WE WERE SITTING AROUND THE DINING room table when his cell phone rang. From where I was sitting, I was able to see the display with the caller’s phone number. The young man had a quizzical look on his face as he studied the number. I took it upon myself to tell him the call was coming from Oklahoma. He looked and asked me how I knew that as he let the call go to voicemail. I told him I knew because of the area code, 405; it was the area code for the Oklahoma City area. He was so surprised by my knowing such a thing that I found it amusing. When he asked me why I knew such a thing, I explained that I have accounts in Oklahoma that I have to call on the phone; so, the area code is something that has stuck in my brain from all the times I have called them. This explanation sparked a curiosity in him that spurred him on to suddenly test me. He asked if I knew any other area codes; I told him I know some states, but not all of them. He needed proof so he unlocked his phone and started looking up area code numbers. Not to toot my own horn, but out of seven area codes he tested me on I knew six of them. He was totally amazed by this; I found the whole thing curious. ON MY WAY HOME, I STARTED to think about the area code “game.” Was my generation the last one that dialed phone numbers instead of pressing one button on their cell phone? I looked at my ability to remember area codes/phone numbers as a positive statement on my brain’s ability to retain information. For some reason, I feel depending on a device for common functions like simple math or reminders will make my mind soft. I will never forget walking into a bank to cash a check for $19.81 and handing the teller nineteen cents to round up the change on the dollar amount. The teller was perplexed by my actions and had to pull out a calculator to figure out I wanted to get back an even $20.00. Besides thinking how they graduated out of high school, I wondered what they would do if they did not have the use of a calculator. When you think about it; don’t you think it would be a valid discussion to say the same thing about someone who only knew how to tell time in a digital format instead of a clock dial? It scares me to think how future generations will function when they do not have a device to depend on and this comedic, science fiction adventure did nothing to help alleviate my concerns. WHAT WAS TO BE A ONE YEAR experiment for Private Joe Bauers, played by Luke Wilson (The Family Stone, Old School), turned into a decades long event that left Joe the smartest man on the planet. He did not believe it until he saw for himself. With Maya Rudolph (Sisters, Away We Go) as Rita, Dax Shephard (Employee of the Month, Chips) as Frito, Terry Crews (The Expendables franchise, John Henry) as President Camacho and Anthony “Citric” Campos (Harsh Times, Lopez-TV) as Secretary of Defense; this film festival nominated movie had a script that was filled with satirical bits and sight gags. A good portion of them hit their mark and were amusing to me. However, the script had so much going on with it that I felt at times things were just silly and dragged on too long. The cast was fun to watch, especially Maya and Dax. Ultimately, I felt the story was relevant and, in some ways, important; the writers just chose a fun way to deliver their message. I do not know what I would do if reading becomes something that we let our digital assistants do for us; you just never know.
2 1/3 stars
THE BRIGHT RED BIRD LOOKED like a cross between an ostrich and a flamingo. Long legs and neck connected to this round belly. The bird’s beak was bright yellow and on top of its head there was a tuft of elongated feathers that veered off in different directions. I still can remember how my friend would walk his bird around the room in this sort of hop along, bobbing type of gait. He had gotten the bird as a gift, though if he named the bird I have no recollection of it. The bird was a 16-18” tall puppet. My friend would hold these two wooden sticks that were nailed together into a plus sign, with string attached to each end. The strings were then each affixed to a different part of the bird’s body. Though the beak did not open, the bird’s eyes were not stationary; they had eyelids that would blink depending on the movement of the bird’s head. It was quite a comical sight for us. I had a few stuffed animals when I was younger that I would imitate the animal’s voice; but I would have to hold the animal to make it move. Here there was a stuffed animal that looked like it was moving on its own; it provided hours of fun. PRIOR TO MY FRIEND’S BIRD PUPPET, the only type of puppets I had personal knowledge of were the hand puppets we used to make in school. I am sure many of you did the same thing; where you take a lunch bag, turn it upside down and draw a face on it. Where the first fold of the bag is at the bottom, you would draw the mouth. Some of the girls in class would draw hair and ribbons on their bag; if an evil face was going to be placed on the bag it was usually drawn by a boy. We would stick a hand inside the bag to make the mouth talk by opening and closing our fingers into a fist. I remember one class assignment where we had to create a scenic backdrop on the inside of a box, after removing one side of the box. The teacher set up a table for us to place our boxes; there was a curtain stretched in front of it where we could hide behind to raise our paper bag puppet up and put on a show. I happened to remember this while watching this comedic, action crime film because I would have rather watched our kids’ shows than what I saw on display up on the movie screen. A SERIES OF PUPPET MURDERS WAS plaguing Los Angeles. Two former detectives who had parted ways had to come together to help solve the crimes. Starring Melissa McCarthy (Life of the Party, The Heat) as Detective Connie Edwards, Elizabeth Banks (The Hunger Games franchise, Love & Mercy) as Jenny, Maya Rudolph (Away We Go, Inherent Vice) as Bubbles, Leslie David Baker (Wish I Was Here, The Office-TV) as Lt. Banning and Joel McHale (Deliver Us from Evil, The Informant!) as Agent Campbell; the one actor that stood out for me was Maya. Melissa, who I previously have said has incredible comedic timing, played the same type of character she has played before. The script was generic and only produced one laugh out of me. Maybe the writers thought having R rated puppets was enough of a laugh; for me, I found it quickly became a bore because every move was so predictable. As a side note, if Jim Henson was alive today I wonder how he would have felt about his son directing this picture? More fun could be gotten out of a paper bag puppet than being stuck watching this “bad” movie. There was an extra scene in the middle of the credits and this IS NOT A FILM FOR CHILDREN.
1 ½ stars
IT SOUNDED LIKE A GOOD IDEA at the time. They remembered as little kids skitching in the snow. For those of you unfamiliar with the term it means: holding on to the back of a moving vehicle while riding a bicycle, skates or skateboard. However, they used to just use their shoes or boots when there was snow on the ground. As children they would hide between parked cars and wait for a bus, truck or car to drive by them. Just as the vehicle was about to pass they would run out and try to grab the back bumper without being seen by the driver. It felt like they were waterskiing except they were riding the icy surface of the street. Buses were the best to catch because you would know they would be coming to a stop as soon as they got to the next bus stop; cars and trucks were trickier because you either had to wait until the vehicle came to a red light or was shortly coming to a parking space. The only other option was to let go in mid ride and hope you would not slide into anything hard. REMEMBERING THE FUN THEY HAD in doing this, they decided to give it a try. Waiting between parked cars just like they used to do before, crouched down with one person as the lookout, a bus turned the corner and was coming down the street. As it passed they ran out as best as they could with the slippery conditions and grabbed a hold of the bumper. Off they went hanging on the back of the bus. It brought back such good memories as their feet skimmed over the snow with the wind hitting them in the face. The buildings were passing by rapidly; they figured they must be traveling close to the speed limit. The next bus stop should be coming up soon they thought. Suddenly someone’s foot sunk into a pothole, throwing them off balance. She toppled over into the friend standing next to her and the two lost their grip on the bumper. They fell to the ground tumbling over each other. Luckily there was no one driving near them as they finally crashed into a parked car. Their clothes were dirty and wet, getting rip and torn in the process. Maybe skitching was a silly idea to have done in the first place. It was just as silly as some of the things I saw in this comedy. AFTER HER HUSBAND DECIDED TO leave her Deanna, played by Melissa McCarthy (The Boss, St. Vincent), decided to go back to college to finish her degree. It was the same college her daughter was attending; what could go wrong? With Gillian Jacobs (The Box, Community-TV) as Helen, Debby Ryan (Rip Tide, Jessie-TV) as Jennifer, Maya Rudolph (Away We Go, Sisters) as Christine and Julie Bowen (Joe Somebody, Modern Family-TV) as Marcie; I thought the idea for the story was admirable. There is no denying Melissa is one of the top comedic actresses with her timing and physicality; I did laugh at a few scenes. My issue with this movie was the script; it was getting sillier and sillier. I felt the writers were focusing most on making the audience laugh instead of keeping the story real, to go beyond the gags. With the pairing of Melissa and Maya, I felt there could have been more ground to cover in many scenes. Now I am not saying watching this movie would be a waste of your time. For some lighthearted, silly fare where you do not have to think much; this film may or may not bring back memories of your years in school.
BELIEVING IN A cause can be the start to making a change.Throughout history I remember studying multiple examples where groups of people have an affect on what has been the norm in their world. This will sound trite; but outside of my studies, the first time where I saw the results from a diverse crowd of people coming together to affect change was when there was a write-in campaign to keep a television show from being cancelled. What surprised me was the crowd’s dedication in the way they kept up the pressure on the TV network with their letters, calls and peaceful demonstrations. From the little exposure I had to this event, what I was most impressed with was the variety of people from all walks of life. There was no color barriers, no age discrimination; in other words, there was no labels associated with anyone except for their love of this particular television show. THEY SAY THERE is strength in numbers but I have not always seen that to be the case. Sometimes a smaller group can still affect change with their actions. I wish I could say it always produces a positive change but sadly that is not the case. As the years have gone by there seems to be more opinions about any and everything. It is nothing today for someone to not only have an opinion but share it freely with anyone who will listen…or not listen. I believe everyone has the right to have an opinion. The hard part is respecting it when it runs counter to one’s own thoughts on the subject. Putting that aside, I have mentioned in the past I did volunteer work for several organizations around my hometown. What always impressed me was the devotion the employees had for their common cause. How they all were on point and dedicated to make a positive change was an incredible feeling to experience. If you want to see what can happen when a diverse group comes together for a common cause then this sequel is for you. WHEN THEIR SOURCE of food gets blown up it is up to Surly, voiced by Will Arnett (Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles franchise, The Brothers Solomon), to find a new home for everyone. Unfortunately their new home was about to go through a radical change. This animated, adventure comedy also had Katherine Heigl (The Ugly Truth, Life as We Know It) as Andie, Maya Rudolph (Sisters, Friends with Kids) as Precious, Bobby Cannavale (Ant-Man, Chef) as Frankie and Jackie Chan (Rush Hour franchise, The Spy Next Door) as Mr. Feng. The cast was matched perfectly with their characters, but I have to say the best character for me was the Jackie Chan one. Regarding the story, it continued right where the first film left off. I was not a fan of the original movie and I have to tell you I enjoyed this sequel even less. The action just kept being thrown to us in a fast crazy pace, not allowing time to develop a decent scene of humor. All I felt was the writers were just tossing out idea after idea without any filtering. Overall I was bored since there was nothing different or special in this picture. I could appreciate the movie studio believing they were producing a decent product and I respect their opinion. But I was sorry I paid full price for this film. On the plus side the credits were fun to watch and there was an extra scene at the end of them.
1 1/2 stars
INTENTLY drawing on their construction paper the students were following the teacher’s assignment to draw a picture of their favorite animal. Each child had their own box of crayons; some had the bigger sized containers with more colors. The teacher was walking around the classroom, checking up on each student’s artwork. She would offer words of encouragement or ask a question or two about the animal. Walking up from behind she looked over the shoulder of a boy who was carefully working on something the teacher could not figure out. There was nothing on the paper that resembled an animal. The teacher asked the student what he was drawing and he gladly explained the scene he created on his paper. What he had drawn was an elaborate jungle scene, using a variety of brightly colored crayons. Off to the side barely visible were 2 eyes staring out; the boy said it was a tiger. The teacher told him that was not the assignment. TECHNICALLY the assignment was to draw your favorite animal; the student did just that, except had the animal hidden in the jungle. One could say the boy was very creative and in fact, encourage the continued use of his imagination. However the teacher did not see it that way. She liked everyone to conform to the same thing. To look at something a different way was not something the teacher was comfortable with evidently. Assignments were supposed to be followed according to what the teacher believed was the “right” way; in other words, the way she thought things were supposed to be done. Someone with imagination would not easily conform to restrictions; they would as they say, “think outside of the box.” Personally I feel it is always an advantage to have people around who see things differently than you do. This animated, adventure comedy knows what I am talking about. EVERYONE living in Textopolis has one facial feature that they hope gets picked by the phone’s user. Considered an anomaly was Gene, voiced by T.J. Miller (Deadpool, Office Christmas Party), who had more than one facial feature. With a cast that included James Corden (Into the Woods, The History Boys) as Hi-5, Anna Faris (The House Bunny, Mom-TV) as Jailbreak, Maya Rudolph (Bridesmaids, Sisters) as Smiler and Steven Wright (Reservoir Dogs, Son of the Mask) as Mel Meh; I thought the concept for the story was admirable regarding differences between people. From that idea to the big screen something got lost in translation because the script was bland and uninteresting. I could not get over how you make a film with colorful emojis and then do not offer them some excitement and fun. Overall there were no laughs or emotions to this picture. Not one child in the audience I was sitting with expressed any happiness towards a scene. At least the actors’ voices were fun to listen to, especially from James and Maya. Sadly out of all the emojis shown in the movie, the one that best describes my feelings about this film is “meh.” There was an extra scene in the middle of the credits.
1 ¾ stars
No matter how hard one tries to plan things out, life is always the ultimate decider. Take it from someone who does his best to plan everything to the minute (people can set their watches by me); life has a way of saying, “Not so fast there, here is something you can deal with first.” As I get older I am finally learning to let go and as they say, “Go with the flow.” This reminds me of a woman I knew who was married with 2 children. I met her husband only once or twice, but really did not know much about him since she rarely talked about him. They had been married for years and were quite settled as they were heading towards their senior years. According to her it came out of nowhere; her husband filed for divorce. She told me he did not want to be with her anymore; there was no other reason given for his decision. She was devastated by it. Here she thought she had most of her life planned out with her husband and now, as she would constantly say, she was alone. I told her that was not true; besides her children and friends, she may want to look at her situation as a place where she could redefine herself. Of course, I waited awhile before I expressed these thoughts at a time where I thought she would be more receptive to hearing them. And do you want to know something? She branched out and started trying new activities and meet up groups, where she eventually met someone who was as passionate as she was about dancing. They started going together to see ballet performances and enrolled in several dance classes; it was such a hoot to hear about this from her. She was happier than she had ever been before. Isn’t it funny how your version of life may not be what is in store for you? MAGGIE, played by Greta Gerwig (Frances Ha, Mistress America), had everything planned out it to become a single parent. That is until she met John, played by Ethan Hawke (Born to be Blue, Good Kill). This film festival nominated comedic drama had a wonderful cast of actors. Along with Greta and Ethan there was Julianne Moore (Seventh Son, Still Alice) as Georgette and Bill Hader (They Came Together, Trainwreck) as Tony; each one made their role memorable, but I have to say Greta was incredible. I found this romantic story to be intelligent and quirky at the same time. It had adult conversation coming from messed up people, making them more real to me. There were a few scenes that I felt did not work, besides one story line that seemed odd to me. It is not easy to blend comedy and drama but the script pulled it off; the humor was more of an amusement level than a laugh out loud one. For me this film simply felt like a slice of life, where I could just sit and watch someone else’s drama without feeling like I needed to participate and be supportive.
Sitting up on a shelf in the pantry sits a platter that has special significance for me. There is nothing special about it if one is just looking at it. With its edges bordered by two small bands of gold and burgundy that have formed minute cracks over all these years and a multi-colored rosette at its center, this platter reminds me of the home I grew up in. It was only used on special occasions, being the vessel that carried out the main course for all sitting around the dining room table to devour. Besides this platter I have two other items in my possession from my childhood; a pair of scissors and a candle holder. I know what you must be thinking, such random items. You are correct they are random but each one of them comes with very distinct memories from my youth. Since then I have lived in several places yet, what I believe would be true for most people, that first one’s memories are the most vibrant in my mind. So much had happened there that formed the person I am today. From the neighbors to my friends from the block, it was essentially growing up with an extra large family. Was I sad when the time came to move out from it? You bet it was, however it never left from inside of me. Certain things I did to the next place were done in such a way to mimic those things left behind. Looking back, the transition may have started out hard but it was not as traumatic as it was for the sisters in this comedy. Coming home to visit their parents sisters Maura and Kate Ellis, played by Amy Poehler (They Came Together, Parks and Reactions-TV) and Tina Fey (Muppets Most Wanted, Admission), discovered the home they grew up in was up for sale. Before the house was to be sold the sisters decided they had to do something that would create an everlasting memory. There is no denying Tina and Amy work extremely well together; they have so much history between them. Besides them and some of their old cast mates from SNL like Maya Rudolph (Bridesmaids, Grown Ups franchise) as Brinda, there was Dianne Wiest (Footloose, I Am Sam) and James Brolin (Catch Me if You Can, Marcus Welby, M.D.-TV) as Deana and Bucky Ellis. All the actors were fine for this picture. But I have to tell you this movie was a mixed bag. There was a mixture of fun zaniness, witty sarcastic dialog and off the wall humor; however, there were stretches where things became crude and silly. I did not think the story was all that original. It was easy to figure out what sight gag was about to happen or joke told. Because of who the two main stars were, this film needed a much stronger script. I did not have a problem leaving the theater after the movie ended.
Someone, please hand me a breath mint because I still have a bad taste in my mouth from this wretched film. Usually a sequel will show some kind of growth for its characters, but not this one. Coincidently, I recently attended my high school reunion. Visiting with former classmates was real special. We shared memories and laughed at some of the crazy things we did while attending school. The thing that separated us from the characters in this movie is we grew up. The closest I found to a story line in this celluloid catastrophe was Lenny Feder, played by Adam Sandler (The Waterboy, Happy Gilmore), moved his family back to his hometown, where he grew up with his old friends Eric, Kurt and Marcus; played by Kevin James (Here Comes the Boom, Paul Blart: Mall Cop), Chris Rock (Head of State, Down to Earth) and David Spade (The Benchwarmers, Tommy Boy). The lack of a story made for a dull series of infantile jokes and gags; some that had no relevance to what the characters were doing. In fact, I found some of the jokes offensive. With Adam being credited as one of the writers, all I can tell you is the writing was lazy. It seemed as if the characters were thrown into the story just to give Adam’s friends a job. What I did not understand is why someone like Steve Buscemi (Rampart, Boardwalk Empire-TV) would agree to do a cameo as Wiley. I thought he was successful and making decent money. As for some of the other actors in cameo appearances, it was obvious they needed a paycheck. There was nothing I found redeeming about this film. I did not find anything funny about people with flatulence or indigestion. There are two reasons why I gave an extra 1/4 star to my rating of this so called comedy. The first has to do with the cast. Without naming names, this film is doing taxpayers a favor because it included several actors who would otherwise be collecting unemployment benefits. The second reason is for the complete shock I had that Rob Schneider (The Hot Chick, Deuce Bigalow franchise) was not part of the cast.
1 1/4 stars
My tongue instinctively brushed the surface of my teeth looking for my braces that were made from the shiniest metal on the planet. I had to check my face to see if any angry pimples were about to burst out from under my skin. Then there was the vision of me seeing the first wave of facial hair spreading across my face like a brewing storm, warning me of the impending turmoil of adolescence that was coming over me. All of those awkward and confused moments swirled up from my pooled memories while I sat and watched this wonderful, coming of age film. Liam James (Fred Claus, 2012) was perfect playing the 14 year old character Duncan. A simple look from him easily conveyed those embarrassing emotions we all felt at one time or another during our adolescent years. Duncan was stuck going with his mother Pam, played by Toni Collette (Little Miss Sunshine, United States of Tara-TV) and her overbearing boyfriend Trent, played by Steve Carell (Seeking a Friend for the End of the World, Get Smart) to Trent’s summer home during summer vacation. Uncomfortable with his surroundings, Duncan found refuge at a run down water park managed by the kid like Owen, played by Sam Rockwell (Moon, Seven Psychopaths) and his wife Caitlin, played by Maya Rudolph (Grown Ups, Bridesmaids). This was one of the best performances I have seen from Sam; his character was crazy and memorable. I loved the unexpectedness of this poignant film. Everyone’s acting was so strong and realistic; Allison Janney (Juno, Liberal Arts) was hilarious as Trent’s alcoholic neighbor Betty. The script offered up such ideal lines, I actually felt a bond forming between me and several of the characters. After experiencing many memories from my youth during this film, a shadow of my adolescence remained behind as I walked out of the theater.
3 1 /3 stars
Age can be any number you want it to be. When you think about it, where is it written that you have to act a certain way because of your age? I try to encourage my students to enjoy the moment without worrying what someone else might think of them. Deep down I am a kid at heart and I allow that little boy inside of me to come out periodically and play. It was for that reason I thought this DVD would be fun to rent. The cast consisted of some reliable comedic talent such as Chris Rock (Down to Earth, Head of State) and Maya Rudolph (Bridesmaids, Friends With Kids). On the other hand since this was an Adam Sandler (Big Daddy, Reign Over Me) movie I knew Rob Schneider (The Animal, The Hot Chick) would be part of the cast. It must be Adam’s good deed to keep Rob employed and off the streets. The story was about a group of friends who after many years return to their childhood home, to attend their old basketball coach’s funeral. After so long carrying the responsibilities that came with being an adult, could the friends reconnect like they did as kids? This comedy puzzled me. How was it that each actor individually could excel at their craft, but put together they were not funny? The script was tired and predictable with lame jokes and simple sight gags. Salma Hayek (Frida, Here Comes the Boom) and Kevin James (Zookeeper, Here Comes the Boom) added very little with their roles. I think what it comes down to is Adam sticks to the formula he created in pumping out these movies with low brow humor. There was nothing horrible in this film; it just did not do anything for me. If you need some mindless entertainment after a rough day, then this would be the ideal movie to sit back and watch. There must have been a lot of people who needed to sit back and relax because the movie studio is working on a sequel. You have been warned.
1 3/4 stars — DVD