FROM THE VARIOUS HOLIDAY CELEBRATIONS, I have participated in, this year will provide me with something new. Considering I have been a witness to holiday events that spanned the spectrum from elegant to outrageous, that is saying something. I was invited to a family’s holiday dinner where a fight broke out between 2 sisters at the dining room table. The one sister broke down in tears and ran out of the room; talk about a conversation killer. At another celebration, one of the family’s elders had all the little children sit around the Christmas tree; so, he could tell them the history behind several of the ornaments. That was a wonderful experience because there was a plain, lopsided star shaped, wooden ornament on the tree that had been handed down in the family for generations. I think it was someone like a great, great, great grandparent who had carved the ornament. Listening to the stories behind the tree ornaments was such a cool experience for me and they were not even my own family. As you can see just from these 2 examples, I have been to a variety of family holiday functions and dysfunctions to the point I had thought there was nothing left to surprise me. HEARING HOW THE PRESENTS WERE TO be distributed made me think a logistics company needed to be involved. One person was waiting for a group of packages to be delivered to their house. Once received, they then had to take them and drive to two family members’ houses to drop them off. At the 2ndstop, after their car trunk was empty, they were to receive a group of presents that they then had to bring back to their house. From there another family member was going to arrive to take half the packages and deliver them to relatives who lived down in the city. Several remaining packages were to be driven to relatives who lived close by. I did not have to be the driver for any of these excursions; I just had to carry the presents to load and unload from the cars that pulled into the garage. Once all the packages get delivered to the intended family members, we are going to do a video call where all of us can see each other opening our presents. I have visions of us looking like the opening credits of the TV show, The Brady Bunch; each of us in our own little tick tock box. This will be a new experience for me, and I am guessing for some of you. At least getting together this way has the potential to cut down on the type of antics that went on amongst the family members in this film festival nominee. WITHOUT HER DAUGHTER JOINING HER FOR the holiday Claudia Larson, played by Holly Hunter (The Big Sick, Broadcast News) would have to face her family alone. With low expectations, Claudia was hoping there would be little drama she would get pulled into. With Robert Downey Jr (Iron Man franchise, Due Date) as Tommy Larson, Anne Bancroft (The Miracle Worker, The Graduate) as Adele Larson, Charles Durning (Tootsie, Dog Day Afternoon) as Henry Larson and Dylan McDermott (The Perks of Being a Wallflower, Olympus Has Fallen) as Leo Fish; this comedic romance drama had the makings of an old fashioned crazy comedy in the same vein as Bringing Up Baby or Arsenic and Old Lace. The acting was excellent from the entire cast as they played a cast of characters. Where this film falters is the unevenness between the scenes. There were some heartfelt dramatic ones that grabbed me, but then there were others that felt flat and predictable. I will say the writers did a decent job with trying to capture all sides of a family gathering. On a positive note, after seeing this film I am looking forward to having a video family gathering, that comes with a mute button. A safe and happy holiday season I wish to all of you.
2 ½ stars
THE BUSHES IN FRONT OF THE apartment building offered me ideal cover. I was leading the group on a treasure hunt. Our course was going to take us through hostile territories; I was prepared for the known hazards, but not for the unknown ones. Sneaking out of the bushes, we made our way south by staying off the main thoroughfares. The path I took was uneven, filled with potholes and covered with a mix of unkempt grass and gravel. As we came up to a large building, I had everyone cling to the side of the road where at least there was sporadic cover in case we were walking into a trap. It was the right call because 3 trap doors in the building sprung open and a series of time bombs were being hurled at us. My monkey who was 2ndin command leaped to a nearby tree and scurried up into the branches for cover. From my vantage point I could see him navigating the branches as he made his way to the one branch that was leaning over to the structure. I saw him take a few sticks of dynamite and tape them together. He then lit them and tossed it onto the roof of the building. I only had to wait a few seconds before there was a big explosion that caused the roof to cave in and bury our enemies. WHAT YOU JUST READ WAS ONE of many escapades I had with my entourage of imaginary animals. Besides my trusted monkey, I had a tiger, hawk, panther, wolf and chipmunk as part of my group. All these characters came to the forefront of my imagination after I started reading the books about Doctor Doolittle. The stories about the good doctor were some of my favorite ones when I was growing up. I identified with him because I felt I too could talk to animals; though, I was a novice at understanding them. But that did not stop me from talking to my pet parakeet and the animals several of my relatives had as pets. My conversations were not just exclusive to live animals, it also incorporated the stuffed animals I had gotten through my infant years as gifts. Animals were so easy to talk to and they provided me with hours of comfort. Due to this history when I saw the trailer for this film, I immediately knew I had to see it. Seeing one of my favorite book characters come to life was going to be a big thrill for me. THOUGH DOCTOR DOOLITTLE, PLAYED BY ROBERT Downey Jr. (Avengers franchise, The Judge), had not ventured outside of his home for several years, when the Queen of England summoned him to the palace he could not refuse. His visit would be the start of an incredible adventure. With Antonio Banderas (The Skin I Live In, Pain and Glory) as King Rassouli, Michael Sheen (The Twilight Sage franchise, The Queen) as Dr. Blair Mudfly, Jim Broadbent (The Iron Lady, Gangs of New York) as Lord Thomas Badgley and Harry Collett (Dunkirk, Casualty-TV) as Tommy Stubbins; this adventure, family comedy belonged in a litter box. I know I may have been more invested in this film than others; however, nothing was right about this picture except the animals. I had a hard time understanding Robert’s character due to his quiet mumbling of the words with an odd accent. The script had nothing fun or exciting in it. I felt the writers just threw a bunch of animals into the script to add some slapstick to the dull story. Maybe young viewers will enjoy this movie; but for the young of heart, there would be better enjoyment found if one read the books instead. There was an extra scene during the ending credits.
1 ½ stars
IF YOU WERE A BOY, THE one thing you would not want to do is cry in public. If you were caught crying it would become the catalyst for a slew of derogatory nicknames, teasing and abuse. It was just a fact of life back then. And this is not me imagining or over dramatizing it; every boy in school knew no matter what, don’t cry and do not even let your eyes water up. It was expected girls would cry because they were more “emotional.” I had no idea where I was taught this fact; there were no surveys done or analysis completed. It was just something that all of us in school knew or assumed at least. I have seen girls fight each other as well as boys and I can tell you the two sexes fought in totally different ways. The girls were more vicious; they would slap, punch, pinch, scratch and use any item they could grab their hands on. The boys would limit their fighting to punches, wrestling holds and kicks. Where the girls would scream and yell, the boys rarely uttered a word. No matter what happened if someone was going to cry during their fight it was usually a girl. A boy might crumble up in pain and moan but would do everything possible not to cry. THANK HEAVENS TIMES HAVE CHANGED OR AT least I hope so. Gratefully I have not been in a fight since I have been an adult, but I can easily tear up or cry during a movie. This is not something exclusive; I can easily tear up while listening to music or during an emotional conversation. There is something freeing about releasing tears, both of sadness and joy. Think about the amount of energy it takes to hold in your emotions. I find it exhausting, so rarely do I try to keep my feelings/emotions in check these days. However, when I was in school being picked on or bullied, I held my emotions in. Thinking back at those times, it surprises me how we lived in a compartmentalized society; girls and boys, men and woman each had to act a certain way. I remember a parent saying it was not ladylike for a girl to fight. What did ladylike mean? Emotions and feelings are not defined by gender; they are unisex, universal. One emotion is not exclusive to one sex; yet for my generation, we were raised to believe differently. Therefore, films like this action fantasy are necessary. WITH THE WORLD LEFT IN SHAMBLES minus half the population, the remaining members of the Avengers had to move on with their lives. Losing a battle was hard for them; something they never wanted to experience again. But when a sliver of hope to rectify the past appeared, would any of the superheroes take the chance to change the past? With Robert Downey Jr. (The Judge, Chef) as Tony Stark/Iron Man, Chris Evans (Gifted, Before We Go) as Steve Rogers/Captain America, Mark Ruffalo (The Kids are All Right, Spotlight) as Bruce Banner/Hulk; Chris Hemsworth (Bad Times at the El Royale, 12 Strong) as Thor and Scarlett Johansson (Rough Night, Lucy) as Natasha Romanoff/Black Widow; this adventure sequel was a culmination of the past Avengers films. Coming in at 3 hours and 58 seconds; be prepared for a moving experience. I cried multiple times during this movie. The script was special; it was thoughtful and tied up every little detail for this franchise. What impressed me the most was the fact that female and male characters were equal, both in emotions and fighting skills. It did not matter whether a character had little or more screen time; they each played an important part in creating this superhero masterpiece. I felt there was more story than action in this picture; however, what action there was in the story was incredible to watch. How the movie studio will ever top this, I do not know. Whatever gender you identify with, I suggest you bring tissues with you and allow yourself to experience this epic movie. There were NO extra scenes at the end of the film.
3 ¾ stars
AN INCREDIBLE EVENT RECENTLY TOOK place that I was fortunate enough to witness. You may have experienced something like it already but for me it was my first time. In the past I have attended special events where family was present. A baptism, bar mitzvah, wedding and other such type of events where there were relatives from two different families. Usually the 2 families sit separately; for example, the custom for weddings is the bride’s side sits on the right and the groom’s family sits on the left. That divide, as far as I can tell, remains throughout the dinner and reception. People who know the groom all sit together as does the bride’s family and friends. Honestly, I get it and am not judging it; however, that divide that started with the wedding aisle continues into the night. Here is where I have seen people judging those from the “other side.” I have heard guests commenting on clothing, physical features and dance moves; gratefully not all of them were negative, some were complimentary. My point though is I was a witness to an event where both sides blended together; all coming together to celebrate both the bride and groom. BEFORE, DURING AND AFTER THE WEDDING ceremony guests from both families were mingling with each other. I heard people sharing stories about the bride and/or the groom to explain their connection to the happy couple. Each tidbit of anecdotal information was being pieced together to form this loving blanket of cherished memories. I was impressed with the amount of love guests were displaying over these two young people who were about to be joined in marriage. To give you an example, in all the weddings I have attended I have never danced with the mother from the other family. After dinner I was on the dance floor and the mother came up to dance with me. Maybe this is not unusual for you, but for me it was a new experience. When it was time to lift the bride and groom in the air for a cheer, each of them had equal family representation underneath holding up their chairs. The entire evening went on like this; every person was there celebrating together for a common goal—to wish the newlyweds a happy, long life. So, you see it is possible to get different sides to work together for a common purpose or goal. Great things can come out of this type of partnership; see what happens in this action adventure film. WITH THE FATE OF THE UNIVERSE falling piece by piece into Thanos’, played by Josh Brolin (Only the Brave, Old Boy), hand; it would take more than one group of fighters to attempt to thwart his mad plan. This fantasy, science fiction movie also starred Robert Downey Jr. (The Judge, Due Date) as Tony Stark/Iron Man, Chris Hemsworth (12 Strong, Blackhat) as Thor, Elizabeth Olsen (Wind River, Ingrid Goes West) as Wanda Maximoff/Scarlett Witch and Mark Ruffalo (Spotlight, Foxcatcher) as Bruce Banner/Hulk. I am guessing this picture cost a fortune to make because the production values were top notch. The special effects, the massive cast and the script each contributed to creating a huge spectacular. Josh was so good in this role; it was the first time I could recall a movie villain being a thoughtful, emotional character instead of just some evil being bent on destroying things. Where I thought the last Thor film installment had too much humor in it, this one had the perfect blend. If you are not familiar with the Marvel universe there is a chance you might get lost in this movie. The other issue I had was the way the picture ended; it was obvious this film only told ½ the story. I believe we will have to wait until May 2019 to find out what happens. At 2 hours and 29 minutes this film was long to sit through, but time for the most part went by fast. This was an almost perfect blend of different franchise characters coming together for one common purpose. There was one extra scene at the end of the credits.
3 ½ stars
THE bus pulled up just as I said goodbye to my friends. They were hanging out together after school, but I had to go to work. The bus ride took around 25 minutes which gave me some time to study for an exam I was having the next day. Is this what I wanted to do after school? No, I would have preferred hanging out with my friends; studying for the exam could take place after dinner. My part-time job was at a camera store. Luckily I worked in the warehouse so I would not have to be out in front selling or ringing up sales. It was already bad enough that I was one of the few who had a job; but to have to wait on my friends or their parents would make things worse. Truthfully the job was not bad at all; since I was already into photography, I enjoyed being around the different film and camera products. I also would hear about new items before the general public, which I thought was cool. MANAGING my time between school and work was a challenge. By the time my friends and I were seniors a majority of us had after school jobs. One of the perks for me was being able to drive the owner’s car to make special pickup orders or deliveries when the company van was out on the road. I was not comfortable driving the large van as I would have to maneuver several side streets on the route. As for the owner’s car, it was a luxury automobile with all the extra appointments; in other words, all the bells and whistles one could buy for it. Even though driving the car was a highlight, I still had the challenge of keeping my grades up while working. Going to school, work and be with my friends was always a give and take situation. There were times I would miss out doing fun stuff; but on the other hand, I always had money in my wallet. My challenges paled by comparison to the ones the main character in this action, adventure film had to endure. AFTER helping out the Avengers the only thing Peter Parker/Spider-Man, played by Tom Holland (The Impossible, The Lost City of Z), wanted to do was to become a full time crime fighter. However he first had to finish high school. This reboot of the science fiction franchise had a well rounded cast that gave the story a good kick of fun excitement. Starring Robert Downey Jr (Sherlock Holmes franchise, The Judge) as Tony Stark/Iron Man, Michael Keaton (The Founder, Spotlight) as Adrian Toomes/Vulture and Marisa Tomei (The Wrestler, The Lincoln Lawyer) as May Parker; each of them did a great job in their roles. I did wish Michael Keaton had more screen time. With his acting skills the writers could have made his character darker and more intense; I think this would have added more to the story. The thing I enjoyed about this film was having Peter struggle with his desire to be a superhero while trying to be a typical teenager. There were elements of wit and charm to many scenes due to Tony Stark’s presence and Peter’s puppy like eagerness. I felt the middle of the film slowed down with the story line about going out on a date; the intensity and action were weak. Though I found Tom’s whiny voice annoying at times, I felt he was the right choice to lead this reboot. There were extra scenes in the middle and at the end of the credits.
3 ¼ stars
Everyone around was becoming uncomfortable by two of their friends’ heated disagreement. The argument had been brewing between the two for a while and neither was willing to give in to the other. Only recently had their words started taking on a snarky tone and the people around knew better to calm either of them down else they would become victims to the venom. The friends hated distancing themselves from the two antagonists but it was becoming the reality of the situation; people were becoming unavailable for the get-togethers. Sadly I am quite familiar with these types of situations because I was usually one of the verbal fighters. For whatever reason the environment I lived in had made me believe a person who disagreed with me no longer liked or loved me. Most of my verbal attacks usually started out saying, “You” instead of “I”; there was rarely any discussion about the what and why I was feeling the way I did. I can still remember the times I would attend a gathering and if there was someone there I had a beef with I would make sure they and everyone around knew it. Whether I used snide remarks or was passive aggressive in attacking them, I can only say it was an ugly situation. With a lot of help and hard work I began to understand an argument was simply an argument; it had nothing to due with what a person thought of you. And the biggest lesson I learned was to express my feelings, starting out a sentence with “I feel…” Need I tell you the disagreement in this action adventure would quickly grow into something of epic proportions. WHEN politicians began to feel there needed to be some checks and balances in the Avengers’ operations, sides would be drawn that could well split the good intentions of the organization. This science fiction film did something that I rarely see in these type of movies; it placed an emphasis on some real life, current issues our world is experiencing at present. The script did a beautiful job of touching on these issues for a bit before switching it up between the wicked humor and personal drama amongst the superheroes. Starring Chris Evans (Snowpiercer, Before We Go) as Captain America, Robert Downey Jr. (The Judge, The Soloist) as Iron Man and Scarlett Johansson (Don Jon, The Avengers franchise) as Black Widow; there were too many characters to list here. I will say the script played to each actor’s strengths and I loved the way it introduced 2 new characters that it was obvious will have their own solo films in the near future. Now with all I have just said I did think this picture was long, but appreciated the way the action scenes were spaced out between the more personal ones. And one other thing I have to mention; I am concerned these Marvel movies are becoming predictable with their spectacular special effects, the two extra scenes during the credits and the Stan Lee appearances; they may raise the viewers’ expectations to a level that makes the films become ordinary. This may cause some discussion among us and that is fine since I know it is not personal. An extra scene during the ending credits and another at the end.
3 1/3 stars
The most important thing for some people is to maintain appearances. It is all about being a dutiful son, obedient daughter or the perfect family member; one must never air their dirty laundry, letting others see any cracks within the family unit. There was a family I knew that had a son and daughter. The two siblings never got along and would act out in some outrageous ways with no regard to personal or commercial property. Inside their home there were the usual scuff marks on the walls and floors. However there were a few unexplained holes in the walls too. If anyone visiting asked about the holes the stock answer given was a delivery man knocked into the wall. Regarding the siblings’ teacher/student conferences, whenever the parents were questioned about their children’s behavior they would blankly stare and say everything was fine at home. I never understood this type of logic, where people think it is better to just smile and say everything is fine than talking issues out. Just because family members may have some troubles between them does not mean they are no longer a unified family unit. Besides, don’t people root for those who come to terms with their issues, who reveal their real selves flaws and all? UNBEKNOWNST to the other Avengers Tony Stark/Ironman and Bruce Danner/Hulk, played by Robert Downey Jr (The Judge, The Soloist) and Mark Ruffalo (Now You See Me, Foxcatcher), were working on a new technology that would help and maintain world peace. Instead it would facilitate the destruction of mankind. This action science fiction sequel had a lot of pressure to live up to its predecessor. What made this adventure film fun was the returning cast and their ability to do justice to the smartly written script. There was just the right amount of sarcasm, wittiness, pathos and excitement to keep the viewer entertained. A perfect example would be Robert Downey Jr’s character. His timing which was as impeccable as Jarvis’ (Tony Stark’s virtual assistant) diction was great when he had to deliver one of the clever quips or jokes. The cast really worked well together like a family, but I want to give an extra shout out to Mark Ruffalo and newcomer Elizabeth Olsen (Oldboy, In Secret) as Wanda Maximoff/Scarlet Witch. These two had a strong impact across the screen due to their acting abilities with their given lines. Now to the crux of why this sequel worked; the characters were allowed to show their flaws and insecurities; they were more real to us where we could sympathize with them. Personally I enjoyed the 1st film more than this one. Yes the action scenes were intense, the special effects were good and James Spader (Lincoln, Boston Legal-TV) was perfect as the voice of Ultron; but the story was a little too long and there was a feeling of familiarity, a sense of deja vu. However, by letting the characters show more of their baggage and flaws, I only wanted to root for them more. There was one extra scene in the middle of the ending credits.
The spoken language is not an exact science. Sure there are rules we follow to aid us in communicating with each other; but some choose their words carefully, others say the first thing that pops into their mind. Then there is the inflection, the way we speak our words; some do so with conscious intentions. However, there are times where the intended remarks may come out in a veiled way that leaves them open for interpretation. By using tone, volume and speed to accentuate the words; they can caress a person’s soul like a velvet blanket or prick their heart with the tip of a sharp dagger. Adults seem to be better equipped to decipher what a person is saying to them. Children on the other hand are a whole different matter. They do not have the skills to navigate the convoluted road of language yet. A child proudly handing his parents a report card filled with all A’s and one B for grades thinks something is wrong when he is asked why he received the B and the A’s are ignored. Being told you are not drawing correctly because you are coloring outside the lines can plant the seeds of doubt in the child’s mind that they will never be an artist. WORDS hit their mark with precision accuracy in this dramatic movie. Robert Downey Jr. (Iron Man franchise, The Soloist) played high-powered lawyer and estranged son Hank Palmer. Robert Duvall (Secondhand Lion, The Godfather franchise) played Hank’s father, Judge Joseph Palmer. When evidence from a crime pointed towards his father, Hank’s conflicted feelings would spill out as he tried to determine if his father was guilty. To this film’s credit the cast chosen for the story was ideal. Besides both Roberts, having Billy Bob Thornton (Sling Blade, Armageddon) as lawyer Dwight Dickham and Vincent D’Onofrio (Full Metal Jacket, Law & Order: Criminal Intent-TV) as Hank’s brother Glen Palmer on board helped to sustain the story. I found all the actors were believable with their characters. The issue I had with this picture was the script; it was uneven and stale. I found some scenes were memorable, filled with high drama; but then, the drama would fall down into sections of boredom. It did not help that the film was way too long. The whole story line involving Vera Farmiga (The Conjuring, Up in the Air) as Samantha Powell went nowhere for me; I thought she was wasted here. From the trailer it appeared this drama would be filled with high tension and intense chemistry between the characters. Sadly, the evidence proved otherwise.
2 1/3 stars
Anticipation builds as the roller coaster climbs to the top where the tracks suddenly vanish. As the coaster car creeps over the top, I take a deep breath just before the wind pushes me against my seat. The next 60 seconds are filled with laughter and yelling from everyone as the roller coaster swoops and soars along the tracks. I enjoyed those older roller coasters, before they started doing corkscrews and flips. When I started taking ibuprofen after riding a roller coaster, I realized it was time to stop going on them. Happily I was able to revisit those same type of thrills while watching this rip-roaring film. After a couple of months sitting through some dismal movies, this 3rd installment of the action series was absolute fun. If it is important to you that the story follows the comic books, you will be disappointed. Since I am not a purist, I thought the story was terrific. Sure there were parts that made no sense to me; but the entertainment value was at such a high level, I just went along for the ride. When the mysterious, ruthless villain known as the Mandarin, played brilliantly by Ben Kingsley (Hugo, The Dictator), struck out at Tony Stark, played by Robert Downey Jr. (The Avengers, Due Date), the ensuing battle no longer was about good versus evil; it was about revenge. Robert was at his best this time around. Pay close attention to his quick one-liners that were flying out from the wonderful script. With the actors being pushed physically, I thought Gwyneth Paltrow (Country Strong, Proof) as Pepper Potts and Guy Pearce (Lawless, Prometheus) as Aldrich Killian were outstanding. The same was true about Don Cheadle (Traitor, Reign Over Me) as Colonel James Rhodes, but I wished he had been given more screen time. The action scenes were perfectly balanced throughout the movie. I never felt the fight scenes were rushed; I was able to distinctly make out each character. Just like those old roller coasters; this film was exciting entertainment. So take the ride of your life; it will be worth the price of admission. Stay through the ending credits.
3 1/3 stars
It took me one week to realize there was a pecking order in high school. The first time in my music class, I was picked on for knowing about Ludwig van Beethoven. For Charlie Bartlett, played by Anton Yelchin (Like Crazy, Star Trek), it only took one day. Granted, wearing a blazer on the first day in your new school was similar to waving a red cape in front of a bull, in my opinion. After being expelled from several private schools, Charlie’s mother Marilyn Bartlett, played by Hope Davis (Real Steel, The Weather Man), had no choice but to enroll him in a public high school. Like anyone going into high school, Charlie just wanted to fit in and be one of the popular kids, not one of the untouchables. Striking an alliance with one of his tormentors, Charlie set up a little business in the boys restroom. He would listen to classmate’s issues similar to being in a confessional and dispense pharmaceutical drugs to them. With any successful business, it did not take long for Charlie to get on principal, played by Robert Downey Jr (The Avengers, Sherlock Holmes franchise), Nathan Gardner’s radar. This offbeat comedy displayed in a quirky way, the angst and trials of high school life. I thought the acting was well done especially from Robert Downey Jr. No matter where you placed on the pecking order in your school, this movie is sure to bring back some memories for you.
2 3/4 stars — DVD