MY LOVE OF STORIES BEGAN AT AN early age because of the stories that were told around family meals. I heard about so many different relatives’ lives that I would wish they were sitting at the dining room table to tell their story directly to us. I had a relative who was a violin virtuoso. He was self-taught and only played for family and friends, is what I heard. The only memory I have associated to this person was seeing an old black and white photograph of him, dressed in a suit and holding his violin at his side. He died before I was born, so I never got to hear him play. Another story I heard around the dining room table was about a relative who had saved several other relatives by sneaking them out of their country during a war. With the details of each relative’s escape not known, I would make-up my own stories about their perilous travels and act them out whenever I was playing with my toy soldiers. I would cover the living room of our home with piles of towels to represent the mountains and rulers as bridges which my relatives/soldiers would have to traverse on their way to freedom. THERE WERE OTHER STORIES TOLD AT the dining room table; I remember being surprised by how many people were related to me. I used to wonder how much truth were in the stories that were being told; but, without having much physical proof, I had to rely on the storyteller to be accurate with the details. I cannot say it bothered me, but I was envious of the friends of mine who had physical remnants of their deceased relatives. One friend had a sword that was mounted on a plaque that hung in the hallway of their home; I think it belonged to a great, great, great uncle. Another friend of mine had their grandfather’s gold pocket watch. It was the first time I had ever seen a pocket watch and I was fascinated with the face cover that sprung open at the press of a button. At the time I did not realize the stories I was listening to would help me in my history classes in school. When the teacher was covering a world conflict or was focusing on a specific country, I would get a mental picture of my relative. Sometimes a city would be mentioned, and I could imagine my relative being there while doing something. I did not realize this ability would help me remember city names on our tests. How I wished I could talk to these deceased relatives; if only I had the opportunity the brothers had in this animated, adventure comedy. UPON RECEIVING THEIR DECEASED FATHER’S MAGICAL staff; brothers Ian and Barley Lightfoot, voiced by Tom Holland (Spider-Man franchise, The Impossible) and Chris Pratt (The Kid, Passengers), set out on an adventure to try and bring back the magic of their Dad. With Julia Louis-Dreyfus (Downhill, Enough Said) voicing Laurel Lightfoot, Octavia Spencer (Hidden Figures, The Shape of Water) voicing the Manticore and Mel Rodriguez (Little Miss Sunshine, Panic Room) voicing Colt Bronco; this Pixar movie had the usual high standard of animation we are used to from this studio. Though the cast of actors brought life to these fantasy characters, the script did not have any magic for me. Out of the many films I have seen from this studio, this one was the most obvious with following the studio’s story formula. I did not find anything funny to chuckle at and I must say the father character was odd to me. The script was simple and predictable. If I had my choice, I would rather have been reminiscing about my deceased relatives’ stories than sitting in the theater to watch what these two brothers went through to connect to their past.
THE TICKETS WERE A PRESENT TO ME, for a revival of a Broadway musical that was touring the country. I had seen this production a couple of times before, let alone various video clips of it with several iconic actresses starring in the lead role. The actress in this current production was a “heavy-hitter” having won various awards, including a Tony award. I was excited to see her since she had the acting chops and the vocal power to carry off this demanding role. Arriving at the theater we made our way to our seats, which turned out to be directly center to the stage. There were no sight obstructions, nor any issues with the people in front blocking my view because we were looking down at the stage from an elevated height. At the posted time the lights in the theater dimmed except for one spotlight directed at the musical conductor. Classic songs from the musical score were touched upon during the overture before the curtain came up and there on stage was the Tony winning actress. The crowd erupted with applause as the orchestra paused a moment for the clapping to die down. It was not long until the first song was to be sung in the story by the actress; I was excited to hear her voice again. WHAT CAME OUT OF HER MOUTH was a voice that was unfamiliar to me. I did not know if she had a cold or the years of singing had taken their toll on her vocal cords; but she could barely hold a note. My disappointment weighed on me like a heavy knapsack strapped to my back. She was the lead, so she was expected to carry a major portion of the script and songs. Though the sets were beautiful, and the rest of the actors were good, I was underwhelmed with this production. I knew how good this musical could be and what I saw did not carry me to the end of the story; instead, it had to pull me along on broken legs. That is how disappointed I felt, let down with the singing which I knew could have been enthralling. Ultimately, I was glad I saw this production; especially since it was a gift to me, but it did not work out that way. We talked about the actress afterwards and everyone felt the same as I did. I am willing to bet those friends would feel the same way as I did when I saw this latest installment from the world of Harry Potter. WITH THE ESCAPE OF THE WARLOCK GRINDELWALD, played by Johnny Depp (Black Mass, The Lone Ranger), the wizarding world would find itself in jeopardy of splitting apart. It would take someone extraordinary to go against Grindelwald and remain alive. This adventure fantasy starred Eddie Redmayne (The Theory of Everything, The Danish Girl) as Newt Scamander, Dan Fogler (Balls of Fury, Don Peyote) as Jacob Kowalski, Katherine Waterson (Inherent Vice, Alien: Covenant) as Tina Goldstein and Jude Law (Anna Karenina, The Grand Budapest Hotel) as Albus Dumbledore. Let me start out by saying I bought magical wands for family members; so, you know I was looking forward to this 2nd installment. Visually this film maintained the fun and creative special effects as the previous ones. There were new characters introduced, all laying the groundwork to fill in the paths toward the Harry Potter stories. Don’t get me wrong, I enjoyed these aspects of the film; but the story/script was weak. This movie lacked the excitement I had grown to expect, feeling like we went from one crisis to another with too many story lines thrown in. I almost felt as if this production was partially “phoned in” because it lacked the “magic” that was found in the Harry Potter films. Whether I felt obligation or a sense of duty, I would have gone to this film regardless; however, I do not want to feel as if I am being given a so-so effort in the creation of this franchise.
WE HAD MET WITHIN a group of people who assembled at the art museum. Throughout our time there we bumped into each other several times; it seemed we appreciated the same artists. Everyone from the group returned to our meeting place in the lobby near the gift shop at the designated time. Some individuals said their goodbyes and left; others broke off into smaller groups to stick around or do something else. She and I decided to go out for coffee since it was too early to get something to eat. We walked over to a nearby café, found an open table and sat down with our menus in hand. After we placed our orders we talked about our appreciation for the same artists and how fortunate we were to have a world class art museum in our city. FROM OUR CONVERSATION THAT initially focused on art we veered into the topic of beauty and what does it mean to be beautiful. We touched on a variety of aspects concerning beauty; for example, the unrealistic expectations found in modeling and fashion. I do not know how it happened but we started to share our own assessment of our looks. Something she said struck me in a curious way; it was the way she said it I think that made me question her further. When she talked about herself I noticed a majority of her comments had a negative element to them. I could not understand why she felt that way so I simply asked her if she thought she was not a beautiful person. She just stared at me for only a moment before I noticed tears welling up, about to spill out of her eyes. Turning her head away she looked out the window before she whispered yes. After a brief silence she explained that she was born with a hair lip that took a couple of surgeries to correct, though a trace of it remained. Ever since that time she always felt poorly about herself. I did not want to prod and see if she was teased or treated differently since it was obvious she still was dealing with some emotional baggage over it. Sadly I could relate since I had body image issues growing up that did a number on me. It takes one small thing whether a comment or one’s own lack of confidence that takes us on a path of darkness. FORCED OUT OF THEIR city due to an evil threat; it would take friendship, magic and hope for Princess Skystar, voiced by Kristin Chenoweth (Bewitched, The Boy Next Door), and her friends to find a way to save their precious homes. This animated, adventure comedy also had Emily Blunt (The Devil Wears Prada, Looper) voicing Tempest Shadow, Uzo Aduba (Tallulah, Orange is the New Black-TV) voicing Queen Novo, Taye Diggs (Chicago, Private Practice-TV) voicing Capper and Liev Schreiber (Spotlight, X-Men Origins: Wolverine) voicing The Storm King. The animation was your typical old fashioned Saturday morning flat style. I am afraid the script was written in a narrow range for the 5-7 year old set; there was not much offered for anyone older. Unfortunately I found a good portion of this movie boring. It was not until the last ½ hour or so that I became interested. And it was a shame because I thought the message conveyed was poignant and meaningful. For those of you who were into My Little Pony toys you might enjoy this story more than I did. For the rest of the viewing audience I suggest you skip this ride at the theater.
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