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
THERE ON THE RACK YOU SEE a sweater that not only grabs your eye, but you know you must have it. You start going through the rack; unfortunately, the color you want is not in your size. The style is what grabbed you at first and you know yourself so well. Your wanting of it is now turning into a need. After checking the entire rack you are now faced with making a decision. The sales staff was no help because there was nothing left in stock; so, if you want the sweater you will have to settle on a different color. Blue is your favorite color, so you certainly do not want the brown or red one. Looking at the remaining colors you picture yourself wearing each color. The decision was not that difficult; you settle on the green colored sweater. You take satisfaction in your purchase because you know if you did not buy the sweater you would be thinking about it for a long time. Green was not such a bad color, you could deal with it not being blue. THERE ARE SOME INDIVIDUALS WHO WOULD not have bought the sweater; they are the type who will not settle for something less than the exact thing they want. I believe I fluctuate somewhere in between, depending on the item. For a recent holiday we decided to celebrate at a restaurant. There were eight of us around an oval table. When it came to ordering off the menu, three of us chose the same thing. It was a turkey dinner with mashed potatoes and a cooked vegetable. After the waiter left with our orders we sat around talking while nibbling on the appetizers. In a few minutes the waiter came back to tell us out of the three turkey dinners, there were only two left. I was the first to speak up and told the waiter to give the other two their dinners; I would instead have the turkey burger and fries. The waiter was apologetic and left with my order. For me it was not a big deal; they didn’t have anymore, so what was I to do? When the meals were served the restaurant manager came up to apologize. I accepted his apology, so he would leave and all of us could start to eat. The meal was okay, but it was not a full dinner that looked especially good; I just settled for the turkey burger because I did not want there to be a fuss. The same thing could be said about this comedy film; If you do not have time to see a great movie, then this one might be okay instead. WHEN A CYBER-ATTACK EXPOSES THE identities of Britain’s secret service agents there is only one agent available who is off the grid retired agent Johnny English, played by Rowan Atkinson (Four Weddings and a Funeral, Bean franchise). Can old school spying work in a computer connected world? This action adventure also starred Emma Thompson (Saving Mr. Banks, Bridget Jones’ Baby) as Prime Minister, Ben Miller (Paddington 2, What We Did on our Holiday) as Bough and Olga Kurylenko (The Death of Stalin, Hitman) as Ophelia Bauletova. This entire film had a retro vibe that reminded me of the Pink Panther movies. There was nothing that stood out as horrible; but for the most part, everything in the story seemed like it was done before. Rowan is quite good with physical comedy which is lucky since most of the script was having a gag upon gag upon gag. I did not find anything hilarious; possibly because the set-ups were all predictable to me. If the show times aren’t working for you to see a better film and you are the type who doesn’t mind settling, then this picture would just be okay. But do not spend money on a full priced ticket.
THERE WAS NOTING GREATER TO HAVE in school than an older friend. To make friends with someone from a higher grade was one of the ultimate achievements in a student’s accomplishments. Some of you might not be aware of it; but having an older friend would immediately give a boost to one’s self-esteem. Let us face it, hanging out with older kids was a cool thing to do. I remember going to a party with my friends where there were older students from our school. At one point I was standing with a small group of students. An older one standing next to me took out a carton of cigarettes and after taking one out offered me a cigarette; I had never smoked one, so I took it. Also, I wanted to look cool and be accepted by the older kids. I put the cigarette up to my mouth, trying to remember how movie stars did it. As soon as I lit the tip and inhaled; I let out a violent cough, spitting the cigarette out of my mouth and onto the floor. So much for looking like a cool kid. And from that point in time, I never smoked another cigarette again. IN MY SOPHMORE YEAR OF HIGH SCHOOL, I volunteered to help the music department during one of my study periods. I was assigned to the band room where many of the band’s instruments were stored. Whether it was some kind of divine intervention or just luck, it did not matter to me; because there were several older students who always hung out in the room when I was there. Our love of music provided a quick connection between all of us. Having taken piano lessons for several years, besides being exposed early in life to several different genres of music; I had a level of knowledge that not only matched the other students, but in some cases surpassed them. It was an incredible feeling for me to be accepted by these older students. I learned the ins and outs of the upperclassmen’s courses, besides getting inside knowledge on the national testing I would be participating in. Walking through the hallways during the breaks between class periods and having one of them acknowledge my presence was a real high for me. Looking back at those times the only thing that was missing was having an older student as my bodyguard; like the one in that movie, “My Bodyguard,” (not to be confused with “The Bodyguard”). Due to the experiences I just shared with you, I could identify with what the main character was searching for in this comedic drama. IT TOOK A LOT OF COURAGE FOR Stevie, played by Sunny Suljic (The House with a Clock in its Walls, The Killing of a Sacred Deer), to step into the skate shop; but the older boys were doing some incredible things. This movie also starred Katherine Waterston (Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them, Inherent Vice) as Dabney, Lucas Hedges (Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri; Lady Bird) as Ian, newcomer Na-kel Smith as Ray and newcomer Gio Galicia as Ruben. Written and directed by Jonah Hill (Don’t Worry, He Won’t Get Far; War Dogs), this writing and directorial debut by him was a good first step forward. I found the story authentic; in a way it had a documentary vibe to it. For first time actors which was most of the cast, Jonah was able to get real life performances out of them. Some of the dialog seemed repetitive for me however. Despite that, I felt connected to the emotions of the script with the help of the interesting film angles Jonah employed. This was a solid, good start for Jonah about a real thing.
LITTLE DID I KNOW THAT CLASS could have been a valuable asset if I had enrolled. Maybe your school environment was different; but the perception at my school about members of the debate team were mostly on the negative side. Being on a sports team was more prestigious and let us face it, there never was a pep rally held for a debate team; at least I have never seen one. I imagine if I had paid more attention to the skills needed to have a debate instead of the participants I would have been a better communicator. Looking at the disagreements I have had with individuals over the years, I can see why many of my disagreements turned into arguments. Not that I associate an argument with being a negative experience, but I could have avoided sinking into a name calling match with people. It was not until later in life that I learned how to have a disagreement/argument/debate. Having spent so much energy on making statements that started with the word “You,” I was finally taught to start my thoughts with the word “I.” It truly makes a world of difference when you go from saying, “You did this or that,” to “ I feel that option would be harmful because…”; do you see the difference? DURING THE POLITICALLY DIVIDED TIMES WE live in now; I believe every politician, employee, student and resident would benefit by taking a class in the art of debating. It seems to me as if name calling and belittling are becoming the new standard for making a point. I have mentioned before how I do not allow the subject of politics and religion to be discussed in my classes. These are two topics that I have seen become volatile when discussed. One of the reasons I see politics and religion being hot button topics is because most people let their ego do the talking. There seems to be such a need for every person to be right that they are not listening to anyone else’s point of view. I ask you, what is so terrible about admitting you are wrong? Isn’t part of living being able to learn something new? I know a few couples where one person is conservative and the other is liberal. They have had their share of heated discussions. Each though can maintain respect for their significant other while discussing opposite views; unlike the family in this dark satirical, comedic drama. THANKSGIVING WAS NOT ONLY A TIME to spend with family, but it was the deadline for signing a controversial oath issued by the government. With family members on opposite sides of the issue, was there any chance they would be able to make it through to dessert? This movie starred Ike Barinholtz (Suicide Squad, The Mindy Project-TV) as Chris, Tiffany Haddish (Night School, Uncle Drew) as Kai, Billy Magnussen (The Big Short, Into the Woods) as Mason, John Cho (Searching, Star Trek franchise) as Peter and Nora Dunn (Bruce Almighty, Southland Tales) as Eleanor. Written and directed by Ike, I thought the idea for the story was relevant and would easily provide enough fodder for the script. My biggest surprise was seeing Tiffany do a different variation of her usual movie roles; it was not a strictly outrageous comedic character for a change. Unfortunately, I thought the execution of the story was inadequate to the point where I was tired of listening to all the yelling and name calling. I give Ike props for undertaking such heavy demands; but I wished there would have been more levels to the story, instead of essentially what came across as 2 extreme point of views. All I have to say about this film is a course in the art of debating would have been beneficial for this family.
IT WAS A BIG LOGISTICAL OPERATION THAT I was responsible for, though at the time I had never heard of the word “logistical.” My job was to plan out the route my friends and I would take for Halloween. I considered how long we would be able to stay outside, so persuaded everyone to get an early start for trick or treating. Each of us was dressed up in a costume; I was a pirate. The key to our success I determined was having a home base that was in the middle of the square mileage I envisioned we could cover. It turned out that central location was my house. The area I mapped out was 16 blocks in width and 12 blocks in length. Living in the city, this meant within our territory we would be covering houses, apartment buildings and businesses. In other words, we would be taking in a lot of candy. I broke down the blocks into four quadrants. We would focus on the southeast one first then come to my house to empty our candy filled bags before tackling the southwest quadrant and so on. I thought it was a brilliant plan that would yield massive amounts of candy. As it turned out the plan worked perfectly where all of us had enough candy to last us for months; we were overjoyed. FAST FORWARD A FEW YEARS AND for some unexplained reason my desire to go trick or treating waned. I was not alone for my friends felt the same way. At some undetermined point in time we each lost interest in getting dressed up and going door to door to get candy. We still hung out together, starting at a friend’s house where we now found ourselves on the giving end of Halloween. My friend would answer the front door and hand out candy to the trick or treaters who were perched on his front porch with outstretched arms, shopping bags dangling from their hands. That was us a few years back, but now we were the “adults” handing out candy. We grew up I guess. It is funny how that happened; after years waiting and planning for our Halloween trek through the neighborhood, we now had no desire. Looking at some of the kids’ costumes I recalled how I used to sit and pour over the store catalog, looking for the perfect outfit. After having been a pirate, a vampire and a superhero; I now looked at this holiday with boredom. Even this adventure comedy couldn’t change my feelings. WHILE CLEANING OUT AN OLD ABANDONED house Sonny and Sam, played by Jeremy Ray Taylor (It, 42) and Caleel Harris (Boys in Blue-TV movie, Skyward-TV), found a secret room that contained a single book. The boys did not know there was a reason the book had a lock on it. This family fright film also starred Wendi McLendon-Covey (Bridesmaids, Blended) as Kathy, Madison Iseman (Beauty Mark, Jumanji: Welcome to the Jungle) as Sarah and Chris Parnell (21 Jump Street, Labor Pains) as Walter. Based on author R.L. Stine’s horror series, this sequel had some fun special effects in a retro type of way. There was something about this picture that reminded me of those Saturday afternoon matinee films I used to go to that were low end productions. With a mixture of slapstick and corny humor I felt this film would only entertain the youngest of viewers; it was rated PG. There was some creativity used for several scenes but overall, I was bored through most of the story. Growing up I was not a fan of candy corn; never liked getting them in my Halloween bag. For me, this picture was a dose of candy corn for the holiday.
1 ¾ stars
THOUGH SHE APPEARED TO BE AN OLDER woman, I would never ask her age. She had been taking my yoga class for several weeks, bringing her own yoga mat and a bottle of water. Maybe I am stereotyping; but she had long gray hair pulled back into a ponytail that trailed halfway down her back, looking like a former hippie. Every week while I lead the class into warming up poses I provide a little distraction by listing celebrity birthdays for the week. One of the reasons I do this is to break the ice with any new participants who have that “new kid on the block” mentality, coming to class for the 1st time. I will ask the class if they know so-and-so, wait if anyone guesses what the celebrity did to make he/she famous, then reveal their age. So, this one week after I went through my list of celebrity birthdays, the older woman piped up it was also her birthday. I and the rest of the class wished her well. She then said she was happy to say she was 82 years old. I knew she was an older individual but honestly, I would never have guessed that was her age. She told us she loves yoga and has been doing it for decades; what an inspiration. I WAS JUST AS FORTUNATE IN the work world to have met people like that woman in my yoga class. They loved their job, so they stayed employed way past their retirement age. At one of the companies I worked at, the owner came to work every day. He was always busy and kept this up way into his 90’s. There certainly is some truth in finding something you love or are passionate about to feel successful. I had a relative who would always say they were not going to work, they were going to play because they enjoyed what they did at their job. You know how some people are married to their work; where all they think and talk about is their job? Well they do not necessarily love what they do; they have formed an identity for themselves based on their occupation. The individuals I have referred to each have their identity in tack; they just want to continue what they do because they love it. I feel this way about doing my movie reviews and hope I can continue doing them for a long time because they bring me such joy. The same thing can be said about the main character in today’s comedic, crime drama. FORREST TUCKER, PLAYED BY ROBERT REDFORD (The Natural, Truth); was good at what he did, besides getting immense joy out of it. The only downside was the consequences would be steep if he had a misstep. With Casey Affleck (A Ghost Story, The Finest Hours) as John Hurt, Sissy Spacek (The Help, Coal Miner’s Daughter) as Jewel, Danny Glover (Proud Mary, Back in the Day) as Teddy and Tom Waits (Seven Psychopaths, Down by Law) as Waller; this film festival nominee was based on a true story and what a story! Rumor has it this will be Robert’s last acting role. If it is he at least can end his chapter on a high note with this role. It was such a treat to watch him and Sissy, two seasoned actors, play off each other. The story started out slow for me but continued building itself up to a point where I was enjoying watching the mixture of emotions that took place on screen. It was obvious Robert was having a good time doing this character since it came across fully. I must give everyone who worked on this film credit; this will sound cheesy but if there was any labor involved in the making of this picture it was a labor of love.
IT WAS GOING TO BE A LONG flight for her, but that was not the part that worried her family. It was her decision to travel to a country that had internal strife, in addition to areas of extreme poverty. She was a seasoned traveler, having visited multiple continents numerous times. Her relatives were more concerned about this trip because her appearance would make her stand out in an unfavorable way; at least, that is what they were led to believe. Their fear was based on what they heard as opposed to what they had experienced. There were news reports about pockets of conflict which easily could justify the family’s concerns. But their fear had been fueled for several years from other sources, some of them more opinions than facts. Because of these fears the family insisted the traveler contact them at specific times throughout her trip. She agreed to it just to calm everyone down. When she landed at her destination she messaged everyone back home, telling them the flight was fine and she was okay. Her trip wound up being quite memorable in a positive way. She was glad she did not fall into her family’s fears; for if she had, she would have denied herself the warm and gracious kindness she experienced from so many different people. FEAR IS ONE OF THOSE EMOTIONS that can both protect and prevent us from new experiences, positive and negative. In the neighborhood I grew up in, there were students from a particular parochial school that my friends and I were fearful of. We heard about them from our older brothers and sisters. Since most of the things I heard had to do with bodily harm and abuse, I did my best never to get on those kids’ radar. I went through elementary school never having an encounter with any student from that school. In fact, none of my friends had an altercation or run-in either with any of these students we grew up fearing. Maybe there was an incident that took place years ago between a parochial school student and a public school one. If there was, no one currently had any knowledge of it. Instead they were hearing hand me down information that continued to feed our fears. All of us were reacting from our fear without taking the time to investigate and see if there was any truth behind the stories we had heard. A similar situation using fear was the basis for this animated, adventure comedy film. RAISED BELIEVING THE “SMALLFOOT” WAS AN evil monster, no one wanted to encounter one except Migo, voiced by Channing Tatum (Logan Lucky, Kingsman: The Golden Circle). He was convinced they did exist and wanted to prove everyone wrong. With James Corden (Into the Woods, Ocean’s Eleven) voicing Percy, Zendaya (The Greatest Showman, Spider-Man: Homecoming) voicing Meechee, Common (Selma, Suicide Squad) voicing Stonekeeper and LeBron James (Trainwreck, The LeBrons-TV) as Gwangi; this film had all the trappings of being an old fashioned, fun romp. The musical numbers were cute; the action was well orchestrated, and the actors did a fine job with their characters. I enjoyed the humor that had a twinge of sarcasm in it. One of the things I admired about this script was the fact they did not use one specific character to play the evil one. Instead the story used perceived fears as the antagonist and played that out to form a positive life lesson. Now, will little children get the point of the story? I am not sure, but I feel they will at least be entertained. And truthfully, I feel it wouldn’t hurt for adults to hear the message coming across in this movie.
2 ½ stars
EVERYONE HAD TO SIT AND WATCH the short film; it was part of the curriculum. As the projector started up I could hear the soft clapping of the film as it looped around in front of the intense lightbulb inside the machine. Up on the screen scratchy frames in black and white counted down from the number 10. As soon as the opening frames to the story appeared on the screen you could hear moans throughout the classroom. There was an old car driving across the screen with these bulbous chrome hubcaps on the wheels. I say old because I knew the car was decades old; there was a radio antenna sticking up on the front, off to the side of the hood. The bumpers were nowhere near up to current federal safety standards and the most telling part was when the driver had to roll down their window using a small crank attached to the inside of the car door. This was my introduction to driver’s education class during high school. The people in the film wore clothing from another era as they drove and walked around what looked like a city landscape from decades ago. Most of the students in class laughed at this old, tired movie. OUT OF MOST OF THE STUDENTS in the class, I was one of the few who already knew how to drive. I was taken to empty parking lots and taught how to drive; so, by the time I had to take driver’s education I already knew the rules of the road. Everything I saw in the film I had already done or studied in the handbook. For me the movie was boring, more an amusement from bygone times. Seeing what things used to look like kept my interest, but at times my mind wandered. I had been doing three point turns for months; how many more times did I need to see it being done in the educational film. With the room dark and me bored from the repetitive instructions being recited to us in a monotone tone by the narrator of the movie, it took a lot for me to stay awake. I wondered how many students throughout the years had to sit and watch this picture. To tell you the truth I was surprised the film had not become frayed and fragile after all this time. It is funny; though today’s movie was done recently, I quickly lost interest because I had seen it all before and that includes a couple of performances. A GROUP OF ADULTS WITH BIG dreams attend night school hoping to graduate by getting their GED, their General Education Diploma. If they wanted it, they would need to pass one tough teacher’s class. This comedy starred Kevin Hart (Grudge Match, Central Intelligence) as Teddy Walker, Tiffany Haddish (Girls Trip, Keanu) as Carrie, Taran Killiam (12 Years a Slave, Killing Gunther) as Stewart, Rob Riggle (Midnight Sun, 21 Jump Street franchise) as Mackenzie and Mary Lynn Rajskub (Safety Not Guaranteed, Mysterious Skin) as Theresa. The concept of the story was decent; but I must tell you the script was just a generic blueprint pieced together from what appeared to be all other comedies Kevin has done. He was the same character in this as he has played in his previous movies; it did nothing for me. Tiffany has excellent comedic timing and strong physical comedy, but the script did little for her talent in this story. I was periodically bored throughout the picture and it really was a shame because there is a good message the writers were trying to get out. If I was grading (which I am come to think of it) I would give this movie a D+.
1 ¾ stars
IF YOU ARE LIKE ME AS I believe many of you are in this respect, you don’t like spending your money on something that winds up not giving you satisfaction. I cannot tell you how many times I have read a glowing restaurant review, gone to the place and wound up disliking what I ordered. In this type of scenario, I am more disappointed than upset and willing to give them another try if everything else about the place was a positive experience. What annoys me to no end is buying some product that does not perform as advertised. Several years ago, I bought a bookcase I saw in a catalog. I knew I would have to assemble it, but I was willing to do it since it was exactly the style I wanted to get. When the box came I was surprised that it was not as heavy as I had expected it to be. Taking out the pieces to put together, I discovered the wood used was extremely light in weight, either some type of pressed board or plywood. As I was tightening one of the screws, it made a split in the wood I had to glue back together. To say I was upset would be an understatement. WHAT I FIND MORE TROUBLING IS the number of items being made today that are of a poorer quality. It is as if everyone is making disposable products that are not built to last. A friend of mine bought air filters; when he unpacked and tried to install them into his humidifier they did not fit. Somehow the dimensions were off rendering them useless. Another friend of mine bought a coffee table from a furniture store. The first time they delivered the table it had a crack in it. The 2ndtable they delivered had a stain on the marble and get this, customer service told her that it was just the natural colorization of the marble. They were not going to take the coffee table back until she threatened to get the Better Business Bureau involved, can you believe it?!?! With everything going up in price, it goes without saying, each of us expects to get something for our money. Even at the grocery store, I use the store’s app that is supposed to automatically discount certain items when they get scanned at the checkout counter. More times than not it doesn’t discount the item; I then must go to customer service to have them refund me the difference. I should have done the same thing and asked for a refund at the movie theater, when I saw this action, crime comedy film. WHEN PERSONAL EMAIL ACCOUNTS ARE GETTING hacked and exposed for all to see, the townsfolk band together to look for the culprit. They wanted to administer their own version of justice. This film festival nominated movie starred Odessa Young (Looking for Grace, The Daughter) as Lily, Hari Nef (Mapplethorpe, Transparent-TV) as Bex, Suki Waterhouse (Insurgent, Pride and Prejudice and Zombies) as Sarah, Anika Noni Rose (Dreamgirls, For Colored Girls) as Nance and newcomer Abra as Em. On some level I believe I understood what the writers were trying to do with this story. I could see where they were making a statement about mob mentality, obsessions, electronic dependence and a generation’s culture; but, the presentation in this film was excruciating to watch. Maybe this was a dark, comedic satire but because I lost interest as the story unfolded I did not care. There was blood and violence that turned me off further. I saw some advertisements that mentioned this film is in the same vein as Heathers and The Purge; I wish I could purge my memory of this picture and get my money back.
1 ½ stars