THE WOMAN IN THE PHOTOGRAPH WAS old looking, but I did not know she was ancient. I was working on creating a wall of family photos and the photograph of her was sent to me. When I first got it, I had no idea who she was or the younger woman who was standing next to her in the photo. When I found out, I was absolutely blown away; she was my great, great, great grandmother. The woman standing next to her was my great, great aunt. I kept staring at the photograph because I could not believe I was looking at someone who was connected to me from such a long time ago. And when I say a long time ago, when doing the math, I mean she was alive when Napoleon invaded Russia, hence the 1812 Overture by Tchaikovsky. This small and frail looking woman was seated in a chair or stool with her arms folded in her lap. Her clothing looked like it could swallow her up; the skirt hung down to the floor and her jacket or sweater was dark and long as well. She had a scarf tied around her head as if she were about to go outside, though the sepia colored photo showed her to be inside. I could only imagine what kind of life she must have lived, but because of her I was here. DESPITE NOT KNOWING SOME OF THE relatives in the photographs I have in my possession, I feel a connection to all the people. It is a weird feeling that I do not know if I can explain but looking at all the relatives in the photos had the effect of centering or grounding me. I felt like I had tapped into my roots; I was not some transient who floats from one thing to the next without having a “home base” to return to. Maybe another way I can explain it is by saying my life story, though it is unique to me, shared common ground with the stories from all of these relatives, whether they are deceased of alive. This reminds me of another photograph I got that has 5 relatives in it. I found out that this particular photograph used to be quite famous in the family because it was the first and maybe only one that depicts 5 generations of the family in one photograph. Each one of them has played a part in laying the groundwork for me and my generation of relatives; I just find that so amazing. I know I am lucky that I can have a history with individuals who share the same bloodline as me. It is one of the reasons why I understood what the main character was going through in this animated fantasy film. GROWING UP IN AN ORPHANAGE AND seeing her friends being adopted, only made Earwig, voiced by relative newcomer Taylor Henderson, wish for a family of her own. There was a chance her wish could be fulfilled when an odd couple came calling on the orphanage one day. With JB Blanc (Breaking Bad-TV, Bleach-TV) voicing Mr. Jenkins, Thomas Bromhead (I Got a Rocket-TV, Forest of Piano-TV) voicing the cook, Richard E. Grant (Hudson Hawk, Gosford Park) voicing the Mandrake and Vanessa Marshall (The Grim Adventures of Billy & Mandy-TV, Young Justice-TV) voicing Bella Yaga; this film festival winner was Studio Ghibli’s first foray into using CGI in their animation. In some instances, it worked but other times I was underwhelmed by the animation. I could say the same thing for the script. For an animated film, I found this one to be dull and uninspired. The way the story ended was awful and there was nothing fun or enchanting about the story. I do not know if even small children would care for this picture. If I were Earwig, I think I would have spent more time wishing for a way to get out of this movie.
1 ¾ stars
IF I HAD BEEN IN HER situation, I would have been the picture of gloom and doom. Her attitude was something that needed to be bottled and sold at a store for all of us who could not move on from “bad news.” An acquaintance of mine was a successful businesswoman. She had her own business with 8-10 employees. Her company turned a profit every year; nothing exorbitant, just small and steady. After several years, she met a man and started dating him. He was a “big” talker who had all these ideas to get rich quick. One of his ideas on making her company bigger was to buy a competitor and merge the companies. At first, she simply acknowledged his plans, telling him she would have to think about it. But as time went on and he kept providing her all these statistics on how to increase her business, she started to believe him. He promised he would look out for her as he submerged himself into the negotiations. She was falling in love with him and in turn, trusted him. During the process he updated her on the offers, telling her she would need a bigger staff to handle all the business they would be getting after the merger. You know where this story is going, don’t you? I won’t bore you with all the details; instead, I will get to the outcome. The companies merged and remained successful, except her boyfriend embezzled thousands of dollars to the point where the business failed, and she had to file bankruptcy. IF THAT HAD BEEN ME, I would have become a wild man. She did everything she could to get the money back; but with limited resources and he had spent the money, she had to walk away from him and the business she had started years ago. She was sad about the loss of both her company and her boyfriend who turned out to be a swindler. I think it was a few weeks before her sadness began to turn to ambition and she started thinking about what she would like to do next. This is the reason I admired or maybe I should say, appreciated her gumption. If that had been me, I would have wallowed in the depths of sadness and depression for months and months. I know at some point I would have been in the throes of a massive rage that would nearly consume everything around me. Regarding the loss of her company, I do not know what things she had control over. I think I am paranoid enough to have scrutinized every document, invoice, bill and payment before approving anything. My lesson that I still need help learning is, I cannot control the things that are not in my control. The main character in this comedic drama is someone I could admire for not letting life’s challenges permanently weigh him down. NO MATTER WHAT FATE FELL UPON him, each turn of events gave David Copperfield, played Dev Patel (Hotel Mumbai, The Wedding Guest), the ability to find a way to get his life in order and do what he was meant to do. With Hugh Laurie (Tomorrowland, House-TV) as Mr. Dick, Tilda Swinton (We Need to Talk About Kevin, Snowpiercer) as Betsey Trotwood, Gwendoline Christie (Star Wars franchise, Game of Thrones-TV) as Jane Murdstone, Peter Capaldi (World War Z, Doctor Who-TV) as Mr. Micawber and Aimee Kelly (The Duke, Wolfblood-TV) as Emily; this film festival winning modern take of the Charles Dickens’ classic was warm and charming. I thought Dev and Tilda were outstanding in their roles. The way the story was filmed provided more levity than I had expected; it was such an easy and enjoyable film to watch. If you are a Dickens fan, I feel you will want to see this picture even with its updated flavor on the story. Those not familiar with the story would still enjoy the fancifulness of the production and the positive message.
DURING A SOCIAL FUNCTION, I WAS introduced to a guest who had recently started an exercise regimen to get back into shape. We were introduced by a mutual acquaintance who knew about each of our fitness journeys. Our conversation only lasted a few minutes; but when it came time to separate, I could not remember his name. I simply said it was nice to meet him and wished him luck on reaching his fitness goals, before I moved on. For the next couple of minutes, I tried to reconstruct the beginning of our conversation when we had been introduced, hoping I would recall his name; it did not work. I was annoyed because I could remember every detail about him, from the color of his socks to the buckle of his belt, but not the name. I found it weird that sometimes I can easily remember a person’s name and other times I have no clue. Considering the fact, I teach multiple classes and work with a multitude of employees at my job; I have retained a long list of names in my memory banks. I would like to know what factors trigger my brain to remember a person’s name. ONE WAY I CAN RETAIN A PERSON’S name is if they have the same name of someone I already know, or their name is similar to a well-known celebrity. However, there are a variety of things that hinder my ability to memorize names. If a person avoids eye contact during a conversation, it is likely I will not remember them. Another cause for me not to retain names is if the person does not hold up their end of the conversation. I feel if a person does not ask any questions, then there is little reason to converse with them. In these types of circumstances, I have found the individual is forgettable. The art of conversation appears to be under siege to me. I do not want to sound judgmental; but what is the point of carrying on conversation with a person who does not ask questions or engage with you? I must assume they are not interested in either me or the topic being discussed. Usually, I will converse on multiple topics and ask open ended questions to help both of us start up a conversation. If this doesn’t produce anything then I end my time with the person and gracefully remove myself. The reason I am telling you about this is because for the first time, when I sat down to write my review of this animated, adventure comedy I could not remember the story or several of the characters. DURING AN ARGUMENT BROTHER AND SISTER Charlie and Marla, played by Gabriel Bateman (Lights Out, American Gothic-TV) and Anya Taylor-Joy (Morgan, The Witch), suddenly found themselves transported to an animated world where they would discover the true meaning of family. With Jim Gaffigan (Away We Go, Chappaquiddick) voicing Del, Daniel Radcliffe (Harry Potter franchise, Swiss Army Man) voicing Rex Dasher and Dan Navarro (The Book of Life, American Dad-TV) voicing Viking Leader; this film was one long series of product placements. I did not mind the non-animated scenes; but after that, I found the script to be one long bore. There was no humor, adventure or fun musical numbers; in other words, this was a generic version of the Lego films. At 7:00 pm on a Friday there were a total of 3 people in the movie theater and that is including me. I do not know what the film studio was trying to do, but this picture was that one holiday gift that came broken and was not worth fixing, so it gets thrown away. With an extra scene during the credits, the studio really wants to do a sequel? If I were you, I would not engage with this poor example of an animated movie.
1 ½ stars
LEARNING THE HISTORY ABOUT FAMILY MEMBERS can be a fun experience. Some of the things I found out about my relatives seem so out of character to the people I knew. There is a relative of mine who holds the patent on some particular lint trap that is part of a washing machine. Another family member was a gangster. In the family I had an umbrella maker, a butcher and the owner of the first cable boxes that came into existence. As you can see the list is quite varied and I get a kick out of the randomness of it. Recently I was talking with a friend about a movie that is coming out later in the year. Based on the trailer I mentioned I was looking forward to seeing this film about Mary, Queen of Scots. You will not believe what he told me about Mary; his family history has a branch of it that is loosely tied to Mary. Listening to the connections between the deceased relatives, I was struck with the fact he was able to remember who married who and whose brother’s sister-in-law was part of the genealogy trail. It was astounding listening to so many generations coming from this one side of his family. THERE IS NOTHING AS FASCINATING IN my family tree as my friend’s; but if I had such knowledge on the history of my family, I wonder what historical facts I would find out about my deceased relatives. One of the things I know is which countries some of my relatives were born in. I remember in school I would check out books from the library that pertained to these countries, wanting to learn about its history and how it came into being the mother and fatherland of my relatives. My knowledge barely goes back 3 generations of my family. Pretty much all I know is how relatives made their way to America. One relative was sent here with her sister when they were in their teens. She was going to be married off to someone she knew back home who had been sent over earlier to get established in a city. I have other relatives who did not want to migrate but had to because of war. There was a story told about brothers who as children had to be hidden in the forest to escape being kidnapped or worse killed by enemy forces. Though the young boy in this family fantasy only had to be shipped to the state of Michigan, he found out there was something special about him and his family tree. ORPHANED DUE TO THE DEATH OF his parents Lewis Barnavelt, played by Owen Vaccaro (Daddy’s Home franchise, Mother’s Day), was sent to live with his uncle Jonathan Barnavelt, played by Jack Black (Goosebumps, Jumanji: Welcome to the Jungle), who was an odd man. There was a reason why Jonathan was different. With Cate Blanchett (Ocean’s Eight, Thor: Ragnarok) as Florence Zimmerman, Kyle MacLachlan (Blue Velvet, Dune) as Issac Izard and Renee Elise Goldsberry (Sisters, The Good Wife-TV) as Selena Izard; this comedy film was aided by the chemistry between Cate and Jack, which granted seemed an oddball pairing. They were fun together and I enjoyed the way the film started out. I thought it was strange to have Lewis presented with his aviator goggles and bow tie, but at first I did not mind. It was not until the story moved into the 2nd half where I started losing interest. This is where the script was muddy with different references. For me I felt the story was becoming more of a cartoon, meaning silly. With a little more history, development and originality; this picture would have been more enjoyable for me.
1 ¾ stars
I did not actually have what you would call imaginary friends; they were more like superheroes who looked a lot like me except skinnier and taller. During the time they were around me I did not realize they were all mental extensions of me. None of them had names but each one specialized in one superhuman power. There was the one who could fly; he was a lookout for me, letting me know of any danger spots around me. One of my favorite ones was this brawny fighter who appeared anytime I was angry. If someone had picked on or teased me, he would appear in a rage and pummel the bully so I could be left alone to continue my studies in class. This one in particular stayed with me the longest, evolving into my bodyguard. During an especially dismal time he was out almost every day. No one else knew about these imaginary friends if you want to call them that. My friends and I never really talked about our special friends though I can recall there were times where we needed people to be the enemy in our neighborhood battle scenes. We would be on one of our missions to track down the enemy’s secret headquarters when suddenly one of the members of our search party was sucker punched by an imaginary enemy operative. I would see a friend whirl around with his fists jabbing into the air to land a punch on the enemy’s jaw. Each of us took turns on getting attacked; the more dramatic we could be in our fake battles, the more satisfying it was when we would finally discover the hidden headquarters and blow it up with our ray guns. With all the imaginary beings I had in my life, I wish I would have had a dragon like the one in this family adventure film. WHEN Grace, played by Bryce Dallas Howard (Jurassic World, The Help), discovered the orphan boy Pete, played by Oakes Fegley (This is Where I Leave You, Fort Bliss), living deep in the woods; she could not understand how he could have survived for so long on his own. He was not alone. This fantasy movie shared the same title as the original animated film but it was a different type of story. With a cast that also included Robert Redford (A Walk in the Woods, All is Lost) as Meacham and Karl Urban (Star Trek franchise, The Loft) as Gavin, I fell into this story that had sort of an E.T. slant to it. The pacing was not always smooth; there were a couple of slow parts for me. This was not a big issue because I actually enjoyed the simplistic script that basically was about the bonds that form between friends and family. I thought the special effects for the dragon were wonderful; at a certain point I felt this dragon would be the perfect pet for anyone. It was refreshing to sit and watch a movie that focused on telling a good story that a person could relate to no matter their age.
It seems as if more people and companies are playing some type of angle with their actions. For example take a look at the larger containers of juice that go on sale at the grocery store. They have those big, bold sale tags that draw customers to the product; but if you look at the cost per fluid ounce, the juice on sale is still more expensive than the smaller containers. Get a load of this; with two of the movie chains I frequent, I am a member of each one’s rewards program. One chain gives you $10.00 back for every $100.00 you spend on tickets and food items. The other one also returns $10.00 to you, but after you have see 100 movies. Now granted I may not be the best example since I see a ton of movies, but which rewards program do you think is the better deal? The thing I find most annoying is the 2nd movie chain example shows advertisements for their rewards program before the movie starts; touting it as if it were the greatest thing to come along since penicillin. As I said earlier, everything has to have some type of angle these days. UGLINESS may have been all around her, but it could not bring down her positive attitude towards life. Annie, played by Quvenzhane Wallis (Beasts of the Southern Wild, 12 Years a Slave), was convinced good things would come her way. Her accidental meeting with businessman Will Stacks, played by Jamie Foxx (Law Abiding Citizen, Dreamsgirls), would prove her point; even if Will did not know it yet. Between stage, screen and television I have seen several versions of this classic story. This Golden Globe nominee had the most radical changes done to it in my opinion. For this comedic drama there was more of an emphasis on material things as Jamie’s character had all the trappings of a big time company’s CEO. My favorite character was Rose Byrne (Neighbors, Insidious franchise) playing Grace. And that is all I liked about this utterly lifeless film. In the worst case of miscasting I have seen in a long time, Cameron Diaz (The Holiday, The Other Woman) as Miss Hannigan was so dreadful; she had none of the wicked fun of past actresses who played the iconic role. The dance numbers were stale and poorly directed. I was so stunned by the dullness of this film. The new songs they inserted at the cost of some original ones were unmemorable; it was somewhat hard to think of this film as a true musical. I cannot recommend this picture because it felt like the producers’ angle was to play on people’s memories of the story, to get them into the movie theater.
1 3/4 stars