HERE IT WAS NIGHTTIME AND I was sitting in a bus in the middle of a traffic jam. Normally, I would be aggravated but since I was on vacation, I was enjoying looking out the bus window at the sights. In the short distance we had traveled, I had already seen an erupting volcano and a sinking pirate ship. It was my first-time visiting Las Vegas and everything I had heard about it was true. There were throngs of people from all walks of life, neon lights and light bulbs everywhere and the constant noise of bells and tumbling change in every hotel. I could not get over the amount of people out and about along the strip. There were hawkers lined up on every block; each trying to shove their pamphlets into tourists’ hands. I got a kick out of each hotel taking on a theme of some kind. Besides the volcano and pirate ship, there was one hotel that had an Arabian theme and another a Roman one. I had never seen anything like it before and wanted to take in as much as I could for the short time I was visiting. That is why I decided to take a bus ride; I figured it was the best way to see everything on the strip while traveling to the downtown area. WHERE THE BUS ENDED ITS ROUTE was in an old type of garage; I could not call it a bus terminal. It was inside what looked like an office building. The garage had a circular drive so the buses could easily enter and exit the place. As I left through the exit doors, I noticed there were no lights or neon anywhere. I was on a dark street with a couple of lone streetlamps that looked tired. No sign of any hotels or attractions, just non-descript store fronts. There was a pawn shop that had a faded wooden sign above its door. Next to it was a gun shop that had metal bars across its windows. This was not exactly the experience I envisioned when I decided to visit Las Vegas. There was something gritty and dirty about the area I was walking in. As far as I could tell this area looked a lot older than the hotels that were on the strip. It looked like a lost version of Las Vegas without the flash and pizzazz. I had heard and read a few things about how Las Vegas came to be, and it looked like I had stumbled into that rough and tumble time as the city was dealing with an influx of celebrities and criminals. What I envisioned was similar to what I saw in this Golden Globe and film festival winning crime drama. SAM “ACE” ROTHSTEIN, PLAYED BY ROBERT De Niro (The Irishman, Cape Fear), was sent to make sure the hotel’s operations in Las Vegas were running quietly and smoothly. He should not have brought his close friend Nicky Santoro, played by Joe Pesci (Raging Bull, My Cousin Vinny) with him then. With Sharon Stone (Fading Gigolo, Basic Instinct) as Ginger McKenna, James Wood (The Virgin Suicides, Any Given Sunday) as Lester Diamond and Don Rickles (Kelly’s Heroes, CPO Sharkey-TV) as Billy Sherbert; this Academy Award nominated film was bursting with amazing performances. There was not one actor who was pushed into the shadows of another; everyone grabbed the viewer’s attention. I thought the sets and costumes were perfect as the story traveled across its timeline. There were violent bloody scenes that came close to overpowering the rest of the story, where I started to expect them in almost every scene. Though the film is long, I did not find my mind wandering; however, I did feel there was the lack of depth in multiple scenes. Overall, this was a good old fashioned “gangster” picture depicting a past era.
3 ½ stars
THROUGHOUT THE PAST DECADES WE have been witnesses to some of the greatest animal and human relationships. There was Lassie and Timothy, where Lassie was the only one who knew Timothy was in the well. Though Charlie Brown had no idea that his dog Snoopy was an ace pilot, they were the best of friends. Shaggy could not have solved all those mysteries without Scooby, who some of you might not know was named Scoobert “Scooby” Doo. Do you know who discovered the true identity of the Wizard of Oz? It was Dorothy’s dog Toto. Without Hooch’s help Turner would not have been able to find a murderer. Based on a true story I learned about the bond between Parker Wilson and Hachi; his faithful dog who waited years for his owner to return. And how could I not mention one of the longest friendships between characters; of course, I am talking about Mickey Mouse and Pluto. I am not going to limit it to just dogs; the bond between an owner and their pet is truly special. Growing up I had a parakeet. One of my best friends had fish which used to creep me out because they were always dying so quickly. THROUGH MY STUDIES I HAVE BEEN fortunate enough to have been exposed to a variety of animals. Nothing quite exotic in my opinion; I guess bats would be the most for me. However, I did meet a dairy cow who had a screwcap affixed to the side of her belly. You could unscrew it and peer inside one of the compartments of the cow’s stomach. In college I spent a semester tending to a horse. From cleaning her stall to washing her to getting riding lessons; I was with her on a weekly basis. I overcame my uncomfortableness with reptiles after having a professor who was a big fan of them. He would lecture with a snake draped around his neck. Having a relationship with an animal is such a nurturing experience; look at what happened between Ken and Flicka. There is an unconditional love that forms in these relationships. From my personal experience looking into a dog’s eyes says it all in my opinion. Now I know some people go a step further by transferring human emotions onto their pets. They imagine their animal will have similar reactions to an event as they do. And sometimes they will even dress up their animal with human clothing. Somehow, I do not see that happening with the police dog in this adventure comedy. THERE WAS ONLY ONE WAY TO discover the identity of a global animal smuggler; police dog Max, voiced by Ludacris (Fast & Furious franchise, No Strings Attached), would have to go undercover at a dog show to help Detective Frank, played by Will Arnett (Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles, Arrested Development-TV), find the culprit. It was a whole different world from where Max came from. This family film also had Alan Cumming (The Tempest, The Good Wife-TV) voicing Dante, Natasha Lyonne (The Rambler, Orange is the New Black-TV) voicing Mattie and Stanley Tucci (The Hunger Games franchise, Big Night) voicing Philippe. The story was simple in this picture and the script was even lower. Except for small children (ALERT: there is an inappropriate scene that last I heard was going to be re-edited, please check before going) there is no reason to sit through this film I am sad to say. I was bored beyond belief as the lame jokes fell flat, which pretty much summed up the acting—flat. Every time Will spoke all I thought about was Batman. There was nothing fun being offered to the older viewers; in other words, anyone above 8 years old. I am an animal lover but I have had more fun sitting at home watching the Westminster Kennel Club Dog Show on television.
1 ½ stars
ONCE upon a time employees took pride in their work. Whether it was an office clerk, salesperson, mechanic or repair person; doing a good job used to mean something. Maybe because the business climate changed over the decades from an employees matter mentality to workers now being considered just a disposable statistic, it is not only sad but can be frustrating for the public. Presently I have friends who have been dealing with a large phone carrier for over 2 months, to get them to transfer their business phone lines to another party. Every single time my friends call customer service they get a different answer to the same question. Right now they have received 8 different responses where one representative says they need the new party’s permission to change the phone line to that party, but another rep says they can do it without any permission. Yet nothing ever gets done. WHAT I have found these days are employees who take their pride to cockiness. They really are not feeling good about doing decent work; they are doing it so they can boast and make themselves feel better than the people around them. I do not know about you but it takes a lot of energy for me to keep a straight face while a worker talks down to me in a condescending way. When I encounter someone bragging about something they did at work, that they think was extraordinary, all I want to ask them is, “Isn’t that part of your job responsibilities?” And companies want to know why consumers are switching to online shopping. It only takes one bad employee to color a person’s perception of that company or organization. This crime thriller will show you what I mean. POLICE officer Vincent Downs, played by Jamie Foxx (White House Down, Law Abiding Citizen) found himself being hunted down after he stole a drug shipment from a crime family. His problems got worse when he discovered the family kidnapped his son Thomas, played by Octavius J. Johnson (Coldwater, Ray Donovan-TV). Set in Las Vegas this action film told a story that has been done repeatedly before. The problem was this picture did not offer anything different with this genre. With Michelle Monaghan (Patriots Day, Due Date) as Jennifer Bryant, Dermot Mulroney (The Grey, My Best Friend’s Wedding) as Stanley Rubino and Scoot McNairy (12 Years a Slave, Non=Stop) as Novak; the only actor I thought did anything well was Michelle. In fact I wish the script had been written more around her character for she was the only one where I felt I had a connection. Jamie brought nothing to his role and the script only made things worse for him. C’mon, he has a bleeding wound that seems to only hurt when he needs to take a pause to catch his breath between stunts. Otherwise he is fighting and dodging bullets all over the place. Plus I find it ridiculous to have the bad guys shooting so many bullets but none of them have good aim. This movie was a tedious one to get through; I really would like to know if the people behind this film felt pride in what they created for the moviegoer.
1 ½ stars
LOVE, when it is expressed, can be one of the purest and strongest emotions. At least that is what it can be depending on the person. When an individual falls in love they can find themselves smiling for no apparent reason or getting giddy with excitement in anticipation of being with the source of their love. Some people love going to the circus; they get to experience a range of emotions from the varied acts on display. Other people get in touch with their sense of love when they are able to hike up a mountain trail then sit out on the edge of a precipice. Another thing love can do is steer you away from your daily routines and venture into new territory, exploring the ways 2 people can blend their individual lives into a shared common one. HOWEVER when a person sacrifices their other emotions and rational thoughts to focus strictly on love, they then have entered the land of the extremes. In this place a person scrutinizes every action, comment and reaction from the focus of their love. In turn they react in an extreme way to the point of becoming obsessive. I was in a relationship some time ago where things started out in an easy way for us. We seemed compatible and had similar tastes in things. As the weeks went by little things started cropping up that I found odd. For example a delay in us getting together due to a prior commitment I had would produce a passive aggressive response in an attempt to make me feel guilty, hoping I would change my plans. This was a red flag for me and a cause of concern. Maybe if my ego was inflated I would have enjoyed the attention and their need to be with me; instead, it caused a disconcerting feeling inside of me. My instincts turned out to be correct. I was being turned into this desired object that they needed to feel fulfilled and complete in their life. Obsession can be a lethal road for one to travel on. FRANK, played by Michael Shannon (Nocturnal Animals, Midnight Special), was falling deeper in love with Lola, played by Imogen Poots (Green Room, Need for Speed), to the point where even warning signs could not influence him. This film festival nominated drama also starred Justin Long (Drag Me to Hell, Accepted) as Keith and Michael Nyqvist (John Wick, The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo) as Alan. It was interesting to see Michael playing a romantic lead. He is an excellent actor and in this crime mystery he was good, but I have to tell you I felt he was not the best choice for the role. The intensity he has displayed in previous movies did not translate well in this one. Set in Las Vegas and Paris, I was initially interested with the story line and thought the acting was good throughout the film. One of the reasons why I did not feel totally connected to the story was the lack of back story or depth with the Frank and Lola characters. I could see what the writer was trying to do but it did not take me where I needed to be to truly get into the story. I love movies but I did not love watching this one much.
Right in the middle of a conversation the two were having, a little head popped up behind the shoulder of one of them. With big eyes staring out from the cherubic baby’s blank face, the conversation was placed on hold. One or both of them will more than likely do one of the following things: talk in a high voice, cross their eyes, wave their hand or make some type of funny face. Any one of those acts were performed with the hope of getting a smile or laugh out of the baby. I see this happening all the time; sitting in a restaurant booth and a baby or young child in the next booth turns around and stares at you. Make a silly face and the child usually gurgles with laughter or reacts with a wide open mouthed grin on their face. Being silly can be a therapeutic experience. Haven’t we all at one time or another acted silly? I tend to act or say something silly to break the ice when I find myself in a room filled with strangers. However, there is a big risk involved if one chooses this method; if no one laughs then you look like a fool. Another time where I will use silliness or humor as an option is when I find myself in a heavy emotional situation; it is like my default button, but in this case it may be genetic since I am not the only one who does this within my family. My philosophy is I would rather laugh than cry if I am given a choice. Laughter just makes things easier in my opinion. Silliness was served in this security guard sequel. Taking a break from his duties as a mall cop Paul Blart, played by Kevin James (Here Comes the Boom, Hitch), and his daughter Maya, played by Raini Rodriguez (Girl in Progress, Paul Blart: Mall Cop), traveled to Las Vegas for a well deserved vacation. Though Paul was away from his security job, his security instincts were telling him something wrong was going on in the hotel. This action comedy sequel was one long series of silly gags that did not initiate one laugh out of me. Kevin was milking every line throughout this movie. With other cast members like Neal McDonough (Flags of our Fathers, Star Trek: First Contact) as Vincent and Daniella Alonso (The Collector, The Hills Have Eyes II) as Divina, there was not much in the script that allowed the cast to make something out of their characters. I was bored through most of this film. Everyone has their own idea of what is silly; if you found the trailer funny than you might like this picture. For me the trailer showed me everything I needed to know.
1 1/3 stars
One possibility may be the amount of bright lights that never turn off. When you look at them then close your eyes, you can still see their shadows on the inside of your eyelids. I do not know, but is it possible the fact the lights stay on all the time represent never giving up hope to some individuals? There is something about the city of Las Vegas that takes a person’s dreams and inflates them to gigantic proportions. I tell everyone they need to see the city once because it is so over the top, not of earth. You see every form of humanity, some of them sitting at the slot machines and gaming tables with a hungry look on their faces and in their eyes. They are committed to the belief they will win. Their dreams will not let them stop until they have exhausted all available avenues. Though I do not gamble I can understand that momentary intoxication from taking a chance. It is like buying a lottery ticket; until they draw the winning numbers, you get to fantasize about what you would do with all that money. I am all for keeping dreams alive; but they have to be weighed against the cost, since money is not the only factor used in determining if a dream is a success. NICK Wild, played by Jason Statham (Killer Elite, Homefront), had a dream he was in Corsica quietly sailing across the sea. After an incident involving a mob boss’ son named Danny DeMarco, played by Milo Ventimiglia (Heroes-TV, Rocky Balboa), there was a good chance NIck would never see his dream or any other one come true. The fact this action drama starred Jason meant there was going to be some fight scenes in the story and there certainly were a few. I have to say they had a fun quality due to the way they were filmed. They were almost like a cartoon with their use of a variety of props and filming parts in slow motion for crisper detail. Directed by Simon West (The Expendables 2, Con Air) this crime story got off to a fine start with a good lead in. The cast choices were interesting with Michael Angarano (Red State, The Forbidden Kingdom) as Cyrus Kinnick, Hope Davis (Disconnect, About Schmidt) as Cassandra and Stanley Tucci (The Terminal, The Hunger Games franchise) as Baby. However, their characters were all odd to me. I never understood their motivation or why they were even there. The script had nothing going for it which only made it generic and a poor cousin to better films I have seen in this genre. I am afraid the movie studio took a gamble on this picture and lost. There were a few scenes with blood and violence in them.
1 3/4 stars
It was the type of conversations where we blended in each of our hopes, some fantasizing and part of our dreams toward a future together. We would get an apartment in the city, somewhere close to public transportation; so we both could easily get to our jobs. Nothing was written in stone, we pretty much were talking out loud about the direction we wanted to go. As time rolled past us I started to put things in place to step closer to our shared plan. I can still remember the day with the sunlight streaming into their apartment; their roommate’s plants hanging in the windows were throwing creeping grotesque shadows across the floor. When I brought up the subject about when we should start looking for a place; they momentarily hesitated before telling me there was a change in plans. Without going into the dramatic details, I was told they did not think it was a good idea to move in together. It seemed my intense personality would be too much to handle on a constant basis and they did not want to endanger the relationship. Other things were discussed but I was angry and hurt. Back then I was less mature; okay, I was very immature. So I was more angry than hurt and showed every bit of it. It took time for me to appreciate the honesty they showed instead of going through with the move and letting our relationship suffer. FRIENDSHIP was at stake when close friends Sean and Eddy, played by Ryan Guzman (Beyond Paradise, April Rain) and Misha Gabriel (Boogie Town, Clerks II), had different ideas about which direction their dance crew should be headed. With a national dance contest looming, Sean’s dream of becoming a winning dancer was put into serious jeopardy. The central driver to this latest installment in the movie franchise was the dancing. It was amazing to see what the choreographers came up with for the dancers. The movements and theatrics were pretty incredible, backed by a strong soundtrack. Included in the cast were Briana Evigan (Sorority Row, She Loves Me Not) and Izabella Miko (Coyote Ugly, Clash of the Titans); whose roles for the most part were just as generic as the others in the cast. However, I did think Izabella had the most fun character of all. The story was just as generic; it was part drama and romance. I found the whole movie was cheesy and easy to figure out. To be honest I did not plan on seeing this film since I had seen the previous ones and they all followed the same formula. This latest one was the only thing I had not seen when I arrived at the movie theater; so, I was somewhat stuck watching it. In addition, I would not want to tarnish my relationship with anyone who reads this review by recommending they go see this film.
1 3/4 stars
Years of learning to clear my dinner plate of all food has taught me to appreciate the importance of having food guests want to eat. I have had dinner parties where most of the meal has dishes I do not like. But I was raised with the notion that no one should leave the dinner table hungry, so I tend to make a variety of main and side dishes. In my mind this is what a host is supposed to do. It is the same if you are hosting an event outside of the home, such as being the best man/woman for a bachelor/bachelorette party. Being responsible for entertaining and feeding the invited guests, the best person usually does everything they can to make it a memorable bash. For some individuals money is no object, even if multiple charge cards are employed in making the event. What host would want any of their guests not having a good time? Certainly not Cedric, played by Kevin Hart (Ride Along, About Last Night), who was the best man of a wedding party in this comedy. The same could be said for Lauren, played by Taraji P. Henson (The Curious Case of Benjamin Button, Date Night), who was hosting a bachelorette party the same time as the guys’ big night. In this sequel the friends descend onto Las Vegas to celebrate the wedding of Candace, played by Regina Hall (Law Abiding Citizen, Scary Movie franchise). Nothing was going to get in the way of a good time, even Kristen’s future mother-in-law Loretta, played by Jennifer Lewis (Hereafter, Meet the Browns). For those of you who enjoyed the first movie, more than likely you will have a good time watching this sequel. As for me my 1st and biggest complaint has to do with Kevin Hart. I have seen enough of his movies (not always by choice) to see he has very little acting talent. Each of his performances consist of him screeching in an annoying vocal pitch, dishing out insults in a machine gun style of rapid fire barbs while being the recipient of a multitude of put-downs. As far as I could tell there were no original jokes in this cheap, tired mess. Everything was easy to follow since it was so predictable. I was bored throughout the picture; however, I will say I liked the lip sync video to the song “Poison,” though it was a ploy to fill up the running time because the writers evidently had run out of ideas. Oh wait, that is not right; the writers had no ideas, using standard situations that were done before. Hosting a movie night at my house, I would be embarrassed to show this film. There was a brief extra scene at the end of the credits.
1 2/3 stars
There is only a small group who can determine my feelings without me uttering one single word. We use verbal shorthand to communicate, ready to validate anyone’s point being made to an outsider. I am part of this group known as childhood friends. We knew each other before adolescence; they never made a comment about the pimples appearing on my face as my body began to change. Each of us shares a history that keeps us grounded to each other, without the need for explaining our actions. Sometimes I feel they are too grounded when they correct a story I am telling that may have some embellishments in it; you know, strictly for entertainment purposes. We can joke and tease each other; but if someone else attempts it, each one of us will go into attack mode to defend our friend. This type of loyalty was evident amongst the childhood friends in this comedy. Michael Douglas (Falling Down, Behind the Candelabra) as Billy, Robert De Niro (The Family, Silver Linings Playbook) as Paddy, Morgan Freeman (Now You See Me, Million Dollar Baby) as Archie and Kevin Kline (Wild Wild West, The Ice Storm) as Sam have known each other since childhood. After all these years perpetual bachelor Billy decided to get married to a considerably younger woman. Despite any misgivings, Billy’s friends decided to throw him a bachelor party to beat all bachelor parties in the city of Los Vegas. With most moviegoers being familiar with the acting style of these actors, I felt the writers needed to have a strong script for them. Unfortunately it was not, placing the cast in a predictable story. The humor was okay, though the movie trailers ruined some scenes for me. It was lovely to see Mary Steenburgen (What’s Eating Gilbert Grape, The Proposal) cast as lounge singer Diana. I found her role to be the strongest and enjoyed the way the story developed around her character. There seems to be talk about this film being the geriatric version of The Hangover movie franchise. I can see why people would say this but it does a disservice to this film. The essence of this story was about childhood friends. I wished the writers would have expanded on it because I know my old friends would have appreciated the movie more. But then again, they already knew how I was going to review this bland movie.
Being the designated driver for some of my friends, I have been stuck staying at a nightclub until closing time. When the lights came on I was stunned how the entire place radically changed. When we first arrived at the club there were colored strobe lights sparking everywhere, narrow spotlights searching the dance floor while a cool, low fog circulated around our feet. At the end of the evening the room was flooded with harsh white light, exposing stained dark walls and a floor littered with confetti and crepe paper streamers. Some of it was clumped together on parts of the floor where drinks were spilled. At one of the leather clad booths along the wall, there was a passed out patron. As you can see it was not a pretty picture. The same could be said for this tired film. Consider this movie the last call of the franchise. Phil, Stu and Justin; played by Bradley Cooper (Limitless, Silver Linings Playbook), Ed Helms (Cedar Rapids, The Office-TV) and Justin Bartha (National Treasure franchise, The Rebound); participated in an intervention for Alan, played by Zach Galifianakis (The Campaign, Due Date). On the way to the treatment center; the Wolfpack was ambushed by Marshall, played by John Goodman (Argo, Flight). Holding Doug as hostage; Marshall gave the rest of the gang three days to find Mr. Chow, played by Ken Jeong (Community-TV, Pain & Gain). The story was one dimensional; in other words, it seemed as if they planned the jokes first, then wrote the story around them. The problem was the lack of humor; the jokes were utterly stale. Using Alan’s questionable feelings towards Phil as a continuous joke quickly became old. The character of Mr. Chow derived his humor by being inappropriate for these politically correct times. When the first movie came out it was a novel and fresh idea. I found the film to be dreary and lazy. Consider this film a reminder to never stay beyond last call.
1 3/4 stars