FROM THE VARIOUS HOLIDAY CELEBRATIONS, I have participated in, this year will provide me with something new. Considering I have been a witness to holiday events that spanned the spectrum from elegant to outrageous, that is saying something. I was invited to a family’s holiday dinner where a fight broke out between 2 sisters at the dining room table. The one sister broke down in tears and ran out of the room; talk about a conversation killer. At another celebration, one of the family’s elders had all the little children sit around the Christmas tree; so, he could tell them the history behind several of the ornaments. That was a wonderful experience because there was a plain, lopsided star shaped, wooden ornament on the tree that had been handed down in the family for generations. I think it was someone like a great, great, great grandparent who had carved the ornament. Listening to the stories behind the tree ornaments was such a cool experience for me and they were not even my own family. As you can see just from these 2 examples, I have been to a variety of family holiday functions and dysfunctions to the point I had thought there was nothing left to surprise me. HEARING HOW THE PRESENTS WERE TO be distributed made me think a logistics company needed to be involved. One person was waiting for a group of packages to be delivered to their house. Once received, they then had to take them and drive to two family members’ houses to drop them off. At the 2ndstop, after their car trunk was empty, they were to receive a group of presents that they then had to bring back to their house. From there another family member was going to arrive to take half the packages and deliver them to relatives who lived down in the city. Several remaining packages were to be driven to relatives who lived close by. I did not have to be the driver for any of these excursions; I just had to carry the presents to load and unload from the cars that pulled into the garage. Once all the packages get delivered to the intended family members, we are going to do a video call where all of us can see each other opening our presents. I have visions of us looking like the opening credits of the TV show, The Brady Bunch; each of us in our own little tick tock box. This will be a new experience for me, and I am guessing for some of you. At least getting together this way has the potential to cut down on the type of antics that went on amongst the family members in this film festival nominee. WITHOUT HER DAUGHTER JOINING HER FOR the holiday Claudia Larson, played by Holly Hunter (The Big Sick, Broadcast News) would have to face her family alone. With low expectations, Claudia was hoping there would be little drama she would get pulled into. With Robert Downey Jr (Iron Man franchise, Due Date) as Tommy Larson, Anne Bancroft (The Miracle Worker, The Graduate) as Adele Larson, Charles Durning (Tootsie, Dog Day Afternoon) as Henry Larson and Dylan McDermott (The Perks of Being a Wallflower, Olympus Has Fallen) as Leo Fish; this comedic romance drama had the makings of an old fashioned crazy comedy in the same vein as Bringing Up Baby or Arsenic and Old Lace. The acting was excellent from the entire cast as they played a cast of characters. Where this film falters is the unevenness between the scenes. There were some heartfelt dramatic ones that grabbed me, but then there were others that felt flat and predictable. I will say the writers did a decent job with trying to capture all sides of a family gathering. On a positive note, after seeing this film I am looking forward to having a video family gathering, that comes with a mute button. A safe and happy holiday season I wish to all of you.
2 ½ stars
TELLING STRANGERS TO TRY HARDER WAS not something that came easy to me, at first. My biggest fear was someone becoming ill or injured in my fitness classes. Honestly, I had simple goals when I started out teaching at health clubs and fitness centers; I wanted people to be safe, have fun and feel good about themselves. If they lost weight or inches or gained muscle mass, I considered it “icing on the cake” so to speak. The goals I set out were easy to achieve despite the wide diversity of people who came to my classes. There were some members who considered class their social hour, where they preferred to catch up with their friends and neighbors. I had members who were so serious about working out they made it known they did not want any distractions from anyone, including me. I remember trying to find a tactful way to encourage some members from using perfume and cologne as part of their workout attire because other members were gagging over the smell of it combined with sweat. No matter who walked into the class, all I wanted was for them to try their best and from my experiences I knew barking orders was not the way I wanted to conduct my classes. WHAT WAS ONE OF MY BIGGEST assets when motivating class participants was my humor; I truly believe this. When I would get the class in position to tackle a challenging movement, I would change my voice to make comments as if I were someone who disliked working out. Along with humor, I would always show a variety of options members could do to achieve the same results. In a yoga class I had a member who could not do a plank pose. I had her start the pose with both of her knees on the mat, explaining she would still gain the benefit of the pose without the struggle. As the weeks passed, I encouraged her to try the same pose with only one knee on the mat. The look on her face when she did it was priceless. Over the course of several months she went from doing the pose on both knees to achieving the traditional pose with only her forearms and toes on the mat. No matter what fitness level a member was at, I tried to get each member to push themselves to go an extra 10 seconds or do the movement two more times; it is all about providing a space where everyone feels safe, accepted and part of a group/team. Under these circumstances, I can push myself to take on harder tasks; however, from watching this dramatic action thriller, I do not know how the men were motivated to do what they had to do. IN 1969 VIET NAM US FORCES WERE ordered to capture a hill from enemy forces. The hill was called Hamburger Hill which the servicemen knew was not meant to be a good name. With Anthony Barrile (Friday the 13th: A New Beginning; Kiss Me, Guido) as Pvt. Vincent “Alphabet” Languilli, Michael Boatman (The Peacemaker, The Good Wife-TV) as Pvt. Ray Motown, Don Cheadle (The Guard, Traitor) as Pvt. Johnny Washburn, Dylan McDermott (Survivor, Reign Over Me) as Sgt. Adam Frantz and Courtney B. Vance (Ben is Back, Dangerous Minds) as Spc. Abraham “Doc” Johnson; this story that was based on true events was intense, with graphic scenes. As far as war films go, I found this one to be close to authentic. It was hard for me to imagine that type of action taking place; however, what I was watching made sense. The acting from the cast was good but this film was all about the action, despite some of it looking a bit dated. Based on the script, I cannot believe how much the men had to endure. Even after the film was over, I still had a hard time imagining what the motivation was that pushed these men on.
The magical properties of food is something I already know all too well. Chocolate provides a soothing comfort, where calm thoughts cascade over me to still the turbulence of the day. I know many people eat ginger to combat nausea or an upset stomach. Peppermint has been used to take the fire out of a sore throat. There are individuals who swear the purple cornflower has anti-bacterial properties; you may have seen it being sold as Echinacea. From personal experience practically any flavor of ice cream removes the bad taste in one’s mouth from an awful meal. Since I believe there is a reason for everything, I look at all things around me having a purpose. Whether it is plant, land or sea based; I am not quick to dismiss what someone ingests for medicinal reasons. In fact, I have watched a friend prepare a meal for her pets where she looks like a chemist with all the powders and liquids she mixes into their food before giving it to them. She has raised the animals in a holistic fashion and they look vibrant and healthy to me. Already aware of the nutrients in food I was very much intrigued with the story in this dramatic romance. Being orphaned at a young age Tilo, played by Aishwarya Rai Bachchan (Bride & Prejudice, Jodhaa Akbar), was taught to use her intuitive abilities in finding the right spices to help an individual’s plight. There were only a couple of rules she had to follow and she did so perfectly until architect Doug, played by Dylan McDermott (Olympus Has Fallen, The Perks of Being a Wallflower), entered her spice shop one day. The whole fairy tale and magic aspect of this movie was a good idea. I enjoyed watching the different preparations Tilo performed with the variety of spices in her store. Along with her performance, these were the only things I liked about this picture. The script was not only poorly done, it was corny. Instead of infusing a real sense of drama, it only turned scenes into ridiculous melodrama. Many of the actors’ roles came across like empty cartoon characters. Actors such as Adewale Akinnuoye-Agbaje (Pompeii, Oz-TV) as Kwesi and Nitin Ganatra (Bride & Prejudice, Charlie and the Chocolate Factory) as Haroun Rehman were wasted in this film. When I received this DVD it looked like it would be such a tasty morsel of a movie, but by the end I could not swallow it.
1 3/4 stars — DVD
Around the globe there are iconic structures that mean something to a variety of individuals. From the Grand Canyon to the Eiffel Tower, their fame becomes part of our memories, whether we have seen them with our own eyes or not. The first time I saw the White House I was standing outside of it as a peaceful rally was taking place. Suddenly there was a whirling sound that increased in tempo. The president’s helicopter rose above the White House and began to head towards us. I remember the helicopter moving higher above our heads as if it was floating on the breeze from our waving hands. With this memory I already had an investment in this action film. Transferred to a different department job after a tragic accident; secret service agent Mike Banning’s, played by Gerard Butler (Law Abiding Citizen, Playing for Keeps), training kicked in when the White House came under attack. If it meant taking a bullet; Mike’s conditioning prepared him to do so in order to protect the president. The cast had a roster of fine actors to tackle the task of portraying powerful political figures. Aaron Eckhart (Rabbit Hole, Thank You for Smoking) as President Benjamin Asher, Morgan Freeman (Invictus, Million Dollar Baby) as Speaker Trumbull and Melissa Leo (The Fighter, Frozen River) as Secretary of Defense Ruth McMillan to name a few. Gerard was no-nonsense in his character; he handled his wisecracks as well as his killings. What bothered me was a majority of the fight scenes were cloaked in shadows, making it hard to see the action. Granted this would be an advantage for those who cannot watch bloody violence. The thing I found most annoying was the soundtrack. It was made of cloying dramatic musical swells that took tension away from the scenes. The story was standard good guy/bad guy fare with a couple of surprises and a few unrealistic notions. All the movie needed was the opportunity for the President to say at some point, “Not in my house!” Scenes filled with graphic blood and violence.
2 1/2 stars