IN FRONT OF ME WAS A pile of recipes I had printed out. I had a dinner party planned and I was looking for a couple of new things to serve. As I leafed through and scanned the recipes, I found one that was titled, “Savory Snack Mix.” The word “savory” intrigued me, so I stopped to read the ingredients and instructions. Some of the ingredients listed were pretzels, rice and wheat cereal squares and what the author called, “potato sticks.” Wow, I had not thought of that snack food in decades and was immediately transported back to my childhood, sitting at the kitchen table with a peanut butter and jelly sandwich on a plate. Accompanying the sandwich were potato sticks, but I only knew them as “shoestring potatoes.” I loved eating this snack, partially because no matter how many were poured on a plate, it always looked like there were a lot. One of the things I used to do was move them around on my plate, looking for the ones that did not uniformly match the others, such as longer, darker or curved sticks. Once I picked them out to eat, I was left with a uniform shaped space that I could pile closer together to make a wall or spread them out to pave a road across my plate. My imagination was quite active when I was a little boy. ISN’T IT FUNNY HOW ONE LITTLE thing can trigger a memory that was untouched for so many years? Cleaning out a junk drawer, I found a pencil sharpener shaped like a flying saucer. Instantaneously, I saw myself holding it our at arm’s length, pretending it was flying around our home as I went from room to room. This took place decades ago; yet I could see it as fresh as day, like I had just done it. The mind is such a fascinating organ. How can I forget to pick up the one item I needed at the grocery story, yet I can remember myself from so many years ago, down to what I was wearing at the time? I have mentioned this before, but I can hear the first few notes of a song and immediately know where I was when I first heard it. Now granted, I have only been talking about “happy” memories; it is a whole different feeling when one remembers a troubling time in one’s life. I guess that is where guilt comes into play and the reason why one tries to forget the incident. While watching the main character in this drama, I was wondering what she was remembering while on her vacation. WHILE ON HOLIDAY LEDA, PLAYED BY Olivia Colman (The Favourite, The Lobster), becomes intrigued by a vacationing family. Their child’s baby doll intrigues her even more. With Jessie Buckley (Wild Rose, Judy) as young Leda, Dakota Johnson (Fifty Shades of Grey franchise, A Bigger Splash) as Nina, Ed Harris (Apollo 13, The Truman Show) as Lyle and Peters Sarsgaard (The Sound of Silence, Garden State) as Professor Hardy; this Oscar nominee stood out due to Olivia’s performance. In my opinion, she has one of the most expressive faces and knows how to use it to her advantage. Jessie Buckley was the other standout for me. The rest of the cast was excellent, but I found Olivia more noticeable. The directing, along with the visuals, were done in a thoughtful, beautiful way; I especially enjoyed the outdoor scenes. On the downside, this was not enough to keep my attention; it began to wane halfway through the film. I disliked the way the story went, especially the ending. It was a shame because I so enjoyed the acting aspect of this picture. There is a good chance I will not forget Olivia’s acting; but as far as the rest of this movie is concerned, I do not think I will remember it years from now.
2 ½ stars
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 AM REPEATING WHAT WAS TOLD to me because it has been decades since I have eaten red meat. A friend and I were deciding where to eat for dinner one night. For the fact they enjoy steak, I suggested one of those steak restaurants that reference the state of Texas for some reason. Usually, these places always have other options I can choose for my meal. Before I tell you what my friend said, I want you to know I am not conveying a negative message about any restaurant; this is simply one person’s opinion I am sharing with you. My friend asked me why I would suggest such a place; I told him the reason I stated above. He said if he wanted a steak, he wanted a “good” steak; he was not going to settle for a cheaper brand/cut of meat for his meal. I asked him if he could really tell the difference and he said absolutely. I did wonder if everyone thought the way he did, how would these types of restaurants stay in business? Does one need to be a connoisseur to know when one item is better than another I wondered? When it comes to food, I call myself a low rent eater; I enjoy going to diners and other restaurants that do not do anything fancy to their food. The bottom line for me is I want something that not only tastes good but that I enjoy as well. I AM THE SAME WAY ABOUT movies. As you know, I simply want to be entertained when I am watching a film. I do not pick pictures apart down to every detail. There have been times I have gone to see a movie that the critics have raved about and I wind up sitting in the theater bored out of my mind. These esoteric films that suit a small group of people, where I am sitting in my seat totally confused, are a waste of time for me. Yet I feel compelled to sit through them so I can review them. I try my best to find something redeeming to talk about when I review such movies. In a way, I tend to do the same thing when it comes to food. I have no problem going to a fast food restaurant for a meal. If it tastes good and provides me some type of pleasure, then I am fine with it. Unfortunately, with this comedic drama that was inspired by a Swedish film, I would have rather sat through the original one again and avoid this current production. A FAMILY VACATIONING IN THE ALPS find themselves in the direct path of an avalanche. Though the physical aspect of it was scary enough, it was the aftermath that would be more troublesome. With Julia Louis-Dreyfus (Enough Said, Veep-TV) as Billie, Will Ferrell (Holmes & Watson, Daddy’s Home franchise) as Pete, Miranda Otto (The Lord of the Rings franchise, The Thin Red Line) as Charlotte, Zoe Chao (Where’d You Go, Bernadette; Strangers-TV) as Rosie and Zach Woods (The Other Guys, The Office-TV) as Zach; this movie was painful to see. The original film called “Force Majeure” I reviewed and absolutely loved it. The idea for the story was so smart and thought provoking; the writers and director of that film did a wonderful job in telling the story. In this picture, I only enjoyed Julia’s performance; she really tried her best to make something out of this movie, but it was not enough. There was no finesse or nuance to the acting from the rest of the cast and the script did none of them a favor. There was a heavy-handedness that prevailed through most aspects in the making of this picture. As with my food, I am fine going to a lower end place; I do not have an issue going to an updated version of something I have already seen. However, in the case of this film I would only go see Force Majeure and skip this poor version of it.
1 ½ stars
AS I LISTENED I THOUGHT IT was an ingenious plan. It was a time before cellular phones and my friend was telling me how her family would take a road trip. When relatives were included on their road trips, involving more than one car, the drivers would create a way of communicating with each other. They would flash their auto lights in a specific way, similar to Morse code, to say they needed to stop for a restroom, a break, gas or a meal. Alternating between the right and left turn signals would mean someone in the car needed to stop at a bathroom. If passengers were getting hungry then the driver would either flash the lights 3 times or tap the brakes 3 times in rapid succession to signal the other driver. I was impressed with the plan and realized the introduction of the smart phone sure made traveling by automobile a whole different experience than what it used to be. If I thought about it I could have questioned why the cars needed to follow each other; but I could understand the reasoning behind forming a caravan. You know, the safety in numbers train of thought. FAMILY VACATIONS PROVIDE A MULTITUDE of experiences. The ones I experienced were predominately for visiting relatives who lived out of state. So, when people talk about the type of vacations they would do as a family, I am curious to hear about them. I remember listening about a family who took nature trips in some of the national parks across the country. There was one trip where they went hiking with their two small children and soon discovered the trail was not geared for a novice; the kids were scared and complaining. I looked up the place where they went and was stunned that someone would look at it and think small children could handle the climb. Heck I was not sure I could even do it! As another example I have some relatives who love getting into the car and driving to obscure tourist type places that you would never find on a “best of” list for vacation spots. They would take a vacation to find the largest ball of yarn or drive to visit the mustard museum in some small town in a different state. Usually they would find a variety of curiosity spots to stop at along the way. I am good with whatever “trips your trigger” for a family vacation; that is why I went to see the latest installment of this animated comedic, family film. FEELING HER FATHER NEEDED A vacation from running the hotel Mavis, voiced by Selena Gomez (Getaway, Spring Breakers), came up with a brilliant idea. She booked the family on a boat cruise. For her father Dracula, voiced by Adam Sandler (The Wedding Singer, Big Daddy), it would be more than just a boat ride. With Andy Samberg (That’s My Boy, Brooklyn Nine-Nine-TV) voicing Johnny, Kathryn Hahn (Bad Moms franchise, Afternoon Delight) voicing Ericka and Jim Gaffigan (Chappaquiddick, Away We Go) voicing Van Helsing; this third installment was more of the same I am afraid to say. Little children might enjoy this picture because of all the monsters; but overall, I did not find much humor in the story. The visuals and animation were certainly fun, but they were not enough to support the feeble script. Pretty much a majority of this film was a series of sight gags. Surprisingly there was a message in the movie regarding inclusion, but chances are it will get lost on the youngsters. The only other thing to say about this picture is to make sure you bring a life jacket or a lifeboat because this boat is taking on water.
FIRST introduced in the 1960s these toaster pastries have been sampled by millions of people. They were a novel idea; some ate them in lieu of a full breakfast, while others snacked on them between meals or as a dessert. I am sure the idea of having a convenient sweet item with a long shelf life was a revelation for many people. When they first came out there were only 4 flavors: blueberry, strawberry, brown sugar cinnamon and apple. Presently there is a variety of flavors and frostings to cover almost anyone’s taste preferences. Just on the news recently there was a report the manufacturer teamed up with a candy company to come out with candy flavored fillings in these pastries. My first reaction to this combination was negative. But as I thought about it I realized I had not had one of these pastries in decades. If there was a market for these flavor combinations, who was I to judge them? It was not like the other fillings were not sweet, so what would be the difference except personal tastes. WHENEVER something is going well, it almost never fails the company looks for other ways to cash in on their success. Take a look at the fashion industry; if a designer has success with their line of clothing pretty soon their name could pop up on kitchen products, home furnishings or sports related products. Personally the name is not what motivates me to make the purchase; it depends on value and worth for me, besides liking it or not. I sort of feel the same way about movies. If the story looks good, I would go see it regardless of who the studio cast for the roles. Since I enjoyed the previous movies by both of the actresses in this comedy, I was sure I would have a good time watching this film. The buzz surrounding this movie was the addition of the one actress who had been away from acting in pictures for over a decade. Everywhere you looked the talk was how the 2 main actresses would be great together. AFTER Emily, played by Amy Schumer (Trainwreck, Inside Amy Schumer-TV) was dumped by her boyfriend the only person she could get to take his place on the non-refundable vacation package she bought was her mother Linda, played by Goldie Hawn (The First Wives Club, Death Becomes Her). The trip would bind the mother and daughter in ways neither ever imagined. With Ike Barinholtz (Suicide Squad, The Mindy Project-TV) as Jeffrey, Wanda Sykes (Evan Almighty, Monster-in-Law) as Ruth and Joan Cusack (Working Girl, Say Anything) as Barb; the story started out fun. I enjoyed the style of humor and jokes. Unfortunately the story or to be more exact the script quickly went south, no pun intended. The majority of the scenes turned into a mixture of crudeness, silliness or non-believability. I was embarrassed for Joan in particular in regards to her role. It was such a waste of a prolific actress; which leads me to Goldie and her role. Though I was happy to see Goldie back in a movie and she really gave it a good try here, the script did her no favors. If the writers had focused as much energy on the script as the studio did on Goldie, something hilarious could have happened here. Instead I was left with very little to laugh about or enjoy.
1 ¾ stars
Walking into a room where the strangers are related to you by blood means nothing to a young child. It even sounds icky. I remember as a young kid meeting a relative who was 2 generations removed from me. She was quite short and frail looking with dull white hair tied up into a bun on top of her head. Taking my cues from the adults going up to her, when it was my turn to be introduced to her I carefully wrapped my arms around her when she came over to hug me. It was the only time I ever saw this person but I still have that memory. When one is a child, it can be a scary experience meeting some stranger who you were told is your relative. Before I had ever heard the word dementia I remember going to a nursing home to visit a relative. As I walked into the place the bright fluorescent lights sounded as if they were humming as the smell of bleach hit me like a moist fog. There was a woman sitting on the side dressed in a housecoat and torn sweater. She greeted us with a loud “howdy” and continued to say it over and over. I already was on edge and felt uncomfortable as we walked into a large dining hall. There were some people who were dressed up as if they were attending a fancy social function while others sat motionless while nurses tried to slide spoonfuls of nondescript food into their mouths. As a kid, visiting older relatives sometimes took on a scary aspect. BECCA and Tyler, played by Olivia DeJonge (The Sisterhood of NIght) and Ed Oxenbould (Paper Planes; Alexander and the Terrible, Horrible, No Good, Very Bad Day) were going to visit their grandparents for the first time. They hoped to document their time spent there and find answers to why their mother stopped talking to her parents years ago. This comedic horror film from writer and director M. Night Shyamalan (The Sixth Sense, The Village) was a vast improvement from his recent movies. I particularly enjoyed the filming of this story, where certain things were just slightly out of focus while characters were being filmed off center. With Deanna Dunagan (Dimension, Running Scared) and Peter McRobbie (Lincoln, 16 Blocks) as Nana and Pop Pop, I thought the cast did an exceptional job with their characters. They added believability to the premise of the story. On the down side, I found some scenes lacked intensity. This may have been due to the mix of comedy with horror; in my mind they sort of cancel each other out. In addition I felt several stereotypical actions for shock value were just thrown into the mix. This was a step in the right direction for M. Night Shyamalan. My visits to relatives were not as scary as this one.
2 1/2 stars
That sinking feeling, where your heart is at it’s breaking point, when the person you love makes it clear your love has not been enough, it can be devastating. I have been on both sides of that love equation and either way it sucks. One thing I have learned from my experiences, has been to change the routine that we were following and get into a new regime designed solely for me. This was the movie’s premise. Amanda Woods, played by Cameron Diaz (My Sister’s Keeper, What to Expect When You’re Expecting), discovered her live-in boyfriend cheated on her. Iris Simpkins, played by Kate Winslet (Finding Neverland, Revolutionary Road), was shocked when the man she loved became engaged to another woman. As if they were following my advice, the two women were pushed to the brink and had to make a change. While looking online for ideas on where to take a vacation, Amanda discovered a home exchange vacation website. And the house she chose to exchange with was Iris’ home in England, far away from her LA place. But the online pictures did not show the women what type of extra amenities could be found in their new locations. I was pleasantly surprised by this film. Though the story was easy to figure out, with very few surprises; I thought the acting and directing was exceptionally good. Jude Law (Repo Men, Sleuth) did exceedingly well in his role as Graham, Iris’ brother. What gave this movie extra punch for me was the secondary story about old time Hollywood. Maybe you and I don’t have the luxury to take a swapping house vacation, to get away from a broken heart; but, this appealing movie certainly would provide a respite, giving the heart some needed nourishment.
2 3/4 stars — DVD
The title of this movie triggered memories of my own rebellious youth. I know in the scheme of things, my ways of asserting myself were rather tame–I would wear copper metallic pants my parents disliked and as soon as I graduated high school, I let my hair grow long, similar to Angela Davis in her heyday. Pretty much it is a given when Michael Cera (Juno, Scott Pilgrim vs. the World) is chosen as he was for the role of Nick Twisp/Francois; we can expect wry humor with spot on comedic timing. Honestly, I think he has already been typecast for these type of characters. On a getaway trip with his mother and her current boyfriend, Nick encountered beautiful Sheeni Saunders, played by Portia Doubleday (Legend of the Mummy, Almost Kings), at the trailer park where they were staying. She became the object of his desires. But how far would he go, to make her the vessel that would lift him away from his burdensome virginity? There were no surprises in this movie; the performances were good and some scenes stood out for their humor. Overall, it was an enjoyable movie, there was just nothing new added to the story. I guess depending on how rebellious you were growing up will determine how much you enjoy this movie.
2 1/4 stars — DVD