Sunday, June 29, 2014

A Summer's Eve - a Campfire Circle Story - By Judi Phillips


Jason decided Lissa fit perfectly in his arms. It felt good to be able to comfort her. Like the time when they were kids and she'd skinned her knee falling off her bike.

She sighed, lifted her head and stepped back. "I don't know what to do."

He took her hand and led her to the couch and sat. "So tell me what was supposed to happen tonight?"

She stared at him before taking a seat beside him. "Haven't you ever celebrated Midsummer here?"

"Maybe a while ago, but this is around the time of my folks' anniversary. They mostly went out of town to the place where they stayed for their honeymoon. I bunked in with a friend."

"A bit of history. Nanna was something of a pagan and liked celebrating some of the Celtic holidays, especially the winter and summer solstice."

"Which is Midsummer."

She nodded. "Years ago she decided it would be fun to celebrate the day. She started it mostly for herself, but it grew until most everyone participated."

"So what do they do?"

"Mostly it's lots of good food and conversation. But the balefire is the special part.
He frowned. "Balefire?"

"That's the old word for bonfire. On a slip of paper, you write down something that's gone wrong during the year or something you regret having done, and toss the into the fire. You don't say what you've written, but as the paper burns, you can say, 'So mote it be gone'."

Sounded like a bunch of hocus pocus to him. "Interesting."

"I'm guessing you're skeptical."

Jason chuckled. "You caught me."

"What's really interesting, is that, crazy as it sounds, it works."

He was silent a minute, considering what she'd said. "I can see how it might make sense. Sort of like when you tell someone you're upset, you don't hang on to the resentment."


She hadn't said anything about her grandmother, and he didn't see her in the camp. Probably explained why this was important to her.

* * *

Melissa shifted, trying to ease the tightness in her chest. She couldn't give up. "Sitting here isn't getting anything done."

"What can I help with?"

"I'm not even sure where to begin." She blinked away tears that threatened to spill over. "This is not how this day is supposed to go. I want to do this to honor Nanna Jo's memory."

"Maybe that's what you need to write on your piece of paper this year."

She smiled. "That's the best advice I've heard today."

"So where do we start?"

She appreciated that Jason was willing to pitch in. "I guess I need to treat this as if it's an unknown product Dad's setting up a PR campaign for."

"Or like using a client's amateur design to build the house of their dreams."

Lissa set her jaw and stood. "We need to act as if this will happen."

"Let's get the food ready first. Then we can figure out the rest."

"Sounds like a plan." In the kitchen, she gathered the ingredients for coleslaw.

"I'm going to my camp for the bratwurst I brought. And I'll pick up some of Mom's relish."

"Yum. She makes the best relish. Better bring a lot. Everyone loves it." 

Jason left and Lissa started grating cabbage and carrots. She hummed one of Nanna's favorite tunes. Maybe things would work out for the evening. 

Just as Lissa finished the coleslaw, Jason returned with brats and buns. He also brought some and fixings, sliced onions and green peppers for grilling, a jar of sauerkraut, and of course, mustard, ketchup and his mother's relish.

"Did anyone tell you what a great guy you are?"

He stared at her for a moment. "Not by a girl as pretty as you."

Her cheeks warmed. "I wasn't looking for a compliment."

"But you got one anyway." He grinned, his eyes crinkling at the corners.

She glanced at the clock, noting the day was racing by. "Now that we're even in the mutual admiration department, let's start setting up outside."

Distracted by her swirling feelings, she had failed to pay attention to the weather.

"When did those clouds roll in?" Jason pointed at the sky. "I didn't notice them when I walked here."
"Let's hope it will blow right past." She crossed the road to the open area circled by the cul-de-sac and walked to the outdoor fireplace beside the fire circle. It had been built right after the original camps were finished. Constructed using stones from clearing the lots, the chimney was nearly five feet high. Inside, there was a restaurant-sized grill, and either wood or charcoal could be used for cooking. Families often shared meals and grilled here rather than at their camps.

She checked to make sure there was charcoal in the storage box. A couple of bags, that’s plenty.
As Jason helped her arrange the picnic tables close to the fireplace and campfire ring, thunder rumbled in the distance.

Sunday, June 22, 2014

Campfire Story - A Summer's Eve - Part 1 - By Judi Phillips

Midmorning on Friday, Melissa Perkins hummed a tune as she finished loading her car and closed the hatch door. Since she'd been a little girl, Midsummer's Eve had been her favorite holiday. Nanna Jo told the most wonderful stories about Stonehenge, ancient Celtic traditions and fairies. Lissa's favorite was the one that advised sitting in a fairy garden under a full moon. If you sat quietly, you might glimpse little sparkles of light, the fairies dancing to celebrate the longest day of the year.

She'd taken a vacation day on Friday, a perk as the office manager at Dad's PR firm. He knew how important the celebration was to Lissa, especially this year. She wanted to make sure everything was perfect for the balefire, the ancient term for the solstice bonfire.

An ominous thump, thump, wabble coming from the back of the car sent her heart to her throat. She coasted to the side of the road. Muttering beneath her breath, she exited her car and inspected the rear tires. One was flat. Why, today of all days? She needed to be at Dragons B Welcome, Nanna's camp. In addition to today being Summer Solstice, it had been Nanna Jo's birthday--two reasons to celebrate. A couple of years after she and Gramps had built their camp, she had started a Midsummer Eve tradition at Campfire Circle and Lissa had promised Nanna she would continue the tradition. Lissa hadn't been able to face the sadness of doing it last year, but nothing was going to stop her this year.

She swiped her phone open. It was nearly out of power. Not a good omen. She dialed for roadside service, hoping it wouldn't die before the call went through. If luck was with her, she could be on her way in a reasonably short time. 

An hour later she was back on the road. Driving through North Windham, she passed the safety building and saw that the fire danger level was closing in on the red zone. Made sense because there hadn't been much rain this month, but it could mean tomorrow night might not happen. And that would be a huge disappointment.

* * *

Jason Dinsmore had closed the first major contract since he'd started his own architect firm, Dinsmore & Associates, the associate being his office assistant. To celebrate, he'd decided to close his office for the entire weekend, rather than stay open a half day on Saturday. He had a small drafting table and all the essential gear at his camp, Black Bear Inn. He'd designed and built it right after receiving his degree, and named for the uninvited guest he'd seen that summer. At camp, he could begin making detailed drawings without the interruptions from e-mail and phone calls.

Arriving at Black Bear Inn, he popped the trunk and grabbed his duffle bag. Halfway up the path, he spotted a flyer stuck between the screen and inside door. He was about to crumple it when the words “Welcome Mid-Summer” caught his attention. He'd been to a few of the celebrations over the years. It was nice chance to enjoy the company of other Campfire Circle folks - especially Lissa Perkins. He thought her grandmother had passed, but maybe not. Josephine had always been the one to organize the festivities.

Good thing he'd brought a package of brats to grill. He could contribute those and a bag of chips. And maybe some of Mom's special zucchini relish. He had the key to the camp if his parents weren't here.
Just before noon, he stretched and pushed aside his drawings. He'd made good progress. Time to see who was here. He walked around the circle. It seemed most everyone and decided to come to their camps this weekend.

At the next to the last house on the circle, he recognized Lissa's car parked in the driveway and knocked on the door. "Just a minute," a warbley voice called. The door opened a crack and Lissa peered out, eyes red.

"You okay?"

She shook her head.

"Can I come in?"

She pulled the door open.

"What's the matter?"

"Tonight's not going to happen."

"I'm not sure what you mean."

"You know." Tears welled in her eyes. "The bonfire."

He wrapped his arms around her and pulled her close. "Why not?"

"I just called the fire department. The fire danger's too high. I'm going to have to cancel." A sob caught in her throat.

Tuesday, June 17, 2014

Movie Review of "Edge of Tomorrow" (PG-13) - review by Daniel Kilgallon

Run Time: 113 min

Edge of Tomorrow is a new sci-fi action movie directed by Doug Liman (The Bourne Trilogy). This film stars Tom Cruise and Emily Blunt alongside Bill Paxton and Brendan Gleeson in supporting roles. Heading into the theater, I honestly wasn’t expecting much more than two hours of fun, sci-fi action and some cool explosions from this summer blockbuster. Edge of Tomorrow completely shocked me as it provided all of that at the highest level possible, plus much, much, more. 

At the start of the movie, it is shown that an alien species of “Mimics” has invaded Earth and been at war with humanity’s United Defense Force (UDF) for the past five years. The UDF has just installed new tech suits called Jackets that are basically armed mechanized exoskeletons. These Jackets are to be immediately used in combat against the Mimics. Sgt. Rita Vrataski (Emily Blunt) is hailed a war hero and a cultural icon after using her Jacket to kill hundreds of Mimics.

Major William Cage (Tom Cruise) is a UDF spokesman and officer of the United States Army. Ultimately, after a series of events, he is stripped of his rank and forced onto a combat team, despite the fact that he has no field experience. After that, Cage is sent to an airport base and is deployed the following morning. Eventually he is killed by a Mimic during the war, but strangely enough he wakes up at the airport on the previous morning. Cage soon realizes that he is stuck in a time loop and every time he dies, he basically resets to that day before the invasion. Now Cage must take advantage of his situation, develop his combat skills and join forces with Sgt. Rita Vrataski in order to help the UDF defeat the Mimics and save our world.

Right from the start, I had an absolute blast with Edge of Tomorrow. Tom Cruise and Emily Blunt had outstanding chemistry as the two main characters and brought a ton of heart to the movie. There was a perfect balance of exciting action and meaningful story, plus there was a lot of great humor blended in. The visual effects were amazing, the battle scenes were incredibly shot, and the movie was just thrilling from start to finish. Edge of Tomorrow is totally original and completely phenomenal - one of the best sci-fi films I have seen in a long time.

Monday, June 9, 2014

Movie review of A Million Ways to Die in the West (R) - review by Daniel Kilgallon

Run Time: 116 min

A Million Ways to Die in the West is a western comedy, written, directed and produced by Family Guy creator Seth MacFarlane. This is the second live action film he has directed, following the 2012 comedy Ted, in which he voiced a talking teddy bear. Seth MacFarlane stars once more, as a human being, in A Million Ways to Die in the West alongside a supporting cast of: Charlize Theron, Liam Neeson, Amanda Seyfried, Neil Patrick Harris and Giovanni Ribisi.  As a big fan of Family Guy and Ted, I was really looking forward to seeing this movie and had big expectations heading into the theater. A Million Ways to Die in the West surpassed my high hopes as I found it to be absolutely hilarious from start to finish.

Albert Stark (Seth MacFarlane) is a cowardly sheep farmer living in Arizona in the year 1882. Early on in the film, he ducks out of a gun fight with a cowboy and as a result, breaks up with the love of his life, Louise (Amanda Seyfried). Albert becomes quite depressed when he discovers that she left him for Foy, a wealthy man with a magnificent mustache. However, he soon befriends the mysterious gunslinger Anna (Charlize Theron) who helps him regain his confidence and find his true courage. Soon, Albert must put his newfound bravery to the test when Anna’s husband, the infamous outlaw Clinch Leatherwood (Liam Neeson) learns of their relationship and comes seeking revenge.

For better or worse, the controversial super-ego of Seth MacFarlane is clearly on full display in A Million Ways to Die in the West. This film’s story arc is powered by an endless string of his trademark random pop-culture references and irreverent jokes, as well as a few of MacFarlane’s signature extravagant musical numbers. It does all of this while serving as one giant parody of other classic western films. 

As I mentioned earlier, I am a huge fan of MacFarlane’s work, so I found this film to be completely hysterical the whole way through. The storyline is ridiculous, over-the-top and very predictable, but for me that only adds to the amusement. Some may find Seth MacFarlane’s distinct style of humor to be incredibly offensive, but if that doesn’t bother you go ahead and see A Million Ways to Die in the West. I can guarantee you some great laughs from this outrageously funny western.

Sunday, June 1, 2014

Movie Review - X-Men Days of Future Past (PG-13)

Run Time: 131 min

X-Men: Days of Future Past is the seventh installment in the X-Men franchise, serving as a sequel to the 2011 film X-Men: First Class as well as a follow-up to The Wolverine spin-off released last summer. Bryan Singer, director of X-Men and X2, finally returns to direct his third film in the blockbuster series. This new movie features old and new faces from the franchise in an outstanding ensemble cast. Some of the biggest names include: Hugh Jackman, James McAvoy, Michael Fassbender, Jennifer Lawrence, Nicholas Hoult, Patrick Stewart, Ian McKellen, Halle Berry and Game of Thrones star Peter Dinklage. Having heard overwhelmingly positive reviews and being a big fan of the series, I had huge expectations heading into this film. 

X-Men: Days of Future Past begins ten years after the events of The Wolverine. In the dystopian future of 2023, few mutants survive while sentient robots known as the Sentinels strive to exterminate all mutants and humans alike. The surviving mutants include reunited Charles Xavier (Patrick Stewart) and Magneto (Ian McKellen), along with the rest of the original X-Men. In a desperate attempt to alter the course of history, the X-Men decide to send Wolverine (Hugh Jackman) back in time to 1973, in his body of old so he can unite with their younger selves in order to prevent this dark future from ever happening. In order to do this, they must prevent the shape-shifting Mystique (Jennifer Lawrence) from killing Bolivar Trask (Peter Dinklage), the man who created the Sentinels in the first place. 

I loved absolutely everything about this time-travelling installment of the X-Men series. Usually time-travel movies can be so confusing and hard to follow, but the fast-moving plot of this film was so well-written, cohesive and easy to understand. Every single performance in this film was outstanding, particularly James McAvoy as young Xavier and Michael Fassbender as young Magneto. I thought those two had amazing chemistry in X-Men: First Class, but they took that to the next level in this sequel. Hugh Jackman was better than ever as the Wolverine in his seventh portrayal of the character and all of the returning stars were equally great. Furthermore, the thrilling action sequences were brilliantly filmed with an incredibly smart use of visual effects. Overall, X-Men: Days of Future Past is without a doubt the best X-Men movie yet and easily one of the best comic-book films ever made.