IT WAS OUR PASSION FOR WORKING out that sparked our friendship. Meeting at the house of mutual friends, I knew immediately he was into fitness. My first clue was the food he had on his plate. From all the choices available at the buffet table, he chose the items with the least amount of carbs. Also, he was wearing a light colored T-shirt that was stretched to the max across his chiseled torso and bulging biceps. It was over at the table set up as the bar, where I made a comment about his plate of food. He, in turn, asked where was my plate. When I explained I stop eating 5 hours before going to sleep, I could tell my comment piqued his interest. From there we got into a discussion about health and exercise, sharing our journey into fitness. I shared stories about witnessing the effects brought on by family members’ poor health and how I started questioning the things I was doing that might trigger into action those same poor genes I shared with them from the family gene pool. It turned out we had a similar history that motivated us to take better care of ourselves. Before the evening was over, we both had a good sense of each other and agreed to hang out at some point. FROM THAT RANDOM MEETING AT THAT party, we wound up becoming pretty good workout buddies. When time permitted we would meet at the health club and become each other’s coach and spotter. It must have been 6 or 8 months later when he got the news that would change his life forever. On a routine doctor visit it was discovered he had a serious disease. Because he was so fit, he did not notice the early symptoms. From that point on things changed, as you would expect. He still met me at the gym but not as often; not because he did not want to, but because he was busy getting his house ready to sell. Upon getting the news, he decided he did not want to live and die in a cold climate. Instead, he planned on moving to a warmer city on the west coast. He still kept close to his workout routine but the times did not mesh with my availability. By the time we were in the middle of the autumn season, he had sold most of his furnishings, grew a beard and bought a house. Though he hadn’t finalized the sale of his current house, he wanted to get out and start enjoying the days he had remaining in a warm climate. I was impressed with his matter of fact actions in completely uprooting himself to seek out comfort for his remaining days. I don’t know if I would have the same courage as him or the main character in this dark comedic drama. UPON RECEIVING DIRE NEWS ABOUT HIS HEALTH Richard, played by Johnny Depp (Pirates of the Caribbean franchise, Black Mass) changed the way he was teaching his classes and also the people around him. With Rosemarie DeWitt (Your Sister’s Sister, Rachel Getting Married) as Veronica, Odessa Young (Assassination Nation, The Daughter) as Olivia, Danny Huston (The Aviator, The Constant Gardener) as Peter and Zoey Deutch (Before I Fall, Dirty Grandpa) as Claire; this film festival nominee had a decent cast of actors. Johnny was ok but he did not provide me with something new that I had not seen before. The script had an occasional glimmer of hope, but I felt it lacked in developing the characters. There were several chances for this story to well up into an emotional peak but I felt the writers wanted to play it safe. So instead what was left for the viewer was a repeat of actions and emotions; as if, the writers wanted to not only numb the main character but the audience as well.
WE WERE STRANGERS SITTING TOGETHER IN a car on our way to a convention but would be connected for the rest of our lives, by the end of the trip. It was early in the morning before rush hour traffic as we headed to the location. After exiting the highway, we were on a street that was lined with industrial buildings. Up ahead there was a car parked at an odd angle alongside the curb; its tail end was stuck out into our lane. Coming up alongside of it, we both noticed the driver was slumped over the steering wheel. My companion yelled for me to pull over and she jumped out the door before I came to a complete stop. I soon joined her as she was tapping the driver’s shoulder, asking if he was okay. The driver roused from what appeared to be a long sleep because he was groggy, and his voice sounded gravelly. However, his speech was slurred. I immediately called 911 as my companion tried to see if the driver could move any of his limbs. By the way, my companion was a health professional. An ambulance soon showed up. After explaining how we found the driver, the two of us got back into our car and continued to the convention. However, something changed in us as we talked about what just happened. From that moment forward a connection formed between us where we would seek out the other at these business conventions. SHARING AN EXPERIENCE CUTS THROUGH MUCH of the introduction process in my opinion. Though less dramatic, I enrolled in a workshop where I found myself not knowing any of the participants. When the facilitator asked everyone in the room to pair up, I turned to the person next to me and asked if she wanted to work together. She agreed and we walked over to an open space of the room where we would get further instructions. There was to be an abundance of physical activity through the workshop, where we would have to assist our partners with hands on instruction. Some of the exercises were intense where I did not know if I could complete them; however, my partner constantly encouraged and helped me to finish. Spending the entire day together, helping each other with challenging tasks; by the end of the session we felt a comfort with each other that led to a friendship and a sense of being family. We wound up working together at the same facility and everyone there thought we were brother and sister because we were so similar. I referred to her as my work sister. It goes to show you one does not need bloodlines to form a family. SURVIVING THESE PAST YEARS THROUGH THE zombie invasion turned the ragtag group of individuals into a small family unit. But as a family, would they be strong enough together to combat the evolved zombies who were stronger and smarter? With Woody Harrelson (Shock and Awe, Solo: A Star Wars Story) as Tallahassee, Jesse Eisenberg (The Hummingbird Project, The Art of Self-Defense) as Columbus, Emma Stone (La La Land, The Favourite) as Wichita, Abigail Breslin (Nim’s Island, August: Osage County) as Little Rock and Zoey Deutch (Before I Fall, Set It Up) as Madison; this action, horror comedy sequel had some fun parts in it. I enjoyed the cast immensely, smiling at their snarky sarcastic remarks. The spirit of the first film was present in this one, only it did not feel fresh and new. However, it seemed as if the cast was having fun; so, I was able to travel with them during this mindless ride…so to speak. There was nothing earth shattering here; if you enjoyed the first film then you would probably like this one. For new viewers into comedy horror, good chance you will become a fan of this family unit. There were a couple of extra scenes during and at the end of the credits.
2 ¾ stars
IT SOUNDED LIKE A SOLID game plan. We were going to drive an 18 foot van filled with all of his furnishings from Arizona to relocate him to Colorado. Attached to the van would be a trailer to haul his car. Since he had more experience than me driving trucks it was decided he would do all the driving and I would be the navigator. We left on a hot sunny day; the air conditioning in the cab groaning as it tried to lower the temperature. I joked that I felt like we were starring in a remake of an old Lucille Ball movie where her and Desi played newlyweds that decided to drive a trailer across country. We christened the truck and trailer the “Beast” because it felt so massive to us. Neither of us realized with it being packed full, our ability to keep up with traffic made it feel as if the truck was lumbering like a grizzly bear looking for a place to hibernate. All things considered we could not complain; the weather stayed sunny, there was no construction or road blocks and our route would mostly be all highway driving. ONCE WE DROVE INTO COLORADO our drive would take a perilous turn. The Rockies stood ahead of us, as if they were daring us to try and get through them. It did not occur to either of us that the bogged down van would struggle through the mountain passes. Actually going uphill was not as scary as downhill. There were some cars that honked at us because we were not keeping up with the speed limit; like we had a choice, the poor van felt like it was trembling in fear. I wanted to ask about the sounds I was hearing out of the engine; but my friend was concentrating so hard on keeping the van steady, I did not want to distract him. We were halfway through the mountains and it was still light out gratefully; we did not want to be stuck there after sundown. It was not until we were finally going downhill before I felt any calmness. It did not last long because anytime we were going downhill the van wanted to go faster. It was like the Beast had woken up, ravenous for a meal. My friend had to ride the brakes which caused them to heat up and emit this burning smell that filled the cab. I was freaking out, afraid the brakes would give out and we would hurl down the road, knocking drivers out of the way. Never had I been so frightened and vowed I would never be part of such a plan again. Too bad there was no one among the young adults in this film festival nominated, dramatic comedy that had the same feelings as I did regarding their plan. WHEN HER MOTHER’S BOYFRIEND’S SON comes to live with them Erica, played by Zoey Deutch (Why Him? Everybody Wants Some!!), doesn’t want anything to do with him. That is until he tells her a secret about a man she has been crushing on. With Kathryn Hahn (Bad Moms franchise, Bad Words) as Laurie, Adam Scott (The Vicious Kind, Step Brothers) as Will and Eric Edelstein (Jurassic World, Green Room) as Dale; I felt the script was written to shock the viewer from the get go. The story had some similarities to others of this type but what pulled me in was Zoey’s amazing performance. She really took over the screen from everyone else; I honestly had no idea she could act this well. As a whole this movie watching experience was a mixed bag. There were scenes that felt fresh and new, but then others seemed redundant to me. Honestly I still am not sure I cared for the way the story ended. Maybe with more planning from the writers and director this film would have had a bigger impact on me.
2 ½ stars
THE WORD “BETTER” can be used like a knife. On one hand it is a tool that assists in creating wonderful food dishes in the kitchen; but on the flip side it can be uttered at a person, denting their self-confidence. The person who uses this word may think they are being complimentary; sometimes they are clueless however, not aware of the impact they are having on someone. We can all agree the statement, “Hope you get better soon,” is a positive comment. Telling a friend the dress they are trying on looks better on them than the 1st one they tried is also a positive and maybe helpful statement. When one uses the word “better” in this type of context I am totally on board. NOW YOU MAY not agree 100% with me but I am not a fan of the word “better” when it is used for motivation; it does not always motivate. A teacher telling a student they could have done a better job on their assignment does not have the same effect as asking a student to explain their decisions in doing the homework they way they did. I have learned more when I have been asked why I chose such and such or how I came to that conclusion. Having someone just telling me I could do better does not sit well with me; from my experiences it tends to have a negative connotation. I remember a school project I worked on for a couple of weeks. When it came time to get reviewed one of the things the teacher expressed to me was how she was looking forward to my next project because she knew it would be better. What does that exactly mean? Was she telling me my current assignment was just okay? I will tell you what her words and the comments I received from several sources through my life did to me; they made me more determined to prove them wrong. Hmm, was that their original intention? DESPITE HIS FATHER Sal’s, played by Victor Garber (Titanic, Argo), objections about his writings Jerome David Salinger, played by Nicholas Hoult (Warm Bodies, Mad Max: Fury Road), refused to give up. He felt he had something to say. This biographical drama also starred Sarah Paulson (Carol, American Horror Story-TV) as Dorothy Olding, Kevin Spacey (L.A. Confidential, House of Cards-TV) as Whit Burnett, and Zoey Deutch (Everybody Wants Some!!, Why Him?) as Oona O’Neill. I thought the cast was excellent along with their perfect for the period outfits and the settings around them. If what I was watching was true then the story was fascinating to me about the reclusive author. His book “The Catcher in the Rye” was required reading at my school; I assume most schools across the country had it as part of their English/Literature classes. What did not work for me in this film was the script. There already was a curious mystique to J.D. Salinger; I felt like I was not learning anything new that I had not seen in the news or on the internet. There was a weakness in the drama that kept most things on an even keel in my opinion. From what I was watching I wanted to learn more about the motivations behind the actions; instead, the scenes seemed like they were glossing over the details. If there was an opportunity to ask the writers, I would ask them why they chose the parts they wrote about in this script.
FOR general purposes let me define “karma” this way: The things you do in this life determine how you will be treated in your next one. I would have to spend more time to contemplate how I came to believe in karma since it was not part of my childhood religious upbringing. As a child I know the concept of karma would have been foreign to me. It was in college where I first was introduced to it. Though it was looked at from an educational perspective, as time went on I began to see where certain people would receive comfort from the philosophy behind it. Removing the religious aspect; when I think about karma, it makes me stop to question some of my actions. I cannot change what I have done in the past but in the present I do find value in being aware of karma. A perfect example would be a friend of mine. Recently coming to a place where they now believe in karma, I have noticed a change in their behavior. From a greedy position I can now see how they are more relaxed in their daily life and the need they had before has abated, replaced with almost a serene attitude. AN area of my life where my awareness of karma has affected me is my interactions with difficult people. I know this may sound trivial to some; but in the past I would match a difficult person’s nastiness, loudness and orneriness inch for inch. If they were yelling I would yell back; if they called me names I would throw it right back at them. Having altered my attitude I get angry much less because in my mind I am thinking this difficult person is going to have a hard time in their next life. I wonder if that is how the saying, “What goes around, comes around,” came into existence. It is a lesson some of the teenagers in this dramatic mystery could have learned. STUCK reliving the last day of her life Samantha Kingston, played by Zoey Deutch (Vampire Academy, Why Him?), begins to see herself in a different light. With fellow cast members Halston Sage (Paper Towns, Neighbors) as Lindsay Edgecomb, Logan Miller (Scouts Guide to the Zombie Apocalypse, I’m in the Band-TV) as Kent McFuller and Elena Kampouris (Labor Day, My Big Fat Greek Wedding franchise) as Juliet Sykes; this young adult story started out with an interesting concept. The acting was decent since some of the characters’ actions were making me uncomfortable. To address the elephant in the room, the idea for this story was similar to the one in the film Groundhog Day, where a character relives their life over and over. For some reason I never totally connected to the characters. I would have appreciated more insight into each person; instead, I felt myself reacting to the nastiness. It reminded me of what I saw during my high school days, which I prefer leaving in the past. However, I did like the story arc of one main character and that is what kept me somewhat interested in this picture. My guess is this movie would draw similar aged viewers since that was the makeup of the audience at my viewing. After the film was over I had a feeling that me sitting through this mystery movie meant I would not have to do this again in my next life.
2 ¼ stars
HE was startled when his significant other’s mother was handed the mobile device to introduce herself. She lived out of the country and her “baby” was visiting her for the holidays. During their Face Time date he was asked if he wanted to meet the mother; he could hear her in the background because the sound of her voice had the same lyrical quality he had grown to love. Though nervous he said yes to the request and was pleasantly surprised at her warm smile; again similarities calmed him, next it was her facial features. The conversation was easy and he quickly felt relaxed as they chit chatted about their common love, her child. For a first conversation he felt good about it and thought she might make a wonderful mother-in law. MEETING for the first time the parents of your significant other can be an eye opening experience. Depending on the conversation one could feel a variety of emotions all across the spectrum. I had a friend who upon meeting her boyfriend’s parents walked away with a negative feeling that only grew in time. By the time my friend was engaged there was open hatred between her and the parents. On the other hand I knew someone who totally loved his in-laws; in fact, he insisted on calling them Mom and Dad since the three of them had more affection for each other than what he had growing up. I just realized from my past relationships most of their parents were deceased or if they were still alive they did not communicate with them. So I guess you can say my experience with in-laws is through my friends and family. Some of the stories I have heard were right out of a comedy show or a soap opera. If anything I can at least say listening to their experiences has groomed me on what I need to do to be a “good” son-in-law. Too bad the boyfriend in this comedy did not pay attention. FOR the holidays Stephanie Fleming, played by Zoey Deutch (Vampire Academy, Everybody Wants Some!!), wanted her family to come out to visit her at Stanford so they could meet her boyfriend Laird Mayhew, played by James Franco (The Interview, Spider-Man franchise). The holiday visit would not be such a merry time for all. With Bryan Cranston (Trumbo, Argo) as Ned Fleming, Megan Mullally (The Kings of Summer, Will & Grace-TV) as Barb Fleming and Keegan-Michael Key (Keanu, Tomorrowland) as Gustav; the idea for this story I felt would be relatable to most viewers. I thought Megan and Bryan were good in their roles but I have to tell you I thought the script was all over the place. There were a couple of funny scenes here and there but a good portion of the time I was bored seeing the same type of antics happening over and over. In addition there was nothing new offered in this story about the father meeting the boyfriend for the first time. There was strong language repeated throughout the film along with sexual references. As far as I was concerned this was a meeting that did not have to take place for the family in this film nor for me in the movie theater.
1 ¾ stars
It may only take one article of clothing, accessory, family member or friend and you get branded for life by your peers. A sweater you wore may have a spot or small hole that you did not notice, but someone else did and made the assumption you came from a poor family or even worse a dirty family. I have a watch that looks like an expensive, famous brand of timepiece. It always surprises me during a conversation with an unfamiliar person, when i catch them staring at my watch and their mannerisms do a slight shift towards me afterwards. I cannot explain it since I avoid dealing with people who only focus on the surface of an individual. Back in school I had a friend whose dad was a bus driver. I cannot tell you how many times other classmates would make comments about how his dad was Ralph Kramden (if this name is unfamiliar to you then look up Jackie Gleason) or he was the son of a bus driver. Not only did I not understand the reason for these kinds of comments, but I found them cruel. Well, evidently this same kind of labeling takes place among vampires. Lucy Fry (Lightning Point-TV) played Lissa Dragomir, the last vampire of a royal bloodline. After being out on her own in the real world she was forced to return to St. Vladimir’s academy for vampires with her best friend and protector Rose Hathaway, played by Zoey Deutch (Beautiful Creatures, Mayor Cupcake). She was not well received by some of the student body; in fact, some would rather have seen her dead. As if school was not hard enough already, Lissa found herself in the middle of a class struggle. This action fantasy was such a poor production; it screamed of being a Harry Potter and Twilight movie knockoff. The character Rose appeared to be jacked up on huge amounts of caffeine; her speech was more of a verbal blur to me. For the life of me I did not understand why Gabriel Byrne (The Usual Suspects, Miller’s Crossing) as Victor Dashkov and Joely Richardson (The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo, Event Horizon) as Queen Tatiana were part of this film unless they both lost a bet with someone. The script provided nothing but poor dialog and goofy comments. There were so many opportunities to instill some excitement, tension, thought or even sentimental moments but none of that entered into this boring tale. I hope there are no plans to make a sequel. Though I mentioned I try not to label anyone based on their surface, I may have to reconsider when it comes to the director and writers of this silly vampire fantasy.
1 1/2 stars