Friday, May 27, 2016

Carol (Nik's Piks: Movie Review)

"No explanation I offer will satisfy you. You seek resolutions because you're young, but you will understand this one day." ~ Carol 

Nominated for six Academy Awards including Best Cinematography and Best Adapted Screenplay, Carol, a 2015 drama/romance, depicts the tender love story between Carol (Cate Blanchett), a high-society woman, and Therese Belivet, a young store clerk and aspiring photographer played by Rooney Mara. Both actresses received Oscar nominations for their performances. 

Based on the novel, The Price of Salt by Patricia Highsmith, Carol, set in 1950s' Manhattan, shows how nearly impossible it was for these two women to be together. Homosexuality, especially for women, was a taboo subject and those that faced the stigma of their sexuality had to suffer unbearable consequences. 

When the two women meet in a department store where Therese is working, the chemistry between them is instantaneous and soon proves to be more than a school-girl crush for the young clerk. Despite all the odds stacked against them due to the prejudices of society, their friendship quickly escalates into a truly beautiful love story, demonstrating that there are no chance meetings in life. However, not all love stories have a fairy tale ending. 

"Everything comes full circle. Be grateful it was sooner rather than later." ~ Carol

Blanchett gives a powerful and heartfelt performance, perhaps the best of her career, of a mother torn between her daughter and the woman she loves. All the while she is going through a difficult divorce from a man who will stop at nothing for revenge. Under allegations of misconduct and immorality, Carol must choose between her heart's two desires. 

Watch Official Trailer

The film is slow moving at times relying on dialogue more than action, and, at times, saying as much without words as with them. However, Carol is a beautifully shot film, truly mesmerizing and very sensual, and is much deserving of the recognition it received for its cinematography.  In addition to the statement the film makes about being homosexual during this very different time, the film is also a commentary on the sacrifices of motherhood and women in general. Overall, I liked the film, mainly for how well done it was and for the performances of both Blanchett and Mara, who shockingly didn't take home the Oscar wins. 

Carol is rated R for a scene of sexuality/nudity and brief language. 

Read more of Nik's Piks: After Hours movie reviews. 

Monday, May 23, 2016

Whisper of the Woods (Book Review)

NOTE: I received this book free from the author requesting an honest review. I was not required to write a positive review. The opinions I have expressed are my own. I am disclosing this in accordance with the Federal Trade Commission's rules and guidelines. 

I was first introduced to author D.G. Driver and her high school protagonist, Juniper "June" Sawfeather, when I read and reviewed the first novel in this series, Cry of the Sea, for the 2016 Multicultural Children's Book Day.  In the first book, I loved the combination of real life environmental concerns, Native American culture, and fantasy - all centered around teen characters who fans of Young Adult fiction will relate to. Therefore, I was excited to read the second book in the series, Whisper of the Woods

At the end of Cry of the Sea, June, the daughter of environmental activists, is summoned by her father to a new protest involving the lumber industry and the cutting down of centuries old cedar trees. Whisper in the Woods picks up right where we left off in book one. 

In need of funds, one of the local Native American reservations has decided to sell their Old Growth cedar trees to the logging industry. The Sawfeathers are naturally opposed to this decision and have initiated a protest. To complicate matters, the Chief Executive of the Tribal Council in charge of this decision is June's uncle, Nathan. 

When in the woods as part of the protest, June is convinced she hears whispering. June feels an indescribable bond with one tree in particular. As legends begin to be told and the mysterious history behind this tree is unfolded, June decides to stage her own sit-in - 170 feet up in the tree! However, it soon becomes evident that June may not be allowed to leave the tree even if she wanted to. What happens next is a beautiful, yet sometimes eerie, story involving a mythical tree spirit that emphasizes the role of these ancient trees on our planet. The novel is very suspenseful and has the reader repeatedly questioning the motives of the spirit.

Will the tree release June? And, if so, under what conditions?

After finishing Cry of the Sea, I commented that I would have liked more Native American cultural connections. Whisper of the Woods delivers that.  Probably for this reason, I enjoyed it even more than Cry of the Sea. And, in keeping with the main purpose of the series, it doesn't forget to highlight environmental conservation. 

You don't need to have read the first novel to understand this one, but they are deeply connected and it would make more sense. I recommend this novel to all Young Adult fiction and fantasy fans.  It is particularly suitable for middle and high-school students. Driver is currently working on the third book in the series. 

Read my review of Cry of the Sea here

Read more of my Book Reviews

Friday, May 20, 2016

Spy (Nik's Piks: Movie Review)

Perhaps Spy is one of those films which is made more or less enjoyable depending on the circumstances you are seeing it under, as well as who you're seeing it with. All I know is that after avoiding this 2015 comedy starring Melissa McCarthy for months, I finally sat down to watch it with my sisters, and honestly, cannot remember the last time we all had so much fun watching a film together. 

Spy, also starring Jude Law, Jason Statham, Rose Byrne, Allison Janney and Miranda Hart (Who is hysterically funny!), is a spoof on James Bond spy films. It is a shoot 'em up, gadget filled movie filled with humorous, often outrageous, one-liners! I seriously thought it was going to be stupid, but found the script and the performances very funny. Even if at some point you just forget what the plot is about, you can just sit back and enjoy the laughs. 

"I do not condone this sexy but reckless action of yours." ~ Spy

Susan Cooper (McCarthy) is a CIA analyst who has spent her entire career behind a desk supporting her field agent partner, Bradley Fine (Law). All that is about to change when Fine is assassinated by Bulgarian arms dealer (Byrne). Determined to avenge the death of her partner, Cooper, along with fellow agent Nancy Artingstall (Hart), convinces her boss (Janney) to allow her to go into the field on what is supposed to be a "track and report" mission only, in hopes of discovering the truth behind Fine's murder. However, there are no limits to what Susan will do to find her partner's killers while proving her value as an agent to herself and the agency. The result is some very comical moments.

Watch Official Trailer

Spy will take you from Washington D.C. to Paris and from Rome to Budapest, all the while introducing the audience to one comedic character after another. My favorite? Aldo, played by the very funny Peter Serafinowicz.  The film is rated R for strong language throughout, violence, and some sexual content, including brief graphic nudity. 

Read more of Nik's Piks: After Hours movie reviews. 

Friday, May 13, 2016

Secret in Their Eyes (Nik's Piks: Movie Review)

Julia Roberts, Chiwetel Ejiofor, Nicole Kidman, Dean Norris, and Michael Kelly star in Secret in Their Eyes, a 2015 crime / thriller remake of the film El Secreto De Sus Ojos, which won the Oscar for Best Foreign Film in 2010. Both films were adapted from the novel La Pregunta de Sus Ojos. With this cast, I was wondering how I could go wrong with this pick. Was it all I expected?

In 2002, Ray (Ejiofor) and Jess (Roberts) are two FBI agents assigned to the Terrorist Task Force working out of the District Attorney's office.  Their mission is to stake out a local mosque while trying to expose sleeper cells. When they are called to respond to a murder at the mosque, they discover the young female victim is Jess's daughter. Complications arise when they learn that the main suspect is also a snitch for the counter-terrorist unit. With 9-11 fresh in the hearts and minds of citizens, the D.A. makes unthinkable decisions that end up haunting Ray for over a decade.

"I know I should forget it. It was another lifetime." ~ Ray, Secret in Their Eyes

But how do you forget murder?  Now 13 years later and a new D.A. (Kidman) in place, Ray wants the case re-opened so he can finally seek justice for the murder of his partner's daughter. 

Unfortunately, the script moves slow with little action to propel the plot forward, and I honestly expected more from a film with this caliber of talent. However, the performances were good despite a mediocre script, and my own need for closure on this murder case kept me watching. Also, the story itself was intriguing, even if the execution left much to be desired. Lastly, it was the jaw-dropping ending that truly made the film for me. 

Watch Official Trailer

Secret in Their Eyes deals with thematic issues of morality and guilt, and Roberts' portrayal of a mother overcome with grief over the loss of her child is believable and chilling. The film is rated PG-13 for thematic material involving disturbing violent content, language and some sexual references. 

Read more of Nik's Piks: After Hours movie reviews. 

Wednesday, May 11, 2016

One Day My Son Will Listen to Me; Today is Not That Day

Have you ever noticed that the motherhood posts I share rarely shed light on my amazing parenting skills? So why start now? 

We live on a preserve. The kind that hosts countless critters, some deadly. My son spends most of his free time exploring this preserve. Nerve-racking enough as it is on this momma, I not only allow, but encourage this exploration.

Just this past weekend, he asked me if he could get a Swiss army knife to take with him, one similar to the kind carried by his friend's father who is often with them. He said he wanted to use it to help build things and sharpen things and Lord knows what else. He wanted to add it to his backpack of supplies (mosquito repellent, first aide kit, and whatever) that he carries with him every time he stomps off into the woods. Maybe it's not such a bad idea he has something to defend himself with if he gets attacked by an alligator. (Run zig-zag!! Is that even true?)

I immediately deferred this decision to his dad. After all, I didn't want to be solely responsible for handing my son a deadly weapon.  We agreed that it was okay for him to have a simple Swiss army knife to take into the woods. 

As luck would have it, I found my old Swiss army knife (Hm, that's three times I've mentioned this brand. Shouldn't they be paying me?). The thing must be at least 25 years old. My parents bought it for me when I was going off to Australia. Apparently they had heard the kangaroos were quite vicious. Anyway, I am pretty sure I never used anything but the scissors.

Before offering it to my son, I carefully took out each utility tool to inspect it. I was amazed that everything was still in perfect condition. Then it happened.......I looked down and there was blood gushing from my finger. Son of a funky pickle!!

I sliced my finger pretty good. Yet, I decided to go ahead and offer the knife to my son anyway, but with a strong caveat, "WATCH THE SMALL KNIFE. IT IS INSANELY SHARP." I even showed him my cut and the blood soaked towel. He showed zero concern for my injuries.  This is just mom being clumsy as usual, I'm sure he thought. 

The next day he was inspecting his new gadget. He was so proud.

Then it happened. My son walked into the kitchen with blood pouring - POURING - down his hand. I looked at him and he looked at me and......we both started to laugh. (We're kind of weird.) I said, "Let me guess, the small knife, right?"  

Now I know that reaction isn't going to win me any Mother of the Year awards, but let's face it. This was probably a good learning lesson for him and now he knows I wasn't exaggerating. Sure this one-inch knife apparently packs more punch than its appearance would let on. However, the real laughter came from the fact that he knew in my head I was thinking, I told you so! Okay, maybe not just in my head. The words may have actually slipped out. 

We rinsed, we applied pressure, we bandaged - laughing and giggling the entire time. 

Then, after rinsing the knife, sticky with blood, and cleaning up what looked like a crime scene on my floor, I asked my son, "Are you going to listen to me from now on and be more careful?" 

"Yes," he promised through more laughter. 


Read similar posts at Lavender Inspiration. 

Monday, May 9, 2016

Captain America: Civil War (Family Movie Review)

Captain America: Civil War

I am just going to cut to the chase. Captain America: Civil War is the BEST AVENGERS FILM EVER! Over the last couple of years, I have really enjoyed becoming quite the Marvel geek and the Avengers franchise is my favorite. I am so glad that I limited my exposure to trailers, commentaries, and spoiler alerts and went in with little knowledge about the story line. 

"We're outside the law on this one. So, if you come with us, you're a wanted man." ~ Captain America: Civil War

First and foremost, what parents need to know: Captain America: Civil War is rated PG-13 for extended sequences of violence, action and mayhem.  To elaborate, this film includes intense scenes of mass destruction and explosives, gun violence, physical combat, and loss of life. In addition, there is some brief language. As with every other superhero film I've reviewed, parents need to consider the rating carefully before bringing young children. Also, the film is long - nearly two and a half hours. Lastly, the story line will be over the heads of younger audiences so I recommend this film to those at least 10 years old and up.  My suggestion is to stick to the Lego versions for younger children. 

For viewers who may not be familiar with the characters and franchise, this film may be difficult to completely understand (but still enjoyable). Some backstory is provided, but not enough to fill in all the gaps for newbies. I am very grateful I have gone back and watched most of the Avengers films and have a son to brief me on what I need to know that I don't already. 

For the appropriate audience, Civil War will surely prove to be a crowd favorite. I am going to tiptoe around certain elements and plot points so as not to spoil anything. 

The Avengers once again find themselves on the cusp of controversy when their "heroic" acts create chaos and death causing public opinion to label them as dangerous vigilantes. They are given an ultimatum by the State Department: dismantle their organization or allow the United Nations to supervise their every move. Failure to comply will subject them to criminal prosecution.  Unfortunately, Captain America (Chris Evans) and Tony Stark/Iron Man (Robert Downey, Jr.) do not see eye-to-eye on what should be done forcing the other Avengers to choose sides. Decades of jealousy and subtle rivalry between the two men are about to come to a head. In the middle of the controversy, is Bucky, aka Winter Soldier (Sebastian Stan), who Captain America has a deep-seated connection with. 

"Our very strength incites challenge. Challenge incites conflict. And conflict breeds catastrophe." ~ Captain America: Civil War

Fighting against each other, both sides are forced to recruit some help. Enter Spider-Man (Tom Holland - who was fabulous!) and Ant-Man (Paul Rudd)!! While the absence of Hulk and Thor did not go unnoticed, these two more than made up for it, adding much comic relief. Probably the most anticipated appearance was from Black Panther (Chadwick Boseman) whose personal motives quickly made him a fan favorite. 

The characters are forced to face conflicts with their loyalties as well as confront the forces of all-consuming revenge. I was happy to see Stark finally learn some humility. The action will keep you on the edge of your seat and the banter between characters is what always makes these films so fun! Also look for a sexy kiss between two characters, and stay for the final scene after the initial credits. 

Watch Official Trailer

Captain America: Civil War also stars Scarlett Johansson (Black Widow), Anthony Mackie (Falcon), Paul Bettany (Vision), Elizabeth Olsen (Wanda), Don Cheadle (War Machine), William Hurt (Thunderbolt Ross), Emily VanCamp (Sharon Carter), Jeremy Renner (Hawkeye), Daniel Bruhl (Baron Zemo), Marisa Tomei (Aunt May), and Martin Freeman (Everett K. Ross). Overall, this is one spectacular Marvel film complete with incredible stunts and special effects, an ultimate battle between heroes, and an intense, emotional ending. When all is said and done, the Avengers will never be the same again. 

Read more Family Movie Reviews and Nik's Piks: After Hours reviews for mature audiences. 

Friday, May 6, 2016

Focus (Nik's Piks: Movie Review)

My hopes were high for the 2015 film Focus starring Will Smith and Margot Robbie. After all, it seemed like a promising Vegas-style crime story similar to Oceans Eleven. Unfortunately, not even sexy Smith and stunning Robbie could carry this mediocre script that started off decent but went downhill fast. 

The film starts off when a chance meeting between con man Nicky Spurgeon (Smith) and Jess Barrett (Robbie) leads to a business arrangement where Nicky agrees to teach Jess the tricks of his "trade." However, Nicky gets more than he bargained for when he develops feelings for Jess and she becomes a "liability" to his way of life. When he terminates their professional and personal relationship, he becomes the victim of his own game and discovers he is the wrong party in a game of cat and mouse.

"Love will get you killed in this racket. No place for that shit here. No happiness with that." ~ Focus

Once I was able to get past the cliché of the powerful, older man and the gorgeous, young blonde (there is a 22 year age difference between the two), I truly hoped for some movie magic. Robbie is charming and the on-screen chemistry between Smith and her is sexy and playful. I also enjoyed Adrian Martinez's performance as Nicky's right-hand man, Farhad. But, overall, do not expect much from this film besides a few good lines and a couple of interesting surprises. The problem is the script seemed to run away with too many twists making the story, well, ridiculous. 

Focus is rated R for language, some sexual content, and brief violence. 

Read more of Nik's Piks: After Hours movie reviews.