FIRST thing we would do is look for a thick stick or broken tree branch. If none could be found then we would head down the alley to see if there was anything lying around that had been discarded by the neighbors. Once something was found the next step was to look for a place to impale the object; a mound of dirt, a pile of leaves, or a large snowdrift would do. As soon as the stick or piece of wood was stuck into the ground it became our sword, a special one. If it was during winter we would break up into 2 teams and battle each other with snowballs as each of us tried to get to the sword and pull it out as the rightful owner who would be king. All of us were familiar with the story about King Arthur and his knights of the round table. Also I think each of us at some point had seen the movie, “The Sword in the Stone.” I saw it 3 times; hoping a bit of Merlin’s magic would rub off on me. AFTER all these years there are certain story lines that remain embedded in my brain. I may not remember every detail but certainly have a good idea of what took place. I find it fascinating that fairy tales read or seen as a kid remain more vivid in my memory than where I parked my car in the parking lot on a recent trip to the grocery store. There is something about these childhood fantasies that always stay strong in us. I wonder if part of the reason is due to the morals of the story, especially in the animated versions. A kiss that wakes up one’s true love or the physical ramifications of lying to someone; until this very moment I never consciously realized these stories were teaching me a lesson. Maybe because of these memories I have about King Arthur caused me to now be confused by what I was seeing in this dramatic, action adventure film. UNTIL King Vortigern, played by Jude Law (Sherlock Holmes franchise, The Talented Mr. Ripley), forced every male to make an attempt to pull the recently discovered sword from out of its stone; Arthur, played by Charlie Hunnam (The Lost City of Z, Crimson Peak), had no idea about his heritage when he became the only successful male to remove the special sword. Written and directed by Guy Ritchie (Snatch, The Man from U.N.C.L.E.), this movie also starred Astrid Berges-Frisbey (The Sea Wall, I Origins) as the Mage, Djimon Hounsou (Blood Diamond, Gladiator) as Bedivere and Eric Bana (Troy, The Time Traveler’s Wife) as Uther. The story hardly represented the one I had known as a child. Normally that would be okay; however, the script was so loose and disconnected that I sat through most of this picture puzzled by what I was watching. There were some scenes that worked for me, where I enjoyed the CGI effects like the eagle and massive elephants. But then other scenes literally looked like video game clips which were lost on me because I did not care for the quick cut and paste editing. I also dislike modern language in a period piece. For the amount of money the studio spent, all I can say is Jude plays a good evil person and Charlie has a definite presence that lights up the movie screen. They should have kept the sword locked in the stone and forget this story; what a mess.
1 2/3 stars
THREE jobs was the limit for him for he already was working 7 days a week. Each one was part-time and the times were flexible which worked to his advantage. Those of you who are still dealing with your student loans might understand the need for working extra hours to help pay down the debt. This was part of his reason for putting in so many hours, though gratefully there were short spots of down time each day. One of the challenges in keeping up such a busy schedule is to find time for one’s mind to rest as well as one’s body. That constant go, go, go on a person can only last for a short length of time before exhaustion starts to take over. I should know because I found myself in a similar situation. It took place before I became certified to teach fitness classes. Running from one job to another, putting in long hours without a break, I wound up getting a mild case of mononucleosis. Yes I know it is known as the “kissing disease” but I attribute my getting it due to my exhaustion and the possibility of sharing a meal with someone. ONE of the challenges in maintaining a hectic schedule is staying focused on the end result. When I went back to school to learn yoga I had to keep up with a difficult timetable. Working a full time job, I would go to school at night for class. Besides keeping up my fitness classes at night I had to add the weekend to practice and student teach yoga classes; essentially I was doing something every single day of the week. During that period of time I had to keep reminding myself that in 1 year I would graduate and be finished with such a crazy schedule. It came to the point where I was breaking the months down by weeks, counting off each week I completed. I was convinced once I completed school I could put my education to immediate good use and in the long run have an easier schedule with reliable income. It was a sacrifice I do not regret one bit; unlike what was happening to the main character in this dramatic action film. WITH their parents deceased street magician Bo, played by Jacob Latimore (Collateral Beauty, The Maze Runner), was left taking care of his little sister Tina, played by Storm Reid (12 Years a Slave, Lea to the Rescue). To make ends meet Bo was doing work at night he was not proud of, but it provided needed cash. I was quickly drawn into this movie by Jacob’s acting skills. The connection his character had with his sister felt genuine, being a catalyst for the story line. Also starring Dule Hill (She’s All That, The West Wing-TV) as Angelo and Seychelle Gabriel (The Last Airbender, Falling Skies-TV) as Holly, I thought the script provided enough balance between drama and danger. Though parts of the script were predictable it did not take away from the overall movie watching experience. The story appeared at first to be similar to others films I had seen before, but I liked the way the writers took some liberties to make this story stand out. Jacob’s quiet strength in the character was the main focus of this picture. I also liked the way the story was left open for the possibility of a sequel to take place. It seems as if all the hard work put in by everyone involved paid off for this film. There were a couple of scenes that had blood and violence.
HAVE you ever met someone and there was an immediate, familiar comfort between the two of you? There was very little or none at all the two of you knew about each other, yet you would listen to what they had to say and you had the sense you knew about it already. This recently happened to me. I only knew a few details about the person before our scheduled meeting. Introductions were made and as we sat down we started up a conversation that was void of any silent moments. Each of us found a rhythm to our speech that was open and real as if we had been friends for years. THE same feeling can be found between long term friends who have been out of touch for a long duration. You must have experienced it at some time I would think. I have a few friends who live out of state. One in particular I had not seen for several years; however, when we finally got together it was as if no significant duration of time every happened between us. We started right up where we left off our previous time as if we had seen each other a few days ago. In situations like this I tend to feel a warm familial connection to the person. Now here is the funny thing, I had this type of reaction to seeing this adventure family film. Being a big fan of the Harry Potter books and movies, I immediately formed a connection to this story that takes place 70 years before Harry Potter arrived in the magical world. ARRIVING in New York City to seek out a particular magical creature Newt Scamander, played by Eddie Redmayne (The Danish Girl, The Theory of Everything), was waylaid by a No-Maj (American for Muggle) who mistakenly wound up with Newt’s suitcase filled with magical creatures. This family movie did not disappoint with the abundance of magical special effects. Set in the 1920s I thoroughly enjoyed the sets and costumes. With Dan Fogler (Fanboys, The Goldbergs-TV) as Kowalski, Colin Farrell (The Lobster, Total Recall) as Graves, Katherine Waterson (Inherent Vice, Steve Jobs) as Tina and Ezra Miller (We Need to Talk about Kevin, The Perks of Being a Wallflower) as Credence Barebone; I thought the actors were good with their characters but had no chemistry between each other. Between the script and the directing, I found the movie on a whole a bit stagnant in some places. It went from a slow pace to a frantic action scene causing an unevenness in the pacing. From what I heard I understand this will be the 1st of 5 films, so I understood this movie would be more of an introduction to all the new characters. In addition, it was very hard not to compare this picture to the Harry Potter movies. This may sound odd but I found several characters were lacking personality; I could not tell you much about them. However with me having an immediate connection to the magical world depicted here the flaws in this film were smoothed over.
2 3/4 stars
Unlimited possibilities wait for many rousing from their nightly sleep. For them their day begins with a blank canvas; they let the day lead in what activities and events will be chosen. It is a random process that involves some level of spontaneity. Imagine the freedom one experiences when they are not tethered to a schedule or list of chores for the day. It has been so long that I actually cannot remember if I have ever experienced that type of freedom, to wake up with the attitude that whatever the day brings would be fine. If I do not have a list of things I need to handle for the day, I at least have a mental plan of what I want to accomplish. I have mentioned before that people can set their watches by me; I am most comfortable when I am on my internal schedule. It frees me up from taking time out to make decisions since all of them were made when the schedule was created in my mind, so I can go on automatic. I know when I wake up the first thing I do is eat breakfast; aware no matter the time, when the clock reaches the noon hour it is time for me to prepare for my 2nd meal. Now the downfall to being this way is when something unexpected happens. An example would be my daily ride to the office. I take the same route every day, knowing when I have to get into the right lane to avoid being stopped by cars trying to turn left or aware where I have to swerve slightly to avoid a pothole. If something like a stalled car or broken railroad crossing backs up traffic and causes a detour, I am thrown off my schedule. Honestly, it is rough for me when things don’t go as planned which is why I can relate to the magicians in this action thriller. AFTER lying low for a year the magicians called “The Four Horsemen” reappear for a spectacular magic trick. They were not expecting their trick to take them halfway around the world. The returning cast such as Jesse Eisenberg (American Ultra, The End of the Tour) as J. Daniel and Mark Ruffalo (The Avengers franchise, Infinitely Polar Bear) as Dylan Rhodes were joined by new characters Lula, played by Lizzy Caplan (Cloverfield, The Interview) and Walter Mabry, played by Daniel Radcliffe (Harry Potter franchise, Kill Your Darlings). There were the same spectacular magic tricks in this comedy but I missed the way they were explained as in the previous movie. The scenes were flashy but I did not like the camera work; some scenes were too frenetic for me. I could have handled all of this but because the script was such a mess I soon became bored with the story. There wasn’t the same sense of tense danger or excitement as the first film. In my opinion the writers tried to do too much to make this sequel “bigger” and it just did not work. I recently saw last weekend’s box office results and have to assume the movie studio was not expecting the results they got with the final figures.
1 ¾ stars
Early exposure to the art of magic gives us permission to draw outside the lines. When we see something that defies logic it opens us up to accepting additional possibilities to a situation. Some people may say this directly affects our minds, while others will say it definitely stirs our hearts; either way magic certainly can influence us. I can remember my first exposure to magic (not taking into account peek-a-boo) happened when I was nearly 3 years old. There was a relative who would always grab my nose then show it to me sticking out from their closed fingers. I would inhale as much air as my little lungs could hold, to try and get back my nose. It wasn’t long before I realized by relative’s thumb and not my nose was poking out between his clenched fingers. There was another relative however who really performed magic or at least I thought so. Anytime he was visiting he would come up to me and ask me what was sticking out of my ear. I would rub my ear but never found anything. He would reach down, touch my ear then show me the quarter he pulled out before handing it to me. I would always check my ears afterward to see if I could find any money in them, but never did. BELIEVE it or not magic played a central character in this dramatic comedy. Written and directed by Woody Allen (Sweet and Lowdown, Midnight in Paris), this romantic film was about a magician and a soothsayer. Colin Firth (The Railway Man, A Single Man) played Stanley, a man who pretended to be a Chinese magician. When not in costume Stanley was considered the expert in disproving psychics and fortune-tellers. Hearing news about a young, incredible soothsayer named Sophie, played by Emma Stone (Easy A, The Amazing Spider-Man franchise), Stanley set out to show the world she was a fake. Both the music and sets were beautiful in this movie that depicted a bygone era. I thought the acting was quite good, especially from Jackie Weaver (Silver Linings Playbook, Animal Kingdom) as Grace. There were 2 major issues I had with this picture. The first had to do with Colin and Emma; their characters did not come across as a believable couple. Yes they both acted well but I found the idea of them being in any type of relationship just odd. My other concern was the story itself. Though the concept was good, the execution came across a bit tired to me. It felt more like a rehash of Woody’s previous films. There were times I found this film dull. For a movie about magic, I really wished it would have magically taken me out of my theater seat and into its story.
2 1/3 stars
The magical properties of food is something I already know all too well. Chocolate provides a soothing comfort, where calm thoughts cascade over me to still the turbulence of the day. I know many people eat ginger to combat nausea or an upset stomach. Peppermint has been used to take the fire out of a sore throat. There are individuals who swear the purple cornflower has anti-bacterial properties; you may have seen it being sold as Echinacea. From personal experience practically any flavor of ice cream removes the bad taste in one’s mouth from an awful meal. Since I believe there is a reason for everything, I look at all things around me having a purpose. Whether it is plant, land or sea based; I am not quick to dismiss what someone ingests for medicinal reasons. In fact, I have watched a friend prepare a meal for her pets where she looks like a chemist with all the powders and liquids she mixes into their food before giving it to them. She has raised the animals in a holistic fashion and they look vibrant and healthy to me. Already aware of the nutrients in food I was very much intrigued with the story in this dramatic romance. Being orphaned at a young age Tilo, played by Aishwarya Rai Bachchan (Bride & Prejudice, Jodhaa Akbar), was taught to use her intuitive abilities in finding the right spices to help an individual’s plight. There were only a couple of rules she had to follow and she did so perfectly until architect Doug, played by Dylan McDermott (Olympus Has Fallen, The Perks of Being a Wallflower), entered her spice shop one day. The whole fairy tale and magic aspect of this movie was a good idea. I enjoyed watching the different preparations Tilo performed with the variety of spices in her store. Along with her performance, these were the only things I liked about this picture. The script was not only poorly done, it was corny. Instead of infusing a real sense of drama, it only turned scenes into ridiculous melodrama. Many of the actors’ roles came across like empty cartoon characters. Actors such as Adewale Akinnuoye-Agbaje (Pompeii, Oz-TV) as Kwesi and Nitin Ganatra (Bride & Prejudice, Charlie and the Chocolate Factory) as Haroun Rehman were wasted in this film. When I received this DVD it looked like it would be such a tasty morsel of a movie, but by the end I could not swallow it.
1 3/4 stars — DVD
My first experiences with live magicians it turned out were not really performing magic. In fact, they were not even magicians. I would see them in stores surrounded by throngs of people. Each time I spotted one I would run up and join the crowd, enthralled with the magician’s flair during their presentation. I saw glasses that would never fog up, even if they were held over a steaming pot of water. There was the wonder knife that a magician would thrust up into the air to show its sharp gleaming blade, just before he used it to slice through a metal pipe. At the time I thought these individuals were doing magic; instead, they were product demonstrators. As a young kid I still could be entertained by the different demonstrations. It was the same feeling I had while watching this adventure film about illusionists. Jesse Eisenberg (The Social Network, Zombieland), Woody Harrelson (Seven Psychopaths, Rampart), Isla Fisher (Wedding Crashers, Home and Away) and Dave Franco (21 Jump Street, Warm Bodies) played street performers who became The Four Horsemen, a popular magic act that appeared to rob a bank in the middle of their act. Mark Ruffalo (The Avengers, Shutter Island) played FBI agent Dylan Rhodes who was determined to catch the illusionists, but always it seemed was a step behind. Even with the help of Interpol detective Alma Dray, played by Melanie Laurent (Inglourious Basterds, Beginners) and magic debunker author Thaddeus Bradley, played by Morgan Freeman (The Prestige, Children of Men); it still seemed as if they were just pawns in the Four Horsemen’s high stakes game. The movie started out strong and fast; it was easy to keep up. The magic tricks kept getting bigger and more elaborate as they were expertly performed by the four actors. Everything was working to make this film a fun exciting experience to watch. But halfway through the story it became unfocused and lost steam. The quick editing and shifts in the story became too much to handle. Frantic pacing only deflated the thrills; I started to get bored. Now I may be gullible when it comes to magic, but I know when smoke and mirrors are being used in an attempt to create a passable story.
2 1/2 stars
The prequel really came to the forefront with the Star Wars franchise. I find it to be a valid form to use in the art of making movies. For me it feels like seeing an old friend from college who is now in a love relationship and getting to hear how the two of them met. Excited to see this prequel to the classic film The Wizard of Oz, the movie studio certainly has been marketing it from a ton of commercials to the movie theater employees wearing promotional T-shirts. James Franco (127 Hours, Howl) played carnie magician Oscar Diggs who was swept up into a storm that took him far away from Kansas. Finding himself in a strange land called Oz he encountered Theodora, played by Mila Kunis (Black Swan, Ted), a witch who believed he was the wizard that the prophecy said would come to save her people. James’ acting in this role was proof that his stint as the wooden host of the Oscar telecasts was not a fluke. Joining him in the awful acting department was Mila and Michelle Williams (My Week with Marilyn, Blue Valentine) as the witch Glinda. The only acting worth talking about came from Rachel Weisz (The Bourne Legacy, The Deep Blue Sea) as Evanora; computer graphic China Girl, voiced by Joey King (Ramona and Beezus, Crazy Stupid Love) and flying monkey Finley, voiced by Zach Braff (Garden State, Scrubs-TV). There were some beautiful and magical scenes, but then there would be flat scenes that were poorly designed. My favorite part of the movie was the last 20-25 minutes that had a cool, creative flair. The script was badly written, not providing depth to the characters which made James Franco’s character extra annoying. Not only was I disappointed by the end of the movie, I felt I had gotten stuck in Oz’ deadly poppy field.
2 1/3 stars
Many years ago a Cirque du Soleil show saved me from a debilitating blue funk. I had been blindsided by the breakup of a relationship that left me numb. Each day was a struggle to get out of bed and function in the daily routine of life. Planned months prior to all of this, I had tickets to see a Cirque du Soleil show that had been traveling around the country. The performance started with the sound of high pitched chimes randomly ringing. Though I was not in the best frame of mind, I became intrigued with the outrageously colored costumes worn by the performers. We were 20 minutes into the show when a group of clowns took to the stage. Not being a big fan of clowns I started paying more attention to the audience members’ reactions to the skit playing out on stage. Suddenly I was hit with a blast of wind that pressed my curly hair back against my scalp. I turned my gaze back to the stage where a couple of clowns had dragged a huge industrial fan onto a platform. The scene playing out in front of me was a clown trying to maintain his place without the wind machine blowing him off the stage. I was seated directly behind this clown, feeling the effects of the steady wind stream. Two clowns on either side of the fan were pouring confetti in front, creating a blizzard like visual escapade. I burst out with laughter as the confetti whirled pass me; realizing at that very moment, I had forgotten what it felt like to laugh. From that point on I have always had a soft spot inside of me for Cirque du Soleil. If you have never seen a show of theirs, this movie would be the perfect opportunity to experience them. The price of a movie ticket would be a major bargain compared to their live show ticket prices. The story is quite minimal; a young woman at a carnival attempts to save an aerialist when he missed a grab, falling to the earth. The two get sucked into the ground, where they are transported to a different world made up of a series of tents. The woman travels to each tent in search of the missing aerialist. Some of you may have already guessed that each tent was a scene from one of the Cirque shows. There were acts from several of the Las Vegas shows like O and Love. Seeing them in 3D did nothing for me. Honestly it added a weirdness to the acts, dulling some of the magic they usually create. If you have seen a few of their shows already, this movie would not leave a lasting impression on you. The film essentially is a long advertisement for Cirque’s permanent shows. It would have helped if they spent a little more on the story and use the medium of film to enhance the visual experience. Nonetheless I cannot bad mouth Cirque du Soleil for what they did for me so many years ago. And I now have my very own Cirque red and orange souvenir 3D glasses that were given to us at the movie theater.
2 1/4 stars
Happy Halloween to you and for your treat I have a special movie for today’s review. I still have a vivid memory of where I was when I first saw this fun horror film. My family was vacationing with my aunt and her family at a summer resort in Michigan. This movie was being shown in a recreation room that had dark paneled walls and stale popcorn. I remember my cousins and I being frightened of the evil sorcerer. Little did we know that when viewing this movie as adults it would be so campy. Bumbling magician Dr. Adolphus Bedlo, played by Peter Lorre (Casablanca, The Maltese Falcon), had crossed paths with the evil Dr. Scarabus, played by Boris Karloff (The Mummy, Arsenic & Old Lace), who turned the poor man into a raven. In need of someone with strong magical powers Dr. Bedlo sought out Dr. Erasmus Craven, played by Vincent Price (Edward Scissorhands, Theater of Blood), who was the son of a powerful magician. Though Dr. Craven stopped practicing magic, he agreed to help the raven when he discovered who was being held by Dr. Scarabus. It would take a monumental tsunami of wizardry skill to break the spell and survive Dr. Scarabus’ evil power. For the time this movie was made the special effects were fun; keeping in mind nothing in it compares to today’s standards. It was obvious the actors were relishing their roles as these titans of terror were being pitted against each other. Notice Dr. Adolphus Bedlo’s son was played by a young Jack Nicholson (The Shining, Chinatown). Director Roger Corman (Bloody Mama, The St. Valentine’s Day Massacre) did a good job of mixing horror with comedy. This was a light hearted romp with stellar stars letting themselves go and enjoying the experience. Get your favorite snack and I will tell you what I say to all of my classes on this day: “Eat without guilt!”
2 1/2 stars — DVD