Friday, September 30, 2016

Frustration Everywhere

I know it's been a crazy week when I wake up at 3:30am on Friday morning and I realize I forgot to write my Friday movie review (which is usually posted by this time!!)  To say the least, this week hasn't been all that great for me. So I hope you will forgive me.

In addition to some repairs around the house I had fixed, the pool pump decided to stop working - the second time in less than a week. The repair that took place last week was apparently temporary at best. Now I get to sit back and watch my pool turn green until my regular pool repairman can get here in a day or so. 

On top of that, my son pointed out the refrigerator is periodically making a weird noise - a fact that I am going to ignore at this point - and I've noticed the microwave isn't working "right."  But all this crap comes from being a homeowner I suppose. Doesn't make it less aggravating. 

I could probably have handled all of the hassles above if I also didn't have to deal with incompetent customer service, which seems to be a growing epidemic.  One of the nation's largest telephone companies recently did work in my neighborhood. Unfortunately, updating fiber optic underground wires means tearing up people's lawns. We were given a number to call if there was any substantial damage. I called and requested they come sod the area they left looking like this.

I noticed a few days later this was their "fix."  

I knew immediately what they were going to say. They patched the dirt on my property but since my neighbor didn't call, they did NOT feel the need to replace the grass on that side of the property line. This is unacceptable and petty, I told the representative over the phone and asked that a supervisor contact me. He was out the next day and even he was shaking his head at the lack of foresight his workers displayed. 

However, despite all of these "daily headaches" as I like to call them, I should have at least gotten some pleasure out of the purchase of my new computer. Some of you may recall my old, but trusted HP, was damaged last spring when my house was struck by lightening. I have been using an even older computer in the interim, and despite the fact it works most of the time, the problem is it is just too old to be updated properly and to support certain plug-ins required to run some programs. When my son couldn't watch his math lessons online, I knew I had to bite the bullet and go buy a new one. 

While some of you may get excited about the purchase of new technology, I, for one, can not stand it. I would rather deal with car salesmen any day instead of tech specs and people. But, I went prepared, speaking to more than two personal friends who are experts in the field. That, combined with my online research, I was able to create a list of exactly what I wanted. WEEKS into my search, I thought I found it and for just a tad over what my designated budget was. 

Unfortunately, the salesperson made an error and it was missing one feature she repeatedly confirmed it had. So back to the store I went. The store exchanged it for another model. I took that one home and it was NOT working properly.  Yep, back to the store I went. They replaced the computer yet again and this time is having "their people" set it up to make sure it is working properly. Unfortunately, this will take a couple of days. So I returned home, empty-handed. 

For those that follow me on Twitter, you may have read the back and worth tweets between me and the company I purchased the computer from. Here, you are getting the "not-so-bad" version of the story. You are not hearing about the original debacle with my order pick-up or the terribly rude and condescending manager I had to deal with last which put an even more bitter taste in my mouth about this particular national chain (which is a shame because the other members of the management team were nothing but helpful and professional.) 

I have gotten to the point where I am beyond fed up with bad customer service. Every where I turn it seems that companies don't care. And, if the management doesn't care, you can rest assured that the salespeople aren't going to either. I am seriously considering writing blog posts outing places with terrible customer service and praising those that still practice this fine art. In the meantime, here I am at 5 o'clock in the morning (typing on my OLD computer) venting my weekly frustrations and asking you to forgive me for not getting a movie review posted. 

If you need a fix, check out my previous reviews for MATURE AUDIENCES and for FAMILIES. 

Sunday, September 25, 2016

PalmCon 2016: Super Family Fun

Forget the madness of THE Comic-Con in San Diego and even the Mega- and Super-Cons that pop up all over the country. If you're looking for a fun family event or merely a smaller, more traditional comic book convention, head to your local venue. This past weekend my twelve-year-old son and I did just that. PalmCon 2016, which took place at the Palm Beach County Convention Center on September 24 and 25, was the perfect introduction for my son who has never attended a comic convention. 

While there weren't major celebrities or box office movie premieres, the guests in attendance were approachable and accommodating. The entire experience was more intimate and less Hollywood, which also meant much more affordable. My son concentrated on the collectibles not necessarily the comic books, and enjoyed having his photo taken with the numerous Cosplay participants. 

Hollywood special effects make-up artist,
Jeh Howell
We also took in a couple of guest panels, catching the tail end of the Michael Bell and Samantha Newark (both voice talents) discussion and watching make-up artist, Jeh Howell, re-create zombie bites on volunteers from the audience. Unfortunately, we missed the two-hour film school due to a scheduling conflict. 

Jesse Jensen (left), Alison Berrios (center), Nalini Krishan (right) at the "Walking the Path of the Jedi" panel

Nalini Krishan "Barriss Offee"

The highlight for both my son and me was the "Walking the Path of the Jedi" panel with special guests Nalini Krishan (Barriss Offee) and Jesse Jensen (Saesee Tiin) both from Star Wars Episode II: Attack of the Clones.  The panel, moderated by Cosplay For Jedi's Alison Berrios, was super fun. We loved hearing about the not-so-glamorous life on the set, the hours in the make-up chairs, and the time spent training and choreographing the fight scenes. Jensen talked about how he and his brother, Zac Jensen, who played Kit Fisto, grew up as fans of the franchise and as children (Hmm, I suspect even as adults) had lightsaber fights in their yard. 

Jesse Jensen "Saesee Tiin"

When I asked both Krishan and Jensen who their favorite Star Wars characters are, Jensen said Han Solo (besides Kit Fisto!) and Krishan surprisingly said she was enamored with Darth Vadar. The conversation also discussed the recent Disney buyout of the franchise, both actors seeing it as a mostly positive transaction, and the death of Hans Solo in Episode 7. Overall, it was a really great panel and my son was super excited we were able to attend. After all, it doesn't get much more exciting than an afternoon with two Jedis!!!

While San Diego Comic-Con will remain on our bucket lists, for now I am thinking my son may be ready for Florida Supercon 2017 next July!

Friday, September 23, 2016

The Spectacular Now (Nik's Piks: Movie Review)

Based on the novel by Tim Tharp, The Spectacular Now, a romantic drama released in 2013, was received warmly by critics and came highly recommended by one of my readers. However, while I loved the premise behind the film and the overall messages, including the fact that you can turn your life around, I didn't love this film.  It started out strong and captured my interest, but all that quickly faded. The one element that stayed strong throughout was the performances by both Miles Teller (Whiplash), one of my favorite young actors, and Shailene Woodley (Divergent) who finally delivered a performance that won me over. 

"I don't live in the past, I live in the now because that's what it's all about." ~ The Spectacular Now

High school senior, Sutter Keeley (Teller), is known for his partying and excessive drinking. When his girlfriend Cassidy (Brie Larson), gets tired of his reckless behavior and breaks up with him, he accidentally stumbles upon fellow classmate Aimee (Woodley) after passing out on a neighbor's lawn. Heartbroken over his girlfriend dumping him and feeling sorry for himself, Sutter takes an interest in Aimee that starts off as her being a project - take the quiet, unpopular girl, show her some attention and build-up her confidence. Sutter has become good at fixing others, but can't seem to fix himself. In actuality, while Sutter believes he is helping Aimee, she is the one helping him. What he did not expect was that he would actually fall for this girl. 

Sutter and Aimee share a bond over the dysfunction of their family lives. Aimee is torn between following her own path and staying at home to take care of her mother. Sutter is struggling with the hostility he has for his mother (Mary Elizabeth Winstead) which stems from unresolved issues he has from his father leaving when he was younger. 

While Aimee is a dreamer that plans for her future, Sutter follows his absent father's motto that in order to be happy you have to live in the here and now. The struggle between living in the moment and being responsible is a strong thematic element. But in the end, the biggest lesson for Sutter is his coming to the realization that his biggest obstacle in life is himself. 

Watch Official Trailer

The climax of the film is intense as a young man's hero, Sutter's father played by Kyle Chandler, is brought down as the realization of Sutter's deep-seated pain comes to a head. The Spectacular Now is a story of how people come into your life just when you need them the most. Unfortunately, the story dragged for me, and, despite the strong performances, I couldn't empathize with either main character. Aimee's character was generally weak and enabling, and Sutter was a mostly unsympathetic protagonist. 

The Spectacular Now is rated R for alcohol use, language and some sexuality all involving teens. 

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

Check out my Family Movie Reviews too! 

Monday, September 19, 2016

Let's Talk Sex: How Porn Addiction Affects Teens

This morning I read an article (link below) about teen boys and their addiction to porn and how that is affecting their sex lives and those of teen girls. Online pornography is being dubbed the new drug and if you think that is an over exaggeration, read on. I shared the article on my social media accounts and was pleased that a number of my mom friends chimed in. Some, those with younger children, where afraid to read it (but read it they must if we are to fix this) and others shared equally horrifying stories of teens and sex such as blow job competitions among teen girls. ARE YOU KIDDING ME??  Are young women so desperate to be admired and desired that they will engage in such unhealthy sexual experiences?  The answer for many is, unfortunately, yes. 

Another friend shared an article recently published in Time Magazine. The article focused on the porn culture that has taken over our society, but discussed it in terms of how the obsession with porn is leading to sexual dysfunction in men. It addressed how men are unable to distinguish between fantasy and reality and how this is causing a male crisis because it affects THEIR sexual function. She went on to say the article infuriated her because it did not discuss at all how this male behavior is affecting women. I agree and for this reason I am not even sharing the article. 

I recently posted my concern about a sex scene in a movie popular with teens a few years back. In the film, two high school seniors are having sex for the first time. He was not a virgin, she was. While the scene was not explicit (the film was rated R) and showed no nudity, the message was clear. Sex is for the boy's pleasure. He put on a condom (THANK GOODNESS!), entered her, she winced a little, and he had an orgasm in seconds. He didn't kiss her during the scene and he certainly didn't please her or sexually satisfy her in any way. In fact, there was zero foreplay! 

What does this teach teens? It teaches them that boys get to enjoy sex, and that girls are there only to be used as a means for boys to reach sexual satisfaction.  This coincides with the above article that stated boys are obliging girls with a little kissing if, and only IF, they find she deserves it after "performing her duties." Are you sickened yet?  

For decades, experts have been trying to bring light to the fact that the level of self-esteem in teen girls is dropping significantly thanks to media images of what is considered beauty. Unfortunately, although I recall a lot of discussion about this topic, little to nothing was done about it. And now, today, thanks to the Internet and easy access to online pornography, what little self-worth girls may have had is completely gone. Can you imagine your teen daughter basing her self-worth on how high boys score her blow job skills?? Think about that. 

What I found very interesting in this online discussion I had with friends this morning, is that moms are the ones addressing these issues with their sons and daughters. However, men and fathers really need to step up here and get the message to young boys that women are not sex objects. Most importantly, they need to make it clear that porn is not reality, it is entertainment. Whatever your personal view on pornography is, we need to make teens, particularly boys, and young adults understand that those videos do not depict love, true intimacy, or realistic expectations. As a friend of mine said, today's porn industry has come a long way from the "nudie magazines" under a boy's mattress. 

The bottom line is, this is not a men's issue and it is not a women's issue. It is a human issue and needs to be addressed by both sexes. The belief that a male's sexual exploits should be celebrated while a female's should be cause for shame and embarrassment are archaic and counterproductive. Most importantly, not discussing sex with your children is the worst possible thing you can do. Not sure how to start the conversation with your child? Check out this post What You Don't Teach Your Children About Sex Can Hurt Them.

To my sons, I have taught that girls and women need to be respected at all times. That any sexual experience should be safe and must take their partner's needs and satisfaction into account. And, although I hope they wait until they are out of high school to engage in sex, they can always come to me for advice or answers. My boys are fourteen and twelve and I am fortunate that the openness I established with them from early on is paying off with their willingness to talk to me about these things. I know many adults who would blush at some of the conversations I've had with my sons. But, what is the alternative?? Do I really want other teens to teach them about sex? Do I want porn to teach them? No and NO! 

If I had a daughter, I would want her to know how to stay safe. I would teach her that under no circumstance is she to ever feel pressured to do anything she doesn't enjoy. She would know that her sexuality and pleasure is equally important as any boy's. Lastly, as basic as this may sound, I would want her to know that nothing she does sexually will "make a boy like her," and that pornography does not depict love and affection.  

Still don't believe porn addiction is a problem? Then why are specific therapy programs popping up all over the country?

Obviously, this is a topic that can't be discussed in a single post. However, if one parent reads this and addresses the problem with their child, then I will consider it a triumph.  

I would love to keep the conversation going. Please comment below and let me know how you feel this crisis can be addressed. 

 Related Articles from this blog: 

Taking on Sexual Violence: A Must-Read for Teens and Parents

The Problem with Halloween and Sex

Friday, September 16, 2016

My Big Fat Greek Wedding 2 (Nik's Piks: Movie Review)

It's been fourteen years since writer/actor Nia Vardalos brought us My Big Fat Greek Wedding, a romantic comedy about 30-year old Toula Portokalos (Vardalos) who marries Ian Miller (John Corbett), a man outside her Greek heritage. The film was an unexpected surprise hit and is still the highest grossing romantic comedy. 

Fast forward to My Big Fat Greek Wedding 2 which was released earlier this year. The sequel is actually three stories in one. Toula is feeling a little stuck. All she's known for the last several years is working at her family's restaurant, caring for her aging parents and being a mom. Now her 17-year-old daughter, Paris (Elena Kampouris) is getting ready to graduate high school and attend college. Feeling stifled by her Greek family, Paris has her heart set on a school on the other side of the country. Naturally, this causes quite a bit of stress on the entire family and a case of empty-nest syndrome for Toula. 

"We see no difference between hugging and suffocation." ~ My Big Fat Greek Wedding 2

The second plot line focuses on the lost romance between Toula and Ian. Concerned that her marriage is stale, Toula enlists the advice of her family to help bring the spark back in her relationship. Finally, the third story centers around the discovery her father, Gus (Michael Constantine), made while searching his ancestral history. Apparently there was one tiny problem with his marriage to Maria (Lainie Kazan) - the wedding license was never signed and, therefore, is not valid! But after "living in sin" for fifty years, Maria isn't going to make correcting this error so easy for Gus. She is determined to get the wedding she always dreamed of. 

Watch Official Trailer

My Big Fat Greek Wedding 2 is a cultural affair. Having come from a big Italian family, I relate to this movie and the characters very much. There are some very sweet moments that display the importance of family, culture and tradition. Overall, it is a cute film with a very romantic ending and some good laughs. I am unable to compare it to the original because, honestly, it has been too long since I've seen it. 

My Big Fat Greek Wedding 2 is rated PG-13 for some suggestive material. The film also stars Andrea Martin, Louis Mandylor, Gia Carides, along with performances by producer Rita Wilson and everyone's favorite Greek, John Stamos.  


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

Check out my Family Movie Reviews too! 

Thursday, September 15, 2016

This Could Get Interesting: When Dad's the Coach

It wouldn't be soccer season without at least one post from me on the topic. The Fall 2016 season is underway and has a whole new dynamic this time for my family.  

My son was excited to have the same coach he had a couple of years ago, you may recall Mr. Orange Slices.  Also, he was thrilled to have, for the first time, his dad as assistant coach - you know, someone I know IN-TI-MATE-LY.  What a brave soul. In fact, when he agreed to assist, I told him to expect text messages from me from the sidelines during the games. He playfully reminded me, "Remember, I am only the ASSISTANT."  For the duration of this post, I will refer to him professionally as the assistant coach.   

Since I unfortunately missed the season opener over the weekend, tonight was my first game in attendance. What could possibly go wrong?  After all, these early games don't really mean anything and, in all honesty, the playoffs are where all the really intense action occurs.  So most of the game, I scoped out the other parents identifying the cheerleaders, the hot heads, and the absent. Basically, I sat with my parents and chatted; cheering a little here and there but nothing crazy. 

My son was having an amazing game with umpteen shots on goal and two assists. He is one of the strongest offensive players and probably the best defenseman on his team. It was a close game, and going into the final quarter (Yes, they have four quarters, not two halves, in this recreational league, so please no hate mail.) the game was tied. Ah, who cares. It was a good game and I enjoyed being out on the fields again.  

Then it happened. From across the field I see my son put the goalie pinny on. OH, NO, NO NO! Can't I have one season where my son doesn't have to play goalie? Whose decision was this? Even Nana and Grandpa were baffled by this terrible coaching decision (Oh, yes, I actually said that while the words, "Remember I am only the assistant," rang in my ears.) They need my son on the field if we are to have any chance of winning this game. Should I text the assistant coach right there and bitch - I happen to have his number on speed dial - or should I save my "comments" for afterwards? 

In the first two minutes of the fourth quarter, our defensive line completely falls apart and allows the other team's top player right through, unguarded. He shoots and GOALLLL!!! Son of a fried pickle!! Unfortunately, 3-2 was the final score. Back at the car, my son, who is normally very gracious in defeat, had a few "tips" for his new assistant coach. As for me, all I said, was "Understand this is grounds for a blog post."  

The assistant coach laughed, and said, "As soon as they scored that goal, I figured as much." 

This could be a very long season. 

Similar Posts: 

And the Hat Trick for Worst Soccer Mom Goes to.....

Don't Fix it, Deal With it!

A Close Call for Epic Mom Failure

Soccer Mom Failure!

Another Youth Sports Rant

Friday, September 9, 2016

Burnt (Nik's Piks: Movie Review)

The 2015 film, Burnt, was yet another one that flew under the radar for me. Surprisingly so, considering it stars Bradley Cooper. The plot centers around a star chef whose drive toward perfectionism ruined him once, but has also given him the courage to seek out redemption. But, can he settle the diva inside him long enough to rise back to the top, or will his past return to haunt him? 

"A chef should strive to be consistent in experience but not consistent in taste. It's like sex, it's like you're always headed to the same place, but you got to find new and dangerous ways of getting there." ~ Burnt

Adam Jones (Cooper) was one of Paris' top chefs at one of the most prestigious restaurants in the city owned by his mentor, Jean-Luc. When drugs and alcohol lead to his demise, he finds himself starting from scratch again in New Orleans as he gets sober. Now clean, Jones is determined to make it back to the top, this time in London. Unfortunately, he quickly learns that his temperamental behavior and past addiction left scars much deeper than the loss of his own success. He manages to manipulate his former mentor's son, Tony, played by Daniel Bruhl, to hire him at one of London's fine-dining establishments and reassembles a staff that consists of new and old (those willing to forgive him) colleagues. His eye is on a third Michelin star, the industries most prominent award, having previously earned two before his downfall. 

However, it's been five years and the fine-dining palate and techniques have changed. Jones needs to learn to rely on his team and trust them while relinquishing some control. Something he has an issue with. In this highly competitive field where friends become enemies and enemies become friends, Jones will learn to accept responsibility for his past mistakes.  The film has a touch of romance, a dash of suspense, and a full serving of revenge but leaves forgiveness and the beauty of imperfect relationships at the forefront of the story. In many regards, it is the adult version of Disney / Pixar's Ratatouille, but, honestly, not as good. 

"There's strength in needing others, not weakness." ~ Burnt 

Watch Official Trailer

Burnt is rated R for language throughout and also stars Sienna Miller, Uma Thurman, Emma Thompson, Omar Sy, Matthew Rhys, Sam Keeley and Lily James.  This is one of those "nice, little films" - nothing spectacular with no deep character development. The film definitely did not evoke any emotions in me. However, even though I didn't love this movie, there were elements I enjoyed - London, Cooper, FOOD - plus I liked the premise of the story. All you gourmets and foodies will certainly appreciate the cooking aspect of the film. 

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

Check out my Family Movie Reviews too! 

Tuesday, September 6, 2016

Second Chance for Love (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.

Having enjoyed the Juniper Sawfeather Young Adult series by D.G. Driver, I was honored when she sent me a copy of Second Chance For Love, a new anthology of short stories written by her and six other authors.  I'll admit I am not a huge fan of romance novels, but I do like short stories because they allow me to discover new authors and give me a taste of the writer's style, without any long-term commitment. Plus, short stories are perfect for those times (like this past summer was for me) when I don't have the time to dedicate to an entire novel. Paradoxically, my main reason for liking short stories (They can be read in one sitting.) is also a reason for me to dislike them. They all seem to end too abruptly. For the most part, however, the authors in this anthology do a good job of closing out their story without too much haste. 

Second Chance For Love is a compilation of shorts about finding love again after some type of loss: a break-up or death for instance. Naturally, I enjoyed and related to some characters and stories more than others, which is all part of the fun of reading such books.  Some of the stories are told from the viewpoint of a single man and others from a single woman.  Whether your teen daughter is playing matchmaker, you discover you're still in love with your ex, or you can't see love right in front of your face, the one thing all the stories have in common is that at least one of the main characters is a single parent.  

The beauty of this collection is that each story has a different voice because each is written by a different author. I like that! The stories are sweet, but predictable and superficial - a problem I have with most works of romance and why I am not a huge fan. However, if you are a fan of this genre, I would definitely recommend you give this book a try.  They remind me of the popular romance movies on Hallmark or Lifetime.  Perfect for the beach or when you're traveling, Second Chance For Love is available for Kindle and on Amazon. 

For more of my book reviews click here.

Friday, September 2, 2016

The Intern (Nik's Piks: Movie Review)

If you're in the mood for a simple, feel-good movie, The Intern (2015) is a great choice. Starring Anne Hathaway as Jules, Founder and CEO of a successful online startup, and Robert De Niro as Ben, a retired widower who has become disenchanted with retirement, this film is a beautiful non-romantic love story of two people who found in each other just what they needed. 

When Ben is taken on as a senior intern as part of the corporation's new outreach program, few in the company could have foreseen the impact he would have on all of them. The interactions between the younger employees and Ben is endearing.  Not only does he become a mentor to them, he welcomes the effects they have on his life as well. 

Watch Official Trailer

Jules, however, an over-stressed, type-A workaholic, doesn't exactly embrace the intern program. After all, she has it all under control and doesn't need any help, especially from a retired 70-year-old out of touch with today's business world. So when Ben is assigned to be HER personal intern, there is more than a little opposition. Attempts at pushing him off on others isn't going to deter Ben. With more than a few years of life experience over Jules, Ben adjusts to his new role with grace and dignity and, when life dishes out more than Jules can handle both professionally and personally, he eventually captures the respect and trust of his boss. The result? One of the sweetest friendships to come out of Hollywood in a long time. 

"The truth is, something about you makes me feel calm or more centered or something, and I can use that." ~ The Intern

Turns out, Jules was able to learn a lot about business and, more importantly, life from her new intern and friend. The Intern will make you laugh and may even make you shed a sentimental tear or two. Honestly, the trailer does not do this film justice.  The film also stars Rene Russo, Anders Holm, and a slew of young talent including Christina Scherer, Andrew Fannells, and Adam DeVine. The film is rated PG-13 for some suggestive content and brief strong language. 

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

Check out my Family Movie Reviews too!