THERE WAS AN OLD SET OF blocks I found in my toy box. It must have been handed down because the color used on the wooden blocks was faded and worn out. Each block had a letter of the alphabet, but I never used the blocks to make words; instead, I used them to make more important things. Stacking the blocks one on top of another made a tall lookout post, with certain letters like “U” and “M” being hidden cannons and machine guns. I would use the blocks to build a wall that was used to surround a moat filled with alligators. One of my favorite things to build were these unusual shaped structures that I pretended were buildings used for outer space outposts. The letters carved into the blocks were windows or shades to protect the inhabitants from the effects of a sun. My imagination would be all over the place as it was being nurtured while playing with these old, wooden building blocks. Every time I would play with them I would discover new adventures and places to explore. IT WAS SOON AFTER I STARTED playing with other toys that would feed my imagination. I remember a box that contained these miniature logs with notches carved towards the ends, like ones used to make a log cabin. However, I used mine to build bridges that would carry visitors over churning rapids or deadly volcanoes. You are probably saying a bridge would never last over an active volcano; but in my world, the logs were made of a secret element that allowed them to withstand the heat from the lava churning inside the volcano, that was preparing to spew up and out. Most of my building type toys were of a smaller scale; in other words, I could create whatever I wanted but it would not be life-sized. That all changed when I received a gift of Styrofoam blocks from a friend of mine. These blocks were bigger than anything I had in my possession. They would interlock using the three pegs sticking up from the top into the three holes that were at the bottom of each piece. The key was not using all three pegs into another piece. All I had to do was use one of the pegs at the ends and I could form a curving wall to form an igloo or fort that was big enough for me to sit in. Add a towel or bedsheet at the top and it would become an awning. There was no limit to my imagination with any of my building toys. The same could be said for the writers of this animated action sequel. LIFE DRASTICALLY CHANGED THE PAST FEW years from everything being awesome to everything being destroyed. The only citizen who kept a positive attitude was Emmet Brickowski, voiced by Chris Pratt (Guardians of the Galaxy franchise, The Magnificent Seven), but that was about to change. With Elizabeth Banks (The Hunger Games franchise, Pitch Perfect franchise) voicing Lucy, Will Arnett (Show Dogs, Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles franchise) voicing Batman, Tiffany Haddish (Night School, Nobody’s Fool) voicing Queen Watevra Wa’Nabi and Stephanie Beatriz (Short Term 12, The Light of the Moon) voicing General Mayhem; the previous cast returned with a few new additions in this adventure film. The actors were all in tune with their characters, delivering the finely tuned humor in the script. As with building blocks, the writers had free rein to go anywhere they wanted with the story. For the most part, they did a good job; however, I think they defaulted to the safe side to avoid risking damage to this burgeoning franchise. The entire family will find something to enjoy in this picture. If there is going to be a third installment, I hope the writers see it as an opportunity to build something new and fresh for these building block pieces.
I PURPOSELY CHANGED ALL THE NAMES and circumstances so as not to offend any of the actual people. They may be relatives, friends, friends of friends, acquaintances or simply me hearing about such an event that I will now be sharing with you. My guess is that many of you will find something to relate to, if not having experienced the same thing for yourself already. With the holidays fast approaching this is the perfect time to talk about family get togethers. There is Aunt Shirley who insists on pinching your cheeks as if you were still an infant, every time she sees you. Uncle Fred commands you to tell him your latest work accomplishment, just so he can then top your story with one of his own success stories. Oh, and let us not forget cousin Mary who brings the same jello mold to every event; she calls it her “broken glass” jello mold. Doesn’t that sound appealing? Every holiday dinner she brings this creation of hers, explaining each time how she makes different flavored bowls of jello and cuts them into tiny cubes to dump into her metal mold with the floral etchings. Sadly, many of us feel forced to take a slice of this abomination so as not to hurt her feelings. THE REASON I MENTIONED THESE DIFFERENT PEOPLE is because I wanted to talk about some of the things one must do out of either necessity, duty or kindness. One may go to a family function and experience the same scenarios every year, maybe every month. You hear the same stories 100 times; each person acts just as you expected them to do, so there are no surprises. Also, there is not much difference between each get together. This does not mean you have a horrible time; you may simply enjoy the presence of your family and friends around you. There is a history you each share that keeps you coming back time and time again. So, what if Uncle Ernie plays the same practical joke on you or cousin Vicki talks your ear off about people in her life you have never met; there is something in you that allows you to accept these people unconditionally. I can say the same thing about reviewing movies. There are certain directors and writers who produce the same thing for each of their films. I know what to expect and rarely do I get surprised. Today’s movie fits the bill; it is the same thing I have seen over and over. AFTER HER RELEASE FROM PRISON TANYA, played by Tiffany Haddish (The Oath, Night School), had nowhere to stay except with her sister Danica, played by Tika Sumpter (Ride Along franchise, The Haves and the Have Nots-TV). The two sisters were nothing alike but who knew each could help the other with a problem. This latest dramatic comedy from Tyler Perry (Acrimony, Good Deeds), was no different from many of his other stories. What you see on the trailer is pretty much the same you see in this movie. Tiffany, though she is good at what she does, needs to stop playing the same type of characters; they all look and act the same to me. The script was pedestrian and predictable. With Whoopi Goldberg (Sister Act franchise, The Color Purple) as Lola and Amari Hardwick (The A-Team, The Runner) as Frank; there was too much going on in the script. Not enough time was devoted to each storyline which resulted in a bland monotone of events. I will say there were a couple of chuckles but nothing worth paying the full price to see this picture. Because I like staying consistent, I felt the need to see this film; sitting and watching this movie was like taking a slice of cousin Mary’s jello mold.
1 ¾ stars
LITTLE DID I KNOW THAT CLASS could have been a valuable asset if I had enrolled. Maybe your school environment was different; but the perception at my school about members of the debate team were mostly on the negative side. Being on a sports team was more prestigious and let us face it, there never was a pep rally held for a debate team; at least I have never seen one. I imagine if I had paid more attention to the skills needed to have a debate instead of the participants I would have been a better communicator. Looking at the disagreements I have had with individuals over the years, I can see why many of my disagreements turned into arguments. Not that I associate an argument with being a negative experience, but I could have avoided sinking into a name calling match with people. It was not until later in life that I learned how to have a disagreement/argument/debate. Having spent so much energy on making statements that started with the word “You,” I was finally taught to start my thoughts with the word “I.” It truly makes a world of difference when you go from saying, “You did this or that,” to “ I feel that option would be harmful because…”; do you see the difference? DURING THE POLITICALLY DIVIDED TIMES WE live in now; I believe every politician, employee, student and resident would benefit by taking a class in the art of debating. It seems to me as if name calling and belittling are becoming the new standard for making a point. I have mentioned before how I do not allow the subject of politics and religion to be discussed in my classes. These are two topics that I have seen become volatile when discussed. One of the reasons I see politics and religion being hot button topics is because most people let their ego do the talking. There seems to be such a need for every person to be right that they are not listening to anyone else’s point of view. I ask you, what is so terrible about admitting you are wrong? Isn’t part of living being able to learn something new? I know a few couples where one person is conservative and the other is liberal. They have had their share of heated discussions. Each though can maintain respect for their significant other while discussing opposite views; unlike the family in this dark satirical, comedic drama. THANKSGIVING WAS NOT ONLY A TIME to spend with family, but it was the deadline for signing a controversial oath issued by the government. With family members on opposite sides of the issue, was there any chance they would be able to make it through to dessert? This movie starred Ike Barinholtz (Suicide Squad, The Mindy Project-TV) as Chris, Tiffany Haddish (Night School, Uncle Drew) as Kai, Billy Magnussen (The Big Short, Into the Woods) as Mason, John Cho (Searching, Star Trek franchise) as Peter and Nora Dunn (Bruce Almighty, Southland Tales) as Eleanor. Written and directed by Ike, I thought the idea for the story was relevant and would easily provide enough fodder for the script. My biggest surprise was seeing Tiffany do a different variation of her usual movie roles; it was not a strictly outrageous comedic character for a change. Unfortunately, I thought the execution of the story was inadequate to the point where I was tired of listening to all the yelling and name calling. I give Ike props for undertaking such heavy demands; but I wished there would have been more levels to the story, instead of essentially what came across as 2 extreme point of views. All I have to say about this film is a course in the art of debating would have been beneficial for this family.
EVERYONE HAD TO SIT AND WATCH the short film; it was part of the curriculum. As the projector started up I could hear the soft clapping of the film as it looped around in front of the intense lightbulb inside the machine. Up on the screen scratchy frames in black and white counted down from the number 10. As soon as the opening frames to the story appeared on the screen you could hear moans throughout the classroom. There was an old car driving across the screen with these bulbous chrome hubcaps on the wheels. I say old because I knew the car was decades old; there was a radio antenna sticking up on the front, off to the side of the hood. The bumpers were nowhere near up to current federal safety standards and the most telling part was when the driver had to roll down their window using a small crank attached to the inside of the car door. This was my introduction to driver’s education class during high school. The people in the film wore clothing from another era as they drove and walked around what looked like a city landscape from decades ago. Most of the students in class laughed at this old, tired movie. OUT OF MOST OF THE STUDENTS in the class, I was one of the few who already knew how to drive. I was taken to empty parking lots and taught how to drive; so, by the time I had to take driver’s education I already knew the rules of the road. Everything I saw in the film I had already done or studied in the handbook. For me the movie was boring, more an amusement from bygone times. Seeing what things used to look like kept my interest, but at times my mind wandered. I had been doing three point turns for months; how many more times did I need to see it being done in the educational film. With the room dark and me bored from the repetitive instructions being recited to us in a monotone tone by the narrator of the movie, it took a lot for me to stay awake. I wondered how many students throughout the years had to sit and watch this picture. To tell you the truth I was surprised the film had not become frayed and fragile after all this time. It is funny; though today’s movie was done recently, I quickly lost interest because I had seen it all before and that includes a couple of performances. A GROUP OF ADULTS WITH BIG dreams attend night school hoping to graduate by getting their GED, their General Education Diploma. If they wanted it, they would need to pass one tough teacher’s class. This comedy starred Kevin Hart (Grudge Match, Central Intelligence) as Teddy Walker, Tiffany Haddish (Girls Trip, Keanu) as Carrie, Taran Killiam (12 Years a Slave, Killing Gunther) as Stewart, Rob Riggle (Midnight Sun, 21 Jump Street franchise) as Mackenzie and Mary Lynn Rajskub (Safety Not Guaranteed, Mysterious Skin) as Theresa. The concept of the story was decent; but I must tell you the script was just a generic blueprint pieced together from what appeared to be all other comedies Kevin has done. He was the same character in this as he has played in his previous movies; it did nothing for me. Tiffany has excellent comedic timing and strong physical comedy, but the script did little for her talent in this story. I was periodically bored throughout the picture and it really was a shame because there is a good message the writers were trying to get out. If I was grading (which I am come to think of it) I would give this movie a D+.
1 ¾ stars
WE WERE LINED UP IN a single row, one behind the other. The gym teacher handed the basketball to the first boy, telling him to take a shot at the hoop. I looked up at the basketball hoop, with its netting that looked like something a fisherman had dragged through the ocean; it was ragged and gray as it lifelessly hung down. The first boy missed the hoop so he had to hand over the basketball to the next student standing in line. The 2nd boy made a basket which meant he got to take another turn. It was a simple game; for every basket a student made they could take another turn, otherwise hand off the ball to the next boy in line. My only experience playing with a basketball before was with my friends for a game called Horse. I had no desire to get involved with any type of competition that involved a ball at school; because, I had seen just how competitive and mean students were when they competed with each other. The student who was not as skilled as his teammates would be ridiculed and abused outside of the eyes and ears of the gym teacher. LIVING IN A CITY THAT HAD a famous, winning basketball team you would think I would have gotten into the sport; you would be incorrect. I enjoyed watching the game but have never gone out of my way to devote time to sitting and watching it on TV. The players’ athletic abilities astound me, as well as their showmanship; that was about it for me. I may have mentioned this before but I have a hard time accepting the fact that athletes get paid millions of dollars for playing with a ball, while school teachers barely get by on their salaries and they are molding the minds of children. Now I am aware how team sports activities lend themselves to the bonds players form with each other. In high school the guys on the football or baseball team were inseparable; that was not necessarily the case for those on the debate or chess teams. It was rare to see a single football player walking down the school’s hallway without a buddy alongside of him. I am not judging this by the way; I think it is great when a student feels like they belong to something because I am aware of those who did not feel like they belonged. Let me tell you it is a whole different experience for the outsider. The proof can be found in this sport comedy film. DRIVEN BY THE NEED TO SUCCEED due to a childhood basketball game incident Dax, played by Lil Rel Howery (Get Out, The Carmichael Show-TV) is determined to win the neighborhood basketball tournament. However when Mookie, played by Nick Kroll (Adult Beginners, My Blind Brother), steals Dax’ star basketball player; Dax is forced to seek out the basketball legend Uncle Drew, played by Kyrie Irving. Upon meeting him Dax has no idea how an old, white haired man could possibly play the game. With Tiffany Haddish (Girls Trip, Meet the Spartans) as Jess, Erica Ash (Scary Movie 5, Survivor’s Remorse-TV) as Maya and Shaquille O’Neal (Steel, Kazaam) as Big Fella; it has been established I am not a big fan of basketball. The script started out slow for me, along with its easy predictability. What kept my interest through this picture, believe it or not, was the basketball playing. I was amazed by the “senior” basketball players’ skills; they were fun to watch. The jokes and humor were nothing special; but for this light fare it was fine. And because of the basketball playing on display in this film I have a new appreciation for the game of basketball.
2 ½ stars
It is an all or nothing proposition where you can feel totally full or completely empty. Sometimes you are stunned by how much control it has over you. There are some people who make it their job to find it while others have the attitude if it appears in front of them then they will gladly accept it. To be in love for certain individuals is the only thing that matters to them; it is the healing salve that soothes any and all emotional and physical ailments. At least that is what some folks have told me. In my experience I have found love to be an ideal tenant of the heart. There is a certain magic love has over us. It can continue the pulse of the person you love inside of you even when they are away. Some people wear their love as if it was a warm snuggly blanket loosely wrapped around their body; they take it everywhere they go, feeling comforted and peaceful. However, just as love can be fulfilling for a person the lack of it can also be just as devastating. The loss of love can feel as if someone pierced your heart with a straw to suck out every positive feeling from your body. There are some individuals who are so afraid of this ever happening that they refrain from falling in love; they never want to feel such pain. All I can say is love can really make a person act out in an extreme way; you can see an example of it in this comedy. WHEN Keanu went missing Rell Williams, played by Jordan Peele (Wanderlust, MADtv-TV), was willing to do whatever it took to get his precious kitty back. Starring Keegan-Michael Key (Tomorrowland, Let’s Be Cops) as Clarence Goobril, Tiffany Haddish (Meet the Spartans, Racing for Time-TV movie) as Hi-C and Luis Guzman (Anger Management, The Taking of Pelham 1 2 3) as Bacon; this comedy had individual scenes that were quite funny. Though the premise of the story was far-fetched it was comical in an absurd way. The script had no problem making fun of stereotypes. I was not familiar with Jordan and Keegan-Michael but found them enjoyable to watch as they worked well together. It goes without saying I thought the cat was adorable and fun to watch throughout the movie; in fact, it should have shared top billing with the actors. On the downside the script did not have much variance; after awhile I found myself getting tired of the same type of jokes and scenarios. It felt as if the idea for this story was geared for television but the writers decided to stretch it for the big screen. Though I may not have loved this film as much as others I still had a good time watching it. There were several scenes of violence and blood was shown briefly.
2 ½ stars