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.
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.
IF I DO NOT KNOW AT LEAST several guests at a social function, I feel like I am walking into uncharted territory filled with landmines. It is best to keep one’s guard up when attending such affairs, I have found. The reason I feel this way did not suddenly happen after attending one party; it took my going to several parties and experiencing the full force of passive aggressive guests before I came to this conclusion. Please hear me out before you reach a conclusion. When I do not know people at a party, I tend to be more reserved. I will circulate through the guests before I find a spot that I can claim for myself. As the evening progresses I will either strike up a conversation or a guest will come up to me. During our conversation, the person I am talking to will make an offhanded comment about another guest they tell me they know, maybe about something they are wearing or their physical features. I have learned when someone is expressing a negative comment about someone who is a stranger to you, they are trying to lay some type of groundwork to win you over to their “side.” Do not ask me why this happens but some people feel the need to win over total strangers as some kind of support while they are holding a grudge or feud with the individual. Maybe it is something about “strength in numbers;” I just don’t know. IN THE SCHEME OF THINGS THESE encounters at parties are not a big deal to me because more than likely I will never see these individuals again. However, it is a whole different ballgame when situations like this take place at one’s new place of business. Yuck, it is challenging to walk into a work environment where employees have chosen sides and you are the new neutral country in the middle of their war. The more vigilant employees will use every opportunity to tear down the employee they do not like, by making little comments to you about them. I used to sit next to someone at a job where every day I would have to listen to them make a snide remark about a fellow employee’s work or hygiene or mannerisms or some other such thing; it was exhausting for me. I had no opinion one way or the other; so, my defense was to simply respond with one-word exclamations, like “oh” or “really.” My philosophy was to let their talking go in one ear and out the other; I would form my own opinions. This is something I was trying to do while listening to all the hotel guests in this dramatic, crime mystery. HIRED TO FIND OUT HOW A millionaire received a fake jewel Detective Hercule Poiret, played by Peter Ustinov (Death on the Nile, Logan’s Run), found himself on a small island where a dead body showed up. With Maggie Smith (Downton Abbey, The Lady in the Van) as Daphne Castle, James Mason (A Star is Born, North by Northwest) as Odell Gardener, Nicholas Clay (Excalibur, Zulu Dawn) as Patrick Redfern and Diana Rigg (Game of Thrones-TV, The Painted Veil) as Arlena Stuart Marshall; this film festival nominee’s story was based on Agatha Christie’s novel. Just knowing that will tell you what you are in store for when watching this movie. The cast was eclectic and fun to watch; I enjoyed all the characters, especially the ones of Maggie Smith and Diana Rigg. With such a large cast there were several story lines to follow, but it was easy to do so. Out of the different movies made from Agatha Christie’s novels, I found this screenplay slightly tamer with several bland scenes. The setting was great, the actors were well versed; I only wished there was more suspense and dramatic flair. Still, I enjoyed trying to figure out who committed the crime.
SOME FAMILIES LIVED IN APARTMENT BUILDINGS like mine did, while others lived in houses; but it did not mean anything to any of us. Everyone was treated the same. I never thought a family had to be rich to live in a house; though, I remember some of my friends thought this one kid was snobby because his family owned a local food company. I remember seeing one of their products at the grocery store and thinking how weird it must have been for that kid to see his last name on all the containers stacked across one of the grocery store’s shelves. Outside of that, I do not recall anyone using their family wealth to make people think they were better than anyone else. It was in school where I learned about socio-economic classes; that people were categorized as being upper, middle or lower class. The concept was odd to me because I could not understand why the amount of money a person had was important. I never considered someone being better because they were wealthier. They could have a lot of money but still be a horrible person; there would be no way I would ever think they were better than someone who barely could cover their rent, as an example. IT WAS NOT UNTIL AFTER MY school years where I saw how people treat other people, they deem poorer. I was at a wedding where I saw the bride’s mother treating the staff poorly. She was talking down to them as she grilled them on what they “needed” to do for her. Up until that point I had not seen this side of the mother who had always appeared pleasant and giving. Now, I was seeing this aggressive woman telling the staff if they wanted to get paid, they needed to make such and such happened immediately; it was an ugly scene. Another time I was teaching at a health club where the cliental came from all types of backgrounds. There were working class folks, retirees, business owners; you get the picture. I am not one to stereotype a person; but out of these different backgrounds, I could tell which person considered themselves to be above other people. They always dressed up for exercise class, wearing the latest fashion trends in clothing, tons of jewelry along with wearing make-up and perfume. You would think they were going out for the night to a social event. I found the whole concept perplexing. However, in this comedic drama I understood it better because the times were different back then… or were they really? EXCITEMENT FLOODED THROUGH DOWNTON ABBEY WHEN a letter was received, announcing the King and Queen would be coming for a visit. The family and staff would discover things they never knew before. With Michelle Dockery (Anna Karenina, Non-Stop) as Lady Mary Talbot, Matthew Goode (Stoker, Official Secrets) as Henry Talbot, Tuppence Middleton (The Imitation Game, Sense8-TV) as Lucy Smith, Maggie Smith (The Lady in the Van, Quartet) as Violet Crawley and Elizabeth McGovern (Once Upon a Time in America, The Chaperone) as Cora Crawley; I first have to tell you I have not seen the television show that this film was based on. The movie was beautifully filmed and scored, with wonderful set designs and costumes. This made for a perfect period piece film. Now the fact I am not familiar with the characters, I felt I was at a disadvantage; I did not know the history of each character, so did not feel as connected as most of the audience did in the theater. Story wise the plot was easy and fun to follow. For me, it seemed as if there were such a variety of story lines that nothing felt fully developed to the point where I could make a connection. There definitely was a soap opera quality to this picture, where I could see why it made for a popular television series. I am glad I saw this movie but did feel I was more of a bystander than a guest at the party.
2 ¾ stars 3 ½ stars – fans of the TV series
Do you suppose between the realms of genius and madness there is a thin, semi-permeable membrane? There has to be because I have seen so many individuals who have greatness in them but other factors kept clogging it up from reaching its full maturation. If I remember correctly there was a world famous pianist who suffered with the fear that their fingers were made of glass; that they were capable of completely shattering off their hands or something like that. There are some creative things I have seen where I just wonder how the artist came up with the idea to make such an incredible piece of art. Even some of the new architecture for skyscrapers amazes me. It just makes me think that one needs a little madness in them to excel in a creative or scientific thought process. I remember this person who managed several celebrities and they always said most actors were crazy. Maybe some were, I do not know; however, I would think there has to be some mind manipulation to be able to inhabit a different persona. In fact I remember this other individual who was super smart; I am talking genius level. The things they talked about and did were way above everyone’s head. As time went on some changes came over them and their behavior turned odd. Nothing dangerous but I would say not rational anymore. Their life started going down into a dark place and they became addicted, or if not then constantly used an abundance of drugs. It was sad to see and then one day they just disappeared; no one knew what happened to them. BASED on true events Miss Shepherd, played by Maggie Smith (Harry Potter franchise, Downton Abbey-TV), decided to take up residence in the driveway of the home belonging to Alan Bennett, played by Alex Jennings (The Queen, Babel). Her van was her home. This film festival nominee was a perfect vehicle for Maggie to soar through the story. With touches of drama and comedy I thought she did an incredible job. I had no idea there was any truth to this unbelievable story; to tell you the truth, I had a hard time believing it. There is much to like about this film; the actors such as Jim Broadbent (Cloud Atlas, Moulin Rouge) as Underwood were all well suited to their roles. As time went on I found myself wishing I knew more about Alan and Miss Shepherd. The few flashback scenes were interesting but I did not feel as strong of a connection to the characters as I wanted. I almost felt this biographical dramedy would be more effective as a staged play. It seemed as if the scenes were only scratching the surface of the characters; there could have been more information given into what made each character tick. Nonetheless the fans of Maggie and those new to her will not be disappointed with such a fine performance.
I felt I was interrupting a prayer service as I stepped into the train car. The majority of the passengers had their heads bowed. They were all looking at their cell phones, though there were some with earbuds dripping out of their ears who stared off into space as if they were witnessing a vision. For whatever reason as I sat amongst them I wondered what the future would be like; would there be mobile apps to take care of all our needs? I have already witnessed the deterioration in our ability to communicate, I just wonder as we grow old will we be tucked away in our own tiny spaces having little contact with the outside world? Though I like my alone time, I find comfort in being part of a community. I may not see some of my neighbors for weeks, but we are well aware of each other’s routines and activities. It may be their car is in a different spot or their dog is out in the backyard; there is an invisible bond that connects all of us. Just this past weekend I was chipping away the melting ice from my walkway and my neighbor came over with an ax. Granted until I recognized him due to the sunlight shining in my eyes, I had a moment of fear spring up. WITH only one room left to rent in his hotel Sonny Kapoor, played by Dev Patel (Chappie, The Newsroom-TV), had his eye on a second property. It would already be a challenge; but with the added stress from the approval process and his upcoming wedding, Sonny would need a lot of things to go right if he was going to realize his dreams. This sequel saw the original cast like Maggie Smith (Quartet, Harry Potter franchise) as Muriel Donnelly and Judi Dench (Philomena, Skyfall) as Evelyn Greenslade mingling with new cast members such as Richard Gere (Brooklyn’s Finest, Amelia) playing Guy Chambers. I enjoyed seeing the cast again but there were parts of the script that I found unattractive. What I mean is I felt some of the writing came across as cheap and easy, not giving the actors enough to fully develop their characters. Sure there was the same mix of comedy and drama, but I did not find this film as entertaining as the first one. It was as if the writers did not know whether to make the story more like a madcap ensemble comedy piece or go in a more serious vein. I really hoped this would have been a better film because I was fond of the idea to have a group of people coming together as a family of choice, a real sense of community.
2 1/4 stars
It is funny how one person may think a tidbit of information is important to know, while another feels it is insignificant. As the years pass the bond between friends and family solidifies, where shared experiences provide more knowledge about each other. There may even be a point in time where you could anticipate what the other person would do in a situation. Having this type of awareness can help prevent some types of conflict or disagreements. After being part of each other’s life for some years imagine what kind of surprise it would be to discover something you never knew about your friend or family member. I had a relative who remarried later in life. The entire family had heard his new bride was a singer in Europe, but the way we were told made it sound like she sang at weddings and open mic nights at several local establishments. Since I never heard her sing, I did not give much thought to her past life of being an entertainer. Recently I had a member who came up to me after class to ask about a yoga pose. We started talking and she mentioned she had just returned from a European trip. When she brought up she visited the country of her birth, which happened to be the same place where my relative’s wife grew up, I was curious to see if she had ever heard of her. I was stunned when she not only knew about my relative’s wife, but had been to several of her concerts. She continued heaping praise on her to the point I was upset I never got the chance to hear more about my relative’s life story. SURPRISE was in store for Mathais Gold, played by Kevin Kline (A Fish Called Wanda, The Last of Robin Hood), when he inherited an apartment in Paris. Upon arriving to inspect the apartment Mathais was shocked to find Mathilde Girard, played by Maggie Smith (Harry Potter franchise, Quartet), living in the place. It would be the first of many surprises. I wished I had enjoyed this comedic drama more because I thought Maggie and Kevin did a wonderful job of acting, along with Kristin Scott Thomas (Gosford Park, The English Patient) as Chloe. They did everything to try and make their characters come to life. However, the script was poorly done; there were gaps where the story dragged and felt uneven. On the plus side I found the idea behind the story interesting and enjoyed watching Maggie’s performance. It came as a surprise to me when I realized at the end of the movie I could only give an average star rating to this dramatic comedy with its exceptional cast.
2 1/4 stars
Growing old is like watching a balloon expand with each breath, never knowing when that one breath will cause the balloon to pop. As my friends and I age, the subject of how we may need assistance in our old age comes up more often. It is particularly important to those of us who are single; we wonder what will happen to us. An idea we have kicked around is buying an apartment building, where we can all live. It would allow us privacy but we would always have someone close by if help was needed. In a similar situation this sweet movie was about a home for retired musicians. Idyllic days filled with music and singing, building up to the annual charity concert celebration, received a surprise interruption. It was the arrival of new resident opera diva Jean Horton, played by Maggie Smith (Harry Potter franchise, The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel). Her appearance was even a bigger surprise to her former husband and resident Reginald Paget, played by Tom Courtenay (The Golden Compass, Billy Liar). With the heavy weight of clashing egos, could the show survive and still be a success? For his directorial debut, Dustin Hoffman (Last Chance Harvey, Finding Neverland) did an admirable job in telling this safe, predictable story. I think Dustin’s job was made much easier by his impressive cast. Besides Maggie and Tom, there was Billy Connelly (Mrs. Brown, The Debt Collector) playing the flirtatious Wilf Bond, Pauline Collins (Albert Nobbs, Shirley Valentine) as the forgetful Cissy Robson and MIchael Gambon (Harry Potter franchise, The King’s Speech) as concert director Cedric Livingston. From the film’s entire cast there was a true sense of history behind the characters, that was proven at the start of the ending credits. An easy and enjoyable movie to watch. A thought came to me as I left the movie theater: When I take my last breath, I only hope it comes at the end of a movie’s credits.
Being met by a plethora of colors and a sea of people, a group of British retirees had landed in Jaipur, India to begin the next chapter of their lives at the Best Exotic Marigold Hotel. Well, the brochure they received stated it was the “Best.” However, the hotel looked like it was way past its bloom. As for me, the movie felt like it was cut off before fully blossoming, with characters not fully developed, to make for a better story. There were some parts of the film that were quite enjoyable. These usually involved stellar acting from Judi Dench (J. Edgar, Ladies in Lavender) as the widowed Evelyn Greenslade, Bill Nighy (Wrath of the Titans, Pirate Radio) as retired civil servant Douglas Ainslie, Maggie Smith (Harry Potter franchise, Ladies in Lavender) as the wheelchair bound Muriel Donnelly and Tom Wilkinson (Michael Clayton, The Debt) as former judge Graham Dashwood. These four characters were more believable to me as we saw their characters grow throughout the movie. I have always been fascinated seeing other cultures and appreciated the way the director used the city and its citizens to propel the story forward. However, there were other parts of the movie I found slow and not totally believable. I have to say, it was a pleasure sitting in the company of all adult viewers–no one was texting or talking on their cell phones during the movie.
2 2/3 stars