraging a person to pursue their dreams, but some of the people I have seen on these television shows appear to have been chosen solely to amuse the viewing audience. I find it perplexing that the contestant claims their family and friends said they would make a great singer or dancer, when it is obvious they cannot carry a tune or stay on beat. Remembering one of my writing classes, there was a student who wanted to be a writer. Through class discussions we found out his family encouraged him by holding mini story times for him to read his stories to the family. Based on what he read in our class, his stories tended to follow a formula: the endings always involved someone dying and the use of profanity was meant to shock the reader since its use rarely fit his characters. He did pass the class but by junior year he either dropped out of school or changed majors; I never saw him again. I do not think anyone wants or enjoys having to be the one to perform the reality check, but isn’t it preferable to watching the person go through with some ill-advised life decisions based on unrealistic hopes? There was a similar situation taking place in this comedic sequel. BEN Barber, played by Kevin Hart (The Wedding Ringer, Get Hard), was positive he was on the right path to becoming a permanent police officer when he accompanied his future brother-in-law Detective James Payton, played by Ice Cube (21 Jump Street franchise, Barbershop franchise), to Miami to help solve a case. James was convinced Ben could not handle the pressure. If you saw the original movie and enjoyed it then you will be in store for the exact same thing in this film. I first have to say I do not consider Kevin an actor; he is exactly the same in every role I have seen him in previously. Regarding this action picture, there were many aspects of it that irritated me. The jokes about Kevin’s height (is this a requirement for every one of his movies?), the jokes about the two characters becoming brother-in-laws and the lack of a solid story all contributed to my boredom. However I did enjoy Ken Jeong (The Hangover franchise, All About Steve) as A.J. and Benjamin Bratt (Miss Congeniality, Demolition Man) as Antonio Pope. This film as far as I was concerned was a quick money grab by the movie studio. Someone needs to tell them they are not producing a decent product if this is what they come up with for a sequel.
1 3/4 stars