IT STARTED WHEN I MENTIONED I had not gotten many holiday cards this year. My friend thought for a moment before she told me she believed it was the same for her. It was not like I sat and counted each card received, but since I normally display them by standing each card up on a coffee table, this year only a quarter of the table had cards. One thing my friend thought could be the reason was the fewer card shops we had around these days. I could see that being one of the reasons because I know fewer pieces of mail get handled currently. Another reason I thought of was the possibility people are simply tired, frustrated or scared of the current situation with COVID and all the ramifications associated with it. Some people I know are cancelling their plans to be with friends and family for the holidays; others have either lost their job or have had their health compromised, so they can no longer do their job. I know an individual who became ill due to COVID and was in the hospital for 75 days, near death at times. It has been nearly a full year and they are still in no position to go back to their job. Another person I know was put out of work because their profession was totally upended by the pandemic and it had to be shut down. I feel these are perfect reasons why people are not feeling festive. THERE ALSO IS SOMETHING ELSE THAT is weighing on the minds of people. The issue with the overtaxed supply chain is part of it, but I also believe the higher prices and fewer choices together can be the deciding factor for someone who decides they cannot afford to spend the extra money presently. When I mentioned this to my friend, she told me I was right because of a discussion she recently had with a family member. This relative was complaining about the amount of money they spend on people for the holiday, but they feel they never get that much in return. The look on my face must have conveyed my shock to her because she told me she was just as shocked. Even with the fact the holiday is not something I ever celebrated, I commented on how sad it was that the focus for her relative was the amount of money she spent compared to what she received; that the gifts have nothing to do with the meaning and spirit of the holiday. Next, I told my friend I wish I could meet her relative just so I could tell them they need to see this beautiful, family adventure drama to learn the real meaning of the holiday. A SON TRIED TO WAIT FOR his father to return from a long trek, in search of a magical place; but decided to take off on his own to find his father and bring him back home. With Maggie Smith (Downton Abbey, The Lady in the Van) as Aunt Ruth, relative newcomer Henry Lawfull as Nikolas, Michiel Huisman (The Age of Adaline, Game of Thrones-TV) as Joel, Kristen Wiig (Barb and Star Go to Vista del Mar, Ghostbusters) as Aunt Carlotta and Sally Hawkins (The Shape of Water, Eternal Beauty) as Mother Vodol; this film based on the popular book was a wonderful movie watching experience for me. The cast was first rate; each actor was wonderful in their role. Despite the story being somewhat predictable, I found the mix of fantasy, thrills, magic, drama and fun to be a perfect mix—especially during this holiday season. The message in the story is something that I feel everyone could learn from. As I mentioned, Christmas was not part of the holidays I celebrated; but I must tell you, I enjoyed and appreciated this treat of a picture.
FOR THOSE OF YOU WHO GREW up without an intelligent personal assistant/navigator like SIRI, the first time you saw it in action had to be amazing. I remember the first time I tried it and how excited I was when SIRI created a reminder for me. To me, SIRI and the others of her kind are simply the great grandchildren of HAL 9000. I do not consider myself “worldly;” however, I enjoy trying to stay current. That does not mean I am jaded to experiencing new things either as a participant or observer. I will say though it takes a little something more these days to impress or amaze me. And the reason I say this, is because there is so much more information out there at our disposal. I remember the first time I saw this world-famous traveling, animal free, circus’ performance acts. The things these performers did surprised me to no end. After seeing them for several years, it is harder for me to experience the same level of wonder and amazement when I go to see them now. Yet, I still get a thrill watching the variety of acts. If someone were to ask me if I ever wanted to get to the point where nothing surprises me, I would have to say no; I always want to be able to experience the sensations of being surprised. BESIDES THE ENJOYMENT, WONDER AND THRILLS I experience in life; I get just as much enjoyment in seeing other people experience these feelings. I remember one vacation I was taking, where I was able to ride the city’s new people mover that opened the week I arrived. Sitting in my seat and watching several riders being surprised and amazed with the automatic sliding doors and lowering steps brought me such pleasure. It was like seeing a little baby’s expression of laughter when playing peek-a-boo with them. The individuals could not stop giggling and whispering to each other when the steps lowered and raised at various stops. They reminded me of some of the contestants I have seen on those reality shows that left their small town for the first time, on their very first plane ride, to come perform on the show. I cannot imagine someone never leaving their surroundings to explore what is out in the world. One of my lab partners in college had never been outside of his state until he came to school. There were so many things I took for granted that just stunned him. Since I enjoy watching people’s reactions to experiencing new things, I had a good time watching this silly comedy. AFTER 2 BEST FRIENDS WERE LAID off from their job, they decided to take their very first trip out of state. What were the chances they would chose a place that was about to experience a disaster? With Kristen Wiig (Wonder Woman 1984, The Skeleton Twins) as Sharon Gordon Fisherman, Annie Mumolo (This is 40, Bad Moms) as Barb, Jamie Dornan (Fifty Shades of Grey franchise, A Private War) as Edgar Paget, Damon Wayans Jr (Let’s Be Cops, The Other Guys) as Darlie Bunkle and Ryn Dol (Kidding-TV, Drama Club-TV) as Yoyo; this movie was a fun experience. It felt like Kristen took a character she would have done on Saturday Night Live and placed her in a longer comedy sketch. Sure, there were preposterous scenarios and goofy antics; but I did not care. I appreciated the “small town” friends going out of their comfort zone into a new experience. It was just easy to sit back and not have to get confused trying to figure out what was going on in the story. There was nothing fancy or sophisticated here; one needs only to let go and let the cast surprise you. There was an extra scene at the end of the credits.
2 ½ stars
I WOULD HAVE TO PACE MYSELF for the day if I wanted to keep my holiday tradition alive. The first item on my list was to walk/jog the parking garage before breakfast. Since it was too cold for me to go outside, I discovered I could get a decent workout by walking/jogging the 2-floor parking garage. In an hour, I can cover nearly 5 miles and that is including the parking ramps which provide me the experience of going up and down a hill. Once my workout was completed, I showered then ate breakfast. With dinner being a big meal, I went light on my breakfast cereal. Once I was done eating, I had to set up my laptop computer on a snack tray in the living room. Later after lunch I was going to be on a video present opening for Christmas. If anywhere in my schedule there could be a delay, it would be during this activity. There were going to be 10 people on the video call, each taking turns with opening their gifts. Now don’t get me wrong, I was looking forward to the event; however, there was my holiday tradition I was focused on that I scheduled to take place after dinner was done. AS I FEARED THE VIDEO PRESENT opening went on for nearly three hours. I was besides myself because my dinner was now delayed, which meant the one thing I wanted to happen was going to have to start later in the evening. With movie theaters closed in my area; it has been months since I was last in a theater. In fact, the last time for me was back in March just as the COVID-19 pandemic was rolling out across the country. After all this time, one of the film studios decided to offer first run movies on their streaming service the same day the film opens at the theaters. I cannot tell you how filled I was with excited anticipation to see a new, blockbuster film. Not to take anything away from the different streaming services’ original films, but there is something about a big budgeted picture that is to be released on the big screen. Due to the virus, I was getting the 2ndbest thing by watching the film at home on a large screened television. Since I loved the first Wonder Woman movie, I was expecting everything to be bigger and better with this sequel. Little did I know that my fear of watching this film later in the evening, where I could easily fall asleep, would be a valid issue for me. LIVING A QUIET COMFORTABLE LIFE UNDETECTED was fine for Diana Prince, played by Gal Gadot (Keeping Up with the Joneses, Triple 9), except for the one person she was missing in her life. Years of wishing he was with her was about to change when a mysterious artifact was delivered to her place of work. With Chris Pine (Star Trek franchise, The Finest Hours) as Steve Trevor, Kristen Wiig (Downsizing, The Skeleton Twins) as Barbara Minerva, Pedro Pascal (The Great Wall, Kingsman: The Golden Circle) as Maxwell Lord and Robin Wright (Blade Runner 2049, Moneyball) as Antiope; this action, adventure fantasy was a major disappointment for me. How the script received approval is beyond me because there were so many poor choices made in its story line. In a superhero movie, the villain needs to be as dynamic and powerful as the superhero character; this was not the case in this picture. The villain was downright boring and uninteresting to me. And I have little patience for a script that tries to force feed a message to the viewer and this film nearly choked me on its syrupy monologue. The only highlight for me was the opening scene, Kristen Wiig with her character and the extra scene in the middle of the ending credits. My experience with this movie was like one of the gifts I received on my video presents event; a fancy gift-wrapped box that had an ugly sweater in a wrong size.
2 1/4 stars
IT APPEARS TO ME when people are reaching a certain age they start going through their home to get rid of stuff. I have recently noticed this due to a few friends, who started doing this very thing recently. They are rummaging through their closets, drawers and basements pulling out a variety of items, from unused tools to shoes that were never taken out of their original packaging. I know this because they are sending me photos showing their stuff piled up, waiting to be donated, recycled or thrown away. In fact a friend of mine who runs an antique/thrift shop was telling me how the store has always gotten items from estate sales or people who are clearing out the homes of their deceased relatives. However now he noticed more and more people are bringing in their own items, telling him they no longer need it or they are downsizing. WHEN THE TIME COMES for me to reorganize my house I know I will have a lot of items to donate or give away. Like so many people I am an acquirer (a kinder way of saying I like to shop). There was a period of time where I bought into the mindset that the person with the most stuff wins. Because I have the space when I bought, let us say, a new pair of pants or shoes, I did not bother getting rid of a similar item from my closet. I think I do this because I have this constant thought that at some point in time I will need that item for whatever reason. Slacks that are too big for me hang in the attic in case I put on weight or have a dinner guest that spills on their pants and needs to wear something while their stained slacks are in the wash. Maybe a better way of explaining this desire for stuff is to look at the way electronic items and children’s toys are marketed these days. Now when a new thing comes out it suddenly becomes a big event, drawing in and making people believe they would be better off with the new item. Need takes a back seat to desire. Let us face it, who wants to feel like they are being left behind as everyone else is jumping on the shopping bandwagon for new stuff. This film festival winning dramatic comedy has something to say about it. FINDING IT HARDER TO make ends meet Audrey and Paul Safranek, played by Kristen Wiig (Ghostbusters, Masterminds) and Matt Damon (The Martian, The Great Wall), agree to become part of the new trend of downsizing oneself to 5” tall and live like a millionaire. However being small doesn’t mean one will have smaller issues to deal with. With Christoph Waltz (Tulip Fever, Big Eyes) as Dusan Mirkovic, Hong Chau (Inherent Vice, Treme-TV) as Ngoc Lan Tran and Rolf Lassgard (A Man Called Ove, After the Wedding) as Dr. Jorgen Asbjornsen; this story caught my attention right from the start. The first part was both fun and curious; but then other story lines came in and none of them ever became fully developed for me. I found it an odd mix that made me lose interest, though I enjoyed the visual contrasts. The story presented was a social satire that could have led to some interesting conversation afterwards, but instead what was in my head was clutter I wanted to clear out.
THEY were from the same parents but you would never know it. Two brothers only a few years apart in age, yet they had nothing in common. Even when we were younger I rarely saw the older of the two siblings. If I was over at their house and the older one happened to be present, there was a good chance an argument would take place between the family members at some point during the day. I believe it was after high school when the older brother enlisted in the army and that was the last time the parents would ever have contact with him. I never understood what happened between the family members that would lead one child to stop interacting with the rest. The parents went on with their lives; whether they were upset with the situation they never showed it. WHAT I just described was my first exposure to such extreme actions between family members. From that period of time going forward I have seen situations from both ends of the spectrum; from a family who had little contact with people outside of their own family members to families who resorted to violence. Recently a news article crossed my desk about a family owned company. One relative was using legal means to force an issue, making claims of inappropriate behavior and illegal business activity. As I read the article I was surprised by the level of hatred that was motivating the lawsuit. I did not know how many of the accusations were true, only that the company did business with my company. These scenes always remind me there is no such thing as a “normal” family. Every family or should I say every human being is different, who come with their own unique set of issues and quirks. If you do not believe me just take a look at the characters in this animated, action adventure film. AFTER all these year Gru, voiced by Steve Carell (Café Society, Freeheld), discovered he had a quite successful twin brother. If they were to meet, what would they possibly have in common? This 3rd installment in the franchise included Kristen Wiig (The Martian, Ghostbusters) voicing Lucy, Trey Parker (Run Ronnie Run, Orgazmo) voicing Balthazar Bratt, Miranda Cosgrove (School of Rock, Icarly-TV) voicing Margo and Steve Coogan (The Trip to Spain, Tropic Thunder) voicing Fritz/Silas Ramsbottom. For me the best part was the inclusion of the Minions; they are one of the best cartoon characters today. As the previous sequels this one had fun animation and a great soundtrack. The story initially was fine to me; however, as the story progressed and veered off in different directions I found myself not as interested. I believe the issue was due to having three different directors working on this picture. It almost seemed as if there was not enough time to cover one plot before something else was happening. Additionally the humor was sort of low key; it was geared towards young children and even then not much in the laugh out loud category based on the audience’s reactions during my viewing. Sitting through this movie I felt the Minions were overall the biggest draw because the story lines were not that unique to the characters. There was a sense as if I had seen each story before in a different film. It may be time to let these characters leave the coop so to speak.
2 ½ stars
It either floats in like a rolling fog coming down over a mountain range or bursts in like wind off of the Great Plains. No matter which way, once inside of a person the fog or wind spreads sparkles of light over a person’s heart and mind. Any rough edges are quickly filed down into soft round curves since hazard warnings are not allowed. Love has this way of taking over a person’s sense of reason, self-worth and thought processes. I am not saying this is always a bad thing; however, there is a fine line where the person in love slips up and falls into this unchecked devotion that clouds their mind. Let me tell you about a friend of mine who fell hard for this person. Right up front I will tell you I sensed something was not right after being around them for only the 2nd time. This person would regale my friend with these elaborate stories about the life they lead. They had traveled to various exotic locales, worked for the FBI, changed careers to become a top salesperson for a Fortune 500 company and so on and so on. But they slipped up without realizing it. When I mentioned I taught group fitness classes they said they used to do the same thing. A couple of innocent questions on my part confirmed this person was never certified to teach such a class. Here is the thing though, I privately told this to my friend along with my other concerns but it did not make a difference. Being in the birth stage of love my friend already had chucked rational thought from their mind. No matter what red flag popped up my friend ignored it and continued on with this person who would borrow money from time to time, never pick up a drink or restaurant tab and periodically had to be driven around because their “car was in the shop.” Love is best when it works in conjunction with a person’s mind and heart, instead of just consuming it. SECURITY guard David Ghantt, played by Zach Galifianakis (The Hangover franchise, Due Date), would do anything for fellow guard Kelly, played by Kristen Wiig (The Martian, Ghostbusters). She was not the only one who realized it. Based on true events this crime comedy also starred Owen Wilson (Midnight in Paris, No Escape) as Steve, Jason Sudeikis (Mother’s Day, We’re the Millers) as Mike McKinney and Kate McKinnon (Ghostbusters, Saturday Night Live-TV) as Jandice. None of them could help the awful script that was simply a generic version of an action comedy. The one who stood out for me was Kate; she has the best stage and screen presence in my opinion. Zach I feel is starting to be typecast with these same kinds of characters, a bit buffoonish and uncoordinated. As for the humor in this story I found very little to laugh at because I had seen the movie trailer prior. Once you have seen the trailer (even if you did not), the scenes were easy to predict. The actual story made headline news but I am afraid this movie version will quickly go to DVD. Suffice to say I did not love this film.
1 ½ stars
It started out when you were told to open the hangar doors wide because the airplane was coming in for a landing. Your parents would be making plane noises with their lips as the flying spoon they held with its contents of baby food came close to your gaping mouth. I only experienced the hangar doors for a short time before my mouth turned into a vacuum cleaner. After a couple of years when the airplane was no longer in commission, your food became a teaching tool. A bowl of soup offered the opportunity to spell words with the floating noodles shaped in the alphabet. How many of you would eagerly down a spoonful of soup with the words dog or cat staring at you? The next stage was not always a choice for many; the introduction of fast food. Coming with your food now were little toys and prizes. As an added bonus you did not have to always sit at a table to eat your food. This fast food allowed you to sit in the back seat of the car and eat while your parent was driving you home. Now depending on your age you may have grown up with one or two cooking shows on television that were hosted by Julia Child or Joyce Chen. Others may have seen a variety of food shows, from contests, to specific cuisines, to learning how to hold a dinner party for eight; food took on a new level of entertainment. I myself have tasted a variety of foods from a small country diner all the way to an exclusive world class haute cuisine restaurant. None of this prepared me for the food I saw in this animated adventure comedy. FRANK, voiced by Seth Rogan (Steve Jobs, The Interview), discovers the true meaning behind being chosen by a shopper at the grocery store and it was no where near what he and all his friends thought it would be. This film had a multitude of actors voicing the characters such as Kristen Wiig (The Martian, Welcome to Me) as Brenda, Edward Norton (American History, Fight Club) as Sammy and Salma Hayek (Once Upon a Time in Mexico, Some Kind of Beautiful) as Teresa. I found the beginning of the story interesting, filled with fun and jokes. Personally I understand the use of profanity can provide shock value in an amusing way; I quickly find it lazy humor the more it is used and curse words made up a a good portion of the script. As the story progressed I found less and less to enjoy about this picture. To me the writing was geared for a narrow range of viewers who just want to be shocked by inappropriate behavior. There definitely was a decent message to convey but it was undercooked compared to the rise of raw adult only scenes. As far as I could tell the prominent goal of the script was to surprise and maybe upset the viewer instead of providing a good story. All I can say is this movie provided a new definition to what is considered food porn.
The street festival provided an opportunity to relive the memories of the old neighborhood of my youth. Walking the residential streets was a revelation for the homes were now freshly painted in colorful hues. Old porches and stairs that previously yawned in tiredness looked confidently strong now; I doubt they would utter a peep. The biggest surprise was the amount of foliage everywhere. As a kid I remember flowers were something one would find mostly in a backyard, not many households had them in front. Bushes covered the bottoms of houses; some planted to form a straight hedge across, others looking like tossed green gumdrops. Now as I traveled down several streets, flowers and ornamental trees were blooming everywhere. The trees that remained from my childhood had expanded and grown as if someone had pumped them up with air to look like inflated balloons at a Thanksgiving parade. When I finally reached the heart of the business area there were a few stores I remembered though they were dressed up with new signs and banners. The grocery store was replaced by one of those dollar stores and the local drugstore was now a currency exchange. Sitting in the same place was the diner I used to go to at least once a week. I had to go in and though no one looked familiar to me, the furniture had not changed. I ordered my usual and watched the cook make it as I sat on one of the dark red stools at the counter. The food came in those same plastic baskets freshly lined with wax paper. I was excited as I took my first bite, taking in the earthy aroma wafting off the pile of fries. Sadly my memories tasted better than the actual meal. The same thing could be said about this version of a comedy classic. STRANGE occurrences started popping up around New York City but only two people understood what they could be. Scientist friends Erin Gilbert and Abby Yates, played by Kristen Wiig (The Martian, The Secret Life of Walter Mitty) and Melissa McCarthy (The Boss, Spy) were convinced there was finally proof to substantiate their research. After all the talk of this science fiction fantasy reboot having a female cast it all came down to the script for me. Kristen, Melissa and Leslie Jones (Trainwreck, Saturday Night Live-TV) as Patty Tolan were subdued compared to Kate McKinnon (Life Partners, Saturday Night Live-TV) as Jillian Holtzmann; she was terrific which is saying a lot since the story was bland. I did not have any laugh out loud moments and felt the story needed some caffeine. The villain of the story was so dull with a tired story line that I sat in my seat and wondered what the writers were thinking. Even the special effects were nothing special; after all these years since the original film, you would think the movie studio would want to dazzle the viewers with special effects. Overall this movie was not the worst; it just did not taste as good as the original I remembered. There was an extra scene at the end of the credits.
I feverishly was trying to keep up with my notes while the speaker was discussing the kinesiology behind their choreographic routines. The workshop was packed with fitness participants; I had no idea this would have been such a popular course. However, I soon realized why when I glanced at the person’s notebook next to me; she was drawing a portrait of the presenter. I was stunned; not because it was actually a good likeness, but because she appeared to be in her middle 20s. Didn’t this kind of thing go on back during our school years I wondered to myself? I could still remember back in school how easy it was to spot someone who had a crush on someone else. If they could not engage their intended target in conversation, they would always be close by to watch the movements of their heart’s attraction. When there was an age difference or more exactly a grade difference I always found it odd that it was okay if the male was in a higher grade, but not the female. I had a friend who had dated an older girl but he never talked about it, only if he was asked questions directly. Now keep in mind back then dating meant going out to eat, see a movie, sitting together during lunch period, hanging out in groups; all depending on what grade one was in. I do not recall hearing about such events like what I saw in this dramatic romance. ARTISTICALLY inclined teenager Minnie, played by Bel Powley (Side by Side, M.I. High-TV), had a crush on Monroe, played by Alexander Skarsgard (The East, What Maisie Knew). He was already dating her mother Charlotte, played by Kristen Wiig (Welcome to Me, The Skeleton Twins). Set in the 1970s in San Francisco, this film festival winning movie used animation in a creative way to bring some of Minnie’s thoughts to life. I thought the cast was exceptionally good; however, if I go by my standards regarding the entertainment value of a film, then I did not find this picture very entertaining. For me it came down to the subject matter, I was not comfortable with it. I do believe the story portrayed certain realness and I know I do not have the right to place my values on other people; but I just felt scenes were being regurgitated to drive a point home. There were parts of the picture that were nicely done and actually the script was well written, even if some of it was predictable to me. What I have always said about a movie is if it moves you, whether in a positive or negative way, then it has done its job. I was moved but I did not experience a lot of entertainment value with this film.
2 1/2 stars