EVERYDAY ON MY ROUTE TO AND from the office, I pass a house that is up for sale. It has been nearly seven months now that the FOR-SALE sign has been out by the street curb. I do not know how big an acre of land is, but there is enough land around the structure where two more houses could easily be built on it. The land slopes up from the curb to the white painted house, giving off the look of a southern plantation home. With green painted shutters and a thick white pillar on either side of the front door with its brass door knocker, I do not understand why the house has not found a buyer; from my view, it looks like something used on a movie set. When I found the listing for it online, I went through all the photos of the interior, and I was stunned. The rooms were extremely small with just as small doorways. I could not imagine how furniture would fit through any of the doors. The kitchen was nasty looking, with ancient appliances, broken cabinet doors and old fixtures. Upstairs there were four bedrooms and each one was oddly shaped due to the pitch of the roof and the support beams. To look out the window of one of the rooms, one would have to stoop over to avoid hitting their head on the ceiling. This house was in desperate need of a big remodeling. THIS ONE HOUSE HAS CHANGED MY perception of large, fancy homes; or as what I refer to them as, McMansions. The most beautiful homes with perfectly manicured lawns and the best curbside appeal may only be a façade. I am always looking at the homes listed in the real estate section of the newspapers and now wonder what might lie behind their walls. Firstly, I do not understand why someone needs a huge house unless they have a lot of family members living with them. Homes that are over 10,000 square feet with a multitude of bathrooms make no sense to me. Why would the occupants need so many rooms? Then there are the “super” mansions that are massive beyond anything that I would consider being practical. I sit and imagine what rooms get used in a day, week, or month; trying to list in my head every conceivable function that would require its own separate room. Even coming up with obscure hobbies or uses, I can see a maximum of needing maybe twelve rooms and that is including four bedrooms and a den. Keeping up maintenance would be a nightmare; I saw proof of it in this romantic drama. ALLOWING A MOVIE STUDIO TO SET up in their home was more of a necessity for the Grantham family because they needed the funds for repairs. Also, the timing was perfect since they discovered the inheritance of a French villa. With Hugh Bonneville (Paddington franchise, Notting Hill) as Robert Grantham, Jim Carter (The Good Liar, Shakespeare in Love) as Mr. Carson, Michelle Dockery (Non-Stop, The Gentleman) as Lady Mary, Elizabeth McGovern (The Chaperone, The Wife) as Cora Grantham and Allen Leech (Bohemian Rhapsody, The Imitation Game) as Tom Branson; one need not see the first film to enjoy this sequel. I am not familiar with the television series, so the first thirty minutes were a struggle for me; however, I soon settled in to experience a time gone by with the members of this household. The idea for the story was a stretch; I would have been more curious if the writers had gone down the other path, they introduced into the story line regarding Hugh’s character. Either way, fans of the series will not be disappointed with this film. As for me, I wound up enjoying spending the time with the Grantham family, though I wondered what else in the house needed repair.
SHE TOLD ME IT WAS A television show when I asked her what made her decide to become a dancer. I quizzed her further and she said it was a variety show she used to watch with her family on Sunday nights. Two ballet dancers were introduced by the host and she was immediately enamored by their costumes. The woman looked like a pristine fairy and the man looked like a stately prince. She had never seen ballet dancers before, but as the music started and the two dancers began to perform, she was mesmerized by their movements. The female dancer seemed weightless like a snowflake, spinning and fluttering across the stage. The male dancer had broad shoulders that made him look more regal as he lifted and guided the female dancer through their movements. I listened to her describe the performance and I could see the impact of this one of several acts on the show had a profound effect on her. Before the dancers were done performing, she had already decided that she was going to be a dancer when she grew up. She listed for me the highlights of her journey in becoming a ballet dancer and it was not a simple, straight street to ballet; she had some detours along the way. However, she told me throughout her struggles she kept believing she could do it. HER STRENGTH IN HER BELIEF REMINDED me of a woman who was a participant in my yoga class. I worked at a hospital-based fitness center, where I introduced yoga to the fitness members. The center did not have a quiet room for me to teach class, so they had me taking the members to a laboratory in the hospital to conduct class. One day this woman came into the room in a wheelchair; I thought she was a patient who was lost. When I asked her where she was going, she told me to yoga. Talk about being embarrassed; this was the first time I was going to teach a wheel bound person in a general class setting. During my instructions, I included options that the woman could do while seated. After attending class for a few weeks, I asked her one day how yoga made her feel. She told me how much see looked forward to class because she would get the best night’s sleep after taking class. I was pleased to hear this and asked her if she had any goals she wanted to achieve in class. She said yes, she wanted to stand up out of her wheelchair. I told her it was a wonderful goal and I hoped I would get to see it. She said she believes she will one day, and I told her I believe in her. WHEN HIS ASSISTANT TOOK HIS IDEAS and left him, the town’s toymaker Veronicas, played by Forest Whitaker (The Last King of Scotland, Black Panther), stopped believing in himself. One day a strange little girl came to town with a belief. With Keegan-Michael Key (Playing with Fire, Let’s Be Cops) as Gustafson, Hugh Bonneville (Downton Abbey, Notting Hill) as Mr. Delacroix, Anika Noni Rose (Dreamgirls; Everything, Everything) as Jessica and newcomer Madalen Mills as Journey; this musical family fantasy film was a magical viewing experience for me. At times coming across like a Broadway production, other times like a family classic; this was one of the most entertaining films I have seen this year. The fanciful special effects, the singing and dancing, the costumes and the sets took a somewhat predictable script and elevated it into pure entertainment. I will say if you are not a fan of musicals, you will not enjoy this picture as much. For me, I could easily see this film being translated to the big stage of Broadway. My skepticism about films made for the small screen has been altered; I am a believer now.
3 ½ stars
MOST EVERYONE I KNOW has/had one favorite relative they have enjoyed being with the most. For some it was/is a grandparent or an aunt/uncle. I remember the feelings I would get when walking into one of my closest relative’s home. There was a settled in feeling to the place, if that makes any sense. You know those types of homes you visit where you are afraid to sit on the furniture or eat in a room because everything is in place, looking spic and span clean. Possibly some homes might even have furniture that has a plastic or cloth cover over it. Does anyone remember what it was like to sit on plastic covers on a warm summer day? The answer was sticky. That was nothing like my relative’s home. Their place had furniture with deflated cushions on the sofa and chairs as if they were tired from holding up the bottoms of people for so many years. There were a variety of knick-knacks placed around the rooms, from framed photos to small ceramic pieces shaped into animals and dancers. And for me my favorite part was the kitchen because it always provided me with recently baked cookies, pies or cakes. AS FOR THIS RELATIVE they had an all encompassing hug that made me feel safe. After receiving one of their big hugs they would lightly pinch one of my bulbous cheeks as a warm, pure smile spread across their face. I cannot recall ever not getting greeted that way any time I went to visit their home. Because of their disposition and maybe rank in the family, their home was always a safe haven for all the relatives; there never was a fight or disagreement inside their home. I guess the best way to describe it would be to say it was a peaceful place always filled with the smells of something cooking in the kitchen. Though there were few modern devices or appliances, you never felt like you were missing out on something. I can remember bringing my friends there one time and watching them enjoy this one particular cookie that was my favorite. So it wasn’t just me I realized; everyone who met my relative always left with feeling the same way: comforted, safe and joyful. I got to experience these feelings once again while watching this charming, adventure comedy. SEARCHING FOR A BIRTHDAY gift for his aunt Paddington, voiced by Ben Whishaw (The Lobster, Perfume: The Story of a Murderer), found the perfect gift at Mr. Gruber’s, played by Jim Broadbent (The Iron Lady, Gangs of New York), shop. But while Paddington was saving up to buy the item it was stolen and the evidence pointed to Paddington. With Sally Hawkins (The Shape of Water, Maudie) as Mary Brown, Hugh Bonneville (Notting Hill, Downton Abbey-TV) as Henry Brown and Hugh Grant (Cloud Atlas, About a Boy) as Phoenix Buchanan; this was such an entertaining movie that caused me to have a smile on my face and warmth in my heart. The story evoked feelings of excitement, joy, sadness and comfort; I actually enjoyed this sequel more than the first film. Sure some of the humor was predictable and corny, but it did not bother me; it only added an old fashioned sweetness to the story. For those who want a film to take the whole family to, from child to adult, this would be the one to go see. After viewing this picture I wished I was friends with Paddington. Oh, and do stay for the beginning credits to see a fun scene.
3 ½ stars
GOING THROUGH LIFE FEELING invincible, if you can pull it off, must be an incredible experience. Looking at people who dedicate a good portion of their time to working out and exercising, makes me curious as to what their motivation might be. I think if the fitness centers where I teach only had a young clientele, I would not have been able to experience the bigger picture when it comes to health. To this day I admire those people who are advanced in age, who might have limited physical capacity and yet I see them working out at the club consistently. There are even some members who need a cane or walker, but they still come and push themselves to get a complete workout. Seeing an elderly person hunched over, dependent on their walker, shuffling their way around the running track is nothing short of glorious to me. I AM NOWHERE NEAR thinking I am an invincible being; on the contrary, my recent medical scare showed me how vulnerable I actually am. The whole experience showed me a new side to life; I have a deeper appreciation for anyone who struggles with an ailment, yet keeps moving on. From what I have seen, I have determined the mind plays a crucial part in how a person handles their affliction. Having a positive attitude makes a world of difference, yet it is something I still have a hard time with because I am wired to seek out the negative thoughts first. There is a friend of mine who needed surgery; an operation that would leave them incapacitated for several weeks. If it was me I would have asked the doctor to keep me sedated or put me in a comatose state. My friend had the most positive of attitudes and came out of surgery beautifully; keeping their positivity going, they even reduced their rehabilitation time. I do not know if I can train myself to be as optimistic as they were with their surgery. Maybe I could find someone similar to the main character’s wife in this film based on a true story. ROBIN CAVENDISH, PLAYED BY Andrew Garfield (Silence, 99 Homes), only saw a body that did not work anymore. His wife Diana, played by Claire Foy (Season of the Witch, The Crown-TV), saw something else. This film festival nominated, romantic drama was filmed in such a way to bring out the beauty of the story. Andrew and Claire were perfectly matched with their acting skills and chemistry. I would not be surprised if Andrew is nominated again for an Oscar, he was that good. Along with Tom Hollander (About Time, Pirates of the Caribbean franchise) as Bloggs and David Blacker, Hugh Bonneville (The Monuments Men, Downton Abbey-TV) as Teddy Hall and Ed Speleers (Alice Through the Looking Glass, Downton Abbey-TV) as Colin Campbell; the whole cast did a wonderful job in bringing life and joy into this unbelievable story. Now I will say the script was a bit predictable but I did not care because I could not get over Andrew’s acting and the fact that I was learning something about a true life changing event. The mixture of humor into the script, which I believe was part of the Cavendishs’ makeup, kept the story from sinking into a maudlin state. It would have been interesting to get more of the characters’ thoughts and feelings out onto the script but the writers I can only assume wanted to keep things on the lighter side. I try to avoid doing any type of health comparisons; but after seeing this film, I have a whole new appreciation for having a positive outlook.
One of the more important acts a parent can instill in a child is the love of reading. There is an art in reading a book to a child. As the words get spoken, images begin to form and take shape in the little one’s mind. Stimulating the brain this way, sets the foundation for an active imagination to grow in the child. A blanket once draped around the shoulders becomes a cape that enables the child to fly from room to room. Spreading that same blanket out on the floor then repeatedly lifting it up and down in waves turns the living room floor into a choppy sea filled with a school of gigantic whales. Once the blanket goes still it becomes the launching pad for today’s rocket launch. Who hasn’t as a kid carried around some item that was special only to them? For me it started out with a stuffed monkey for several years and then my attention was drawn to retractable ballpoint pens. They were my fleet of spaceships that were constantly firing at each other by me clicking and unclicking them. Memories of my childhood, that had been lying dormant, flourished up into my consciousness while watching this sweet and joyful family comedy. COMING from Peru to England Paddington, voiced by Ben Whishaw (Skyfall, I’m not There), found shelter with a lovely family. Mary and Henry Brown, played by Sally Hawkins (Godzilla, Blue Jasmine) and Hugh Bonneville (The Monuments Men, Downton Abbey-TV), agreed to take in the bear for one night. What could possibly go wrong? This movie was an absolute treat, harking back to a civilized and charming time. I mean this in two ways: as a story line and as a movie watching experience. It was obvious this was a group effort because the entire cast from the characters Sally and Hugh played to Mrs. Bird and Millicent, played by Julie Walters (Harry Potter franchise, Mamma Mia) and Nicole Kidman (The Railway Man, Rabbit Hole), all played their parts to the hilt; you could see they were having so much fun. In turn, I had a great time watching this picture; it had drama, comedy, excitement and suspense that was appropriate for all age levels. Even the special effects that created Paddington were seamless to the point where I actually believed he was standing right there in every scene. I cannot imagine anyone sitting through this film and not getting a smile on their face. It was such a good time for me and when it was done and over I walked out of the theater with my childhood memories playing out before my eyes.
3 1/3 stars