THE LAST TWELVE MONTHS HAVE BEEN something I thought I would never experience, as I am sure most of you have thought. When my state passed stay at home orders, I thought the only time I would be told to stay indoors was during a tornado or the threat of nuclear fallout. The only crisis I have lived through of this magnitude was during the AIDS epidemic. Though the transmission method was different, there still was a fear early on of getting to close to people. Back then the fear was unfounded; now it is real and could be the difference between life and death. I have known healthy individuals who caught this virus and succumbed to it. The suffering of being alone in a hospital bed as one’s lungs are slowly being squeezed of their last breath is a brutal experience. What makes this virus extra scary for me is how random it is in who will experience its affects. Some people don’t even know they are infected while others can get severe headaches, high fevers or death. I remember during my time at home, looking out the window and seeing the streets void of any human life. Pigeons scanning the sidewalks for a morsel of food, squirrels crisscrossing streets with less hesitancy and noticeable to me, less debris. WITH THE LOCKDOWN IN PLACE, THAT also meant I could not go to the health club to work out, to restaurants, to theaters and so on. Suddenly Saturdays took on extra meaning because that was the day, I would order carryout, to help the nearby local restaurants. Food took on a different importance; instead of eating for sustenance, I was eating for comfort. There was a manmade lake close to my house that I had never seen. I drove to it so I could get my steps in by walking the circumference of it. Seeing the ducks take off and land on the water was something I had never seen except on television. When the weather got too cold outside, I started walking/jogging in an underground parking garage. Little did I know that the space would become by sanctuary of peaceful calm. Staying in touch with friends/relatives took on a new meaning. In the past, there usually was an activity attached to getting together; but now, just being able to open a window and talk to a friend who was outside on the front lawn was a joy. Sitting outside to watch the sun set felt more monumental than during pre-COVID. Hearing silence except for the birds in the trees was a new experience. Little did I think that living a temporary restricted lifestyle would allow me to appreciate the little things that can go unnoticed on a typical day. This Oscar nominated and film festival winner can explain things better than me. JUST WHEN A SCHOOL BAND TEACHER feels things are looking up, he finds himself in an unfamiliar place where passion comes into question. With Jamie Foxx (Just Mercy, Robin Hood) voicing Joe, Tina Fey (Date Night, Sisters) voicing 22, Graham Norton (Eurovision Song Contest: The Story of Fire Saga, Another Gay Movie) voicing Moonwind, Rachel House (Thor: Ragnarok, Baby Done) voicing Terry and Phylicia Rashad (Creed franchise, This is Us-TV) voicing Libba; this animated, adventure comedy had a lot going on with it. As to be expected from a Pixar movie, the animation was inventive and fun. There were some scenes that were rich with details, but others I found to be somewhat average. The script was different to me; I found it to be esoteric in nature. Young viewers may not understand the meaning of some scenes and might ask for an explanation. From an entertainment standpoint, I did not feel the sense of joy I normally do with a Pixar film. I did however appreciate the message; I only wished there had been more musical interludes.
The older people are getting the more I have noticed they incorporate an escape plan into their world. If I do a quick count I believe a majority of the people I know have some kind of activity they can escape to, withdrawing from the realities of their day. Off the top of my head I know individuals who do scrap booking, knitting, jigsaw puzzles and reading books just to name a few. I, if you have not noticed, do movies to escape the pressures that come up in my daily life. Films offer me the fastest way to leave the present moment and be whisked into the alternative world of a movie. Even a poorly done movie that I have given a 1 1/2 star rating will partially transport me away; however, the better the film the more I will be drawn into it. If you have read my description for what merits a 4 star rating, you know the movie has to completely remove me from the theater and allow me to become part of the story; where I do not see the actors playing out their roles only the actual characters. Personally I feel everyone should have some kind of activity that allows them to disconnect from their everyday routines. I do not know about you but it seems the older I get more things become challenging for me. A simple activity like driving a car has become harder due to so many distracted drivers, besides the endless construction projects that constantly close roads and lanes. It is no wonder a person feels stuck in their life and just wants to escape to somewhere or something else. With that in mind, I was surprised to see what the main character chose to do in this comedy. JOURNALIST Kim Baker, played by Tina Fey (Sisters, Muppets Most Wanted), felt she was stuck; her life was going nowhere. That is until an opportunity came up for her to take an assignment in Afghanistan. Based on a true story this war comedy had a well rounded cast that included Margot Robbie (The Wolf of Wall Street, About Time) as Tanya Vanderpoel, Martin Freeman (The Hobbit franchise, Hot Fuzz) as Iain MacKelpie and Alfred Molina (An Education, Chocolat) as Massoud Sadiq. There were parts of this film I enjoyed, but the more the story unfolded the more I lost sense of it. For some reason I started to disbelieve the scenes because they seemed so outrageous or maybe more accurately they lost the emotion of the action. I did not find much humor in this picture; it slowly became ridiculous to me. It is a shame because the idea of the real Kim Baker taking on this assignment is extraordinary; I just wished this script would have come across more real. Part of the blame would have to go to the director. I never once felt I was watching the actual characters, only seeing the actors playing them. This film did not provide me a total escape.
2 1/4 stars
Sitting up on a shelf in the pantry sits a platter that has special significance for me. There is nothing special about it if one is just looking at it. With its edges bordered by two small bands of gold and burgundy that have formed minute cracks over all these years and a multi-colored rosette at its center, this platter reminds me of the home I grew up in. It was only used on special occasions, being the vessel that carried out the main course for all sitting around the dining room table to devour. Besides this platter I have two other items in my possession from my childhood; a pair of scissors and a candle holder. I know what you must be thinking, such random items. You are correct they are random but each one of them comes with very distinct memories from my youth. Since then I have lived in several places yet, what I believe would be true for most people, that first one’s memories are the most vibrant in my mind. So much had happened there that formed the person I am today. From the neighbors to my friends from the block, it was essentially growing up with an extra large family. Was I sad when the time came to move out from it? You bet it was, however it never left from inside of me. Certain things I did to the next place were done in such a way to mimic those things left behind. Looking back, the transition may have started out hard but it was not as traumatic as it was for the sisters in this comedy. Coming home to visit their parents sisters Maura and Kate Ellis, played by Amy Poehler (They Came Together, Parks and Reactions-TV) and Tina Fey (Muppets Most Wanted, Admission), discovered the home they grew up in was up for sale. Before the house was to be sold the sisters decided they had to do something that would create an everlasting memory. There is no denying Tina and Amy work extremely well together; they have so much history between them. Besides them and some of their old cast mates from SNL like Maya Rudolph (Bridesmaids, Grown Ups franchise) as Brinda, there was Dianne Wiest (Footloose, I Am Sam) and James Brolin (Catch Me if You Can, Marcus Welby, M.D.-TV) as Deana and Bucky Ellis. All the actors were fine for this picture. But I have to tell you this movie was a mixed bag. There was a mixture of fun zaniness, witty sarcastic dialog and off the wall humor; however, there were stretches where things became crude and silly. I did not think the story was all that original. It was easy to figure out what sight gag was about to happen or joke told. Because of who the two main stars were, this film needed a much stronger script. I did not have a problem leaving the theater after the movie ended.
Maybe it is their antics or the way they make eye contact with us, but there is something about monkeys that gives one a sense of familiarity. From my first stuffed animal I received after my birth, I have always had a fondness for our simian cousins. What I am about to say may sound odd to some of you; but from all the animals I have encountered either at a zoo or nature park, the eyes of monkeys convey more to me than any other animal. There is a soulfulness to their eyes that makes one feel they are looking at an old soul. Fortunately there are 2 major zoos close to where I live, so I have access to visiting them frequently. Now I know what I just said about the eyes can apply to some of our pets; trust me I know, who doesn’t melt when they look into the loving eyes of their pet. It is funny how we tend to humanize the different species within the monkey population; just take a look at the movie franchise, “Planet of the Apes.” Gorillas tend to be cast as the enforcers or the heavy muscle (except the cartoon character Magilla Gorilla). Orangutangs are looked at as either the brainy or unintelligent ones. Then there are the monkeys and chimpanzees who know how to have fun and are quite inquisitive. Maybe it is my own prejudices but I never associate war or fighting when it comes to monkeys. FROM Disneynature films this documentary was filmed in the jungles of South Asia about a family of monkeys. Directed by Mark Linfield (Earth, Chimpanzee) and narrated by Tina Fey (Muppets Most Wanted, Date Night), this movie was no less beautiful than the others from the film studio. It was incredibly shot with some scenes that one just had to sit and wonder how the camera people were able to get such close-up action. If you sit through the credits you will find out how they did it. Compared to previous animal based documentaries, I did not mind this film’s story. It provided some chuckles, touching moments, a couple of sad things and a few scenes of disbelief. I had to wonder if some scenes was staged because I could not believe what I was seeing on screen. From the first song of the soundtrack I actually burst out laughing because it was perfect for the scene. You will understand when you see it. Whether the scenes depicted were actually happening among the monkeys it did not matter to me. The story was good enough to the point where I believed it and as far as I was concerned, I was being entertained. I just wished my stuffed monkey was here to have seen it.
There was a time when family members lived close to each other because they wanted to, not out of necessity. I had an aunt & uncle who lived in the same apartment building where I lived and my grandmother lived a couple of blocks away. It was nothing to come home and have visiting relatives sitting around the house. The world may have been big and the neighborhoods small back then; however, times seem to be different now where the world has become small and the neighborhoods have gotten bigger. Children can live on a different continent than their parents, relatives can be scattered across a country like confetti on a windy day. With distance comes the possibility of less shared experiences. It may not seem like a big deal at first but before you know it there could be long stretches of time where unfamiliarity rises up and devours a niece’s first soccer game or a cousin’s 1st place winning high school science project. When the younger generation begins creating the next generation it can stretch the weeks of absence into months, eventually years. It is sad to say that families wind up getting together only at a happy or sad occasion; what I refer to as a wedding or funeral event. DEATH was what brought the Altman family back together. When Hillary Altman’s, played by Jane Fonda (Coming Home, Monster-in-Law), husband passed away she insisted her children stay in the house and sit shiva with her for 7 days. Judd, Wendy, Paul and Phillip Altman; played by Jason Bateman (Bad Words, Horrible Bosses), Tina Fey (Muppets Most Wanted, Admission), Corey Stoll (Midnight in Paris, Non-Stop) and Adam Driver (Frances Ha, Inside Llewyn Davis); would soon discover it was not as easy to live together again like they did when they were kids. The first thing that stood out in this comedic drama was the amount of star power in the cast. Jason Bateman with his impeccable comedic timing and quick change ability to become sincere was in top form for this film. Tina and Jane easily kept up with him. Now what made this film harder to watch was having this talented group of actors try to bring life to such a poorly constructed script. I could not believe how bored I was during parts of this movie; the script was dull and lifeless. In my opinion the script hindered the actors from creating chemistry among themselves. Watching this picture felt like being trapped with a distant relative who would not stop talking about their children.
The sting from the punch lingered on my arm. He had done it before but it hurt just as much this time. There was a difference though because I decided to get back at him. I had a knack for quietly cracking pumpkin seeds in my mouth and discreetly keeping the shells in my school desk until I could dispose of them. As the class prepared to go outside for recess I stayed behind, allowing myself just enough time to place some of the empty shells under his school desk. I took the rest of the shells with me, tossing them into a garbage can in the hallway before joining up with my class as it was exiting out the playground door. When we returned to class, it did not take long for the teacher to notice the empty shells below his desk. Sure he denied they were his when the teacher asked him. She questioned each of us who sat around him but their look of confused denial was matched by mine. The boy that hit me was forced to sweep up the entire floor while we continued on with our history lesson. As an adult I can look back and criticize my actions; but back then, I relished the revenge. At least I did not plan the identity switch for criminal reasons like the one that was done to poor Kermit in this comedy caper. While the Muppets were on an international tour the world’s most evil frog Constantine, a dead ringer for Kermit, switched identities with him. While Kermit was imprisoned in a Russian prison headed by Nadya, played by Tina Fey (Admission, 30 Rock-TV), Constantine used the Muppets as a cover for his audacious plot. Seeing the Muppets on the big screen again just brings a smile to one’s face. For the duration they have been around, multiple generations have some type of fond memory about the Muppets. This adventure film had its moments with sight gags, Muppets humor, songs and a cavalcade of celebrity cameo appearances. I enjoyed the performances from Tina Fey and Ty Burrell (The Incredible Hulk, Modern Family-TV) as Jean Pierre Napoleon. As for Ricky Gervais (The Invention of Lying, The Office-TV) as Constantine’s associate, I found him forgettable for the most part. Overall this film was okay but it was lacking the fun, I want to say oomph, I usually feel for the Muppets. The story was, dare I say, somewhat predictable. There was however a creative flair throughout the film and credits, even to the very end. With the Muppets under a new owner I hope this movie is not the start of a string of films based on marketing results instead of fun creativity.
2 1/2 stars
“Do not judge a book by its cover” are words that I try to live by every day. I have been surprised with individuals who gave no outside clue to the amazing feats they had accomplished. In turn, I cannot tell you how many times a member from my class has seen me eating at a restaurant and was surprised I was eating a pizza or dessert. Jokingly I tell them I do not live on broccoli and tofu just because I am a fitness instructor. During the week I am strict with my food intake; on the weekends I allow myself to have fun with my meals. Another example of judging; in one of my literature classes in college the professor wrote, “I would have never guessed you knew the class content,” on the midterm exam I aced. The reason was I never participated in the discussion portion of the class. In this comedy I had to wonder if that is really how students get accepted into college. Tina Fey (Mean Girls, 30 Rock-TV) played Princeton Univeristy admissions officer Portia Nathan. Seeking exceptional candidates for her school, Portia agreed to visit an alternative school headed by John Pressman, played by Paul Rudd (This is 40, Wanderlust). While at the school John surprised Portia with one particular gifted young man who could possibly have a special connection to her. If I were to judge this movie based on the cast, including Lily Tomlin (Nine to Five, I Heart Huckabees) as Portia’s mother Susannah, I would assume the movie was going to be funny. I would be wrong; there was so little humor, I kept wondering why the studio did not let Tina write the screenplay. Lily’s performance was fine and I have yet seen Paul do a bad job. He is always an affable character. Surprisingly Tina was the weak one, though the poorly written script did her no favors. This film was a waste of the actors’ true talent. With several scenes showing students’ applications being denied, you would have thought someone in the studio would have denied this script from being allowed to become a movie.
1 3/4 stars
The announcement was confusing to me when I heard my aunt say her daughter was getting a baby in six weeks. I had only seen my older cousin the week before and there were no telltale signs she was pregnant. Though I was a little kid at the time, I understood it took 9 months for a woman to have a baby. When I tried to question my aunt, she would only tell me that the baby would be coming soon and everything would be fine. It took another cousin to finally explain adoption to me. Even back then, once I understood, I remembered thinking what was the big deal that my aunt could not say her daughter was adopting a child. I am glad those times have changed. In this comedy successful 37 year old business woman Kate Holbrook’s, played by Tina Fey (Date NIght, 30 Rock-TV), biological clock was loudly ticking over a body that was having a hard time making a baby. With her options dwindling, Kate looked into finding a surrogate mother. Enter Angie and her husband Carl, played by Amy Poehler (Mean Girls, Parks and Recreation-TV) and Dax Shepard (When in Rome, Hit and Run). Would these two women manage to survive the following 9 months together? It may have been a challenge to them but it was fun for us to be a witness to it. Having the two actresses play women from opposite sides of the social economic spectrum made the story ripe for many humorous scenes. Not necessarily loud roars of laughter, but certainly chuckles could be found throughout this film. Gifted with great comedic timing, the chemistry between the two was wonderful. In brief cameos with big impact were Greg Kinnear, (Thin Ice, Little Miss Sunshine) as Rob and Steve Martin (Roxanne, It’s Complicated) as Barry. When done watching this movie, you will understand why the Golden Globes picked these two wonderful women to host this year’s awards show.
2 2/3 stars — DVD