Monday, July 30, 2012


"BIG RIVER: THE ADVENTURES OF HUCKLEBERRY FINN" took the stage for its final performance Sunday evening.  If you didn't see it, it's too late!  YOU MISSED IT!  Let that be a lesson to you to buy your ticket in advance next year and take advantage of our beautiful summer evenings.  As the crickets began to chirp and the frogs and toads started singing their song, the cicadas didn't want to miss out as they too joined the perfect low cacophony to be a part of the outdoor theater ensemble.  A beautiful evening lay ahead with patrons in various portable chairs, gnoshing on hors devours and chatting excitedly for this final performance.  The breeze off the river was soothing and the beauty of the sun setting framed the stage perfectly.  There couldn't have been a more perfect backdrop for Huck, Tom and all the gang to perform.  I couldn't help but notice in the first half of the show, how the sun's golden rays reflected off the leaves and lit the actors faces more perfectly than any man-made light ever could.  Then, on cue, Mark Twain (aka Dennis Yonka) took the stage to quietly inform the audience what lies ahead.

Huckleberry Finn, played by Blake Clatterbuck, bounded onto the stage, speaking to the audience and recognizing Mr. Twain and all his abilities to tell (mostly) the truth.  Adventures ensued with Huck, Tom, and Jim.  We watched and listened to the melodic voices of all the characters, both the leads and the choir.  I was amazed whenever the choir took the stage as they then belted out lyrics that I am sure reverberated off the banks of the Kankakee River for Bourbonnais to hear.  This tale, told as it was in the 1800's, was harsh but true to the era.  As Mark Twain (who coincidentally lived in both my and my husband's hometowns in NY!), saw the unfair delineation of races, he also had the courage to write about characters who struggled with that same realization.  Because of his forward thinking, he is still relevant today.

The second act, now set in the dark, illuminated artificially, but beautifully, continued along the river complete with natural background music and the  talented orchestra as well.  The adventures included many familiar tales that I remembered reading as a child in several of Twain's novels.  The actors and director beautifully depicted these stories from Huck dressing like a girl to Huck saving Jim from the slave trade.  The actors were truly talented in their abilities not only to deliver believable lines, but to sing.  Oh, the singing was phenomenal.  Standouts to me included, but of course were not limited to, Briana Bury, Erica Hodges and Cassandra Hoggins who played Mary Jane Wilkes, Alice, and Alice's daughter, respectively.   All of these women called to you for your attention to not just hear, but to feel their voices and what they were singing and saying to you.  So crisp, clear, beautiful and strong were they!  I could have listened for hours to those voices.

Comedy, a big part of Mark Twain's books, was not lost here but emphasized with perfectly cast actors such as Pat Skelly and Roger Allen Jones       who played  Duke and King, respectively.  No holds barred here as we watched Mr. Skelley don a "tarred and feathered" suit and Mr.  Jones in an adorable outfit with one large breast in the center and a nose-eye!  I really can't explain it any further than that.

As we slowly filed out, I watched as the cast congregated;, appearing to not want the night to end.  It was obviously a close group of people who worked so hard and wanted to cherish each and every wonderful moment.  To have fun AND to make lasting bonds and memories is the epitome of doing a production.  Cheers to all of you!

The actors, directors, patrons, and other supporters enabled our area to be a part of an extraordinary event.  We have such quality performers here and I feel proud to be a part of a community that supports such an endeavor.  If you missed it, you can be way ahead of the game for next year's production of "CHICAGO!"  Visit for more information.

Sunday, July 29, 2012


Polarity Ensemble Theatre presented “Adrift” Friday evening to a packed audience at the Greenhouse Theater in Lincoln Park.  This four person play, written by David Alex, focused on the ever-challenging father-son relationship and its components.  Maggie Speer, the director, deftly guided this all male cast to portray a wide variety of self-imposed pressures that parents and children feel, but don’t always communicate or even recognize.  
Life is all about the choices we make and then hope we won’t regret what we have done.  Unfortunately, we aren’t provided a crystal ball as the lead characters Isaac Abbas and his father, Jack a high ranking Naval Officer, demonstrated.  We watched Isaac at many stages of his life interacting with his highly disciplined father.  Isaac admired his father, and like most children, he looked for his father’s approval and ultimately his pride.  Isaac’s father was with him subconsciously every step of the way.  From his interview with the principal of a school for a math teaching job and then to teaching  high school kids.  Isaac had a lot to learn and relied heavily on what his father had taught him.
Communication between a father and son can be a tricky and sometimes non-existent aspect in a relationship.  Both sets of fathers and sons on the stage portrayed this all the while seeing how each one wanted nothing more than to be close to and understand the other.  Isaac attempted to impart his wisdom of 20-something years on to the young, but misunderstood high school student and son of the principal. Truly, wisdom was there as he expressed that a “parent and child [are] raising each other on a journey.”  So true.  There is no handbook for a parent or a child to follow.  But those choices we made on this journey of life directly impacted the future.  

As I watched this smartly written and intuitive play, I couldn’t help but relate closely with the characters even though I am neither a father nor a son.  I am, however, a parent and a child.  I lost my father, Jack, a WWII Army Air Corp hero, in January.  I didn’t know he was a hero until we sorted through his belongings.  It was just something my dad never talked about with me.  However, my dad and I were close, utilizing hiking and fishing as our medium of communication; similar to the play’s characters’ use of golf.  I have regrets looking back on our relationship and those choices I have made will haunt me.  I can only hope that maybe I can impart my wisdom on my children so that they have fewer regrets.
“Adrift” is a wonderful and realistic story of relationships,  communication, and parenting.  Casting was perfect and the acting was superb as the story peeled away layer by layer each character’s personality and feelings.   This 90 minute production pounded home the importance of choices and the realization that we make the decisions we do based on the circumstances at hand.  When a play can hit home and truly make you look at your own life, it’s a winner.  You can’t ask for anything more.
“Adrift” is currently playing through August 26 at the Greenhouse Theater Center Upstairs Studio, 2257 N. Lincoln Ave., Chicago.  Tickets can be purchased by calling the theater at 773-404-7336 or on-line at

Friday, July 27, 2012


"The Watch" opened today starring Ben Stiller, Vince Vaughn and Jonah Hill.  This comedy was nothing more and nothing less than it promised to be based on the trailers.  Finally, a movie that is true to its trailers.  I expected a silly story, with some high energy, and raunchy jokes.  I got what I expected.

"The Watch" for those that have been hiding in caves or are from other planets, was about 4 "guys" in the neighborhood who, for different reasons, want to form a neighborhood watch.  Stiller, who played the lead watchman, Evan,  the manager of the area's Costco was a driven leader.  Everyone loved Evan who started more neighborhood groups than the community center.  This all was about to change the night Evan's store watchman was brutally murdered.  As the community's incompetent police force wasn't equipped to protect Glenview, OH, Evan started yet another one of his many groups:  The Neighborhood Watch.   He wanted and promised to find his employee's murderer and enlisted the "help" of 3 others to protect his neighborhood.

Stiller, Vaughn, and Hill play familiar parts in this predictable and mildly entertaining movie.  The fourth partner in "The Watch" was Richard Ayoade who balanced the group nicely. Stiller was the "straight guy" with other issues in his life, Vaughn was the fast talking funny guy, and Hill the strange guy.  I'm still trying to figure out how to describe Ayoade, but somehow it worked.  Without giving too much away, the murderer turns out to be an alien.  (Don't freak find that out in the first 5 minutes of the film and I think it's in all the trailers anyway!)  The alien is really pretty impressive with its looks and goo, but the jokes around the aliens range from a chuckle to gross and raunchy.  (Yes, that's what I expected.)  The four band together to do more than just solve the crime of murder.

At 98 minutes, I was somewhat entertained and did have a few laughs.  I didn't feel like it was a total waste of time like "Transformers," but I'm glad I hit the matinee for $4.50!  (One perk of living south of Chicago!)  I also got some decorating ideas as I loved the woodwork in a couple of the houses!  If you go, just take it for what it is...a silly comedy with some funny jokes, and a quite a bit of raunchiness. (I think that might come from one of the writers, Seth Rogen!)  I'm guessing that the teens and 20's are going to love this and the rest of us over 30's can calmly wait for the DVD.



On Sunday, January 22nd, I took the Sundance shuttle bus to my first movie, only to be turned away.  The positive was that I met one of the producers of "Ai Weiwei, Never Sorry" on the bus.  (Yes, everyone takes the bus, from writers, directors, and even some actors!)  He truly piqued my interest in this documentary, but I had already made plans to see another movie at that time slot later in the day.  But my plans were quickly changed as I was once again turned away at my 11 am movie.  (A press pass doesn't seem to guarantee a thing!)  Luckily, "Ai Weiwei" was playing just down the street.  A quick shuffle of tickets and I was in!

I'll be honest (This is Reel Honest Reviews!),  I am not a political activist.  I am not on top of what's happening in the world or in politics both nationally and internationally.  And I have one thing to say about that after seeing this movie.  Shame on me!  For those of you who don't know him (I didn't until this January), Ai Weiwei is a political artist and activist.  He is a sculptor, a painter, a muralist and a lone spokesperson in China who opposes the oppression of his country and the lies that he feels they tell.  He dares to speak his truth in what is happening behind the closed doors through his artwork and his words.

This movie entranced me from the beginning with its humor and information.  It was beautiful and frighteningly ugly to see Ai Weiwei's story.  He was followed by a group of documentarians who filmed Ai Weiwei and interviewed those around him,  from his mother to his wife, friends, and child.  Ai Weiwei was depicted as a bright, articulate, and talented man who wanted to make things better for the next generation as he felt his father's generation had failed him.  Utilizing his art, Ai Weiwei told horrific stories of what the government had covered up.  For example, in a school tragedy which could have been avoided, but due to faulty construction, hundreds of children were unnecessarily killed in a natural disaster.  Backpacks were "sculpted" together to form a gigantic art piece with each backpack representing each child who was killed.

We continue dto watch as Ai Weiwei pushed the governments buttons and the envelope.  The government was filmed trying to intervene with Ai Weiwei's attempts to communicate what the government was doing.  Internet shutdowns lead to Ai Weiwei utilizing Twitter to communicate each and every step of his drama.  Brutality from the government was evident.  They wanted him shut down and would do anything.  Ai Weiwei's future was at stake, but he would risk everything, and I mean EVERYTHING, in order to ensure that his son will have a better future.  No fictional movie could have been written to depict a stronger leader and spokesperson than Ai Weiwei.  This was real life.  This was a man wanting to change the world and he can.  That really puts all the rest of us to shame.  We take so much for granted.  The Facebook posts I see from "friends" who disagree with Obama and can say so with no fear of death or beating.  Ai Weiwei doesn't have that luxury.  We have freedom.  We take it for granted.  We are spoiled.  Think twice the next time you have an opinion and voice it either to a friend or on-line.  There are no repercussions.  Ai Weiwei wants the citizens of China to have that same freedom.

When I reviewed this movie on WKAN's morning show with Bill and Allison and on The Really Big Show, I had a hard time conveying my thoughts as my emotions got the better of me.  This documentary was one of the most emotional, educational, yet somehow still entertaining (and sometimes funny!) documentaries I have ever had the honor of seeing.  I, once again, am so thankful that I didn't get in to see the other movies and that I just happened to sit next to the producer on the bus and strike up a conversation.  (I know, tough to imagine that!)  Seek out this movie.  It's a limited release, but worth the drive to see it.  It will change you and how you view the world.  How many movies can do that?

10 REELS (and I NEVER give out 10!)

Wednesday, July 25, 2012


Acting Out Theatre Company, now in its second year, will bring to the Kankakee area yet another outdoor production on the banks of the Kankakee River:  "Big River: The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn."  In addition to the 13 businesses underwriting this venture, the cast of over 34 and 22 volunteers  make this production a possibility.  As Sharon Richardson, Director, stated, "It takes a village and we are so furtunate to be surrounded by incredibly talented people"  I couldn't agree more as I was able to be an observer while they sewed, put on make-up, warmed up their voices and then did a run-through of the musical overlooking the river as the sun set.  Not only is this an appropriate venue for this production, it's beautiful.  There was a cool breeze off the river to keep the bugs away and the sun setting shone upon the actors faces giving them a luminous look not found on any interior stage.

Back at the "dressing area," the energy level was high as the actors' hair was curled, sprayed and then sprayed some more all the while hearing various songs being belted out of soloists and the chorus alike.  In every corner you looked, there was action...sewing, chatting, rehearsing, and singing.  The actors excitedly headed out of the building to the river stage for one of their final run-throughs of the week.

Lighting techs and musicians from the orchestra were already there perfecting what they had practiced.  The 9-piece orchestra was quite unique with a banjo, guitar and harmonica along with the "typical" instruments of an orchestra.  The actors noisily assembled in groups overlooking the river, skipping stones and chatting to pass a few minutes before the true action started.  Smiles were everywhere.  This was obviously a close-knit group of various age groups who loved being a part of "Big River."

The director, Sharon Richardson, brought the group together on stage for a bit of direction and pep talk, but truly, this group didn't need a pep talk.  Their love of what they were about to do was going to permeate the environment for all to enjoy.  The set was gorgeous as was the setting which all looked unbelievably professional from the levels of the stage to the mechanized raft.  The backdrop was priceless.

"Big River" takes place at River Road Park in Kankakee on Friday, Saturday, and Sunday, July 27, 28, and 29 at 8:00 pm.  Tickets are only $10 at various locations, $11 on-line, and $12 at the gate.  Bring a lawn chair early!  Riverfest starts at 5:30 pm for your enjoyment before the performance!  For more information, go to  A full review of the musical will be on this blog on Monday!

Friday, July 20, 2012


"The Dark Knight Rises" earned over $30 million from its midnight screening.  I'm not sure how many tens of thousands saw this movie at 12:01 am on July 20th, but my daughter was one of them.  Thankfully, she was not one of the viewers who entered a movie theater in Aurora, CO to enjoy a super hero movie, but instead died or experienced one of the most traumatic experiences they will ever have.  I cannot imagine the pain of the families and the community.  I know as a nation, we couldn't be any more saddened when a life is senselessly taken.  My heart and prayers go out to those families and friends.  I am so sorry for your losses.

I drove 45 minutes north to view "The Dark Knight Rises" this morning to see a 9 am showing.  I entered the theater with trepidation.  I couldn't help but wonder if there were any more psychologically unstable people who might be out there who want to imitate the Colorado incident.  Even as the movie began, my mind was consumed by what had happened.  I wanted and tried to watch the movie without a skewed viewpoint, but as scenes came up, I saw a resemblance to what had occurred less than 12 hours prior to that.  This will not be your typical Reel Honest Reviews.  It's not possible.  I am going to tell you my thoughts at the beginning of this review about how I felt at the end.  I left the theater not loving the movie.  My thoughts went directly to writing a review and I will always tell you the truth about my thoughts on a movie.  I then became a bit frightened as I know that there are other reviewers who received threats after not giving a favorable review.  That's intimidation.  My father, who is no longer with us, always stood by what he said and told the truth.  Although we are only talking about a movie here, I will also tell you my honest opinion.  Remember, it's just a movie, for goodness sake.   I didn't like it.  It's not my cup of tea.  I'm not a super hero movie fan.  I'm a 40-something mother of 2 who wouldn't have gone to see this movie but for the fact that I review movies.  Superhero-wise, I liked Thor and Spider Man and tolerated The Green Lantern.  That being said, I am going to try to convey an honest opinion (and that's all it is!) about "The Dark Knight Rises, afterall, this is Reel Honest Reviews from my perspective.

OK.  Here it goes.  I'm blocking out the reality of today's earlier events (or trying to) and focusing on reviewing the movie and my experience of the here and now.  It's 9 am.  The theater is full of all ages, genders, and types of people from 7 year olds to 50 year olds.  It's 9 am and people are eating popcorn, candy, nachos with cheese, and huge drinks of pop/soda. (I have to include soda for my East Coast readers.)  Can I ask why?  and how???  22 minutes of trailers later, the 165 minute movie begins with an overpowering amount of violence.  Was I super sensitive to this because of today's events?  I don't know.  It was extremely intense and violent.  I continued to watch.  I was barraged with constant noise from the screen.  It was overwhelmingly loud and visually stimulating to the point of uneasiness.  It truly developed the feeling of "darkness."  The character of Bane was reminiscent of Darth Vader and Hannibal Lecter combined.  His physical presence and mask was intimidating and frightening.  He was pure evil.

Christian Bale who played Bruce Wayne/Batman did a fine job although he struggled with talking with the mask on.  Couldn't they have made the nose piece more comfortable so he didn't sound nasal?  The script wasn't tight and his character was rather blah, in my opinion, but given what he had to work with, he was fine.  Cat Woman/Selina was played by the beautiful Anne Hathaway.  She nailed the part, but the interaction between the characters lacked believability.  Michael Caine played the British butler Alfred with ease, although the joke of not always being able to understand what he was saying definitely was portrayed!  To me, Joseph Gordon-Levitt was the highlight of the movie.  He was good.  After the stilted NY accent was toned down, I paid attention to his acting and the character he portrayed.  Thank you Joseph for your refreshing style in this movie.

I must also say that the story developed utilizing characters who gave long-winded narratives about the background of other characters and incidents which, I must admit to you, I spaced off during this.  (You probably spaced off with that run-on sentence!)  I started hearing, "Blah, blah, blah."  If you have to explain that much, something is wrong with the story.  I have seen the other Batman movies (I almost said Batmen!), and to be honest (it's Reel HONEST Reviews!), I think I fell asleep.  I have very little recollection of them.  This was a movie of stunts, explosions, non-stop violence and high decibel bombardment.  The story took forever to unfold.  It really wasn't much of a story.  It was WATCH THIS BLOW UP!  WATCH THE BAD GUY KILL PEOPLE!  WATCH THE BAD GUY KILL MORE PEOPLE!

I'm guessing that I have probably offended many comic book fans.  I don't mean to offend, I mean to convey my opinion.  Was my opinion distorted or altered because of today's events?  Probably.  I am sure that anyone who is a Batman fan will see this movie.  If you are a woman or anyone who is not a   fan of Batman and Superhero movies, my advice is to skip it.  I was a fan of the 1960's Batman that went BAM!  POW! when they fought.  No guns, no blood.  Holy Back In The Day!   That was a good thing.

2 REELS (Just because I know there are Super Hero/Batman fans out there.)

Thursday, July 19, 2012


"Beasts of the Southern Wild" premiered at Sundance this year with so much buzz!  Every bus I took, every party I went to, every screening line I stood in, people talked about "Beasts."  Now having seen it, I completely understand.  "Beasts of the Southern Wild" is Benh Zeitlin's first feature film at the age of 29.  We saw the world, the Delta community called the "Bathtub," through the eyes of a 6 year old girl named Hushpuppy.  The world was a beautiful place where every day had the potential to be a party, but also a place full of fear.  Hushpuppy imagined the world could end with the melting ice caps of the world which will then in turn flood her boloved home segregated from Louisiana by a levee.  She watched as a catastrophic storm, which I imagined to be Katrina, decimate the area.  The imagination of what's really out there, beasts called aurochs from prehistoric days, and a mother long-disappeared, haunt hushpuppy as she and her father struggle with survival.

The movie had a real quality to it which felt a bit like a documentary.  I kept having to remind myself that it was a movie with actors.  Quvenzhane Wallis played Hushpuppy with a naturalness I have never seen in an actor this young.  The narration, by Huspuppy, simply yet eloquently let you in on her deepest thoughts and child-like perception.  Dwight Henry, baker turned temporary actor, played the unstable, tough-love father named Wink.  Wink lived day to day and generally, but not always, provided the bare essentials for his daughter who lived in a separate "home" next door.  Sadly, he disappeared for days and Hushpuppy had to rely on her 6 year old wisdom to survive, finding comfort and security in the one remaining item left by her mother:  a tattered basketball jersey.  Hushpuppy desperately needed her mother to be a part of her life and we watched as Hushpuppy lead her crew in search of the missing mother.  This tenacious and brave 6 year old showed strength in every aspect of her young life.

"Beasts of the Southern Wild" was a visually captivating movie showing the sights and sounds of the Bathtub people as well as the imagination of Hushpuppy.  The makeshift boats, the life-style and priorities of the small group of people of this region seemed to challenge mother nature by their very existence.  They pulled me in to their meager lives, helping me to understand those who didn't want any outsider's help during the real life catastrophe of Katrina.

The story of Hushpuppy and her father's relationship during a traumatic time is one of genuine love and pride.  A wonderful movie told from the perspective of an extraordinary 6 year old.  A movie you won't want to miss!

8 1/2 REELS

Sunday, July 15, 2012


"The Queen of Versailles" premiered at Sundance 2012.  There were many wonderful documentaries to come to Sundance this year and "Versailles" was a top contender in the U.S. Documentary division. It ended up winning the Directing Award for a Documentary and was nominated for the Grand Jury Prize for a Documentary.  I think I had this preconceived notion that documentaries were boring and dull; not the least bit entertaining.  The docs that I screened at Sundance were anything but that!  I'm a new fan of documentaries!

"The Queen of Versailles" was about a wealthy family living in Florida, building the house of their dreams:  a 90,000 square foot mansion having a similar appearance to Versailles.  The filmmaker/director, Lauren Greenfield,  initially went to photograph the Siegel family, but after meeting the welcoming and warm family, she knew she had to document their family through the use of movie film, not still photos.  Ms. Greenfield spent three years chronicling the "everyday" life of the Siegels. Ms. Greenfield didn't realize at the time that she would document the economic crash of the United States and its impact on this billionaire and his family.

David Siegel, President and founder of Westgate Resorts, worked his way up with the start of this timeshare conglomerate.  His business savvy wasn't transferrable to his love-life as the  story picks up with his wife Jacqueline (Jackie) who is 26 years his junior and not his first wife.  We are taken on the ride of Jackie's life, from her background, her dreams, meeting David, her education, and her priorities in life.  Don't judge a book by its cover.  Jackie is a well-educated woman, but after watching this film, you might second guess her common sense.

David is a business man through and through.  David's company is highlighted so that we, the audience, can truly see what happens behind the curtain in the timeshare business.  As you might guess, it's not pretty or flattering.  Together Jackie and David have 7 children plus a niece living with them.  I lost track of the number of dogs they had.  I also remember being grateful for my dog training abilities!  The lavish lifestyle was extraordinary and beyond my comprehension.  That is, until the market crashed, the banks folded and Mr. Siegel could not keep his company afloat.  That, in turn, affected the completion of "Versailles"as well as every other aspect of their lives.

As the Siegel's financial situation changed, we watched as Jackie and David tried to cut back on expenses by cutting down on the number of nannies and housekeepers they had and traveling on a commercial airplane not a private one.  One of the biggest laughs I got during this movie was when Jackie and her kids got off the plane in Elmira, NY (my husband's hometown!) and went up to the rental car desk to get her car.  She asked what her driver's name was!  Really!  Had she been that far removed from her roots of growing up in a blue collar neighborhood in Binghamton, NY that she forgot that chauffeurs don't come with rental cars?  That is just one of the amazingly ridiculous behaviors I witnessed in this film.  The total gluttony of everyone was appalling.  I know I have 20 pairs of shoes too many, but this family made me look frugal!

David Siegel saw the writing on the wall with his financial future, or at least his near future.  With his repeated pleas with his wife to cut back on spending, she seemed completely oblivious to his words.  Their relationship suffered.  Jackie's attempt to cut back on spending for one of her kid's birthday parties resulted in going to Wal-Mart where she only bought  a few grocery carts full of toys and a couple new bikes.  The next shot was of their garage and emptying the items into an already packed garage complete with bicycles apparently never used.  Gluttony.  The nanny's reactions to all of this was priceless.  It was also very sad to see the background of the nannies while Jackie and David were oblivious to that as well.  It was really the the Siegel World.

This was definitely a rags to riches to rags story (although the final look of those rags is probably a Louis Vuitton cut), however Mr. Siegel apparently didn't like that description as he sued Sundance for claiming that.  It's funny, but Mr. Siegel said just that phrase in the movie.  I don't imagine the law suit got very far.  It was also amazing to me that Jackie Siegel attended the opening night of the film, having never screened it!  Oh, my! Was there a common sense issue perhaps?

This movie is an insight into a unique family which then gives you perspective to your own life.  Searching for the American Dream and then increasing it exponentially doesn't always guarantee happiness.  At the core of every family there needs to be love, trust, and balance.  Money doesn't buy it all!