Friday, March 31, 2023

Apple TV’s series ‘Shrinking’ an unexpected surprise

By Matt Pascarella

Rated: TV-MA
10 episodes, renewed for Season Two

Co-created by “Ted Lasso’s” Brett Goldstein, ‘Shrinking’ tells the story of Jimmy who is struggling after his wife has died. He works as a cognitive behavioral therapist and is close to snapping. To say he is unprofessional at times is an understatement. He’s stuck and it’s affecting all aspects of his life.

It's having a negative effect on his relationship with his daughter Alice.

“Shrinking” stars Jason Segel, Harrison Ford, Jessica Williams, Luke Tennie, Michael Urie, Lukita Maxwell, Christa Miller, Lilan Bowden, and Ted McGinley.

Jimmy (Segel) works in a small office with two other therapists, Gaby (Williams) and Paul (Ford).

Jimmy’s pushy neighbor, Liz (Miller) asks him if this inattentive version of him is permanent. She tells him how amazing Alice is and before long she’ll be off to college and the relationship between the two of them will be even more strained. He needs to get back in the game.

Alice (Maxwell) reminds Jimmy the death of his wife happened to both of them and she’s had to deal with it all by herself. She hasn’t forgiven him for this.

Paul is a mentor to Alice and tells her nobody gets through life unscathed. He asks her if she’s going to let her grief drown her or face it and come through the other side.

Paul tells Jimmy Alice will run if Jimmy isn’t careful. Paul is speaking from experience.

Paul is estranged from his daughter who he contacts later in the series when he must tell her some serious news.

When Jimmy treats Sean (Tennie), a young soldier who’s worked overseas and has anger issues, Sean is resistant, but Jimmy gets him to open up.

After Jimmy has to bail Sean out of jail, Jimmy must call his best friend, Brian (Urie), who he’s been avoiding, for some legal counsel. Sean later moves in with Jimmy after Sean’s parents kick him out. Alice is less than cool with this, though they bond over time.

Williams is a great addition to this ensemble cast and is a nice contrast to her two grumpy and sad(ish) co-workers.

Ford steals the show as a resistant confidant who is annoyed by people, but offers help anyway, with a bit of sarcasm included. As Jimmy reaches out to Alice more and more, she continues to keep her distance. When he first brings this problem to Paul, and complains it’s not working, Paul tells him it’s understandable – he’s been trying for almost 10 minutes.

The theme of this show is a heavy one, but it’s very well done and combines humor and grief in a way that kept me looking forward to the next episode.

It’s a fun show with a great soundtrack. A positive show with great messages. It’s powerful and heartfelt and at times hard to watch with a few surprises thrown in. It does have some language and sexual content. Jimmy’s unconventional methods, though unethical are sometimes beneficial.

Two water bottles up!

Available on Apple TV+ <

Friday, March 17, 2023

Amazon’s ‘Shotgun Wedding’ a fun movie with explosions

By Matt Pascarella

Rated: R

Runtime: 1 hour, 40 minutes

A destination wedding can stressful; relatives don’t always get along or certain ones are driving you crazy. Throw in pirates who take everyone hostage, threaten their lives and now things are more than a little stressful.

On the day of Darcy and Tom’s wedding, tensions and nerves are running high. When pirates invade before the start of the ceremony, the two must figure out how to save their guests and themselves, while dealing with some pre-wedding jitters. This action-packed rom-com was good, clean – make that messy – fun.

“Shotgun Wedding” stars Jennifer Lopez, Josh Duhamel, Lenny Kravitz, Jennifer Coolidge, Cheech Marin, D’Arcy Carden, Callie Hernandez, Selena Tan, Alberto Isaac, Sonia Braga and Desmin Borges.

It’s the night before Darcy (Lopez) and Tom (Duhamel) are supposed to get married. Tom is trying to make everything perfect. They are in the Philippines and the rehearsal dinner is already a lot. Darcy’s mom, Renata, (Braga) is telling her she doesn’t want her ex-husband’s girlfriend, Harriet (Carden) to smile at her. Tom is having trouble connecting with Darcy’s dad, Robert (Marin). On top of all this Darcy’s ex-fiancé, Sean (Kravitz) arrives unexpectedly.

Back in their room, Darcy tells Tom she would have been happy eloping. Carol (Coolidge) insists Tom spend the night apart from Darcy because it’s bad luck otherwise.

The ceremony hasn’t started and there is unknown trouble about to inhabit the island.

Tom is worried Darcy might call off the wedding because that’s what happened to her and Sean. Tom and Darcy get into an argument, but quickly set that aside when pirates attack and take the guests hostage.

Darcy and Tom escape but are being pursued by a few pirates. Once Darcy and Tom are caught, the pirates cuff the couple’s hands together.

Quick thinking on Darcy’s part and they are able to escape two of the pirates, but this puts them in a very close call.

The guests are making pleas with the pirates. Darcy and Tom catch up to the rest of the guests. They are able to separate themselves from each other and fend off an attacker.

A sincere moment shows maybe Darcy and Tom aren’t as sure about their relationship.

Tom surrenders to the pirates in order to keep Darcy and the resort owners (Tan and Isaac) safe. Tom takes a hostage and some truths come out. Those who are thought to have perfect marriages reveal they are not so perfect.

The pirates are mad, and things get worse.

After some intense action, Darcy tells Carol she really likes one of the gifts Carol gave her and Tom.

This was a great action movie that was funny, kind of bloody, but also kind of sweet. It does have mild language and violence. It took a few turns I did not see coming, which was part of the fun. Despite this very solid cast, I agree with Darcy that pirates or no pirates eloping may have been the way to go here.

Two cake knives up!

Available to stream on Amazon Prime. <

Friday, March 10, 2023

Windham Center Stage Theater introduces ‘Cinderella Jr.’

By Masha Yurkevich

Each year in March, the Windham Center Stage Theater (WCST) presents one children’s show, and this year the production is Cinderella Jr.

The Windham Center Stage Theater welcomes everyone
to come and enjoy 'Cinderella Jr.,' the timeless classic that
reminds us that dreams really can come true and that
hard work and kindness is rewarded. SUBMITTED PHOTO  
Cinderella Jr. is a timeless classic that reminds us dreams really can come true. Cinderella can be seen as a heroine rather than a victim; regardless of how horribly she was treated by her stepfamily, she worked hard and remained kind. In the end, these virtues are rewarded through love and the acceptance of the Prince.

Rachel Scala is the director and music director of this production and has been a part of WCST for almost a decade. She grew up in Windham but only became part of the theater community after she returned from college in 2015. Prior to that, she was active in the musical world and sang in choirs, played in bands, as well as in a few pit orchestras.

In 2016, she was cast in her first musical at WCST, “Little Shop of Horrors.” That led her to be more involved with the WCST Board of Directors and thus, got her into the music direction. This is her first time directing a mainstage production. While it hasn't been easy, it has been a lot of fun for Scala.

“My favorite thing is to see the students discover new moments on stage; when they finally get a joke or try saying a line differently or move their body in a different way… that’s the magic,” says Scala.

As the director of this production, it is her job to help the actors discover their characters so that they can make choices on stage.

The show has always been double cast — meaning that two separate casts of students perform the same show. This is done in order to accept as many students as possible into the program.

“WCST has an ‘everyone who auditions gets a part, and every part is important’ policy,” says Scala.

This year, there is the Pumpkin Cast, primarily made up of students from grades 2 to 5, and the Glass Slipper Cast, which is primarily made up of middle school-aged students. The Pumpkin Cast has 22 students, and the Glass Slipper Cast has 21.

Planning of this show started in August 2022 and auditions for the production were held in November 2022.

“It has been so fun being a part of this production,” says Scala. “I never planned on directing being a part of my journey, but I’m happy that my life has brought me down this path. Working with the children has been amazing, but what gets me every time is how dedicated our families are to the production, from the folks who sat through every rehearsal to the parents who set up our stage and collect our props.”

The Board of Directors are managing and supporting to costume this production, which speaks to WCST’s mission of a community of thespians working together to create a diverse and rich cultural experience, and Scala says that she is beyond proud to be a part of that.

This show comes at a very fragile time in WCST’s history. After enduring a national pandemic, community theaters around the world struggled to reopen the curtain.

“After shifts in leadership and a rocky start to our season, I’m so proud of WCST for coming together and getting this show done,” says Scala. “It is a staple in our season and a part of so many family traditions in Windham and surrounding communities.”

The Windham Center Stage Theater welcomes all to come and enjoy the Cinderella Jr. show through March 19 with Friday and Saturday evening shows at 7 p.m. and Saturday and Sunday shows starting at 2 p.m. All shows take place at the Windham Town Hall located at 8 School Road. Doors open a half hour before the show starts.

Tickets are $15 for adults, $12 for students and seniors, and free for children under the age of three who will be sitting on a lap. Tickets can also be purchased online at <

Friday, March 3, 2023

The Celtic Tenors to perform in Windham on St. Patrick’s Weekend

World-class entertainers, The Celtic Tenors, are globally beloved by audiences for their world-class musical artistry and good-humored performances. They are three unique solo voices, but when called upon blend into one tenor sound and are coming soon to Windham.

The Celtic Tenors will appear in concert at the Windham
Performing Arts Center at 7:30 p.m. Saturday, March 18
with special guests The Windham Chamber Singers.
The Celtic Tenors will be performing at the Windham Performing Arts Center at 7:30 p.m. Saturday, March 18 with special guests, The Windham Chamber Singers.

The trio has captivated audiences throughout the United Kingdom, Europe, and the United States since their arrival on the music scene in 2000. What began as three very talented friends gathering on the operatic stage has since exploded into an international recording and touring phenomenon that transcends the trio’s classical roots and embraces folk, pop, and various other dimensions of the musical spectrum.

The Celtic Tenors are the most successful classical crossover act to emerge from Ireland and with a polished international reputation and more than a million CDs sold worldwide, The Celtic Tenors offer something truly unique, which are the skill, range and ability of world class tenors, combined with the personality and fun of genuine performers.

Matthew Gilsenan, James Nelson and Daryl Simpson are The Celtic Tenors and they perform renditions of beautiful Celtic songs ranging from exhilarating classics to a capellas to popular contemporary music.

The conductor of The Windham Chamber Singers, Dr. Richard Nickerson says he’s excited about this unique musical opportunity for the community.

“This will certainly be a night to remember,” Nickerson said. “We are thrilled that we have the opportunity to share the stage with The Celtic Tenors and excited to continue our tradition of bringing the highest quality performers to Windham.”

Tickets are $10 to $25 reserved seating and on sale now. They can be purchased online at

The Windham Performing Arts Center is at 406 Gray Road, Windham.

For more information, send an email to Dr. Richard Nickerson at <

Movie Review: ‘The Whale’ powerful, but ultimately sad, depressing

By Matt Pascarella

Rated: R
Runtime: 1 hour, 57 minutes

Charlie is an obese man who lives alone and works as a professor remotely. He left his family when his daughter was 8 to be with the man he loved. After this man dies, Charlie’s life and health get progressively worse. He has congestive heart failure but refuses to go to the hospital for treatment. When his daughter comes back into his life, she is very upset with him, but he wants nothing more than to be a part of her life.

“The Whale” stars Brendan Fraser, Sadie Sink, Ty Simpkins, Hong Chau, and Samantha Morton. I wanted to like this movie more than I did, but still thought it was pretty good.

Charlie (Fraser) is having trouble breathing just as a missionary, Thomas (Simpkins) knocks at the door. Charlie is not interested but tells the man to read an essay as Charlie believes these could be his last moments on Earth.

Just then, his friend who is a nurse, Liz (Chau) stops by. She is frustrated at seeing a missionary there and tells him to leave. She then takes Charlie’s blood pressure, and it is very high. She explains to him he has congestive heart failure and should go to the hospital, but Charlie refuses.

Later, his daughter Ellie (Sink) comes over. They have not seen each other in eight years. Charlie is happy to see her and really wants to get to know her. She is upset with him for leaving the family because he was in love with a student, Alan, who has passed away.

Ellie exploits Charlie’s want to spend time with her by telling him to rewrite some essays for classes she is failing. This comes after he promises to pay her a large sum of money to continue to let her see him. Life has not been easy for Ellie, and she’s pretty mean to Charlie right from the start.

Despite all this, Charlie worries Ellie has forgotten what an amazing person she is. Liz tells him bringing Ellie over is a bad idea.

Charlie doesn’t do anything to take care of himself. He eats junk food in copious amounts which only leads to him feeling worse. There is an instance where he chokes, but thankfully Liz is there to save him.

Thomas returns again in another effort to get Charlie to become a part of the church. Liz reinforces that she wants Thomas to stay away, but Thomas claims Charlie needs spiritual guidance. Liz tells him Charlie will likely die soon and she’s the only one who can help him.

Thomas returns again, but this time it is discovered he’s not who he originally introduced himself as. He still won’t give up on Charlie.

Ellie continues to act terrible toward Charlie. She screams at him and tells him she doesn’t care about him. Is this true?

This is an engaging, but depressing movie. It is emotional and powerful. Fraser and Sink both give amazing performances. I did not know what to expect going in, I had just heard that this movie was incredible. It starts in kind of a low place and by the end, hasn’t risen much higher.

It does have a fair amount of language and there is some sexually suggestive dialogue and brief imagery. I was interested in Charlie’s life, but as it progressed, I was disappointed in the direction the plot was taking. I’d recommend this movie only for the impressive acting by Fraser and Sink.

Now playing in select theaters and available to buy. <

Friday, February 17, 2023

Movie Review: ‘Beast’ an action-packed survival thriller

By Matt Pascarella

Rated: R
Runtime: 1 hour, 33 minutes

Before I go too far, this movie does deal with simulated animal cruelty and poachers play a part in the story.

Dr. Nate Samuels and his two daughters, Norah and Meredith, or Mare, travel to South Africa for a vacation after the loss of their wife and mother, Amahle. Nate meets up with his friend Martin and while visiting a restricted reserve, they come across carnage. They quickly find themselves fighting for their lives against a man-killing lion.

When I first saw the preview for “Beast” in the theater, it was billed as a horror movie, and I didn’t find the idea of running from a lion that scary – in a movie. I judged too quickly because this is more a gripping thriller rather than a horror movie.

“Beast” stars Idris Elba, Iyana Halley, Leah Jefferies, Sharlto Copely, Naledi Mogdime and Tafara Nyatsanza.

Dr. Nate Samuels (Elba) and his daughters Norah (Jefferies) and Mare (Halley) have all experienced terrible loss when their wife and mother Amahle (Mogdime) recently passed away.

There is tension between Norah, Mare and Nate. The three are traveling to South Africa in an effort to reconnect.

They meet up with a friend of Nate and Amahle’s, Martin (Copely) and he takes them on a trip to a restricted area of a local reserve.

Martin introduces them to Banji (Nyatsanza) who will take them on a tour to see a pride of lions. Banji tells the three he has a tranquilizer gun just in case; he hopes he doesn’t have to use it.

They all stop at what appears to be a village and are advised to keep to themselves. They discover the village is not abandoned, though it’s not exactly inhabited.

They come across an injured man who has been attacked by a lion. They don’t have time to help him because the lion attacks their vehicle, almost pushing it over a cliff with Nate, Mare and Norah in it. Martin is missing and the three discover he’s been attacked.

The vehicle won’t start, and Martin tells them he’s lion bait because he’s in their territory.

The lion attacks again and traps Nate under the vehicle. A tranquilizer is used, but it doesn’t last as long as they hoped. Mare finds Martin and brings him back to the vehicle where Nate dresses his wound. Martin says the lions are doing this because of the poachers.

During the night, poachers arrive, and Nate tries to convince them to get them out of there. The poachers agree to help Nate and his family for $5,000, but once they see Martin, the deal is off.

Things escalate quickly and badly. The lion reappears and attacks many; it is now looking for Nate. The lion attacks the vehicle again and Martin makes a tough decision.

Mare is injured and Nate brings her back to an abandoned schoolhouse to fix her up. The lion is waiting.

No lions were used during the filming of this movie, it was all computer-generated images and looks pretty realistic. “Beast” is an action-packed, bloody, but not horror movie gory, fast-paced thriller with an element of family togetherness to it. While I did enjoy it, I wouldn’t say this is a ‘must-see;’ it’s pretty good though.

One camera up.

Available on Amazon Prime and to rent. <

Friday, February 3, 2023

‘The Loyola Project’ will open your eyes to early days of college basketball

By Matt Pascarella

Not Rated
Runtime: 1 hour, 28 minutes

Prior to 1963, Loyola University Chicago was not ranked or noticed. Once Coach George Ireland recruited several black players: Jerry Harkness, Ron Miller, Les Hunter, and Vic Rouse, along with their only white starter, Jack Egan, the Iron Five would not only put Loyola on the map but go on to change the landscape of college sports. This is their story, and it is a fascinating one.

Prior to the early 1960s, Loyola University Chicago coach George Ireland had been on a losing streak and students wanted him out.

In the early 1960s in college basketball there was an unwritten rule about how many black players could be on the court at one time. In short, it was no more than three, and silently encouraged as discrimination and racism were prevalent at the time.

While it may have been Coach Ireland who broke this rule by starting four black players consistently, it’s the players themselves who share their experiences and feelings in this documentary that make it significant.

Created and narrated by Loyola alumnus Lukas Williamson, “The Loyola Project” stars Jerry Harkness, Ron Miller, Rich Rochelle, Gary Salies, Jerald Harkness, John Egan, Nona Martin Storr, Chuck Wood, Judy Van Dyck and Fred Mitchell.

In March of 2018, Loyola advanced to the Final Four of the National Collegiate Athletic Association (NCAA) tournament. Williamson was a freshman and with every round they advanced, he was reminded of the past.

Jerry Harkness loved basketball, but never considered himself good enough to play on a team. He kept playing ball and, with the help of his high school basketball coach, got noticed by Ireland to play for Loyola. This was the beginning.

Higher education was overwhelmingly segregated at the time and in places like Mississippi, the governor there, Ross Barnett, denounced any integrated athletic contests.

"Racism in sports was not a new thing, but it was a part of our lives that we lived,” said Rich Rochelle, a Loyola center from 1960 to 1964.

The Jim Crowe Laws were rule in the South. There was nothing that could protect from this type of segregation.

Black players were disrespected and shouted at during games; there was a belief that the white players on a team were the brains and the black players the ability.

In Chicago there were hate-filled mobs. If Loyola was to compete nationally, they would have to get past race.

The hard truths about segregation were unavoidable to the Iron Five; however, they could take it out on the court – which is exactly what they did.

Ireland recruited very talented black players more so because he wanted to win and less because he was making a statement about being against segregation.

After Loyola’s basketball team lost three players, the Iron Five were now playing the full forty minutes and the pressure which had mounted, was getting to everyone.

It’s important for generations past, present and future to know what this team endured. I learned about an aspect of black history I wasn’t aware of. Their sacrifices made an incredible difference and left an impact on the game of basketball. The Iron Five are a precursor not only for basketball but for many black athletes of today. The Iron Five broke barriers and made me wonder if they were able to get past those barriers on the court, why society can’t get past them off the court?

Definitely worth watching; two thumbs up.

Now streaming on Paramount+. <

Friday, January 20, 2023

‘A Man Called Otto’ shows you matter more than you think

By Matt Pascarella

Rated: PG-13
Runtime 2 hours, 6 minutes

At first glance, Otto Anderson is someone you would most likely want to avoid; yelling, barking orders, going off about why people are stupid – not the friendliest guy in the world. But, if you took the time to get know Otto, you would see he can actually be a nice guy. A nice guy who is having a hard time and is unwilling, or unsure, of how to let people in.

When Otto gets new neighbors, Marisol and family, she doesn’t let his curmudgeonly ways stop her from becoming a part of his life. While this movie deals with some tougher subject matter than I was expecting, I really enjoyed it.

“A Man Called Otto” stars Tom Hanks, Mariana Treviño, Manuel Garcia-Rulfo, Truman Hanks, Juanita Jennings, Peter Lawson Jones, Mack Bayda, Cameron Britton, Kailey Hyman, Christiana Montoya, Alessandra Perez, Rachel Keller, and Mike Birbiglia.

Otto (Tom Hanks) is angry; angry people ask him stupid questions and do stupid things. He’s constantly yelling at the people in his apartment complex to keep their pets off his sidewalk or at delivery drivers who park to drop off packages.

While in the middle of something, Otto sees Marisol (Treviño) and her family moving in across the way. He is less than thrilled, especially when he sees her husband Tommy’s (Garcia-Rulfo) inability to back his trailer up to the curb.

He says to Tommy that a dog with one front paw and cataracts can back up a trailer. Otto does help them or rather demands that Tommy let him back up the trailer. Once he gets in their car Otto meets Marisol’s children, Luna (Montoya) and Abbie (Perez).

Otto is lonely. Every so often you get flashbacks to how young Otto (Truman Hanks) met his wife, Sonya (Keller).

His wife recently died, and he visits her grave often to talk. He says to her nothing works when you’re not at home. This loneliness has caused him to take some drastic measures several times.

Meanwhile, Dye & Merica Real Estate Agent (Birbiglia) is trying to oust its residents.

When Otto meets a former student of Sonya’s, Malcom (Bayda), who says Sonya was the only person who treated him with kindness after he came out as transgender, this sparks a friendship.

Despite his apparent disdain for much of humanity, people are drawn to Otto, whether he likes it or not.

Otto just wants to be reunited with his wife, but life gets in the way. He continues to help Marisol and her family. He babysits for them and even teaches Marisol to drive.

You get more glimpses into his early life with Sonya. Otto says his life was black and white before he met her, she was the color.

When Marisol offers to help him clear out some of Sonya’s things, he loses it on her, and she expects the worst and afterward demands to know why.

Marisol says to Otto no one can do it all on their own.

Tom Hanks is an American treasure. Even as a guy who has had it with life, Hanks gives an outstanding performance. So does his son, Truman, as a younger version of Otto. This movie is heartfelt, funny, sad, but engaging – I wanted to know more about Otto’s life with Sonya.

Fair warning this movie might evoke a tear or two – whether through laughter or sadness. It carries an important message that no person is an island; you don’t get an award at the end of your life if you never asked for help. I highly recommend seeing this in the theater. Don’t wait – it’s just too good.

Two 1964 silver quarters up.

Now playing in theaters.<

Friday, December 30, 2022

Netflix’s ‘Slumberland’ a fun treasure hunt

By Matt Pascarella

Rated: PG
Runtime: 1 hour, 57 minutes

End 2022 or start 2023 with this action-packed, sweet movie the entire family can enjoy.

Your dreams don’t just happen – there is an entire team in Slumberland that can make them happen.

After Nemo experiences a devasting loss, she checks out, disengages with the world, and wants to be left alone ... except when she’s in Slumberland, only reachable through sleep. In Slumberland, anything is possible with the help of her friend Flip. When the Dream Police begin chasing the two, they have to find a way to escape safely. And Nemo needs to find the joy that life has to offer.

“Slumberland” stars Jason Momoa, Marlow Barkley, Chris O’Dowd, Kyle Chandler, and Weruche Opia.

Nemo (Barkley) and her dad Peter (Chandler) live in a lighthouse. They work during the day and tell stories at night. The two are very close. Peter tells Nemo when she can answer the question “what is a lighthouse for?” she can have the keys to it.

During a horrible storm, Peter is lost at sea. Nemo goes to live with her estranged uncle, Philip (O’Dowd). Philip is closed off and keeps very much to himself; he and Nemo don’t really connect at first.

Then, in her dreams, Nemo meets Flip (Momoa) in Slumberland. Nemo would really like to see her dad again. Flip says they can go on a treasure hunt and asks her for a map, which she does not have. She wakes up.

She finds the map and returns to Slumberland where she and Flip go on a treasure hunt for a pearl. Nemo finds out Flip and Peter were friends, and they spent a lot of time in Slumberland. In Slumberland, you can do anything your heart desires – dancing, dump truck driving, you name it. But there are things to watch out for.

Agent Green (Opia) of the Dream Police is also looking for this treasure map.

Bad things happen and chaos ensues. Nemo is having a nightmare and eventually wakes up. She continues to struggle with the outside world and wants to remain isolated. Unfortunately, Philip is little help. He tells her to not shut herself off from the world; life is what happens when you’re awake.

Back in Slumberland, Flip would also like to see Peter, but is being pursued by the Dream Police.

Flip and Nemo become a team, but the Dream Police catch up to them and Flip is arrested.

Nemo wants a dream with her dad, but that’s not how Slumberland works.

Philip reveals how much he used to look up to his brother and you learn he has a connection to Flip.

Nemo returns to Slumberland and busts Flip out of jail.

Meanwhile, she and Philip have a fight and Nemo leaves, putting herself in real danger in order to get back to Slumberland.

This movie is visually stunning with incredible special effects that envelop the entire screen. I found it a little slow in parts – but overall, good. It’s a heartfelt, fun movie with a nice message about living life to the fullest. “Slumberland” is good, but not great. Still worth a watch.

One plush pig up.

Available on Netflix. <

Friday, December 16, 2022

HBO Max’s “A Christmas Story Christmas” hands down a winner

By Matt Pascarella

Rated: PG
Runtime: 1 hour, 38 minutes

The bunny suit. The leg lamp. The bar of soap. That mean Santa. And of course, the famous BB gun. It’s the 1940s and “A Christmas Story” is a tradition every holiday season.

Now, it’s the 1970s and Ralphie Parker is now grown up with a wife and family of his own. When his dad unexpectedly passes away right before Christmas, Ralphie returns home to make sure his mom and family have the kind of Christmas his dad used to give Ralphie and his brother when they were little, but there are a few hiccups along the way.

This nostalgic movie was fun and put me in the spirit of the holidays. It features many from the original cast and several callbacks to the original movie.

“A Christmas Story Christmas” stars Peter Billingsley, Erinn Hayes, River Drosche, Julianna Layne, Julie Hagerty, Scott Schwartz, R.D. Robb, and Zack Ward.

Life moves fast – one minute you’re playing kick the can with kids named Flick and Schwartz and the next minute you’re paying taxes and pulling out gray hairs. Ralphie Parker (Billingsley) is writing the great American novel and has until the end of the year to find a publisher or he’s returning to the rat race and giving up on writing.

He’s excited to start celebrating Christmas as his parents are coming in two days.

When he gets a call that his dad has died, Ralphie and his family return to his old home in Indiana on Cleveland Street; his mother wants him to make a great Christmas, just like “The Old Man” used to do every year. Ralphie has to pull it off to honor his dad.

Ralphie’s children Julie (Layne) and Mark (Drosche) run into some bullies who are very similar to the ones who used to pick on Ralphie.

He meets his old friends Flick (Schwartz) and Schwartz (Robb) at a bar. They help him brainstorm ideas for the perfect family Christmas – kind of.

On top of all this, his mom wants him to write his dad’s obituary.

On a trip to the department store Higbee’s, Ralphie and his wife, Sandy (Hayes) manages to get everything they need to give the family a perfect Christmas.

After a snowball fight lands Julie in the hospital, with an eye injury of all things, the gifts are stolen from Ralphie’s car.

He must now use the most delicate of parental maneuvers: the lowering of expectations. However, Ralphie won’t give up on a perfect Christmas.

I’m not the biggest fan of “A Christmas Story,” but after seeing this third installment I gave the original another try – it’s not bad, but I found this version more fun.

“A Christmas Story Christmas” is an excellent movie. It’s full of Christmas cheer, is family oriented and will put you in the mood for the holiday. It has a nice message reminding us of what the season is really about, and that it can be filled with a few surprises, when you least expect it.

One Flexible Flyer F-23 Yankee Clipper and one Red Ryder 200-shot Range Model Air Rifle up!

Available on HBO Max. <

Friday, December 2, 2022

Movie Review: Apple TV+’s ‘Spirited’ a comedic twist on a classic tale

By Matt Pascarella

Rated: PG-13
Runtime: 2 hours, 7 minutes

I need to give fair warning about Apple TV+’s new movie “Spirited.” It is a musical and I wasn’t crazy about that either, but I promise this one is worth it.

The story of Charles Dickens’s “A Christmas Carol” is a must around this time of year. What if it were told from a different perspective, in a different way? The Ghost of Christmas Present wants to turn the life of nasty guy Clint around while at the same time establishing a life for himself – past Ghosthood.

“Spirited” stars Will Ferrell, Ryan Reynolds, Octavia Spencer, Patrick Page, Sunita Mani, Tracy Morgan, Loren G. Woods, Marlow Barkley, Joe Tippett, Andrea Anders, and Rose Byrne.

The Ghost of Christmas Present (Ferrell) and his co-workers are in the business of change.

We meet Karen (Byrne), who is having a tough time with the possibility of her future. She is relieved to find out there is still time to change her wicked and awful ways. After which it is revealed that she has officially changed.

There is a dedicated staff, run by Jacob Marley (Page), who work hard to make sure these odious individuals change their ways. They haunt someone, change them, and then sing about it.

After the successful turnaround of Karen, HR gives The Ghost of Christmas Present the option to retire and return to Earth. The Ghost of Christmas Present is not ready; he enjoys changing people.

Enter Clint Briggs (Reynolds); a self-centered, manipulative man whose company creates controversy, conflict and disinformation to benefit their clients.

He is described as a combination of Mussolini and Ryan Seacrest. Marley objects to trying to change Clint because he has been deemed unredeemable. However, after some begging and probably singing, Marley says yes, and the ghosts get to work on figuring out how to change this unpleasant man.

Clint’s assistant, Kimberley (Spencer), is unhappy with the work she does and thinks she is a terrible person. The Ghost of Christmas Present thinks otherwise and may have a tiny crush on her.

Marley visits Clint, but it doesn’t go as it usually does in the famed ghost story. Marley gets frustrated and leaves. Marley classifies Clint as a Level 20 pain in the butt.

And now Clint’s hauntings begin. However, the ghosts don’t behave as you might think they would, and The Ghost of Christmas Past’s visit has some adult themes.

Clint had a hard life as a child which may be the reason – not an excuse – for the way he is today.

The Ghost of Christmas Present then has to step in. During a particularly hard key life moment, Clint manages to escape seeing this uncomfortable moment from his past; a moment that could lead to Clint becoming a better person.

Clint learns he has been classified as “unredeemable,” and tells The Ghost of Christmas Present mankind is as bad as the comments section on an internet forum. You learn a secret about The Ghost of Christmas Present.

The Ghost of Christmas Present quits. Clint doesn’t want to deal with the potential consequences from his actions shown by The Ghost of Christmas Future (Morgan).

Ferrell and Reynolds are great together. I signed up for Apple TV+ just to watch this and I do not regret it. It was less than seeing it in the theater. It’s funny and has an important message about doing good in the world. One small act of kindness can have a ripple or even a wave effect and who knows how far and how many people that can reach?

Two shower loofas up!

Now streaming on Apple TV+. <

Friday, November 18, 2022

Movie Review: ‘Ticket to Paradise’ has laughs, heart

By Matt Pascarella

Rated: PG-13
Runtime: 1 hour, 44 minutes

From the very start, this movie was cringeworthy yet funny. After seeing their only daughter graduate from college, a divorced couple follows her to Bali where they plan to break up her engagement to a man that she met there on a post-college trip. What follows is unexpected for all parties involved.

“Ticket to Paradise” stars Julia Roberts, George Clooney, Billie Lourd, Kaitlyn Denver, Maxime Bouttier, Lucas Bravo, Dorian Djoudi and Genevieve Lemon.

David (Clooney) and Georgia (Roberts) have a very strong dislike for one another. However, they love their daughter, Lily (Denver). They each attend Lily’s college graduation and are not happy to sit next to each other. When it comes to Lily, everything is a competition between David and Georgia; so much so they when she gets up to receive her diploma the two try to outdo each other in proclaiming how proud they are and how much they love her.

Lily is on track to start at a top law firm as a lawyer, but not before a vacation to Bali with her best friend Wren (Butler). During the trip, she and Wren are separated from a tour group and it’s here that Lily meets Gede (Bouttier).

In a little over a month’s time, Lily is calling her parents to tell them she is engaged to Gede and will stay in Bali and not become a lawyer.

Both parents are not thrilled with the news, and each think they have to go down there to talk/trick her out of marrying Gede. They attempt a truce, but it’s very difficult for both of them.

Lily even asks them if they have made a pact to not murder each other before they murder her.

Shortly after meeting Gede, David tries to scare him by making him think Lily might bail on the marriage at any moment.

Despite this manipulation, when David is talking to Gede about how their marriage went south, there is a tinge of sadness in his voice.

When Georgia and David devise a plan and successfully steal the wedding rings, putting the ceremony on hold, Gede becomes suspicious.

While David continues to manipulate and tries to drive a wedge between Lily and Gede, Georgia has second thoughts about their sabotage.

In a moment of unity, Georgia and David challenge Lily and Gede to a game of beer pong, and some serious dances moves are busted out. This was definitely my favorite part in the whole movie. Lily said she was praying for an asteroid.

Around this point, Georgia’s boyfriend, Paul (Bravo) surprises her which only complicates matters.

After a tour gone wrong, Lily finds out about the rings and tells her parents she’s getting married – they can either get on board or fly home.

Clooney and Roberts play a very convincing bickering old (ex-)married couple and are an excellent comedy duo. There are many funny parts throughout this movie. I wasn’t busting a gut laughing, but this is a light and fun movie that is sweet, sad and malicious at times. I don’t think it’s absolutely necessary to see it in the theater, but I did, and enjoyed myself.

Two clumps of seaweed up!

Make sure you stay for the beginning of the credits.

Now playing in theaters and available to rent. <

Friday, November 4, 2022

Movie Review: Netflix’s ‘The Adam Project’ action-packed, heartfelt fun

By Matt Pascarella

Rated: PG-13
Runtime: 1 hour, 46 minutes

“Time travel exists, you just don’t know it yet,” is the first line of this science-fiction adventure.

A time-traveling fighter pilot named Adam finds himself in 2022 (from the year 2050) and meets his 12-year-old self. The two join forces to save the future. Along the way the two learn about and from the other version of himself.

“The Adam Project” stars Ryan Reynolds, Walker Scobell, Mark Ruffalo, Jennifer Garner, Zoe Saldana, Catherine Keener, Alex Mallari Jr., and Braxton Bjerken.

Future Adam (Reynolds) steals a time-traveling jet to save his wife, Laura (Saldana) in 2018, but overshoots and ends up in 2022.

In 2022, 12-year-old Adam (Scobell) is often the target of bullies, due in part to talking back. When a fight gets him suspended for the third time, his mother Ellie (Garner) is furious.

Adam tells her with all these suspensions, you think he’d be better at fighting; she is not amused.

One night, while Ellie is on a date, 12-year-old Adam is playing video games and the power goes out. His dog takes off and he goes outside to find him where the atmosphere is similar to the Upside-Down. Adam finds his future self, injured in his dad’s shed. Adam’s dad was killed in a car accident.

Since future Adam is injured, he needs younger Adam’s DNA to enter his ship. Future Adam needs younger Adam to help him get to 2018.

While the two have some very sincere exchanges, younger Adam realizes things might not be so easy for his future self.

Adam is attacked by Maya Sorian (Keener), leader of the dystopian world. She also tried to assassinate Laura, who is also stuck in the past. Laura, who had a secret, helps the Adams defeat Sorian’s thugs.

Adam’s dad, Louis (Ruffalo) invented time-travel and Laura tells Adam he has to go back to 2018 in order to stop time travel from being invented; he must save the future. The two Adams return to 2018.

Here they meet their dad who is not thrilled to see them. He tells them they can’t be anywhere but their own timeline. The Adams need their dad to save the future.

The Adams share their thoughts on life with each other and their interactions can be profound at times.

Everything changes when another version of Maya Sorian threatens to kill younger Adam. Things go wrong. Is it too late to save the future?

This was an action-packed heartfelt movie. I did find it a little convoluted in parts, trying to figure out whose timeline is whose. I was satisfied with how it ended.

As time-travel movies go, it’s not one of my favorites. However, I’d still recommend it as a movie the whole family can watch. Note: there is mild language and violence.

Two “lightsabers” up.

Available on Netflix. <

Friday, October 21, 2022

Movie Review: ‘Smile’ a disturbing surprise

By Matt Pascarella

Rated: R
Runtime: 1 hour, 55 minutes

In order to get the maximum screams for your buck, go into this movie knowing as little as possible. I honestly thought this would not affect me the way it did. I would put this in my top 20 favorite horror movies.

A doctor experiences a horrible incident and from that point on believes a malevolent spirit or force is coming for her in the form of smiling individuals. After doing some research, she finds that there have been several deaths and other traumas as a result of this possible force that was passed to her before she experienced the horrible incident. Is the doctor coming unhinged or is she onto something? Could there really be an evil presence that presents itself through smiling victims?

I realize that might sound stupid, but what I thought would be a not-so-scary overall disappointing horror movie (based on seeing only the trailer), turned out to leave me feeling anxious throughout. This was a very unsettling, albeit satisfactory horror movie, a good scare.

“Smile” stars Sosie Bacon, Jessie T. Usher, Caitlin Stasey, Kyle Gallner, Kal Penn, Robin Weigert, Rob Morgan and Gillian Zinser.

Dr. Rose Cutter (Bacon) sees patient Laura (Stasey) in the psychiatric unit of the hospital after Laura has experienced a violent act. Laura tells Rose it’s not a safe place for her; she is seeing something only she can see. It wears people’s faces like masks and smiles – not friendly smiles. Laura is screaming and completely beside herself.

Before Rose has a chance to intervene, things get very, very bad. And now Rose is beside herself. She is ordered by her boss (Penn) to take a week off.

Things only get progressively worse for her, and she decides to see a therapist (Weigert).

Rose is seeing and hearing things that she describes as a fleeting moment of stress-induced hallucinations.

When she tries to convince her family that an evil presence has attached itself to her, fiancé Trevor (Usher) and sister Holly (Zinser), don’t believe her.

Watch out for the birthday party scene.

More time goes by, and Rose is only getting worse. Trevor is worried about her. Rose is worried because mental illness runs in their family and her mother committed suicide several years back.

There are only two people who believe her: a police officer, Joel (Gallner) and an inmate who somehow escaped the “curse,” (Morgan). The inmate tells her the thing needs trauma to spread. There’s only one way to pass it on.

This movie left me nervous and dreading what was going to happen next. That’s kind of what I was looking for in a good horror movie; this one may have over-delivered.

This movie is heavy on the language. It’s pretty violent and there are a lot of frightening scenes. Plus, suicide is a theme. Parts of the movie are shocking, yet sometimes ridiculous.

I continually asked myself what was real and what was not. The ominous, haunting music only exacerbates the disturbing nature of this movie. Even the voices and booming echoes as the credits ran gave me a feeling of uneasiness. For the most part I found it unpredictable and messed up. As a Halloween movie night, I would see this one in the theater – preferably not alone.

Two toy trains up.

Now playing only in theaters. <

Friday, October 7, 2022

Movie Review: Disney+’s ‘Hocus Pocus 2’ different from original

By Matt Pascarella

Rated PG
Run Time 1 hour, 43 minutes

It’s officially the scariest time of the year! What better way to begin the Halloween movie season then with a sequel to a classic.

The Sanderson Sisters return to Salem to try once again to gain immortality, and this time a new group of kids will maybe thwart these witches. Are the sisters just as powerful as they used to be? Is this as much fun as the original? Or maybe a bit of a letdown?

This sequel stars Bette Midler, Sarah Jessica Parker, Kathy Najimy, Whitney Peak, Belissa Escobedo, Hannah Waddingham, Lilia Buckingham, Taylor Henderson, Nina Kitchen, Juju Journey Brener, Sam Richardson, Doug Jones and Tony Hale.

It’s 1653 in Salem and a young Winifred Sanderson (Henderson) is very upset because it’s her 16th birthday and she doesn’t want to marry the Reverend she’s committed to. The actresses who play the Sanderson sisters (Kitchen and Brener) give incredible performances. Henderson especially has Winifred’s cadence, facial expressions and movements down.

The Reverend banishes them from Salem, but they escape to the Forbidden Wood where they meet The Witch Mother (Waddingham) who tells them one day Salem will belong to Witches and gives Winifred Book.

It's Halloween, current day and is Becca’s (Peak) birthday. She and her best friend Izzy (Esccobedo) have plans for a sleepover. They wish their friend Cassie (Buckingham) would hang out with them, but things have changed since she got a boyfriend.

Magic shop owner Gilbert (Richardson) tells the story of the Sanderson Sisters. He has Winifred’s Book on display. Gilbert gifts Becca a Black Flame Candle.

When Becca and Izzy light the candle, lightning strikes and the Sanderson Sisters return. The girls trick the sisters and take them to a modern apothecary where they run amok.

Later you find out Gilbert tricked Becca because he is the Sanderson Sisters’ biggest fan. The sisters throw Izzy and Becca in a “dungeon” under Gilbert’s shop.

Winnie who wants to be the most powerful witch on Earth will perform the Magicae Maxima spell to achieve this – a spell The Witch Mother said must never be performed.

Gilbert must gather the ingredients for the spell or be killed. He digs up Billy Butcherson (Jones). The two team up to get back at Winifred.

Mayor Trask (Hale) is in danger because he is a descendant of the Reverend. Becca and Izzy warn Cassie of this and trick the Sanderson Sisters again.

Gilbert may have been a little untruthful. Once the sisters do escape from being tricked, they steal Cassie. They plan to perform Magicae Maxima and then torture her.

Ever since I was a kid, I’ve loved the original “Hocus Pocus.” So, when I found out the Sanderson Sisters were returning to Salem 29 years later, I set my expectations high ... too high.

Let me start off by saying this is a good sequel. It is not a great sequel though. It’s fun and there are many callbacks and flashbacks to the original. It has a lot of physical comedy and some great gags.

Mary Sanderson rides a couple of Roombas – or Broomies through the air – and the Sanderson Sisters even interact with Amazon’s Alexa. I wish the story had continued with Allison, Max and Dani though Billy was in it. While this sequel does not hold a Black Flame Candle to the original, it’s still hauntingly good fun.

One Broomie up.

Available on Disney+ <