Monday, July 28, 2014

Movie review - The Fault in Our Stars (PG13) - review by Michelle Libby

There are times when we go to the movies for the adrenaline rush of an action flick, or the entertainment of a comedy, but there are times when we want to be moved to tears. Jerk at our heart strings…like a Nicholas Sparks book or movie (The Notebook, anyone?) 
The Fault in Our Stars, directed by relative newcomer Josh Boone, delivers on its promise to make your cry. The best advice about the movie that I heard was bring your own tissues because the napkins at Smitty’s are rough. 

I tucked a pack of tissues into my purse and took my two men, husband and son, to the movie. My son was the one who really wanted to see the movie. He loved the book and hoped the film would live up to the book written by John Green. 

It did. 

The story is about Hazel and Gus who meet at a teen cancer support group. Hazel is still battling cancer and Gus is in remission. They develop an amazing relationship. She pushes him away and he refuses to let her. It’s a teen romance with the agonizing twist of cancer always being there. 

Shailene Woodley (“The secret Life of the American Teenager”, Divergent) who played Hazel Grace was fabulous in her role as a teen living with cancer. Part of her character was lugging around an oxygen tank, everywhere she goes, and she plays the part convincingly well. 

Gus played by Ansel Elgort (Divergent) is a hero that every girl in the theater fell in love with. His sweet gestures and romantic declarations made hearts swoon. Having a prosthetic leg didn’t make him any less of a hero in anyone’s eyes.

Through the tears, the audience was taken on a journey of exploration and adventure. Hazel and Gus pack in as much as they can before the inevitable. 

I know some people will never see the movie and probably never should as it hits too close to home or they have an aversion to crying in public. 

I recommend this movie to anyone who wants to know what the fuss is all about. It’s a great love story with a dramatic ending. 

I still believe reading the book is important, but I loved the casting and writing (Scott Neustadter and Michael H. Weber) for the movie.  

See it soon on the big screen.

Sunday, July 20, 2014

Movie review - Dawn of the Planet of the Apes (PG13) - review by Daniel Kilgallon

Run Time: 130 min
Dawn of the Planet of the Apes is a new science-fiction/action movie and sequel to the 2011 reboot, Rise of the Planet of the Apes. Andy Serkis returns once again for the lead role of Caeser, providing the motion capture and voice of the chimpanzee, while Jason Clarke, Gary Oldman and Keri Russell are all featured in supporting roles. I thought that Rise of the Planet of the Apes was a fantastic action film that truly rejuvenated the struggling franchise, so I was really looking forward to this blockbuster sequel. Dawn of the Planet of the Apes totally blew me away as it managed to top its impressive predecessor in every way possible. 

Ten years after the ape rebellion from the first movie, the deadly ALZ-113 virus has managed to wipe out all of humanity except for the select group immune to the disease. The remaining humans living in San Francisco now stay in a guarded tower in the ruins of the city. Meanwhile, the superior intelligent chimpanzee named Caeser (Andy Serkis) leads a new generation of apes living in an organized community in the Muir Woods, not far from San Francisco. After only being able to say a few words in the first film, Caeser can now speak many new words and formulate full, intelligent sentences.  Furthermore, all of the apes now know sign language and some can even communicate orally with Caeser. 

Early on in the movie, the apes are threatened by the surviving humans. Eventually, they reach peace as the apes allow the humans to access a nearby dam as a desperate source of power. However, thanks to rebels of both species the peace doesn’t last long and the two sides begin to fight, starting an epic battle for the dominant species of Earth. 

I loved everything about Dawn of the Planet of the Apes. It did everything a great sequel should do, improving on its predecessor in every way. The apes looked even more realistic, the action was thrilling, the plot was unpredictable (a Hollywood rarity), the visuals were breathtaking and Andy Serkis completely owned the role of Caeser. I will be extremely disappointed if the Academy doesn’t finally recognize him for his incredible acting ability and motion capture work. Anyways, Dawn of the Planet of the Apes is a sensational science-fiction movie that you don’t want to miss; easily one of the year’s best films.

Monday, July 14, 2014

A Summer's Eve - Final Chapter - By Judi Phillips

"Sweetheart, I know it's tough, but you can do this." He couldn't believe he'd called her sweetheart. He never used endearments, even with his sisters.

She rested her head against his chest for a minute then straightened. "You're right. Everyone is counting on this."

She led the way to the circle. People were already beginning to gather, placing food on one of the tables and setting out folding chairs. Jason brought out his and Lissa's contributions to the potluck spread, then joined her.

As soon as Brenda Stanley set food on the table, she crossed to Lissa's side and gave her a huge hug. "I'm so glad you did this. Honoring Jo. She was a special lady. We all missed it last year, but I understand. It was too close to losing her."

Lissa nodded. "I had to do it this year. I don't remember ever being this grateful for a thunderstorm."
Brenda rested her hand on Lissa's arm for a moment. "You heard from Janelle lately?"


"Janelle Whitney."

Lissa shook her head. "We weren't really close. I think she and Taylor were friends. She might know."
Brenda nodded. "I'll ask her."

David Johnson tucked his arm in Brenda's and greeted Jason. "I hear you're own your own."
"Yep. Wanted to try working without office politics."

"Give me a call next week. I have an idea for building a couple of camps for spec on some land I own in the Hiram area. I'd like to talk with you about some designs."

Jason allowed himself a huge grin, the only way he could keep from doing a fist pump. "That sounds great. I'll be sure to get in touch."

As David and Brenda walked away, Lissa squeezed his hand. "Congratulations. That's really cool."

Before he could agree, Jack Thompson and Karrie Brady came over. Karrie gave Lissa a big hug. "I'm so glad you did this. I know how tough it is to lose a grandmother. It gets better, but there's always a hole left."

"Thanks. I know how important Lou was to you."

"She was my lifesaver."

As they walked away, Karrie slipped her hand into Jack's.

Lissa smiled. "Looks like they're a bit more than friends."

"Sure does." He looked around. "It's getting pretty dark. Time to light the fire?"

"Yes." She strolled to the fire ring and clapped her hands. "It's time to begin." She waited until everyone had gathered around. "As you know, we're here to celebrate Midsummer. But also it's a chance to cast away regrets. If you have a slip of paper that you've written your biggest regret of the past year on, toss it in the circle."

Pieces of paper, some folded, some crumpled, landed on the piled wood.

Lissa lit a long match and took a deep breath as she prepared to recite the words Nanna Jo had always used. She lit the kindling on the south side of the circle. "We gather tonight to celebrate the longest day and shortest night." She moved clockwise around the circle, stopped on the west side and touched the match to paper. "We release our biggest regret this year past." Moving to the next quarter of the circle, she lit the north side. "We especially celebrate lovers and those in love." Moving to the east side, she touched a final piece of paper and tossed in the match. "May Midsummer's Eve be an enchanting one for you, and may your dreams dance in the sliver dust the fairies sprinkle about."

Lissa retrieved the box holding the herbs and handed it around. Each person pulled out sprigs, tossed them on the fire and added a few words of their own.

Brad Jennings held up a hand and raised his voice. "Now that we've welcomed Midsummer, I have an announcement."

Everyone stopped chatting and looked at him.

He slid his arm around Taylor Winslow's waist while his daughter, Faith, took her hand. "Taylor has made me the happiest guy in the world and agreed to --."

The crowd erupted in cheers.

" -- marry me." A huge grin split his face as he finished.

Faith clapped her hands together and jumped up and down.

The women gathered around Taylor, admiring the ring, while the guys slapped Brad's back and congratulated him.

* * *

Lissa heaved a deep sigh of contentment. The Campfire Circle folks had returned to their cabins and lights glowed softly from the windows. Only Lissa and Jason remained by the fire ring.

Jason grabbed her hand, sat, and pulled her into his lap.

He lowered his head and kissed her softly. Her skin heated. Had the fire flared up? No. His kiss. She melted into him and sighed softly. His tender yet hungry kiss warmed her more than any bonfire. She skimmed her hands over his shoulders, around his neck and up until his hair tickled her fingertips.
A screen door slapped closed and Lissa remembered where they were. When Jason lifted his mouth, she knew that was only the first of many kisses.

She shifted and leaned forward to stir the coals one last time with the fire-stick Nanna Jo had always used, and sparks flew up. Lissa smiled. "I should never have doubted Nanna Jo's spirit would be with us."



(especially useful those years when you can't even give 'em away).

2 cups chopped zucchini (about 3 medium)
1 cup chopped onion (1 medium)
1/2 cup chopped sweet green pepper (1 small)
1/2 cup chopped sweet red pepper (1 small)
2 tablespoons salt
1 3/4 cups sugar
2 teaspoons celery seed
1 teaspoon mustard seed
1 cup cider vinegar

(If you want a bit more zest, add horseradish or hot peppers to taste)

In a large bowl, combine zucchini, onion, and peppers. Sprinkle with salt and cover with cold water. Let stand for 2 hours. Drain, rinse and dry thoroughly, either patting or wringing out liquid.

In a large saucepan, combine remaining ingredients and bring to a boil. Add vegetables and let simmer for 10 minutes.

Pack the hot relish into sterilized, hot jars (leave ¼ inch at the top) and screw on lids

Process 10 minutes in a boiling-water canner.

Makes about 4 half-pints.

Movie Review - Transformers: Age of Extinction (PG13) - Review by Daniel Kilgallon

Run Time: 165 mins

Transformers: Age of Extinction is a science-fiction/action movie and the latest chapter in Michael Bay’s incredibly popular Transformers series. This film is the fourth movie in the franchise following the 2011 blockbuster, Transformers: Dark of the Moon. However, this time around we have a totally new cast highlighted by “Marky Mark” Wahlberg replacing Shia LaBeouf as the main protagonist. 

Personally, I am a huge fan of the original 2007 Transformers film. I think it still has incredible visuals and action sequences, plus relatable characters and a unique, interesting story. However for me, the two sequels, Revenge of the Fallen and Dark of the Moon got progressively worse as they just completely lost the heart and soul of the original movie. Yes, they continued to have amazing action sequences and stunning visuals but the poorly written story and script really ruined it. Heading into Age of Extinction, I was expecting this downhill trend of the Transformers franchise to continue. Unfortunately, the best I can say is that Age of Extinction is simply on par with its two disappointing predecessors. 

Following the devastating Battle of Chicago, humanity has now deemed all alien robots the enemy. This even includes the Autobots, their former allies who are all in hiding now. Early on in the film, a mechanic named Cade Yeager (Mark Wahlberg) buys an old truck which he eventually discovers is the leader of the Autobots, Optimus Prime. It doesn’t take long for the government to discover his existence and they quickly send a cyborg bounty hunter from space to go track him down. Now Yeager, his daughter Tessa (Nicola Peltz) and her car-racing boyfriend Shane Dyson (Jack Reynor) must join forces with Optimus Prime and the few surviving Autobots in order to protect their existence.

As I mentioned before, Transformers: Age of Extinction is only as good as the two subpar films it follows. Once again, the action sequences and visual effects are amazing, featuring explosions that somewhat resemble the fireworks of last weekend. If that it is what you really love about movies, you will most certainly enjoy this film. However, if you are looking for good character development, decent acting and a coherent plot, this movie will not come close to meeting expectations. Transformers: Age of Extinction is an entertaining summer blockbuster for sure, but not the memorable Transformers film that we have all been waiting for since the 2007 hit.

Sunday, July 6, 2014

A Summer's Eve - A Campfire Circle Story Part 3 - By Judi Phillips


Hoping the storm would bypass them, Lissa dragged an Adirondack chair close to the fire ring.  Jason pulled over a couple more.  Before they could move the rest of them, Lissa felt a few sprinkles, the only warning before the downpour started.

They dashed inside, stopping in the kitchen to towel off.

Lissa looked at Jason.  "There's no catching a break today, is there?"

He tilted her chin and brushed his mouth over hers.  Little sparks fluttered over her skin.  She rested her head against him, consoled by his broad shoulders.  It was nice to have someone to lean on, even for a minute.

She stepped back, reluctant to leave the comfort of his embrace.  She'd prefer to stay here all day or curl up into a ball in bed.  "We need to come up with a plan B for the celebration tonight."  She couldn't keep the tremor out of her voice.

"How about we take a little break?  See if the storm passes by quickly."  

A clap of thunder rattled the windows seeming to dispute that idea.

She swallowed and nodded.  "I bet you're hungry.  I know I am.  Haven't eaten since breakfast."

"Got any cheese and crackers?"

"Yes.  And some wine."  She set out the snacks, choosing a Prosecco and water crackers.

Jason plucked a bottle of wine from the rack and opened it.  "Good idea.  Everything always looks better after wine and cheese.  And you can even whine if you want."

Lissa giggled.  "You're being very patient with me."  She pulled out a chair for him at the bistro table in the kitchen and sat in the other one.

"Probably comes from having a couple of younger sisters."

"That's right.  They're twins, aren't they?"  

"Yep.  Five years younger.  The bane of my existence some days."  He filled two glasses with the Prosecco and handed one to her.

"But I bet no one else better mess with them."

"You got that right."  His grin softened his decisive tone.

By the time they'd finished a second glass of wine and the snacks, the rain stopped.  Lissa sprang up from her seat and hustled outside.  To the west, the clouds were drifting away, the sky was beginning to clear.
When Jason stepped up behind her, she pivoted, wrapped her arms around him and gave him a huge, smacking kiss.  "Now that we've had almost an hour of rain, if we're careful, we should be able to have at least a modest bonfire."

*  *  *

Her kiss surprised Jason.  He wanted more than a quick thank-you kiss, but now wasn't the right time.  "And it should be fairly dry by the time people start to gather."

"And I'll make sure to have everyone bring a pail of water.  That way, we'll be extra safe."

Lissa knelt at the fire circle.  "Nanna Jo taught me the proper way to lay the fire.  Except this time I'm adding an old magazine on the bottom so the wet dirt doesn't soak through to the paper and kindling."
"And maybe not fill the circle to the stones ringing the edge," he suggested.

"A very good idea."

"There are some herbs that are traditionally added."

"What for?"

"They were believed for purification and protection against negative or harmful energy.  I think Nanna just enjoyed the nice smells."

"So what do you add?"

"This way."  

Jason followed Lissa to the back of the camp and entered a small gardening shed.  Looking up, he saw bunches of dead plants hanging from a couple of rafters.

"Help me get them down."

He reached up and removed several from the hooks.  Lissa gathered the rest.

"So what are these?"

"Mistletoe, saved and dried from Christmas, St. John's Wort, lavender, yarrow, some mint, rosemary, sage, basil and thyme."

He sniffed those in his hand.  "Mmm.  Smells nice."

She held out a carved box.  "Put them in here."

She closed the box and tears shimmered in her eyes.  "I don't think I can do this."