I WASN’T AWARE GROWING UP THAT everyone essentially looked the same. Sure, there was different hair and eye colors and I had more poundage on me than most of the kids in the neighborhood who were my age; but essentially, there was nothing blatantly out of the norm. Everyone was or appeared to be in the same socio-economic class. It was not until the middle school years when changes started taking place in the neighborhood. A family had moved in that caused a slight ripple in the fabric of my world. The children were dressed differently compared to the other children in school. It was not like a traditional garb from a foreign country or religion; their clothes were not things you could find in any of the local stores in the area. Instead, the clothes looked homemade. Not that this was a bad thing; it simply made them standout from the other students in school. What I remember most were the lunches they would eat. Where most kids ate a sandwich or brought a cold leftover from home; this family’s siblings had what I would refer to as exotic foods. They had little cups that had various dips in them, along with salad ingredients. Rarely did I ever see them eat a sandwich made with white bread. I wasn’t judging them; I was just curious about their food choices. As far as I knew, no one ever made fun of them. THE FAMILY REMAINED IN THE NEIGHBORHOOD for only a few years. I thought they were fortunate because as the neighborhood continued changing, people’s attitudes started to have a hostile edge to them. I experienced some of it because I was overweight; but there were other students in high school who became targets of students who had extreme views. Their behavior was abusive, and I call it abuse because it always had either a mental or physical angle to it that was always hurtful. There was one student who was short with facial features that were too big for their face. They could be walking down the hallway between classes and get smacked in the back of the head by an unknown assailant. I was called names and experienced physical altercations. School started feeling like a competition; if you could get through the day without being abused or called a nasty name you were a winner. All of this was due to the apparent differences between each of us. The way I saw it, one had to fit into the majority; otherwise, they would be banished to the outskirts of social interactions. It is a topic that remains relevant today, even for the unique family in this animated, comedic family movie. TIRED OF EXPERIENCING HOSTILITY FROM THEIR neighbors, the Addams family found what appeared to be an abandoned building in an idyllic location. However, their differences would eventually leave their mark on the citizens. With Oscar Isaac (Life Itself, Star Wars franchise) voicing Gomez Addams, Charlize Theron (Long Shot, Atomic Blonde) voicing Morticia Addams, Chloe Grace Moretz (Let Me In, The 5thWave) voicing Wednesday Addams, Finn Wolfhard (It franchise, Stranger Things-TV) voicing Pugsley Addams and Nick Kroll (Uncle Drew, My Blind Brother) voicing Uncle Fester; I stumbled upon the Addams family when I found a book of Charles Addams’ cartoons on a bookstore shelf many years ago. There was a darkness to them; however, it was always displayed in a kind and quirky way. The cast in this film was excellent with voicing their characters. However, I found the script to be mild and not funny at all. Many of the jokes were corny and predictable, though the animation was fine. There was nothing new on display and by the time the script dealt with the true focus of the story, it was quick and lackluster. By that time, I did not care much about the picture as I had to fight from nodding off. I wish the writers would have followed the television show’s theme song and produce something less bland.
THERE WAS A PERIOD OF TIME long ago, when I was heavy into reading detective/crime novels, where I thought I might want to become a detective. I am certain the seed was planted in me by the Hardy Boys. There was a detective’s handbook I had gotten my hands on that I think I had read at least twice. One chapter of the book was devoted to the skills needed to be able to follow someone undetected. The following chapter talked about what steps a person should do to avoid capture. I still remember the first rule to avoid capture was to never take the same route on consecutive days. Whether by foot, public transportation or car; one should mix up their travel plans daily. After I had nearly memorized the handbook I spent one summer trailing different people in the neighborhood. It sounds silly now, but back then I thought if I could follow people and go unnoticed then it was a sign that I should pursue studies in criminology. What I discovered during that summer was people were certainly creatures of habit. The people I tailed followed the same course on a weekly basis. An elderly woman who rolled a shopping cart behind her always went to the butcher on Thursdays and the laundromat on Tuesdays. WHEN YOU THINK ABOUT IT DON’T most people fall into some type of routine in their daily lives? Speaking for myself, I find comfort when I follow a routine. No joke, people at the office can set their watches based on where I am and what I am doing. It takes a certain mindset because I know some individuals who would go crazy if they had to follow a set routine. I used to work with a salesperson who could not stand coming into the office to take care of paperwork. What they enjoyed about sales was the fact that each day would be at a different location, have a different set of circumstances and be among a different group of individuals. Anytime they were in the office they would start to get antsy within a couple of hours. I am not judging but there is no way I could handle such a schedule. The closest I came to it was when I headed a crew of furniture movers; but even there, I was the one who would plan out the week’s deliveries, having a little control over my schedule. In the case of the main characters in this historical drama, routine was necessary if the mission was going to be successful. AFTER WORLD WAR II THERE was one man that was credited with being the architect of the Holocaust and his name was Adolph Eichmann. Though there was no proof he survived the war, secret agents were determined to hunt down any clue. With Oscar Isaac (Star Wars franchise, The Promise) as Peter Malkin, Ben Kingsley (An Ordinary Man, Security) as Adolph Eichmann, Melanie Laurent (Beginners, My Son) as Hanna Elian, Nick Kroll (Uncle Drew, Adult Beginners) as Rafi Eitan and Lior Raz (The Kindergarten Teacher, Fauda-TV) as Isser Harel; this biographical thriller’s cast was excellent. They made the story come alive, though it took some work because the script started out way too slow and needed more depth to it. I enjoyed the last half of the movie more than the first; though I was fascinated with the agents’ plot which kept me engaged all the way through the picture. Granted I do not know how much of the story in this film was factual; but with a little more intensity and drama this script would have come up to join the cast’s high level of acting and make for a thrilling movie.
2 ¾ stars
WE WERE LINED UP IN a single row, one behind the other. The gym teacher handed the basketball to the first boy, telling him to take a shot at the hoop. I looked up at the basketball hoop, with its netting that looked like something a fisherman had dragged through the ocean; it was ragged and gray as it lifelessly hung down. The first boy missed the hoop so he had to hand over the basketball to the next student standing in line. The 2nd boy made a basket which meant he got to take another turn. It was a simple game; for every basket a student made they could take another turn, otherwise hand off the ball to the next boy in line. My only experience playing with a basketball before was with my friends for a game called Horse. I had no desire to get involved with any type of competition that involved a ball at school; because, I had seen just how competitive and mean students were when they competed with each other. The student who was not as skilled as his teammates would be ridiculed and abused outside of the eyes and ears of the gym teacher. LIVING IN A CITY THAT HAD a famous, winning basketball team you would think I would have gotten into the sport; you would be incorrect. I enjoyed watching the game but have never gone out of my way to devote time to sitting and watching it on TV. The players’ athletic abilities astound me, as well as their showmanship; that was about it for me. I may have mentioned this before but I have a hard time accepting the fact that athletes get paid millions of dollars for playing with a ball, while school teachers barely get by on their salaries and they are molding the minds of children. Now I am aware how team sports activities lend themselves to the bonds players form with each other. In high school the guys on the football or baseball team were inseparable; that was not necessarily the case for those on the debate or chess teams. It was rare to see a single football player walking down the school’s hallway without a buddy alongside of him. I am not judging this by the way; I think it is great when a student feels like they belong to something because I am aware of those who did not feel like they belonged. Let me tell you it is a whole different experience for the outsider. The proof can be found in this sport comedy film. DRIVEN BY THE NEED TO SUCCEED due to a childhood basketball game incident Dax, played by Lil Rel Howery (Get Out, The Carmichael Show-TV) is determined to win the neighborhood basketball tournament. However when Mookie, played by Nick Kroll (Adult Beginners, My Blind Brother), steals Dax’ star basketball player; Dax is forced to seek out the basketball legend Uncle Drew, played by Kyrie Irving. Upon meeting him Dax has no idea how an old, white haired man could possibly play the game. With Tiffany Haddish (Girls Trip, Meet the Spartans) as Jess, Erica Ash (Scary Movie 5, Survivor’s Remorse-TV) as Maya and Shaquille O’Neal (Steel, Kazaam) as Big Fella; it has been established I am not a big fan of basketball. The script started out slow for me, along with its easy predictability. What kept my interest through this picture, believe it or not, was the basketball playing. I was amazed by the “senior” basketball players’ skills; they were fun to watch. The jokes and humor were nothing special; but for this light fare it was fine. And because of the basketball playing on display in this film I have a new appreciation for the game of basketball.
2 ½ stars
HAVING children less than 4 years apart in age, I asked how he was preparing for the overlapping college costs. When I was growing up I do not think parents thought as much about it as they do now. When I hear how much tuition costs currently, I cannot imagine how a family can navigate the burden of putting their kids through school. I used to work with a woman who had 6 children; each one was 2 years apart in age. If you do the math, she would have multiple financial costs of college weighing down on her for years. Maybe she expected all of her kids to get scholarships, but I so wanted to ask her how she was going to pay for all the schooling. Since it was none of my business I was not going to pry. There are adults I know who are still paying off their student loans even though they have been out of college for 20-30 years. UNLESS the child invents the latest computer app or web service becoming a millionaire and skipping college, many parents are left to come up with creative ways they and their children can meet their financial obligations. Now I realize not every child will go to college; in my circle of friends and family it was a given that we all had to continue our education after high school. I knew one parent who worked 2 jobs during the week and a part time job on the weekend to help defray the college costs. There are several families I know who steer their children to a 2 year college for an associate’s degree to complete the basic required courses; afterwards, they transfer to a 4 year university to complete their studies. By doing this their costs are less than going directly to a 4 year accredited school. I have heard of a variety of options parents have employed to save money for their children’s college costs, but I have never heard of the idea the parents in this comedy came up with to put their child through school. AFTER spending their daughter’s college funds parents Kate and Scott Johansen, played by Amy Poehler (Sisters, Mean Girls) and Will Ferrell (The Other Guys, Daddy’s Home), needed to come up with a way they could put their daughter through school. Thanks to their friend Frank, played by Jason Mantzoukas (Dirty Grandpa, The Dictator), there was a way the couple could swing it. This comedy also starred Ryan Simpkins (A Single Man, Revolutionary Road) as Alex Johansen and Nick Kroll (My Blind Brother, Parks and Recreation-TV) as Bob. I will say the idea to raise college money was creative; I was curious to see how it would play out in the story. There were a couple of laughs that came out of the script; however, for the rest of the script I was not getting into it. The acting was nearly non-existent from Amy and Will. They were no different from any of their other characters including their stints on Saturday Night Live. Making rude or vulgar comments usually do not lead to laughs and this script was no exception. Adding in the high level of predictability, I was bored most of the time. I hope this does not come across as rude but the people associated with this dud need to be schooled on how to create a smart, fun comedy. No passing grade for this one.
1 ½ stars
THE first time I heard that word being hurled at me I knew it would not be the last time. What I did not know was once a person was labeled by that word, no matter what they achieved, most of their peers would still only see a f-a-t person. Around the same time I remember a classroom discussion about race. A little boy in class asked the teacher why some people’s skin was a different color. I still recall what the teacher said to us. She told the class all it meant was that person’s family, from a very long time ago, was born in a different part of the world. The closer to the equator, the darker the person’s skin would be is how she described it. This bit of information turned into a game outside of class, where students would guess where a person’s grandparents were born based on the color of the skin on a person. NOW fast forward to high school my freshman year; we heard a rumor there was a time when girls were not allowed to wear pants in school. You can imagine how astonished we were on this bit of news. It turned out it was true; if you were female then you had to wear a skirt or dress to school. I could not understand what possible reason did the administration have for such a ridiculous rule. Past my school years when I was living in the city in my first apartment, I was walking down the street. Two guys were walking in my direction but I did not pay attention since there was a variety of shoppers on the street. Just as we were coming shoulder to shoulder the guy closest to me punched me in the face and I staggered back into a plate glass window. Either they did it for some initiation or they just did not like the way I looked. For 2 1/2 decades I had experienced actions based on looks, why was there such a preoccupation with it? MILDRED and Richard, played by Ruth Nega (World War Z, The Samaritan) and Joel Egerton (The Gift, Black Mass), were deeply in love. Their love however was not right according to some of their neighbors. Based on a true story this dramatic biography set during the 1950s in Virginia had such an important story to tell. With Marton Csokas (The Lord of the Rings franchise, The Equalizer) as Sheriff Brooks and Nick Kroll (Adult Beginners; I Love You, Man) as Bernie Cohen, the actors were all good; however, Joel and Ruth were incredible and Ruth deserves an Oscar nomination. For this story I felt the script could have done a better job in telling the story. I wanted to know how Mildred and Richard met considering the obvious racial divide that was on display. There was a subdued nature to the telling of this story, both the written word and the directing of scenes. At the end of the film I had a mixture of feelings. On the one hand one could say we have come a long way from this story; but on the other hand, the hate I am currently seeing in the world makes it seem as if nothing has changed. Hate is the new black.
2 3/4 stars
It is funny, the individual could be the chief executive officer of a large corporation that has a worldwide reach with thousands of employees; but as soon as they are at a family function they are seen as the shy baby brother, sister, cousin or some other relative that they were years ago. Those early images of our siblings/relatives that were imprinted in our minds never leave us. When I am around my relatives it is the only time I hear the nickname that was given to me when I was a little boy. None of my friends or business associates use that name which is fine by me. Now I am still training my relatives not to introduce me by my nickname to strangers. You see as soon as I hear that nickname memories from my childhood flood my brain, like my first ride in a convertible car to navigating an escalator for the first time without holding an adult’s hand. It doesn’t make a difference if I’m dressed up in a three piece suit or just lead a full cycle class; those images will continue to play in the background of my senses. I know this must happen for many people because I’ve seen the same thing going on with my friends and their families. You just never know how it will play out, for you could be on top of the world but in your family’s eyes you are still that spoiled little brat. REALIZING he had just lost all of his money and everyone else’s investments in his new company businessman Jake, played by Nick Kroll (Date Night, The League-TV), had to leave Manhattan and move in with his sister Justine, played by Rose Byrne (This is Where I Leave You, Annie), and her husband Danny, played by Bobby Cannavale (Blue Jasmine, Danny Collins). Unfocused and unsure were not ideal attributes if he was going to help take care of his little nephew. This comedic drama had very little humor as far as I was concerned. I liked the cast but I found the script to be mostly bland. There was very little that happened on the screen that pulled me into the story. One possibility for my blah reaction to this movie could be the fact that it seemed like a knockoff of the film, The Skeleton Twins. That movie was so much better than this one; I just found myself getting bored here. There really was nothing new or different in this story; what did keep my attention was Rose and Bobby for the most part. Whether you call this a comedy, drama or dramedy; it won’t change the fact that it was not a very good picture.
1 3/4 stars