THERE WAS AN OLD SET OF blocks I found in my toy box. It must have been handed down because the color used on the wooden blocks was faded and worn out. Each block had a letter of the alphabet, but I never used the blocks to make words; instead, I used them to make more important things. Stacking the blocks one on top of another made a tall lookout post, with certain letters like “U” and “M” being hidden cannons and machine guns. I would use the blocks to build a wall that was used to surround a moat filled with alligators. One of my favorite things to build were these unusual shaped structures that I pretended were buildings used for outer space outposts. The letters carved into the blocks were windows or shades to protect the inhabitants from the effects of a sun. My imagination would be all over the place as it was being nurtured while playing with these old, wooden building blocks. Every time I would play with them I would discover new adventures and places to explore. IT WAS SOON AFTER I STARTED playing with other toys that would feed my imagination. I remember a box that contained these miniature logs with notches carved towards the ends, like ones used to make a log cabin. However, I used mine to build bridges that would carry visitors over churning rapids or deadly volcanoes. You are probably saying a bridge would never last over an active volcano; but in my world, the logs were made of a secret element that allowed them to withstand the heat from the lava churning inside the volcano, that was preparing to spew up and out. Most of my building type toys were of a smaller scale; in other words, I could create whatever I wanted but it would not be life-sized. That all changed when I received a gift of Styrofoam blocks from a friend of mine. These blocks were bigger than anything I had in my possession. They would interlock using the three pegs sticking up from the top into the three holes that were at the bottom of each piece. The key was not using all three pegs into another piece. All I had to do was use one of the pegs at the ends and I could form a curving wall to form an igloo or fort that was big enough for me to sit in. Add a towel or bedsheet at the top and it would become an awning. There was no limit to my imagination with any of my building toys. The same could be said for the writers of this animated action sequel. LIFE DRASTICALLY CHANGED THE PAST FEW years from everything being awesome to everything being destroyed. The only citizen who kept a positive attitude was Emmet Brickowski, voiced by Chris Pratt (Guardians of the Galaxy franchise, The Magnificent Seven), but that was about to change. With Elizabeth Banks (The Hunger Games franchise, Pitch Perfect franchise) voicing Lucy, Will Arnett (Show Dogs, Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles franchise) voicing Batman, Tiffany Haddish (Night School, Nobody’s Fool) voicing Queen Watevra Wa’Nabi and Stephanie Beatriz (Short Term 12, The Light of the Moon) voicing General Mayhem; the previous cast returned with a few new additions in this adventure film. The actors were all in tune with their characters, delivering the finely tuned humor in the script. As with building blocks, the writers had free rein to go anywhere they wanted with the story. For the most part, they did a good job; however, I think they defaulted to the safe side to avoid risking damage to this burgeoning franchise. The entire family will find something to enjoy in this picture. If there is going to be a third installment, I hope the writers see it as an opportunity to build something new and fresh for these building block pieces.
I FELT TRAPPED IN THE MIDDLE of a group of strangers, with no way to get out. It was the weekend and I was a guest at a party where everyone knew each other except for me. The introductions had all been been made as I found myself an empty seat among a small group of guests, who were sitting outside at the back of the house. No one was being mean to me; they just did not engage me into any of their conversations. Well actually there really weren’t multiple conversations going on amongst this group; there was one individual who was orchestrating the conversation. Everyone else was just listening to him and occasionally making a comment or agreeing with this fellow’s statements. As I quietly sat there I heard this person talk on a variety of subjects. He went from camping stories to traveling ones to skiing escapades to stories about his son’s achievements. Since I had never met him before I did not want to make a snap judgement based on a few of his stories. But do you want to know something? As the other guests nodded their approval or chuckle at this guy’s escapades, I could not help but feel that this man’s conversations were simply a way for him to brag about himself. THERE WAS ONLY SO MUCH I COULD endure before I excused myself to find a place to sit somewhere far from this braggart. Later in the evening I discovered an interesting fact concerning that man. It turned out he was the husband of a woman there who had a prominent position with the same company as several of the guests at the party. You may be asking why this was an interesting fact; I will tell you why. There was a reason why this husband spent a majority of the evening talking about himself. With his wife in an important position, it appeared to me he was feeling threatened by it. Sitting with his wife’s co-workers, this man wanted to show everyone that he was just as important or dominant or successful as his wife. Not speaking for the other guests, but now that I knew about this extra piece to the puzzle I felt sad for the guy. Instead of working on his confidence to be a supportive partner in the relationship he had to sit and regale the guests with stories about his so called incredible achievements. I could not imagine anyone at the party thinking any less of him. This animated action comedy has a similar situation with its main character, go ahead and check it out. TIRED OF NOT BEING TAKEN SERIOUSLY as a superhero Robin, voiced by Scott Menville (RoboCop, The Hunger Games: Catching Fire), decided the way to step out from the shadows of the popular superheroes was to get a movie made about him and the rest of the Teen Titans. All they needed was a villain to vanquish and a top director. With Kristen Bell (Bad Moms franchise, The Boss) voicing Jade Wilson, Will Arnett (When in Rome, Jonah Hex) voicing Slade, Greg Cipes (Fast & Furious, Club Dread) voicing Beast Boy and Khary Payton (The Walking Dead-TV, General Hospital-TV) voicing Cyborg; I was pleasantly surprised at how fun this movie was to watch. The humor was sophisticated enough to please the adults in the audience as the script took swipes at the whole superhero genre. Where I had difficulty was the direction of the story; it stayed at a non-stop clip through the entire picture. I enjoyed the old school animation and it fit right in with the sarcastic script. Too bad I didn’t go see this film in lieu of sitting and listening to someone trying to make himself feel important.
2 ¾ stars
THROUGHOUT THE PAST DECADES WE have been witnesses to some of the greatest animal and human relationships. There was Lassie and Timothy, where Lassie was the only one who knew Timothy was in the well. Though Charlie Brown had no idea that his dog Snoopy was an ace pilot, they were the best of friends. Shaggy could not have solved all those mysteries without Scooby, who some of you might not know was named Scoobert “Scooby” Doo. Do you know who discovered the true identity of the Wizard of Oz? It was Dorothy’s dog Toto. Without Hooch’s help Turner would not have been able to find a murderer. Based on a true story I learned about the bond between Parker Wilson and Hachi; his faithful dog who waited years for his owner to return. And how could I not mention one of the longest friendships between characters; of course, I am talking about Mickey Mouse and Pluto. I am not going to limit it to just dogs; the bond between an owner and their pet is truly special. Growing up I had a parakeet. One of my best friends had fish which used to creep me out because they were always dying so quickly. THROUGH MY STUDIES I HAVE BEEN fortunate enough to have been exposed to a variety of animals. Nothing quite exotic in my opinion; I guess bats would be the most for me. However, I did meet a dairy cow who had a screwcap affixed to the side of her belly. You could unscrew it and peer inside one of the compartments of the cow’s stomach. In college I spent a semester tending to a horse. From cleaning her stall to washing her to getting riding lessons; I was with her on a weekly basis. I overcame my uncomfortableness with reptiles after having a professor who was a big fan of them. He would lecture with a snake draped around his neck. Having a relationship with an animal is such a nurturing experience; look at what happened between Ken and Flicka. There is an unconditional love that forms in these relationships. From my personal experience looking into a dog’s eyes says it all in my opinion. Now I know some people go a step further by transferring human emotions onto their pets. They imagine their animal will have similar reactions to an event as they do. And sometimes they will even dress up their animal with human clothing. Somehow, I do not see that happening with the police dog in this adventure comedy. THERE WAS ONLY ONE WAY TO discover the identity of a global animal smuggler; police dog Max, voiced by Ludacris (Fast & Furious franchise, No Strings Attached), would have to go undercover at a dog show to help Detective Frank, played by Will Arnett (Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles, Arrested Development-TV), find the culprit. It was a whole different world from where Max came from. This family film also had Alan Cumming (The Tempest, The Good Wife-TV) voicing Dante, Natasha Lyonne (The Rambler, Orange is the New Black-TV) voicing Mattie and Stanley Tucci (The Hunger Games franchise, Big Night) voicing Philippe. The story was simple in this picture and the script was even lower. Except for small children (ALERT: there is an inappropriate scene that last I heard was going to be re-edited, please check before going) there is no reason to sit through this film I am sad to say. I was bored beyond belief as the lame jokes fell flat, which pretty much summed up the acting—flat. Every time Will spoke all I thought about was Batman. There was nothing fun being offered to the older viewers; in other words, anyone above 8 years old. I am an animal lover but I have had more fun sitting at home watching the Westminster Kennel Club Dog Show on television.
1 ½ stars
BELIEVING IN A cause can be the start to making a change.Throughout history I remember studying multiple examples where groups of people have an affect on what has been the norm in their world. This will sound trite; but outside of my studies, the first time where I saw the results from a diverse crowd of people coming together to affect change was when there was a write-in campaign to keep a television show from being cancelled. What surprised me was the crowd’s dedication in the way they kept up the pressure on the TV network with their letters, calls and peaceful demonstrations. From the little exposure I had to this event, what I was most impressed with was the variety of people from all walks of life. There was no color barriers, no age discrimination; in other words, there was no labels associated with anyone except for their love of this particular television show. THEY SAY THERE is strength in numbers but I have not always seen that to be the case. Sometimes a smaller group can still affect change with their actions. I wish I could say it always produces a positive change but sadly that is not the case. As the years have gone by there seems to be more opinions about any and everything. It is nothing today for someone to not only have an opinion but share it freely with anyone who will listen…or not listen. I believe everyone has the right to have an opinion. The hard part is respecting it when it runs counter to one’s own thoughts on the subject. Putting that aside, I have mentioned in the past I did volunteer work for several organizations around my hometown. What always impressed me was the devotion the employees had for their common cause. How they all were on point and dedicated to make a positive change was an incredible feeling to experience. If you want to see what can happen when a diverse group comes together for a common cause then this sequel is for you. WHEN THEIR SOURCE of food gets blown up it is up to Surly, voiced by Will Arnett (Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles franchise, The Brothers Solomon), to find a new home for everyone. Unfortunately their new home was about to go through a radical change. This animated, adventure comedy also had Katherine Heigl (The Ugly Truth, Life as We Know It) as Andie, Maya Rudolph (Sisters, Friends with Kids) as Precious, Bobby Cannavale (Ant-Man, Chef) as Frankie and Jackie Chan (Rush Hour franchise, The Spy Next Door) as Mr. Feng. The cast was matched perfectly with their characters, but I have to say the best character for me was the Jackie Chan one. Regarding the story, it continued right where the first film left off. I was not a fan of the original movie and I have to tell you I enjoyed this sequel even less. The action just kept being thrown to us in a fast crazy pace, not allowing time to develop a decent scene of humor. All I felt was the writers were just tossing out idea after idea without any filtering. Overall I was bored since there was nothing different or special in this picture. I could appreciate the movie studio believing they were producing a decent product and I respect their opinion. But I was sorry I paid full price for this film. On the plus side the credits were fun to watch and there was an extra scene at the end of them.
1 1/2 stars
Deep in the recesses of your mind, unbeknownst to you, is a fond memory from your childhood. No matter what kind of early life was experienced, there usually is at least one thing you recall fondly. The trigger that ignites this memory could easily be one of the most innocuous things on the planet. When you encounter this catalyst the deeply embedded memory rises to the surface of your mind like a deep sea diving bell. This recently happened to me when I saw an old-fashioned candy called Dots in a 3 year old’s hand. The sweet treat has multicolored hard drops of candy stuck on a strip of paper that looks like it belongs in a cash register. One could remove each candy piece with their fingertips; but if one wanted to be real cool, they would use their teeth to peel the candy off the strip of paper. As soon as I saw that candy the memory of the candy store where I always bought those Dots appeared at the edges of my eyes. A tiny place planted on the corner of the block, the shop owner was oversized with arms that gave the warmest hugs. I had forgotten how safe and happy I was whenever I was in her store; the memory flooded me with a sense of calm, joyful peacefulness. JUST as I relived that memory so will many of you experience a past time in your life when you see this reboot of the warrior turtles. With New York City under siege by sinister forces, the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles were forced above ground in what would be the ultimate test for all of their past training. This action adventure had modern CGI technology working in its favor. The chases and fights were tight and big. Starring Megan Fox (Transformers franchise, Jennifer’s Body) as April O’Neil and Will Arnett (When in Rome, Arrested Development-TV) as Vernon Fenwick, this was where this comedy film quickly deteriorated. Besides being annoying the script was filled with lame jokes and references. The story was at a television cartoon level and though I did not necessarily have an issue with it, after a short time I felt the scenes lacked any real excitement. If it was not for the fight scenes I would have been even more bored than I already was with this movie. I feel once viewers who remember the original Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles see this film they will discover their memories were better than these updated characters. For those who did not follow the Ninja Turtles, they may find this was a picture that will soon be forgotten.
It does not come with batteries nor does it need to run with any other power source. What I am referring to is our imagination and creativity. From the back porch of the 3rd floor apartment I grew up in, I could see to the end of the block. Each backyard was a different kingdom in my fantasy world. Taking empty plastic dishwasher bottles with their push-up tops, I would fill them up with water and they would become bombs I would use to protect my castle. When I had to go on a fact-finding mission, I would use the back alleys covered with gravel to cover my tracks. During these missions I would hold out a ballpoint pen at arm’s length, turning it into a spaceship that was protecting me from any enemy missiles. I could spend hours outside coming up with several activities that were fueled by my imagination; some incorporated my friends while others had to be done secretly by me. The creativity coming out of the writers’ imagination for this animated action comedy reminded me so much of my childhood. I believe everyone could relate to something in this fun film. Chris Pratt (Her, Wanted) voiced happy-go-lucky Emmet Brickowoski who loved everything he did in his structured life. One day an unusual misstep brought him in contact with Wyldstyle, voiced by Elizabeth Banks (The Hunger Games franchise, People Like Us), who mistakenly believed he was the chosen one to save the world from the evil Lord Business, voiced by Will Ferrell (Stranger Than Fiction, Step Brothers). The kaleidoscopic explosion of colors, rapid fire comments and crazy scenes kept me on my toes; in fact, I feel I need to see this movie again because I felt I was missing some of the details. I understand the cast did their recordings together instead of the usual way of each actor being by themselves in the recording booth. It made a difference in my opinion; there was a stronger fluidity to the verbal exchanges. Will Arnett (Blades of Glory, Arrested Development-TV) as Batman/Bruce Wayne, Liam Neeson (Schindler’s List, Taken franchise) as Bad Cop/Good Cop and Morgan Freeman (Million Dollar Baby, Now You See Me) as Vitruvius were just a few of the voices that stood out for me. There was so much that was good about this film that I do not feel I even have to tell you about the minor stuff. The bottom line for me was this movie took a familiar product and with a big dose of imagination provided me the opportunity to have a fun time while recalling some fond memories from my youth.
3 1/4 stars
One of the best objects for motivation is food. It does not necessarily have to be a comfort type of food like cookies or ice cream; could be a sandwich or a piece of fruit. During the week food is the escalator that helps me get through the day. If I am having a stressful time at the office I know it will not last long because I have set up an oasis where I will be taking in some food at a certain time. I may not want to go jogging on Sunday but I know if I want to treat myself to a chocolate chip cookie later, I have to go running now. There are certain foods I will eat simply because I want them to continue a memory I cherish. The smell of cinnamon quickly brings to mind cookies my mother used to bake, where the dough had to be rolled out and cut with heart and diamond shaped cookie cutters. Just before the cookies were put into the oven they would get sprinkled with a combination of cinnamon and sugar. Whether there is an absence or abundance of food it still can be a big motivator as this animated movie will show you. Will Arnett (When in Rome, Blades of Glory) voiced Surly, a squirrel who only looked out for himself in a park filled with other animals. After being banished by the park’s dominant animal the raccoon, voiced perfectly by Liam Neeson (The Grey, Taken franchise), Surly tried to survive in a city filled with humans, where he was to discover something that could change everything for all the animals back in the park. I understood the moral message the writers were trying to convey in this adventure comedy, though it was a weak effort. Part of the issue was creating a story and film to cover everyone’s tastes; it was too much and too predictable. There was no humor for adults, spending way too much time on flatulence jokes. The voices of Katherine Heigl (Life as We Know It, Grey’s Anatomy-TV) as Andie and Brendan Fraser (The Mummy franchise, Bedazzled) as Grayson easily lent themselves to a cartoon character; but I did not find much excitement among the majority of the players. Compared to other animated films I have seen, this one was not much fun to watch. All I kept thinking about during most of the movie was what I would eat for lunch when I got home. There were a couple of extra scenes in the middle and end of the credits.