THOUGH I HAD NOT SEEN THEM for years, my memories of them were just as vivid today as they were back then. I was downsizing my living space and came upon a couple of shelves in the basement that were filled with toys. Some were in their original packaging while others were sealed in plastic bags or bins. They brought a smile to my face as I had to stop my packing and look at each one. There was a boxed game where the players had to pick 5 letters and 5 categories. Writing each one down on a mini-spreadsheet, letters going vertically down and categories across horizontally, the players would be timed as they had to fill in as many spaces as they could within the time frame. This was my favorite game outside of word games. There was a toy on the shelf that I remember getting at the same time as a cousin of mine. It was a moving track, like a miniature moving sidewalk, where I would have to steer a magnetic car through obstacles that would pop up on the revolving track. Each toy I took off the shelf provided me a fond memory; I was not sure if I could part with any of them. IT IS FUNNY HOW FOR MANY of us a toy or stuffed animal can have an influence on our life’s path. I remember playing this word game with a relative, where there was a group of dice that had letters instead of numbers on them. They would be shaken around inside a plastic cube until they settled into spaces set out like a tick tack toe graph. We would turn the timer over to start, then come up with as many words as we could using the letters showing; but, having to only connect the letters down or up and side to side, nothing diagonal. It was this early game that started my love of reading and writing. There was also a babysitter of mine who each time she sat for me would bring me a stuffed animal. I am convinced that menagerie started my affection and first educational direction for animals. Let me say at one time I had almost 2 dozen stuffed animals sleeping with me; I could barely move in the bed. Now it has been many years since I played with toys and stuffed animals; but I must tell you, I was pleasantly surprised seeing the familiar characters again in this latest installment of the animated, adventure franchise. WITH A COUPLE OF DISCARDED ITEMS and a little imagination Bonnie, voiced by Madeleine McGraw (American Sniper, Ant-Man and the Wasp), created a new toy for herself. The problem was convincing this new addition that he belonged in her toy collection; something Woody, voiced by Tom Hanks (The Post, Sully), thought he could fix. With Tim Allen (3 Geezers!, Last Man Standing-TV) voicing Buzz Lightyear, Tony Hale (Stranger than Fiction, American Ultra ) voicing Forky and Annie Potts (Ghostbusters, Pretty in Pink) voicing Bo Peep; this film was one of the few sequels I have seen that maintained the high standards of its previous movies. The animation was outstanding, and the humor was appropriate and relevant for both children and adults. Also, the story was thoughtful and cleverly laid out to take adult type themes and present them in such a way that was easy for kids to digest. I experienced a variety of feelings from excitement to tension to love; each expertly fitted into the script without overpowering one another. The movie studio did a wonderful job in keeping the integrity intact for this beloved film franchise. I may never get rid of my toys now. There were 4 extra scenes during the 1sthalf of the credits.
3 ½ stars
AWKWARDNESS is the initial feeling but depending on the crowd it can hopefully be replaced with something more on the pleasant side. There have been occasions where I have accompanied a date/friend to one of their family or business functions. Personally the business ones are easier for me because there is nothing expected of me; if my date is involved with others no one usually comes over to fill “the void.” At family functions there is always a relative who can’t wait to get me alone to either pump me for information or try to turn me into their personal confidant. Of course more of this takes place when I am the date instead of the friend. There are some relatives who want to know my intentions; others have no problem grilling me like FBI interrogators asking how we met, what I do for a living, where is my family from and so on. I have to just sit there with a smile on my face, choosing how to deflect some of their questions. When the environment is like this it really becomes tedious for me. However I would never do anything to embarrass the person who brought me. NOT wanting to sound like Mr. Gloom & Doom, there have been other times where I had a wonderful time. Some of the business functions I have attended have been close to obscene due to the amount of money that must have been spent on the affair. One dinner was held in a ballroom where the doorways were manned by immense ice sculptures in the shape of swans. Inside the room dining tables were set up with gold and silver tablecloths. On each table tall vases sat, filled with those fake ice cubes that light up in colors. Sprouting out the top were sprays of floral plants. The food was outrageous and plentiful; I would need more of your time to describe it all. And the ultimate feature was having a popular band performing for us. So you see these types of events can be a hit or miss; this is why I gave the main character in this dramatic comedy credit for agreeing to the travel arrangements. WHEN her producer husband Michael, played by Alec Baldwin (Blue Jasmine, 30 Rock-TV), had to cut their trip short due to his work; Anne, played by Diane Lane (Unfaithful, Night in Rodanthe), agreed to travel by car to Paris with his business associate Jacques, played by Arnaud Viard (Higher Still, Carole Matthieu). It would be a road trip with unexpected turns. This romantic film written and directed by Eleanor Coppola (Hearts of Darkness: A Filmmaker’s Apocalypse, Coda: Thirty Years Later) had two big things going for it: beautiful scenery and great looking food. Initially I felt I was connecting with the character, having been “stuck” with someone I did not know. But as the story unrolled I felt like I was a 3rd wheel in their carpool. The script and directing did nothing to enhance the characters. I appreciate Diane’s acting ability but felt she was wasted here; there was no character development. The only one I found interesting was Alec’s character, but he was used sparingly. At one point I felt I was on one of those touring tourist buses where the driver is rambling off tidbits and statistics about every single place to the point of almost numbing their passengers. If I knew this was what was going to happen on this trip I would have booked a flight instead.
The first time I saw a warning label printed on a product, I remember thinking why would anyone want to buy something that could harm them. It was a pack of cigarettes, I recall. The other item I remember were those plastic bags that dry cleaners used to wrap customers’ freshly laundered clothing. Today it seems as if almost everything comes with some type of warning. Some of them make sense like the ones regarding medicine and over the counter drugs. I am someone who wants to know if a drug is going to make me sleepy or loopy. Recently I bought a hot air popcorn popper and there was a warning not to submerge the base of it in water because it could be an electrical hazard. Ok, that makes sense to me. Now there are some product warnings I have seen where I think the manufacturer must be assuming the person buying their product has no common sense. Shouldn’t everyone know to lift up a hot pot by its handles? I absolutely understand companies are afraid they will get sued, but doesn’t the consumer bear some of the responsibility? Wasn’t there something in the news about a person taking legal action against a fast food chain because the hot coffee filled cup they placed between their legs, while driving out of the drive thru, spilled and burned their legs? Regarding movies, each of them comes with a rating which in a way is like a warning about the content of that particular film. None of the current ratings explain the warning one needs before seeing this comedy. HAVING recently buried his wife Dick Kelly, played by Robert De Niro (Joy, Being Flynn), convinced his soon to be married grandson Jason, played by Zac Efron (Neighbors, That Awkward Moment), to take him on a road trip. Their trip would reveal many new surprises. I want to know how the cast which also included Zoey Deutch (Beautiful Creatures, Ringer-TV) as Shadia, Aubrey Plaza (Safety Not Guaranteed, Life After Beth) as Lenore and Julianne Hough (Safe Haven, Footloose) as Meredith could do any type of press tour and not be embarrassed by this movie. This was one of the worst films I have seen in the past year. The script was vulgar, crude, obnoxious and offensive; I could go on. It is astounding that these actors agreed to do this picture, especially Robert De Niro. Sure he can do comedy but why would he set himself up for ridicule. I guarantee you when the time comes to do a tribute to him; this movie will not be included in any of the film clips of his past roles. In regards to Zac, it seemed to me as if he counted on his looks more than his limited acting skills. This movie needed a warning label so innocent people would not spend their money and unwittingly let the studio know it is okay to make a crappy film.
When I used to hear the word vacation I knew that meant we were taking a road trip. My preparation consisted of getting the latest comic books, magazines, along with plenty of snacks; what clothes to bring was less important to me. With the entire back seat of the car as my living space throughout the trip, I could stretch out and nap when there was nothing interesting to see out the car windows. I not only have hundreds of fond memories from those road trips, but I can recall all the not so nice things that I experienced going across the country. For example there was the trip we took to Florida where the driver was the son of family friends. He wanted to take the shortest amount of time to get to our destination so bathroom breaks were scheduled based on time not need. There was one long stretch where I started to cry because I had to use the bathroom so badly. There was another trip where we planned to stop overnight so we could rest up and arrive for lunch the next day at our destination. Unfortunately the motel we had reservations at had mice and cockroaches leading us down the hallway towards our room. We did not even bother making it to our room before turning around and leaving that place. Oh and I cannot forget the motel room that had a bathroom that looked like a crime scene. Vacations should not have to be hard; someone needed to tell the family in this adventure comedy. HOPING to give his family the same fond memories he experienced when he was a kid Rusty Griswold, played by Ed Helms (The Hangover franchise, Cedar Rapids), decided he was going to take the family on a vacation to Walley World. There certainly was going to be a lot of memories made from this road trip. This story was not a sequel or reboot; what it did was take the character of Rusty from the original film and have him be an adult with a family of his own. Christina Applegate (Hall Pass, Anchorman franchise) played Rusty’s wife Debbie. Five minutes into the picture and I was immediately turned off by the story. Essentially the writers tried to make jokes out of the younger son bullying his older brother and I found it offensive. This went on for over half of the film and I did not find it funny at all. The rest of the jokes consisted of crude bathroom humor and dull sight gags. The only plus in this movie was Leslie Mann (The Other Woman, This is 40) and Chris Hemsworth (The Avengers franchise, Rush) as Audrey and Stone Crandall. If I had known I would have put in a 60 hour work week instead of taking time to go see this boring film.
1 1/2 stars
There is a special freedom for me when I am able to take a vacation by myself. With the responsibilities I have at my jobs where I need to constantly communicate verbally, I find a peaceful comfort when I am silent. The only time I need to speak is when I check in/out of the hotel and when I order food; otherwise, I can get lost in a new city and release my mind to accept all things visually. Away and alone I do not have to compromise, negotiate, alter or abandon anything I have set out to do while on vacation; talk about the ultimate paradise for someone with control issues. However, when I travel with someone there is the opportunity to see things through a different set of eyes, which can open up a new experience. I have a long time friend who has traveled with me for many years. Our shared adventures have produced some magical and memorable times. When there is a person you have a long history with, there is a steady ease the two of you share throughout the trip. Since I am an avid photographer, documenting everything I see while on vacation, years after our trip we get to revisit and reminiscence, letting our memories filter out with softer edges of our travels. FORMER brother-in-laws Mitch and Colin, played by Earl Lynn Nelson (Pilgrim Song, Passenger Pigeons) and Paul Eenhoorn (This is Martin Bonner, Beautiful Brit Baker), went on a trip to Iceland to share some fun, explore and try to get back their youth. These two actors created a believable connection between their characters. Where one was outgoing and silly the other had more of a quiet sophistication that worked well at balancing out each other in various scenes that unfolded in this adventure comedy. Visually the scenes were beautiful thanks to the breathtaking landscapes of Iceland. Due to the crisp and clean scenes the majority of humor was verbally generated. I enjoyed this movie for the most part though there were times I became bored. Part of the reason was due to the directing. This film had a similar vibe to the movie Thelma & Louise with the foundation of the story being a crazy road trip; it just happened to be played by a pair of friends who were of a geriatric age. Ultimately this sweet picture kept things simple by letting the characters reveal their inner thoughts and fears, while we watched two friends finding their way through life. I hope the opportunity to do that with my friends and family presents itself to me when I get to be that age.
2 3/4 stars
The reactions vary from individual to individual when it comes to experiencing good or bad luck. Some people take things in stride, where the appearance of luck has little effect on their mood. Whether they find $20.00 on the ground while walking to the store or getting drenched by torrential rains that started five minutes before they arrived at their destination, their mood barely budges. I think part of the reason has to do with the way one was raised. The lower the self-confidence the gloomier a person becomes from a stroke of bad luck. There is something about bad luck that makes it feel like a chewed up piece of gum that is stuck on your shoes, making each step harder to take. I have also noticed, at least in my experiences, luck comes in waves. If a person is having a lucky moment it tends to expand beyond one incident. An example would be someone on a lucky streak while playing a game of chance. However, the same could be said if they were on a bad streak. There is an old saying that death comes in threes; the same could be said regarding bad luck. IN this comedy Melissa McCarthy (The Heat, Identity Thief) played Tammy, essentially the same character she recently has portrayed twice before. Loud and foul-mouthed Tammy had a string of bad luck going when her car broke down, lost her job and found her husband Greg, played by Nat Faxon (The Descendants, Bad Teacher), cheating on her with another woman. Seizing it as an opportunity to get out of town and change her life, Tammy found an additional problem; she would have to take along her alcoholic grandmother Pearl, played by Susan Sarandon (The Lovely Bones, The Big Wedding). This film festival winner was such a mess with its conflicting story lines. It would flip from a comedy to a drama, from funny to sad without a continuous train of thought. Maybe it has to do with my own issues about body image but I found this movie offensive. With Melissa’s recent films it seems to me she is cast for her size. The humor is supposed to come from watching a large person doing activities that if the character had been skinny would not be as funny. There was nothing new that Melissa provided to this film; but then again it was hard for any of the actors to do anything worthy with the abysmal script and poor direction. Only Kathy Bates (Titanic, Misery) as cousin Lenore came across as authentic. As far as I was concerned I felt Melissa’s luck had run out with this dud. There was one brief blooper outtake scene in the middle of the credits.
1 2/3 stars
Expectations can lead one down a road filled with disappointment. I try my best to avoid the pitfall of expectations, especially when it comes to movies. Now it is a different story if we are talking about chocolate–I always expect chocolate to taste good. I will admit when I received this movie, I expected nothing. Maybe I even had a slightly negative attitude about it, based on what I had heard from several people. This is a perfect example of having no expectations and discovering a total surprise. This funny film was an easy one to watch. The story was about two British friends who traveled to America, starting their vacation at a comic book convention. From this starting point the best friends Graeme Willy and Clive Gollings, played by Simon Pegg (Burke and Hare, Star Trek) and Nick Frost (Snow White and the Huntsman, Pirate Radio) set out on a road trip to visit infamous locations of an alien nature. Early on in their tour they had a surprise alien encounter with Paul, voiced by Seth Rogan (Funny People, Knocked Up), a fugitive from a government secret base. I was amused with Seth’s performance, liking him more that I usually do in a movie. Also, one of the reasons I got this DVD was because Kristen Wiig (Bridesmaids, Friends With Kids) was in it. She did not disappoint me in the least with her wild character Ruth Buggs. Vulgar language throughout the movie; the story was brilliantly scripted by the lead actors, Simon and Nick. With a foul mouthed, smoking alien as the star; this fun comedy was much better than yesterday’s movie I reviewed, The Watch.
2 3/4 stars — DVD