Saturday, December 31, 2016

2017 - BRING IT!

In keeping with tradition, I am sitting here forcing myself to write a New Year's blog post.  And, while past New Year's posts have lamented on the passage of time and the fear that comes with change, I have decided to take a different approach this year. 

Some of you may remember that I actually declared 2015 as "one of the most tumultuous years of my life." Well, to be honest, 2016 only improved slightly, and as a whole, the universe did not seem happy. Ask just about anyone and most would agree that 2016 was a year from hell. Politics and world events aside, many people in general just seemed miserable with the state of our planet - and with good reason. 

For me, 2016 was another year of growth, change, and struggles. But, through all of it, I can happily say I survived and am looking forward to a new year with more adventures. Change is not always easy, but I am keeping the faith that all will work out as the universe so intended it to be.

The biggest accomplishment I am taking into 2017 is that my blog is now OVER two years old with consistent publications the entire time. And, while it hasn't made me financially independent (LOL), it has served some very important purposes. 

1) It has given me an outlet to express myself on anything and everything that gives me inspiration. 
2) It has allowed me to connect with readers and fellow bloggers, people that I have grown to respect and value as friends and colleagues. 
3) It has given me the opportunity to practice my trade (writing), even at times when I don't want to - a valuable skill to cultivate. 
4) It has enabled me to work with authors on editing assignments and book promotions. 
5) It has undoubtedly helped me land my latest professional career - working for a national non-profit as a grant writer/coordinator, which combines my love of non-profit / volunteer work with writing.  

So, with all that said, and now, for the first time, written down in black and white, I can justify all the late nights up writing, the times I made my sons wait "five more minutes" for dinner (which usually turned into an hour), and the countless hours working on ideas and promoting my blog. 

A few weeks ago, I announced on social media that I would be stopping my weekly movie reviews (weekly book reviews were stopped months and months ago due to time restraints.) The idea being that 2017 brings a slight return to the original purpose of the blog's inception - a personal journey. However, after discussing this decision with some that know me very well, (and, oddly, some that hardly know me at all) I have decided to not throw away the movie reviews so quickly. After all, they have been the bread and butter of my blog almost since the beginning. Discontinuing them would be like throwing away an old friend. Not my style. Plus, films give me so much inspiration. Therefore, I've decided there is no need to stop them altogether - but rather not pressure myself to write one each week. 

As I welcome in a new calendar year, I too welcome yet another era of my blog. Hopefully, one that will continue to promote books and films that inspire me while adding a deeper, more personal element.  

Thank you all very much for continuing to stop by, read, and comment on my posts. I wish you all a very Happy and Healthy New Year. 

Read more of my blog here

Friday, December 30, 2016

Sisters (Nik's Piks)

Sisters Movie Review

"A house is just a building.  Home is a feeling." ~ Sisters

For this week's movie review, I turn to the 2015 comedy, Sisters, starring the very talented Tina Fey and Amy Poehler. Kate (Fey) and Maura (Poehler) Ellis return to their childhood home, which their parents just sold, to clean out their bedroom. Consumed by memories of their teen years, the two decide to have one more party with their old high school friends. But, the sisters soon learn that "grown-up" parties are lame. So they decide to turn things up and prove to themselves that they can still party like rockstars. While the two come to the realization that their best years aren't necessarily behind them, the sisters also set out on another mission.
Growing up, Kate was the wild, vulgar, and over-the-top party animal. Maura was the reserved, quirky one who always had to keep things within the boundaries of  decency. But, tonight Kate decides Maura needs to let down her guard in an effort to relive the youth she missed out on. Part of that mission is to "get lucky" in her old bedroom. 

"Having sex in your childhood home is a right of passage." ~ Sisters

I am not typically a fan of obvious humor, but can tolerate it if the characters are endearing, and that is probably what saved this film for me. Otherwise, the story was weak and the film was simply propelled by comedic one-liners (mostly sexual innuendos) and situational comedy, that honestly got too ridiculous and was too predictable right up to the sappy ending. 

Watch Official Trailer 

Don't get me wrong, Sisters definitely has its funny moments and some great lines, but, overall, it was disappointing. On a positive note, Poehler was adorable and Fey was sexy, and the supporting cast, which included Ike Barinholtz, John Cena, Maya Rudolph, John Leguizamo, James Brolin, Dianne Wiest, Kate McKinnon, and Samantha Bee, was terrific. Sisters is a fun, light film perfect for date-night or girls' night out fun. The film is rated R for crude sexual content, language throughout, and drug use. 

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

Check out my Family Movie Reviews too! 

Friday, December 23, 2016

Nocturnal Animals (Nik's Piks)

"When you love someone, you have to be careful with it. You might never get it again." ~ Nocturnal Animals

Nocturnal Animals is based on Austin Wright's novel, Tony and Susan, and transformed to the big screen wonderfully by director and writer Tom Ford. I had not heard anything about the movie before deciding to go see it in theaters. However, the fact that it stars Amy Adams and Jake Gyllenhaal was enough for me. And they did not let me down. Both delivered stellar performances, and the script is nothing shy of a heart-pounding, nail-biting experience.

Susan Morrow (Adams) is the owner of an art gallery who left her husband, Edward (Gyllenhaal), an aspiring writer.  Now, nearly twenty years later, a package arrives for her from her estranged ex-husband - his completed novel dedicated to her. Viewers are thrown into the disturbing events of the novel as Susan reads it. The novel, an analogy of the pain she caused Edward years ago, stirs up deep-rooted pain and regrets in her. From here the film continues to show Susan's struggle with her past decisions, as well as flashbacks to her life with Edward.  

This is a powerful and dark story of betrayal and revenge - a film that will have you leaving the theater emotionally shaken and even, perhaps, with some questions.  I love psychological thrillers, and this was as intense as they come. 

Watch Official Trailer

Gyllenhaal once again proves why he is one of the best actors in Hollywood, and Adams just keeps getting better and better. Nocturnal Animals also stars Michael Shannon, Aaron Taylor-Johnson, Karl Glusman, and Laura Linney. The movie is rated R for violence (the worst of it implied), menace, graphic nudity, and language.

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

Check out my Family Movie Reviews too! 

Saturday, December 17, 2016

Rogue One (Nik's Piks)

Rogue One Parent Review

"All is as the force wills it." ~ Rogue One 

The latest Star Wars film is the first franchise spin-off and story in the Star Wars Anthology Series. Rogue One is set in the time frame between episodes III and IV, and, while viewers do run into some old favorites, introduces us to a new set of players. I am far from a Star Wars expert, but I have to admit. I loved this film. I liked it better than last year's The Force Awakens, despite the nostalgic draw that film had with the return of all our favorite characters. My son, the Star Wars fanatic in the house, loved Rogue One as well, despite feeling the need to point out the discrepancies in the plot to previous tales in the series. (Don't ask me....I have no idea what he was talking about.) 

Rogue One is different than other Star Wars films - probably why I liked it so much. It represented a level of heroic sacrifice not really seen in other films in the series. Felicity Jones as Jyn Erso and Diego Luna as Cassian Andor were perfectly cast and had great on-screen chemistry. The biggest takeaway from the film, one that had me turning to my son in the theater and whispering, "I don't believe this," is the fact that something happens in the movie that I don't recall ever happening in any other film. Naturally, I am not going to spoil it for you. 

Without going into too many plot points and ruining the film for you, the general premise behind Rogue One is a how an unlikely band of rebels take on a mission that seemed too great for the Rebel Alliance. However, not seeing any other choice, the group, led by Jyn and Cassian, decides to take matters into their own hands and risk everything to fight the Imperial Army and save the universe from the Empire's latest weapon. 

Watch Official Trailer

As I mentioned previously, there are some very fun and exciting new characters, including my favorite, K-2SO played by Alan Tudyk. Rogue One also stars Mads Mikkelsen, Jiang Wen, Donnie Yen, and Forest Whitaker. It may help to have prior Star Wars knowledge, but it is certainly not mandatory to enjoy this film. Rogue One is rated PG-13 for extended sequences of sci-fi violence and action.  

With that said and while we are on the subject of rating, may I vent one more time about parents who take children well below the 13-year-old age suggestion to PG-13 films.  I understand your 4-year-old may like Star Wars toys and pajamas, but this film, like all other PG-13 films, deals with subject matter not suitable for very young children. There are a ton of explosives, mass destruction, fight scenes, and deaths.  In addition, there is no way they are going to follow the story line. They will be bored and restless - just ask the preschooler who was running up and down my aisle in the theater. 

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

Check out my Family Movie Reviews too! 

Friday, December 16, 2016

Black Mass (Nik's Piks)

"You know Southie kids, we went straight from playing cops and robbers on the playground to doing it for real on the wasn't always easy to tell who was who." ~ Black Mass

Based on the book Black Mass: Whitey Bulger, the FBI, and A Devil's Deal by Dick Lehr and Gerard O'Neill, the 2015 mob film, Black Mass, is the true story of Boston gangster, Jimmy "Whitey" Bulger, that focuses on the loyalties that lie within crime families and the corruption that runs deep in our social structure. The film stars Johnny Depp as Whitey and Benedict Cumberbatch as his brother and local politician, Billy Bulger - two of my all-time favorite actors. Depp delivers yet another powerful performance, and Cumberbatch (OMG! His Boston accent!!) proves just how talented and versatile an actor he is.

Black Mass focuses on the crime wars of South Boston between 1975-1981 and the feud between the Irish mob and Italian mafia. FBI agent, John Connolly (Joel Edgerton), grew up in the same neighborhood idolizing Jimmy like all the other kids. He convinces FBI officials that it would be beneficial to use Whitey as an informant. Through Jimmy, they can finally capture the other mob bosses. The alliance with the Feds lasted years and resulted in the arrest of several gangsters. However, as the alliance begins to crumble under corruption and lies, the players are brought into light forcing Bulger into hiding in late 1994 where he remained for eleven years. 

"Get the FBI to fight our wars, against our enemies, while they protect us." ~ Black Mass

Black Mass portrays the brutal world of organized crime and demonstrates just how deep the corruption goes. Fans of mob films will surely want to check it out. However, despite a fascinating story and brilliant performances by the entire cast, I was not crazy about the film. It was slow-paced, and, frankly, I found the thick Boston accents difficult to understand at times. The film also stars Jesse Plemons, Corey Stoll, and Kevin Bacon, along with Dakota Johnson who gave a shocking performance as Lindsey Cyr, Whitey's wife. 

Watch Official Trailer

Black Mass is rated R for brutal violence, language throughout, some sexual references, and brief drug use. 

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

Check out my Family Movie Reviews too! 

Friday, December 9, 2016

Eye in the Sky (Nik's Piks)

Eye in the Sky

"Never tell a solider that he does not know the cost of war." ~ Eye in the Sky

Eye in the Sky is a 2015 British thriller that will show you an entirely different side to modern day warfare. British Colonel Powell (Helen Mirren) is forced to lead the capture mission in Nairobi of three of the most wanted terrorists in the world after the murder of one of their own. Working remotely with Kenyan and American military personnel, Powell locates the targets and sets off on a capture only mission. But, when new developments indicate the subjects are about to strike again, the mission changes from capture to kill.

As political and military leaders debate over the next steps to take, the situation is complicated further by the introduction of one collateral damage target.  One consideration is whether or not to win the propaganda war at the expense of many lives.  

"You are putting the whole mission at risk because of one collateral damage issue?" ~ Eye in the Sky

Eye in the Sky had me mesmerized from the opening scene. The film's look at drone warfare along with the moral, legal, and political aspects Western military leaders are forced to examine everyday was beyond fascinating. I hate to sound so dramatic, but there is really no other way to put my feelings into words. I loved this film!  Seeing how modern day wars are being fought was truly intriguing. The technology was crazy! 

Watch Official Trailer

Mirren is absolutely wonderful in this film. And, if she isn't enough Eye in the Sky also stars two of my favorites, the late Alan Rickman as Lieutenant General Benson and Aaron Paul as the Air Force drone pilot (the 'eye in the sky') responsible for releasing the weapon. Rickman is superb and Paul delivers a heartfelt performance. The entire cast was amazing and included Barkhad Abdi, Phoebe Fox, Iain Glen, and Richard McCabe along with many others. 

Eye in the Sky is rated R for some violent images and language. This is an intelligent war movie and one I highly recommend to everyone! (Not sure I ever said that before!) 

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

Check out my Family Movie Reviews too! 

Friday, December 2, 2016

Money Monster (Nik's Piks)

 "You see that's the irony about all this. You only came after me because I lost you money. No body was asking questions when everybody was making a profit." ~ Money Monster

Money Monster is a 2016 thriller directed by Jodie Foster and starring George Clooney and Julia Roberts. The underlying theme is ripped from today's headlines. Lee Gates (Clooney) is the host of a cheesy investment show. One day, while on live television, a disgruntled investor, Kyle Budwell played by Jack O'Connell, who lost his life's savings when he followed one of Gates' stock tips, walks on the set and takes Gates hostage. Insisting they keep the live feed or he'll kill Gates, the crew and the world watches in horror. 

"There's human fingerprints all over this." ~ Money Monster

The show's director, Patty Fenn (Roberts), tries to handle the negotiations between law enforcement and the intruder while getting answers from the company that somehow lost $800 million dollars in one day despite a foolproof algorithm. In a bizarre twist of fate, the show's host  honestly tries to get answers for this young man who is trying to take on the entire financial industry through his criminal acts. 

Watch Official Trailer

Despite some good performances and some griping scenes, the film didn't grab me (not at first anyway), and had me wondering if Clooney and Roberts just wanted to make another film together. There is no denying their on-screen chemistry.  I did like the film more by the end as the action became more intense, and as the story took shape and the characters became more developed. If you like dramas that focus on the financial industry, particularly current scams and questionable activity, you will like this film. Money Monster is rated R for language throughout, some sexuality, and brief violence. 

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

Check out my Family Movie Reviews too!