MY FRIEND HAD A NAME FOR those types of individuals; she called them, “Happiness Vampires.” It was the perfect name I thought. A “Happiness Vampire” is a person who cannot celebrate and be a part of someone else’s happiness; they instead try to suck the happiness out of that person. I would even go a step further by saying these “Happiness Vampires” only feel good about themselves when someone else is feeling bad. That is so twisted I think. I believe all of us have encountered these dour people sometime in our lives, even if they were not at the time acting out on their negativity. My friend who came up with this term figured it out after dating this person for almost one year. I guess because she was in the throes of falling in love, she did realize what he was doing to her. His method was like a sneak attack because he would appear to be happy and congratulatory for her, but then would express these negative scenarios or possible repercussions that could happen to her. Pretty soon her good mood would dim and turn sour, leaving her depressed while her “boyfriend” would build himself up as her shining knight who would save her. I was so happy when she finally dumped him. RECENTLY I ATTENDED A DINNER PARTY where I encountered a guest who turned out to be a “Happiness Vampire.” It was an elegant affair with some prominent people in attendance. When I was introduced to this one individual I suddenly was hit with a bad feeling. It was as if the air was being sucked out around me with a vacuum cleaner. He was short and squat in stature; if you would place him at a fast food restaurant’s salad bar he would fit in perfectly. The person who introduced me to this individual was a successful financial man in his own right; however, this sour man quickly took an opportunity to build himself up by tossing a negative comment (some say back-handed compliment) about this prominent person. The reason he did such a thing was to talk about something he felt was a big success in his career. I caught it right away and just stood there listening to this man go on about his so-called accomplishments. The real successful individual also stood there with a smile on their face that looked like it was painted on with Botox; it did not budge the entire time the other man carried on about himself. He tried to take away our good feelings like the Grinch in this animated, family comedy but we did not let him succeed. BASED ON DR. SEUSS’ BELOVED BOOK, “How The Grinch Stole Christmas;” this movie had Benedict Cumberbatch (The Imitation Game, Doctor Strange) voicing The Grinch, Cameron Seely (The Greatest Showman, The Jim Gaffigan Show-TV) voicing Cindy-Lou Who, Rashida Jones (The Social Network, Parks and Recreation-TV) voicing Donna Who and musical artist Pharrell Williams as the Narrator. This story has been done many times before in different mediums; so, there was nothing new that came as a surprise except of all things Benedict’s performance. I did not care for his vocal acting; I thought he was not sinister enough for the character. Visually the movie was fun to watch (even the ending credits) and I enjoyed some of the Grinch’s exploits; but I felt this version of the Grinch was more of a lightweight compared to those Grinch’s of Christmas past. This film is well suited for younger children, but adults may get a bit tired of it. Of course, if you have never seen a movie version of Dr. Seuss’ book before then you might want to check this picture out; it almost seems as if it is a holiday tradition.
2 ¼ stars
A FIXTURE OF THE establishment for so many years, most people coming in to the place simply look past him. They do not know what an impact he has had on the business over the years, but I do. Unassuming, close to being an introvert, he is politely quiet; he only engages in a conversation if you start it. I have only seen him dressed in neutral colors and if there happened to be a logo on any of his clothing it usually was from one of the local sport teams. Despite his, shall we say meek appearance; when it comes to a life or death situation he becomes a whole different person. Out of everyone who works with him, he has saved the most lives. You could try to argue it is because of his work schedule that he is at work when there are more people coming into the place, but it would not stick because the employees agree he doesn’t waste a second nor second guess himself when an alert is announced over the loudspeakers. TO ME HE IS an unsung hero; he doesn’t look for accolades or monetary gain when racing to save someone’s life. He is not the only unsung hero I know; there are others who have made a difference and are some of the most unassuming individuals you could ever know. In fact I know a couple of unsung heroes who are not even human. There is a person I know who was saved by his dog. He and his family were sleeping one night when an electrical fire started in one of the lower levels of their house. Since they were all upstairs they did not get woken up by the smoke or noise. However the family dog went into action by jumping up on the parents’ bed, barking and pulling at the blanket. All the family members woke up with a start and immediately smelled the thickening smoke from below. Calling 911 they quickly gathered together and made their escape. Who knows what would have happened if their dog had not run into their bedroom to wake them up. If you want to learn more about other non-human unsung heroes then feel free to watch this animated, adventure comedy. WANTING TO DO MORE with his life Bo, voiced by Steven Yeun (I Origins, The Walking Dead-TV), can only think about breaking free of his restraints. Little did he know he would play a part in the very first Christmas. This film festival winner included Keegan-Michael Key (Keanu, Tomorrowland-TV) voicing Dave, Aidy Bryant (Saturday Night Live-TV, Shrink-TV) voicing Ruth, Gina Rodriguez (Deepwater Horizon, Jane the Virgin-TV) as Mary and Zachary Levi (Shades of Ray, Chuck-TV) voicing Joseph. This movie was a mixed bag for me. On the one hand I did not mind the animation or the idea behind the story; however the script kept bouncing back and forth between slapstick, goofy scenes to holier reverent action. I found it odd. On one level I thought the script could have been narrowed in scope to focus on one aspect of the story. In a weird way there were times I felt the writers were disrespectful of the story. Also I got bored in a couple of places. Granted most viewers could easily figure out the ending of the story, but why couldn’t the writers add either more consistency or excitement into the story? I think my telling of the dog that rescued the family would have been a better idea to make a movie about than this picture.
ONLY FOR A MOMENT did I catch a glimpse of a shadow against the wall before it retreated. I quickly changed directions and walked away from the alleyway. Purposely I tried keeping my footsteps quiet by taking little steps with the soles of my shoes rolling from heel to toe against the pavement. It did not help as I heard a rustling sound behind me. Darting into a gangway between two apartment buildings, I saw each of them had wrought iron fire escapes that mirrored each other. They looked like origami figurines with a limb reaching out to grab me. Walking up to one of the fire escapes I grabbed a hold of the bottom rung of a ladder that easily gave way for me to pull it far down enough for me to hoist myself onto it. Quickly I made my way up to the first floor and cowered against the building in a crevice of a black area the nearby street lamp could not reach. The dark shadow I had seen lengthened down the alley towards my location. A looming figure attached to the shadow came into view… WHAT YOU JUST READ was something out of my imagination. I apologize if you wanted to find out what happened next, but that scenario never took place. However I will tell you as I was writing it I was looking at it as if it really did take place. You see whenever I write a piece of fiction I see everything in my mind first and then it appears before my eyes. My own version of virtual reality I guess you can call it. In fact I have been accused of not paying attention in class or when someone is speaking directly to me because I do not maintain constant eye contact; I actually am listening to them and picturing what they are telling me. When I think about it I have always had this capability, even before I found my fondness for writing; all that was needed was an imagination. Being a visual learner I certainly can attest to the benefits of visualization. What a surprise it was to see Charles Dickens did the same thing in this comedic drama. DISAPPOINTED WITH HIS RECENT works Charles Dickens, played by Dan Stevens (Beauty and the Beast, Downton Abbey-TV), was desperate to overcome his writer’s block and produce a successful story for the holidays. All he needed to do was look at the people around him. This film festival winning movie based on a true story also starred Christopher Plummer (The Sound of Music, A Beautiful Mind) as Ebenezer Scrooge, Jonathan Pryce (Pirates of the Caribbean franchise, Game of Thrones-TV) as John Dickens, Simon Callow (Amadeus, Four Weddings and a Funeral) as Leech and Miriam Gargoyles (The Age of Innocence, Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets) as Mrs. Fisk. The idea for this story was a new twist on the Christmas Carol story. I enjoyed watching the process Charles Dickens went through to create his iconic story. The acting was a mixed bag for me; I thought Christopher Plummer far outshined Dan in this biographical film. At times I thought the humor was a bit much, inching the Charles Dickens character closer to buffoonery. I may have felt this way because Dan was not totally believable to me. I would have preferred added focus on creating more drama in the script. Despite these issues there still was a certain charm to this picture and fans of Charles Dickens or at least his novel “A Christmas Carol” will get a kick out of the imagination used to bring the novel’s characters to life.
2 ½ stars
ONE IS EITHER BORN INTO the role or is trained by default to be the neutral party aka buffer zone between conflicted family members and/or friends. It takes a particular temperament to handle groups of people who have opposing opinions; a person needs to be calm, sensitive, thoughtful and most importantly strong enough to never offer an opinion. Even in the face of an evil, belligerent person; one needs to maintain a serene exterior, even if they are thinking the extreme thinking friend or family member is hateful or bigoted. If the social event is being held in a large space chances are there will be less drama and little policing of the opposing combatants. However if the meeting place (feel free to replace meeting place with the word arena) is a small space such as a restaurant booth or a person’s dining room, then things could be trickier to maintain some semblance of peace. THROUGH THE YEARS I have been exposed to various events and locations where I was able to witness the buffer zone person in action. I am actually familiar with the dynamics of an occasion where 2 people are not seeing things eye to eye. It can be quite stressful for the other people around. There was a party I attended where such a scenario took place and I agree it was a challenge trying to stay neutral with both sides while each one of them was making their case to me that they were right. The thing I find interesting is when this type of behavior plays out during a special occasion such as a holiday or birthday. Wouldn’t you think in respect to the person celebrating or the special significance to the gathering people could put their differences aside? I do not know if it is an ego thing, a stubborn thing or lack of confidence that makes a person act out in public in such a way. If you are interested there are several examples of people acting ridiculous in this comedy film. TIRED OF DIVIDING THEIR children’s time up during the holiday between each of them Dads Brad and Dusty, played by Will Ferrell (The House, The Campaign) and Mark Wahlberg (Patriots Day, The Gambler), came up with a brilliant idea; to spend the Christmas holiday together. The idea would have been perfect if not for the visit of the grandfathers. With John Lithgow (Miss Sloane, Betriz at Dinner) as Don, Linda Cardellini (Grandma’s Boy, Avengers: Age of Ultron) as Sara and John Cena (Trainwreck, The Marine) as Roger; this sequel for the most part followed the same formula as the original movie. I found the script was predictable and some of the humor had a negative edge to it. If you happened to see the trailers you pretty much saw what the whole film was going to consist of: physical comedy mixed with stereotypical acting. Some of the scenes rang somewhat true to the point I could appreciate what the writers were trying to convey; but, there were times I thought the story was diving into a ridiculous slapstick form of comedy. Having seen the first movie, I did not find much being offered with this picture in the way of new, fresh ideas. Maybe those of you who are in a similar situation as the characters in this picture will enjoy this film. For me I could not be positive or even neutral in my review of this formulaic written movie.
1 ¾ stars
PRETEND YOU CAME FROM a far, far away land or even distant planet and observe the actions some people go through for their holiday celebrations. Morning, noon or night you could see drivers arguing over parking spaces. The landscape void of all vegetation has building blocks of cement and steel doing everything in their power to entice citizens to walk through their doors and buy the merchandise inside. Speaking of merchandise, there are colorful displays everywhere inside these buildings that try to catch your eye. Music played only during the autumn/winter months continuously enters your ears; more than likely repeating itself at some point. Rolls of paper have to be replaced in cash registers throughout the store because of all the gift receipts being printed out. And the most arduous times during this period take place when there is something called a “sale.” During this time you might see people bumping into other people as they seek and consume marked down items. RETURNING TO THEIR HOMES the frenzy does not stop as the end of the year nears. Lists are made for all of the foods one wants to have in their possession. Some people will stress over the preparation of the meals while others will just have others bring in the food. People risk life and limb to hang decorations all over the outside of their houses and across their land. Frustration can spike when after strings of lights are hung to outline the edges of one’s house and one of the bulbs does not light up when the switch is turned on. Inside the decorations can have a particular theme or be a conglomeration of ideas brought together to make the house look festive. One interesting thing of note revolves around the concept of gift giving. It may appear that the younger the person is the more gifts they want to get. This concept of gift giving comes with its own unique form of stress. Will the recipient like the gift, will it fit, will it be too hard to put together; these are some of the thoughts that many individuals get when their minds are focused on gifts. If that was not stressful enough, what could be worse than answering the door to an unexpected guest? If you want to find out then watch what happens in this comedy adventure. FEELING THE STRESS OF the holiday’s fast approach friends Amy, Kiki and Carla; played by Mila Kunis (Oz the Great and Powerful, Friends with Benefits), Kristen Bell (The Lifeguard, Hit and Run) and Kathryn Hahn (The Secret Life of Walter Mitty, We’re the Millers); were not prepared for the ultimate stress—their mothers’ surprise visit. This sequel represents the bad aspects of making a sequel. Where I liked the first movie, I was bored through most of this film. On top of it I found a mean spiritedness to the story. The introduction of each one’s mother has been done before and I found some of the scenes ludicrous. There was no new humor mined with this mother/daughter story line. The cast was fine though I thought Christine Baranski (Into the Woods, The Good Wife-TV) as Ruth and Susan Sarandon (The Lovely Bones, The Meddler) as Isis were typical choices; one was stuck up and the other was the laid back hippie. Though there were a couple of chuckles here and there, I found this film as stale as year old fruitcake.
1 ½ 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
THEY had known me for several years. Every week the friends would come to my class. After class they would stay behind to thank me or ask about a certain movement we did in class; in fact, we talked on the fitness floor whenever I was there doing weight training. So imagine how amused I was when I bumped into them at a restaurant and they did not recognize me. Not until I told them my name did they realize I was their aerobics instructor. We laughed about it as they blamed their confusion on the fact I was not dressed in my workout attire; I was dressed in a pair of jeans and a sweater without my baseball cap. THIS type of scenario happens to me quite often; truth be told I have done the same thing when a member from my class comes up to me outside of the health club. Isn’t it funny how a different set of clothes and different environment alter one’s perceptions? It works the same way I believe in any work environment. I worked at a place for several years with the same employees for most of the time. Every day we would talk to each other during one of our breaks or lunchtime; but it was not until we had our 1st holiday party where I learned several of my fellow employees had a completely different life than the perceptions I had formed from our daily communications. It was almost like an alter ego; for example, there was one employee who was a falconer and another who was part of a dance troupe in the city. I do not know if we would have found these facts out if it wasn’t for that holiday party. DETERMINED to keep his company’s branch open and prove his sister CEO Carol Vanstone, played by Jennifer Aniston (We’re the Millers, Horrible Bosses franchise), wrong; Clay Vanstone, played by T.J. Miller (Deadpool, Silicon Valley-TV), decided to have a huge holiday party to woo a potential client. The only issue was whether the representative liked to party. This comedy came with quite a competent cast of actors such as Jason Bateman (The Family Fang, The Gift) as Josh Parker, Olivia Munn (Ride Along franchise, Magic Mike) as Tracey Hughes and Kate McKinnon (Ghostbusters, Masterminds) as Mary. Filmed in Chicago, the scenes were a mix of indoor and outdoor shots. The story may have been a good idea, but I did not find anything new compared to other movies of this type. There were a few scenes where I chuckled and surprisingly I thought Jason Bateman was the weak link in the story. As for the script it could have used a rewrite to tighten up some of the scenes that dragged on for me. Granted I have never attended a holiday party like the one in this film, but at some point I thought the story was getting ridiculous. The feeling I had after the film was over was neither a positive or negative one; it was just an okay feeling, though I did enjoy the outtakes early in the ending credits. If your employer throws a party like the one depicted in this picture, maybe you will have a better time watching this party.
THE main dinner entrée was being passed around the table, leaving wisps of steam in its path. Each guest was putting a portion of it on their plates. However halfway around the large oval table one guest reversed course and sent the platter back from the direction it had traveled. The guest on the other side who did not get a chance to take some of the entrée did not say a word. It only took the platter traveling backwards a couple of places before a guest asked everyone seated around the table if they had gotten the main course. Half the people around the table said no and the platter made its way around to the rest of the guests. By the way all the guests were related to each other. THAT guest who reversed course was a sister to the woman she snubbed sitting next to her; they do not speak to each other. As the meal progressed there was an uncle who was telling his brother-in-law what he should have done differently in raising his children. A few seats down from him was a relative who had no filters and after they took their first bite into the main entrée they announced to anyone who would listen that the food was overcooked. If that was not enough, sitting next to this individual was a cousin who was complaining to another cousin about a relative who was not in attendance who they felt had awful taste in clothing and was too heavy to wear that type of clothing anyway. To an outsider who was privy to this circle of relatives they would view all of the guests as vipers. However, not all families show their true colors to outsiders. The family in this dramatic comedy was no different. CELEBRATING his first Christmas without his wife all Walter, played by Danny Glover (The Color Purple, Shooter), wanted for the holiday was to have all of his children with him without any arguments. Considering his kids he may have wished for too much. With a cast that included Kimberly Elise (Diary of a Mad Black Woman, For Colored Girls) as Cheryl and Gabrielle Union (Think like a Man franchise, Top Five) as Rachael, the two actors that stood out the most were Mo’Nique (Precious, The Parkers-TV) as Aunt May and J.B. Smoove (We Bought a Zoo, The Sitter) as Uncle Lonnie. These 2 characters could easily be spun off into their own film. As for this picture there were some fun scenes along with a few touching ones. I do have to say if Mo’Nique and J.B. Smoove were not in the movie I would have been bored more than I experienced. The reason being was the story followed a formula for family dysfunctions. Or maybe I am just used to these types of events. Lol But seriously it was easy to figure out the punch line to the gags and jokes. For lighter fare this movie would be fine to watch if you want to chuckle or laugh, but this film does not reveal anything special. I cannot say you would get coal in your stocking for going to this comedy but maybe you might want to wait for a holiday sale.
2 ¼ stars
It always happens around the same time, where I notice uncharitable acts on the rise. The first one I saw was a couple of weeks ago in the parking lot of the shopping mall. I was driving around looking for a space when I drove up behind a car that had its turn signal on; they were waiting for someone to pull out of a space just ahead of them. As the parked car was pulling out another car came barreling down towards us from up ahead. Due to the direction the parked car was backing up, they blocked the car in front of me from taking the space immediately. The new car cut off the reversing car and whipped into the now empty parking spot. The poor driver in front of me could only glare at the driver as they drove off looking for another space. Welcome to the holiday season! I see such craziness around this time of year, where people seem to have been programmed to take no prisoners while they are on their shopping missions for gifts. Once I saw two people fighting over a flat screen TV, each trying to grab the last box from the other person. They looked like maniacal warriors in their tall stocking hats with their single pom-poms jousting in the air. Looking in from the outside I am curious where this whole idea of gift giving took on the attitude that the bigger present always win. It seems as if more and more people every year go through the season at a higher level of stress, complaining about a multitude of things from food prices to relatives. Don’t they know who may come and visit them? WHEN the young son of Sarah and Tom, played by Toni Collette (Miss You Already, The Way Way Back) and Adam Scott (Black Mass, Sleeping with Other People), became disgusted with how the holidays were turning out, he unwittingly invited an unwelcome guest to visit his family. This comedic horror story surprised me. I was not familiar this fantasy was based on German/Austrian folklore. The opening scene was the perfect way to start out this story in my opinion. With David Koechner (Anchorman franchise, Get Smart) as Howard and Conchata Ferrell (Erin Brockovich, Edward Scissorhands) as Aunt Dorothy, the whole cast worked well together even though they were close to being stereotypes. The script kept things moving along; some scenes were predictable, others were fun in that sort of creepy way for a horror flick. This is not a movie for young children; there were some scenes that would I think be scary for them. Since I had never heard of Krampus, this picture was enjoyable for me. I actually liked the idea behind the story and felt it could be a reality check for people like the ones I have already encountered out shopping at the stores. There were a couple of scenes that showed blood.
2 1/2 stars
The pool of friends started out large enough where they could have used a small school bus to fit them all in. They all grew up together having survived the blizzard of the century that kept them home from school for several days, besides puberty. During their high school years the group expanded whenever any of them started dating; the dates just became a part of the culture they had created, hanging out at the pizza place or meeting at the beach when the weather was warm enough. When it came time to go to college the group temporarily diminished by those friends that went out of state. However, any time they returned home there always would be plans in place for everyone to meet up. A change started forming around this time, where those in relationships that were solidifying did not hang out as much with the gang. It wasn’t too soon before that school bus could be traded in for a limo or minivan to fit in all the friends. Not that they did not stop being friends, they just did not hang out due to new commitments like relationship and job. Once the college years were over, the group got even smaller. Some friends had to relocate to a new city or country for their employer. It was time to trade in the minivan for a compact car. And do you know what the hardest part was among the friends? It was the one friend left standing, who was still available to be the driver since they did not have any commitments that would take them away from hanging out with their friends. It could be a tough spot to be in which explained why some friends set up a rotating date to see each other, just like the friends in this comedy. EVERY Christmas Eve childhood friends Ethan, Isaac and Chris; played by Joseph Gordon-Levitt (The Walk, Don Jon), Seth Rogen (Steve Jobs, The Interview) and Anthony Mackie (Our Brand is Crisis, The Hurt Locker); got together. Growing older would eventually challenge their annual night of fun. I found this movie to be a mixture of good and bad. The story was nothing new but there were some funny scenes throughout the film. There were times whereI felt things were scattered, going from serious to comedy and back; but at least the actors were okay doing it. Though I have to say Seth’s role seemed no different to several of his other ones; this one appeared a bit stale to me. I did enjoy the cameo roles through this picture which helped me stay alert since I found some scenes dull. Will this film turn into an annual Christmas movie? I do not know; but if one needs to take a break from the hectic frenzy of the season, this movie could be a candidate to let you sit back and do nothing.
2 1/4 stars