Friday, January 29, 2016

The Scorch Trials (Family Movie Review)

I have to admit I wasn't terribly excited to see The Scorch Trials, the second film in The Maze Runner trilogy.  I didn't love the book series by James Dashner and the first film, The Maze Runner, was just okay. However, I was pleasantly surprised with this film. Not because it was a great film, but because it was just fun!  And by fun I mean I literally screamed on several occasions. There is quite a bit of heart-stopping action and some very exciting chase scenes. 

"You ever get the feeling the whole world is against you?" ~ The Scorch Trials

I'll remind my readers this review is to offer guidance to parents and is not necessarily a critique of the film or it's adaptation to the screen.I am including this film in my Family Movie Reviews because the young adult novels were very popular among middle and high school students. However, I strongly caution parents!   

Which brings me to the rating.  The Scorch Trials is rated PG-13 for extended sequences of violence and action, some thematic elements, substance use and language. What does that mean specifically? There is a lot of gun violence and explosions, a complex plot, and what I consider mild language (typical of PG-13 films). 

But the biggest reason I caution parents?  The Cranks! The Cranks are zombie-like creatures, people who have contracted the Flare virus. They were the reason for my screams, and the reason my 11 year old was hiding under a blanket at one point (The danger of not watching a film before allowing your kids to see it!) Both sons said they were going to have nightmares. Be prepared - even if your tween/teen read the books, Cranks are much scarier when brought to life!

If you do not know anything about this series, it focuses on a futuristic dystopian society that is struggling for survival after civilization as we know it has been destroyed AND a deadly virus (the Flare) threatens to wipe out all of the human race. After escaping The Glade at the end of the first film, a controlled environment used by doctors and scientists to try and save humanity, our group of remaining main characters led by Thomas (played by Dylan O'Brien), must now question who to trust as they try to survive the Scorch, the vast desert earth has now become, in search of help and truth. Overall, the series deals with the themes of ethical dilemmas and betrayal.

Watch Official Trailer

If you haven't read the novels OR at least seen the first film, I do not recommend it as you will be lost. The Scorch Trials is primarily a bridge to the third installment in this saga, The Death Cure, due out in theaters in 2017.  

Read my review of The Maze Runner here and check out my other Family Movie Reviews

Monday, January 25, 2016

Cry of the Sea (Book Review)

I am so happy to be participating in this year's Multicultural Children's Book Day (MCCBD).

The MCCBD team’s mission is to spread the word and raise awareness about the importance of diversity in children’s literature. Our young readers need to see themselves within the pages of a book and experience other cultures, languages, traditions and religions within the pages of a book. We encourage readers, parents, teachers, caregivers and librarians to follow along the fun book reviews, author visits, event details, a multicultural children’s book linky and via our hashtag (#ReadYourWorld) on Twitter and other social media.

The novel I was given to read and review is called Cry of the Sea written by D.G. Driver.  The story centers around very important environmental issues affecting our world today.  It also deals with typical social problems all high school students deal with, as well as conflict with parents, first loves, and the somewhat stressful process of deciding on future aspirations. 

June Sawfeather is a high school senior in Washington state with Chinook ancestry. What makes June stand apart from her fellow classmates is the unusual fact that her parents are well known environmental activists. It is a lifestyle that, unfortunately, has caused her to be a social outcast at school.  While she loves and appreciates what her parents do, she struggles with her desire to go her own path and not live in their shadow any longer. 

All arguments and self-doubts are put aside when she and her father respond to an oil spill just off the coast. The shocking discovery of mermaids in distress over the oil spill will take hold of their lives as they try to protect the mermaids yet use proof of their existence at the same time for the overall good of the oceans. Just maybe the possibility of human-like creatures living in the oceans will make people more responsible. 

"The legends of our people do not require proof, June. You need to learn that. They require only faith and understanding." ~ Cry of the Sea

I really loved the way Driver incorporated statements about oil companies and the long-standing impact that oil spills and corporate cover-ups have on the environment. This is a great way for teen readers to learn about this ongoing real world issue while relating to a very likable protagonist in June. I also enjoyed the references to the Native American culture and wished Driver had added more of them. 

I felt the story started out strong but toward the end the momentum seemed to fizzle out a bit. However, overall, the novel does a great job of providing a fun, fictitious plot combined with real and serious concerns facing our world today. I believe the target audience of middle and high school teens will thoroughly enjoy this novel and believe teachers may certainly use it as a stepping stone to discussing the plight of our environment and things we can do to help protect and save it.   

I strongly encourage teens to become active in environmental issues.  A simple way to do so is to organize a local beach clean-up with your school or outside organization. The future of our planet depends on the compassion and action of today's youth. 

Multicultural Children’s Book day 2016 Medallion Level Sponsors! #ReadYourWorld

Multicultural Children’s Book Day has 12 amazing Co-Host and you can us the links below or view them here:
All Done Monkey, Crafty Moms Share,Educators Spin on it,Growing Book by Book,Imagination Soup,I’m Not the Nanny,InCultural Parent, Kid World Citizen,Mama Smiles,Multicultural Kid Blogs,Spanish Playground


Friday, January 22, 2016

August Rush (Nik's Piks: Movie Review)

"Sometimes the world tries to knock it out of you, but I believe in music the way that some people believe in fairy tales." ~ August Rush

August Rush is a 2007 film that was recommended to me by one of my readers.  Although it has a family-friendly rating of PG (for some thematic elements, mild violence and language), the film did not strike me as something enjoyable for the entire family.  Therefore, I am choosing it as my pick for this week's After Hours review.

First off, I really can not believe I never saw this film - or even heard much about it. The film stars Robin Williams, Jonathan Rhys Meyers, Keri Russell, Terrence Howard and Freddie Highmore as the orphaned boy, Evan, who is born with a brilliant musical mind (think modern day Mozart).   

Louis  (Meyers), an Irish singer and guitar player, has one night of passion with American-star cellist, Lyla (Russell), which results in the birth of their son. Events unfold that tear them all apart. Raised in a home for orphaned boys, Evan, who later changes his name to August Rush, is determined to find his parents.  As a runaway in New York City, August is taken under the wing of a con-man known as Wizard (Williams), who exploits homeless children by forcing them to peddle money on the streets by playing music. He immediately recognizes August's musical genius and acts quickly to capitalize on it. 

"[Music]'s God's little reminder that there is something else besides us in this universe." ~ August Rush

Watch Official Trailer

The portrayal of  Lyla's desperate search for her son speaks volumes about the undying bond between a mother and her child while teaching us that some people are connected by more than blood or love.  This film is not for everyone, but will certainly hit a soft spot among music lovers. It is sentimental, intensely romantic, and more than a bit abstract. Beautifully shot, this film reminds us to open our hearts and minds to the world around us.  

Coming Soon: More Nik's Piks: After Hours at

Friday, January 15, 2016

The Judge (Nik's Piks: Movie Review)

Listen, I am not going to beat around the bush. There is one reason and one reason alone I decided to watch the 2014 film, The Judge - ROBERT. DOWNEY. JR.  (Hey, at least I'm honest.)  

But with that said, I can say I did enjoy this film for a number of other reasons. The script was good and Downey, along with Robert Duvall, deliver very good performances. It is a touching story about the estranged relationship between a father and son.  While not a great film by any means, and a bit too long (more of it should have ended up on the editing floor), I'll go ahead and recommend this one to those who like family / courtroom dramas.

"....sometimes you have to forgive in order to be forgiven." ~ The Judge

Hank Palmer (Downey) is a big shot Chicago defense attorney. When the death of his mother brings him back to his small hometown in Indiana, he must face his domineering father (Duvall) who has also been the town judge for 42 years. Their reunion is strained to say the least. 

Just as Hank attempts a quick exit back to Chicago, his father is arrested under suspicion of murder. As a man who always ran away from problems, Hank must make the difficult decision to stay and defend his father.  In the biggest case of his career, he has to make peace with the past while defending the man who made him who he is. In addition, exposing the truth on the stand will mean jeopardizing his father's legacy and possibly destroying their relationship forever. 

Watch Official Trailer

The Judge is rated R for language including some sexual references.  The film also stars Billy Bob Thornton, Vincent D'Onofrio, and Vera Farmiga. 

Coming Soon: More Nik's Piks: After Hours at

Wednesday, January 13, 2016

The Gift (Nik's Piks: Movie Review)

"You're done with the past, but the past is not done with you."  ~ The Gift

I don't do horror films, but I do love a good thriller, and The Gift starring Jason Bateman (one of my favorite actors) certainly makes the list of top revenge films EVER and will have you asking yourself, "How well do I really know the person I married?" 

The story takes place in California as Simon (Bateman) returns to his childhood neighborhood with his wife Robin (Rebecca Hall) to begin a new life.  The couple runs into an old high school classmate of Simon's, Gordo, played by the very creepy Joel Edgerton, who also directed the film. The tension from that moment on builds in what is to be a web of lies and secrets from the past - ones that will not go away easily - ones that will continue to haunt. 

"I believe that the bad things in life, they can be a gift."  ~ The Gift

In this psychological thriller, the viewer is constantly asking, "Who is the bad guy?"  The Gift (without giving away spoilers) deals with the very real and frightening themes of the cycle of abuse and the psychology and long-term effects of bullying. 

The Gift is one of those films that will have the viewer yelling at the characters - "Stupid, Stupid, Stupid!" You know the characters should be on guard; you're angry they are so trusting. Unfortunately, and thankfully because it makes for a hell of a movie, they don't listen to you and you are led through one twist after another. This movie will have you on the edge of your seat. 

Watch Official Trailer

"Time gets rid of a lot of things. It heals everything.......It's really important to not look back."  ~ The Gift

But is that so easy? Certainly not when one incident, 25 years earlier, changed a person's life forever. Not when one person gets "stuck in a moment" and refuses to let go, or make peace (depending on your perspective). 

This 2015 psychological thriller is available now on DVD and makes the perfect date night film. I highly recommend it.  The Gift is rated R for language.  

***This review was originally published on +The Whacko Blogs on December 2, 2015***

Coming Soon to - Nik's Piks: After Hours reviews. 

Monday, January 11, 2016

Still Alice (Nik's {Piks: Movie Review)

Still Alice starring Julianne Moore, Alec Baldwin, Kate Bosworth and Kristen Stewart is an intense family drama based on the book by Lisa Genova.  The film received several industry awards and landed the Oscar for Best Actress for Moore which was well-deserved.

Still Alice

Once a renowned linguistics professor at Columbia University, fifty year old Alice begins to notice changes in her memory.  After a neurologist diagnoses her with early-onset familial Alzheimer's disease, a rare form of the illness that progresses rapidly, Alice fights the stigma of this disease and tries to hold on to her career and family before all is lost.

Alzheimer's is a terrible disease that threatens (and eventually succeeds) to destroy the essence of a person's soul.  The film depicts Alice's personal struggle and frustration as the illness deteriorates her brain. Viewers are shown how others will change their perceptions of those with the disease and how those with the disease must also change their own perceptions of themselves.  Living with Alzheimer's teaches both the patient and their loved ones how to master "the art of losing" - losing memories, losing relationships, losing the ability to do simple everyday things - losing the person you love.

This film was extremely depressing - not just sad - but one that stays with you because Alice could be anyone of us or our loved ones. To see what the disease does to a family, the sacrifices and difficult decisions that must be made, as it watches the person they love slip away, is heartbreaking. In my opinion, this is the worst imaginable disease because it strips you of your most precious asset - your memories.  I found myself refusing to really process what was happening to Alice while watching the movie, because, if I had, I would have been crying throughout the entire film. I am sure this is a denial felt by many families caring for someone with the illness.

Watch Official Trailer

The ending was anything but an ending - and that was what made it perfect. We are reminded that we must live each day to the fullest, to "live in the moment" and grab happiness at every moment possible. Although admittedly depressing, Still Alice is a beautiful film that I highly recommend.

Still Alice is rated PG-13 for thematic content and language including a sexual reference.

**This review was originally published on +The Whacko Blogs on November 12, 2015**

Coming Soon: More Nik's Piks: After Hours

Saturday, January 9, 2016

Mr. Holmes (Nik's Piks: Movie Review)

I finally sat down a few weeks ago to watch Mr. Holmes. I took a ton of notes which means one thing - I really REALLY liked this film. Based on Mitch Cullin's novel, A Slight Trick of the Mind, this 2015 film is a beautiful story of a retired Sherlock Holmes facing his most difficult situation yet - his failing memory. 

"Well I can't say that I've ever mourned the dead bees....I concentrate on circumstances, how did it die, who is responsible." ~ Mr. Holmes

Set in 1947 Sussex, England, Holmes, played by the masterful Ian McKellen, is now 93 and long retired. However, he is haunted by the one case that led to his retirement.  Annoyed by Dr. Watson's erroneous account of the case in his writings, Holmes wishes to set the record straight.  There is only one problem.  He is now suffering from senility and cannot recall the facts. But why? Why has this case tormented him for 35 years? 

The film is a series of flashbacks, both to the events of his final case and to the current day trip he took to Japan to acquire prickly ash - a plant that is supposed to help with his failing memory. A trip that will bring more than what first meets the eye. 

While I enjoyed both of these aspects of the film, my favorite part was that of Holmes' bond with his housekeeper's son, Roger, played by the very talented young actor, Milo Parker. Holmes becomes a grandfather figure to the fatherless boy who enjoys reading all of Watson's embellished accounts of the detective's famous cases. Through this caring relationship, Holmes begins to recall the details of this mysterious case that he has conveniently hidden in the depths of his memory. 

In the end, a man who is known for, above all else, being logical undergoes a remarkable and heartwarming transformation.  Mr. Holmes is a story of one man's pain and guilt and all the useless feelings he has suppressed for years. Holmes who has never had a use for emotionally charged fiction, learns to feel, learns to mourn, and learns to forgive himself. 

"Her death made me see that the human nature is a mystery that logic alone could not illuminate." ~ Mr. Holmes

Watch Official Trailer

McKellen delivers another remarkable performance and is joined by the brilliant Laura Linney who plays Mrs. Munro, his housekeeper and Roger's mother.  But it was Parker who won my heart. Mr. Holmes is rated PG and is suitable for older children. However, even my eleven year old son, who is a fan of the current BBC series Sherlock, wasn't completely won over by this film.  I would say keep this flick as a date-night selection despite the family-friendly rating.  

**This review was originally published on +The Whacko Blogs on December 18, 2015**

Coming Soon: More Nik's Piks: After Hours at

Thursday, January 7, 2016

Wild (Nik's Piks: Movie Review)

***This review was originally published on +The Whacko Blogs on November 6, 2015***

"There is a sunrise and a sunset everyday and you can choose to be there for it, you can put yourself in the way of beauty." ~Bobbi, Wild

I finally had the chance to sit down and watch the film Wild based on the memoir by Cheryl Strayed. The film, starring Reese Witherspoon, tells the story of Strayed's life-changing solo trek of the Pacific Crest Trail in 1995, an over 1,000 mile hike from Mexico to Canada. With a backpack of supplies and her own inexperienced wit to take with her, she heads out on a journey that will be the ultimate test of her physical and emotional strength. And, when it's over, she'll have to start living again, and that's a daunting reality.

After watching her mother lose a battle to cancer, Strayed turns to a life of drugs, alcohol and promiscuity that wrecks her marriage and nearly destroys her.  The solo hike is a last ditch effort to regain her life back, face her demons, and search inside herself for peace. Along the way she will meet other hikers, all whom are searching for something within themselves. On the trail, everyone is alone with their thoughts and memories and only the truly determined will persevere.

"If there is one thing I can teach you, it's how to find your best self." ~ Bobbi, Wild

While Witherspoon did a remarkable job as Strayed, it was Laura Dern's portrayal of Strayed's mother, Bobbi, that really won my heart. A remarkably strong woman, the memory of Bobbi is what ultimately gives Strayed the courage to continue her journey and recognize that life is what we make of it and we don't always know why things happen the way they do.  She will also learn that "her wounds came from the same source as her power" as was so eloquently said by poet Adrienne Rich and quoted in the film.

Watch Official Trailer

Beautifully shot and powerful in its delivery, Wild is a must-see for anyone who has ever felt lost.  I don't believe I have ever considered reading a novel AFTER watching its film adaptation, but this is one I plan to make the exception for.  The film is rated R for sexual content, nudity, drug use and language.

Coming Soon: More Nik's Piks: After Hours at

Tuesday, January 5, 2016

Whiplash (Nik's Piks: Movie Review)

Last night I finally sat down and watched Whiplash which was nominated for five 2015 Academy Awards including Best Picture.

First let me say that this film is not for everyone. Don't expect The Hangover or even American Sniper.  This is an artsy film with brilliant directing and editing and superb performances by Miles Teller (Andrew Neiman) and J.K. Simmons who won the Oscar for Best Supporting Actor for his portrayal of the crazed music instructor, Terence Fletcher. 

The story centers around a young drummer, Andrew, who is a student at the top music conservatory in the nation. As if competition among these best of the best musicians isn't enough, Fletcher's narcissistic and abusive style of teaching (if one would even dare call it that) often pushes the members of his elite band to the point of breaking.  Andrew, obsessed with his own success, easily falls victim to Fletcher's tactics, jeopardizing his own sanity. 

Before sitting down and watching Whiplash last night, I had no idea what this film was about. If at some point I did know, I had forgotten. The screenplay, although not a true story, is inspired by the writer's, Damien Chazelle, personal experience as a drummer - making the film even more fascinating, yet, I hesitate to say shocking because of my own background as a music student.  

Watch Official Trailer

Music lovers, particularly fans of jazz, will delight in this dynamic film. For those that are tired of the usual romantic comedy or shoot 'em mobster film, take a chance on this one. I can't even clearly define what it is I loved about this film. The music - definitely. The performances - absolutely. But there is something more I can't quite grasp.  Whiplash was just one of those films that captured my full attention from the opening scene and held it up until the closing credits. Intense and captivating do not even begin to describe it. If you're looking for something different, give Whiplash a watch.

Whiplash is rated R for strong language including some sexual references.

**This review was originally published on +The Whacko Blogs on September 8, 2015**

Coming Soon: More Nik's Piks: After Hours at

Saturday, January 2, 2016

Brooklyn (Nik's Piks: Movie Review)

My movie review of Brooklyn is going to be short and sweet because I have already reviewed the book (click here or see below to read). However, I couldn't NOT mention the film to my readers. YES, it was THAT amazing.  

I do not recall the last time a film took my breath away. AND, I cannot believe that I went to the theater without my tissues. 

This beautiful story of a young Irish immigrant, Eilis, played by the very talented Saoirse Ronancoming into her own is based on the novel by Colm Tóibín.  Having had read the book, I already knew and loved the story and the characters and declared Brooklyn to be one of my TOP FIVE books read in 2015. So seeing the movie could have been a disaster for me. 

It wasn't! 

I instantly fell in love with both Ronan and Emory Cohen who plays Tony, Eilis' love interest. These are extremely talented young actors who bring Tóibín's story to life. In fact, the entire supporting cast is also wonderful. In particular, Julie Walters, who plays Mrs. Kehoe, delivers a superb performance that deserves special mention. 

Watch Official Trailer

Brooklyn was released in November and it is still drawing crowds. While it undoubtedly attracts nostalgic viewers from the era, this film is for anyone who appreciates fine storytelling. Fans of the novel will not be disappointed with the adaptation. This, friends, is brilliant film making. 

The film is rated PG-13 for a scene of sexuality and brief strong language. 


My review of the novel (published October 4, 2015)

I bumped into this book, quite literally, at the bookstore and the title immediately caught my attention.  The display was promoting the film adaptation which is coming to U.S. theaters this November. When I read the book blurb, I knew I wanted to give this a read. 

 "The answer was that there was no answer, that nothing she could do would be right." ~ Brooklyn

Set outside Dublin and in New York in the early 1950s, Brooklyn by Colm Tóibín is a coming-of-age story about a young Irish woman, Eilis, who emigrates to Brooklyn for a chance at a better life.  Leaving behind everything and everyone she knows, she must learn to adjust away from the only life she's ever known in a strange, new world. 

Over time things fall into place for naive, sheltered Eilis - a job, an education, even a first love - and she truly blossoms. When an unexpected event occurs that threatens her new life, Eilis must make the dreadful choice between her own happiness and family obligations.  There are heartbreaking moments as Eilis battles between her own conflicting desires and being true to herself.  There are times she and her life are so manipulated by others that my heart bled for her. 

"He seemed part of a dream from which she had woken with considerable force some 
time before, and in this waking time his presence, once so solid, lacked any real substance or form; it was merely a shadow at the edge of every moment of the day and night." 

Brooklyn is so beautifully written, so authentic, I felt like I melted into the pages. Tóibín captures the innocence of the era wonderfully including the strong family relationships and unspoken social etiquette and pure romance between men and women. Honestly, it is one of those novels that I cannot say enough good things about, but I will admit that it will not be for everyone. Do not expect edge of your seat suspense or in your face action. This book is pure heart and soul and poetic storytelling as it focuses on the inherently assumed sacrifices often made by women. I must have read the last paragraph of the novel five times or more, each time letting it sink further and further into my psyche.  Along with the readings came both tears of pain and smiles of warmth.

My English literature degree specializes in Irish literature, yet it has been years since I read an Irish author. However, I have since added another of Tóibín's novels to my TBR list. Between my own connections to both Ireland (where I studied for a semester) and Brooklyn (where I was born and spent a great deal of my childhood), this novel spoke volumes to me. I loved the historical references to the different nationalities living in Brooklyn and how they interacted with each other and brought back many memories of my own upbringing.  

I just watched the film trailer and I cannot wait to see this film!