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.
MOST EVERYONE I KNOW has/had one favorite relative they have enjoyed being with the most. For some it was/is a grandparent or an aunt/uncle. I remember the feelings I would get when walking into one of my closest relative’s home. There was a settled in feeling to the place, if that makes any sense. You know those types of homes you visit where you are afraid to sit on the furniture or eat in a room because everything is in place, looking spic and span clean. Possibly some homes might even have furniture that has a plastic or cloth cover over it. Does anyone remember what it was like to sit on plastic covers on a warm summer day? The answer was sticky. That was nothing like my relative’s home. Their place had furniture with deflated cushions on the sofa and chairs as if they were tired from holding up the bottoms of people for so many years. There were a variety of knick-knacks placed around the rooms, from framed photos to small ceramic pieces shaped into animals and dancers. And for me my favorite part was the kitchen because it always provided me with recently baked cookies, pies or cakes. AS FOR THIS RELATIVE they had an all encompassing hug that made me feel safe. After receiving one of their big hugs they would lightly pinch one of my bulbous cheeks as a warm, pure smile spread across their face. I cannot recall ever not getting greeted that way any time I went to visit their home. Because of their disposition and maybe rank in the family, their home was always a safe haven for all the relatives; there never was a fight or disagreement inside their home. I guess the best way to describe it would be to say it was a peaceful place always filled with the smells of something cooking in the kitchen. Though there were few modern devices or appliances, you never felt like you were missing out on something. I can remember bringing my friends there one time and watching them enjoy this one particular cookie that was my favorite. So it wasn’t just me I realized; everyone who met my relative always left with feeling the same way: comforted, safe and joyful. I got to experience these feelings once again while watching this charming, adventure comedy. SEARCHING FOR A BIRTHDAY gift for his aunt Paddington, voiced by Ben Whishaw (The Lobster, Perfume: The Story of a Murderer), found the perfect gift at Mr. Gruber’s, played by Jim Broadbent (The Iron Lady, Gangs of New York), shop. But while Paddington was saving up to buy the item it was stolen and the evidence pointed to Paddington. With Sally Hawkins (The Shape of Water, Maudie) as Mary Brown, Hugh Bonneville (Notting Hill, Downton Abbey-TV) as Henry Brown and Hugh Grant (Cloud Atlas, About a Boy) as Phoenix Buchanan; this was such an entertaining movie that caused me to have a smile on my face and warmth in my heart. The story evoked feelings of excitement, joy, sadness and comfort; I actually enjoyed this sequel more than the first film. Sure some of the humor was predictable and corny, but it did not bother me; it only added an old fashioned sweetness to the story. For those who want a film to take the whole family to, from child to adult, this would be the one to go see. After viewing this picture I wished I was friends with Paddington. Oh, and do stay for the beginning credits to see a fun scene.
3 ½ stars
PIZZA IS ONE OF my favorite foods; I love pizza. Except for 2 pizzas, one from an independent stand alone restaurant and one from a national chain, I have not met a pizza I did not like. For me pizza is that type of food that can be eaten at any meal and then some. Cold pizza in the morning is just as good to me as a fresh out of the wood burning oven kind for lunch or dinner. With some friends or family members I have no problem ordering one large pizza for the 2 of us since we have similar tastes in toppings; and if not, we can just ask to add or subtract the differing topping off one side of the pizza. On the other hand there are some people I go out with where they have to get their own pizza because there is nothing I like about their topping choices and they will not strip their pizza down just to a basic cheese so we can share it. RECENTLY I WAS OUT to dinner with a friend who ordered a pizza that looked like an abomination to me. It was a chipotle pizza with sausage and ranch dressing, extra ranch dressing I might add. Yuck, it looked horrible but here is the thing; they only know I do not like those toppings because I do not make a scene. I do not grab my neck with both hands showing the universal sign for choking or start gagging just as the pizza is placed on the table. Do you know why I do not make a scene? It is because they have just as much right to love their pizza toppings as I do with my choices. I am not going to taste their pizza and get indigestion or heartburn; their pizza has no affect on my choices in pizzas or how my body interacts with it. Seriously who am I, or for that matter who is anybody, to force their personal tastes on another pizza lover. I say go ahead and dig into whatever pizza makes you happy; I am not here to judge you. I am glad you have love in your heart for pizza because our ability to love is one of our greatest assets. IN THE MIDDLE OF the cold war during the 1960s, the United States had a secret laboratory where they had in their possession something the Soviet Union desperately wanted to get. No one knew there was someone working at the lab who was also interested in this special cargo. Written and directed by Guillermo del Toro (Pacific Rim, Pan’s Labyrinth), this film festival winner starred Sally Hawkins (Never Let Me Go, Maudie) as Elisa Esposito, Michael Shannon (Nocturnal Animals, Midnight Special) as Richard Strickland, Octavia Spencer (Hidden Figures, Gifted) as Zelda Fuller, Richard Jenkins (The Visitor, LBJ) as Giles and Michael Stuhlbarg (A Serious Man, Steve Jobs) as Dr. Robert Hoffstetler. Everyone in the cast did an outstanding performance; Sally and Michael truly are a gift to filmdom. I was absolutely taken away into this beautiful and meaningful film. Almost every scene allowed the viewer to have an emotional response and I loved the message that I interpreted from the script. It should be obvious I was totally into this dramatic, adventure fantasy and all I ask of you is if you plan on seeing what I feel will be a multiple award nominated picture this season then go into this movie with an open heart.
SITTING in the waiting room there was a woman near me who was feverishly knitting. I could not tell what she was making but I was fascinated with the dexterity of her fingers; they looked like spider legs that were spinning silk into a massive web. Normally I would not have paid much attention to her since I know many people who take their knitting with to work on pieces when they have free time. There was something different about her though; her pace I can only say was caffeinated. However I noticed one of her legs was deliberately shaking up and down, like a mini pneumatic power jack. This is something I do when I have excess energy but I also know people do it when they are nervous or anxious. To tell you the truth she did not look relaxed at all; there was an intensity about the way she sat in her chair and there were no clues on her face telling me she was relaxed. I do not know maybe knitting was her therapy; it was a valid point. HOWEVER a person deals with stress is their business; I give them credit for finding an outlet to eliminate it as best as they can from their body and mind. When I had access to a piano it was my “go to” place whenever I was troubled or under stress. Creating music was a soothing experience where I could get lost and forget the reality I was experiencing. I would assume almost every person has some outlet that provides them a peaceful place. For some it may be participating in or watching sports programs, others may take long walks. Teaching yoga these past years has provided me another outlet where I can experience calmness. That is the key when it comes to disconnecting the mind from a stressful situation; one has to focus on the thing they love and stick with it. It is because of that I found myself intently following the story in this film festival winning movie based on a true story. MAUD Lewis, played by Sally Hawkins (A Brilliant Young Mind, Blue Jasmine), loved to paint. No matter what anyone thought or did to her, her painting brought her comfort. No one thought much of her work except one person. This biographical romantic drama had a pure beautiful story. With Ethan Hawke (The Magnificent Seven, Training Day) as Everett Lewis, Kari Matchett (Civic Duty, Cypher) as Sandra, Gabrielle Rose (A Dog’s Purpose, The Sweet Hereafter) as Aunt Ida and Zachary Bennett (Hacker, Jack) as Charles Dowley; the acting between Sally and Ethan has to be seen to be believed. Sally was incredible and deserves to be nominated for a film award. I never heard of Maud Lewis but I absolutely enjoyed the arc to this film’s story. The depth and the transformations displayed by the characters kept me engaged throughout the picture. Set in Nova Scotia, I thought the natural beauty of the landscapes created wonderful opportunities for the filming process. Simple scenes were still able to convey emotions clearly. I did wish the writers had provided a little more background information for Maud and Everett, particularly Everett because I was not sure what was motivating his emotions in the early parts of the story. However this was a mild concern. The human character is amazing and seeing what a person can create out of troubling situations is a beautiful feat.
SITTING comfortably behind the steering wheel, cruising down the road, the celebrity driver was expounding on the finer things about the automobile. It almost looked like this was their main means of transportation. Now I do not care if a celebrity wants to earn income by doing a commercial; everyone deserves to make a living. Will this person persuade me to buy that type of car when I am in the market for a new vehicle? The answer is absolutely not. In fact that goes for any celebrity endorsement. Though I am a big fan of movies and such, I am well aware of the financial inequity between celebrities and let us say teachers. Not that there is anything wrong with making as much money as you can; however, I have a hard time with anyone who uses their position of wealth as a bully pulpit to tell everyone else what they should do. I have experienced this in my own circle of friends and family, where those who were financially well off starting acting like they knew everything and the rest of us were not as smart. That type of behavior is offensive to me. THE area where I can support celebrities is when they use their wealth and status to help a cause they believe in. I know about one celebrity who works with an organization to bring clean water to third world countries. I remember when parts of Louisiana were devastated by Hurricane Katrina. There were celebrities down there helping and rebuilding houses; they had the means and connections to bypass the red tape to get things done. With some celebrities their support of a cause may be due to personal reasons; they could be experiencing it in their own family, for example a celebrity with an autistic child. Whether you feel the same way or not, I admire someone who overcomes challenges in their life to then become a social activist against those very same tribulations. What I saw in this film festival winning movie, which was based on a true story, both stunned and amazed me. THIRTEEN year old Waris, played by newcomer Soraya Omar-Scego, had to leave her village in Somalia. What was done to her there would have a strong impact on her life when she made it to London. Before I talk about this biographical drama I want to say I have very little knowledge about the customs that were performed in this movie. They may be based on religious beliefs or native; I do not know and I do not want to offend anyone who believes in them. Starring Liya Kebede (The Best Offer, Lord of War) as older Waris Dirie, Sally Hawkins (Blue Jasmine, Happy-Go –Lucky) as Marilyn and Timothy Spall (Denial, Mr. Turner) as Terry Donaldson; the actual story had to be more powerful than what the script provided here. The back and forth between the young and older Waris dampened the intensity for me. I had a hard time watching some scenes because I could not believe what was being done. The acting was fine; I have always enjoyed Sally’s performances and Liya was perfect in this role. Honestly I still cannot get over that this custom takes place in the world. This DVD provided me with a whole new respect for those who overcome difficulties in their life and decide they want to do something about it.
2 ¾ stars — DVD
One of the more important acts a parent can instill in a child is the love of reading. There is an art in reading a book to a child. As the words get spoken, images begin to form and take shape in the little one’s mind. Stimulating the brain this way, sets the foundation for an active imagination to grow in the child. A blanket once draped around the shoulders becomes a cape that enables the child to fly from room to room. Spreading that same blanket out on the floor then repeatedly lifting it up and down in waves turns the living room floor into a choppy sea filled with a school of gigantic whales. Once the blanket goes still it becomes the launching pad for today’s rocket launch. Who hasn’t as a kid carried around some item that was special only to them? For me it started out with a stuffed monkey for several years and then my attention was drawn to retractable ballpoint pens. They were my fleet of spaceships that were constantly firing at each other by me clicking and unclicking them. Memories of my childhood, that had been lying dormant, flourished up into my consciousness while watching this sweet and joyful family comedy. COMING from Peru to England Paddington, voiced by Ben Whishaw (Skyfall, I’m not There), found shelter with a lovely family. Mary and Henry Brown, played by Sally Hawkins (Godzilla, Blue Jasmine) and Hugh Bonneville (The Monuments Men, Downton Abbey-TV), agreed to take in the bear for one night. What could possibly go wrong? This movie was an absolute treat, harking back to a civilized and charming time. I mean this in two ways: as a story line and as a movie watching experience. It was obvious this was a group effort because the entire cast from the characters Sally and Hugh played to Mrs. Bird and Millicent, played by Julie Walters (Harry Potter franchise, Mamma Mia) and Nicole Kidman (The Railway Man, Rabbit Hole), all played their parts to the hilt; you could see they were having so much fun. In turn, I had a great time watching this picture; it had drama, comedy, excitement and suspense that was appropriate for all age levels. Even the special effects that created Paddington were seamless to the point where I actually believed he was standing right there in every scene. I cannot imagine anyone sitting through this film and not getting a smile on their face. It was such a good time for me and when it was done and over I walked out of the theater with my childhood memories playing out before my eyes.
3 1/3 stars
There was a period of time where I witnessed the destruction of property and the killing of people. On weekends, there was a small movie theater that played a variety of matinee films that showed all types of creatures trying to destroy parts of our world. My friends and I would meet there often, usually right after we all received our allowances, to watch in awe these huge monsters fighting some spectacular battles. Once we were finished seeing the movie we would stop at the local ice cream and candy shop to talk about the different scenes, marveling at how human ingenuity saved us yet again. The shop was our go to place because the owner knew us and would let us sit in a booth for as long as we needed. There were glass jars filled with different kinds of candy sitting on wooden shelves that had the varnish worn dull from use. This all took place from a different, innocent era, where shop owners knew their customers and kids used their imaginations to create fun times. This action adventure film had some of that throwback feel to it, even with its updated story. When an experiment went out of control, mankind soon discovered they were not the strongest species on the planet. The script took a fresh approach in telling the story of Godzilla, bringing in more of a scientific element. There were times where I felt I had reached my limit of facts, but it was a minor distraction. Visually the movie had incredible special effects and I thought the camera angles were unique. It looked as if we were watching scenes from the cast’s perspectives. Personally I would have preferred a few more long shots when it came to the fight scenes; however, the battles that took place in the heart of the city were quite exciting. A steady tension could be felt throughout the movie and part of its success was due to some of the actors. Elizabeth Olsen (Oldboy, In Secret) as Elle Brody, Bryan Cranston (Argo, Breaking Bad-TV) as Joe Brody and Ken Watanabe (Inception, Unforgiven) were the standouts for me. Aaron Taylor-Johnson (Savages, Kick-Ass franchise) was a poor choice as a leading character due to his limited acting ability. I would have switched and made Elizabeth the main lead. She would have brought more to a leading role. The whole feel of the movie was one of excitement and fun. Part of me had those same feelings of wonder and amazement like I had when I was a kid. The only difference was I did not stop for an ice cream cone afterwards.
A life lived without an honest acknowledgement of one’s history is like living in a 3 walled house; eventually, the weight of reality will come crashing down. I know for I have seen it happen. When a person runs away from their life’s history, taking on a new identity, the facade never lasts long. There was someone I dated a long time ago that never talked about their childhood, parents, or even hobbies. It soon became apparent that my interests were becoming their interests. I saw how they were molding themselves to my way of living and found it unsettling. Essentially they were creating a life for themselves that was dependent on me. The problem they ran into was when there was an issue or crisis, they were ill equipped to handle it; they would implode. The relationship soon ended as I found out later they started a brand new, different life. In a powerful Oscar worthy performance Cate Blanchett (The Lord of the Rings franchise, The Aviator) played wealthy socialite Jasmine, a woman whose life crumbled apart upon the arrest of her crooked businessman husband Hal, played by Alec Baldwin (The Departed, It’s Complicated). With everything lost, Jasmine left New York for San Francisco to stay with her working class sister Ginger, played by Sally Hawkins (Made in Dagenham, Happy-Go-Lucky). Writer and director Woody Allen (Midnight in Paris, Match Point) has a knack for picking an ideal cast and letting them shine with their craft. Everyone in this drama was outstanding. Cate’s over the top brilliant performance was as perfect as it could be; she will be a front runner for the award races this year. I have never seen a poor performance from Sally and she was made to play Ginger. Besides the surprisingly excellent acting by Bobby Cannavale (Win Win, Parker) as Ginger’s boyfriend Chili; do not faint when I tell you comedian Andrew Dice Clay (Pretty in Pink, The Adventures of Ford Fairlane) as Ginger’s ex-husband Augie was living real in his role. I thought the switching of scenes from current to past events would be annoying; but instead, it gave them more intensity. There may not have been a lot of laughs but Woody’s script had a wonderful rhythm to it. This was a fascinating story about the lives people try to create for themselves.
3 1/2 stars
I learned a lot about people by standing behind a a cash register. When a new store opened in the city’s shopping district, I applied for a part-time position to see what it would be like to work in retail. It turned out to be an interesting experience for me. I discovered practically every customer showed some sign of being prejudiced towards the employees, however subtle it may have been. If a person came up to the counter to ask for directions they always asked me instead of any female employee. When it came to questioning the sizes of clothing or if items matched, I was always ignored. Both men and women consistently asked only the female workers. I found the whole thing amusing; curious how people’s perceptions were formed. Since we were all on the same pay scale it did not matter to any of us. In the scheme of things what I have just described was rather minor. If I had told you the female employees were hired at a lower pay scale then the men, I am sure you would have had a stronger reaction. Sadly that still happens in today’s world. Here is a perfect example of a movie being both informative and entertaining. This dramatization of a true story was set in England during the late 1960’s, at one of the country’s biggest employers of British workers, the Ford auto plant in the city of Dagenham. Sally Hawkins (Happy-G-Lucky, Never Let Me Go) played Rita O’Grady, one of the women machinists who worked on the cars’ interiors. Besides the poor conditions and hard work, Rita discovered the company was being discriminatory towards the women. She was pushed into taking some kind of action. Except for the hard time I had with the heavy British accents, I was fully drawn into the story of the women’s plight. The costumes and sets were perfect in depicting the era. I found the high level of consistent acting made for a cohesive storytelling experience. Bob Hoskins (Hook, Snow White and the Huntsman) as union representative Albert Passingham, Miranda Richardson (The Young Victoria, Sleepy Hollow) as Secretary of State for Employment Barbara Castle and Daniel Mays (Atonement, The Bank Job) as Rita’s husband Eddie were some of the actors that stood out for me. This was a story of historical significance that could be seen equally by women and men.
3 1/3 stars — DVD
To dwell on the unfairness of life is akin to worrying about a house you built on quicksand. Though my house is not built directly on quicksand, it certainly is on the edge. Think of it as coastal property. I try not to judge my life based on other people’s success. For example, if I cannot afford to buy a ticket to a charity fundraiser I will apply to be a volunteer. I may be asked to work the reception desk or silent auction table, which is fine for me. But when asked to sell raffle tickets I become anxious. It amazes me how uncivil some people can be when being asked if they want to buy a ticket. You would have thought I was asking for their first born. I have been talked down to, pushed aside and yelled at to stop bothering them. How can I not wonder if these same individuals would treat me the same if I was a paying guest and not a volunteer. In the scheme of things I know I should let this type of thing roll off of me, but it is hard. What snaps me out from letting myself wallow in a funk is to remember I have my health. It is not like I am battling the deadly disease that the charity is raising funds to combat. Based on the book by Kazuo Ishiguro, this dramatic movie posed questions for me regarding morality and mortality. Set in an English boarding school, three residents grew up only to discover the truth about why they were born. Carey Mulligan (Drive, An Education), Andrew Garfield (The Amazing Spider-Man, A Social Network) and Keira Knightley (Anna Karenina, A Dangerous Method) played the adult friends Kathy, Tommy and Ruth. Each of them did a beautiful job with their acting, bringing their characters to life with emotional depth. With a perfect musical accompaniment to the intelligent filming, I did not mind the slower passages of the story. This was not a happy movie; the sadness hung in the air like a heavy mist. I have a feeling people watching this film will either love it or dislike it. Either way the experience will not come close to the lives of the three main characters in this melancholy movie.
3 1/4 stars — DVD