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.
IN YEARS LONG PAST, PARENTS WERE either cool or nerds. There was the family who had a mother that liked to dress up like her daughter. It was funny, where no one noticed the daughter’s attire; most people would not forget what the mother was wearing if they happened to see her in the neighborhood. On the other hand, there was another family that had a mother who seemed to be stuck in an era long past; she dressed and looked like an old movie to me. Mothers by the way were not the only ones who would stand out to the kids in the neighborhood. Living a couple of blocks away from me was a father who rode a motorcycle. To a young kid this dad seemed ultracool dressed up in leather jacket and pants with a matching black helmet. Another father in our school district would always tell these “dumb” jokes that made most children groan. It did not matter what our parents did for a living; every child tended to judge other parents solely on their looks and actions. The only time a parent would be considered mean was when they would not let their child come out to play. That was the extent of our feelings about parents. CURRENTLY THE NEWS HAS HAD SEVERAL stories about adults who have or have attempted to commit crimes against children. I cannot tell you how many times I have seen or read news alerts about an adult who tried to lure a child into their vehicle. Recently there was a verdict in a trial where the parents had kept their children locked in cages in the basement of their home. It is stories like these, that reaffirm my belief that people should be required to have a license to have a child. One needs a license to drive a car; so, why not have a test for adults to see if they are fit to have a child? I am not going to go into my rant again about parents who bring their young children to violent/sexual R rated films, just because they want to see the movie, or they do not want to pay for a babysitter. In fact, I am uncomfortable sometimes when I go to review a children’s animated film by myself. The reason being it looks odd to the families sitting around. There I sit, an older man without kids, at a children’s film. I have gotten some curious looks from the parents. They should see the adult in this movie if they want something real to worry about. AFTER SUE ANN, PLAYED BY OCTAVIA SPENCER (The Shape of Water, Hidden Figures), agreed to buy alcohol for a group of underaged friends; she felt it would not be safe for them to be driving and drinking. She offered the young adults her basement as a place to party and she was going to be the best host. With Diana Silvers (Booksmart, Glass) as Maggie, Juliette Lewis (Natural Born Killers, Cape Fear) as Erica, McKaley Miller (The Standoff, Hart of Dixie-TV) as Haley and Corey Fogelmanis (Girl Meets World-TV, PrankMe-TV) as Andy; this horror thriller needed to thank Octavia for starring in the key role. She was so good in the role that she creeped me out a bit. With that being said, the other aspects of this movie did not live up to the trailers. There were holes in the story where I questioned the validity of the situation; at other times, I thought the script was being lazy and generic. This could have been a real knuckle holder, but instead it only provided me with a glimmer at times of something that could have been frightening. Sue Ann and this movie had something in common; they were both troubled.
2 ½ stars
PIZZA IS ONE OF my favorite foods; I love pizza. Except for 2 pizzas, one from an independent stand alone restaurant and one from a national chain, I have not met a pizza I did not like. For me pizza is that type of food that can be eaten at any meal and then some. Cold pizza in the morning is just as good to me as a fresh out of the wood burning oven kind for lunch or dinner. With some friends or family members I have no problem ordering one large pizza for the 2 of us since we have similar tastes in toppings; and if not, we can just ask to add or subtract the differing topping off one side of the pizza. On the other hand there are some people I go out with where they have to get their own pizza because there is nothing I like about their topping choices and they will not strip their pizza down just to a basic cheese so we can share it. RECENTLY I WAS OUT to dinner with a friend who ordered a pizza that looked like an abomination to me. It was a chipotle pizza with sausage and ranch dressing, extra ranch dressing I might add. Yuck, it looked horrible but here is the thing; they only know I do not like those toppings because I do not make a scene. I do not grab my neck with both hands showing the universal sign for choking or start gagging just as the pizza is placed on the table. Do you know why I do not make a scene? It is because they have just as much right to love their pizza toppings as I do with my choices. I am not going to taste their pizza and get indigestion or heartburn; their pizza has no affect on my choices in pizzas or how my body interacts with it. Seriously who am I, or for that matter who is anybody, to force their personal tastes on another pizza lover. I say go ahead and dig into whatever pizza makes you happy; I am not here to judge you. I am glad you have love in your heart for pizza because our ability to love is one of our greatest assets. IN THE MIDDLE OF the cold war during the 1960s, the United States had a secret laboratory where they had in their possession something the Soviet Union desperately wanted to get. No one knew there was someone working at the lab who was also interested in this special cargo. Written and directed by Guillermo del Toro (Pacific Rim, Pan’s Labyrinth), this film festival winner starred Sally Hawkins (Never Let Me Go, Maudie) as Elisa Esposito, Michael Shannon (Nocturnal Animals, Midnight Special) as Richard Strickland, Octavia Spencer (Hidden Figures, Gifted) as Zelda Fuller, Richard Jenkins (The Visitor, LBJ) as Giles and Michael Stuhlbarg (A Serious Man, Steve Jobs) as Dr. Robert Hoffstetler. Everyone in the cast did an outstanding performance; Sally and Michael truly are a gift to filmdom. I was absolutely taken away into this beautiful and meaningful film. Almost every scene allowed the viewer to have an emotional response and I loved the message that I interpreted from the script. It should be obvious I was totally into this dramatic, adventure fantasy and all I ask of you is if you plan on seeing what I feel will be a multiple award nominated picture this season then go into this movie with an open heart.
OUT of all the people I have conversed with who is either a mother or father, the majority of them believe their children are pretty, beautiful, handsome, intelligent and so on. I firmly believe a parent’s duty is to make their child feel loved, special and instill in them a sense of self-worth. Rarely do I hear a parent say their child is not attractive or is not smart. I actually know a mother though who praises one child over the child’s sibling; you should see what the effect of the mother’s negative comments has done to that child, it is so sad. Now for me the words pretty, handsome or beautiful are subjective. Where one person may think a face is beautiful, another individual will think the person’s facial features are just okay. The way my mind is wired, for me to say someone is beautiful they would need to have a good heart (referring to let us say kindness as opposed to plaque) to go along with whatever their visible, physical features may be. WHEN a student gets straight A’s on their report card, most people will say the student is smart. I agree to a point, but for me there is book smart and street smart; the 2 are very different creatures. I cannot tell you how many times I have sat and listened to a parent go on about how their child is so smart. Here again I wonder how they are defining the word “smart.” I remember there was a time during my schooling where a discussion was in the works about getting away from standardized testing scores. Students were so focused on memorizing statistics and facts; it seems they were not using this limited knowledge to paint a bigger picture of things. There is a teacher I know who had a freshman student who did not fit in with the rest of the class. This student already had an acceptance letter to the Massachusetts Institute of Technology. The teacher had to teach this special student a different way from the rest of the class without making it appear as if the student was not unusual. It was an important distinction, one that gets addressed in this drama. MARY Adler, played by McKenna Grace (Once upon a Time-TV, Amityville: The Awakening), had a gift for numbers. Her special ability would become a battleground in and out of school. Starring Chris Evans (Captain America franchise, Playing it Cool) as Frank Adler, Octavia Spencer (Hidden Figures, The Shack) as Roberta Taylor and Lindsay Duncan (About Time, Under the Tuscan Sun) as Evelyn; I have to say McKenna’s acting was pretty special. I fell into this story, enjoying the acting and directing. Sure there were scenes to manipulate the viewer and the script was somewhat predictable; but I did not care because the story was relatable for me. My earlier review of the new Smurfs movie talked about being different and things I said there apply to this film festival winner. Feeling different is such a relatable experience for many of us; I certainly have felt it and because of it I understood what the story was trying to do in this picture. Be prepared because including me, there was not a dry eye in the theater. Along with celebrating the things we all have in common, there is nothing wrong with us including our special gifts in the celebration.
FROM my experiences I know every person treats religion differently. I also am aware of the differences between someone who is religious compared to a person who is spiritual. Some years ago I knew a man who went to temple every day to pray. He followed his religion’s customs and traditions fully, handing them down to his children. The interesting thing was after he died his wife stopped following the rituals; not totally but she became more relaxed about the structure shall we say. I know another person who partakes in all the customs of her religion, but her actions are not of a religious person. Just because you attend services and donate money to charity does not automatically make one religious. In other words you have to practice what you preach. This person discriminates against a variety of minorities; I am talking blatantly speaks out against them. I just sit and wonder how they can justify their actions based on how much they talk about their religious participation. THOUGH I understand the circumstances were devastating for the individual I still find it curious when they suddenly become religious. I have experienced this myself on some level at a time when I felt there was no hope of me coming out unscathed. It took place one of the times I was being chased by a group of bullies after school. Hiding behind a couple of garbage cans on the back porch of an apartment building, I could hear them below me. They must have been looking up at the porches of the 4 storied building before running up the stairs to only check on the top floor they could not fully see from the alley. I remember praying to God to keep me hidden from them until they came down the stairway and were long gone. Due to this experience I have gained insight or maybe it is sensitivity to the actions taken by someone experiencing tragedy, like the family in this inspirational fantasy drama. DEEP into depression from a tragic event Mack Phillips, played by Sam Worthington (Clash of the Titans franchise, Avatar), one day received a letter in his box without a postmark. It was from someone he stopped believing in. Based on the bestselling book this fantasy movie also starred Octavia Spencer (Hidden Figures, The Help) as Papa, Radha Mitchell (Man on Fire, Looking for Grace) as Nan Phillips and Tim McGraw (The Blind Side, Country Strong) as Willie. I appreciated the idea behind this film’s story and felt the cast was certainly capable to bring the story to life. My issue lies with the director; the pacing was slow to the point I felt the story was dragging. Add in the script being stacked in favor of manipulating the viewers’ emotions to shed tears, I did not find this a pleasant movie watching experience. If the story would have been told in a more even handed way, allowing the audience to come to their own conclusions, I feel the film would have been better all around. Sitting next to me through this picture were a couple of friends who are more religious than me. Asking them what they thought, they felt the same way I did about the movie. The story was a sad one that did not give them a sense of comfort due to the poor writing and direction.
2 ¼ stars
PACKING up my homemade treats, looking over my predictions with the list of winners, using eyes that were strained and tired from staring at the television screen for hours; I was ready to go to bed. Another year is now in the record books for a lot of reasons. Of course the biggest surprise was the mixup for the last category, best picture. Reading and hearing about the different theories on the how and why it happened did not provide me with answers to a couple of simple questions. Assuming Warren Beatty has all of his mental faculties, I just do not understand why he did not say he had the wrong card. It was obvious to me he was flustered, looking back to the side stage and around; he did not know what to do. Of all things then why would he throw Faye Dunaway under the bus. He could have whispered in her ear to see if she agreed, but since the surveys said La La Land was going to win, Faye possibly saw that on the card first instead of Emma Stone’s name when he showed her. The two of them knew they were giving out the best picture award, wouldn’t seeing Emma Stone’s name on the card be the first clue something was wrong and it would be perfectly okay to say so? This is just my opinion.
THE opening was refreshing to me. Since host Jimmy Kimmel is not a song and dance type of comedian like Billy Crystal, I liked the way Justin Timberlake sang his Oscar nominated song which loosened up the audience. Because of this, I felt the crowd gave off less of “aren’t we great, idolize us” vibe and more of an earthiness if you will. In fact, I thought Jimmy did a wonderful job in being down to earth. He avoided the mean spiritedness that some jokes could have taken on while he kept things moving on. The candy drop and the busload of tourists were my favorite segments, though the Matt Damon feud thing was more outrageous on the big stage. My favorite part was when Jimmy was conducting the orchestra to drown out Matt during his presentation.
MAYBE it is me but I thought the speeches were shorter this year and surprisingly were more personal when politics was brought into them. My favorite speeches of the night came from Viola Davis and the reading of writer and director Asghar Farhadi’s acceptance speech. Viola was so passionate and sincere, I loved how she talked about actors taking on the lives for those who no longer can speak. I laughed at Jimmy’s comment that she would be nominated for an Emmy with her speech. As for Asghar’s speech, I had just seen his winning film The Salesman the afternoon prior to the show and appreciated his thoughtfulness and heartfelt words. Gael Garcia Bernal was one of the presenters that touched the perfect balance of personal without the hate. Speaking of presenters I felt Octavia Spencer, Taraji P. Henson and Janelle Monae were lovely while on stage as they brought out Katherine G. Johnson, the NASA mathematician that Taraji portrayed on screen. It was such a touching moment.
EVEN with the long telecast, as I reclined across my sofa my desire to be a seat filler was just as strong today as it has been all the past years. Just once I want to be part of the red carpet pre show activities, the ceremony and just be able to walk around and soak up the whole atmosphere of the event. With that said it has been a year of ups and downs with movies. I feel I saw more poorly done films than wonderful ones; but I would not trade a minute of it since I still love the whole movie watching experience and the ability to write down my thoughts to share with you. So tomorrow we will start all over for the new Oscar year in search of that 4 star picture. I look forward to another year talking and commenting on the movies with you. Thank you for all of your support, I deeply appreciate it.
HIS attendance was perfect; he never missed a day of work. The quality of his work was outstanding and it showed in his yearly performance review because he never received a below average mark in any of the performance categories. However, he never received an above average mark either; but, he did not complain about it, grateful he had a job. The travel time for him was long; it required 2 buses and a train to get to the office. The company had over 200 employees but he could not call one of them a friend. Some individuals would only talk to him if they had to for business; he was used to the blank or condescending looks he would get for nearly every action he took. SHE was in love and it did not even take her long to realize it. They had met at a coffee shop one afternoon. Over their drinks they did not strictly make small talk; they ventured into deeper subjects and it was apparent there was a unique kindness being shared between them. Over the next several weeks a mutual fondness grew between them. Each was starting to think they found the right one they wanted to be with for the rest of their life. With the blossoming love they shared they became more affectionate with each other. Simple things like holding hands at the movies or a quick kiss on the cheek, actions everyone in love has done from time to time. When they were affectionate they did not realize people around them would stop what they were doing to watch the happy couple. The look on these strangers’ faces was usually a grimace, a look of disgust. Nothing the happy couple did was inappropriate but it did not matter, there was another reason. And the reason could be found in the color of a person’s skin. LOSING the space race to the Russians was not acceptable; it would take effort from every single person at NASA to get astronaut John Glenn up into space. But if you were not the right color, you did not count to some people. Based on a true story this is a must see drama. Starring Taraji P. Henson (The Curious Case of Benjamin Button, Empire-TV) as Katherine G. Johnson, Octavia Spencer (The Help, Snowpiercer) as Dorothy Vaughan, recording artist Janelle Monae (Moonlight) as Mary Jackson and Kevin Costner (Black or White, Draft Day) as Al Harrison; this film festival winning movie was unbelievable. Let me start with the story; what an amazing achievement during a time period that most of us had never known about while history was being made in getting a rocket into space. The acting was wonderful from everyone; even minor characters fit right in without missing a beat of the story. As a movie viewing experience I had a great time clapping and cheering with the audience during a few scenes. Knowing how the story was going to end, since it is a part of US history, did not take away from the enjoyment in watching the amazing feats being achieved by the people in this movie. The space program has come so far from blasting John Glenn into space; now if only we could elevate our thinking about judging a person on their abilities instead of their color.
GOING to someone’s house to share a meal and celebrate a holiday should be an easy thing to do, you would think. Normally you would not be expected to shop for ingredients that the cook needs to prepare the meal, vacuum or clean their whole house; however, you might bring a dish to share or assist in the cleaning process afterwards. All in all it is a relative easy experience. One big factor that could change everything is whether you enjoy the company you will be with for the celebration. Imagine how you would feel if you knew several of the guests there annoy you. THERE was a sense of dread that weighed you down as you pulled up to their house. The hosts were lovely people, sweet and very accommodating to their guests. So their culinary experiments never turn out good; usually there is a total bland taste to the food or at the other extreme, a pungent foul flavor that makes the food barely edible. An easy fix has been to eat something before you show up at their place then eat lightly (and carefully), saying you are not very hungry. At the party the host’s cousin shows up bringing their untrained dog unannounced. The dog is jumping on everyone until it smells the food, then it takes constant monitoring from the guests to make sure this dog does not stand up at the table to grab some food. Another guest that is familiar to you is the man who tells inappropriate jokes at the dining room table. He usually has some prejudiced or sexual comment accompanying his humor. Then there is the narcissist who grabs your attention and will not let you go as they talk on and on about what they recently bought, how much they spent and their recent dating exploits; you see why there is a sense of dread every time you show up to one of these parties. A similar sense of dread welled up in me as I was watching this comedy sequel. STILL drunk and obnoxious Willie Soke, played by Billy Bob Thornton (Sling Blade, Our Brand is Crisis), could not resist doing another job with the man who tried to kill him. This crime dramedy also starred Kathy Bates (Titanic, American Horror Story-TV) as Sunny Soke, Tony Cox (Oz the Great and Powerful, The Hustle) as Marcus and Christina Hendricks (Life as We Know it, Mad Men-TV) as Diane Hastings. The biggest shock for me was seeing Octavia Spencer (The Help, Fruitvale Station) doing a cameo as Opal and that is all I will say about it. The script for this movie was very basic; the jokes were easy to spot and for the most part were crude. I was quickly bored by the story; not that I am offended by the humor, I just found it uncreative. There may have been a couple of times I chuckled if I remember correctly. If you were a fan of the first film you may have a better time sitting through this sequel. For me the novelty of the first one was not part of this picture. I just had to trudge through to the very end so I could review it.
1 ½ stars
Those who had the larger sized box of crayons were the cool kids. If I remember correctly the largest size was the 128 count box; I mostly had the 32 count, though one year I did get as a gift the 64 size. With double the number of crayons the possibilities to me seemed endless. Since I had so many crayons I felt I had to use every single one, so my drawings took on a more colorful palette. I started making trees different colors, sometimes making their leaves multi-colored. There were times they looked like large chocolate ice cream cones topped with candy sprinkles. When I started giving extra colors to people I remember a couple of students telling me I could not do it. We would argue back and forth with them saying they were not human and me telling them they were still humans. The people I drew had two arms, two legs, two eyes, two ears, a nose and a mouth. Now these arguments had nothing to do with racial prejudices; those students were following the norm and expecting everyone to do the same. I just did not care what the skin color was nor give it any importance. It is something I have and continue to carry into my adult life which is why I thought this film had an important message. AFTER his wife was killed in a car accident Elliot Anderson, played by Kevin Costner (Draft Day, Man of Steel), was left alone to raise his granddaughter Eloise, played by Jillian Estell (So This is Christmas). That was until Eloise’s paternal grandmother Rowena Jeffers, played by Octavia Spencer (Get on Up, Snowpiercer), decided she should get full custody of her granddaughter. This film festival winning drama had two good things going for it, Kevin and Octavia. The two were not only good in their individual scenes, they really were fired up for their mutual scenes. That is not to say the other actors in this movie, like Anthony Mackie (Runner Runner, Captain America: The Winter Soldier), were bad; they were all decent. Acting aside, the story was the most important part to this picture. Its message was something that needs to be repeated over and over. I felt the 1st half of the movie did a good job to tell the story, but then the writers started to complicate the message. It seemed as if scenes were being designed to manipulate the viewer just to add emotional value. I found it to be predictable, with a layer of syrupy sentiments that made me almost groan. With that being said I do believe most viewers would still appreciate the story/message of this film more than the execution of it.
2 3/4 stars
I am curious to know where it first began how the mindset of one being wealthy equated to being better than someone else. From various news and media sources I have seen, I definitely can see being rich does not mean one has good taste. When I see some of these celebrities in their massive estate mansions, I have to wonder do they really need all of that space and stuff. Seriously, how many bathrooms does one need in their house? Enough for a party of 25 being able to all go to the bathroom at the very same time with no waiting? My first experience where I saw a wealthy person exerting their so called power over another individual was with a distant family member. Because they were successful in business, aka making lots of money, they began telling other family members what they should be doing to get ahead in life. Though I was young at the time I was offended by the way they would talk down to people, treating them like they were ignorant just because they were not as rich. Success and wealth are not terms I necessarily use to denote financial status. A person who has close and long relationships with family and friends is a wealthy person to me. POWER came to those who were wealthy in this futuristic science fiction film. After an experiment failed to reverse global warming, mankind was virtually wiped off the planet. Only a small group continued to survive in a self-contained train that continuously circled the globe. Even though the passengers all suffered under the same horrific experiment, inside the train there still were divisions of class. And with class power was soon to follow. This film festival winning thriller gave me a fantastic ride. With Chris Evans (The Avengers, Captain America franchise) as Curtis, Tilda Swinton (Only Lovers Left Alive, Moonrise Kingdom) as Mason and Octavia Spencer (Fruitvale Station, The Help) as Tanya; the cast was well represented with abundant talent and star power; yet, I did not see any advertisements for this action movie. The story was interesting and easy to follow even with its surprise turns. I thought the look of the film was perfect in the way the viewer became a witness to the contrasts within the train. It was interesting how the few special effects were not very good; but it was okay, since this film was predominately story driven. What a pleasant surprise to watch a science fiction movie, having no prior awareness of it, that had a feasible story and was wildly entertaining. It really had a power over me and I was fine with it.
3 1/4 stars