IT WAS A MONTH AFTER HER death when we came together for a memorial service of her life. She chose to be cremated; so next to a poster sized photograph of herself, sat a simple carved urn filled with her ashes. I had only met her once; she was my friend’s mother. The memorial service was being performed in a chapel that barely held all of us attendees. I knew very few people so when I arrived I immediately went to sit down after paying my respects to my friend. Being a people watcher, I watched as the guests eventually walked in to take a seat. They came from all walks of life, I must say. Some stood out by the outfits they were dressed in. I cannot say they were inappropriate; let me just say I would never have associated their clothing choices with a memorial service. With that being said, the service was touching as various individuals stood up to give eulogies and share funny stories about the deceased. It was fascinating to see the different facial expressions people had on their faces; if you did not know why everyone was gathered, you couldn’t figure out if it was a sad or happy occasion. AFTER THE SERVICE I ACCOMPANIED my friend back to her mother’s house. She wanted me to help move and store some of her mother’s items and furniture. As we drove up to the house the first thing that struck me was that it looked like it was hand made. The house was tiny and a bit rundown. It needed a paint job and the front stairs sagged in the middle, giving off an eerie sneering appearance. When we entered the house, I was immediately struck by the assortment of either items or devices that were placed in every room. In the living room was a wooden staff leaning up against the wall, that was carved entirely with elephants stacked on each other. On the wall was a framed mirror that caught my eye. The entire frame consisted of tiny human faces that were either carved into the wood or glued on top; it was an odd piece to me. I must tell you I found the whole place somewhat weird. There was a variety of different items; whether they were relics or newer I could not tell. All I know is I was glad when we finally finished and could get out of the place; though after seeing this dramatic mystery horror film, I would rather live in my friend’s mother’s house than join this family in theirs. AFTER HER MOTHER HAD DIED estranged daughter Annie, played by Toni Collette (Please Stand By, Little Miss Sunshine), and her family started to experience odd feelings and occurrences in and outside of their home, as if Grandma never left. With newcomer Miley Shapiro as Charlie, Alex Wolfe (Patriots Day, Jumanji: Welcome to the Jungle) as Peter, Gabriel Byrne (Miller’s Crossing, Endless Night) as Steve and Ann Dowd (Compliance, The Manchurian Candidate) as Joan; I found this suspenseful story creepy and twisted. That was a compliment because I was easily drawn into the film by Toni’s unbelievable acting, along with the rest of the cast and the non-typical script. There were some surprises in the way the story turned and I thought the filming and directing worked in synch to create this foreboding atmosphere. Some of you know I am not a big fan of horror films that have lots of blood and violence; this picture did have a couple of scenes with blood but the majority of it was more of the suspense genre, which I enjoy more. It is funny how you think you know someone then find out later something completely different about them.
THERE is always a can of mashed pumpkin I keep up on the shelf in my kitchen cabinet. You never know when the urge will come for some homemade pumpkin bread. It brings memories of comfort and home when my house gets filled with the aroma of pumpkin and cinnamon. The recipe I use was handed down to me: I keep the frail piece of paper it is written on in a plastic sleeve secured in a three ringed binder. I love the taste of pumpkin though I was never a big fan of its seeds; I think it is because those store bought ones were always covered in salt back when I was a kid. Ironically I was also never a huge fan of carved pumpkins sitting out for Halloween. After a couple of days they would start to smell or worse, were attacked by squirrels that would gnaw on them and leave a mess on one’s front porch. Except for that issue there is something about pumpkins that brings back memories of childhood, family and Thanksgiving to me. LAST week while I was grocery shopping I came across a small section of shelves that were stocked with items priced for clearance. At first glance I noticed a majority of the items listed the words “pumpkin spice” on its packaging. Just to give you an idea let me tell you a few of the products that were on the shelves; there were car deodorants, breakfast cereals, cough syrups and coffee all flavored with pumpkin spice. I do not know about you but I found it weird to have so many random products all with the scent or taste of pumpkin spice. Are there that many people driving around with the inside of their vehicles smelling of pumpkin spice? I did not list all the items for you but I felt companies just let their marketing departments go amok and now they are all sitting up on shelves as clearance items; what a waste of time, energy and money. I felt the same way about this sequel. XANDER Cage, played by Vin Diesel (Fast & Furious franchise, Babylon A.D.), was not dead; he was living a peaceful life until he was needed to help retrieve a secret hi-tech device that was stolen by Xiang, played by Donnie Yen (Rogue One: A Star Wars Story, IP Man franchise). Whoever had possession of the powerful product could easily bring a country’s government down to its knees. This action thriller also starred Deepika Padukone (Happy New Year, Chennai Express) as Serena Unger, Toni Collette (Krampus, Miss You Already) as Jane Marke and Samuel L. Jackson (The Hateful Eight, The Legend of Tarzan) as Augustus Gibbons. For the life of me I do not understand how a movie studio decides to bring back a character after all these years and produce a total mess of a picture. The script was awful to the point of almost being a total embarrassment. Sure the action scenes were well orchestrated but that is all this adventure film offered and that only goes so far. I could not tell the difference between Vin’s character here with the one he plays in the Fast & Furious movies. If you want to watch a mindless fast paced film then this would be the one; I suggest though you wait for it on clearance.
1 ½ stars
Can a child really understand the meaning of the words hate and love? The power of these 2 words is too heavy for a young mind to wrap itself around I believe. I used these words as a child, telling anyone who asked I hated peas and I loved chocolate. What I was really conveying was my preference in tastes; it had nothing to do with my emotional relationship to these food items. I did not know any better though I understood the affect it had on a person when I would tell them I loved or hated them. Before you say anything I really never told a person to their face that I hated them, though I wanted to say it to one particular babysitter who used to sit for me. Now through all the years of dating, seeing and being in relationships, besides becoming more mature; I understand all the nuances associated with love and hate. Some of the terminology I have used and heard would be things like not fond of, do not like, prefer not being around, enjoy your company, comfortable around you and so on. To me love and hate are strong words; I am careful about saying love because I do not want it to become a generic version of itself. I want love to have importance so when I tell someone I love them they know I mean it completely. As for the word hate I really do not use it much except for extreme circumstances like telling someone I would hate to have to do something like surgery or sit on a tour bus for 8 hours. So when I see other people displaying hate I have to take a step back. I find it sad that hatred these days seems to be in vogue; that it is becoming acceptable for someone to display their hatred. For this reason I found this dramatic thriller horrific. AGREEING to go undercover to infiltrate a radical white supremacy group FBI agent Nate Foster, played by Daniel Radcliffe (Swiss Army Man, Victor Frankenstein), did not realize how much he could lose. Based on true events this story was disturbing. Maybe I am reacting on more of a personal level but the amount of hatred on display was absolutely frightening to me. What pulled me through was the strong acting from the cast which also included Toni Collette (Krampus, A Long Way Down) as Angela Zamparo, Tracy Letts (Indignation, The Big Short) as Dallas Wolf and Sam Trammell (The Fault in Our Stars, True Blood-TV) as Gerry Conway. I have to give credit to Daniel since he is so closely associated to the Harry Potter franchise, that he can transform himself into these interesting roles he has a knack in choosing for himself. Overall I thought the script was good but there were times where some of the characters came across more like a cartoon in their extremeness. I found this crime film gripping in a chilling way. Partially because of the times we presently live in, to see such hatred and know that there are people out there who act the same way was scary for me.
It always happens around the same time, where I notice uncharitable acts on the rise. The first one I saw was a couple of weeks ago in the parking lot of the shopping mall. I was driving around looking for a space when I drove up behind a car that had its turn signal on; they were waiting for someone to pull out of a space just ahead of them. As the parked car was pulling out another car came barreling down towards us from up ahead. Due to the direction the parked car was backing up, they blocked the car in front of me from taking the space immediately. The new car cut off the reversing car and whipped into the now empty parking spot. The poor driver in front of me could only glare at the driver as they drove off looking for another space. Welcome to the holiday season! I see such craziness around this time of year, where people seem to have been programmed to take no prisoners while they are on their shopping missions for gifts. Once I saw two people fighting over a flat screen TV, each trying to grab the last box from the other person. They looked like maniacal warriors in their tall stocking hats with their single pom-poms jousting in the air. Looking in from the outside I am curious where this whole idea of gift giving took on the attitude that the bigger present always win. It seems as if more and more people every year go through the season at a higher level of stress, complaining about a multitude of things from food prices to relatives. Don’t they know who may come and visit them? WHEN the young son of Sarah and Tom, played by Toni Collette (Miss You Already, The Way Way Back) and Adam Scott (Black Mass, Sleeping with Other People), became disgusted with how the holidays were turning out, he unwittingly invited an unwelcome guest to visit his family. This comedic horror story surprised me. I was not familiar this fantasy was based on German/Austrian folklore. The opening scene was the perfect way to start out this story in my opinion. With David Koechner (Anchorman franchise, Get Smart) as Howard and Conchata Ferrell (Erin Brockovich, Edward Scissorhands) as Aunt Dorothy, the whole cast worked well together even though they were close to being stereotypes. The script kept things moving along; some scenes were predictable, others were fun in that sort of creepy way for a horror flick. This is not a movie for young children; there were some scenes that would I think be scary for them. Since I had never heard of Krampus, this picture was enjoyable for me. I actually liked the idea behind the story and felt it could be a reality check for people like the ones I have already encountered out shopping at the stores. There were a couple of scenes that showed blood.
2 1/2 stars
There are various apps and computer programs that can show us an older or younger version of ourselves. In fact I read somehwere optical stores use a program that shows the customer how they will look wearing the frames they picked out before they order new glasses, which I think is a brilliant idea. I know I do not need a program to remind me how I looked when I was younger; I have childhood friends who remind me. Funny thing though I can do the same thing to them. Depending on what they may be wearing or the situation, I can look at them and see them when they had a full head of hair or when they were taller with a straighter posture. Having spent most of our lives together we may not have noticed the aging process compared to someone who has not seen any of us in let us say a decade or longer. I truly feel fortunate that there are people around me who know me sometimes better than I know myself. They are like road markers on my life’s journey, who can confirm or remind me of the changes that have taken place in me. Looking at the younger generation in each of our families, we can spot the seeds of lifelong friendships forming between relatives and friends. Some of the qualities that are associated to a strong bond between friends can be sensitivity, empathy, non-judgemental and concern. I can say anything to any of my close friends and know I will not be judged or ridiculed. Those challenges or what some people say curveballs that life throws you do not seem so insurmountable when there is a childhood friend standing by your side. LIFELONG friends Jess and Milly, played by Drew Barrymore (Whip It, Music and Lyrics) and Toni Collette (The Way Way Back, Little Miss Sunshine), have been there for each other no matter what was going on in each of their lives. Their relationship was about to be challenged when two events started to take place from opposite sides of the spectrum. This comedic drama was fortunate in the casting of Toni and Drew as best friends because they were totally believable in their roles. Even the supporting cast of Dominic Cooper (Need for Speed, The Devil’s Double) as Kit and Paddy Considine (In America, Cinderella Man) as Jago was exceptional. I appreciated the honesty in the script; some events were handled in a way that made them easily relatable for the viewers. There were parts where I felt the writers dropped the ball to just manipulate us, however. I almost want to say to force us to tear up; but the acting smoothed some of that out. There have been a couple of recent films that had a similar story line that was better done; however, the acting here was the sweet spot of this romantic emotional story. It would not be a surprise if after seeing this film you felt like you were part of the women’s friendship.
2 1/2 stars
The idea that there is someone looking up at the sky and seeing something different from what I see sparks my imagination. There is something about humans living on this planet experiencing totally different things to me that energizes my mind. Since I was small I had always been fascinated with people who had friends or family living in a different country. I did not know actually why I felt that way. Maybe hearing stories about individuals who lived in a foreign land allowed me to vicariously experience a part of the world I might never be able to visit during my lifetime. Now I try not to have regrets in my life; but if there was one thing I could have done differently when I was younger, I would have sought out a pen pal. To have 2 people sharing life’s experiences with each other is a gift in my opinion. I know there are some individuals who have an easier time talking to a stranger than to a family member. From my years of teaching and meeting so many different people I know this to be true. LIVING in Australia with an alcoholic mother and feeling all alone Mary Daisy Dinkle, voiced by Toni Collette (Muriel’s Wedding, The Sixth Sense), decided to randomly pick a name out of a US phonebook. She would then write a letter to this stranger named Max Jerry Horovitz, voiced by Philip Seymour Hoffman (A Most Wanted Man, The Hunger Games franchise). Max had Asperger’s syndrome and lived in New York City. Mary’s letter would start a decades long relationship where no topic was off limits. This film festival winning comedic drama was a joy to watch on DVD. Doing the story with claymation characters was a brilliant idea; the emotions displayed had an easy sensitivity to them. The story was narrated by Barry Humphries aka Dame Edna (Immortal Beloved, The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey), who did a wonderful job no matter if he was saying a deadpan sarcastic remark or tackling a sad situation. I was swept up with the main characters’ plight; that is how real they came across in this animated film. By the way this movie is for a more mature audience; this is not a young children’s film. On a personal note there was a bonus I discovered from watching this picture. It dawned on me that I am essentially doing a modern version of communicating with pen pals from all the people I have met through my movie review site and the sites I have visited. I am basking in the joy of having seen an amazing film and realizing I now know people from all over the world. This movie was for a more mature audience.
3 1/3 stars — DVD
No one has the right to tell you how you should feel is one of my strongest mantras. Among all the individuals within the circles of connections in my life, everyone knows there is no reason to cover-up, modify or hide one’s feelings. If someone is in a foul mood, so be it. I am not one to offer platitudes like “things will get better” or “it will be a brighter day soon.” When I am sad or depressed I certainly do not want someone around trying to cheer me up. I just want someone to be accepting and understand this is how I am feeling right at the moment. The phrase “misery loves company” comes to mind and there is some truth in it. I have noticed a stronger connection forms between 2 people when they are commiserating about similar circumstances. It is true for me when my friends and I are at a concert or on a trip, shared excitement only accentuates the experience. The same holds true during a somber or sad experience. It all comes down to the ability to relate to another being, to know there is someone else who is feeling the same way as you. COINCIDENTALLY, the four individuals in this comedic drama accidentally discovered they were each feeling the same way with the same idea. It was New Year’s Eve and expecting to be alone Martin, Maureen, Jess and JJ; played by Pierce Brosnan (Love is All You Need, The Ghost), Toni Collette (The Way Way Back, Little Miss Sunshine), Imogen Poots (Jane Eyre, That Awkward Moment) and Aaron Paul (Need for Speed, Breaking Bad-TV); all found themselves on the top of a high-rise building at the same time with plans to jump off the roof. Instead of ending their lives that night, they form an unusual pact to help support each other through their troubled times. Based on the novel by Nick Hornby (High Fidelity, About a Boy), believe it or not this film offered a few amusing moments. The subject may be morbid for some; but I found the script did a decent job of handling the subject matter, mixing doses of lightheartedness with darkness. Though the acting was this movie’s strongest feature, it could not help save this dramedy. I found the story jumped around too much, never allowing time to offer further explanation to the scenes. With things coming across piecemeal, the story never fully developed and fell flat. Not that I expect you to agree with me on every one of my movie reviews, but I feel comfortable there will be many who will feel the same way I do after they see this film.
1 3/4 stars
Meeting friends is an important component of the dating process, but it is something I prefer holding off from until I see we are getting comfortable with each other. You can say what you want but that first initial meeting with your or their friends will partially be an interview procedure for a 2nd opinion. Do not get me wrong, I do not have a problem with that; however, I prefer having some quality time for the two of us to get some solid footing underneath before bringing in other personalities. I have been in situations where friends were involved too early at the beginning of the dating phase and personalities clashed immediately; it was truly an uncomfortable situation. As one gets older I do not know if it gets easier. If you do not believe me just see what happens in this touching comedy. Julia Louis-Dreyfus (Deconstructing Harry, Veep-TV) played Eva, a middle-aged divorcee with a daughter. When one of her clients Marianne, played by Catherine Keener (Into the Wild, A Late Quartet), began complaining about all the things her former spouse used to do; it started to have a negative affect on Eva’s budding relationship with Albert, played by James Gandolfini (Killing Them Softly, Welcome to the Rileys). There were several reasons why this movie was enjoyable to watch. The acting was wonderful; Julia and James made a real connection with their characters. Also, I had a twinge of sadness while watching James since this was his last movie before he died. The dialog never went over the top; keeping things at an emotive, sweet level. Even when scenes were dramatic the director let the actors use physical communication to convey their feelings. It really worked well in my opinion. Toni Collette (The Way Way Back, Little Miss Sunshine) as Eva’s best friend Sarah was a solid addition to the cast and story. Known more for her comedic skills, I thought Julia did a beautiful job with her character’s full range of emotions. Is the story believable? I believe so, I just hope I will never have to experience something similar. This was a well done film that was a fitting tribute to the illustrious career of James Gandolfini.
3 1/4 stars
My tongue instinctively brushed the surface of my teeth looking for my braces that were made from the shiniest metal on the planet. I had to check my face to see if any angry pimples were about to burst out from under my skin. Then there was the vision of me seeing the first wave of facial hair spreading across my face like a brewing storm, warning me of the impending turmoil of adolescence that was coming over me. All of those awkward and confused moments swirled up from my pooled memories while I sat and watched this wonderful, coming of age film. Liam James (Fred Claus, 2012) was perfect playing the 14 year old character Duncan. A simple look from him easily conveyed those embarrassing emotions we all felt at one time or another during our adolescent years. Duncan was stuck going with his mother Pam, played by Toni Collette (Little Miss Sunshine, United States of Tara-TV) and her overbearing boyfriend Trent, played by Steve Carell (Seeking a Friend for the End of the World, Get Smart) to Trent’s summer home during summer vacation. Uncomfortable with his surroundings, Duncan found refuge at a run down water park managed by the kid like Owen, played by Sam Rockwell (Moon, Seven Psychopaths) and his wife Caitlin, played by Maya Rudolph (Grown Ups, Bridesmaids). This was one of the best performances I have seen from Sam; his character was crazy and memorable. I loved the unexpectedness of this poignant film. Everyone’s acting was so strong and realistic; Allison Janney (Juno, Liberal Arts) was hilarious as Trent’s alcoholic neighbor Betty. The script offered up such ideal lines, I actually felt a bond forming between me and several of the characters. After experiencing many memories from my youth during this film, a shadow of my adolescence remained behind as I walked out of the theater.
3 1 /3 stars