PRETEND YOU CAME FROM a far, far away land or even distant planet and observe the actions some people go through for their holiday celebrations. Morning, noon or night you could see drivers arguing over parking spaces. The landscape void of all vegetation has building blocks of cement and steel doing everything in their power to entice citizens to walk through their doors and buy the merchandise inside. Speaking of merchandise, there are colorful displays everywhere inside these buildings that try to catch your eye. Music played only during the autumn/winter months continuously enters your ears; more than likely repeating itself at some point. Rolls of paper have to be replaced in cash registers throughout the store because of all the gift receipts being printed out. And the most arduous times during this period take place when there is something called a “sale.” During this time you might see people bumping into other people as they seek and consume marked down items. RETURNING TO THEIR HOMES the frenzy does not stop as the end of the year nears. Lists are made for all of the foods one wants to have in their possession. Some people will stress over the preparation of the meals while others will just have others bring in the food. People risk life and limb to hang decorations all over the outside of their houses and across their land. Frustration can spike when after strings of lights are hung to outline the edges of one’s house and one of the bulbs does not light up when the switch is turned on. Inside the decorations can have a particular theme or be a conglomeration of ideas brought together to make the house look festive. One interesting thing of note revolves around the concept of gift giving. It may appear that the younger the person is the more gifts they want to get. This concept of gift giving comes with its own unique form of stress. Will the recipient like the gift, will it fit, will it be too hard to put together; these are some of the thoughts that many individuals get when their minds are focused on gifts. If that was not stressful enough, what could be worse than answering the door to an unexpected guest? If you want to find out then watch what happens in this comedy adventure. FEELING THE STRESS OF the holiday’s fast approach friends Amy, Kiki and Carla; played by Mila Kunis (Oz the Great and Powerful, Friends with Benefits), Kristen Bell (The Lifeguard, Hit and Run) and Kathryn Hahn (The Secret Life of Walter Mitty, We’re the Millers); were not prepared for the ultimate stress—their mothers’ surprise visit. This sequel represents the bad aspects of making a sequel. Where I liked the first movie, I was bored through most of this film. On top of it I found a mean spiritedness to the story. The introduction of each one’s mother has been done before and I found some of the scenes ludicrous. There was no new humor mined with this mother/daughter story line. The cast was fine though I thought Christine Baranski (Into the Woods, The Good Wife-TV) as Ruth and Susan Sarandon (The Lovely Bones, The Meddler) as Isis were typical choices; one was stuck up and the other was the laid back hippie. Though there were a couple of chuckles here and there, I found this film as stale as year old fruitcake.
1 ½ stars
Rarely did a day go by where she did not stick her head out the window to yell her son’s name. If the atmosphere in our neighborhood was conducive to producing fog, she would have been perfect as a foghorn; that is how loud and piercing her voice was from the 2nd floor window. Everyone in the neighborhood knew of her. She actually was a fun mother who was the first one to help out at any school functions and kept her home fully stocked with candy and treats for any guests. Though if you were to ask her son what he thought of her, he may have had a slightly different opinion. He always had to call her if he was going anywhere out of range from her vision. If he went over to a friend’s house he had to call her when he got there and when he was on his way home. There were a few boys who would tease him about it but the rest of us kept quiet. I thought it was better than the mothers who wanted to actually come out and play with us. Not the kind who would agree to be our pitcher if we were one player short; I am talking about the ones who wanted to participate in snowball fights or king of the hill. They would even dress in a less adult way where one would not first think they had kids; it was just weird to me. And especially when you get towards that adolescence age where you don’t want any parents around as you are feeling more independent, it can turn into an embarrassing situation. AFTER her husband died Marnie, played by Susan Sarandon (Tammy, Robot & Frank), needed a hobby. What better one to have than her daughter Lori, played by Rose Byrne (Neighbors, Spy)? This comedic drama started out in familiar territory to the point where I thought it would become obnoxious. But here is the beauty of it; in its sly way the script took me to a whole different place. Let me start out with the acting; besides Susan there was J.K. Simmons (Whiplash, Terminator Genisys) as Zipper and Cecily Strong (The Boss, The Bronze) as Jillian. I was surprised at the different type of character J.K. performed, doing a wonderful job. Then there was Susan, she was sensational in the role. The two actors really formed a connection on screen. I enjoyed the way the script took her on a journey and I am not referring to her traveling from New York City to Los Angeles; it was a well told story of an individual’s growth. Regarding the comedic scenes, I think most viewers will react favorable because of familiarity with the circumstances. Continuing with the Mother’s Day theme from the weekend I feel this film should have been the one to market more than the one I reviewed this past Monday. I recognized several mothers I knew from my childhood in this picture and did not have to hear my friend’s name being shouted out from the window.
3 ¼ stars
They may only be a string of words but they are filled with the essence of a person. In yesterday’s review I talked about people who do not follow through on their intentions or promises; today I am referring to people who out and out tell lies. For me this is one of my deal breakers on whether I continue a relationship with a person. I don’t have an issue if someone wants to colorize their stories, but saying something that is false to change another person’s perceptions is nothing I want to be around. A few weeks ago a friend of mine called to rant about a friend of hers who I happen to know. This friend had called to touch base with her and catch up with what was going on in their life. During the conversation the friend was explaining why he did not do something he had said he was going to do for her; he told her his sister had cancer throughout her body. My friend was stunned and saddened by the news. After their conversation ended she called another friend to tell them about the sister. Well long story short, it turned out this other friend called the sister to see if they needed any help and shocked her because she did not have any cancer. Now you have to wonder why a person would lie about such a thing; there is no excuse for it as far as I can see. When I hear things like this I feel a person will wind up experiencing a specific negative thing in their life; others would say they are going to hell. AFTER breaking a promise Curt, voiced by Rob Riggle (Let’s Be Cops, 21 Jump Street), was dragged to hell. His friends who witnessed it followed Curt in to try and rescue him. This stop motion animated adventure comedy had some major actors voicing characters like Susan Sarandon (Tammy, The Lovely Bones) as Barb the Angel, Mila Kunis (Jupiter Ascending, Ted) as Deema and Bob Odenkirk (Nebraska, Breaking Bad-TV) as the Devil. Their voices were the best part of the movie; what they said was crude. This film is for adults only because the language was so blue aka risque, bawdy, R rated. I did not find the visuals creative considering the artists could have pretty much created anything they wanted for the scenes. The humor was at such a low level that I did not find anything worth a chuckle. As the script went from one sight gag to another I soon became bored with the story. To tell you the truth I was a bit surprised the studio was able to get first rate actors to partake in this picture. I had to wonder if the actors had done something “bad” in their lives where they had to participate in this film; maybe this was hell for them. Strong language throughout the film.
1 1/2 stars
I can only imagine what it must have been like to sit in one of those old movie palaces with the etched terra cotta walls, marble countertops and various sculptures plus murals adorning its grand lobby. Settled into one of the plush velvet covered seats with the wooden armrests that were polished to a high gloss, there had to be an electric energy in the air when this actor was up on the large movie screen. The reason I say this is because I remember seeing his movies on television when I was a little boy. Whether he played a pirate who was secretly conspiring with Queen Elizabeth I to pick off Spanish ships or robbing from the rich to give to the poor; to me he was the ultimate hero. I remember one Halloween I wore a pirate costume but at each house I visited I would tell them I was Errol Flynn (The Sea Hawk, Captain Blood). During his lifetime there was no social media or reporter frenzy like there is today. Scandals may have been reported via word of mouth, but with Errol his outrageousness went beyond any behind the back whispers. KEVIN Kline (Last Vegas, Wild Wild West) portrayed Errol Flynn in this dramatic biography that focused on the movie star’s last years. The story focused on Errol’s infatuation with a young girl named Beverly Aadland, played by Dakota Fanning (Man on Fire, The Runaways). With a celebrity obsessed mother named Florence, played by Susan Sarandon (Tammy, Thelma & Louise), the young starlet wannabe and older actor would set off a controversy that would rock Hollywood. Since I was not familiar with this story I did ask a couple of people if they remembered this chapter of Errol’s life. They in fact did remember the incident, confirming parts of this film for me. Kevin Kline did an admirable job playing Errol. He may not have had the same suave golden charm of Errol but he was still able to pull it off. As for Dakota I was surprised how much I did not care for her in this role. Her acting was bland and lifeless to me. Compared to Kevin and Susan she stood out as a joke; though I have to say, I did not think Susan was all that great either. For such a character from the golden age of actors, this movie fell flat; I was periodically bored as I would glance at my watch to see if the film was almost over. It is never a good sign if I have to look at my watch during a picture. Such a poorly written script, this film did not put the life into an actor who was larger than life.
1 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
Attending a wedding is a little like going to a dinner/theater performance. Sometimes the food can be good while the production is lukewarm; other times, it can be the exact opposite. Wedding receptions are a double edged sword for me. There have been occasions where the bride and groom made it their mission to find me the same happiness they had by seating me next to one of their single friends. Can we say awkward? Usually every wedding has one relative in attendance who feels everyone should be having as much fun as her or him. In my case it usually was a tipsy aunt who found out I could dance and wants to dance the night away with me. So you see why I accept wedding invitations with some trepidation. I had similar feelings about seeing this comedy; my expectations were low. Robert De Niro (Silver Linings Playbook, Being Flynn) and Diane Keaton (Mad Money, The Family Stone) played former husband and wife Don and Ellie. If it was not going to be uncomfortable enough seeing each other for their adoptive son’s wedding; it was going to be a monumental task to pretend they were still married for the sake of their son’s strictly religious, biological mother. Granted the story was far-fetched, but the actors gave it a decent shot. What made it work was the chemistry between Robert, Diane and Susan Sarandon (The Company you Keep, The Client) who played the girlfriend Bebe to Robert’s character Don. It was a pleasant surprise to see Robin Williams (World’s Greatest Dad, Good Will Hunting) playing a more subdued character as Father Moinighan. There were amusing scenes as well as lame scenes throughout the movie. It may be due to my years of exposure to family (dys)functions; but as a whole, I did not mind sitting through this film. At least I did not have anyone sitting next to me or was forced to get up and dance.
2 1/4 stars
Due to the problems I had in high school, by the time I went to college I learned it was safer to not reveal much about myself. This meant being vague about my religion, my politics, even my taste in music; I did not want to take a chance in providing someone ammunition to pick on me. Going to an out of state college gave me the opportunity to be a different person. However, I had no idea how much energy it took to keep up a facade of total blankness; it made me tired. I can only imagine how much strength it takes for people in the witness protection program. In this thriller you will meet a group of individuals who have been undercover for 30 years. When a bank robbery went terribly wrong, members of the activist group behind the heist went into hiding. Thirty years later radical member Sharon Solarz, played by Susan Sarandon (Robot & Frank, Dead Man Walking), decided to turn herself in to the authorities. Shia LaBeaouf (Transformers franchise, Lawless) as investigative reporter Ben Shepard found it odd when civil rights lawyer Jim Grant, played by Robert Redford (The Sting, The Horse Whisperer), refused to take Sharon’s case. Not willing to take no for an answer, Ben tenaciously searched for answers from the evasive lawyer before the FBI removed any chance for Ben to break a great story. The cast was made up with Academy Award winners and nominees like Julie Christie (Away From Her, Don’t Look Now) as Mimi Lurie and Richard Jenkins (The Visitor, Liberal Arts) as Jed Lewis. Robert Redford was just okay as the director; but I found the idea of him being the father to eleven year old daughter Isabel, played by singing sensation Jackie Evancho, not believable. Though this movie was marketed as a thriller; I found for the most part scenes were somewhat tense, but those were few and far between. I was bored at times and it was a shame. The idea behind the story was great; sadly the execution of it was poor. This film needed the same type of passion that one can find in activists today.
2 1/4 stars
Throughout the animal kingdom there are numerous examples of the mother and father protecting their young. A docile animal turns into a ferocious killer when her or his child is being threatened. Among humans, how many of us have heard amazing stories of a parent’s sudden super human strength to save their child? Though I am not a parent, I can understand that protective instinct. When my niece and nephew were little, whenever we were out in public, I usually walked behind them and their parents. It was something that instinctively occurred in me; looking out for any potential danger that might bring harm to them. Starting out with the similar premise of a parent protecting their child, this action film had everything in place to create a tense story inspired by true events. With his son jailed for possession of drugs, it would take something creative for John Matthews, played by Dwayne Johnson (Tooth Fairy, The Rundown), to get his son out before the hardcore inmates would beat his son to death. Striking an unusual deal with district attorney Joanne Keeghan, played by Susan Sarandon (Arbitrage, Mr. Woodcock), John would go undercover to set up a sting operation for the Drug Enforcement Administration. Let us do a quick review here: we have a parent willing to do anything for their child, dangerous inmates and drug dealers. Sounds like an exciting movie to me; I was completely wrong. It seemed as if all the actors had the life sucked out of them, going through their motions in a deflated state. I gave credit to Dwayne Johnson for taking on a serious role, but his inexperience in a dramatic role led to a poor performance. Besides Susan Sarandon getting a badly written role, I was stunned with Benjamin Bratt (Miss Congeniality, Love in the Time of Cholera) as drug kingpin Juan Carlos “El Topo” Pintera. There was zero depth to his character. The only thing that resembled excitement was the car/truck chase scene and Barry Pepper (Broken City, True Grit) as Agent Cooper. I can only imagine what the parents of the writers and director must feel about their children’s work after seeing this dull film. Brief scenes with blood.
1 3/4 stars
Some years ago for my birthday I received a gift of a reading from a psychic. Before going into the session I was told to remember the things that did not make sense to me. One thing said, that had no meaning for me, was her seeing me standing in a room surrounded by people dressed in funny outfits, moving to music. This was said several years prior to me attending, let alone teaching, an aerobic class. She also said I should pay particular attention to any person with red hair, for they have something to offer me. To this day I still think of that whenever I am introduced to a red haired person. Part of my reading delved into what she referred to as my past lives. According to her I was a spy in a previous life, so I would have easy access to two opposing forces. I was an educator and a leader along with being skilled in the use of a crossbow. Though I may not have understood everything told to me, I walked away with the idea that a person keeps returning to this world again and again until they complete their challenge correctly. This same notion could be applied to this expansive movie. With multiple stories set in the past, present and future; the actors took on several roles in this visual extravaganza. Leaving you to figure out which star was playing what role, part of the cast had Tom Hanks (Larry Crowne, Charlie Wilson’s War), Halle Berry (X-Men franchise, Monster’s Ball), Jim Broadbent (The Iron Lady, Another Year) and Susan Sarandon (Arbitrage, The Lovely Bones). Adding in the previews, this 3 hour viewing was too much, trying too hard to be a saga for the ages. Some of the stories were more interesting to me; I would have rather seen an entire movie made out of one of them. There was pressure for me to keep up with each story line as the film kept jumping back and forth, seeing no connection between them at first. I felt everyone associated with the making of this film was spread too thin, which made for a meandering stream of babble at times. For me it seemed as if the writers and directors were deliberately obtuse, leaving this pseudo epic film open to multiple interpretations. The message I walked away with was we are all connected, with our actions having a timeless effect throughout the centuries. I got the same message from the psychic in a lot less time without the fear of my bladder exploding.
2 2/3 stars
Just because someone has financial wealth does not mean they are smarter or better; there is not a different set of rules for them, though they may think so. I have a relative who became wealthy and felt they could tell everyone else what they “should” be doing in life. It is quite annoying listening to them. I am certain there is more going on in the business world besides the Bernie Madoff types and Enron style scandals, that we do not hear about in the news. One could add from this movie Robert Miller, played by Richard Gere (Brooklyn’s Finest, Chicago), to the list of immoral, corrupt greedy businessmen. While Robert was in the middle of delicate negotiations to sell his company, he was involved in a terrible accident. If news were to get out about the incident, the ramifications would be monumental to his firm and family. How far would the unscrupulous Robert go to maintain control over his life before his greed ripped him and his empire apart? Richard Gere was excellent in this role, being smooth and sexy with a venomous bite. Susan Sarandon (Robot & Frank, Mr. Woodcock) did a beautiful job playing Robert’s wife Ellen, the charitable good spouse with a steely spine. The story was evenly paced, allowing the suspense to build long enough to keep my interest. A couple of noteworthy performances I want to mention were Brit Marling (Another Earth, Sound of my Voice) as Robert’s daughter Brooke and Nate Parker (The Great Debaters, Red Tails) as Jimmy Grant, the son of a former employee of Robert’s firm; who was trying to make a better life for himself. Except for the choice of ending that was not very satisfying to me, this was a solid adult movie that showed the ugliness of greed we have all seen before.