THOUGH I HAD NOT SEEN THEM for years, my memories of them were just as vivid today as they were back then. I was downsizing my living space and came upon a couple of shelves in the basement that were filled with toys. Some were in their original packaging while others were sealed in plastic bags or bins. They brought a smile to my face as I had to stop my packing and look at each one. There was a boxed game where the players had to pick 5 letters and 5 categories. Writing each one down on a mini-spreadsheet, letters going vertically down and categories across horizontally, the players would be timed as they had to fill in as many spaces as they could within the time frame. This was my favorite game outside of word games. There was a toy on the shelf that I remember getting at the same time as a cousin of mine. It was a moving track, like a miniature moving sidewalk, where I would have to steer a magnetic car through obstacles that would pop up on the revolving track. Each toy I took off the shelf provided me a fond memory; I was not sure if I could part with any of them. IT IS FUNNY HOW FOR MANY of us a toy or stuffed animal can have an influence on our life’s path. I remember playing this word game with a relative, where there was a group of dice that had letters instead of numbers on them. They would be shaken around inside a plastic cube until they settled into spaces set out like a tick tack toe graph. We would turn the timer over to start, then come up with as many words as we could using the letters showing; but, having to only connect the letters down or up and side to side, nothing diagonal. It was this early game that started my love of reading and writing. There was also a babysitter of mine who each time she sat for me would bring me a stuffed animal. I am convinced that menagerie started my affection and first educational direction for animals. Let me say at one time I had almost 2 dozen stuffed animals sleeping with me; I could barely move in the bed. Now it has been many years since I played with toys and stuffed animals; but I must tell you, I was pleasantly surprised seeing the familiar characters again in this latest installment of the animated, adventure franchise. WITH A COUPLE OF DISCARDED ITEMS and a little imagination Bonnie, voiced by Madeleine McGraw (American Sniper, Ant-Man and the Wasp), created a new toy for herself. The problem was convincing this new addition that he belonged in her toy collection; something Woody, voiced by Tom Hanks (The Post, Sully), thought he could fix. With Tim Allen (3 Geezers!, Last Man Standing-TV) voicing Buzz Lightyear, Tony Hale (Stranger than Fiction, American Ultra ) voicing Forky and Annie Potts (Ghostbusters, Pretty in Pink) voicing Bo Peep; this film was one of the few sequels I have seen that maintained the high standards of its previous movies. The animation was outstanding, and the humor was appropriate and relevant for both children and adults. Also, the story was thoughtful and cleverly laid out to take adult type themes and present them in such a way that was easy for kids to digest. I experienced a variety of feelings from excitement to tension to love; each expertly fitted into the script without overpowering one another. The movie studio did a wonderful job in keeping the integrity intact for this beloved film franchise. I may never get rid of my toys now. There were 4 extra scenes during the 1sthalf of the credits.
3 ½ stars
THEY WERE THE IDEAL DINNER guests that dined with us. Informative, knowledgeable, honest and dependable; with such admirable traits they were always welcome into our home. I learned so much from them while eating my dinner. The topics of conversation went from world news to state news to local news and once in a while a tidbit of a heartwarming story. Sure there were times we got shocked by what they told us; but we also could be joyful while listening to them. It all depended on what they were talking about since they were the ones who brought up the various topics. I admit I may not have understood everything they spoke about, but I would either ask someone in the room or after dinner I would try to look up information on the subject. There was one time they were talking about a war that had broken out in a country I had never heard of before. So after the meal ended I went over to our encyclopedias to find out more about the country and where it was located. It occurs to me you may know these dinner guests and you too might have had them over for dinner; they were Walter Cronkite, Chet Huntley and David Brinkley. FROM THESE NEWS BROADCASTERS I grew up trusting the news. Looking back I realize I knew nothing or very little about their personal beliefs or thoughts; they were simply doing their job which was reporting on the news. I am well aware there are places in the world where people like them would be killed for telling certain news stories. It is funny I recall from years ago, while I was in school, sitting in on a meeting for the school’s newspaper. A couple of student reporters presented their story to the staff and teacher advisor. Their article shined an unfavorable light on the school to the point where the advisor suggested they shelf the story. The majority of the paper’s staff immediately protested the idea and a discussion ensued concerning the definition of newsworthy. The students insisted the school paper was created as a news source for the student body; it was not going to only print “cheerful” stories. As far as the staff was concerned if the news was worthy then it should be in the newspaper. Voting against the advisor’s wishes the paper went with the story and it did get a response from the student body. It started a dialog on what the school needed to do to fix a particular troublesome situation. This was my first example in the power of the printed word. WHEN A GOVERNMENT COVERUP is brought to light Kay Graham, played by Meryl Streep (Florence Foster Jenkins, The Giver), the first female publisher of a major newspaper finds herself in a test of wills between her editor, staff and the government. What took place would set a new standard in reporting the news. Directed by Steven Spielberg (Bridge of Spies, Catch Me if You Can) this biographical drama also starred Tom Hanks (The Circle, Cast Away) as Ben Bradlee, Sarah Paulson (Carol, American Horror Story-TV) as Tony Bradlee, Bob Odenkirk (Nebraska, Better Call Saul) as Ben Bagdikian and Tracy Letts (Lady Bird, The Lovers) as Fritz Beebe. My only negative comment for this incredibly told story is that it started out slow for me, but only for a brief time. The acting from Meryl and Tom was superb. The script played out much like a thriller to me. And though this true story took place in the 1970s it is as current now as it was back then. I totally enjoyed the way Steven told the story with his direction, even loving the little details that went into so many of the scenes. This movie is already a film festival winner and I am sure more awards will be coming its way. What an amazing profession is news reporting; people who risk so much to tell the truth. There is nothing that came across as fake in this movie and that is the truth.
3 ½ stars
WATCHING me stand in line at the grocery checkout line cannot be very exciting. The most someone would see is me arranging my items on the conveyor belt according to description, such as frozen or produce. Only other thing one could witness is me holding coupons in my hand. I have no issue with any of the security cameras throughout the store. In fact I do not even pay attention to any of the cameras that have been installed in public places. The thing that freaks me out is on a personal level. For example I was online looking for a small shelving unit; I went to 2 or 3 different sites without finding anything suitable. Would you believe the very next time I checked into one of my social media accounts, right there on the welcome page, was an advertisement for shelving units? How did the site know I was looking for shelving units?! This made me uncomfortable as if I was being watched in my very own home. AS the world becomes more tech savvy I feel like I am turning into a dinosaur. I do not know if it some kind of paranoia on my part, but I have always been a private person. Keeping the window shades pulled down in the house is preferable than having pedestrians walking by out front peering in; not that there is anything going on, I just do not want people looking into my space. There was a news article about these new talking assistant devices for the home being hacked, so someone can listen to the conversations taking place in the house and sometimes respond to them without being asked. Am I the only one who finds that disturbing? It has come to the point if I do not know the origin of an email I will delete it. At my office anything that comes in unfamiliar to me I have sent to our MIS department to investigate; I just do not want to take a chance on my computer becoming infected with a virus. Sitting through this dramatic thriller made me uncomfortable for more than one reason. WITH the help of a friend Mae, played by Emma Watson (Beauty and the Beast, Harry Potter franchise), got a job interview with a premier high tech company. This job would offer a big change in her life, but at what cost? This film also starred Tom Hanks (Sully, Bridge of Spies) as Bailey, Bill Paxton (Titanic, Apollo 13) in one of his final roles as Vinnie and John Boyega (Star Wars: The Force Awakens, Attack the Block) as Ty. As the story started out I wondered if this movie was a satire about a current popular tech company; there seemed to be several similarities. I felt the idea was sound, but the script was poorly done and amateurish to the point where I was periodically bored. There were some good scenes but there were times where a scene did not make any sense. For example the character of Ty was odd right from the start and it was obvious why he was in the story. I liked Emma’s acting and felt she tried her best, but hearing some of the words coming out of her mouth just made me cringe. If the writers were hoping to scare the audience with the subject matter, they missed their mark; this could have been a better movie if everyone involved was watching what they were doing.
1 ¾ stars
SEEING the digital clock was less stressful than watching the second hand of a clock dial counting down the seconds. Traffic was unbearable with construction slowdowns and drivers distracted by a car pulled over to the shoulder due to a flat tire. Finally I made it to the airport parking lot only to find out it was full. How was that possible!?!? I was directed to an unmanned remote lot that was automated; where I had to insert my charge card to get in. My irritation was rising since I was already anticipating being stuck at the security lines inside the airport. Finding a parking space at the outskirts of the lot I had to wait for the free shuttle to pick me up and take me to the airport terminal. Time was ticking down and I refused to look at my watch. What would be the point, there was nothing I could do about it. MY years of commuting on public transportation gave me an advantage over the other passengers on the train; I was able to maneuver to the exit door that I remembered would stop right next to the UP escalator. The train came to a halt and the doors slid open. I ran out and quickly made my way to the departure gate area. The lines were not as long as I had expected but I did get stuck behind a family that kept setting off the metal detector, delaying my turn. I knew the airlines shut the doors of the plane before the departure time so I would have to run through the terminal to get to my gate. It was not easy with a heavy backpack and a carry-on bag that had a broken wheel. The sweat on my forehead was trickling down as I reached my gate only to become disappointed; my flight had been cancelled. The way I felt back then was similar to the way I felt watching this sequel. SUFFERING amnesia from a head wound Robert Langdon, played by Tom Hanks (Sully, Bridge of Spies), would have to depend on Dr. Sienna Brooks, played by Felicity Jones (The Theory of Everything, Like Crazy), to fill in some of the missing blanks while being chased by a killer. This action adventure film was set in some beautiful locations such as Florence and Venice, Italy. With Ben Foster (Lone Survivor, Hell of High Water) as Bertrand Zobrist and Omar Sy (The Intouchables, Jurassic World) as Christoph Bouchard; I thought the supporting actors were stronger on screen than Tom or Felicity. The reason being there was no chemistry between these two, besides the script offered very little to help them. I have to tell you this crime movie was one long series of chase scenes that had no sense of excitement or drama. The story which was a bit confusing did not offer anything substantial for character development. It was not until the last portion of the film where I felt things were improving. My favorite parts in this movie were the Italian and Turkish settings. With all the time, money and effort put into this film I wonder if the movie studio is experiencing disappointment now.
1 ¾ stars
There were some toys that were just begging me to take them apart. Toys that did amazing things to my young mind back then warranted me either unscrewing screws, twisting off parts or simply breaking pieces apart until I could see what was inside. The downside to this was I would not have the toy to play with anymore. It is funny now as an adult there are some things I do not want to know anything about how they work. Getting into an elevator, all I care about is when I press the floor number the elevator car takes me there with no incident. I do not need to know if the car is rising due to air pressure, counterweights or pulleys; all I care about is I do not get stuck between floors and make the local news. While on vacation I had to take a gondola lift to reach my destination. There was no reason for me to look at the cable wires strung above or the little wheeled contraption that the gondola was hanging from. As I stepped into the car with the other passengers I looked down at the floor until we started moving. Once we rose above the visitor’s center I peered out the large windows that enclosed us to see the slope of the mountain slowly pass us by. All I was interested in was taking pictures until we arrived at the top; I did not want to know about the mechanics that got us there. Just writing about that experience still creeps me out, though I did get some fantastic shots with my camera. For the same reasons I just described there is no way I want to hear about all the mechanics involved in getting the airplane I am on up into the air and to my destination. If you are already nervous about flying then this film will not calm your nerves. WHEN a flock of birds destroyed both engines of the plane he was flying Captain Chesley “Sully” Sullenberger, played by Tom Hanks (Bridge of Spies, Captain Phillips), had little time to follow the flight manual; he had to rely on his instincts. Based on the true story this biographical drama was led by Tom who was exceptional in the role. Along with Aaron Eckhart (Olympus Has Fallen, The Dark Knight) as Jeff Skiles and Laura Linney (Mr. Holmes, The Fifth Estate) as Lorraine Sullenberger; this film was directed by Clint Eastwood (Trouble with the Curve, Gran Torino). I have to say Clint did a great job with taking the story and recreating it on screen. For the most part the script was fine; I am sure it was a big asset having Sully’s conversations to build on. However, there were parts of the story where I had wished the writers would have gone deeper. It seemed as if some scenes were assigned to convey a quick reference before moving forward. On the scheme of things this was not a major fault because it did not take the entertainment value away from the movie watching experience. Let us face it; this was an incredible story about a true hero and the ordeal he had to endure even after the flight. Make sure you stay for the beginning of the credits.
3 ½ stars
It seems to me to be a vulnerable position, where what you think does not matter much. One has to be quick on their feet and be able to respond to any query. The bottom line is you have something that you want someone else to buy from you. A career in sales takes a certain personality; I briefly tried and was not successful. I feel one not only has to sell their products but sell themselves to an individual. The thing that bugged me about this scenario was the person you are pitching may be making their decision on the most random of things. They may not like the way you dress or the way you look or even the way you talk; it can be based on such a biased opinion that has nothing to do with your products. I could not handle that type of environment, plus my brutal honesty did not sit well with customers. Isn’t it interesting that what I just wrote could easily be applied to dating? Think about it, aren’t people trying to sell (so to speak) themselves to other people? When two people meet with the intention to date, each one is going to try to accentuate their positive attributes. It is like a sales pitch. I knew someone who literally had a checklist of requirements that potential dates had to meet before they would agree to go out with them. I tried explaining to them that it works both ways; they needed to present themselves in the best light if they hoped their possible date would take an interest in them. Whether it is personal or business I find sales meetings to be stressful; that is why I could relate to the main character in this drama. DESPERATE to land a sale Alan, played by Tom Hanks (Bridge of Spies, Captain Phillips), agreed to fly to Saudi Arabia to pitch his product to the monarchy. Alan would quickly realize selling to a monarchy was different than selling to a company. Based on the novel this movie also starred newcomer Alexander Black as Yousef and Sarita Choudhury (The Hunger Games franchise, Lady in the Water) as Zahra. I thought the acting was good though I felt Tom’s role had a familiar ring to it. He still did a fine performance but it did not seem as fresh to me. The idea behind this story was intriguing; however, the dual story lines hindered the telling of it. Separately I enjoyed each story but I never felt I was getting the whole tale. Now visually the film had a lot to offer just because the territory was foreign to me. I also was fascinated with the culture clash in this picture. As the film neared the end I felt things were rushed to tidy up the story. This film had some good selling points; I only wished it had sold me on its entertainment value.
2 ½ stars
They bulge out like wide fish eyes skimming the sea’s surface of ceiling tiles. You see them everywhere now, those security cameras encased in smoky dark glass globes. Some places do not even bother making them inconspicuous; they hang up the actual cameras on the walls or have them dangling down from the roof like machine gun turrets. It seems no matter where you turn someone is watching you. Generally it does not bother me; what do I care if someone is watching me pump gasoline into my car or buying kitchenware for a dinner party. However, I just heard on the news this week some financial institution is working on a payment system that only requires the payer to send a selfie of their face. Yuck, the idea turns my stomach. There are already too many people taking selfies or videotaping themselves and everything around them, that I do not need to see more people doing in now. If you do not think security issues are taking a bigger role around you just look at all the crime and detective shows on television; so many of them use high tech surveillance devices that it boggles the mind. If you look at this on an international scale, high tech methods seem to be the norm when it comes to espionage and warfare. Imagine those government officials who worked at a time where being a spy was a more physical job, where one had to secretly tail a suspected individual instead of through the internet. For you Hardy Boys and Nancy Drew readers, you know what I am talking about; for everyone else, see how it was done in this dramatic biographical film. RECRUITED by the CIA to negotiate the release of a captured U2 spy plane pilot by the Soviet Union; insurance lawyer James B. Donovan, played by Tom Hanks (Forrest Gump, Cast Away), did not want his morals compromised by the clandestine operations and negotiations unfolding around him. Directed by Steven Spielberg (Saving Private Ryan, Lincoln), this film festival winning drama once again showed why Steven is a master storyteller. The way the story started out in an unassuming way then began building on top of itself; the viewer had no choice but to be drawn into the exciting tension. Along with Alan Alda (The Aviator, Tower Heist) as Thomas Watters Jr and Mark Rylance (The Other Boleyn Girl, Angels and Insects) as Rudolf Abel, who could be nominated for best supporting actor as Rudolf Abel, the acting was outstanding. The way the filming was shot allowed small scenes to be just as important as the major dramatic ones. I truly felt as if I was getting a glimpse into a past world where all of this type of spy work was the norm during the cold war. As I walked out of the theater and into the lobby I am sure who ever was behind the security camera above my head saw my wide satisfied smile.
3 1/2 stars
There is a place where all the should do’s, have to do’s and suppose to do’s in life cannot infiltrate; it is in one’s memories. Some of these remembrances may be average such as a friend’s phone number or a bank account number; however, there is a special area where the cherished memories are stored. It is in this place where I keep my fondest memories that get quick access to my heart. I remember my favorite babysitter who had a way of reading a story where the characters would come to life for me. She had a quiet gentleness that I found soothing. The reason she is presently closest in my thoughts is due to this comedic drama about a nanny. This film reveals the true untold story of how Walt Disney gained the rights to create what was to become the iconic film Mary Poppins. In that place where my fondest memories reside is the memory of the first time I saw this film about the unusual nanny, Mary Poppins. Since I can perfectly recall that experience I was concerned this biographic film would taint my memories. I can honestly say it did no such thing, instead it added a new depth of color to my vivid memories. Emma Thompson (Sense and Sensibility, Pirate Radio) played the fiercely protective author of Mary Poppins, P.L. Travers. Tom Hanks (Captain Phillips, The Terminal) played Walt Disney, the creative genius who spent 20 years pursuing the author for the rights so he could keep a promise he made to his daughters. This film received a brilliant performance by Emma, who was as difficult and unyielding as anyone could be against the creator of Mickey Mouse. The scenes where she had to sit with the creative team of Don DaGadi, played by Bradley Whitford (Scent of a Woman, The West Wing-TV), and brothers Robert and Richard Sherman, played by B.J. Novak (Knocked Up, Inglorious Basterds) and Jason Schwartzman (The Darjeeling Limited, Moonrise Kingdom), provided me a wild history lesson to some of the cherished songs from the Mary Poppins movie. The one complaint I had was the use of dual story lines because I thought each story could be its own film. Though I will say I thought Colin Farrell (Total Recall, Pride and Glory) did a touching, emotional job as P.L. Travers’ father. The insertion of Mary Poppins film clips in this Golden Globe nominated movie added to the heightened amount of joy I experienced during this film. I am happy to say my childhood memory of seeing Mary Poppins now has a new coating of fondness due to this beautiful movie. Please make sure you stay through part of the credits to hear the actual recordings of P.L. Travers.
3 1/4 stars
Part of my responsibilities, in my role as a credit manager, has been the preparation of documents to present to the bank for payment from a letter of credit. A letter of credit is a legal document issued by a bank to pay another bank (usually in another country) that guarantees payment for goods we ship under specified conditions. The portion of the paperwork I enjoy reading about is the trail our shipment travels from our docks to the customer. Starting out by truck, our product may switch to rail before reaching a port of departure. Here is where it gets fun for me as the goods are loaded onto a container ship that sets sail, to travel to all parts of the world. I have learned so much about different cities and countries based on where the shipments are destined to land. All of it had seemed exciting and exotic until I saw this riveting drama based on a true story. My fanciful daydreaming about sailing to new and faraway places came to a screeching halt at the reality of what happened to Captain Richard Phillips, portrayed by Tom Hanks (Larry Crowne, The Terminal). Based on Richard Phillips’ memoir, “A Captain’s Duty: Somali Pirates, Navy SEALS and Dangerous Days at Sea,” this movie skillfully brought the story to life. It was one thing to read articles or see newscasts about Somali pirates, but to have it shown right up in my face made this movie a more tense and dramatic film viewing experience. The story was about the 2009 hijacking on the container vessel Alabama by Somali pirates. Director Paul Greengrass (The Bourne Supremacy, Bloody Sunday) did a wonderful job in keeping the story’s pull at a constant tautness. When Tom Hanks is firing on all cylinders, as he was in this role, he shows why he is considered one of the better actors in Hollywood. Newcomers Barkhad Abdi and Markhad Abdirahman as Somali pirates Muse and Bilal were outstanding. The scene where Muse says, “Look at me, look at me; I am the captain now,” was a brilliant piece of ad libbing. For me, the movie was getting so intense I started to cry at a particularly emotional scene. If you are like me and plan on seeing all the major Academy Award nominated films before the Oscar telecast, you might as well get an early start with this outstanding movie. There were a few scenes where blood was shown.
When I see advertisements announcing performance dates for any celebrity in their twilight years, my first thought has always been, “Do they really need the money?” I am not a fan who wants to see former headliners trying to maintain their youth as they perform in small clubs, attempting to recapture the good old times. Why don’t they instead do charity work, I have wondered. In this dramatic comedy, a law school dropout found himself becoming the assistant to an illusionist, when he answered an ad in the classifieds. John Malkovich (Con Air, Dangerous Liaisons) played Buck Howard, a long time performer who was trying to stage a comeback. I have had the good fortune to see John perform live on stage, years before he went on to the big screen. Back then I knew he was going to be an intense actor. He could easily switch from a raving, menacing lunatic character to a sweet, kind gentle man, in a heartbeat. As Buck Howard, John did an excellent job going from the pleasant showman to revealing the turmoil behind the facade. Colin Hanks (Looper, Orange County) was just ok for me in his role as assistant Troy Gable. However, I did enjoy the couple of scenes he had with his real life father Tom Hanks (Forrest Gump, The Green Mile), who also played his father in the movie. It was a nice surprise to see Emily Blunt (Looper, The Young Victoria) in the film, playing Valerie Brennan. However, I felt the direction her character took rang false. The actors who had cameo roles were fun. To tell you the truth, after seeing the scenes where Buck was performing in front of his audience, it occurred to me that I have been judgmental. Who am I to say who should perform or not; it does not really matter. If fans want to relive a fond memory they have of their idols and the celebrities are willing to keep the dream alive, then go for it. After I was done watching this DVD I wanted to search the web for The Amazing Kreskin.
2 1/2 stars — DVD