EVERY YEAR AT THIS TIME ME and a variety of family members would make our pilgrimage to the wealthy suburb where all the fancy holiday decorations lived. We were a caravan of cars that traveled close to each other as we made our way along the city streets, always staying in the right lane. Nothing I saw compared to the decorations that were on display in this neighborhood. There was one house we drove by, where we would roll down our windows, because they had a full mechanical chorus singing on the front lawn. The house next door had life sized wooden soldiers that reminded me of the Laurel and Hardy movie, “March of the Wooden Soldiers.” The soldiers were lined up all along the walkway leading up to the house’s double front doors, besides protecting the edges of the front lawn. One of my favorite houses had a group of elf puppets dancing and twirling across the front porch while a waving Santa and his reindeer were parked on top of the roof. As a little kid it seemed as if we were riding up and down the neighborhood’s streets for hours because of so many decorated houses. Some houses displayed the same decorations year after year; but others always had something new each holiday season. Though there were not many, I always felt bad for the houses that only had a couple of decorations or a single string of lights. AT SOME POINT AS I WAS getting older, I began to question the purpose for someone to have so many elaborate decorations; what did these items represent to the owners? Did having more decorations mean that one was more religious? I wondered if all the displays were due to that “keeping up with the Joneses” syndrome. For someone to celebrate the holiday, they had to have decorations? I took it a step further; how did it come to pass that putting up decorations was part of the holiday. And what about having a tree in the house; what was the reason for getting ornaments and hanging them on the tree? I started looking at everything and wanted to know where and how did all these customs come into being. Even Santa Claus, what took place centuries ago that people began to talk about a man with flying reindeer, who was able to leave a present in every single decorated house around the world? There are times when I hear someone talk about the amount of presents they have to buy and how much stress this places on them, where I wonder why do they have to buy so much stuff; what does all this stuff have to do with celebrating the holiday? Well, I finally can get some answers because of this Oscar nominated animated movie. SENT TO A REMOTE TOWN TO open a post office, the postmaster’s son Jesper, voiced by Jason Schwartzman (Moonrise Kingdom, Listen Up Philip), finds a place where all the citizens are fighting each other. The last thing they want to do is mail a letter. If he wants to get back home, he will need to find a way to get people to use the mail. With J.K. Simmons (21 Bridges, Whiplash) voicing Klaus, Rashida Jones (The Social Network, Celeste & Jesse Forever) voicing Alva, Will Sasso (The Three Stooges, Southland Tales) voicing Mr. Ellingboe and Joan Cusack (In & Out, Working Girl) voicing Mrs. Krum; this film festival winning adventure comedy was a pure treat to watch. The story was laid out beautifully, which goes the same for the old-fashioned animation. It may be possible that younger viewers may not get the wonderful message embedded into the script, but it would be okay because there were so many entertaining scenes throughout the picture. I could absolutely see this film becoming a holiday classic; it was so well done on every level.
3 ½ stars
The evening went from cordial to odd to bizarre for me. I was brought as a guest to a dinner party, unfamiliar with the couple who were the hosts. Their place was cool looking with a mixture of furnishings from the past several decades. Each room had one wall painted for the color theme of the room; accompanied by matching accents that gave each space its own dramatic flair. The conversation was lively right from the start; however, since I did not know this couple I could not tell if some of the things they were saying were supposed to be a joke. I had to take my cues from the surrounding guests. When dinner was ready we all sat around an oval dining table that was perched on a carved wooded pedestal. It gave the appearance of a wide tree. During the meal there were times where the topic of conversation would veer off into areas that I had a hard time following what the hosts were trying to say. In addition I found some of the things they were saying were not appropriate. Unfortunately the food only added to my discomfort; some things were undercooked in my opinion, besides having a taste that I could not tell was due to spices or spoilage. I know it was a tough spot to be in because there was no way I, who was essentially a stranger to the hosts, was going to say anything. So my time sitting at the dining room table was made up of nodding my head, smiling and picking at my food carefully. I do not know what I would have done if I were with the two couples in this movie. NEWLY transplanted couple Alex and Emily, played by Adam Scott (Friends with Kids, The Secret Life of Walter Mitty) and Taylor Schilling (The Lucky One, Orange is the New Black-TV), felt they were making their very first friendship in their new city when Kurt, played by Jason Schwartzman (The Grand Budapest Hotel, Listen Up Philip), invited them to come over for dinner and meet his wife Charlotte, played by Judith Godreche (Stoker, The Man in the Iron Mask). It would be a dinner they would never forget. This film festival nominated comedy had some great dialog in the script. There were parts of this movie where I could relate to what the characters were feeling; but other times I sat in my seat in disbelief. The actors did a good job with their characters, even with the uneven script. I appreciated the fact the writers tried to put a different spin on a story that easily could be found in a comedy show on cable television. It was not fair that I got to experience some of the actors’ emotions in the scenes but did not get to have any of the food.
2 3/4 stars
It was chosen because of the way it caught your eye. Perfectly sculpted with a dimple at the top and one on the bottom, its skin looked as if a skilled craftsman had polished it to a fine high gleam. As you brought it up to your face you caught a faint, sweet aroma just seconds before you bit into the beautiful apple. Anticipating the juicy flavor of the fruit to flood your mouth, suddenly a sharp bitterness cut through and stabbed your taste buds. You glanced down as the receding apple came back into view and there, just below its gorgeous surface, was half of a cancerous, dark brown mass. Horrified you spat out the partially pulverized putrid pus. How far removed was this scenario to an experience you may have had when you discovered a person’s true nature; where on the surface everything looked wonderful but you soon see below their ugliness? We could sit here for days if I were to share with you some of the experiences I had in my personal life. However, since this is a movie review site let me tell you my feelings about those celebrities who reveal their real colors. I have mentioned before there are a couple of movie stars that are persona non grata in my family; we will not see any of their films. When I discover an actor has done something offensive it saddens me. I am not comfortable buying a movie ticket to their films because I feel, by purchasing that ticket, I am condoning their behavior and that is not the case. You would think recognition, money and adulation would be enough to be a respectful human being. WRITER Philip Lewis Friedman, played by Jason Schwartzman (The Darjeeling Express, Saving Mr. Banks), was anxiously waiting for the publication of his 2nd novel. Self-centered, obnoxious and just plain rude; his publishers would have a challenging time selling copies of his new book. This film festival winning drama had a crack team of actors for its cast. Besides Jason there was Elizabeth Moss (The One I Love, Mad Men-TV) as Ashley Kane, Jonathan Pryce (Pirates of the Caribbean franchise, Tomorrow Never Dies) as Mike Zimmerman and Krysten Ritter (Confessions of a Shopaholic, She’s Out of My League) as Melanie Zimmerman. The acting on the whole was wonderful. With a smartly sometimes humorously written script, I appreciated the way the characters evolved throughout the story. The issue I had with this movie was the way things played out. I felt the writer did not know what else he could do so he ended it. Perhaps you will find something more than I did. Outside of that this film provided an in-depth peek into the lives of some real characters.
2 2/3 stars