A FOND CHILDHOOD MEMORY OF MINE was the many times I went to the auto show. Having built and painted a fleet of model racing cars, I loved seeing all the new cars inside the convention center. The faster a car could go, the more I was attracted to it. I would impatiently wait by a sports car, wishing the attendees sitting inside would get out, so I could sit behind the wheel and pretend I was speeding down a long highway. There was not one compartment, switch or knob that I left untouched. At some of the displays there were hired people, dressed in fancy clothes, who would walk around the car and talk about it to any passing person. To emphasize the point, they would eagerly open a car door to invite the individual to come and take a seat in the “latest,” most “advanced” automobile that is out on the street today. I took all of this in, fantasizing that one day I could get hired to talk about all the cars on display. Adding to my excitement, would be all the pamphlets and paraphernalia that the different auto manufacturers would pass out. By the end of the day, I usually had two full bags of stuff that I collected throughout the exhibit. I HAD ANOTHER SPECIAL MEMORY FROM my times at the auto show. In the cafeteria where we would stop for lunch, they sold one of my favorite cookies but in a smaller size. I loved the idea of my favorite cookie being in a bite-size form because they were so easy to pop in my mouth. And they would not leave any crumbs. I always made sure I finished the bag before we would continue our way through the convention center. Even to this day, I remember those little sized cookies. Now, when I go to the grocery store, there are so many options to my favorite cookie that it becomes overwhelming. I remember when they changed the packaging and proudly proclaimed “New & Improved” across the top. They tasted the same to me. However, with their latest version, I must tell you I did not think they tasted as good as I remembered. After so many years, I hope I am not just getting bored with them; they did not excite me like I know they did in the past. I feel the same about this latest installment in the film franchise despite my love of fast cars. AFTER HAVING SETTLED INTO A QUIET, idyllic life in the country, a crisis forces Dominic Toretto, played by Vin Diesel (Bloodshot, The Last Witch Hunter), and the crew to deal with a terrorist that can match their fight and driving skills. With Michelle Rodriguez (The Assignment, Battle Los Angeles) as Letty, Jordana Brewster (American Heist, Home Sweet Hell) as Mia, Tyrese Gibson (Black and Blue, Transformers franchise) as Roman and John Cena (Vacation Friends, Daddy’s Home franchise) as Jakob; this action, crime adventure took the stunt driving to a new level. I enjoyed watching the over-the-top car scenes; however, there were so many of them that it got repetitive for me. There was no place for logic nor was there any time to focus on the characters. It was humor, race, pause for words of wisdom and repeat. The script could have gotten some help if it had incorporated more of Charlize Theron’s character because one of the “evil” characters was not very evil in my opinion. The cast appears quite comfortable with each other and I imagine they are enjoying themselves during the filming process. I am afraid compared to the prior installments in this film franchise, this latest one was more of a basic model instead of being top of the line. There was an extra scene in the middle of the ending credits.
2 ½ stars
THERE WAS A TEACHER AT MY SCHOOL who had a wooden arm. Every student knew it even if they did not have her as their teacher. She wore long sleeves year-round and she kept the hand portion of her fake arm covered with a glove. There was a rumor I had heard about a student in one of her classes. Upon being told to close the classroom window they had opened without permission; the student asked the teacher why, was she afraid of woodpeckers flying into the room? The student was expelled from school for 2 weeks. I am guessing most of you are shocked after reading about this teacher’s arm. It surprised me as well, since I live in a city that has a renowned rehabilitation center. Through the years the local news has reported on this institution’s latest cutting-edge, technological achievements. Patients from all over the world have come here to receive help and guidance from this rehabilitation center. I did not know the teacher’s circumstances on why she either chose or was given a wooden arm instead of some type of bendable prosthetic. Back in school there was a part of me that had always hoped I would get her for a teacher; so, I could see for myself how she navigated through the daily class routines. What can I say; I was curious. SINCE I MENTIONED THE REHABILITATION CENTER, there was one success story that never made it to the news. I was fortunate to watch one patient’s progress on one of my social media sites. I must tell you; it was an incredible journey to watch because this patient came to the center after an accident caused their inability to walk. Periodically, they would post a photo/video of themselves relearning how to walk with mechanical assistance. I never knew what type of injury they had; however, I remember their earliest videos would show them buckled into a nearly full body suit that was suspended from the ceiling and had electrodes attached all over it. There was one video where the patient was wearing the suit and had 2 people on either side moving their limbs to simulate a walking motion. Weeks and weeks went by before the patient was able to move one leg an inch with no assistance; the smile on their face was immense. At some point the suspended suit was replaced with one that was remotely controlled. The patient had to hold onto two parallel bars, as their legs would slowly shuffle one at a time forward. What a feat to witness; I originally thought I would be seeing a similar feat in this science fiction, action drama. NEW TECHNOLOGY WAS ABLE TO BRING Ray Garrison, played by Vin Diesel (The Last Witch Hunter, The Fast and Furious franchise), back from his untimely death. However, his memories were a different story. With Eiza Gonzalez (Baby Driver, Fast & Furious Presents: Hobbs & Shaw) as Katie/KT, Sam Heughan (Outlander-TV, The Spy Who Dumped Me) as Jimmy Dalton, Toby Kebbell (Fantastic Four, The Hurricane Heist) as Martin Axe and Guy Pearce (Spinning Man, The Rover) as Dr. Emil Harting; this film based on a popular comic book was a typical Vin Diesel picture. It also included a typical Vin performance; even when the action was done in slow motion. The idea behind the story intrigued me; in fact, I enjoyed the enhancements made to Vin’s character. Yet, the writers did nothing new with the story line. There were big fight scenes and special effects; but they were all wrapped into a blah script that did not provide me with anything new. All I can say is this film was not horrible; it was just bland and mindless. You would think with all the technological advances that have been achieved in the world, the movie studio could have presented a better film.
1 ¾ stars
SITTING on the sofa after a satisfying meal I was waiting for the punch line to the story that was being told to us. It was not because the story was exciting, though it was the 1st time I heard it some years ago, or that the storyteller always had an animated way of telling a tale; I actually had heard this story enough to be able to retell it without any coaching. The reason I was waiting for the ending of the story was so I could get up and go to the bathroom without appearing rude to the story teller or the other people sitting around. The first time I heard the story I remember how all of us were laughing hysterically; it really was a funny set of circumstances that happened to the story teller. However after hearing the same story again and again, it had lost its surprise and funniness. For my way of thinking once a funny story has been told it needs to go into retirement, put away on a shelf only to come out on special occasions as a reminder about a particular person or period of time. THE retelling of jokes or stories only robs them of their uniqueness. After a time the listener you are trying to entertain is simply lulled into boredom. This reminds me of a person I know who does not fully grasp the art of joke telling. Every time they tell a joke they have to explain the portion of it that they find particularly amusing. This is never a good idea; if you have to explain a joke then it is not a joke. There have been times where I find myself sitting and listening to them and I immediately know anything I might find funny will be weighed down with this explaining thing that will make me cringe into wishing they would stop talking. Telling something over and over again is not exclusive to parties and family gatherings; it can be found in movie franchises. FAMILY was the most important thing to Dom, played by Vin Diesel (The Pacifier, Billy Lynn’s Long Halftime Walk). Then why did he turn his back on them? Starring Jason Statham (The Expendables franchise, The Mechanic franchise) as Deckard, Dwayne Johnson (San Andreas, Hercules) as Hobbs and Charlize Theron (Monster, Mad Max: Fury Road) as Cipher; the script for this action crime thriller was the weak link. The action scenes kept coming over and over, most connected by cheesy dialog. I will say the action was outrageous as the stunts were things the viewer has come to expect from this franchise. Another positive point about this movie was Charlize Theron; I found her acting to be above everyone else in the cast. After so many years with this franchise the writers needed to do something different in my opinion. I found some of the characters’ conversations were so typical of past films that I found myself becoming dazed and tired. Good thing there was always some over the top action scene ready to unfold right afterwards. This film franchise has had a long run but based on this installment it might be time for this group to take the exit ramp and take a rest. It might do wonders for them.
2 ½ stars
THERE is always a can of mashed pumpkin I keep up on the shelf in my kitchen cabinet. You never know when the urge will come for some homemade pumpkin bread. It brings memories of comfort and home when my house gets filled with the aroma of pumpkin and cinnamon. The recipe I use was handed down to me: I keep the frail piece of paper it is written on in a plastic sleeve secured in a three ringed binder. I love the taste of pumpkin though I was never a big fan of its seeds; I think it is because those store bought ones were always covered in salt back when I was a kid. Ironically I was also never a huge fan of carved pumpkins sitting out for Halloween. After a couple of days they would start to smell or worse, were attacked by squirrels that would gnaw on them and leave a mess on one’s front porch. Except for that issue there is something about pumpkins that brings back memories of childhood, family and Thanksgiving to me. LAST week while I was grocery shopping I came across a small section of shelves that were stocked with items priced for clearance. At first glance I noticed a majority of the items listed the words “pumpkin spice” on its packaging. Just to give you an idea let me tell you a few of the products that were on the shelves; there were car deodorants, breakfast cereals, cough syrups and coffee all flavored with pumpkin spice. I do not know about you but I found it weird to have so many random products all with the scent or taste of pumpkin spice. Are there that many people driving around with the inside of their vehicles smelling of pumpkin spice? I did not list all the items for you but I felt companies just let their marketing departments go amok and now they are all sitting up on shelves as clearance items; what a waste of time, energy and money. I felt the same way about this sequel. XANDER Cage, played by Vin Diesel (Fast & Furious franchise, Babylon A.D.), was not dead; he was living a peaceful life until he was needed to help retrieve a secret hi-tech device that was stolen by Xiang, played by Donnie Yen (Rogue One: A Star Wars Story, IP Man franchise). Whoever had possession of the powerful product could easily bring a country’s government down to its knees. This action thriller also starred Deepika Padukone (Happy New Year, Chennai Express) as Serena Unger, Toni Collette (Krampus, Miss You Already) as Jane Marke and Samuel L. Jackson (The Hateful Eight, The Legend of Tarzan) as Augustus Gibbons. For the life of me I do not understand how a movie studio decides to bring back a character after all these years and produce a total mess of a picture. The script was awful to the point of almost being a total embarrassment. Sure the action scenes were well orchestrated but that is all this adventure film offered and that only goes so far. I could not tell the difference between Vin’s character here with the one he plays in the Fast & Furious movies. If you want to watch a mindless fast paced film then this would be the one; I suggest though you wait for it on clearance.
1 ½ stars
THERE is nobody I know who wants to hear “bad” news. I do not think anyone would like to receive such news. What I find interesting is the way people react to such news. There are families who do not acknowledge news of a loved one’s illness. They may hear a relative was diagnosed with cancer but they do not know how to react or act on such news. The relative may go on their journey towards death without having the support and love of their family members, not out of hate only ignorance, who do not know how to make things better. Sadly you cannot always make things better; however, lending an ear or bringing a cup of ice chips to the dying relative could make a world of difference. WHEN it comes to the general public I am not sure if “bad” news is always reported honestly by the media. Sure they are quick to report a tragedy, let us say an earthquake or flood, but the focus seems to go to what will grab a viewer’s attention or heart strings. A small child saved from the roof of their home would make good story; but not an individual who was struck with a debilitating injury from the catastrophic event, who will no longer be able to perform their job, facing a life of poverty. Now I know there have been times where this is not the case, just recently seeing these “Go Fund Me” pages would be an example of getting the word out. I think the influx of reality television shows and the various social media outlets have warped people’s perceptions of basic truth. It is because of this movie that I have been thinking about this subject. We may want to only celebrate and focus on the positives, but the reality may not always match the cheering. RETURNING to the states for a short victory tour Billy Lynn, played by relative newcomer Joe Alwyn, had one person who did not want him going back overseas after the celebrations; his sister Kathryn, played by Kristen Stewart (Café Society, Still Alice). This film festival winning war drama directed by Ang Lee (Life of Pi, Taking Woodstock) was filmed by a new process using a high frame rate. It made this picture look like a live television show is the only way I can describe it. Personally I found it a big distraction and did not like the look it created on screen; there was a harsh sharpness to the scenes, but that is simply my tastes. With Garrett Hedlund (Pan, Unbroken) as Dime, Steve Martin (The Pink Panther franchise, Cheaper by the Dozen franchise) as Norm and Vin Diesel (The Last Witch Hunter, Fast & Furious franchise) as Shroom; the acting was good but the script did not provide enough for the actors. At times there were scenes of brilliance but then another scene would fall flat. I did not think the story offered much for the viewers; I was left with a bored feeling, wishing I knew more about certain characters and their motivations. Overall the viewing aspect was not pleasant to me and if this technique of shooting a film is going to be a reality, then I want fantasy.
1 ¾ stars
Except when it concerns weight, most instances of loss more times than not are associated with sadness. Even from a scarf to a pair of sunglasses, I have never heard someone say they were happy about losing them. Sadness can be overwhelming when it comes to the loss of a loved one. And if the death was sudden like a heart attack, the survivors can experience shock along with the sad feelings flooding over them. Though I would never say anything, I never understood when someone would say, “We lost her/him today.” I have always wondered if people were just uncomfortable saying the word “died,” maybe because it sounds so final or abrupt as compared to passing away or gone. Now there is another aspect of loss that I think must be harder to deal with and that is when the death is unexpected. Maybe due to an accident or killing, I can only imagine how awful it must feel. There were a couple of different people I knew who had experienced such a tragedy and it was heartbreaking. Though I will say when it comes to this form of death I can understand why a person would have a vein of anger and revenge mixed in with their unhappiness. Hopefully I will never have to experience such a horrible thing in my life. I would rather be exposed to this type of event as an observer while watching a movie. Or at least I thought so until I saw this fantasy adventure. CURSED by a witch with immortal life Kaulder, played by Vin Diesel (Fast & Furious franchise, The Pacifier), would spend his life throughout the centuries protecting the world from such wretched witches. This action film was all about the CGI effects. There were a couple of scenes that were actually good. I thought the idea behind the story was decent; however the script was as dull as an old rusty nail. With Elijah Wood (The Lord of the Rings franchise, Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind) as Dolan 37th, Michael Caine (Harry Brown, Inception) as Dolan 36th and Rose Leslie (Game of Thrones-TV, Downton Abbey-TV) as Chloe; the actors had nothing to work with to try and make this film at least somewhat exciting. As for Vin, with his limited acting range, this role did not suit him at all. With his monotone speech, I found him boring. Maybe part of the issue was the direction the actors were getting because I did not care for the way scenes jumped back and forth in time; it made for a frenzied viewing experience. I will say I did not mind Rose Leslie’s character and wished there were more scenes with Michael; though even his character seemed like one I have seen him play before. This is one film I would not be sad if the movie studio lost.
1 2/3 stars
It is not always an easy adjustment going from purchasing fun things to practical ones. When I was a little kid I used to wish for a flying car like the ones I would see on my Saturday morning cartoon shows. Instead we always had a four door sedan. When I could buy my own cars; I went for the smaller ones with stick shifts that made the cars take off real fast. I enjoyed the way my cars would hug the curb, barely slowing down into the turn as the engine roared. As I got older I started to notice how my friends and I were getting out of the car; turning our bodies sideways so we could get our feet out on the ground before leaning way over to lift ourselves out of the deep seats. Every day sitting in rush hour traffic took a toll on my fondness for not having an automatic transmission. The thing that pushed me away from having a small car was my alley in wintertime. Whenever there was a heavy snowfall my car would get stuck in the snow because it was so low to the ground. It was frustrating since I had to spend time shoveling the car out just to get it freed and back into the garage. So I went from a sports car to a small SUV; but now, I have seen cars that can fly. SETTLING into domestic life was supposed to be easy compared to what the group of friends had encountered previously in their lives. They were being targeted by Deckard Shaw, played by Jason Statham (Homefront, The Expendables franchise), the brother of a drug dealer the friends had taken out. Dominic Toretto and Brian O’Conner, played by Vin Diesel (The Pacifier, Boiler Room) and Paul Walker (Brick Mansions, Eight Below), with the rest of their friends would have to take one last ride to try and save their lives. This action thriller had its work cut out for it since the previous film in the franchise had many high octane action scenes. The driving stunts in this movie were unbelievable; one needs to check their common sense at the door however before viewing them. I felt the stunts were thought of first before the writers decided what would happen in the rest of the scene. Except for a few slow parts, action was the main character of this crime film. I have to say it was a bit sad seeing Paul Walker, knowing he had died in a car accident not related to this movie. However, there was a touching tribute to him in this picture. As long as you realize you have to suspend logic and common sense before sitting through this movie, you will be taken on one heck of a ride. Now I just want one of those flying cars.
Any story or event becomes enhanced with the addition of an unexpected surprise. If I were to tell you that every 25th person who visited my movie site would get a gift card to a movie theater, I am sure the people who received the cards enjoyed reading my reviews more than the ones who did not get a gift card. If I read a news story about someone doing an extraordinary feat in the middle of a crisis, like a person lifting a heavy piece of machinery that accidentally rolled on top of a child, I feel more invested in the story and will probably remember it for a longer time. There was the time I was at a friend’s wedding reception where his introverted cousin, who used to hang out with us, was called up to give a toast. Instead of giving a speech filled with embarrassing or funny tidbits about the groom, the cousin had secretly made arrangements with the band and performed a couple of my friend’s favorite songs. The big surprise was no one knew the cousin could even sing; he amazed everyone with his incredible voice. So you see, experiencing the unexpected can provide a memorable time. SURPRISED by the unexpected was used to the maximum to enhance this science fiction adventure film. Chris Pratt (Delivery Man, Moneyball) played Peter Quill, a space traveler who was being hunted down after he stole a mysterious metal artifact. Only the evil Ronan, played by Lee Pace (The Hobbit franchise, Lincoln), had an idea what the metal object contained and he was determined to get it from Peter. This action movie had one of the most unusual opening scenes I had ever seen in the superhero genres; I suggest you do not come in late to the movie. Speaking of the superhero genre, the cast in this fun film consisted of some of the most unlikely characters and I do mean characters one will ever see as superheroes. Besides Peter who preferred to be called Star Lord, there was Zoe Saldana (Star Trek franchise, Columbiana) as Gamora, Dave Bautista (Riddick, The Man with the Iron Fists) as Drax, Vin Diesel (Saving Private Ryan, Boiler Room) who voiced the character Groot and Bradley Cooper (American Hustle, Hit and Run) who voiced Rocket. I loved this movie on so many levels. First was the awesome soundtrack; it pretty much played out like an extra character of the cast. The humor, snide remarks, action and special effects were terrific, all fitting together to create something different from any previous superhero film. There was not one time where I felt bored; every scene provided something to look at, feel or think about. I had no idea this motley crew would help make this picture a total, unexpected surprise for me. There was a brief extra scene after the credits.
3 1/2 stars
There is something about someone being the underdog that immediately moves me to become a fan of theirs. Whether the person is in the minority or they display amazing fortitude to overcome incredible odds, I am comfortable supporting them. For example I will root for someone who is left-handed since I am and we are in the minority. I still remember when a former co-worker talking about their unborn child said they hope the baby would be right-handed. When I asked them why, they said they did not want the baby to be writing with the wrong hand. Do you see what I mean? In movies, the underdog propels the story forward as they quickly grab the viewer’s attention. The writers of this science fiction thriller did a good job of setting up the main character to be the underdog fairly early in the film. Due to a coup Riddick, played by Vin Diesel (The Fast and Furious franchise, Saving Private Ryan), was left for dead on a hostile planet. The only way to get off the planet was to activate an emergency beacon at an abandoned station. In doing so, Riddick would not only have cutthroat mercenaries descending upon him, but also someone who had a connection to his past. The beginning of this action film was crammed with frenzied action as Riddick was discovered by the creatures of the planet. Once that was over, the picture dramatically dropped into a lull. Knowing Vin was a man of few words, it was a surprise to have him as the narrator for portions of the film. Not until the bounty hunters arrived was there a pickup in the story. One group was led by Santana, played by Jordi Molla (Colombiana, Elizabeth: The Golden Age) and the other was led by Boss Johns, played by Matt Nable (33 Postcards, Killer Elite). Both groups’ players were pretty much stereotypical; making it easy for me to figure out what would happen to several of them later in the movie. There were parts of the film that did not make any sense to me. Add in the uneven story and I was left bored during sections of the movie. To Vin’s credit, he was able to deliver several sarcastic lines along with some crazy, bloody scenes. For a sequel, this film did not offer enough for me to root for it. There were multiple scenes that had blood and violence.
I return to the race track, ready to take on my all to familiar opponent. We have raced many times before. My silver car has a lightning bolt across its hood. As the timer reaches zero, I gun the car and off we go. The first curve is easy, followed by a short straightaway. My rival is matching my every move as our cars are side by side. I know the next curve leads to a short drop; I have to be careful not to let the car jump to high off the pavement. Just as I come out of the turn; my nemesis’ car swings wide, its back end tapping my side panel. If I had not braked immediately, my car would have skidded off the track. Because of that bump my slot car loses to my cousin’s car. Anytime I was over at his house, we would immediately head out to the slot car shop to race our cars. That thrill of speeding returned while watching this high octane action film. I barely remember the previous installments of this franchise and it was okay. This story picked up where the last movie ended; with their $100 million dollars Dominic Toretto, played by Vin Diesel (The Pacifier, The Chronicles of Riddick), and his friends were scattered around the world, enjoying life. The only thing missing for the group was being able to go back home to the States. One day the one person who could offer them the opportunity to go home showed up at Dom’s place. Hobbs, played by Dwayne Johnson (Pain & Gain, Snitch), needed Dom and his gang to get behind the wheel again and track down the mastermind behind the team of precision driving thieves, stealing highly classified government secrets. The dialog was kept to a minimum, making room for insane driving stunts and crazy fights. The automobiles were the real stars of this movie. Humor was used as an additive for some of the scenes, mostly handled by Tyrese Gibson (Transformers franchise, The Take) as Roman and Chris “Ludacris” Bridges (Tropic Thunder, No Strings Attached) as Tej. I liked the fact that this film kept things simple; the focus was on the action, accompanied by a straight forward story about the things people do for the sake of their family. Fast cars was the hook for me; but then again, I know a thing or two about speed. My guess is I am the only person you have ever met who received a speeding ticket in a national park. A few very brief scenes with blood.