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
FIRST introduced in the 1960s these toaster pastries have been sampled by millions of people. They were a novel idea; some ate them in lieu of a full breakfast, while others snacked on them between meals or as a dessert. I am sure the idea of having a convenient sweet item with a long shelf life was a revelation for many people. When they first came out there were only 4 flavors: blueberry, strawberry, brown sugar cinnamon and apple. Presently there is a variety of flavors and frostings to cover almost anyone’s taste preferences. Just on the news recently there was a report the manufacturer teamed up with a candy company to come out with candy flavored fillings in these pastries. My first reaction to this combination was negative. But as I thought about it I realized I had not had one of these pastries in decades. If there was a market for these flavor combinations, who was I to judge them? It was not like the other fillings were not sweet, so what would be the difference except personal tastes. WHENEVER something is going well, it almost never fails the company looks for other ways to cash in on their success. Take a look at the fashion industry; if a designer has success with their line of clothing pretty soon their name could pop up on kitchen products, home furnishings or sports related products. Personally the name is not what motivates me to make the purchase; it depends on value and worth for me, besides liking it or not. I sort of feel the same way about movies. If the story looks good, I would go see it regardless of who the studio cast for the roles. Since I enjoyed the previous movies by both of the actresses in this comedy, I was sure I would have a good time watching this film. The buzz surrounding this movie was the addition of the one actress who had been away from acting in pictures for over a decade. Everywhere you looked the talk was how the 2 main actresses would be great together. AFTER Emily, played by Amy Schumer (Trainwreck, Inside Amy Schumer-TV) was dumped by her boyfriend the only person she could get to take his place on the non-refundable vacation package she bought was her mother Linda, played by Goldie Hawn (The First Wives Club, Death Becomes Her). The trip would bind the mother and daughter in ways neither ever imagined. With Ike Barinholtz (Suicide Squad, The Mindy Project-TV) as Jeffrey, Wanda Sykes (Evan Almighty, Monster-in-Law) as Ruth and Joan Cusack (Working Girl, Say Anything) as Barb; the story started out fun. I enjoyed the style of humor and jokes. Unfortunately the story or to be more exact the script quickly went south, no pun intended. The majority of the scenes turned into a mixture of crudeness, silliness or non-believability. I was embarrassed for Joan in particular in regards to her role. It was such a waste of a prolific actress; which leads me to Goldie and her role. Though I was happy to see Goldie back in a movie and she really gave it a good try here, the script did her no favors. If the writers had focused as much energy on the script as the studio did on Goldie, something hilarious could have happened here. Instead I was left with very little to laugh about or enjoy.
1 ¾ stars
Even if someone created a non-caloric doughnut I would not eat it if the person was not respectful and nice to other people. I would rather cycle an extra 30 minutes to burn off a calorie rich doughnut before eating one of their calorie free ones. Recently I saw a posting on the internet that said, “It does not cost you anything to be nice.” How true that is for all of us. For those people who have obtained some level of celebrity status I think these words should be heeded even more. It seems easier or maybe I should say more prevalent these days to put celebrities up on a pedestal. Now there are some that may deserve a little extra praise, but all in all they are just human beings like the rest of us. I remember the time when I was an extra on a movie set; a couple of the actors from the cast were throwing major attitude at all the extras. I thought how rude it was of them, some of these extras are idolizing you and you are standing there acting like a jerk. There was a part of me that wanted to go up to them, tap them on the shoulder and say, “Excuse me you are only an actor, you did not find a cure for cancer where you should be acting like you are something special to the world.” On the other hand, there were a few actors on the set who were so kind and generous to the extras that they won me over since I had only known them from the way the media was portraying them. Funny how a public image can be so different from the actual person, just see what happens in this dramatic film. AUTHOR David Foster Wallace, played by Jason Segel (The Five-Year Engagement, Forgetting Sarah Marshall), burst onto the scene with his incredible book, “Infinite Jest.” Rolling Stone reporter David Lipsky, played by Jesse Eisenberg (Now You See Me, The Social Network), wanting to make his own splash by getting the ultimate interview, arranged a 5 day trip with David during the end of his book tour. The two could not have been more different or were they? From a true story this was one of the more cerebral films I have seen in a long time. Gratefully the actors had such good chemistry that I really felt I was in on their little road trip. I have not read the book nor was familiar with David until this movie but my curiosity has been piqued now. This drama may not be for everyone because the action was kept to a bare minimum; however, for a character study on celebrity fame this film offered a unique take on it.
When anyone describes their emotions as a roller coaster ride I believe them. Between friends and work I have seen some extreme actions from people. There was a friend of mine who suffered with bouts of depression from time to time. They were resistant to seeking out help because they were afraid they would be labeled crazy. Yes I know it was a very old concept. Luckily they met a doctor who explained things in a way that brought comfort to my friend and they began to use an antidepressant. Another friend of mine had a tragic experience when their boyfriend who was bipolar committed suicide; he left a gut-wrenching note behind. To a different extreme I had a woman in my yoga class who was classified manic depressive. I did not know it at first but after some time I noticed when she was not wearing her eyeglasses she was bubbly and animated. If she had her glasses on then she was pretty much non-emotional and quiet. After a few months she came up to me after class to ask about a particular yoga pose. From that conversation she informed me of her condition and told me about some of the things she had done when she was on her “high” as she referred to it. I will say some of the stuff she said she did was off the wall as they say, but she stressed how yoga helped keep her steady. It was an eye opening experience for me to say the least and one that was a precursor to the character in this movie. WHEN Alice Klieg, played by Kristen Wiig (The Skeleton Twins, Girl Most Likely), won the lottery she decided to go off of her meds and buy herself a talk show. She wanted to be the next Oprah. This comedic drama had several strengths in its favor. The main one was Kristen; her dramatic acting in this role was made even better with her physicality. With the other actors such as Tim Robbins (Jacob’s Ladder, Mystic River) as Dr. Daryl Moffet, Wes Bentley (The Hunger Games, American Beauty) as Gabe Ruskin and James Marsden (The Best of Me, The Loft) as Rich Ruskin; they all worked well together in keeping the story on track. Not that watching this film would make one feel as if they were a spectator at a traffic accident, but there were times where I felt I was witnessing the breakdown of a human being. The only negative I saw was in the directing; there were some uneven moments through the film. However, having the right mix of humor and drama in this interesting original story, along with Kristen’s wonderful acting and I was hooked.