THE MUSIC WAS PLAYING ON THE radio as we sang along to it. We had met for lunch so we could catch up with each other’s life; it had been a few months since we last got together. Driving on the way back to her apartment, my friend wanted to show me the house she was thinking of buying. I was fine with checking out the place, so my friend decided to take surface streets to the house to show me what type of neighborhood she would be living in. On one picturesque street, I was pleasantly surprised to see how well the houses were being maintained. My friend slowed and came to a stop near the end of the block; I thought we had arrived at the house she was interested in. Suddenly, she started backing up; I asked her what she was doing. Before she could answer me, she came to a stop and rolled down her window to talk to a man who was standing in front of a car that had its hood up. Before I knew it, she popped her hood and the man was attaching jumper cables to her battery. I sat there in disbelief; I did not even see this guy as we were driving down the street. Within a couple of minutes, the man’s car was running, and we continued on our way. IT WAS SOME TIME LATER AFTER I had left my friend and was home, that I replayed that whole helpful scene in my head. I was struck with the fact that my friend was willing to help a stranger with no hesitation. When I had asked her why she stopped, she said she figured something was wrong by the way the man was looking at his car’s engine. Was I so fearful and mistrustful that I would have continued driving by without stopping I wondered? The next question I had was why was I mistrustful and fearful? In my past, I had been taken advantage of by strangers. Things like being asked for spare change or sign up for a promotion that later turned out to be fake; after several bogus incidents, I stopped offering any help. I guess you could say I became hardened towards those asking for help. Yet, I have always been willing to help friends and family. But as I am writing this, I am recalling times where I did help strangers; the shopper who could not reach the top shelf or the train passenger who was lost would be my examples. Seeing the help the main character offered in this action, adventure film has made me reassess my feelings about helping a stranger. DESPITE HAVING NEVER SEEN SUCH A being did not stop Tom Wachowski, played by James Marsden (Hairspray, Enchanted), from agreeing to help the being called Sonic, voiced by Ben Schwartz (This is Where I Leave You, Parks and Recreation-TV) get to San Francisco. Their trip was the last thing Dr. Ivo Robitnik, played by Jim Carrey (The Truman Show, Mr. Popper’s Penguins), wanted to see succeed. With Tika Sumpter (Ride Along franchise, The Old Man & the Gun) as Maddie Wachowski and Natasha Rothwell (A Year and Change, Insecure-TV) as Rachel; this family fantasy based on the video game was a fun movie watching experience. The message was sweet about friendship and friends in need; the humor was cute and pleasant. There was nothing extreme or harsh in any of the scenes. And the big surprise was seeing Jim excelling at the physical comedy; I felt I was watching a much younger Jim Carrey because he was so into his role. This picture was easy to watch and if nothing else I appreciated the way it made me look at my feelings about helping strangers. There was an extra scene in the middle of the credits.
2 ½ stars
GOING THROUGH MY HOUSE TO FIND items I could donate, I discovered a couple of toys hidden behind some blankets up on a closet shelf. I needed a stepstool to help me retrieve them from the back of the shelf. It had been years since I saw these toys, but I immediately recognized them. One toy was a construction set or to be more accurate a combination of several sets. The set contained miniature metal beams/girders ranging in length from 3 to 8 inches long. There were a variety of screws, washers and nuts to use to attach the girders to build something out of them. I loved playing with this toy when I was a kid. Anytime I had free time, I would place all the set’s pieces in the middle of the living room floor, then start pulling different items and shapes together to build something. I never followed a plan; instead, I would use my imagination to build things from castles to forts to parking garages. In fact, one of the things I made came out so well I was able to submit it into my elementary school’s science fair. It was picked to go on display in the school library for a month. THE OTHER TOY ON THE SHELF was the game of Scrabble. This was one of my favorite games for years. Even if I could not find someone to play with, I would play by myself by forming words on the gameboard with the wooden tiles I picked from a pile I created inside the game’s box top. I found a chair to sit on so I could open this ancient game that had been in my family before I was born. The box was so old that 2 corners of the top lid were worn away, where the sides hung down loosely like airplane flaps. I rubbed my hand over the tiles, feeling the memory of them refresh in my mind. The wooden tile holders the players would use were lined up on one side of the box; I removed one and noticed for the first time it looked like molding from the ceiling of a room. Out of all the tiles there was one that had a darker shade to it; it was the free letter tile. I randomly turned over a tile and discovered I picked the dreaded Q tile that was worth 10 points. It was great if one could use it, but I hated that tile if I got stuck with it at the end of the game. So many memories of past games I played flooded my mind, I had to take a break and sit down to play a game with myself. Certain games have a magical pull on us, like the one in this action, adventure comedy. THOUGH THEY VOWED NEVER TO PLAY the game again, a group of friends had no choice but to play it if they wanted to save their missing friend. With Dwayne Johnson (Skyscraper, Fast & Furious franchise) as Eddie, Karen Gillan (Guardians of the Galaxy franchise, The Circle) as Martha, Jack Black (Margot at the Wedding, The House with a Clock in its Walls) as Bethany/Fridge, Kevin Hart (Night School, The Upside) as Mouse Finbar/Fridge and Awkafina (Crazy Rich Asians, The Farewell) as Ming; this sequel showed the cast having a good time with their characters. The story was a bit confusing with its multiple story lines and changing characters; however, with all the fantasy things happening I was not bothered by it. The special effects were fun and exciting as well as the humor was consistent with the previous film. It took a little time before I became interested in the story; I felt the script dragged in the beginning because I enjoyed the last half of the movie better than the first. Despite a couple of things not making sense and the feeling of déjà vu I was experiencing, this was light fare to sit through this holiday season. There was an extra scene early in the ending credits.
2 ½ stars
THE SILENCE WAS PROMINENT ENOUGH FOR me to notice as soon as I walked into the secured area. Why it was a surprise for me was because the area was an airline’s reward members club at the airport. I had a guest pass; so, I was curious to finally see what was so special about these clubs I have seen at many airports. After my pass was scanned by an airline employee, I took the escalator up to the lounge. With barely an audible sound, I felt I was transported to a futuristic world when I entered the place. There were passengers everywhere, sitting in comfy chairs separated periodically by end tables with small lamps. As far as I could see, everyone was plugged into their electronic devices. Some people were attached to theirs with earbuds or headphones, while others had no connection except their locked eyes on the screen. It was a weird sight for me; I could not tell if I was in a futuristic call center or a laboratory. No one was conversing with anyone else. Each person was a singular entity, focused only on their small space, oblivious to anything around them. IT WAS OBVIOUS TO ME WHICH individuals were playing games, for they were the ones with the most physical movement. Out of this group I assumed the ones that were agitated were probably playing some type of battle game or obstacle course. It was funny to me because at the other end of the spectrum there were those who were quietly typing away on their screens, with the slightest of motion. There was no interaction taking place in the real world. Now I hope I am not being judgmental; but as I looked around, I imagined what the room would look like if each passenger’s electronic game or app came to life. How many people would be embarrassed; or on the other hand, how many would be fascinated with someone else’s game? Before electronic devices, there were arcade games. Placed in bars, restaurants and a variety of public places; these devices tended to attract people to come gather by them. I remember when a player was on a hot streak, he/she would draw a crowd to cheer them on. Honestly, it was a time where people engaged more with each other. There was audible communication; now there is this virtual world that individuals can customize and delve into without any outside human interaction. Think about what if those two worlds of reality and fantasy came together. If you want to see one possibility then this action, adventure comedy can show you. TRAVELING TO THE OFFICE OF HIS deceased father to gather any personal belongings Tim Goodman, played by Justice Smith (Paper Towns, Every Day), found one item that was alive; his Dad’s personal Pokemon. What was more of a shock was the fact he could understand this Pokemon named Detective Pikachu, voiced by Ryan Reynolds (The Hitman’s Bodyguard, Deadpool franchise). With Bill Nighy (The Bookshop, About Time) as Howard Clifford, Ken Watanabe (Inception, Godzilla) as Lieutenant Hide Yoshida and Chris Geere (After Earth, You’re the Worse-TV); I must tell you I have had no dealings with the Pokemon game or its characters. Despite that I was pleasantly surprised with my level of enjoyment for this picture. Ryan seems to be the go-to person when it comes to quick sarcastic remarks and he does a wonderful job here. The creativity of fantasy CGI characters mixing with humans is nothing new; however, the script was compelling enough to draw the viewer in for the ride. Since I do not know if the Pokemon world has some dark places, this story was kept on a consistent goofy, fun level with a few thrills. Of course, fans will enjoy this film more than other viewers; but as a person unfamiliar with the game, I can see why this game has attracted such a large fan base.
2 ½ stars
AS WE WERE LEAD to our table I looked out across the dining room and saw miniature lighthouses at a majority of the tables. The glow I was seeing came from the electronic devices being used at these tables; with the users being adolescents and young children. Some had tablets, others had phones; but they all looked like they were drugged as they were staring at their glowing screens. There were no interactions being initiated by others sitting at each of their tables. Some of the little ones looked as if they were hypnotized; they were so absorbed by the antics taking place on their devices. I totally understand parents wanting to keep their children occupied during a meal out at a restaurant. Honestly who wants to be the parents of a crying child in a public place? But as I looked at these kids I had to wonder how they interact with other children? GRANTED I AM NOT current with the types of video/electronic games children play with these days, but I have heard kids will play with their friends without ever leaving their house. It is some type of video game where you log on as a player and play with a friend across the street or across the country. My electronic days took place when Space Invaders and Centipede were the top games, so I am ignorant when it comes to current activities. And you know that is okay by me. I would not trade the times I sat on the living room floor playing board games with my friends. There was one game where you had to negotiate with your opponent, buying and selling parcels of land like a realtor. To this day I still love the game Scrabble or do not laugh, playing charades. There was nothing like a rainy day to be at a friend’s house playing games, stopping for a snack then returning afterwards to finish up and see who would win. Though each of us was competitive, we knew better than to gloat excessively if we were the winner because there was no guarantee you could win the next time. Looking back at those times I realize playing together face to face was a bonding experience and the perfect introduction to teamwork. The same could be said for this action, comedy adventure. FORCED TO CLEAN OUT a storage room for detention, four high school students discover an old video game they decide to play. They would soon discover they had to win at it if they wanted to stay alive. This enjoyable film starred Dwayne Johnson (Baywatch, San Andreas) as Spencer, Kevin Hart (The Wedding Ringer, Central Intelligence) as Fridge, Jack Black (King Kong, Bernie) as Bethany, and Karen Gillan (Guardians of the Galaxy franchise, Doctor Who-TV) as Martha. There is no getting around the fact that Dwayne has an easy appeal that draws the viewers into any of his characters. With this role he was the perfect choice to play this physically strong, brawny type who was easily scared. Jack Black did a wonderful job as Bethany; the self absorbed, selfie taking high schooler. The director did a great job to keep the pacing on track throughout the story. This fun movie would be enjoyable for the whole family; the villains were more of the creepy type instead of the bloody, scary kind if that makes any sense. I would classify this type of picture as a good escape film; it was made to be humorous and fun. In addition I enjoyed the message of teamwork and as a bonus got to reminisce about the games I used to play when I was younger.
THERE are some people who grow into their identity while there are others who seek out one and take it on. I have become more aware of people’s choices on how they describe themselves and/or how others do it for them. Let me ask you, how often do you hear these days individuals being described as kind, compassionate or sweet? The adjectives I have heard recently are mostly of a negative nature such as racist, workaholic or sexist. Then there are others I have heard that are associated with the person’s career. A banker, a flight attendant; they all seem to come with preconceived notions. AS a matter of fact I know a guy who is a lawyer who used to be a pleasant person. Something about the job changed him however. He turned into all the negative, stereotypical features assumed for a lawyer. He became brusque, cutting off anyone who was not giving him a fast enough answer to his query. Oh and heaven forbid if an item advertised on sale did not ring up the lower price on the cash register; he would cut down the checker who probably had no idea the item was even on sale. It was ugly to watch as he would not let up even when a floor manager would come to override the price. Maybe my small, little world is not representative of society as a whole, but there seems to be a heightened intensity or harshness to people’s personas from what I can tell. I cannot tell if these traits were inherently buried inside the person or outside influences such as career had this effect on them. SUCCESSFUL businesswoman Michele Leblanc, played by Isabelle Huppert (The Piano Teacher, Amour) found her life taking on aspects of her company’s work after she was attacked in her home. This film festival winning dramatic thriller directed by Paul Verhoeven (Basic Instinct, Total Recall) was all Isabelle’s stage. She was unbelievable in the role as she dominated over other cast members Laurent Lafitte (Little White Lies, The Crimson Rivers) as Patrick, Anne Consigny (The Diving Bell and the Butterfly, A Christmas Tale) as Anna and Charles Bexling (Summer Hours, Ridicule) as Richard Leblanc. Don’t get me wrong they were all good, but Isabelle was amazing as Michele. As for the story all I can say is it was a twisted tale. I found each story line interesting and surprised myself when I came to the realization that 2 of them were in a way mirroring each other. The script was well done, putting in a bit of humor here and there to balance out the levels of intensity. Now I will say there were a few scenes that seemed odd that left me feeling puzzled. It was after the film was over when I thought I figured a couple of them out, but nothing concrete. The subtitles were not a distraction, nor did they interfere with the ability to view the action in the scenes. There were a few scenes of violence that were uncomfortable to watch. This picture did make me wonder if life was imitating art. French was spoken throughout with English subtitles.
Before I tell you my vivid memory about tasting chocolate for the first time, keep in mind I remember standing up in my crib and figuring out how I could climb out of it. That is as far back as some of my memories go. The chocolate was in the form of a baked cake in a 9X9 metal pan. From my very first bite I was hooked; with a spongy texture and no frosting on top, this first tasting started an avalanche of chocolate items coming into the house. Because I could not reach anything but the lowest shelf in the pantry, I could not reach any of the products like chocolate chip cookies or chocolate syrup that were kept on the higher shelves, without asking someone to get them for me. At the time I was around 1 ½ to 2 years old. Some may call it an obsession, I call it personal preference; but from that time whenever I am given the option I will always choose the one that has chocolate in it. I do not think I am unusual in this regards; don’t most of us gravitate towards things that give us pleasure or make us feel good? Example, one of my favorite musicals is Les Miserables. After seeing it for the first time, I had to own the soundtrack; then when the movie came out I had to own a copy of the DVD. Though different venues may not always work I enjoy when one of my favorite pastimes expands into another format; this is one of the reasons I want to travel to the Harry Potter theme park one day. So you see I can totally understand those who are into video games flocking to see this movie version of the popular game. DESPERATE to leave their dying planet and find a new place to colonize, the Orc invade the peaceful realm of Azeroth. Losing the conflict meant one side’s total destruction or the other’s extinction. Starring Travis Fimmel (The Experiment, Vikings-TV) as Anduin Lothar, Paula Patton (Deja Vu, 2 Guns) as Garona, Ben Foster (Lone Survivor, 3:10 to Yuma) as Medivh and Toby Kebbell (Wrath of the Titans, Dawn of the Planet of the Apes) as Durotan/Antonidas; I cannot really say the acting was good or bad because the script presented all of them as 2 dimensional characters. This action adventure’s forte was the special effects. I think everything was CGI; my favorite look was the flying bird like creature. For a fantasy I thought the story was good; it made for perfect escapism. However, after the continuation of similar scenes I felt this film went on for far too long. From the trailer this movie looks like it would be fun and I guess on some level it was, but not enough to keep me thoroughly engaged with the story. And sadly it is obvious by the ending the movie studio is hoping to do a sequel. If that is the case may I suggest they bring in some drama, surprise and better dialog to bring in more than just gamers.
1 2/3 stars
When I tell people I have a dark side most of them do not believe me. If a friend of mine is with me I will have them confirm it. You see I believe all emotions are valid; there is not one that is good or bad. There was that time I was on vacation with a friend and 2 of their friends in New York. Our last day we checked out of our rooms and had the hotel store our luggage since we did not need to be at the airport until late in the afternoon. After visiting a couple of final tourist sites we came back to the hotel to get our luggage and head out to the airport. When I asked at the front desk who we should see to retrieve our bags, I was told that person just went to lunch and would not be back for an hour. I stared in disbelief for a moment then said we needed to make a flight. The hotel clerk looked up at me and repeated the same information. My friend’s 2 friends started to turn away but my friend told them not to move, just wait and watch. I did not yell, belittle or use curse words; however, I looked directly into the clerk’s eyes and unleashed a stream of angry comments and scenarios of what would happen if we missed our flights. Let me just tell you they felt the heat and immediately found the hotel manager who went and retrieved our luggage on their own. With anger I firmly believe one needs to express it otherwise it will fester inside. In this case I felt I was right because it made no sense that there would only be one person responsible for the storage of guests’ luggage. Being familiar with anger I was curious to find out why these birds were so angry. THOUGH they may have been outcasts Red, Chuck and Bomb; played by Jason Sudeikis (Mother’s Day, Horrible Bosses franchise), Josh Gad (Jobs, Love & Other Drugs) and Danny McBride (Up in the Air, This is the End); were the ones who wanted to know the reason why a ship full of pigs came to their island. This animated action comedy was based on the popular video game, which I have never played. I do not know if there was anything in this film besides the birds and pigs that came from the game. Though the cast was made up of good choices for the characters, it was not enough to keep me interested. This was such an odd idea to develop a story around because what I saw on the movie screen was boring. The animation was okay but I did not find anything funny, besides I thought the message of the film was not appropriate for young children. What I did find interesting was the audience. For an animated children’s film there were more adults without children than usual, though it still was a small amount; but, it was something that stuck out enough for me to realize. I cannot say I was angry for sitting through this movie; I just did not care about it. Extra scene during the ending credits.
1 3/4 stars
There have been some movies that I have enjoyed watching multiple times. I am talking about the original ones, not necessarily the updated ones; though there have been a few that qualify for more viewing. I also have at times enjoyed when a movie transforms to a live theater production or vice versa. Each medium can provide me a different experience on how the story relates to me. Of course there have been some stellar disasters when one version transforms to the other. I remember one movie in particular that was brought to the big stage, getting its world premiere here in the city. A group of us who were all familiar with the film, traveled down to the theater that had its lobby festooned with all kinds of paraphernalia depicting the musical’s logo. Where the film was magical and imaginative, the theater production was bland and dull; it was a big disappointment for us. Now I have stated in the past that I feel movie studios depend more on marketing for their film decisions than coming up with original ideas. It seems as if there is a hot property or should I say when something goes viral, the studio is quick to jump on the excitement and produce a movie out of it. The studio generally has looked towards novels, history and actual events to generate a movie. Now they look at amusement rides and video games to come up with something marketable. My bottom line is the movie has to be entertaining; I do not focus on where the story originated. With this film I had no idea it was based on a video game. CREATED to be a top assassin Agent 47, played by Rupert Friend (The Young Victoria, Pride & Prejudice), had extra reason to find Katia, played by Hannah Ware (Shame, Oldboy), to complete his contract. This crime movie was slick looking, marketed to appear as a thrilling action film. I can only assume all the funds allotted to this project went to the marketing department and the trailers because the script was looney. This essentially was a long chase scene that came off for the most part as a ridiculous attempt to cash in on the video game. Things would happen in scenes with no rhyme or reason besides the main character being able to stand out in the open and not one expert sharpshooter could hit him with a bullet. Have you ever sat next to someone who never wants to share the joystick to a video game? This is how I felt as I struggled with boredom to get through this picture. Even Zachary Quinto (Star Trek franchise, Margin Calls) as John Smith could not save this dud. Maybe the video game is exciting, but to tell you the truth after seeing this film I really do not care. Several scenes had blood and violence.
1 1/2 stars
Who knew an arcade villain not only had a heart, but would take me down memory lane? Seated in the movie theater I had a flashback to the first time I saw a video arcade game. Standing in line to be seated at a restaurant, I heard sounds coming from a dark corner. When I turned to see what was making the sounds I saw a tall box pulsing with colored lights. Fascinated I went over and peered into its glass screen to see little, flashing colored creatures chasing what looked like a broken smiley face. That was my first time seeing Pac-Man. The fun I had playing that game has been a fond memory that will now be joined by this terrific animated movie. I found myself sitting in my seat with a smile on my face throughout this film. It was not from the graphics as much as it was the story; it had a heart and soul. Game villain Ralph, voiced by John C. Reilly (Carnage, Cedar Rapids), was tired of being hated for being the bad guy in the video game Fit-It Felix. Everyone was afraid of him; while handy Felix, who was voiced by Jack McBrayer (The Campaign, 30 Rock-TV), was loved by all. Ralph decided he would leave his game and seek out a new arcade game, where he could be the hero. Due to his move a diabolical character was released into the arcade world, threatening every character from every game. When Ralph set out on his quest, he never imagined he would have to save the arcade game folks to become a hero. This exciting movie got under my skin with the humorous references, the video characters past and present, ideal voices including Sarah Silverman (Take This Waltz, The School of Rock) as Vanellope and the wild sounds and visuals. A perfect film for the whole family that will introduce to a younger generation fond memories from our favorite video games.
3 1/3 stars