WHAT I WOULD HAVE GIVEN FOR a flashlight; it was dumb of me not to think of one. I was visiting a friend out of state, who thought it would be a cool idea to climb a mountain. It was nothing like the Rockies, but it was high enough. We were able to drive up part of it, park, then follow on foot a trail to get to higher ground. Up until that point everything was going fine. The vegetation was thick all around us which made our surroundings cooler in temperature and darker. I was okay since the day had been hot and sunny. Because we were making our way in subdued light, we kept assuming it was still bright outside, and this was our first mistake. As we were ducking under branches and constantly checking the ground for solid footing, we did not realize our ascent was going slower than anticipated. Neither of us thought about the challenges we would face by trying to crawl down in the darkness of night. I THINK IT WAS ME WHO was getting cold first and hungry. We had reached a substantial height where we could see the city glowing in the distance. All we had with us was water; I had wished I had brought a piece of fruit or a granola bar. We decided to turn back by retracing our steps to get back to a trail and then to our car. It did not take long for me to realize we were in trouble. It was nighttime and neither of us could see the ground clearly enough. There were multiple times where one of us thought we had solid footing but then the ground/rock gave away and we would stumble or fall. I fell and scraped the palms of my hands. With no sense of direction, only knowing we had to go down, we were lost. The area was not known for wildlife; however, that did not stop my brain from imagining a multitude of scary creature encounters. The longer we remained stuck on the mountain, the more we were freaking out. After multiple tries and retreats, we finally found a trail. By the time we returned to the car, we had logged nearly 10 hours in total crawling on the mountain. Ever since then, I have always felt an uneasiness whenever I find myself in a remote area. Whether it is in rugged terrain or wide-open spaces, my imagination kicks into high gear on what things could happen to me. This will explain my anxiousness as I watched this dramatic, crime thriller. WITH YOUNG WOMEN GOING MISSING in an area of Alaska, the only lead Jack Holcombe, played by Nicolas Cage (Leaving Las Vegas, Face/Off), had was a junkie named Cindy Paulson, played by Vanessa Hudgens (Beastly, Dog Days) and she did not want to be involved with any part of his investigation. With John Cusack (High Fidelity, Love & Mercy) as Robert Hansen, Dean Norris (Total Recall, The Book of Henry) as Sgt. Lyle Haugsven and Gia Mantegna (The Prince, Criminal Minds-TV) as Debbie Peters; this film festival nominee’s story was based on actual events. For that reason, I found this movie creepier than usual. The main leads were quite convincing in the story; in fact, I was impressed with Vanessa’s work in particular. The filming of this picture made the feelings of isolation and despair more prominent throughout the scenes. It almost felt like it was hanging in the air. The story basically was a good guy vs bad guy set-up; I only wished the writers had delved deeper into the characters. It would have made for a more intense viewing, in my opinion. I was already uneasy about remote areas and this movie has now solidified my feelings about them.
2 ¼ stars
AS THE LIGHTS WENT DOWN MY irritation subsided only to be replaced with brimming excitement. The first note struck on the electric guitar echoed through the stadium and the crowd started to cheer wildly. The stage was flooded in dazzling lights of several colors as the members of the rock band rose up from underneath the stage. I was in my happy place as the band tore into their first song of the night. All the hassle it took to drive to the stadium while fighting traffic every step of the way, parking in the outrageously expensive parking lot, then pushing through the mass of people to get to our seats was all worth it to hear our favorite band. My buddy and I endured all this work to get to a concert, sometimes on a weekly basis; because there was no greater feeling than sitting with 20,000 fans who were all experiencing the same feelings. It was a rush for me. We had been doing it for several years; so, we had our routine down solid on how to navigate each venue. Rarely did we get disappointed by a group or musician. My proof would be all the T-shirts I acquired throughout the years. AS PRICES ESCALATED FOR THE PARKING, ticket fees and the price of admission; my passion for seeing concerts started to wane. Some popular musical artists were charging prices that were easily 50 to 100% higher than other acts; I found it offensive. Just because they had the #1 hit in the country and were wildly popular did not, I felt, give them the right to gouge their adoring fans. My buddy still wanted to see every musical artist and group, no matter the cost. I started becoming more selective. We had a good run of concerts I felt; but the hassle and cost were chipping into the enjoyment factor. The concerts that took place during the weekdays were the toughest for me. Getting home late and trying to get to sleep while in the euphoric afterglow of a concert was getting harder and harder for me to do. I felt bad for my friend; we were both tight into our concert routine for years and now it was changing because of me. I tried being as supportive as I could; however, I just could not keep it up. There were times my friend would go by himself to see a concert; it used to make me feel bad. With the passing of time, we started settling into our new roles. I saw the same thing playing out in this latest installment of the action, comedic crime franchise. AFTER NEARLY BEING KILLED BY A drive-by shooter; Mike Lowrey, played by Will Smith (Men in Black franchise, I Am Legend) and his partner Marcus Burnett, played by Martin Lawrence (Big Momma’s House, National Security), team up with a newly created team from the Miami police department to try and track down the source of the shooter. With Joe Pantoliana (The Matrix, Wedding Daze) as Captain Howard, Alexander Ludwig (Lone Survivor, The Hunger Games) as Dorn and Vanessa Hudgens (Beastly, Spring Breakers) as Kelly; there were no surprises in this movie. If you are a fan of the series, then you will enjoy this latest one; it is pretty much more of the same. Not that this is a criticism; for the script had the same type of quick bantering jokes and humor while Will and Martin delivered their brand of chemistry to the big screen. Granted, part of the humor was now being based on their advanced ages. The action scenes were exciting and some of them were even fun to watch. I believe this is a film one must be in the mood for to watch. If one delays it for a bargain price, there would be nothing wrong in doing that.
2 ½ stars
A GOOD PORTION OF US WERE LED to believe that the ultimate goal in life was retirement. Put in your time at work and get to the finish line was all that mattered. For those who were fortunate to retire early, others would look at them as demigods; they found the secret formula that would let them enjoy life while they were still “young.” I had no such examples while growing up. The people I knew continued working well beyond their retirement age. When I started this movie review site, a friend asked if I would continue writing reviews into my retirement years. I imagined I would have the luxury of going to the movies during the early weekdays, freeing up my weekends that are presently being used for viewing multiple films. I do not see retirement as just sitting around the house with nothing to do. A friend of mine has determined retirement age is not an ending, but a beginning to the next chapter. It is a period of time where one can do something they are passionate about, where they want to explore it further now that they have the time to do so. THERE ARE SOME INDIVIDUALS WHO DO not want to wait until retirement to do something they love. There was a member in one of my classes who was a CFO of a large corporation. She was proud of her work career, but as time went on she started feeling unsatisfied with the job. There was a period where she did not attend class, after being a regular for a few years. Then one day she showed up unexpectedly. After class she came up to talk to me. I said it was good to see her and hoped everything was okay. She informed me she had retired from her job and was taking classes to become a math teacher. It was something she had always wanted to do and decided the time was right to step back from the corporate world, so she could become a teacher. I was taken by surprise at first, since I knew how much she loved being a CFO. Seeing how driven she was in our aerobics class, I had no doubt she would succeed; she had the knowledge and passion. I feel these two attributes are needed if one wants to accomplish a dream. The main character in this dramatic comedy had these 2 things and will show you what can be done with them. WORKING AT A LARGE RETAIL STORE was not what Maya, played by Jennifer Lopez (The Boy Next Door, Shades of Blue-TV), wanted to do the rest of her life. All she needed was a break to show what she could do for the advertising and marketing corporations on Madison Avenue. That break would come in the form of her resume. With Vanessa Hudgens (Dog Days, Beastly) as Zoe, Leah Remini (The Clapper, The King of Queens-TV) as Joan, Treat Williams (The Congressman, What Happens in Vegas) as Anderson Clarke and Milo Ventimiglia (Killing Season, This is Us-TV) as Trey; this movie could have been better. Jennifer has a screen presence that grabs your attention, but with the underdeveloped script she was left hanging. There was nothing special in the script that allowed the story to rise above generic. The writers had a touch of romance, comedy, drama and fun scattered throughout the story; yet, never went deeper with them. At one point I wondered if the focus was to show off Jennifer with her fashion choices, office and home furnishings in her new apartment. Maybe if the film studio had some of the drive and determination I have seen in Jennifer’s career, then they would have produced a more entertaining picture.
FROM ALL THE ANIMALS AND PETS, I have encountered, there are two special pets that stand out the most in my mind. The first one was the very first dog we had in the family. I was around 7 or 8 years old when this small black furred puppy came into our lives. She was extremely smart, knowing which rooms in the house she could go in. The living room was off limits because it had white carpeting. You could try and coax her to come in, but she knew better; she would simply sit down at the edge of the room and observe whatever activity was taking place. I do not remember her ever being afraid of anyone; she loved everyone who came into the house. Because of her I learned a new dimension to unconditional love and friendship. In addition, I had to be told what “being in heat” meant after a couple of dogs chased me down the street while I was out walking her. I refused to walk her for the rest of the week if I remember correctly. THE OTHER PET THAT STANDS OUT in my mind was this dog that my significant other brought into our relationship. He was a “pound puppy” of mixed breeds. He grew to around 40 pounds, this furry bundle of love whose tail was always wagging. I soon began referring to him as the “shadow” because he did not like to be by himself whenever anyone was home. He would follow you from room to room; in other words, from the laundry room to the bathroom to the bedroom to the balcony; it did not matter if you were in the room for only a minute. As he grew up there was one thing neither of us could understand; he took a dislike to children. Specifically, any child who was around his height. It was the oddest thing that we finally attributed to him wanting to be the alpha dog with any kid around his size. Except for this weird trait he was a very compassionate pet. He had this sixth sense that always knew how each of us was feeling. If I was watching a DVD movie that made me tear up, he would jump into my lap and put his front paws up on my shoulders to stare me directly in the face as he licked the tears from my cheeks. He was something else, wasn’t he? I feel fortunate that I had these pets in my life, just as the individuals did with their pets in this dramatic comedy. SEVERAL PEOPLE CROSS PATHS WITH EACH other that alters their lives, all because of their pets. With Vanessa Hudgens (Beastly, Spring Breakers) as Tara, Nina Dobrev (Let’s Be Cops, The Perks of Being a Wallflower) as Elizabeth, Finn Wolfhard (It, Stranger Things-TV) as Tyler, Lauren Lapkus (Jurassic World, Blended) as Daisy and Eva Longoria (Overboard, Lowriders) as Grace; this film had a few different stories taking place at the same time. It was not confusing to watch, but I felt it may have contributed to the script remaining one dimensional throughout the story. Besides being predictable, I never felt fully engaged with what was taking place on screen. However, what I did enjoy was all the animals. I appreciated that the writers did not write script for the pets, where they would need CGI to have the animals mouth the dialog. Instead they let the expressions on the pets’ faces do the talking and it was cute I must say. Excuse my verbiage but this was a “fluffy” piece of entertainment. You could easily experience the same feelings by going to an animal shelter and seeing the animals live. The only thing you might remember if you see this picture is the pets.
1 ¾ stars
Always following quietly in my shadow is the child of my youth who lives inside of me. I never hinder him when he comes out to play. There are things he feels he never had the opportunity to do when we were one and the same, whether from his own fears or the environment around him that kept him dormant. But now he can experience the excitement of exploring a new place in the city with his friends or be able to take a leisurely walk around the neighborhood he grew up in, without having to race home to the safety behind the protective security door in the apartment building he called home. I never take for granted this little child that accompanies and helps me in my fitness classes, letting me feel that youthful spirit I kept hidden away for so many years. Being so familiar with my inner child would explain why it pains me now when I see a child who has been forced to be an adult, never getting the chance to experience what childhood was meant to be. Vanessa Hudgens (Spring Breakers, Beastly) played 16 year old Agnes “Apple” Bailey. Transferred from one foster home to another due to her abusive addict mother June, played by Rosario Dawson (Sin City, Seven Pounds), Agnes ran away to find her absent father Tom Fitzpatrick, played by Brendan Fraser (Furry Vengeance, The Mummy franchise). She only knew of him because of an old letter she had in her possession. The first thing that struck me about this movie based on a true story, was the surprisingly good acting job Vanessa did with her character. It was not an easy role; a couple of times I found myself cringing in my seat. Rosario was excellent, I only wish there would have been more scenes with her in them. In a couple of decent supporting roles there was James Earl Jones (Finder’s Fee; Welcome Home, Roscoe Jenkins) as Frank McCarthy and Ann Dowd (Side Effects, Compliance) as Kathy. The story had a natural grimness to it where I felt the writer/director accentuated it, giving the movie more of a soap opera melodramatic feel. I felt the movie was a little too preachy and predictable; but luckily the acting and the fact that this was a true story kept me interested. Sitting in my seat during the credits that showed the actual people this movie was based on, I realized I was hearing the sound of sniffling coming from the people around me. I had to wonder how much of it was due to the movie or to them missing their inner child.
2 1/2 stars
I wondered what their parents would do if they really knew what their daughters were doing during spring break. Not only the parents in this outrageous film, but I thought about the actors’ parents in real life. I took the antics of the four female co-stars as a sad commentary on what happens to these young children who are thrust into the limelight at such an early age. A majority of them grow up with a warped sense of reality in my opinion. Without a sense of structure or parameters of what is acceptable behavior, these young adults act out in extreme ways, as they did in this film. Best friends Faith, Candy, Brit and Cotty; played by Selema Gomez (Monte Carlo, Ramona and Beezus), Vanessa Hudgens (Sucker Punch, Thirteen), Ashley Benson (13 Going on 30, Bart Got a Room) and Rachael Korine (Mister Lonely, Septien), wanted to experience a life different from their lives back home. Making their way to Florida for spring break, the girls immersed themselves into a hedonistic non-stop frenzy of hard partying. Having kept his eye on the wild friends; an opportunity presented itself where drug dealer Allen, played by James Franco (127 Hours, Oz the Great and Powerful), was able to bail the girls out of a tough predicament. The allure of Allen’s money and power challenged the bond between the four girls, putting into question their desire to go back to the lives they led back home. This was a movie filled with extremes; from excessive drugs to random nudity to swearing to slow motion vomiting, it had everything. For a majority of the film I was bored, finding the repetitive antics tiresome. The filming style had a unique edge that I found interesting, however. Finally James Franco gave a committed, solid performance with his drug dealing character; I wished there had been more story about him. Even with an avant-garde manner to the story and filming, this movie needed to take a break from its excessiveness or at least be forced with a curfew.
1 3/4 stars
Everyone, please step aside and let this generation’s new Spice Girls take center stage. These young women, though dressed seductively, were all about the “girl power.” The only difference, or you may think there is no difference, was they could not sing or act. What a poor excuse for a movie; I felt I was watching a video game. The story, if you wish to call it that, was about an abusive step father who hauled off his step daughter to a mental institution, after her mother had died. To prevent her from telling authorities about what he had done to her and her sister, he paid off the warden or top administrator to have her lobotomized. Doesn’t this sound like a fun story? My favorite part of the story had to do with this unfortunate girl being dubbed Babydoll, played by Emily Browning (Sleeping Beauty, The Uninvited), who has a speical gift–when she dances, she can put people into a trance. While she dances her mind enters an unconscious, alternative world where she learns how to plot her escape. I do not believe you need any more information about the story; you get the idea I am sure. Among those joining her in this plan were Vanessa Hudgens (High School franchise, Journey 2: The Mysterious Island) as Blondie and Jena Malone (Into the Wild, Pride & Prejudice) as Rocket. Except for the art direction, this movie was simply wrong on so many levels. The CGI effects were not enough to keep me from being bored by the story. I believe this movie will interest a small range of people: young males.
1 1/2 stars — DVD