Thursday, October 25, 2012


David O. Russell
I was lucky enough to get a sneak peek at "Silver Linings Playbook" at the Chicago International Film Festival starring Bradley Cooper, Jennifer Lawrence, Robert DiNero, Jacki Weaver and Chris Tucker.  Not only did this high profile and talented cast pique my interest, but the director and writer of the screenplay, David O. Russell from "The Fighter," was a pull as well.  "Silver Linings Playbook" was based on the novel by Matthew Quick.  In the film, Cooper played a recently released mental patient with a propensity for violence who tried to get his life back in order with a little help from a friend, Jennifer Lawrence, who had "issues" of her own.

  The story line and character development of everyone in "Silver Linings Playbook" was complex.  Without giving too much away, this film dealt with Pat Solitano, an adult with Bipolar Disorder.  As Pat (Cooper) was released against medical advice from the mental institution in Baltimore after serving time for battery, he returned home to live with his parents, as a part of a court agreement.  Pat tried to focus on getting better with the sole purpose of getting his wife back.  As Pat went to therapy, and interacted with friends and family, we gained insight into Pat's life and those who surrounded him along with a new acquaintance, Tiffany, played by Jennifer Lawrence.  We also saw that no one is really "normal."  It's how far to the left or right of normal one can go before it interfered with living.  That's what happened to Pat.  We watched as his outbursts and difficulty with dealing with life in appropriate ways interfered with not just Pat's life, but his family's as well.  His mental illness tore apart and continued to tear apart the family.  But it wasn't all dark and depressing.  This movie took a serious disorder, showed it in its true light, but also found the humor within the reality of it.  Anyone who has dealt with a mental disability could relate to the various situations found in the film.  Finding that silver lining in any situation is how we can make things seem just a little bit better.  That's what Pat tried to do throughout the movie.

This film was carefully crafted and written with the utmost of care to develop meaningful and realistic characters full of love, depth, and humor.  Cooper's astute ability to portray an impulsive and inappropriate man with Bipolar Disorder who struggled with life was mind-boggling.  His frenetic tempo was contagious as I found my own breathing irregular and shallow as I watched him interact.  Lawrence was a great counterpart to Cooper, although, initially I thought she was too young.  She proved me wrong.  Her character also had issues which I encourage you to see for yourself, but she was the realistic balance that Cooper's character needed.  DeNiro, wrought with his issues as well, struggled with trying to help his son yet protect his family...a tough line to walk when you're dealing with an adult son.  And Weaver was  Every's just want everyone to be happy.  She loved her family and would do anything for her kids and no matter what the kids' ages, they will always be her kids.  Family.  It's our most treasured gift, but what do we do when that gift explodes?

"Silver Linings Playbook" was a wonderful story which addressed a serious topic.  Through the use of humor, we saw how one family dealt with the serious issue of Bipolar Disorder.  The numerous and overlapping side stories augmented the main story perfectly.  Sweet, funny, accurate, and deep are just a few words that come to mind when describing this film.  Cooper's performance took him to a place I hadn't seen him before.  DeNiro, Weaver, and Lawrence couldn't have been cast any better.  How wonderful to see a story unfold before your eyes which can take an close look at an uncomfortable issue and find a silver lining.


Sunday, October 21, 2012


As I stepped out of my car, I heard the crunch of the leaves on the ground.  I felt the cool, crisp evening air gently envelop me.  I smelled the aroma of campfires.  All of these things made me jump back in time to my own childhood, growing up in Western New York, and window painting the town for Halloween; sitting around bonfires for homecoming; and trick-or-treating.  This was all part of my childhood and the kids around the Bourbonnais area will be lucky enough to recall their own childhood in years to come with fond memories of "A Night in Sleepy Hollow."

"Sleepy Hollow" was started 17 years ago by Marilyn O'Flaherty as a part of the Exploration Station, A Children's Museum here in Bourbonnais, IL.  As the years progressed, so did the production of "Sleepy Hollow."  This year Acting Out Theater Company and its cast of 28 were responsible for the even more grand and elaborate production.  The entire production took place on the grounds of the Perry Farm.  You were guided from campfire to campfire, walking through orchards and canopies of trees, where actors in period costumes retold the original tale of Washington Irving's 'The Legend of Sleepy Hollow.'  While I waited to enter the Three Bay English 1840 barn for the party scene, hot apple cider was served to warm you up on this perfectly chilly fall night.  Two characters took the opportunity to warn you of the horrors to come and give you tricks and tips if you should encounter The Headless Horseman.  I then followed the guide and my group into this perfectly preserved 1840 barn.  As I entered the barn, I couldn't believe how beautiful the woodwork and beams were!  Acting Out Theater had transformed this barn into an ideal venue for a play.  Here, the characters from the story came to life.  We met Ichabod Crane and the true personality of the man was divulged.  In addition to the many party goers, none other than Brom Bones and his cohorts were in attendance.  The beautiful Katrina Van Tassel and her parents who sponsored this extravagant get-together enlightened the audience about all to come.  The party began, complete with dancing from that time period.  An elegant feast was displayed which the the lucky actors were able to partake.  Ghost stories were told at this party and we, the audience, sat enraptured by the tales of the 'Lady in White' and 'The Hanging Tree.'  But most impressive was the tale of the Headless Horseman.  I looked around at my group of 40 people of all ages, ranging from 4 to 64.  They were all mesmerized.  Not an eye looked away from these actors on stage.  Children sat with their mouths agape.  Some children snuggled in closely to their mothers as images of the stories were vividly portrayed in their minds.

Exiting this beautiful barn, we went aboard a hay wagon pulled by a tractor.  Going deeper and deeper into the fields and forest, we encountered each of the haunted stories.  As children screamed that they saw the Headless Horseman, the tractor hit high speed to escape our possible gruesome demise.  I must admit that I never expected that there would be a high speed chase scene!  Luckily, our driver, Anthony Settle, was more than a competent driver and we escaped...or so we thought!  The bridge was now on fire!  How were we going to escape?  The special effects of
the fire and the perfectly timed headless horseman galloping by, raising his sword and swooping into the hay wagon was flawless.  Even the adults jumped at that one!  At last we finally made it to safety and jumped off the wagon unscathed.  What fun!

 That wasn't all!  Afterward, there were games such as Find the Red Needle in the Haystack, and Gory Boxes with Body Parts, a tent to watch the Disney version of Sleepy Hollow, and so much more.  What a perfect evening, with an exemplary cast to recount Washington Irving's classic tale.  The effects, the acting, the overall setting couldn't have been any better.  As I left Sleepy Hollow, I was proud to live in an area that gave to its community such a quality event.  If you missed it this year, be sure to put it on your calendar for next year.  It's truly an occasion you don't want to miss.

Friday, October 19, 2012


I am going to admit that I was sucked in by all the hype and media for "Cloud Atlas."  I really try not to read any reviews prior to seeing a movie so that I am not influenced in any way.  Although I stuck to my guns on that aspect, I still heard that there were glowing reviews out there.  My husband read part of the book (I think he made it further than Tom Hanks) and he read aloud some portions to me while he cuddled his much necessary Oxford English Dictionary.  The prose was beautiful!  So melodic!  As my husband and friend described the premise of the movie to me on the drive into the Chicago International Film Festival, I became that much more intrigued.  What a complex concept!  How will they pull that off in a movie?  What?  It's close to 3 hours long?  Ok.  I can handle that if I'm really fascinated by what I'm seeing.

The movie's premise was how one life connected with another life and the smallest of actions had a ripple effect throughout your next life and the ones to come.  We began with a scene from the mid 1800's.  Was that Tom Hanks?  Yes!  Wow!  The make up and dentures were amazing.  In each subsequent scene, all the main characters from Tom Hanks to Halle Berry and Hugh Grant, we watched in awe of the transformation through make up.  In fact, I didn't even realize one character was the same actor throughout the movie!  "Cloud Atlas" jumped back and forth from 1849, to a post-apocalyptic Hawaii in the very distant future then back to the 1970's, and then to a few other time periods.  This was definitely not a linear story.  But as the story unfolded, you were able to find the connections between these characters and see how they had evolved (or not) as they lived each life.  I don't want to say much more than that, as I love to really put pieces of the puzzle together while I watch a movie.  I will admit, however, that I didn't catch everything intended.  Reading interviews afterward was helpful and gave me that "AH HA!" moment.

This all-star cast didn't let me down.  As each of the actors portrayed multiple characters, they deftly delivered their lines and conveyed their station and destination in that life.  Hugo Weaving's characters were so typical Hugo Weaving.  That's right, he played the evil guy.  Shocker.  But he's great at it!  Hanks, Broadbent, Berry, and Grant changed ethnicities and personalities throughout the 500 year period.  Again, the make-up was spectacular.  I would be shocked if it didn't win several awards, including the Academy Award for Make Up.  An unknown actress to me, Doona Bae, was a standout performer.  Although, I wasn't thrilled with seeing this Korean woman attempt to become a red-headed caucasian with freckles, she gave her performance the depth that it needed no matter who she became and in whichever time period.  I can't explain how her meek and mild manner was more powerful than any other actors', but it was.  She drew me into her mind to help me understand her plight and her destiny. It was also interesting, especially given my speech background, how in the future they spoke a bit differently.  It sounded a bit like Cajun mixed with English and although I couldn't always understand every word they said (or even full sentences sometimes), I still comprehended the overall meaning.  That was a difficult task to successfully undertake!  True-true!  (See the movie and you'll get that!)

Now, with all that being said, I just wasn't hooked as I watched the movie.  Maybe it was just too long...2 hours 52 minutes...but I think it had more to do with knowing the characters.  With the exception of Doona Bae who played Sonmi, I really didn't identify with or really know the characters which meant that I didn't care about them.  Perhaps it was just too much information to convey in one movie.  Perhaps, as I believe one of the directors suggested, it would have been great as a long-running HBO series.  That might have been the ticket for me.  So many events occurred with so many long-lasting events that effected the future that it would have been great to really get to know these people.  So when you're watching a movie and you're not connected to enough people and not caring what happens, you then lose interest.  That's what happened to me.

As with many of the Chicago International Film Festival films, the directors were in attendance for the screening.  Tom Tykwer, Andy Wachowski, and Lana Wachowski took the stage to introduce the film and then graciously answer a broad range of questions following the movie.  Lana Wachowski explained, as she took the stage with the credits still rolling, that the movie was actually a sociological experiment on bladder control!  They all realized the length, but in no way could it have been shorter and still convey the necessary information. The siblings who were also responsible for "The Matrix," explained that the making of this $102 million INDEPENDENT movie took 4 years.  There were at least a dozen times that financing fell through at the last minute and the directors had to put in everything they had personally to finance this project.  What a risk they took, but as they repeatedly stated, it was a project that they believed in and loved.  Regarding the overall message of the movie, Lana Wachowski articulated that the emphasis was on the "act of optimism" in the world:  that no matter how horrible things become, there is always someone who is there to make the world a better place.    As an optimist myself, I will conclude this review with my favorite quote from the movie.  "What is an ocean but a multitude of drops."  We all matter and everything we do, both big and small, does make a difference.


Monday, October 15, 2012

"ARGO" IS A MUST-SEE! by Pamela Powell

I will be the first one to admit my ignorance in current events.  It has been my M.O. since high school.  During high school is when "ARGO" took place.  I have vague memories of the events of that time period, all of which were negative regarding our nation's history.  I remember the yellow ribbons.  I remember hearing about local "boys" who were overseas.  I remember my parents being constantly stressed and talking about the demise of our country.  After seeing "ARGO," I am happy to know more and now vow to pay more attention to current events, both good and bad.

WOW!  That sums up "ARGO" from beginning to end.  Beginning with an encapsulated version of what happened in Iran in the 1950's, then in the late 70's to the current time period of the movie in 1979, which were the historical facts that I needed (and I'm sure some of you did too!) in order to understand the premise of the movie.  The information presented was not skewed to one side or the other.  They were just the facts.  Ben Affleck played Antonio Mendez, a CIA 'exfiltration' specialist who was called upon to help devise a plan to get 6 escaped hostages safely home after being hidden in the home of the Canadian Ambassador and his wife.  We, the audience, were almost a part of the horrifically stressful invasion of the US Embassy as we watched the unfolding of the anger of the Iranian people toward Americans.  The stress, tension, and split second decisions that were made by all of the government workers to protect the US as well as themselves was captured through realistic dialogue and cinematography.  I felt for each and every character portrayed on the screen.  Even as I write this review, my stomach has a pit in it thinking about what they were going through.    You felt the risk.  You felt the tension.  And you felt the terror as prisoners were being taken away, hooded, and dreading the unknown of events to come.

The high ranking government officials were at a loss.  Mendez had an idea that he could walk these 6 Americans out under the premise that they were actually a Canadian film crew.  Mendez called in favors with contacts in Hollywood such as John Chambers (Goodman) and Lester Siegel (Alan Arkin) to help him develop a realistic cover.  In addition, he relied upon the support of his boss, Jack O'Donnell, played by Bryan Cranston.  Cutting back and forth between how the US was unfolding its plan to what was happening in Iran continued to keep the level of tension at its highest.  No moment on screen was wasted as was probably the case with the actual event.  Every moment counted in order to get these people home safely.  Affleck was superb.  Cranston was outstanding.  Alan Arkin and John Goodman added a slight amount of levity, but did not take away from the seriousness of the topic.  They just added realism to it.  The 6 who were hiding at the Canadian Ambassador's house were all unknown actors to me, but their level of skill in portraying these characters was beyond any performance I have ever seen.  There was not a weak link in the cast.  The sequence of events were concise and perfectly told, never losing sight of the tension and end goal.  Although I knew how it ended, I was still on the edge of my seat, not wanting to take my eyes off the screen for one moment as I couldn't miss a moment.  It was as if I was a fly on the wall witnessing these events.

This was a difficult story to tell with so many nuances and so many characters to develop.  By the end of the movie, I knew each character and why they did what they did.  As the credits rolled, the audience was still.  Not a breath could be heard, no munching of popcorn, and no one stood up to leave.  We were all still mesmerized by what we had just seen.  At the very end, there were photos of real scenes in Iran that were identical to the scenes we saw in the movie.  There were also photos of each of the characters in this movie.  The actors cast to play these rolls were not only cast for their acting abilities but also for their physical likeness to the real person.  In some cases, the similarities were uncanny.

It is not often that I write a review with absolutely no criticism.  I have none for "ARGO."  It was truly one of the most informative and realistic movies about an actual event with outstanding acting from each and every performer that I have ever seen.  The direction and editing were also outstanding.  Capturing the time period was perfect and the attention to every detail was flawless.  It's rare that we can view a movie like this.  If you go to the theater to see only one movie this year, go see "ARGO."


Sunday, October 14, 2012

"Empire Builder"...Film 2 of the CIFF by Pamela Powell

The description of this film by Chicago filmmaker, Kris Swanberg, was intriguing.  The synopsis was, a stay-at-home mom with a young infant was frustrated with her life in Chicago.  She grasps an opportunity to run away to Montana to stay while she waits for her husband to join her.  "Her idyllic life takes an unsettling turn when she begins a relationship with a local handyman..."  OK, I'm a stay at-home-mom.  I gave up a career in Speech Language Pathology to stay at home with my kids.  I went to this movie with another stay-at-home mom.  Let's face it, staying at home with the kids can be more difficult than going to work.  No positive reinforcement, no social life, no pay check, hours of cleaning, lack of sleep, and mind-numbing activities.  But not for all the tea in China would I trade any moment of staying at home!  I will, however, admit that on occasion, I wanted (and sometimes still do!) to run away.  Escape.  Especially with two teenagers and the stresses I have watched them endure helplessly from the sidelines, I wanted to escape.  But I didn't (or haven't yet).  I'm there for my kids no matter what.  So you can see why this film's description intrigued me.  And we all go to see movies and enjoy them even more when we can have empathy with the main characters.

Kris Swanberg was introduced to the audience prior to the screening.  She was adorably excited to have the audience view her first film.  She even took a picture of the audience!  Cute!  The lights dimmed and the film began.  Chicago.  You have to love it when you can identify backgrounds of your city.  Jenny, our main character and her baby were shown playing with a cause-effect toy (remember, I'm a speech path!), showing us her boredom and longing for another world.  Cut to a dinner party.  More boredom and regret was obvious.  Jenny then needed to pack for her trip to Montana, but it was "date night" with her husband.  She wanted to cancel as she had a lot to do, but her perfect husband expressed how important it is to spend time together and that he would help in whatever way he could so that she could do both the date night and pack for the trip.  Wow!  He must have passed the graduate level course entitled "Husband 301!"  Anyway, Mr. Perfect was a planner and a little bit compulsive with getting his wife and adorable baby to the train on time.  Jenny was quite the opposite.  Packing light (this coming from The Queen of Overpacking), she had no port-a-crib, no stroller, and only a couple light bags.  When I travelled with my son at that age, I was prepared for everything.  Maybe I was relating more to the husband than with Jenny.

Jenny arrived in Montana and walked with the baby in her arms (because she refused to bring the stroller that her husband suggested) and her luggage strapped over her shoulders to her family's cabin.  No running water, no civilization nearby that we can see, she somehow wound up with formula and food.  Ok, I'll let that pass.  We were told that she had family "in town."  Jenny then started clean-up mode to prepare for her husband's arrival in a week's time.  The handyman arrived to do major work such as installing a new roof.  I was thankful when Mr. Handyman arrived as there was actually some animation and dialogue that occurred.  I also thought, "Ok.  Now some action begins.  Now Jenny will communicate in some way what's going on or will have a torrid affair."  No, that was not the case.  We continued to slowly watch her daily routine unfold.  In addition, it was painful to watch this baby "talk," giggle, and make eye contact with his mom to receive a mousey vocal return with no affect.  This was the affect throughout the entire was flat!  Upon Jenny's arrival to the cabin, I began to have problems with the story-line as she frequently put her baby in harm's way.  For example, she allowed her 8 or 9 month old to remain unattended in the totally UN-childproofed house while she and Kyle, the handyman, went for a hike.   She also served this infant a burger, carrots, and mashed potatoes.  I was ok with the mashed potatoes, but the burger?  Carrots?  Really?  And how about allowing a baby to sleep in a regular bed with no safety guards who rolled, crawled and pulled to standing???  There were many other instances that other audience members audibly gasped their concern about the baby's well-being.  The baby, on the other hand, was to me the star of the show.  What a sweet and animated little guy!  The most natural  actor on the screen!

I needed more.  I understood Jenny's frustration with being a stay-at-home mom, but the audience wasn't given enough information about her previous life or her marriage to develop any empathy.  Her husband seemed sweet, caring, and although a bit decisive, he had to be as Jenny just seemed to float through her life.  I needed to care about someone other than having uneasy feelings for whether or not the baby was going to have lead poisoning from licking his fingers after touching the window sill!  I needed to dislike someone to justify Jenny's need to run away.  I needed dialogue and communication more than the long, ever-lingering shots of her stirring eggs.  The constant dull, flat affect become monotonous.  I got it.  She was unhappy.  I got that in the first five minutes.  Let something else happen.  Life happens in slow motion with monotony.  Reality in a movie is fine unless it lulls you into an uncaring relationship with the characters.  "Empire Builder" was a great premise with lots of promise only to let me down.

On to Market Place where (insert audible gasp here) we showed up without reservations!  To the iPhone to OpenTable to take care of THAT predicament!  Success!

Friday, October 12, 2012

OPENING NIGHT: CIFF "Stand Up Guys" by Pamela Powell

October 11, 2012.  Opening night of the Chicago International Film Festival.  Also my husband's birthday.  How to combine the two was my big question!  Buy $50 tickets to see a movie with my husband's favorite actors was the happy compromise with dinner at Chicago Cuts Steakhouse to follow.  Perfect.

Arriving early to grab our near front seats, we knew the actors would be sitting in our section.  Again, perfect.  We watched the red carpet scene on the screen as we waited for the opening statements by the charasmatic Bill Curtis and the film festival's founder, Michael Kutza.  Mr. Kutza, or "Mike" as Mr. Curtis referred to him,  couldn't contain the excitement in his voice or expressions over the upcoming showing of "Stand Up Guys" starring Al Pacino, Christopher Walken, and Alan Arkin.  Who could blame him?  These are three actors with stellar film careers.  The actors, director and writer were all introduced to the audience, then quietly ushered to their seats as the lights dimmed which allowed no one to really get a glimpse of any of the cast or crew.

The movie was about a mobster (Pacino) who kept quiet and took the fall for his gang in the shooting death of the mob leader's only son.  Upon his release 28 years later, events took place which enabled the three gangsters to reunite for a few last hurrahs.  But there was a rub...Pacino's only buddy (Walken) must kill him as ordered by The Boss.  As the film has not yet been released (it is scheduled to be released in January, 2013), I will not give away too much more of the film.  However, I will say that it was a great story.  We've had a lot of movies recently about aging such as "The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel," "Trouble with the Curve," and "The Last Rites of Joe May." These are three off the top of my head.  I'm sure there are many others.  Given the wonderful screenplay and the outstanding actors, I expected a lot.  However, I was not "wowed" by the performance.  I found it stilted as if I was watching a rehearsal of a play.  All in all, it was just "ok."

As the credits rolled, I knew I was cutting it close for our steakhouse reservations.  Alas, we would have to wait while the talent was guardedly ushered out of the theater.  On to dinner and Saturday's list of films to view!

Monday, October 8, 2012

"Red Cloud: Deliverance" Delivers a Take Home Message by Pamela Powell

For those of you who know me, you know my attention span has an inverse relationship to my age:  the older I get, the shorter the attention span.  A 30 minute movie is my cup of tea.  Again, for those who know me, you know my children are the center of my world...for the good or the bad, that's the way I'm wired.  I like to think that most moms are wired the same way.  Unfortunately, as was brought to my attention by filmmaker Alex M. Kruz, this is not always the case.  Alex, also a parent, finds himself living thousands of miles away from his daughters.  And as a parent, as well as previously part of the military, Alex was privy to situations that you and I can only hope are not real.  Alex's art and filmmaking are a way of expressing his loss of not having his daughters close by as well as helping to raise funds to save children from horrors that we everyday parents would consider incomprehensible.  All the proceeds, thus far from "Red Cloud: Deliverance" have gone to the Somaly Mam Foundation.  You see, the main character's name, Jake Red Cloud, lost his family while trying to save children from the human trafficking and sex slave trade.  I truly didn't think this was an actual issue, but to my sad realization, it is. The Somaly Mam Foundation was founded to help eradicate this situation.

"Red Cloud: Deliverance" was a visual movie from the beginning.  Words weren't needed to express the situation at hand and deliver intrigue from the moment Jake Red Cloud knocked on single mom Jeanine Parker's front door for a room for rent.  Within the first five minutes of the movie, I knew that Ms. Parker wasn't up for the Mother Of The Year Award.  But I wasn't sure Mr. Red Cloud was  a reputable character either.  His vague answers, his need for shelter, his cash on hand were all red flags...or were they?  As we learned more about Jake Red Cloud, we also learned more about Jeanine and her little girl Ann, played by the wonderfully talented Breanna Lakatos.  Those sincere brown eyes and cherubic voice could melt anyone's heart, including Mr. Red Cloud's.

The movie addressed the importance of family or sometimes our cavalier attitude toward those around us.  Jake was not the knight in shining armor to deliver Jeanine from her lowly life and help shake her up to see the error of her ways.  Jeanine was more interested in which male could buy her things or satisfy her current wants.  But Jake had his own needs and wants.  These aspects of Jake's life were ultimately molded as his relationship changed and grew with Ann.  This, however, didn't seem to impact Jeanine in the least.  A sad realization.

The one constant in this movie reflected how important children SHOULD be to anyone; mother, father, any adult.  Children are very perceptive, processing everything around them and internalize what is happening.  To protect and nurture our children is our ultimate goal, but as was the case of both Jake and Jeanine in this movie, they couldn't always do this.  Sometimes circumstances were out of their control, but when they were not, how did they pay the ultimate price?

As I previously stated, this was a visual movie.  Yes, there was enough dialogue, but only when truly needed.  The cinematography and the body language of the actors gave more information than lines could have possibly done.  Alex M. Kruz, who played Jake Red Cloud, conveyed a real sense of loss as the camera studied his expressions.  Flashbacks to his former life revealed who he was and why he had become this new version of Jake Red Cloud.  The real embodiment of dialogue rested upon the heartfelt words of an eight year old little girl who flawlessly and believably portrayed a needy, yet wise beyond her years, child.

"Red Cloud: Deliverance" is a harsh reminder of the fact that children are not always cherished.  The unexpected violence was a bit shocking, but an integral part of the movie.  Again, a film to help raise funds to save children from a horrific way of life is a film I want to support.

Thursday, October 4, 2012


I was lucky enough to see “Butter” at last year’s Chicago International Film Festival with four wonderful friends.  “Butter” starred Jennifer Garner, Ty Burrell (from Modern Family), Olivia Wilde (men start drooling now), Hugh Jackman (sorry, ladies, no drooling with his role here!) and the little girl who stole the show, Yara Shahidi.  Jennifer Garner’s role of Laura Pickler reminded me of Nicole Kidman’s role in “To Die For” as she was SO consumed with herself and took this rather silly competition of elaborate butter sculpting at a state fair so seriously.  She stopped at nothing to win this contest.  A contest involving butter sculpting...Please! I really thought this might be a really ridiculous movie based on the premise, but it was hilarious!  

Butter sculpting was taken very seriously by all those involved and Jennifer Garner nailed the role of Midwestern Socialite Wannabe.   Her perfectionistic qualities spilled over into every aspect of her life and brutally limited every possibility of fun, at least from her perspective.  From my seat, it was hilarious!  Laura Pickler was a control freak extraordinaire.  The funny thing was that you understood her...or maybe it was just me that understood her.  Hmmmm...control freak?  Perfectionist?  Nah, I’ll dismiss that thought before it starts to bother me.  Anyway, Ty Burrell played his typical Modern Family Dad/Husband role, and Olivia Wilde had some pretty fun and risque scenes!  (Again, men, please continue drooling at this point.) Hugh Jackman has a small, but vital role as the not-too-bright-but-buff used car salesman.  He was truly a total dork.  That shows you his acting capabilities!  If Hugh Jackman can take the screen and be unappealing, that’s talent.  The little girl that Jennifer Garner was pitted against in butter sculpting was the adorable Yara Shahidi.  She captured the essence of a repeatedly abandoned orphan, tossed from foster home to foster home.  She finally landed with a loving couple (Alicia Silverstone and Rob Corddry) who did everything to encourage her artistic abilities; especially those that revolved around, yes, you guessed it, butter sculpting. They were the parents she needed.  With their inexperience as parents, we find even more humorous situations and as a parent, have total empathy for them.  

This movie was complete with humor, a bit of sex, a little raunchy in parts, sweetness, the pulling of heart strings, and great, albeit predictable, story all played out by a talented cast.
After the movie, we all laughed as we recaptured different parts of the film.  We all agreed that this was a total fluff movie, but well worth seeing!  Laughing is great fun and we need more of it!  There was really no thought provoking aspects to this movie nor were there any great lessons to be learned.  A silly concept was utilized to show us some of our weaker human qualities such as greed and jealousy, and made it funny.  There were also some heartwarming, sweet moments that made you audibly say, “Awww.”  This was my kind of escapism.

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