THE WOMAN IN THE PHOTOGRAPH WAS old looking, but I did not know she was ancient. I was working on creating a wall of family photos and the photograph of her was sent to me. When I first got it, I had no idea who she was or the younger woman who was standing next to her in the photo. When I found out, I was absolutely blown away; she was my great, great, great grandmother. The woman standing next to her was my great, great aunt. I kept staring at the photograph because I could not believe I was looking at someone who was connected to me from such a long time ago. And when I say a long time ago, when doing the math, I mean she was alive when Napoleon invaded Russia, hence the 1812 Overture by Tchaikovsky. This small and frail looking woman was seated in a chair or stool with her arms folded in her lap. Her clothing looked like it could swallow her up; the skirt hung down to the floor and her jacket or sweater was dark and long as well. She had a scarf tied around her head as if she were about to go outside, though the sepia colored photo showed her to be inside. I could only imagine what kind of life she must have lived, but because of her I was here. DESPITE NOT KNOWING SOME OF THE relatives in the photographs I have in my possession, I feel a connection to all the people. It is a weird feeling that I do not know if I can explain but looking at all the relatives in the photos had the effect of centering or grounding me. I felt like I had tapped into my roots; I was not some transient who floats from one thing to the next without having a “home base” to return to. Maybe another way I can explain it is by saying my life story, though it is unique to me, shared common ground with the stories from all of these relatives, whether they are deceased of alive. This reminds me of another photograph I got that has 5 relatives in it. I found out that this particular photograph used to be quite famous in the family because it was the first and maybe only one that depicts 5 generations of the family in one photograph. Each one of them has played a part in laying the groundwork for me and my generation of relatives; I just find that so amazing. I know I am lucky that I can have a history with individuals who share the same bloodline as me. It is one of the reasons why I understood what the main character was going through in this animated fantasy film. GROWING UP IN AN ORPHANAGE AND seeing her friends being adopted, only made Earwig, voiced by relative newcomer Taylor Henderson, wish for a family of her own. There was a chance her wish could be fulfilled when an odd couple came calling on the orphanage one day. With JB Blanc (Breaking Bad-TV, Bleach-TV) voicing Mr. Jenkins, Thomas Bromhead (I Got a Rocket-TV, Forest of Piano-TV) voicing the cook, Richard E. Grant (Hudson Hawk, Gosford Park) voicing the Mandrake and Vanessa Marshall (The Grim Adventures of Billy & Mandy-TV, Young Justice-TV) voicing Bella Yaga; this film festival winner was Studio Ghibli’s first foray into using CGI in their animation. In some instances, it worked but other times I was underwhelmed by the animation. I could say the same thing for the script. For an animated film, I found this one to be dull and uninspired. The way the story ended was awful and there was nothing fun or enchanting about the story. I do not know if even small children would care for this picture. If I were Earwig, I think I would have spent more time wishing for a way to get out of this movie.
1 ¾ stars
IT WAS THE FIRST TIME EVER getting such an answer to my question. All I could do was laugh and ask her why she wanted to be a mermaid. The little girl was my friend’s daughter, who said mermaid when I asked her what she wanted to be when she grew up. She wanted to be one so she could swim faster and stay underwater for a long time. I wasn’t sure how to answer her because I did not want to be the one to tell her she could never be a mermaid. So instead, I asked her if I remembered correctly that mermaids had a large fin instead of feet; she said yes, I was right. Scratching my chin as I tried to put a pensive look on my face, I told the little girl that when she gets older she might be able to buy fins a/k/a flippers for her feet that would make her swim faster in water. She seemed pleased with the answer, so I decided to quit while I was ahead. My conversation with her reminded me of myself when I was her age because back then when people would ask me what I wanted to be when I grew up, I told them I wanted to fly like a bird and be a window washer. THROUGH ALL MY SCHOOLINGS IF I did not know what I wanted to do after school for a living, I at least had some general idea of what field I could see myself in. There was one relative who always told me I should be an accountant because I was so good with numbers. Another relative said I should work in the arts because I had such an imaginative mind. I wanted to do something with animals because of my love for them. As I started the educational process towards that goal, there was a part of me that also wanted to start my own travel business because of my love for travel. I wanted to provide private tours for people, where they would be ushered through the city in a limousine. While driving them I would be explaining the different sights along with offering them restaurant choices for their meals. Though I always loved these 2 career options they never came to pass. Does that make me a failure? I never felt so; if anything, I felt there was something waiting for me to discover. The journey of discovery sometimes can even be magical as you can see with the main character in this animated, film festival nominated movie. LIVING OUT IN THE COUNTRY WITHOUT any friends made the days boring for Mary, voiced by Ruby Barnhill (The BFG, 4 O’Clock Club-TV). However, the discovery of a rare plant in the forest was about to change all of that for Mary. With Kate Winslet (The Mountain Between Us, The Dressmaker) voicing Madam Mumblechook, Jim Broadbent (Dolittle, Paddington franchise) voicing Doctor Dee, Ewen Bremner (Wonder Woman, Trainspotting franchise) voicing Flanagan and Louis Ashbourne Serkis (The Kid Who Would be King, Alice Through the Looking Glass) voicing Peter; this family adventure story was based on the book, The Little Broomstick. The animation was beautiful and creative; I felt it blended well with the story as the cast did an excellent job with their characters. It was so enjoyable to watch the hand drawn animation for a change instead of the computer driven kind. There was a sense of familiarity as I was viewing this picture; as if bits and pieces of other stories were being incorporated into this one. However, the sweetness, fun and excitement overcame any predictability I was feeling from several scenes. In addition, I thought the message in the story was simple enough for youngsters to appreciate. Seeing a picture like this one makes me glad I write film reviews.
LEARNING THE HISTORY ABOUT FAMILY MEMBERS can be a fun experience. Some of the things I found out about my relatives seem so out of character to the people I knew. There is a relative of mine who holds the patent on some particular lint trap that is part of a washing machine. Another family member was a gangster. In the family I had an umbrella maker, a butcher and the owner of the first cable boxes that came into existence. As you can see the list is quite varied and I get a kick out of the randomness of it. Recently I was talking with a friend about a movie that is coming out later in the year. Based on the trailer I mentioned I was looking forward to seeing this film about Mary, Queen of Scots. You will not believe what he told me about Mary; his family history has a branch of it that is loosely tied to Mary. Listening to the connections between the deceased relatives, I was struck with the fact he was able to remember who married who and whose brother’s sister-in-law was part of the genealogy trail. It was astounding listening to so many generations coming from this one side of his family. THERE IS NOTHING AS FASCINATING IN my family tree as my friend’s; but if I had such knowledge on the history of my family, I wonder what historical facts I would find out about my deceased relatives. One of the things I know is which countries some of my relatives were born in. I remember in school I would check out books from the library that pertained to these countries, wanting to learn about its history and how it came into being the mother and fatherland of my relatives. My knowledge barely goes back 3 generations of my family. Pretty much all I know is how relatives made their way to America. One relative was sent here with her sister when they were in their teens. She was going to be married off to someone she knew back home who had been sent over earlier to get established in a city. I have other relatives who did not want to migrate but had to because of war. There was a story told about brothers who as children had to be hidden in the forest to escape being kidnapped or worse killed by enemy forces. Though the young boy in this family fantasy only had to be shipped to the state of Michigan, he found out there was something special about him and his family tree. ORPHANED DUE TO THE DEATH OF his parents Lewis Barnavelt, played by Owen Vaccaro (Daddy’s Home franchise, Mother’s Day), was sent to live with his uncle Jonathan Barnavelt, played by Jack Black (Goosebumps, Jumanji: Welcome to the Jungle), who was an odd man. There was a reason why Jonathan was different. With Cate Blanchett (Ocean’s Eight, Thor: Ragnarok) as Florence Zimmerman, Kyle MacLachlan (Blue Velvet, Dune) as Issac Izard and Renee Elise Goldsberry (Sisters, The Good Wife-TV) as Selena Izard; this comedy film was aided by the chemistry between Cate and Jack, which granted seemed an oddball pairing. They were fun together and I enjoyed the way the film started out. I thought it was strange to have Lewis presented with his aviator goggles and bow tie, but at first I did not mind. It was not until the story moved into the 2nd half where I started losing interest. This is where the script was muddy with different references. For me I felt the story was becoming more of a cartoon, meaning silly. With a little more history, development and originality; this picture would have been more enjoyable for me.
1 ¾ stars
Fortunately I was not one of those kids who would get carsick. I knew a couple of children who were never invited to take a ride in anyone’s new automobile; for fear the new upholstered or leather seats would no longer have that new smell after they went along for a ride. Even though I was fine being in a car, there were a couple of adults I avoided when they were the drivers. One in particular was referred to as the cowboy because you felt you were riding a bucking bronco (the actual horse, not the car) anytime you would be riding with them. Most people when they see a stop sign or red stoplight would slow down as they neared the intersection, but not them. They would continue the same speed, which by the way was always over the speed limit; all the way until they were just about at the cross street and then they would slam down hard on the brakes. You could not help but be forced forward in your seat. When it came to making a left or right turn it was always better to hold onto the armrest so you would not slide across the seat. After spending just a little time in their car would cause me to have a headache. The constant hard stopping and quick starts just made the entire ride a series of jerking motions that never was pleasant. When I finally could exit their car I usually was dizzy and needed to sit still for a few moments after. It has been years since I experienced a ride like that until I sat through this horror thriller. HAVING seen new footage of the Blair Witch woods James, played by James Allen McCune (The Walking Dead-TV, Shameless-TV) was convinced his missing sister could still be alive. The only way he would know for sure would be to venture into the demonic area. This film also starred Callie Hernandez (Machete Kills, Members Only-TV movie) as Lisa Arlington, Corbin Reid (Words with Girls-TV movie, Kingdom-TV) as Ashley and Brandon Scott (An American in Hollywood, Knife Fight) as Peter. Sitting through this picture I was essentially uncomfortable for most of the time. There was nothing I found positive about this film. Most of you know I am not a fan of the found footage way of shooting a picture, but watching this was more painful than usual. The jerky movements, the poor lighting, the multiple scenes where the camera was dropped on the ground and the periodical blackouts made for a scattered mess on the big screen. There really was no acting to speak of and I did not find any suspense or horror except for one character’s medical condition. I honestly do not know what the point was in making this film; just like the bizarre sound effects had no meaning to me. These random sounds would take place to scare the characters but nothing had any follow through to it. After enduring this movie all the way to the end, all I got out of it was a headache. I would hate to see what would happen for those viewers who get motion sickness; it doesn’t sound like a pretty picture either way.
1 ½ stars
They share similar features, have the same inflection in their voice, with mannerisms that are alike, even from the same gene pool; yet they are nothing like each other. This is something that has always fascinated me: the similarities and differences between siblings. I always wanted to figure out what were the factors that caused brothers and sisters to turn out the way they did when they were from the same parents. One of the obvious things to me was the birthing order because I strongly believe there is unique baggage in being an older, middle or younger sibling. I have seen families who blatantly treated their first born child differently compared to their 2nd born. From the people I know who were the youngest of their siblings I know some people claim this group was spoiled the most by their parents. I do not totally agree with this; I just think by the time the youngest of at least 3 children have been born, the parents were too tired to care about the same things they once did with their older children. Personally I am not a fan of dressing up one’s children in the same clothing; I feel it takes a bit away from a child’s identity. Now when siblings display strong reactions towards each other, I have to wonder what took place in their childhood that caused such negative feelings towards each other. It is so perplexing to me that I notice when I am introduced socially to new people I tend to ask them at some point if they have any siblings. You should hear some of the responses I have gotten, but nothing that matches the siblings’ story in this fantasy adventure drama. AFTER suffering a horrific loss Freya, played by Emily Blunt (Sicario, Into the Woods), decided to leave her older sister Ravenna, played by Charlize Theron (Young Adult, Mad Max: Fury Road), and stake out her own land where she would be the sole ruler. Her kingdom would have one major law: falling in love was not allowed. The special effects in this action film were certainly fun to watch with the actors. Besides Charlize and Emily there was Chris Hemsworth (In the Heart of the Sea, Thor franchise) as Eric and Jessica Chastain (Crimson Peak, A Most Violent Year) as Sara. I was stoked to see this cast especially in the fight scenes; however, the dull script ruined the already poorly thought out story. I could not believe two actresses like Emily and Charlize were not given more powerful dramatic scenes that they could easily have handled. With the multiple story lines I do not know if this picture was a prequel or sequel; it was totally baffling to me. The writers and director could have created a wild fantasy franchise but for me this movie was a bust. I do not know about you, but I have seen more sparks and drama at a family dysfunction.
1 ¾ stars
It is never a good sign when I glance down at my wristwatch during a movie. What made things worse was the watch’s battery was too low to illuminate the time. Looking for a watch repair shop was more of a challenge than I had expected, finally finding one a few suburbs over from where I was located. As I walked into the shop a tiny bell hanging from the edge of the door tinkled. Sitting behind a long, dusty glass case sat an old bespectacled man wearing oversized magnifying goggles on top of his glasses. His out of proportion massive, dark eyes looked up at me as I neared him. Hunched over a metal table with miniature piles of tiny metal watch parts, his disheveled clothing loosely hung off of his scrawny frame. As he worked on my watch I was able to look around the shop that really looked like an old discarded movie set. There were all types of clocks hanging on the walls, ticking in a symphony of different beats. Whenever I glanced over at the owner I was impressed by his meticulous precise movements while he worked on my watch. I had to wonder what will happen to the shop once the elderly owner was gone; would there be someone new who could do such intense looking work? Finding a protege with similar skills would be challenging. JEFF Bridges (The Giver, Crazy Heart) played Master Gregory, who was the last of his kind. When the evil witch Mother Malkin, played by Julianne Moore (Still Alice, Carrie), escaped the prison Master Gregory had placed her in, he would need the help from an apprentice with a particular lineage to help in her capture. Upon meeting Tom Ward, played by Ben Barnes (Stardust, Dorian Gray), Master Gregory was not sure if he found the right apprentice to take on such a difficult task. This action fantasy looked good in the trailers. I thought if Jeff and Julianne were adversaries they would be able to generate some high drama and sparks between their characters. Unfortunately the script was so bad; they could not save this dull adventure film. If the script had focused more on the two of them, I think there would have been a better chance this movie would have lured more viewers. I was actually embarrassed to see Kit Harington (Pompeii, Game of Thrones-TV) in his role as Mr. Bradley. The special effects were good but they were not enough to compensate for the ridiculousness in this picture, like stuffing something in Jeff’s mouth so he would be hard to understand when he talked. Sitting through this movie I had to wonder how Jeff got this role; this was the type of film only Nicolas Cage would star and bomb in.
1 1/2 stars
The prequel really came to the forefront with the Star Wars franchise. I find it to be a valid form to use in the art of making movies. For me it feels like seeing an old friend from college who is now in a love relationship and getting to hear how the two of them met. Excited to see this prequel to the classic film The Wizard of Oz, the movie studio certainly has been marketing it from a ton of commercials to the movie theater employees wearing promotional T-shirts. James Franco (127 Hours, Howl) played carnie magician Oscar Diggs who was swept up into a storm that took him far away from Kansas. Finding himself in a strange land called Oz he encountered Theodora, played by Mila Kunis (Black Swan, Ted), a witch who believed he was the wizard that the prophecy said would come to save her people. James’ acting in this role was proof that his stint as the wooden host of the Oscar telecasts was not a fluke. Joining him in the awful acting department was Mila and Michelle Williams (My Week with Marilyn, Blue Valentine) as the witch Glinda. The only acting worth talking about came from Rachel Weisz (The Bourne Legacy, The Deep Blue Sea) as Evanora; computer graphic China Girl, voiced by Joey King (Ramona and Beezus, Crazy Stupid Love) and flying monkey Finley, voiced by Zach Braff (Garden State, Scrubs-TV). There were some beautiful and magical scenes, but then there would be flat scenes that were poorly designed. My favorite part of the movie was the last 20-25 minutes that had a cool, creative flair. The script was badly written, not providing depth to the characters which made James Franco’s character extra annoying. Not only was I disappointed by the end of the movie, I felt I had gotten stuck in Oz’ deadly poppy field.
2 1/3 stars
I do not have children; but if I had, my hope would be that I raised them to be free thinking, independent adults. My parents did, even if that was not their intentions. With that being the case, the story in this Pixar animated movie was a success. Princess Merida, voiced by Kelly MacDonald (No Country For Old Men, Nanny McPhee), was not going to grow up in the traditions of her mother Queen Elinor, voiced by Emma Thompson (Love Actually, Last Chance Harvey). Merida did not want her parents deciding who she could marry or how she should act. If only she could make her parents understand; the young princess was determined to break the traditions of her family. What I found different in this movie was the presence of a strong conflict between mother and daughter. In my opinion it was about time an animated movie dealt with deeper real life issues, yet still have the elements of a funny Disney movie. There was conflict, a challenge and a consequence; but for the broader audience, there were elements of humor, adventure and fantasy. It was like having a smorgasbord of emotions spread out for the viewer to sample. Visually this movie was stunning; the amount of detail was breathtaking. I was mesmerized by Merida’s beautiful, flaming red hair–it looked so real. Overall I felt the film had a split personality. There seemed to be a shift in focus that dulled the story for me, when the witch’s spell came into play. But like any relationship, one could not pick and chose the parts they liked. The entire movie experience for me was good, not great and I almost felt as if I had just been to Scotland.
2 3/4 stars
The time really has come for those two boys to stop playing with the make-up and just put it away. I am referring to Johnny and Timmy. Johnny Depp (Finding Neverland, Alice in Wonderland) was Barnabas Collins, but he could have easily been one of his other characters from his past movies. Tim Burton, the director, made some poor choices when he directed this confused film. It flipped back and forth between being a comedy and a thriller, resulting in a lackluster update of the old television series. Angelique Bouchard, played by Eva Green (The Golden Compass, Casino Royale), placed a curse on Barnabas, turning him into a vampire; then had him buried alive for all eternity. When he unexpectedly was dug up 200 years later, he was determined to revive the family business with the present matriarch Elizabeth Collins Stoddard, played by Michelle Pfeiffer (Batman Returns, Hairspray). I found the humor feeble with only a few funny parts–you may already have seen them in the trailer. Having Johnny’s character taking a stream of vomit in the face was not funny to me. As for Michelle, I thought she should have been used more, giving some heft to her weak character. My disappointment appeared to match the majority of baby boomers seated throughout the theater. As we were leaving our seats, I heard very few comments; only the disappointed sighs of people remembering how much they had enjoyed the TV show.
1 3/4 stars