NO matter how hard one works it seems as if that finish line keeps moving further away. I am referring to those plans put in place for retirement. Besides the big element of the “unknown,” the unexpected expense, it seems as if the rules and the times keep changing faster to any adjustments one tries to execute. The age of 65 used to be the goal line for retirement; now it gets pushed back depending on the year one is born. There is a grocery store I occasionally use that has a couple of small sections put aside for clearance items. One of them is in the produce section of the store and I have to tell you it is hard sometimes to watch the elderly shoppers pouring over the bruised or wrinkled fruits and vegetables, looking for one that would still be edible. I wonder what my retirement will be like when I am on a fixed income; would I be one of those shoppers looking for a bargain that potentially could make me ill? AS my friends and I grow older our conversations about are retirement years has increased. Some amongst us have multiple insurance policies to cover a variety of scenarios; others have focused on savings that they will be able to draw on once they are no longer working. One of the big concerns we all share is whether we will be able to still live independently, under our own roofs. No one in my circle of friends has had something good to say about nursing homes unless they had a super wealthy relative, who could afford one of those luxury retirement communities set up like a condominium building. They would have to buy the apartment outright and when they died the living space would revert back to the association. Since none of my friends or me could afford such an arrangement, we have come up with some creative ways on how we could take care of each other. I will tell you the option that was chosen in this comedic crime film never occurred to any of us. RETIRED friends Joe, Willie and Albert; played by Michael Caine (Inception, Batman Begins franchise), Morgan Freeman (Driving Miss Daisy, The Dark Knight franchise) and Alan Arkin (Get Smart, Argo); were falling deeper into debt. After witnessing a crime, Joe got an idea that would solve all three friends’ money issues. Directed by Zach Braff (Garden State, Scrubs-TV), the only reason to see this film is to watch these three actors, along with Christopher Lloyd (Back to the Future franchise, Taxi-TV) as Milton and Ann-Margaret (Grumpy Old Men, Any Given Sunday) as Annie, working together. It would have been more interesting to watch them if the script had not stayed on the light side; the humor and emotional parts were rather wishy-washy. Putting aside my dilemma with celebrating crime situations, I thought the lead up story was a good motivator for the action. When the film came to an end I was left with the same feelings I had with yesterday’s picture, just a sense of “blah.” In my opinion it was a crime to have used these actors for such an uninspired script.
One of the benefits for me in living close to a large metropolitan city is to have easy access to the old historical structures that are still standing. I have always enjoyed seeing buildings from different style periods and eras such as Frank Lloyd Wright to Art Deco. The detailing on these buildings is something you rarely see these days. Now there are many modern structures that I find beautiful; in fact, there is a relatively new high rise building here that has series of balconies in different sizes to give the illusion of water cascading down the sides of the skyscraper. No matter where I travel I always try to find time to check out a place’s famous buildings; there is just something about these majestic structures that amaze me. Maybe part of it is due to the fact they are viable and still standing compared to some of the new buildings I have seen that already show decay. I may have mentioned some time ago my favorite movie theater growing up. It was one of those old stucco structures with a large colored marquee in front. Inside there was marble everywhere and all the porcelain and gold decorations were styled after actual objects found in churches, villas and palaces across Spain and Italy. I cannot describe the sadness I experienced when years later the land underneath the theater was purchased and the new owners demolished the structure. What replaced this grand theater was a monstrosity, an apartment building with retail stores. As for a new theater one was built several miles away; it was a cinder block, square structure void of any decorative appointments. Supposedly the candy counter had a bigger selection of candy and they claimed the popcorn was better. There are some things that should not be touched; they are perfectly fine just the way they are. BETRAYED and imprisoned for several years Judah Ben-Hur, played by Jack Huston (American Hustle, The Longest Ride), returned home to seek out revenge on the person who ruined his life; it was his adopted brother Messala Severus, played by Toby Kebbell (Fantastic Four, The East). This adventure drama remake also starred Morgan Freeman (London Has Fallen, Now You See Me franchise) as Ilderim, Rodrigo Santoro (300 franchise, Pele: Birth of a Legend) as Jesus and Sofia Black-D’Elia (The Immigrant, Project Almanac) as Tirzah Ben-Hur. CGI was the main tool used to freshen up this story. It was needed because I thought the script was just a mess. Some of the dialog was ridiculous and out of place for the time period. As for acting it was bland except I did not mind Morgan’s character even though it was similar to many of his other roles. He plays this sensible, mild spoken character who knows more than anyone else. Reading the credits there were two names listed I recognized that have produced other films; each one of their movies was poorly done in my opinion. It explains why this production was no different. You have to know if the horses are even trying to run out of the story then something must be terribly wrong with this picture.
1 ¾ stars
There are people who live to work; there are other people who work to live. I fall into the latter category. The jobs I have are only a portion of who I am; they do not completely define me. The top 2 responses I get from people when I tell them I am a credit manager is either I must be a mean man or they would be afraid to show me their credit score. Neither statement could be further from the truth; it just so happens this is what I do during the day as is teaching cycling and yoga at night. There is much more in my life besides theses jobs. Now I know there are individuals who define themselves by what they do for a living. I find it humorous when someone announces their job title as if they are landed gentry or royalty. On the other hand I recently was talking to someone who was under stress because they could not let go of their job once they clocked out for the day. Their sleep was being affected, grinding their teeth to the point of waking up with severe pain in their jaw. The lack of sleep was making them sluggish throughout the day, causing their work to back up to the following day which was adding more stress and so on. It was becoming a vicious cycle. I do understand for some folk they love what they do, so their career shares the same space as their life. However, if one begins to lose their identity this could lead to the breakdown of boundaries between personal and business dealings. To see this all you have to do is take a look at the occupation of the main character in this action thriller. FLYING to London to attend the prime minister’s funeral President Benjamin Asher, played by Aaron Eckhart (My All American, Thank You for Smoking), and his team found themselves in the middle of a world catastrophe that was planned especially for him. This sequel had returning cast members Morgan Freeman (Dolphin franchise, The Dark Knight franchise) as Vice President Trumbull and Angela Bassett (Malcom X, American Horror Story-TV) as Lynne Jacobs. The chase and fight scenes were intense; I especially enjoyed the one involving the President’s helicopter. When it came to the script I found it dreadful, filled with ridiculous prejudiced comments and generic catchphrases. For a crime movie all this picture provided was fight scene after fight scene for the most part. And something that I found to be the most unrealistic about these scenes were how in the middle of all these bullets flying around only the “bad” guys were getting hit but none of the good ones. It adds phoniness to the film in my opinion. The idea behind the story was interesting; unfortunately it just turned into a lame action picture. To tell you the truth the whole thing felt like the writers went on automatic to create this script.
1 3/4 stars
Living amongst them daily I am not always conscious of their significance. It is when someone is over to my place and asks about something hanging up on a wall or sitting on a surface that I experience the memory associated to that particular item. To the average person my home looks like a hodgepodge of different pieces of art and objects; but to me, each one has a story about my life. There is a large woven basket that sits next to an easy chair that I bought from a little non-profit store in Charleston, South Carolina. All the items in the store were made by disadvantaged women from third world countries, who were trying to improve their lives my selling their wares. That alone was enough reason for me to buy something at the store; however, I wanted something to remind me about the fantastic road trip I was taking through the southern United States. On a coffee table sits a turquoise vase that was originally placed on layaway by someone I was dating some time ago. I called the store and paid for it, asking the salesperson to call the phone number on the receipt and tell them the vase was accidentally knocked off the shelf and broke into pieces. It was a few minutes after the store must have called them when they called me to complain about the store’s incompetency. I never let on I knew, keeping the vase for a couple of months, until I wrapped it up and gave it to them for the holidays. I was greeted with several words I cannot print here. So you see I love having all of the things around me and their memories. I do not know how I could ever part with them, just like the couple in this dramatic movie. AFTER many years living in their Brooklyn apartment with the great view Ruth and Alex Carver, played by Diane Keaton (Mad Money, The Family Stone) and Morgan Freeman (Now You See Me, Driving Miss Daisy), felt it was time to downsize and move to a place more conducive for an older couple. They soon discovered there were challenges to moving 40 years worth of stuff. I wished I would have enjoyed this film more because the two actors separately were wonderful, though I did not feel much chemistry between them. The script was lame; quite predictable and cliched; the two actors needed more depth to their characters. It was a shame because I enjoyed the flashback segments of a younger Ruth and Alex at the beginning of what would be their long term relationship. And obviously I appreciated the acknowledgement of one’s memories associated to inanimate items. Too bad the memory I have of this picture is not very good.
1 3/4 stars
A grocery store is the perfect example to show you. Within the store the aisles are broken down into categories. As you walk down let us say aisle 3 you find boxes of cereal, each with its own colorful markings to entice you like proud fan-tailed peacocks. Those boxes are grouped together by manufacturers; however, if you keep pushing your cart down the aisle you will find boxes of cereal that have different packaging but the contents are similar to the first group of cereals you passed. You see each box has something in common; except for a slight difference in its properties, every kind of cereal starts out with some type of grain. After the grain is chosen a variety of ingredients are mixed in with the grains. Depending on the amounts, the cooking time and the molds; the cereals will have varying degrees of sweetness, color, shape and texture. Despite these differences all cereals (Yes, I know I am being kind here) provide the same thing: nourishment. It is the same way I think of human beings. Our outer surfaces may vary from person to person, but our insides come with the same common organs such as lungs, liver and heart; though I have come across some individuals where I questioned if they really had a heart. All I am saying is our bodies are simply rented vehicles to keep our true essence contained within us. To judge someone solely based on what they look like is at the very least abhorrently repugnant to me. BACK in 1997 actor Morgan Freeman (The Dark Knight franchise, The Bucket List) made an offer to the Charleston, Mississippi school board; he would pay all the expenses if the board agreed to have only one prom for the high school seniors. Up until that time the high school held 2 proms, one for its white students and one for the black students. The school board turned Morgan down. In 2008 Morgan, who grew up in Charleston, returned to town to present his offer again. This film festival winning documentary showed what happened when Morgan met with the school board about his proposal. Maybe I am naive but I was stunned while watching this film. I know the world is filled with discrimination; but to see it at the school level, a place of higher learning, was startling for me. Incorporating interviews with the parents, students and officials helped to keep the story moving forward in an important way. I not only felt this movie was worth watching, I also enjoyed being reminded of my own prom; the difference being I did not have to dress up in a tuxedo.
3 stars — DVD
I cannot imagine how even the coldest of hearts can stay frozen when those set of eyes look to you for love and guidance. One of the purest things on Earth is the unconditional eyes of a baby or pet staring up at you. When I started out in college my courses were for veterinary science. I wound up looking into the eyes of a variety of animals. There was the horse that had a mischievous glint in his eye, who would toss up strands of hay every time I entered her stall. One of my professors would bring in one of his dogs that always found a comfortable spot by my feet whenever she wanted to take a nap. No matter what type of animal I encountered, I was always fascinated with their eyes; imagining how they see the world around us. From my limited observations I narrowed down the different looks in their eyes to the following: fondness, food, fear, fun and sadness. One of the hardest things for me was looking into the sad eyes of an animal; without knowing the reason why I always felt helpless. EYES played an important part in this dramatic sequel. Winter, the dolphin with the prosthetic tail, had been living a full life at the Clearwater Marine Hospital until her companion passed away. It was of paramount importance that Dr. Clay Haskett, played by Harry Connick Jr (New in Town, P.S. I Love You) and his team find a new companion for the dolphin if she was going to continue to survive at the hospital. This family film was pretty much as wholesome as a movie could be. There was nothing surprising for me as the story was straight forward and quite predictable. I do not mean to say this was a poor film; it was just a simple story inspired by true events. The cast that included Ashley Judd (Divergent, Kiss the Girls) as Lorraine Nelson, Morgan Freeman (Lucy, Now You See Me) as Dr. Cameron McCarthy and Nathan Gamble (The Mist, Marley & Me) as Sawyer were all back for this continuation of Winter’s tale. At times the script veered into hokey territory for my tastes; however, I do not think young children would care or even notice. The acting was okay; as I said earlier, there really is nothing negative to say about this film. For the most part it was innocuous light fare. If nothing else I hope people would walk away from this movie with a deeper respect and understanding towards the animals who live among us.
2 1/4 stars
It is funny; I originally planned to start this review out talking about the times where too much education may not be a good thing. When overhearing two people talk about their health issues and I can tell they are not aware what their symptoms mean but I do, makes me feel sad for them. Living in a highly litigative society has forced manufacturers to list every conceivable symptom or warning on their products these days, to the point where I do not want to think about all the possibilities how something could go wrong if I use or ingest their product. So instead of this movie review taking that path I prefer steering it towards my belief that education has a direct affect on one’s quality of life. I believe once a person stops learning, they stop growing and their mind begins to narrow into a stagnant state. There is my friend who is the assistant principle of an alternative school where the student body consists of students who were expelled or dropped out from their previous school. This school is their last chance and she does everything she can to show these kids the possibilities they could have by staying in school, acquiring knowledge. When one has an education there is nothing that can stop them from achieving their full potential. PROOF of this can be found in this crazy science fiction film. Scarlett Johansson (Don Jon, We Bought a Zoo) played Lucy, a woman who found herself the victim of an international drug plot. However, as she began to acquire knowledge Lucy was able to fight back and take control of her destiny. Written and directed by Luc Besson (The Family, Taken franchise), this action movie made little sense. As long as you knew that going in then the film was just fun to watch. The main reason for this was due to Scarlett Johansson; she was great in the role. I especially enjoyed the way she had a no-nonsense approach; in essence, turning the character into a strong female leading role. In a perfect match of casting the producers had Morgan Freeman (Million Dollar Baby, Last Vegas) play Professor Norman. He was the grounding force to this otherwise silly film. The last part of the story was the most ridiculous for me; I found it so unbelievable. Considering the story, I do not know why I should be so surprised. In spite of all the looniness I do believe this film will make Scarlett even more bankable than she was before; she is very smart with her film choices. There was blood and violence throughout the movie.
2 1/2 stars
I would not say it is an irrational fear; it is more of a mistrust I have of computers. Sure when they do what they are supposed to do they can be wonderful; but, when they do not function properly, they can be a nightmare. I do not understand how a computer can follow the same procedure ever day then all of a sudden one day it cannot perform it. This drives me crazy. I used to work at a company where the corporate offices did very little of their daily requirements on a computer. The owner never wanted to see the departments’ routines come to a standstill due to a power outage or computer virus. I could understand the reasoning behind such actions because I have worked at companies where their entire operations were done by computers. It made things easier in some ways but when the computers would go down, the entire company would come to a complete stop. Do not get me wrong, computers certainly have enhanced our lives; but at what cost? This dramatic mystery movie delved into the possibilities of what the computer could do to elevate the life of mankind. Johnny Depp (The Lone Ranger, The Tourist) played Will Caster, one of the most respected researchers in the field of artificial intelligence. With his wife Evelyn and fellow researcher Max Waters, played by Rebecca Hall (Closed Circuit, The Prestige) and Paul Bettany (Margin Call, Inkheart), working alongside him; Will was working to create a machine that would have self-awareness. There would be no limits to the advancements that would benefit mankind…or would there be? This science fiction movie had a sharp, cool look to it. I liked the premiss of the story and felt it was relevant since we now have operating systems that verbally communicate with us. The cast which also included Morgan Freeman (Last Vegas, Million Dollar Baby) as Joseph Tagger and Kate Mara (Transsiberian, The Open Road) as Bree were solid but the script did not allow them to excel at their craft. Johnny Depp was actually the weak one out of the group. There were some parts, like Bree’s scenes with members of her gang, that did not make much sense due to the lack of back story. I thought the director’s pacing in this film was quite poor; I sat through passages where I was just bored. One could say this film created by humans was ironic since it had the emotions of a computer.
1 3/4 stars
It does not come with batteries nor does it need to run with any other power source. What I am referring to is our imagination and creativity. From the back porch of the 3rd floor apartment I grew up in, I could see to the end of the block. Each backyard was a different kingdom in my fantasy world. Taking empty plastic dishwasher bottles with their push-up tops, I would fill them up with water and they would become bombs I would use to protect my castle. When I had to go on a fact-finding mission, I would use the back alleys covered with gravel to cover my tracks. During these missions I would hold out a ballpoint pen at arm’s length, turning it into a spaceship that was protecting me from any enemy missiles. I could spend hours outside coming up with several activities that were fueled by my imagination; some incorporated my friends while others had to be done secretly by me. The creativity coming out of the writers’ imagination for this animated action comedy reminded me so much of my childhood. I believe everyone could relate to something in this fun film. Chris Pratt (Her, Wanted) voiced happy-go-lucky Emmet Brickowoski who loved everything he did in his structured life. One day an unusual misstep brought him in contact with Wyldstyle, voiced by Elizabeth Banks (The Hunger Games franchise, People Like Us), who mistakenly believed he was the chosen one to save the world from the evil Lord Business, voiced by Will Ferrell (Stranger Than Fiction, Step Brothers). The kaleidoscopic explosion of colors, rapid fire comments and crazy scenes kept me on my toes; in fact, I feel I need to see this movie again because I felt I was missing some of the details. I understand the cast did their recordings together instead of the usual way of each actor being by themselves in the recording booth. It made a difference in my opinion; there was a stronger fluidity to the verbal exchanges. Will Arnett (Blades of Glory, Arrested Development-TV) as Batman/Bruce Wayne, Liam Neeson (Schindler’s List, Taken franchise) as Bad Cop/Good Cop and Morgan Freeman (Million Dollar Baby, Now You See Me) as Vitruvius were just a few of the voices that stood out for me. There was so much that was good about this film that I do not feel I even have to tell you about the minor stuff. The bottom line for me was this movie took a familiar product and with a big dose of imagination provided me the opportunity to have a fun time while recalling some fond memories from my youth.
3 1/4 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.