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
MY FRIEND HAD A NAME FOR those types of individuals; she called them, “Happiness Vampires.” It was the perfect name I thought. A “Happiness Vampire” is a person who cannot celebrate and be a part of someone else’s happiness; they instead try to suck the happiness out of that person. I would even go a step further by saying these “Happiness Vampires” only feel good about themselves when someone else is feeling bad. That is so twisted I think. I believe all of us have encountered these dour people sometime in our lives, even if they were not at the time acting out on their negativity. My friend who came up with this term figured it out after dating this person for almost one year. I guess because she was in the throes of falling in love, she did realize what he was doing to her. His method was like a sneak attack because he would appear to be happy and congratulatory for her, but then would express these negative scenarios or possible repercussions that could happen to her. Pretty soon her good mood would dim and turn sour, leaving her depressed while her “boyfriend” would build himself up as her shining knight who would save her. I was so happy when she finally dumped him. RECENTLY I ATTENDED A DINNER PARTY where I encountered a guest who turned out to be a “Happiness Vampire.” It was an elegant affair with some prominent people in attendance. When I was introduced to this one individual I suddenly was hit with a bad feeling. It was as if the air was being sucked out around me with a vacuum cleaner. He was short and squat in stature; if you would place him at a fast food restaurant’s salad bar he would fit in perfectly. The person who introduced me to this individual was a successful financial man in his own right; however, this sour man quickly took an opportunity to build himself up by tossing a negative comment (some say back-handed compliment) about this prominent person. The reason he did such a thing was to talk about something he felt was a big success in his career. I caught it right away and just stood there listening to this man go on about his so-called accomplishments. The real successful individual also stood there with a smile on their face that looked like it was painted on with Botox; it did not budge the entire time the other man carried on about himself. He tried to take away our good feelings like the Grinch in this animated, family comedy but we did not let him succeed. BASED ON DR. SEUSS’ BELOVED BOOK, “How The Grinch Stole Christmas;” this movie had Benedict Cumberbatch (The Imitation Game, Doctor Strange) voicing The Grinch, Cameron Seely (The Greatest Showman, The Jim Gaffigan Show-TV) voicing Cindy-Lou Who, Rashida Jones (The Social Network, Parks and Recreation-TV) voicing Donna Who and musical artist Pharrell Williams as the Narrator. This story has been done many times before in different mediums; so, there was nothing new that came as a surprise except of all things Benedict’s performance. I did not care for his vocal acting; I thought he was not sinister enough for the character. Visually the movie was fun to watch (even the ending credits) and I enjoyed some of the Grinch’s exploits; but I felt this version of the Grinch was more of a lightweight compared to those Grinch’s of Christmas past. This film is well suited for younger children, but adults may get a bit tired of it. Of course, if you have never seen a movie version of Dr. Seuss’ book before then you might want to check this picture out; it almost seems as if it is a holiday tradition.
2 ¼ stars
During the first week of school each of the students were given a list of extracurricular activities they could join. There was the football and baseball teams among other sports activities. Though one of my aunts felt I should try out for football because I was heavy, I had little interest in it. The first group I considered was band since I could play the piano; but I never saw a piano out on the football field. The only choice was a xylophone strapped to my frame. I nixed that idea, imagining I would have looked like a carnival clown walking across the field. It was a good thing I did not sign up because during the school year I noticed students in band seemed to get picked on more frequently than other kids. I joined the school’s newspaper and yearbook staffs. During that first year I discovered there was a pecking order based on what group or team a student was in. No one from the major sports teams was ever bullied. When it came to band or to the chess group, there was a good chance they would get their books knocked out of their hands or be shoved out of the way while walking down the hallway. Can you imagine a kid who stops participating in something because they would be picked on for it. Think about Andy Warhol or Steven Spielberg as kids, getting picked on for what they were passionate about and deciding they would never paint or make a movie again. It would be so sad for them and a loss for us. See what happens to poor Bruce Garrett, played by Nick Frost (The World’s End, Paul), when his love for salsa dancing was literally beaten out of him in this comedy film. On the way to the junior championships contest, young Bruce was attacked by a group of boys. Never making it to the event, Bruce vowed he would never dance again. Fast forward 30 years to see how that decision changed his life. Nick did a beautiful job as the lovable unmotivated Bruce. Chris O’Dowd (The Sapphires, Bridesmaids) as his co-worker Drew and Rashida Jones (The Social Network, Celeste & Jesse Forever) as their American boss Julia were just as good with their characters. I found parts of the film funny even while there was a sad undertone that filtered through the predictable story. The script seemed so smart with the dialog but the scenarios were at times boring to me. I believe it was due to several unsurprising and inconceivable actions. Based on an idea from Nick, I hope he does not get discouraged by the reviews coming out for this movie.
2 1/4 stars