Sunday, January 15, 2017

A Year in Review - 2016 Movies

I think I say this every year, but I feel like each new year brings about more and more movies that I don't wish to see.  This past year was no exception, in fact I saw the fewest movies in 2016 than any other year I've been posting about them.  After the January films (which were included in last year's post to tie in with Awards Season), I didn't visit the theater until May 2016, which is quite unlike me.  There were a couple I thought were wonderful, but most, while entertaining, weren't anything to write home about.  Since, it's been kind of a tradition around here though, I will share my two cents on those I did see....

My Big Fat Greek Wedding 2 - The first film was quite good and well reviewed.  It's sequel was cute.  Fourteen years later (it's supposed to be 20 in the film I believe), Toula and Ian Miller are still married and living on the same street as the rest of the Portokalos family.  Everyone is in everyone else's business, like the last one, but the Miller's have a teenage daughter who is annoyed by the whole Greek family.  Chaos ensues.

London Has Fallen - The sequel to "Olympus Has Fallen", Secret Service agent Mike Banning (Gerard Butler) is back protecting the president after saving the day in the previous film.  World leaders are set to attend a meeting in London, and upon their arrival several attacks coordinated by a terrorist mastermind kill most of the leaders.  Of course, Agent Banning is there to save the day.  There is a lot of action - explosions, car chases, crashes, etc.  It was what you'd expect but still fun.

War Dogs - Miles Teller and Noah Hill star in this film about 20-something arms dealers who won a $300-million dollar Pentagon contract to arm American allies in Afghanistan.  It is based on a true story but was directed by "The Hangover" director so while it is a serious subject matter, it is also hilarious.  It is very fast paced and witty - reminded me a bit of "Wolf of Wall Street" in that it was quite entertaining while being mind blowing and maddening at the same time.

Nice Guys - A detective (Ryan Gosling) and a "fixer" (Russell Crowe) team up in 1970's Los Angeles to solve a wacky missing person's case.  It was kind of a cross between a goofy detective film and film noir.  The writing was pretty clever and it was a entertaining.  I don't think it did all that well at the box office, but was a critic's favorite this year...kind of a sleeper.

Money Monster - A financial television host a la Jim Cramer (George Clooney) is taken hostage by a blue collar worker who lost all his money on investments recommended by the host.  The situation happens on the live TV, and the producer (Julia Roberts) has to make decisions to defuse the situation while keeping her host safe. The host and producer end up sympathizing with the man and looked into the shady business that caused him to lose his money.  It is definitely a social commentary on the rigged financial system and the divide it has created.  The film was entertaining, and while I agree with the moral of the story - "Follow the money, find the fraud.", it was a bit heavy handed.

Now You See Me 2 - Another sequel!  The first "Now You See Me" was a pretty clever detective movie about magicians who ran elaborate tricks on those who took advantage of others.  This was pretty much the same movie with different bad guys and different tricks.  It was also a bit sillier than the first.  Meh...

Hunt for the Wilderpeople - This was probably my favorite movie of the entire year.  Sam Neill was the only known "Hollywood" actor in this New Zealand film.  It is the story of wannabe punk/city kid named Ricky who is put into foster care with an older married couple (Bella and Hec) in the NZ bush.  Ricky struggles at first being out in the middle of nowhere and bonding with his new family, but soon finds love with them.  When tragedy strikes, Ricky finds out he will be taken out of the home and put back with child services.  He decides to run away into the Bush.  When Hec goes to find Ricky, the authorties think he kidnapped the boy and the manhunt is on.  There are laughs throughout and even some tears.  I'd describe it as a comedy/drama/adventure film, and it is wonderful.  SEE IT!

Secret Life of Pets - Normally I won't go see a kid movies at the theater.  While often they have some redeeming quality for adults, I just don't want to pay the money to watch a cartoon.  If there's anything I really want to see, I can get it from Netflix and use it as a movie for a classroom party.  Some pet-loving friends and I decided to go see it due to the subject matter (That movie trailer was sure cute!)  It was a fun movie, but like with many of these films, a lot of the funny parts were shown in the trailer.  It had a crazy adventure story which was not as fun as the day-to-day "what does your pet do when you leave for work" parts.

Our Kind of Traitor - Based on the John le Carre's novel, Ewen McGregor and Stellan Skarsgard star in this spy thriller.  While vacationing in Morocco, a man (McGregor) and his wife become part of a Russian money launderer's plan to defect.  Upon returning to London, the couple becomes the go-between for the Russian and MI-6.  The Russian is able to link several British businessmen and politicians to the Russian mob.  It is a typical le Carre story - not a happy ending per say and you must pay very close attention as to not miss any of the intrigue.

Bad Moms - A funny (sometimes slap sticky) film about moms who have had enough of husbands, kids, and judgmental peers.  Over the top, but definitely funny.  Kathryn Hahn is a brilliant comedian and a scene stealer of the film.  Most of her lines in the movie were not written for her but made up on the spot by her, which is impressive since she had the best lines.

Jason Bourne - After sitting out the fourth Bourne film (Bourne Ultimatum), Matt Damon returned for the fifth film in the series.  I am a big fan of the Bourne books and, even though they are completely different, the movies.  In the film, Jason Bourne continues to find out information about his past and how he came to work for the CIA.  The Agency, once again, tries to cover up this info and tries to kill Bourne.  I don't think it was as good as the previous films, but they did leave it open to another in the series.

Captain Fantastic - The Cash Family lives isolated from society in the Washington State wilderness.  The children are homeschooled.  They are very educated and adept at surviving in the wild.  After a tragedy, they must return to "civilization"  The father (Viggo Mortensen) gets their motorhome running and they take a road trip south to Arizona.  The children, while incredibly book smart, are grossly underprepared to navigate in society.  It's a quirky, independent film about parents who want to keep their kids safe and unexposed to the "bad stuff" life has to offer.  The realization that this lifestyle might be doing a disservice to their kids as they mature is heartbreaking for the father who thought he was doing the right thing.  Interesting dilemma, especially in light of the things kids are exposed to anymore.

The Light Between of Oceans - Based on one of my favorite books (by M.L. Stedman) of all time, this film had a lot to live up to.  Tom Sherbourne (Michael Fassbender), a WWI vet, returns to Australia and takes a job as a lighthouse keeper on an isolated island off the coast of Western Australia.  Before leaving, he meets Isabel (Alicia Vikander) who eventually becomes his wife and goes to live in the lighthouse with him.  After several miscarriages and stillborn births, his wife becomes racked with grief.  Then one day, a boat washes ashore with a dead man in it and a young baby.  Because they are so far removed from other people, Isabel talks Tom into keeping the baby as their own and not reporting the man who died.  Everyone is happy until they visit Isabel's family and meet a woman whose husband and baby girl were lost at sea.  It is a heart breaking, gut wrenching, beautiful story and the film did a good job of telling it.  As per the usual, the book was much better than the film, but I will say it was a good adaption.  It was changed enough to keep it interesting, but I never felt the need to shout, "That didn't happen!" at the screen either.  The cinematography is amazing.

Bridget Jone's Baby - I wasn't so sure I wanted to see this film, even after being a fan of the first two of Helen Fielding's books made into movies.  I can pretty much quote verbatim "Bridget Jones' Diary" and "Bridget Jones: The Edge of Reason".  Based on the previews, the movie had changed things up with the books' characters (no Hugh Grant?!?!), and Renee Zellweger has had so much work done, she no longer looks like the normal "girl" like she did in the first two.  Even so, I acquiesced, and am glad I did.  It was FUNNY!  Bridget gets drunk at a weekend getaway and falls into bed with Jack,  a charming American, who she doesn't think she'll ever see again.  A few days later, she reconnects with her Ex, Mark Darcy (Colin Firth) at a baby's christening.  The two rekindle their romance for a bit, until Bridget finds out she's pregnant...but with whose baby?  It's definitely a chick flick, but I enjoyed it very much.  Many movies these days show all the "funny parts" in the previews so they're not as funny once watching the film.  The previews to this did not do that and there were a lot of funny parts.  One in particular, Mark and Jack trying to get her to the hospital once her water breaks, had the theater literally in tears of laughter.

Snowden - When Edward Snowden first made front page news I was with many other Americans in thinking he was a traitor who leaked sensitive information and hurt our national security.  As more information has come to light in various news stories and documentaries, I'm no longer part of that camp.  The issue remains controversial, so leave it to director Oliver Stone to make a movie about it.  As most who have followed the issue, I've seen a lot of interview footage and detailed stories about Snowden after the news broke of his whistleblowing.  This movie actually goes back into to time to tell Snowden's story right up to his time being holed up in a Hong Kong hotel room with the reporters (Laura Poitras and Glen Greenwald) who ultimately broke the story.  Joseph Gordon Levitt, who portrays Snowden, did a good job.  His mannerisms and speaking style were right on point, and his time leading up to leaking the information were without blemish or scandal.  The whole Snowden affair is quite fascinating, and this movie filled in some of those earlier gaps.

Girl on a Train - The best selling book's movie right's were sold almost instantly after the book release, and many (including me), were looking forward to its release.  I was pleasantly surprised.  As with "Gone Girl", thrillers like these are hard to make into a movie.  In both cases, there were twists and turns that made the books fun to read, but if you've read the book you know them and how it ends - there's no element of surprise.  If you didn't read the book, the twists and turns can be too much for a two hour screenplay.  I think that "Girl on a Train" actually did a pretty good job keeping it new and interesting while sticking to the overall plot.  One thing about the book that bothered me throughout is the characters had very few redeemable qualities and were therefore quite hard to like...any of them!  I enjoyed the overall story very much, but by the end I was just sick of how awful they all were.  The movie gave the viewers a bit more to hold onto character-wise which was a nice adaption, and Emily Blunt was very good in the main role.  I enjoyed it.

A Man Called Ove - A Swedish adaptation of the book of the same name (by Fredrick Backman), tells the story of Ove, a grumpy old man who mourning the loss of his wife.  He learns to enjoy life again after a young family (Swedish husband/Iranian wife) with two children move into his quiet neighborhood.  This is an AMAZING movie.  It follows the book quite well, and like the book, it is funny, happy, and emotional draining.

The Accountant - Ben Affleck stars as a math genius/autistic man who works as an accountant who helps criminals track inside financial corruption. Ironically, he also has "special skills" to take care of anyone who has wronged him or hurt others.  The Treasury Department is after him and his criminal connections as an additional twist.  This film was a lot of fun.  There was something for everyone - humor, action, drama, intrigue - my kind of movie!

The Edge of Seventeen - Hailee Steinfeld and Woody Harrelson star in this cute growing up film about an awkward 17 year old girl trying to find her place in life.  Her life at home and school are less than perfect and her only saving grace is her best friend - the two are inseparable.  However, she feels like her world is coming to an end when her best friend begins dating her brother.  Woody Harrelson is great as the disenfranchised high school teacher who helps her navigate the tough times.  It's no "Breakfast Club" or "Sixteen Candles" or "Say Anything" as far as coming of age films, but it was entertaining.

Allied - Brad Pitt and Marion Cotillard star as British and French spies who work together on a difficult mission during WWII.  They both survive and she comes to London to be with him.  They marry and live happily with their family.  Then he is informed that she may not be who she says she is.  He is charged with leaking false information to her and if it the accusations are correct, he will have to kill her.  The reviews were mixed, but I liked it.  It was very fast paced!

Miss Sloane - Jessica Chastain stars as a Washington DC lobbyist who leaves her big firm who happens to represent the NRA and joins a small firm who is representing gun control.  The film is interesting and you must play close attention to it.  But it is a depressing look at all the closed door dealings between lobbyists and politicians.  Regular people need to start hiring our own lobbyists to stand a chance anymore.

Office Christmas Party - A struggling computer company holds an outrageous Christmas party to woo a client and save their business.  I must admit, I am not a fan of slapstick/silly movies at all.  I wasn't so sure I wanted to see this film, but there wasn't anything else out, so I did.  I am really glad I did.  Jason Bateman, Kate McKinnon, Olivia Munn, and Jennifer Anniston star.

Manchester By the Sea - Lee, (Casey Affleck) who left his hometown due to a personal tragedy,  has to return after his brother dies and he becomes the guardian of his teenaged nephew, Patrick. Dealing with his own demons and self-loathing he doesn't believe he has the capacity to take care of his nephew.  Ironically, while they figure out what to do, Lee does help Patrick navigate the loss of his dad, dating, and just being a teenager.  It's a wonderful movie, but heart wrenching.  A reminder of what grief can do to a person.

Sing Street - In 1980's Dublin, the Lalor Family is struggling financially.  Youngest son, 15 year old Conor has to leave his private school and attend free public school where he struggles to fit in.  Upon meeting an older girl who lives across from the school, he tries to impress her by telling her he is in a band and they need a model for their first video.  He proceeds to recruit misfits from the school to create a band.  With the help of his older brother Brendan, an 80's music expert, the band actually creates music, makes some videos, and performs at school functions, all to get the girl.  I saw the preview for this film a couple of months ago at an independent movie theater and then never heard that it actually came out.  While snowed-in on Christmas day in Minnesota, we found it on Netflix.  Clever writing and nostalgic music...fantastic movie!

Other than Manchester By the Sea, I didn't see any of the Golden Globe (probably Academy Awards too) movies.  Many didn't actually come to the theater yet (my yearly complaint) and some (like La La Land) I didn't really care to see.  As per the usual, a few will come out this month with the awards promoting them.  If so, I'll add them to the 2017 review.
My intention was to write just a quick one-sentence review like Kelly does on her site, but I'm too long winded for that.  :)  Sorry about the length.


Thursday, January 5, 2017

Bag Ban

After the insanity of the November election, most of the political focus in my circles has been on the presidential outcome.  However, it has to be mentioned that our state elections had some interesting outcomes.  California is notorious for having all sorts of propositions on the ballot each year.  All it takes to get on the ballot is 200 signatures, so a lot of what ends up on it are very narrow in scope and usually will benefit just one group (or even one person).  They are always convoluted and our ballot is enormous.  This year was the worse I've ever seen it.  Our election booklet was the size of a phonebook trying the explain the 17 propositions we were voting on.
California did legalize the use of marijuana for those 21years or older.  I will write about that one at a later time.
The state also voted to uphold the ban on single use plastic bags that was on the books from a previous election.  The ban required customers to provide their own bags or pay the store 10 cents per recyclable or biodegradable bag taken from the store.  I'm not too sure about the previous ban because some of our stores stopped using them and others didn't.  Some stopped using them and then started using them.  My regular grocery store didn't stop using them, so I didn't worry too much about it.  A yes in November's election meant the bag ban stood while a no rejected the ban entirely.  Our Earth seems to be suffocating by the abundance of trash/plastic, so the majority of California voted to keep it as it was which has opened my eyes to the bag ban.
The very next day, I am not kidding literally THE VERY NEXT DAY, every grocery store in California stopped giving out regular bags (plastic or paper) and were ready to sell the biodegradable ones.  What law ever voted on goes into play the very next day?!?!  The answer is none.  Government doesn't work that way.  Most of the ours start the following January 1 or even a year or two after the election.  This one though caught everyone off guard.  Droves of people showed up at their local grocery stores bagless (and a little irritated) that first week.  And even now, almost 2 months later, many of us still walk into those darn stores with our reusable bags sitting in the car.  Even worse, apparently the ban didn't really start the next day, but the grocery stores started it anyways in order to take the 10 cent per bag for themselves while everyone was forgetting their bags.  That was irksome.
I have been trying to use reusable bags for a few years now, but never did very well with it.  I have them, but unless I drape them over my body every time I drive the car I leave them in the car.  And since my store wasn't doing it previously for some reason, the habit never stuck.  Another issue I am having with the change is that I didn't use these single use bags only one time.  There are many uses for these bags once home, and while they eventually made their way to the trash, it was after an additional use or two.  Now we don't have them.  The new 10 cent bags are quite different - larger and thicker - so don't really work.  So now instead of lining my trashcans (or whatever) with the free store bags, I'm going to buy plastic trash bags from the store and eventually they will get thrownout.  It seems like maybe this proposition had a few business interests in mind, more so than the environment.
The bring your own bag things has slowed things down at the grocery store as well.  You send your BYOB bags down the conveyor belt and those who bag the groceries fiddle and fool with them because they don't sit up right and they fill them fuller than they ever filled the plastic bags.  The lines at the store have gotten much longer.
I've been eying these bags for awhile now, and finally broke down and bought them a couple of weeks ago.  The checkers comment on how much they like them and how much easier they are.
 They pull out and hang over the sides of the grocery cart.  You can then toss stuff inside while shopping.  Once finished, the groceries are very easy to grab from the cart.  From there the bagger (or checker or me) sets the items inside the bag without the inconvenience.
 On this shopping trip I was only grabbing some ingredients for cookies for a cookie swap and a couple of things I keep in the house.  The bags aren't very full in this case, but they are roomy enough for a big shopping trip.
 Once to the car, the bags slide right off the cart,  the handles are attached together, which closes the bag to keep everything inside.
I like them a lot!  Still leaving them in the car 50% of the time, but my percentage is growing.

While I'm almost a bleeding heart liberal, and I am very concerned about the environment, this ban has been a huge inconvenience.  It's HARD to do the right thing!

Saturday, December 31, 2016

So Long, 2016!

I've seen a lot of mention over the last week about 2016 being such a bad year and how many people are glad it is just about over.  Personally, I found it to by like any other regular year (other than that damn election).  On the news front, I guess it would seem that it was a rough year, but part of me wonders if it's just the constant inundation and quick-but-lack-of-facts-news that we get anymore.  A year or so ago I read an article that said something along the lines that "things" aren't getting worse, we just hear about the worse "things" more often than we used to.  And I tend to agree with that.  With that being said, this comedy group made 2016 into a horror movie, and it's pretty funny.
Right now, my new year's resolution is to write more.  The last few months I've had a lot of ideas swirling around in my head, but not a lot wherewithal to get it down or blog about it.  I've just been doing other things.  
I wish you a safe and fun New Year's Eve and Happy New Year!  See you in 2017!

Wednesday, December 21, 2016

Done and Gone

Decorating for Christmas is always a double-edged sword for me.  I really like having the house decorated for, but I really dislike the process of decorating and (even worse) taking it down.  On the other hand, when I haven't decorated it is hard to get in the Christmas spirit.  On the couple of occasions I haven't decorated it was because I was traveling over winter break and couldn't be bothered to worry about it.  This year, knowing I would be gone a couple of times (including over Christmas) to Minnesota but having a couple of holiday parties at my house, I was limited but impactful with my decorating.
My favorite part of decorating for Christmas is the tree.  I have a large collection of sentimental ornaments that I enjoy hanging, and it's all so pretty once it's done.  The thought of putting up a tree this year was daunting though, so I decided against it.  Instead, I made a much easier "tree" and used it to hang my Christmas cards on this year.  Most of the Christmas cards sent out anymore are those flat, one sheet photo cards that come from the printer, and I've never before known how to display them.  They don't "sit" on the mantle or a table, so they end up just getting stacked up and then thrown out after Christmas.  This year's "tree" gave me the opportunity to display them, for a little while anyway.

The tree is just a few strips of washi tape, garland, a star ornament, and some sparkly silver clips I found in the dollar bin at Target.  It took a bit of time to measure and mark it, but not nearly as long as decorating a real tree.  Plus there were zero needles to sweep up and it's a piece of cake to take down.
I leave on Friday to spend Christmas in Minnesota and won't be back until next week.  The thought of coming home to a decorated house made me grumpy, so I spent today de-christmas-ing my house.  Christmas is over in the Delight household!  Time to start packing...again!
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Tuesday, December 13, 2016

Back

I've just returned from a whirlwind trip to COOOOLLLLDDDD Minnesota.  Overall, the travel went well, even in the snow and the way below freezing.  All my snow instincts slowly came back into play and all was fine...although I'm glad I don't have to do that all the time anymore.
Even though I flew into the Twin Cities, my visit actually took me to Rochester, home of the Mayo Clinic.  My mom had knee replacement surgery there on Monday, and since my winter break doesn't start until Saturday, I had to come back and finish out the week - otherwise I would have stayed a bit longer.  All went very well as far as the surgery goes.  Recovery is a bit more challenging.  She started PT today, and it wiped her out.  I'll most likely head back to Rochester to be there for Christmas.  BRRRRRRRRRR.
It's 9:35, and I've unpacked, taken a swig of Nyquil, and have crawled into bed hoping 5 am doesn't come too soon.  THREE MORE DAYS...

Saturday, December 10, 2016

Snow

As I get ready to head to the airport for a quick trip to Minnesota, I'm remembering what it's like to travel when there's "weather" beyond 80 degrees and sunny.  My flight is expected to get into Minneapolis around 4:00.  Snow is expected at 70% chance today as well.  There's a bit of a nervous pit in my stomach as I start my day about the weather - delays, flight issues, landing - which I have not felt since moving back home 17 years ago after living in New England for 8 years.  There, anytime there was predicted snow, there was always a low grade worry over snow or ice in the forecast.  As much as I enjoyed living back east and the four seasons and even miss it sonetimes, I don't miss that feeling at all.  I've got it now...wish me luck!

PS: In case anyone is wondering, this is a trip of necessity.  I did not decide to travel to one of the coldest places in the US in December for fun.  I'll share more about it in another post.  :)

Saturday, December 3, 2016

An Evening

On Thursday evening, some friends and I made a field trip to the Getty Research Center for (what I believe was ) a once in a lifetime opportunity.  Filmmaker Francis Ford Coppola spoke to an audience about the making of "The Godfather".
After reading Mario Puzo's The Godfather years ago, I've had something of an obsession with organized crime.  The movie (along with the second one) is in my top 5 favorite films.  We got the tickets back in October I believe, so I've been looking forward to the event for awhile now.
He was introduced by the Director of the Research Center, and then again by the interviewer.  Upon coming onto the stage and taking a seat, his pant legs crept up a bit, revealing bright red socks.  And his whole time on the stage was as endearing as those socks.  The stories he told about the filming of the movie were fascinating and funny.  It was so interesting to go "behind the scenes" so to speak on one of the greats.  The Getty is quite close to UCLA so there were several film students at the event.  Having gone to UCLA Film School himself, Coppola was very accommodating, answering their questions about his role as a filmmaker.  
Coppola has a new book out, which was the reason for the visit.  It's not a book he's authored per say, but rather notes and documents kept during the making of The Godfather.  Rather than using the script, Coppola's process (which he shared that evening) is to create a binder or notebook of his vision of the film he is working on.  The new book is actually a reproduction of his The Godfather notebook.  Being sold for $50 a book at the museum, I didn't purchase one.  It is probably quite interesting for anyone interested in the film and would be kind of fun to read through before watching the movie again - maybe giving a new perspective.  I might see if I can eventually borrow it from the library.
Even though he was born in Detroit an raised in Queens, he does have strong ties to California. In addition to studying at UCLA,  he moved to Norther California over 30 years ago.  He's also the owner of the Family Coppola Winery in Napa whose wines were served at the event.
I don't usually do evening events on a school night due to my early mornings,  but this one was worth the missing hours of sleep.
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