Sunday, November 27, 2016

Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them (Family Movie Review)

Wands at the ready! There's a new wizard in town. 

A week late, but here is my review of Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them. The film, which opened on November 18, is based on the novel with the same title by famed author J.K. Rowling. The story is a prequel to the highly successful Harry Potter series, and is based in 1926 when a wizard, Newt Scamander (Eddie Redmayne), arrives in NYC from London with a magical suitcase filled with fantastical beasts. Naturally, all hell breaks loose when his suitcase is switched with that of a muggle's and some of the creatures escape jeopardizing the secrecy of the entire magical population of the city. 

Harry Potter fans may be disappointed that there aren't more references to the beloved franchise, but some mentions and connections are made. The story line was not terribly strong, but the film seemed to lay the groundwork for future installments and further character development. I am sorry I did not read the book, as perhaps the novel would fill in some gaps.

Honestly, I did not know what to expect before heading to the theater. For that reason, perhaps, I was not disappointed. The two overwhelming themes did not go unnoticed: humans hate that which they do not understand and animal rights. What I enjoyed most about this film was the tenderness Newt has for his creatures, and just how far he is willing to go to protect them and educate the magical world about them. The creatures were truly delightful!  

It was also very fun to be back in Rowling's magical world which was brought to life beautifully by special effects. We have new heroes, new villains and dark forces, and even some new terminology. Redmayne was wonderful as Scamander and starred alongside Katherine Waterston, Dan Fogler, Ezra Miller, Colin Farrell, and Fine Frenzy. 

Watch Official Trailer

The film's PG-13 rating is for some fantasy action violence. There are few frightening images for younger viewers. Otherwise, it was a great film for families with older children, although, oddly, the audience was comprised mainly of adults. Viewers do not need to be familiar with the Harry Potter series. Fantastic Beasts is a perfect introduction to the magical world of J.K. Rowling for an entirely new generation. 

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

Check out my Family Movie Reviews too! 

Wednesday, November 23, 2016

Love & Mercy (Nik's Piks: Movie Review)

"Five years from now, no one is going to remember you or the Beach Boys." ~ Love & Mercy

I love when I stumble upon a fairly unknown film - and love it. The biopic film about singer-songwriter Brian Wilson of the Beach Boys, Love & Mercy, is a must-see for many reasons. Obviously, if you are a fan of the popular 1960s band from California with the distinct sound, you will enjoy this film. However, what shocked me the most, is that, while I like a lot of the music from the sixties, the Beach Boys had a sound that never resonated with me - until, that is, seeing this film and learning about the man behind the songs. Music buffs, drama fans, and those who simply want to take a nostalgic trip down memory lane will absolutely love this film.

Love & Mercy takes place in two time periods. First, set in the 1980s, we see Brian Wilson (played by John Cusack) as a washed-up musician suffering from mental illness and recovering from drug and alcohol addiction. He meets Melinda Ledbetter (Elizabeth Banks - one of my favorite actors), who will eventually play a major role in his recovery. 

Watch Official Trailer

For years, Wilson was being treated by psychotherapist, Dr. Eugene Landy, and was diagnosed with paranoid schizophrenia. However, Landy, played by Paul Giamatti, who acted as Wilson's medical guardian, represented yet another dangerous, co-dependent relationship in the musician's life. 

"Sometimes your inner voice wants to express itself, and every once in a while, every blue moon, our soul comes out to play." ~ Love & Mercy

Throughout the film, there are flashbacks to the sixties where Paul Dano, who earned a Golden Globe Best Supporting Actor nomination for his performance, plays young Wilson. We see how, during the musical revolution of the 1960s, Wilson's creative genius takes the band to the top of the charts, but nearly cost him everything. Exacerbated by an abusive father and the drug culture, the band's fame, on more than one occasion, nearly cost him everything. 

Love & Mercy is truly an uplifting story of how Brian Wilson overcame mental illness, abuse, and addiction to make one of the most dramatic comebacks in the industry. Banks and Cusack delivered fabulous performances and had dynamic chemistry, but Dano stole the screen and was worthy of more than a Globe nomination. If you weren't a fan of the Beach Boys before seeing this film, you just might be afterwards. Even if you were a fan, I guarantee you'll never listen to one of their songs quite the same way again. The soundtrack is another highlight, and includes a live performance of the song "Love & Mercy" in the final credits. 

Love & Mercy is rated PG-13 for thematic elements, drug content, and language. 

I hope you don't mind if I indulge you in just one song.......

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

Check out my Family Movie Reviews too! 

Friday, November 18, 2016

The End of the Tour (Nik's Piks: Movie Review)

"He wants something better than he has. I want precisely what he has already." ~ The End of the Tour

Continuing with my book-to-film series is a lesser known 2015 film, The End of the Tour. Based on the memoir, Although of Course You End Up Becoming Yourself, by journalist and author, David Lipsky (Jesse Eisenberg), the film is based on Lipsky's account of his interview with renowned American author, David Foster Wallace (Jason Segel), for Rolling Stones Magazine.

As Wallace's 1996 book tour for Infinite Jest is coming to a close, Lipsky, hoping to impress his editor, negotiates a very personal interview with the mysterious author. The two men travel together for a few days, and Lipsky, who looks up to Wallace, sees a side of the brilliant author few were privy to. The entire movie is insightful, often thought-provoking, dialog between the two men as Wallace slowly opens up to Lipsky about his alcoholism, his loner lifestyle, and his "spiritual crisis".

"I don't think writers are smarter than other people. I think they may be more compelling in their stupidity." ~ The End of the Tour

As so many other geniuses, the story portrays Wallace as the tormented artist he was, one who suffered from addiction, depression, and insecurity, and how the more famous he became, the worse these inflictions became. As the film reveals Wallace's personal demons, it also demonstrates how the experience allowed Lipsky an introspective look into his own life and goals. 

Watch Official Trailer

The End of the Tour is an unassuming drama that takes a hard look at the price of fame and ego. Segel and Eisenberg deliver truly spectacular performances which captivated me and drew me into these characters. If you like such stories as Tuesdays with Morrie, or simply like films that delve into human relationships and psyche, I would definitely give this one a try. The film is rated R for language and some sexual references. 

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

Check out my Family Movie Reviews too! 

Saturday, November 12, 2016

15th Annual Juno Beach Craft Festival on the Ocean

This weekend marks the 15th Annual Juno Beach Craft Festival on the Ocean. Under a beautiful blue sky, visitors take in the works of artists, craftspeople, and the like from all over the country. This festival is the town's smaller of two art festivals. The larger of the events, Art Fest by the Sea, takes place March 11-12, 2017. 

A perfect place to pick up that special gift for the holidays or unique item for your home, the Craft Festival on the Ocean draws both locals and tourists. Attendees will delight in the various vendors selling paintings and other works of art including photographs, wood carvings, Florida-themed home decor, and jewelry. 

In addition, there are booths offering fashion and accessories, books, memorabilia, flowers, homemade personal care items, and, of course, food!

This free event runs today until 5:00pm and again tomorrow, Sunday, November 13 from 10am to 5pm. Parking is also free and is available in Loggerhead Park (where the restrooms are located) or along the closed section of A1A that stretches from Loggerhead Park north to Juno Beach Pier.  Afterwards, why not take in a stroll along A1A or the beach itself!?  The event is family and dog friendly.

Friday, November 11, 2016

The Divergent Series: Allegiant (Nik's Piks: Movie Review)

"Welcome to the future. We've been waiting for you." ~ Allegiant

Continuing with my book-to-film series, this week's movie review is on the third film in The Divergent series, Allegiant. I read the novels quite a while ago, a series popular with teens, young adults, and all fans of dystopian novels. I do not recommend this film to anyone not familiar with the previous two films or the books. Please note, my review does contain spoilers for the previous movies to better explain the plot of this film.

Read review of first film: Divergent

The walled-city of Chicago, once a neatly organized, albeit unnatural, society where people are grouped into factions based on their personal strengths, is in disarray.  The divergents have fought back against the leaders of this system, the factionless, comprised mainly of divergents, have now come to power under their leader Evelyn (Naomi Watts), and, yet, peace is still far-reaching. One group, the allegiants, remains loyal to the factions; still others, led by Trice (Shailene Woodley) and Four (Theo James), are determined to find out the truth of what lies beyond the wall. 

"Leaders need to make tough decisions to protect their people." ~ Allegiant

With former faction leader, Jeanine Matthews (Kate Winslet), now dead, the once factionless outcast, Evelyn, is proving to be a formidable leader. Those that followed Jeanine are on trial, and the walls are once again locked and guarded. However, Trice, having viewed the video left behind by her mother that explains "the experiment", is determined to finish her mother's mission and leads a small group of followers to escape. Once outside, they see vast destruction, an environment destroyed by humanity, mere remnants of radioactivity. 

Read review of second film: Insurgent

Once outside the confines of the wall, Trice, Four, and the others are taken into custody by the Bureau, led by David (Jeff Daniels), and finally discover why the faction society was created in the first place. Without giving too much away, the controlled society was, in the Bureau's eyes, created to save the human race. Once again, Trice and Four find themselves on opposing sides as questions regarding whom to trust come into play. 

Watch Official Trailer

Once the characters escape the wall, the film becomes very sci-fi. I started out liking this film, but it was dragged out to make room for Part II (Ascendant). Of course, it raises interesting moral and ethical questions, but I feel it could have easily been one film. I am curious to see how filmmakers handle the second part. Yes, despite not loving this entire series, I will need to see it - to get closure if nothing else. 

The Divergent Series: Allegiant is rated PG-13 for intense violence and action, thematic elements, and some partial nudity. I do recommend parents use caution when deciding if this film is suitable for their child. 

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

Check out my Family Movie Reviews too! 

Sunday, November 6, 2016

GUEST POST: Why Women Don't Run the World. A Dozen Reasons.

The following is a guest post from +Gerry Pirani


The other day I was at a meeting when a guy said to me, "If women are so smart, why don't they run the world already?"

That got me to thinking about why, and this is what I came up with.

1) The sad truth is that too many girls and women around the world are ignorant. 61% of the illiterate youth in the world is female, and barriers to education for girls and young women remain high in multiple countries. Being illiterate makes it difficult to overthrow current, tyrannical regimes. It also makes one more likely to marry while still a child, die in childbirth, and suffer the death of one's children. To see how you can help, check out organizations like and And check out these articles:

2) They are just too busy. 

One example: The National Science Foundation quotes a 2005 study showing that not only do women do more housework/chores than men, they do EVEN MORE after marriage (hours spent per week goes up from 10 to 17 when a damsel is no longer in distress as a single gal). More info at:
3) They are actually slaves.
In the United States, girls between the ages of 8–12 are abducted and sold into the sex slave trade. According to the State Department's 2016 report, "The United States is a source, transit, and destination country for men, women, transgender individuals, and children— both U.S. citizens and foreign nationals—subjected to sex trafficking and forced labor." The top three countries of origin for slaves in the US are Mexico, the Philippines, and the USA. Disproportionately, women and children are vulnerable to being sold into the slave market, especially to serve as sex slaves. Compared to other parts of the world, however, the US can be considered a safe haven.

A modern-day slavery report prepared by the United States Department of State is available here.

4) They are apathetic.
In the United States, according to the US Census Bureau, 57% of eligible women did not bother to vote in 2014, not to mention run the world.

5) They are too tired.
Women are up to twice as likely to suffer from insomnia than men. (Although some would say that men complain more loudly about it!) Getting little sleep makes it difficult to make decisions about breakfast, no less about running the world.  For sleep statistics, try: this site.

6) They lack cooperation. In the book Sapiens: A Brief History Of Humankind, Dr. Harari discusses the incomprehension of women's position in our species. Lacking correlation with the development of most species, human beings are unique in their patriarchal astonishment/awe of masculine qualities. The only explanation this blogger can imagine is that women are less cooperative than men despite their reputation for being more so.

Women would have to learn to cooperate with one another, rather than undermine one another, to run the world. This doesn't seem likely if the past is any predictor of the future. There is a psychoanalytic concept called introjection, which describes how we sometimes incorporate the opinions (even derogatory) of ourselves when we've been an oppressed population. At 51% of the world's population, women would run the world if they could just pull themselves together. Perhaps that's why society has done everything in its power to divide them.

7) They are tasked with propagating and nurturing the species. You know, the pregnancy and delivery and breast-feeding situation, which is only financially rewarded in a small percentage of the Western world, such as in Sweden. You try having three kids under the age of seven in your living room while running the world.

8) They lack testosterone.
Although testosterone is associated with assertiveness, drive, energy, and concentration, women in the USA who lack normal range testosterone levels for their sex are rarely covered by their health insurance for replacement or supplemental therapy, as men are. The excuse for this in the US is that using bio-identical testosterone in women is still experimental, although it has been used in Europe for about 50 years. Thus, even health insurance companies are keeping women from running the world.

9) They are too poor.
According to the Kaiser Family Foundation, women in the USA are 3-5% more likely to fall under the poverty line than men. Feminine poverty rates have always been higher, worse so in developing countries. Because they are busy dealing with concrete needs such as housing and food, women do not often have the energy to run the world, and the ones who are rich by marriage don't care to, especially if it interferes with their spa days or photo shoots.

For more information, check out this government site.

10) They are too love struck.
Women appear to find it a badge of honor to stand by their men, even when their men are wrong, abusive, or generally sexist.

11) They lack self-esteem.
The poor self-image of women has been broadly studied and written about (see P. Orenstein, W. Maltz, R. Morgan, as examples). Just imagine this: let's say that a group of women got together and created a religion that clearly delineates men as inferior beings, who will not get to go to heaven of their own accord but only through a woman's benevolence and love (if they even get to have souls at all), and who were made by an omnipotent Goddess to serve women. Now imagine how many men would sign up for this religion. I'd bet money on not very many. Yet all around the world, every day, women subscribe to philosophies where they are second class citizens, soulless, guilty on the grounds of having a womb, and in desperate need of being led by a male head of household. Is there any doubt why men would take advantage of such subservience? (Most men don't claim to be saints, after all.) With such a terrible self-image, it becomes difficult to believe you can run the world.

12) They themselves are misogynists.
Women sexists are just as prevalent as men. Of course, there is such a thing as reverse sexism, just as there is reverse racism, but that's not what I'm talking about. What I'm referring to is a pervasive, global misogyny or hatred of femininity. I am always amazed at how a blog or a meme or other social media post that speaks about women's rights gets trashed, violently attacked, and ridiculed. And not just by reactionary men, but by women, too. It's as though women are not human and therefore not worthy of human rights. It's shocking that a young woman today will denounce feminism because someone has convinced her it means something bad, as if her right to have rights was not only not guaranteed, but not even cool. Until women start to speak out for themselves and give each other a break, the sexism inherent in our still masculine-centric Earth will run the world.

Not women.

No matter how smart or qualified they are.

No matter how good a leader they would make.

No matter that it's the twenty-first century.

So, buddy, I'd like to say: that's why women don't run the world.  Yet. 


About Gerry Pirani, my Guest BloggerThe study of spirituality and human nature are turned into grist for the creative mill in Pirani's works of romantic literature. Taking knowledge of love and relationships, Pirani's lifelong dream is to raise consciousness about the assumptions we make of ourselves, the world, and each other. Through fiction, we can increase the mindful living and mindful loving everyone's talking about these days. The author of The Search For Intelligent Life on Earth series, Pirani is also happy to branch out with novellas of varying sizes to introduce new characters, places, and experiences.  For more information, see author's website:

Saturday, November 5, 2016

Doctor Strange (Nik's Piks: Movie Review)

Doctor Strange

"The reality you know is one of many." ~ Doctor Strange

Prior to seeing the trailer several months back, I was unfamiliar with Doctor Strange who was originally brought to life by Marvel Comics and a 1978 made-for-television film. Being a newbie Marvel fan, I would have eventually seen the film. Starring Benedict Cumberbatch just made that more of an urgent matter.

Dr. Stephen Strange (Cumberbatch) is a brilliant neurosurgeon with an ego the size of the planet. When a car accident leaves him severely impaired and unable to perform his job as a doctor, Strange seeks every available medical option the country has to offer. But when western medicine fails him, Strange heads to Nepal to seek help from a mysterious sorcerer known as the Ancient One (Tilda Swinton). She instructs him on the mystic arts while teaching him to release control and open his mind to the countless dimensions in the multiverse. What Strange does not realize is that his lessons are not only for the purpose of enabling his body to heal itself with optimal cellular regeneration as he was initially led to believe. Going back to his old life is NOT the goal of the Ancient One.

Strange learns that one of the Ancient One's former students, Kaecilius (Mads Mikkelsen), and his followers are determined to summon Dormammu, the dark force of the dark dimensions. Strange must decide whether to be selfish and use his new powers solely for his benefit or stay and help the Ancient One and her students defeat evil. Guess which one he decides to do?  However, when all is said and done, the theme of does the end justify the means takes stage. 

"The bill comes due......always." ~ Doctor Strange

Doctor Strange was super fun and interesting. It was not like any other Marvel film. It is a sci-fi, fantasy, superhero film with a prominent supernatural flair and some Doctor Who, Matrix, and Inception thrown in the mix. In other words, this movie will appeal to a very large group of moviegoers. And, to paraphrase the film, whereas the Avengers are here to protect us from earthly dangers, the Ancient One and her sorcerers are here to protect us from astral threats. 

The special effects were a clear focal point, and I took the plunge and saw the film in 3D hoping that would enhance the experience. I am not convinced it did. Probably should've driven a bit further to view it on an IMAX screen. As all first films in a Marvel franchise, the movie gives viewers the complete backstory along with insight and teasers into future installments. Stay for the end of the credits.....the FINAL credits.

Watch Official Trailer

The film also stars Chiwetel Ejiofor, Rachel McAdams, Benedict Wong, and Benjamin Pratt.  Doctor Strange is rated PG-13 for sci-fi violence and action throughout and an intense crash sequence. I will also note that the overall content and thematic elements are not suitable for young children who may be used to going to other Marvel films such as Avengers and Guardians of the Galaxy

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

Check out my Family Movie Reviews too! 

Friday, November 4, 2016

Me Before You (Nik's Piks: Movie Review)

"You should be out there, claiming the world as your own." ~ Me Before You

The novel Me Before You by JoJo Moyes made my list of TOP FIVE Books of 2015. No doubt, then, I was really looking forward to the film. However, there is a reason I didn't rush off to the theater back in June to watch it, preferring, rather, to wait for it to become available on Blu-ray. TEARS! And, if you're prone to sobbing caused by an overload of emotions as I am, you may want to just curl up in a blanket and watch this one alone. This is one book-to-film adaptation they got right! 

Why? Well, first, Moyes herself wrote the screenplay and, therefore, the film is very true to the book, the themes, and the characters. Second, the performances by the entire cast were spot-on, most notably Emilia Clarke, whose performance embodied the persona of our heroine Louisa beautifully while capturing her quirkiness and genuine spirit. 

Louisa is in her mid-twenties, living at home, and working in a coffee shop. She has no real goals and is stuck in a town, in a life, that stifles her very existence. In a way, she is paralyzed figuratively. All this changes when she takes a job as a caregiver to a wealthy man, Will (Sam Claflin, who is amazing as well), who suffered an accident two years earlier that left him a quadriplegic. Prior to his injury, Will led a dream life with a successful career and a fulfilling personal life. 

Watch Official Trailer

Will has grown bitter and angry and, at first, resists the kindness and friendship Louisa offers. Day after day she brings her smile, and he rejects it. Overtime, she tears down his walls and proves she is a light in his darkness, and the two develop an amazing relationship. They teach each other to live fully and love with absolute unselfishness. In the end, the film is a powerful reminder to all of us to live life to the fullest in what little time we are given. 

"You need to widen your horizons, Clark. You only get one life. It's actually your duty to live it as fully as possible." ~ Me Before You 

Me Before You is a human drama that will leave your heart smiling while your eyes swell with tears. This story touched me as few have. It is a remarkable love story that will last through the ages. The film is rated PG-13 for thematic elements (some of which I am purposely omitting so as not to spoil the plot for you) and some suggestive material. It also stars Janet McTeer, Matthew Lewis, Jenna Coleman, Charles Dance, Brendan Coyle, Samantha Spiro, and Steve Peacocke.  I highly recommend this film, especially to all the hopeless romantics out there. 

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

Check out my Family Movie Reviews too! 

Thursday, November 3, 2016

What It Really Means to Be Vegan

It will be two years this coming January that I decided to transition to veganism, and, the truth of the matter is, it has been quite an easy path - for the most part. As far as food is concerned, there are so many vegan options, such as meat and cheese alternatives, now on the market that there really is no reason to say it is too difficult. You may recall that even restaurants are catching on to the more-humane lifestyle by offering vegan-friendly dishes or, at the very least, accommodating patrons who do one simple thing - ask!

Part of being vegan and/or plant-based is simply living a less-cruel life. It is not just about the foods you eat, but also about other products you buy and use such as cleaning products, cosmetics, and clothing. Eliminating animal by-products from clothing is pretty much a no-brainer. Just read labels and stay away from the obvious such as leather, suede, silk and fur (yes, usually faux fur as well)!

Another area, and one I am getting better at with each passing month, is that I am now about 80% vegan friendly when it comes to cosmetics and personal care items I purchase for myself. 

The one area I am falling short on is cleaning and similar household items. Although, I am conscious about it and more and more I look for and buy environmentally friendly products. When I don't I can honestly say it is because I succumb to the cost factor.   A mixture of good old white vinegar and water has become a go-to cleaner for me, but I still buy too many traditional cleaning products simply because they cost less. Not a good excuse, but a reality nonetheless.

When you think about things logically, vegan and/or cruelty-free products SHOULD cost less money (usually, at least). However, they are often priced much higher, and that is no accident! If you think that the lobbyists aren't involved in driving up the cost of these friendlier alternatives, you are sadly mistaken.  But, I don't want to digress too much. I am not here (not now anyway) to dissect the government's role in keeping special interest groups happy at the expense of millions of animals.

If you are wondering why I haven't written an installment in my Going Vegan series in a long time, the reason is simple. It is just something that has become so second nature to me, I don't think about it very much anymore. I also have amazingly supportive family and friends, which is a huge help. You want to know what else is odd? Eating vegan has changed my relationship with food. I now look at food much more for its nutritional value and I have seen a MAJOR drop in emotional-eating and binge-eating. If I do cave every now-and-then, I am scoffing down cucumbers with hummus rather than chocolate chip cookies. Vegan cookies are too expensive to binge-eat!

I have found balance to be the key to my success. If you decide to start a fitness program, you don't go out and run a marathon the very first day. You have to take baby steps (read more about the process here) and build up to a lifestyle that is NOT perfect, but rather LESS-cruel.  Will there be critics? Oh, man, YES! You will be criticized from non-vegans who simply find your choice weird or inconvenient for them. But you may also be criticized by fellow vegans who are at more advanced stage in their journey. Don't listen to any of them.  This is your journey.