Friday, April 28, 2017

Movie Review: "Phoenix Forgotten" Reviewed by Stephen Signor

After three adventurous teenagers decide to explore the origin of mysterious lights appearing above Phoenix, Arizona, they vanish without a trace. Twenty years later, unseen footage from that night surfaces, that chronicles the final hours of their fateful expedition.
Despite all the negative reviews, I decided to see this film purely out of curiosity. The theater was empty except for my own presence, but I am still not convinced that was due to the film’s reviews. 

Rather, I attribute that to the disbelief surrounding UFO’s, which may have smothered interest.
That said, I rather enjoyed it. There is no comparison intended or otherwise to the “Blair Witch Project” and its sequel, nor was it as compelling as “Cloverfield”. That’s what makes a documentary a documentary. “Phoenix Forgotten” is character and event based, purely under the control of the camera operator. To that end, it accomplished what it was supposed to. 

Florence Hartigan (2013’s “Bro-Dependent” mini-series) is Sophie, the sister of Josh played by Luke-Spencer Roberts, from last year’s “ The Good Neighbor” and one of the three missing persons. The other two are Ashley played by Chelsea Lopez (2017’s “Novitiate”) and Justin Matthews (2016’s “The Interestings”) as Mark.

Sophie’s search, I felt, was as well chronicled as it was convincing. The other characters however were initially weak at times, but in all fairness after much reflection, I began to question how I would react to what they were experiencing. Therefore, accolades go to Director Justin Barber, who is no stranger to video documentaries; having numerous credits that include producer for 2008’s “Medicine for the Melancholy” and providing graphics in several “Star Trek” short documentaries. He also served as one of the writers for this film, teaming up with T.S. Nowlin, who wrote the screenplay for 2015’s “Maze Runner: The Scorch Trials”.

The plot delivered a sense of mystery that only this kind of subject matter can deliver. It obviously wasn’t produced for the action-packed factor, like other Ridley Scott productions, i.e. “Martians” and “300”. Again, this is not a bad thing. 

In summary my guess is this film will be as forgotten as “Phoenix” was, only sooner rather than later. And that is too bad, because in the long run it was interesting, fast moving and with a short run time which I feel most other films should have been, that were a lot less well received. 

Friday, April 21, 2017

Movie Review: “The Fate of the Furious” by Daniel Kilgallon

“The Fate of the Furious” is the eighth film in the Fast and Furious franchise. That’s right, those early 2000s street racing movies have transformed into one of the premiere blockbuster series on the planet; and there are already at least two more of them on the way. The last few installments have been just as over the top, as any comic book film out there, with a plethora of absurd action sequences that completely defy physics. That being said, I am going to categorize, “The Fate of the Furious” as a superhero action comedy of sorts, since this latest chapter is even more extreme than its predecessors.

Once again, this movie features an absolutely star studded returning cast, with the exceptions of the late Paul Walker, Jordana Brewster and a few others. Vin Diesel, Dwayne Johnson, Jason Statham, Michelle Rodriguez, Tyrese Gibson, Ludacris and Kurt Russell all reprise their previous roles, while names like Charlize Theron, Scott Eastwood, and Helen Mirren join the party.

For whatever it is worth, the “plot” of this movie is rather straightforward, but there are a handful of twists and surprises blended throughout.  Having said that, I will keep my summary brief and spoiler-free. As seen in the trailers, this time around Dominic Toretto (Vin Diesel) is sucked into the world of terrorism and pitted against his former team/family.

“The Fate of the Furious” simply has to be the most ridiculous movie that I have ever seen, but that is not necessarily a bad thing. This franchise seems far more comfortable in its own skin, being more self-aware than ever before. For the most part, the mood is pretty light throughout and there are countless one-liners to laugh out loud at; particularly the humorous banter between Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson and Jason Statham’s characters. Every single action sequence is more preposterous than the last, but I truly admire the creativity it took to put it all together this time around. Right from the opening scene, any sort of reality is thrown out the window and from that point on, this movie is just stupidly entertaining. Personally, “Fast Five” is the only film in the series that I find worth re-watching at this point and remains my favorite installment. However, “The Fate of the Furious” is even more exciting than the last two chapters and well worth checking out in theaters.

"The Friendship Garden" series by Gayle Plummer

*For the next couple of months, look here for the weekly “Friendship Garden” series. It’s a tale for children that can be enjoyed by adults.

Chapter 1
Who Am I? - Polly the Pansy Wants to Know

What was that? She could hear a loud buzzing noise. Where was it coming from?  

Ouch! It hurt when she tried to open her eyes. It was really bright . . . why? Where was she?  What is this place? Polly was trying to have a look around. She needed to figure out where that noise was coming from. After a few minutes, she was able to get her eyes open and she could see others! Some of them were still trying to open their eyes too. Others already had their eyes open and they were cheering loudly. Now that she had her eyes open, she liked the brightness. It was kind of warm and cheery - a very happy place really.

Where were they all? WHAT were they all? Polly learned that the noise she heard was coming from all the others, who were all talking at once. They were trying to figure out where they were and what they were.  

As Polly looked around, she could see that all the others were light green and very wispy and very delicate looking. She looked down at herself - she also was light green and very wispy. She continued to look around and . . .  oh wow! Some of the others were talking to her! They were shouting, “Hi, how are you? Isn’t this fun?” Polly realized she could speak to them. “Yes,” she shouted, “This is fun and sunny and warm!”

Polly decided this must be her house. She found out later that it is a house, but it is called a greenhouse. The greenhouse has lots and lots of windows that let in lots and lots of sun light.  That’s why it is so bright inside. It is where the baby flowers begin to grow from seeds into healthy plants. And she was one of them! She was a flower! 

Over in the corner - just sitting and soaking in the sunshine, was a very large, very full, and very colorful  . . . what? “What was that?” Polly said to herself. She looked at it and wondered some more. But she did not have to wonder for long, because it was looking right back at her and then it spoke to her! 

It said, “Hello Polly, how are you dear?” Polly could not speak. She was so shocked, so surprised and excited by all the wonderful, bright colors that were covering this beautiful thing - that she was speechless. The very large, beautiful thing in the corner spoke again, “Don’t be afraid dear, I am your Grandmother.”

So, Polly decided to be brave. She took a deep breath and she answered, “Grandmother, I don’t understand what’s going on.  I don’t know what you are or even what I am.” They talked all day and she peppered her Grandmother with lots of questions. Polly’s Grandmother’s name was Prudence. Polly learned that she and her Grandmother were flowers called Pansies. So her name was Polly Pansy. 

Grandmother explained that Polly came from a seed that was put into some soil, here in the warm greenhouse, and she was very much loved, fed and watered. Granny Prudence also told Polly that she would grow into a beautiful flower with many, many, colorful petals and that she would look the same as Granny looked!  “Would you like to look like I do, Polly?” Grandmother asked. Polly shouted, “Oh yes!”. . .  She almost jumped right out of her soil, she was so excited.  She found it hard to imagine that she could be almost as colorful as her Grandmother!

Quiz Question to spark a conversation with your child:  What is a “greenhouse” used for?
*Look for more things to happen to Polly & her friends coming up next in Chapter 2.

 Chapter 2
Polly Pansy’s New Appearance

Time went by, and then one morning weeks later, Polly woke up from a good night’s sleep in the greenhouse, to a lot of shouting and giggling. When she opened her eyes, she could not believe what she was looking at! All of her little friends were dressed in beautiful colors! Deep purples!  Bursting yellows! Pretty pinks! Bright whites with purple spots . . . so-o-o many colors!
It was amazing! It was dazzling! The greenhouse had a delicious sweet perfume that came from all those pansy blossoms.

Everyone was so very excited! They were all talking, laughing, singing and swaying back and forth! The greenhouse was alive with color, sparkle and activity that created a happy energy. When Polly looked down at herself, she realized she was dressed in heavenly, brilliant colors too! She had so many colored petals, that one could hardly see her green leaves at all. Yippee!  She was already almost as colorful as her Grandmother!  

Many of Polly’s friends wore different flower blossoms from the ones Polly had; not everyone looked the same in the greenhouse at all. So she asked her Granny Prudence about this. Granny explained that some of the flowers were called Zinnias and they could be very tall or very short.  Polly learned that Zinnias came in many different colors and were among the happiest flowers in the greenhouse. Granny then told Polly about Marigolds, “They are most often a brilliant, yellow color and also have a puffy blossom right on top of their heads.” Soon after, Polly met Zelda Zinnia and Mary Marigold. Polly was admiring Zelda and Mary because their colors and flower petals were so very different from Polly’s. Zelda Zinnia and Mary Marigold were very friendly and Polly, Zelda and Mary all became good friends. 

A little later, Granny Prudence told Polly, that very soon she would be going to a new home.  This made Polly feel sad because she didn’t want to leave her Grandmother or her friends.  Granny said that her new home was a very special place and that Polly’s friends would be moving with her! Granny told Polly that she would be going also. They would all be transplanted into the Friendship Garden! There would be friends to play with, talk with and giggle with all day - every day! 

And so it happened. One special morning when Polly woke up she knew instantly that she was in her new home. The peaceful calm was the first thing she noticed. It was quieter here than it was in the greenhouse. She just looked around and listened. There was so much to see, so much to feel. Oh look! Zelda Zinnia and Mary Marigold were planted right next to Polly Pansy in the garden. What a wonderful summer this was going to be! Good friends, good feelings and plenty of warm sunshine. She was surprised by the wonder of it all . . .  She was now in her new home, the Friendship Garden!
Brilliant colors exploded from everyone that lived in the Friendship Garden.  All of the colors shimmered and sparkled in the sun beams from Mr. Sun.  Miss Morning Dew sprinkled each one with her misty dew drops and all of the flowers were glistening. The soft musical-breezes made everyone dance and sway back and forth gently.  All of the flowers seemed to be blending their colors, their joy and their happiness - which created that special something in the air . . . almost like a song.  Everyone was so peaceful, so friendly and peaceful.

Quiz Question: What does “transplanted” mean?
*Polly will face her first difficult challenge in Chapter 3 – Watch for it!

Chapter 3
Polly Does Not Feel Well

As the summer sprawled out over the Friendship Garden, one day things began to change. Polly began to realize that she was very thirsty. Also, she didn’t feel well at all. It seemed like days and days since she and her friends had a drink of water. Mr. Sun, who had been her friend and who had been keeping her nice and warm, was now making it too hot. It felt like her leaves were burning. She could see that her beautiful colors had started drying and fading. She needed some water soon or she felt like she would flop over and never get up! Zelda Zinnia and Mary Marigold also looked like they were going to faint. They all became too weak, too tired and too thirsty to visit with each other very much. 

In fact everyone in the Friendship Garden seemed tired and faint. Even the birds did not come into the garden as much - which added to the sad mood that was falling on the garden. Things just got dry, dusty and different . . . Some of the happiness and peace seemed to be going out of the Friendship Garden. 

The next morning when Polly woke up, she realized she was lying on the ground, in the dirt. Where were her care givers? She cried out for them but they didn’t hear her.  She couldn’t even stand up straight because she was so weak. There was nothing Polly could do but wait in the dry, dusty dirt and hope that it would rain or that her care givers would come and water the garden.  So she waited. She waited with her friends, Zelda Zinnia and Mary Marigold.  They just waited and waited - and Polly remembered when their days in the Friendship Garden were green and fun.  She remembered when everyone in the garden was healthy, laughing and playing.  Finally she nodded off to sleep.

What was that? It felt oh so good! Oh my! That was wonderful! Polly opened her eyes and saw one of her care givers. Finally they were here! They were giving her a wonderful, long drink of water and a bath! Zelda Zinnia and Mary Marigold were wiggling around under the
wonderful water spray too! Oh how sweet! In just a few minutes she began to feel so much better!  

Zelda and Mary seemed to be standing up taller all ready. Everyone was going to be all right! 

The happy calm returned to the Friendship Garden. The hummingbirds danced in and out of the garden all summer long. All of the birds fluttered back in to visit and sing.  People came to sit, relax and enjoy the garden. Polly talked, sang and swayed in the musical-breezes with her friends all day, every day all summer long!

Polly learned that it was a wonderful thing to make friends and to become part of the Friendship Garden. She learned that, together, it was all of them that created the garden - and the special feelings of friendship and magic of the garden. It took a team of flowers and their care giver to make a very special place.

*Quiz Question:  What is the one thing you must always check your plants in your garden for? What do they need every few days to stay alive?

* Next time: You will meet another one of Polly’s friends, Benny the Bachelor Button. You will find out what trouble he gets into!

Book Review: “Lily and the Octopus” By Steven Rowley. Reviewd by Elizabeth Richards

I have to admit, I was skeptical about reading a book that centered on a gay man and his dog.  Being a cat person and a heterosexual woman, I had no idea if I would relate to the characters at all, and for me, the characters are what make a book enjoyable. 
I shouldn’t have worried, because the characters in “Lily and the Octopus” by Steven Rowley, were so real and easy to relate to that I was hooked from the first chapter.

Rowley takes what could easily have become a narrow plot and turns it into something rich and amazing. This book delves far beyond the surface, diving into themes so universal, I feel like anyone could find some piece of it to relate to. 

 The author moves the reader seamlessly from exploring the difficulties of connecting with others to the struggle of accepting the reality of something heartbreaking, to finding the strength to emerge stronger in the end. Though only one of the main characters is human, the story is almost heartbreakingly so. I found myself, again and again, thinking “Yes, that’s it!” about some insight that Ted gained through his struggle.

“Lily and the Octopus” had some scenes that felt very much the same as a dream sequence in a television show. I’ve never been a huge fan of those, and there were times I found myself confused about what was actually happening in this story. But somehow, instead of creating a disjointed feel, these scenes made sense in the larger context; and rather than detracting from the story, added rich layers to my reading experience.  

I found myself coming to the end of the story wishing it wasn’t over. In this tale, I knew from the beginning what the outcome would likely be. Sometimes, that makes me want to put a book down, but Rowley’s rich descriptions, hilarious situations, and touching moments kept me engaged throughout the book as I experienced a range of emotions from amusement to deep sorrow to hope. 

This is a book that made me think - about myself, my relationships, and the way I am living my life. It’s the kind of book that leaves me wanting to tell everyone I know to rush out and get it right away. You won’t be disappointed!

Friday, April 14, 2017

Movie Reveiw: "Going in Style" by Stephen Signor

This is a reboot of the 1979 movie that was directed by Martin Brest and featured George Burns, Art Carney, and Lee Strasberg. Here, three different iconic actors take us down a similar path as the original movie - as a reminder that growing old can drive someone to do the unthinkable. These seniors, who are living on social security and are about to also lose their pensions, are reduced to a frazzle and ultimately decide they have had enough. What starts out as just an idea soon comes to fruition in the form of a bank robbery.

Despite a film cast that includes three Oscar winners: Morgan Freeman, Alan Arkin, and Sir Michael Caine, as well as two Oscar nominees, Matt Dillon and Ann-Margret, I could not get past the feeling of de-je-vu. I did see the original 1979 version and my impression now is pretty much the same as it was then. While this version does have its humorous moments and its serious side, for me it fell flat on too many other levels. I hate when a remake is made and the biggest difference is the cast.

The casting of Matt Dillon as an FBI agent assigned to solve the bank robbery caper, appeared short-sighted, leaving lines that were delivered with no real impact. 

Edward Cannon, who wrote the 1979 original version, teamed up with writer Theodore Melfi, producer of 2016s “Hidden Figures.” Somehow I didn’t feel they were on the same page. Director Zach Braff (2016s “Dubious Battle”) did not offer up any real differences to the original script.

Ann-Margret, who plays Arkin’s eventual love interest, I suppose was intended to add that touch of sexual attraction she is so well known for. While it was convincing, it seemed a bit too much at times and over the edge.

On a positive note, Christopher Lloyd was his usual crazy “Taxi” / “Back from the Future” self. His role added most of the humor, leaving the others in his wake. Cast member Siobhan Fallon Hogan also added an extra touch of unexpected humor. Hogan is known for her recurring role on “Seinfeld” and more recently on the TV series, “MacGyver”

While I did stay to see the entire film and did not fall asleep at any given time, I was expecting to see something that would leave these thoughts much further from my mind.

Friday, April 7, 2017

Movie Review: “Boss Baby” by Stephen Signor

Run Time: 1hr. 37min.

Is it me or is there a facial resemblance in the E-Trade commercial’s baby and the character in the film? I pondered briefly whether the character was the inspiration or catalyst for this creation, until I realized he was the creation of Marla Frazee, who based the character on the book of the same name. In this DreamWorks Animations 34th feature film, a very unusual baby must team up with an unsuspecting family member to save his company from the thralls of rival Puppy Co. and its CEO. Interestingly, the first trailer was released on National Boss's Day.

Miles Christopher Bakshi, in his fifth film lending his voice, is Tim - a seven year old and an only child who is about to receive a baby brother. Watching from his bedroom window in horror as this little surprise package arrives via a taxi cab; looking every part a Wall Street tycoon. Sensing trouble, a plot develops to rid this diaper-wearing mogul from the household.

For Alec Baldwin, the voice of “Boss Baby” is a complete role reversal from what he physically plays in “30 Rockand obviously one he embraced. His natural talent and character is spot on - delivering innuendos and subliminal messages. There are also a few parodies that adults will enjoy.   

Writer Michael McCullers (“Mr. Peabody & Sherman”) and Frazee have turned entertaining ink into emulsion; or what we now know as digitations. Director Tom McGrath (“Megamind”) also adds a nice touch to scene sequences and is no stranger to lending his own voice in several animated films, also lends his voice here as the TV chef.

A full, well known cast of actors round out this menagerie of characters, one of which is Steve Buscemi (“Fargo”) whose voice you may recognize from (“Monster House”) Nebbercracker. 

“Friends” star Lisa Kudrow adds a touch of her familiar candor, dry humor sense of timing. Jimmy Kimmel as Dad is also himself. There is no deviation from either personality traits or mannerisms, which I found gave their scenes a recognizable touch of realism. Relatively new James McGrath, lends his voice to an Elvis impersonator with incredible accuracy. This was an added treat to an already hysterical plot.    

But, like most of the films by DreamWorks, it is the facial expressions of the characters that bring them to life. The dialog was icing on the cake.

Friday, March 31, 2017

Movie Review: "Life" by Stephen Signor

Run Time: 1hr. 43min.

I chose to see this sci-fi film, hoping it would differ from those I have previously seen and reviewed - despite the fact it was inspired by “Alien” (1979). To my satisfaction it did not disappoint. But the main reason I found this film exceptional is because it resonates feasibility. It gives credence to the question of whether or not there is intelligent life on Mars and if it would prove to be unfriendly.

A series of events lasting roughly five minutes that led up to the film’s title being flashed across the screen was enough to capture my attention and held it there for the entire 103 minutes. It begins with the retrieval of a space probe from Mars by the ISS (International Space Station) manned by six crew members. Contained inside the probe, at least temporarily, is a sample from the red planet’s surface. What ensues is a terrifying experience from an experiment that goes horribly wrong.

Although I am not familiar with many of the actors’ names, I did find their performances compelling. Ariyon Bakare (“Rogue One”) is the first to conduct research and discover that all is not what it seems when their laboratory methods end up presenting unforeseen circumstances. His reactions both physically and mentally add to the mystery and horror of what is about to transpire

Also, among the six crew members is actor Ryan Reynolds from “Deadpool” who is one of the scientists who find his hands are full when the specimen proves to be more intelligent than originally thought. One of the two females on board, Rebecca Ferguson (“The Girl on a Train”) is now the girl on an infected and doomed spacecraft. Add to this the performance by Oscar nominee Jake Gyllenhaal and you end up with a good start to a crew that exceeds their boundaries’ as actors.

In what appears to be a “Deadpool” (2016) writer’s reunion, Rhett Reese and Paul Wernick manage to reveal personal conflict and emotion when the crew members become trapped aboard the ISS with the rapidly-growing organism. They must find out how to kill it before it manages to escape and decimate Earth.

Director Daniel Espinosa (“Child 44”) does a great job in bringing together the right combination of intense action sequences to equally compliment the crews’ personality traits. Everything seems to fit, even the surprise ending. The bottom line: “Life” is good and well worth seeing.