WE WERE WALKING AROUND THE TOWN looking for buildings that were still standing from the turn of the century. On a road trip with a friend, he asked if we could make a stop at this small town where a relative of his had lived. He had never met the relative but wanted to find his grave. The town came as a total surprise to me because it had this mixture of old and new buildings that complimented each other, giving off an old-world vibe. As we walked down the main street, we found buildings that had been built and standing at the time my friend’s deceased relative had migrated to the area. My friend took photos of the buildings we had found; he wanted to form some type of bond to this man he never knew, but who yet was connected to him. All my friend had was an old photograph of his great uncle when he was a teenager. Whenever he looked at the photo of the man, he would see a strong resemblance to his Dad, who coincidentally happened to be named after this departed relative. As we walked around, I thought how lucky my friend was to be able to visit his relative’s town and travel the same streets his great uncle might have used when he was alive. HOW I WOULD HAVE LOVED TO BE able to visit the town of an ancestor. Since I was a little boy, I was always fascinated with looking at old, family photographs; both mine and other families. There is something about me having a similar genetic makeup to a long line of individuals that comforts me. Maybe because I really was never part of any type of group growing up that now I find myself comforted knowing I have an immediate connection to a group of people. I am always amazed when I run into someone who is a distant relative that shares similar features to myself or to an immediate family member of mine. Only recently I was at a restaurant where I bumped into a group of distant relatives. One of the relatives looked strikingly similar to one of my immediate family members that it startled me for a moment, especially because this person was a cousin twice removed from me. As we briefly talked about our family connection, I could not help thinking how important it is to me to look back at those who came before me to find out where I was going now. The main character in this animated, adventure comedy would know what I am talking about. A DISTANT VOICE THAT ONLY ELSA, voiced by Idina Menzel (Rent, The Tollbooth), could hear was calling out to her. Something about it sounded familiar enough to make Elsa leave her kingdom and put herself in terrible peril. With Kristen Bell (Bad Moms franchise, The Boss) voicing Anna, Josh Gad (Beauty and the Beast, Marshall) voicing Olaf, Jonathan Groff (Glee-TV, Looking-TV) voicing Kristoff and Sterling K. Brown (Hotel Artemis, This is Us-TV) voicing Mattias; this sequel was a visual masterpiece. The amount of detail and creativity put into every scene was breathtaking at times. As for the script it was good but not as good as the original movie. Since there was no main villain, I felt the drama waned at times. It seemed as if the studio’s marketing department was working overtime; for example, the script had a new cute character that would be perfect in toy version and there were places where songs were sung (though I could not remember one song when I left the theater) in the hopes that one of them would be a chart topper. All of this does not mean much since the theaters were packed with small children and their parents dressed up as one of the characters. There was such a high bar to reach due to the success of the first movie that it would have taken super powers to try and top it. I give the studio credit for its valiant effort. There was an extra scene at the end of the movie credits.
GROWING UP IN AN APARTMENT BUILDING, our pet bird was more like the family dog. We had gotten her as a baby when I was in elementary school. She was a very smart bird and if we had spent more time teaching her, I am sure she would have been able to speak. When I would walk into the living room, I would stand just inside the entryway and call out her name. She would jump out of her cage and fly right to my outstretched arm. Once landed she would walk up my arm to my face and plant a kiss on my cheek; seriously, she would do this every time and not just to me. She would do the same thing to anyone in the family. During the summer months I would ask her if she wanted to take a refreshing bath and she knew to immediately fly over to the windowsill, where I would set up her bathtub. One trick I especially enjoyed was pretending she was a hawk. With her perched on my arm I would tell her to “go get them” and she would takeoff and fly around the room once or twice then come back to land on me. BECAUSE WE HAD GOTTEN HER SO young, I wondered at the time if she had bonded with us like I had seen done in a classic comedy cartoon. Ducklings had hatched just as a different species of animal walked by them and the little ducks imprinted themselves onto this animal as their parent. I have seen similar circumstances when friends and family members have adopted a kitten or puppy. When there is more than one person in the household the little puppy or kitten can focus solely on one particular member. I know this married couple who got a puppy that bonded to the “father.” The female puppy wanted to be in his lap anytime he was sitting down; it got harder for him as she grew into a 65-pound dog. If she heard him sneeze she would race into the room and jump up on him to lick his face. I have to say it was funny to see her standing on her hind legs with her front paws up by his neck, licking his face because he was standing when he sneezed; it almost looked as if they were dancing. So, you are wondering now how the dog interacted with the “mother” aren’t you? The dog would let the “mother” pet and feed her, but she would have to go over to the dog to pet her. The baby/parent bonding thing certainly is fascinating; you will not believe how it was done in this beautifully filmed documentary. RESEARCHERS BASED IN SICHUAN, CHINA solicit the help of a man from New Hampshire who has a special way with bears, earning him the nickname of Papa Bear. This film was being shown at the IMAX theater at the movie complex near my house. Did it need to be in this format? No not really, but I will say the scenery in this picture was gorgeous. With that being said the stars of this film were the panda cubs. I could not get over how much they looked like a bunch of kids playing. With the movie only being 40 minutes in length, I enjoyed the way the story went because it evoked different emotions out of me. Narrated by Kristen Bell (Bad Moms franchise, The Good Place-TV), one would be hard pressed not to fall in love with the pandas. If the reason for filming this movie with the IMAX format was to increase profits, then I am comfortable with it if some of the proceeds are going to help the panda institute. My only criticism is the film was too short; I could have sat there for a longer time just to see what the pandas would do next.
I FELT TRAPPED IN THE MIDDLE of a group of strangers, with no way to get out. It was the weekend and I was a guest at a party where everyone knew each other except for me. The introductions had all been been made as I found myself an empty seat among a small group of guests, who were sitting outside at the back of the house. No one was being mean to me; they just did not engage me into any of their conversations. Well actually there really weren’t multiple conversations going on amongst this group; there was one individual who was orchestrating the conversation. Everyone else was just listening to him and occasionally making a comment or agreeing with this fellow’s statements. As I quietly sat there I heard this person talk on a variety of subjects. He went from camping stories to traveling ones to skiing escapades to stories about his son’s achievements. Since I had never met him before I did not want to make a snap judgement based on a few of his stories. But do you want to know something? As the other guests nodded their approval or chuckle at this guy’s escapades, I could not help but feel that this man’s conversations were simply a way for him to brag about himself. THERE WAS ONLY SO MUCH I COULD endure before I excused myself to find a place to sit somewhere far from this braggart. Later in the evening I discovered an interesting fact concerning that man. It turned out he was the husband of a woman there who had a prominent position with the same company as several of the guests at the party. You may be asking why this was an interesting fact; I will tell you why. There was a reason why this husband spent a majority of the evening talking about himself. With his wife in an important position, it appeared to me he was feeling threatened by it. Sitting with his wife’s co-workers, this man wanted to show everyone that he was just as important or dominant or successful as his wife. Not speaking for the other guests, but now that I knew about this extra piece to the puzzle I felt sad for the guy. Instead of working on his confidence to be a supportive partner in the relationship he had to sit and regale the guests with stories about his so called incredible achievements. I could not imagine anyone at the party thinking any less of him. This animated action comedy has a similar situation with its main character, go ahead and check it out. TIRED OF NOT BEING TAKEN SERIOUSLY as a superhero Robin, voiced by Scott Menville (RoboCop, The Hunger Games: Catching Fire), decided the way to step out from the shadows of the popular superheroes was to get a movie made about him and the rest of the Teen Titans. All they needed was a villain to vanquish and a top director. With Kristen Bell (Bad Moms franchise, The Boss) voicing Jade Wilson, Will Arnett (When in Rome, Jonah Hex) voicing Slade, Greg Cipes (Fast & Furious, Club Dread) voicing Beast Boy and Khary Payton (The Walking Dead-TV, General Hospital-TV) voicing Cyborg; I was pleasantly surprised at how fun this movie was to watch. The humor was sophisticated enough to please the adults in the audience as the script took swipes at the whole superhero genre. Where I had difficulty was the direction of the story; it stayed at a non-stop clip through the entire picture. I enjoyed the old school animation and it fit right in with the sarcastic script. Too bad I didn’t go see this film in lieu of sitting and listening to someone trying to make himself feel important.
2 ¾ 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
SHE was a working mom and believed she was setting a good example for her daughter. To drive the point home she would clarify things by saying she worked outside of the home, at a paying job. Though she did work away from home, she made a point of always being at any of her daughter’s school functions. She would drive her daughter to school before work, put in a full 8 hour work day and get home afterwards to make dinner, put a load of laundry in the wash and return back to the high school at night because she was on the activities committee. Most of the mother’s days followed this type of pattern, but she did not mind; all she wanted was for her daughter to have as many possibilities available as possible regarding her future. So imagine her horror when she asked her daughter what she wanted to study after she graduated high school and the daughter said she was not sure she wanted to go to college. Trying to stay calm and composed she asked her daughter what she wanted to do in life. The daughter replied she wanted to be a stay at home mom. THERE was nothing wrong about being a stay at home mom but the mother’s concern was her daughter becoming dependent on someone else. If something was to happen in the marriage and the daughter found herself alone, how would she support herself and her children? The mother was worried about her daughter. I could understand where the mother was coming from with her concern for her daughter. Being strongly independent I know I would have a difficult time if I had to depend on someone else. There was a friend of a friend I knew who always managed to date wealthy individuals. It was not unusual for this person to walk into a party with a fancy jacket or a new expensive watch that they would have received from their date. The relationships never seemed to last long and I always wondered if these rich people just got tired of always supporting their love interest; it could happen, just see what took place in this comedy film. AFTER his wealthy wife replaced him with a younger man Maximo, played by Eugenio Derbez (Instructions not Included, Jack and Jill), had nowhere to go. He had no money of his own, nor any marketable skills. His only choice was to see if his estranged sister Sara, played by Salma Hayek (Lonely Hearts, Once Upon a Time in Mexico), would take him in. Including Kristen Bell (Bad Moms, Forgetting Sarah Marshall) as Cindy and Linda Lavin (Wanderlust, The Intern) as Millicent, this movie told a story I had seen previously in other films. There were several amusing scenes in this picture; however, nothing was unique or special about it. I did enjoy the character of Hugo, played by Raphael Alejandro (Badge of Honor, Kindergarten Cop 2), but it was obvious what was going to happen to him. Honestly there was nothing “wrong” with this movie; it was just average. In fact, this film had an old school feeling to it, where its physical and verbal humor seemed as if it were mined back in the 70s. I am afraid there just was not much in this picture to motivate me to give it a better rating. Several scenes were spoken in Spanish with English subtitles.
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.
There is good and evil in every single person; this is what I believe. I did not come to this conclusion from some doctrine I was taught growing up; at a young age there were many people who showed me examples of both. Since that time whenever I have encountered someone acting in either a good or evil way I just have to wonder what happened in their childhood to make them act that way now. For me both qualities are a choice; however, I have to recognize outside factors. A person’s experiences during their formative years can sway them to one side or the other. I can see where someone who was constantly and severely punished for incidental things could start acting out in a violent way. And I believe there are studies showing people who abuse other people usually were abused themselves. Based on my experiences if every person who was abused in some type of way who became in turn an abuser, there would be a lot less kinder people in the world. The reason why I believe everyone has a choice is due to people I know who have had a hard life, yet remain positive and upbeat. I know someone who had years of hardships and struggles that affected their health; but no matter what they were going through, they always kept a smile on their face and I do not mean that in a phony type of way. They were genuinely happy and grateful. So you see, to me they made a choice. I feel the same about the main character in this comedy, they made a choice but was it the right one? AFTER being convicted for insider trading and doing time in prison Michelle Darnell, played by Melissa McCarthy (The Heat, Spy), thought she could pick up the pieces of her life and make it to the top of the business world again. The only thing stopping her were all the people she had stepped on as she was making her way to the top. This comedy that also included Kristen Bell (The Lifeguard, Veronica Mars-TV) as Claire and Peter Dinklage (The Station Agent, Game of Thrones-TV) as Renault, was lucky to have these 3 actors. I do not think anyone would deny that Melissa has incredible comedic timing. What surprised me however was Peter Dinklage; I thought he and Melissa were a great match. Now there were a few times I laughed during this film; however, a majority of the time was wasted on similar jokes and sight gags. For the most part the story was predictable where I was wishing the writers would have cut the crudeness and been a little more creative. The trailers basically shown the cleanest and best parts to this movie. I liked Melissa in this film; I just wished the writers had made a better choice in their words for the script. There were several extra short outtake scenes through part of the credits.
1 3/4 stars
I have always had a fascination with famous people. Not an obsession or wanting to learn everything I can about them, I just want to be near them. It is not because I think their good fortune will magically flake off and land on me, turning my life into a charmed existence. Basically I get a kick when I see or hear in the news something about the celebrity and I can say I saw them or was at the same place they visited. Growing up the closest I came to being near someone famous was a classmate in high school, whose family owned a yogurt company. Whenever I was at the grocery store and passed by his family’s products I would get a smile on my face, knowing I went to high school with their son. Yes, so I am a bit goofy; but I have to tell you, if I had gone to the same school with Veronica Mars it would have been so cool. Unfortunately watching this crime dramedy was my first time seeing Veronica Mars, played by Kristen Bell (Forgetting Sarah Marshall, Big Miracle). After viewing this film I wished I had seen the television show. Besides the enjoyment, I feel I would have understood more in this picture. The story took place after the TV show, where Veronica had attended law school and was on the verge of landing a job at a prestigious New York law firm. Before finding out if she was hired, Veronica traveled back home to visit her dad Keith, played by Enrico Colantoni (Galaxy Quest, Just Shoot Me!-TV). While there she would help her former boyfriend Logan Echolls, played by Jason Dohring (Deep Impact, Searching for Sonny), who was the prime suspect in the murder of his girlfriend. Even with her new calling, Veronica would soon find out old habits were hard to break. What sold me on this film was the snappy dialog and Kristen Bell. As I mentioned there were times I felt I was out of the loop, like there were inside jokes I was missing. The directing was consistently tight. I do not know if it is because I knew this came out of a television show, but I felt I was watching a TV series. The way the scenes changed seemed like they were timed to insert a commercial break. The writers did their best to include the cast’s back story without getting bogged down in voice over explanations. If I have one criticism of this movie it would be the lack of intensity to the story. It needed more drama and intensity for the characters; with a bigger screen one needs a bigger story. Now that I have experienced the charm of Veronica Mars I hope there will be another movie.
3 stars for Veronica Mars fans 2 2/3 stars for everyone else
The first thing I noticed was the high darkened ceiling. Laid out were curved rows of burgundy colored seats that reminded me of a lake at sunset. I was excited to be at the movie theater, though you could easily say, “movie palace.” The place was built years before there was such a thing as stadium seating. I can still remember a phone book being placed underneath me so I could see over the people’s heads in front of me. The animated films that played in those movie theaters are now considered classics; they enchanted us with their stories, songs and animation. I would get totally engrossed in those wonderful films; their magic would draw me in to become part of their world. Early on in this animated adventure movie those feelings I experienced as a young boy welled up, magically taking me to the kingdom of Arendelle. Kristen Bell (When in Rome, Veronica Mars-TV) and Idina Menzel (Rent, Enchanted) were the voices for Princess Anna and her sister, Princess Elsa. When the kingdom plummeted into a perpetual frozen winter, Anna set off on a perilous journey to find her sister who was the cause of the frigid temperatures. Helping her track down her icy sister was Kristoff, voiced by Jonathan Groff (Taking Woodstock, The Conspirator) and his loyal reindeer Sven. Inspired by Hans Christian Andersen’s The Snow Queen, which was one of my favorite cartoon movies, this film is proof Disney has not lost its magic. First of all, I loved the story and thought Kristen and Idina were ideal for the roles. The music and songs were not only memorable, but I believe will earn this film an Oscar nomination. There was comedy for all age groups, exciting action and beautiful visuals; just like the old classics. It was so satisfying to watch a well done animated film where the entire audience was enjoying the story as much as me. I found it funny that Olaf the snowman, voiced by Josh Gad (Jobs, Thanks for Sharing), was the one character who I thought would be the most annoying but instead turned out to be amusing. One of my few complaints was about the ending; I felt it was rushed as if the studio had to keep the movie length low, so they could fit in their movie short and abundance of previews. The bottom line here is I had such a good time seeing this wonderful film, experiencing the same feelings I had when I was a kid, except without having to sit on a phone book. Notice the disclaimer towards the end of the film and there was an extra short scene afterwards.
3 1/3 stars
In traditional wedding vows there is a part that goes something like, “Do you promise to love and cherish each other, until death do you part?” I still remind a married friend of mine about the time I was walking with him and his wife during a rain storm. A car came barreling down the street, hit a huge puddle of water and my friend quickly ducked behind his wife to avoid the splash. Instead, she got smacked with a wall of water that totally drenched her. I still tease him that their vows must have overlooked the part about protecting one another. In this comedy we find a man so in love with his girlfriend, he was willing to put his life in jeopardy for her. Yul Perkins aka Charlie Bronson, played by Dax Shepard (When in Rome, Baby Mama), was in the witness protection program after testifying against his old friend Alex, played by Bradley Cooper (The Words, The A-Team). When Charlie’s girlfriend Annie Bean, played by Kristen Bell (Big Miracle, Veronica Mars-TV), needed to be in Los Angeles for a job interview, Charlie insisted on driving her. Their road trip turned into a madcap racing adventure as former convict Alex, an ex-boyfriend of Annie’s and U.S. Marshal Randy Anderson, played by Tom Arnold (True Lies, Roseanne-TV), pursued the young couple. Real life couple Kristen and Dax were good together in their roles, quite believable. Tom Arnold easily handled most of the screwball comedy scenes. I gave Dax credit for writing the script besides doing director duty. Several scenes were funny and I liked some of the dialog. My issue with the movie was its similarity to other comedy chase movies. The Bradley Cooper character seemed false to me. While the movie played I cannot say I was totally bored; however, I was not all that invested in the story either. What people do for love and what movie critics do for reviews, is not always a marriage made in heaven.
2 1/3 stars