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Family Movie Night

By Karyn Bowman

Last week the husband and I made a field trip to Allerton, an estate owned by the University of Illinois. The original owners were Samuel Allerton and his son, Robert. Samuel made his money in the hog markets of Chicago, going on to own lots of real estate and forming one of the largest banks in the U.S.


Death of the Last Centaur at Allerton Park

His son, Robert, studied art in Europe but eventually came home to help run the family business. He may not have been an artist but he knew how to appreciate it, becoming a founder, supporter, and one of the largest donors to the collection of the Art Institute in Chicago. He took that art sensibility to Allerton with sculptures placed throughout the grounds.

For those Anglophiles, the estate will conjure images of Elizabeth Bennett and Lucy Honeychurch running about while figuring out life and choosing the best suitor for marriage.

The brick Georgian manor house has walled gardens of various themes and flora. One long section is devoted to peonies, another is filled with annuals. Or maybe they would be if we hadn’t gone in the middle of October when gardens are being dismantled and put to bed for the winter.


Allerton Mansion

We need to go again, especially on a full moon hike night.

A house like this must be spectacular but alone on the prairie, one must wonder what else could live there. It is that spooky season, after all. And while the house has spectacular gardens, it is surrounded by dense woods.

Well, we know about those spooky house movies. One of my favorite for kids in 3rd grade and up is Monster House starring Mitchel Musso (Phineas and Ferb) as a 14-year-old who begins to wonder about the spooky house across the street. He and his buddy, Chowder, team up with cute Jenny on Halloween night to get Chowder’s basketball back. Along the way they discover the house’s secret.

While fun and filled with deep meaning, this can be a potentially scary movie for the little ones. However, for the pre-teen set, it has elements of kids working together to solve a mystery even after they are not believed by the adults.

coralineAnother spooky house story that appears to be meant for kids is Coraline directed by Henry Selick. Coraline has just moved into a new house with her parents. They are too distracted to pay her much attention or to explore the house with her. So when Coraline find a door that leads to another dimension where they love and adore and shower attention on Coraline, she feels happy. That is until all of this wonderfulness doesn’t feel good and the young girl has to solve a big problem.

Again, this movie is not for the younger children but perfect for your pre-teens who love Tim Burton-like spookiness and heroines who have to learn how to save themselves..

Lastly, for the adults chances are you have seen movies such as Hill House and The Lady in Black where the house is as much of a character as any human. But I was thinking about Th13teen Ghosts (13 Ghosts) starring Tony Shalhoub. This is one of those creepy movies about a man who inherits a house from his uncle. Now the uncle was eccentric and perhaps a bit evil. But the man is in dire straits and needs this house so his kids can have a stable home. That is until walls start moving and people die off.


                 Thirteen Ghost with                Tony Shalhoub

My son says I prefer cheesy horror movies and he might be right because this is not my favorite genre. But after fifteen years, I still remember this movie and the fear it left inside of me. Yes, it is a “B” movie but Tony Shalhoub is in it. To me, some of the kills were imaginative and chilling as one character wound his way through the house, not caring what happened to others.

But if you’re like me, this movie won’t even make it to the watch list because nightmares are not your thing. Perhaps there is a spooky romantic comedy out there to watch instead.

Until next week, see you in the rental aisle.

Family Movie Night

By Karyn Bowman

Killer clowns are wandering the streets, so I’ve heard.

Killer clowns have now replaced zombies as that creature which bring the most fear to one’s heart. I am not a big fan of clowns. Next to caged gorillas, I think they are one of the saddest creatures on earth.

it-pennywiseBut there are plenty of cinematic reasons to fear them. The one that still haunts my dreams on occasion is the clown in the Steven King movie IT. Who wouldn’t be creeped out by that clown that hides in sewers and other places, stealing people to store in a cave.

While that movie was about more than a creepy monster, try the rather open sub plot about anti-whatever behavior we allow in society, it was also about facing fears. To fight that creature, the band of friends had to re-connect and work together to take that gruesome thing down for the final time. They must find strength to confront their biggest fear, a real-life childhood boogieman who must be destroyed for good.

By the way, Tim Curry played the clown and he was fantastically evil. Hard to believe he also voiced the dad for The Wild Thornberries. In 2012, Curry had a stroke that took away his voice and ability to move. He has made great strides in his recovery and I hope that he continues to do so.

killer_klowns_from_outer_space_Another movie that came to mind is Killer Klowns from Outer Space. This is one of those independent movies that became a cult classic. The basic story line is that a group of teenagers are fighting against a groups of flesh eating aliens dressed as clowns. No one believes the teens, of course. All they are left with is an ice cream truck to try and take these Klowns down.

The production values are so bad along with the acting it makes you laugh more than it frightens. I mean, how many times can they shoot their weapons and take down people and no one gets it. Suddenly it makes sense that one of the video games my kids play features a wild ride in an ice cream truck as they fight zombies. Maybe it is not an intentional reference but seems like it to me.

However, the scariest clown was a real one, John Wayne Gacy. This Des Plaines business man, who dressed as a clown for children’s parties, was found guilty of killing over 30 young men and boys. Many of their bodies were found under the foundation of his home. He was eventually convicted and put to death in 1994.

It was a terrifying story played out in real life, Gacy was just charming enough to get


                           To Catch a Killer                               starring Brian Dennehy

these people to trust him. While there are a variety of movies on Gacy and other serial killers, your best bet might be To Catch a Killer starring Brian Dennehy as the serial killer in the 1992 flick. It is a reminder how evil can be next door to you and you may not be able to recognize it.

Who needs fake stalker clowns when real life can be scarier?

Until next week, see you in the rental aisle.

Chicken Parmesan Meat Balls

One of the joys of Facebook is seeing great recipes that you are never quite sure will work.

This weekend I made a new dish from a recipe I saw on Facebook called Chicken Parmesan Meatballs. It was a cool video that showed a pair of hands dumping in ingredients and mixing it all together before cooking it all.

chicken-meatballs-ingredientsI can’t say that the video gave exact measurements but the ingredient list was easy to follow. And let’s be honest, those of us who cook a lot can make meatballs from scratch without a measuring cup.

So first I had to make the ground chicken. That took two and 1/3 lbs. of skinless, boneless chicken breast which I put through my food processor. After that I mixed in in mozzarella cheese, Parmesan cheese, panko, and two eggs. You can put in spices such as garlic or Italian seasoning.  I added some garlic but I could have done more. I wish I had but at least I did not over salt it. I hate overly salted food.
After rolling up the meatballs I put them in a 13×9 baking pan chicken-meatballs-before-bakingthat had been sprayed with Pam. I actually had to use a 8×8 for some extra meatballs. Those went into a 350 degree oven for about 20 minutes to cook. I know that most people like to fry their meatballs but I don’t. I prefer to bake them and that is what I did.

During this time I simmered tomato sauce starter (that my husband made with his bounteous tomato harvest) and a small can of tomato paste, adding small basil leaves from our herb pots. Because I did not grab enough of the starter from our freezer, I added a jar of marinara. This is when I also got the water for the pasta going.

chicken-meatballs-coveredOnce the chicken meatballs were done in the oven, I transferred them to a different 13×9 pan, squishing in all 39 meatballs. I covered the meat balls with sauce, covered that with mozzarella cheese and put back in the oven until the cheese was fully melted.

Now during this time I forced asked my daughter to set the table. I put the small green beans in the microwave, put the pasta in the water, and waited for it all to finish. During the waiting I chopped some parsley in case anyone wanted to sprinkle it over their meal. Yep, just me and the husband did that.

Now, you eagle eyed readers might note that I used an organic paste that is supposed to be better for you. I did have to cook it a little longer than the package said and I prefer a slightly softer pasta anyway.

chicken-meatballs-platedIt looked pretty on the plate and tasted good too. In fact, the left overs were gone by the following lunch time. You might be wondering why there is so little pasta on the plate. As some of you know I have been diagnosed with type 2 diabetes. Smaller pasta portions keep my body happy.

Yep, this is a recipe I will probably make again. I hope no one asks for exact amounts on the ingredients.

What are you making for supper?



Miracle of Movement

Family Movie Night

By Karyn Bowman

I am not a big fan of Christian movies.

They are always a bit cheesy, too focused on the message, and lacking in a story. Too many have been about the end days and not about how people live or fail at their faith on a daily basis.

Slowly, that is changing.

Better movies are being made; ones that focus on how humans live their lives. They focus on how we can be better as people of faith without pointing out the obvious.

miracles-from-heaven-movie-collageCase in point? I just watched the very family friendly Miracles from Heaven and was blown away,

It’s not just because Jennifer Garner is a good actress or that she had a great supporting cast. Garner is a beautiful woman who seems like one of us, she has that touch of normalcy that is relatable. She is not always a glamor-puss but when she is wearing a pony tail, tee shirt, and jeans she is definitely gorgeous.

In this movie, Garner is a mother to three girls and the wife to a big animal vet. Her husband has recently expanded his practice. They are happy (mostly) in their marriage and the three girls are happy and active. Their spiritual life is on track as well with one of the best praise bands at a church I have ever seen.

miracles-from-heaven-mov-treeBut then their youngest daughter starts having abdominal pain and throws up without warning. Numerous trips to the doctor’s office and ER gets them a diagnosis of lactose intolerance and acid reflux. But this mom knows there is something truly wrong with her daughter, she demands answers and solutions. And eventually, she gets them.

It is not without a price. People at church suggests the illness is because of an unknown sin; the cost of the medicine, treatments, and airplane tickets to Boston are pushing the family to the limit; and Christy is losing her ability to pray and feel God.

That is when a miracle occurs, changing their life yet again.

What keeps this movie from being a total sapfest is Jennifer Garner’s strength and determination, her fierce behavior during stressful moments. She is the center of this movie and carries it well, allowing the ten-year-old Kylie Rogers to be the center when needed.

miracles-from-heaven-mov-porchDon’t get me wrong, I still cried at the end of the movie. There is a lot to take in that is heartbreaking so I would tell parents that this one might not be for the littlest members of the house. It will make for great discussions with your pre-teens. But nor did I feel hit over the head with prosperity theology or “if you don’t have faith, you will get sick” bluster. Oh, I have stronger words for what I really think of that false religious thinking but that will take away from this review.

I want my faith expressed through people’s actions and I received it a plenty. This movie is not perfect, we did have a few cast iron pot moments of explication. And yet, I felt as if this movie made real progress in story-telling and acting by the major cast members. Produced by Affirm Films and Roth Film, it is clear that Christian movies are slowly but surely getting better. Good storytelling will deliver your message, you just need faith in the words and the actor’s ability to bring them to life.

Until next week, see you in the rental aisle.

Oh, Maggie

Family Movie Night

By Karyn Bowman

Some actors make it hard for you not to watch. Their ability to channels others and tell incredible stories are amazing feats. Some are so good, they could read the phone book and make it interesting.

That is how I feel about the British actress Maggie Smith. Some of you know here are the indomitable Proprofessor-mcgonnegalfessor McGonagall from the Harry Potter Movies. Here she is delightfully in charge at all times but there is always a hint of whimsy in her eyes, as if she is just waiting to do a little mischief. A rule player until the time she gets to break the rules, Smith gave McGonagall all of the stiff upper lip and the twinkle of affection for her students.

Some might know her as the Dowager in Downton Abby. Putting all of her regal behavior into one character, we begin to understand the very rich when Smith asks just what is a week-end. She enjoys a good fight with her cousin over control of the hospital board while using the same skills to keep her mutinous housekeeper in check.


Julian Sands, Helena Bonham-Carter, and Maggie Smith

I remember her most as Cousin Charlotte from A Room With a View. She is the very proper English woman who is stuck in the times as well as trying to live in the more modern era. Her inability to deal with her young cousin’s sprightly ways is complicated by her need to not to be a total stick in the mud, especially if she is being a stick in the mud.

But what I truly appreciate about Smith is her ability to do and try just about anything in the acting world. We know her for the posh roles she plays but Smith can get down and dirty as well. I just watched The Lady in the Van which was a BBC production that has since come out on DVD.

The story is based on a true story of a playwright, Alex Jennings, who allows the neighborhood homeless woman to park her van in his driveway. At first she parks on the street in front of the homes of various neighbors. Some treat her kindly, others are more brusque with her. And she treats them all the same no matter who they are. She accept food as if it is her right to be given tasty treats. She uses the playwright’s bathroom as if it were her own.

lady-in-a-vanOver the years, the two people develop as relationship, an affection of sorts, that aggravates Jennings because his mother is the same age but in a lesser degree of health. Why he seems to give more care to the homeless woman than to his own mother is a bit of a mystery.

Through it all Smith performs well. She takes a character who is unlikable and keeps her that way. There is no magical transformation to a nice person, no miraculous cure for her mental illness. The Lady in the Van remains an enigma despite all that we learn about her, she remains self-focused with moments of joy leaping out that surprise people, and keep them coming back with goodies and needful items.

This is a slice of life, a picture of a moment in time when a lonely man allowed a crazy person to take over his yard with her van and all of her garbage bags surrounding the vehicle. There are no chase scenes or explosions. But this movie is filled with dry English wit and warm moments.

Maybe younger kids should not watch it but it is acceptable for teens who can deal with the slow moments or the humorous ones.

Until next week, see you in the rental aisle.



It is that special week again when we celebrate books that were challenged or banned in libraries and school libraries across the country. I hope that the ALA does not mind I took their great graphic and the list of the top ten banned or challenged books for 2015.

  1. Looking for Alaska, by John Green
    Reasons: Offensive language, sexually explicit, and unsuited for age group.
  2. Fifty Shades of Grey, by E. L. James
    Reasons: Sexually explicit, unsuited to age group, and other (“poorly written,” “concerns that a group of teenagers will want to try it”).
  3. I Am Jazz, by Jessica Herthel and Jazz Jennings
    Reasons: Inaccurate, homosexuality, sex education, religious viewpoint, and unsuited for age group.
  4. Beyond Magenta: Transgender Teens Speak Out, by Susan Kuklin
    Reasons: Anti-family, offensive language, homosexuality, sex education, political viewpoint, religious viewpoint, unsuited for age group, and other (“wants to remove from collection to ward off complaints”).
  5. The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time, by Mark Haddon
    Reasons: Offensive language, religious viewpoint, unsuited for age group, and other (“profanity and atheism”).
  6. The Holy Bible
    Reasons: Religious viewpoint.
  7. Fun Home, by Alison Bechdel
    Reasons: Violence and other (“graphic images”).
  8. Habibi, by Craig Thompson
    Reasons: Nudity, sexually explicit, and unsuited for age group.
  9. Nasreen’s Secret School: A True Story from Afghanistan, by Jeanette Winter
    Reasons: Religious viewpoint, unsuited to age group, and violence.
  10. Two Boys Kissing, by David Levithan
    Reasons: Homosexuality and other (“condones public displays of affection”).

So ask yourself when was the last time you read a banned book, on purpose?

Civil Disobediance

Family Movie Night

By Karyn Bowman

With Pumpkin Fest coming and the theme being Pumpkins in Paradise, my mind keeps playing the old Jimmy Buffet song, Cheeseburgers in Paradise.

Wrong, so wrong and yet there it is.

pumpkin-fest-porchInstead, I am trying to focus on the fun aspects of the annual fest with the parade going by my house, pumpkins on our steps for decoration, and the need to make sure all cars are properly parked and out of the way before parade time.

Well, at least our steps are filled with pumpkins.

But this week has also seen the release of the latest Marvel Comics movie, Captain America:Civil War.

For fans of action movies and movies with a bit of fantasy, this is a winner.

I like Marvel for allowing characters to grow and develop. I like that they explore themes and realistic emotional scenarios. Most of us may never deal with aliens trying to take over our world. But we do have family members dealing with post-traumatic stress. And for those who follow politics, we know people who may like each other but really disagree on how to keep America safe.

In fact, that issue drives this movie. Because of the events in past movies and lives that have been lost and cities that have been damaged beyond repair, it has been decided by the UN that superheroes need to register and that they will only ‘help’ in situations in which they are called upon to help.

Tony Stark (Robert Downey Jr.) agrees with this policy and feels superheroes need to be reined in. But Captain America (Chris Pine), the WWII hero, feels this is the wrong way to go. He is a veteran of the war in which people were separated out for their differences and does not want to be impeded to give help whenever help is needed.

Captain America Civil WarThe fight becomes brutal and personal when Bucky, the Winter Soldier, resurfaces as the possible culprit of a nasty bombing and assassination of an African king. There will be long time repercussions from this event. Soon, people are divided and they are recruiting new and old members to join the fight.

I find this to be a well done addition to the series. It is the last of the Captain America movies, although not the last time for us to see Captain America. It features the inclusion of new characters (Ant-Man and Falcon) while unveiling a few new friends (Spiderman and Black Panther), one of whom are clearly in awe of everyone he is fights for and against.

It is an entertaining movie with it’s one-liners and smart retorts. Characters still speak to each other as friends, even when they hate each others’ guts. There are plenty of explosions and fights to the death, including the last big fight between Cap and Iron man.

This may not be a movie for your youngest child or one that has a short tolerance for the action violence. There is one spot that might make a protective parent wary. But in the end , I enjoyed the movie for being willing to ask tough questions about power and the wielding of it.

Until next week, see you in the rental aisle.

Feel the Binge

Family Movie Night

By Karyn Bowman

One aspect of this new way of looking at movies and TV shows through streaming that I find fascinating is the ability to binge-watch anything.

And I do mean anything.

flashMy older son still at home is currently watching The Flash, a newer TV show on the CW network about the DC comic speedy superhero. Before that, he watched all of the latest episodes of Arrow, about the crime fighting archer., another DC comic book superhero.

And he does this through Netflix.

My daughter does the same but with an Australian show about a group of students studying at a prestigious dance academy in Sidney. I started watching the show with her and found myself intrigued.

So how does one start in a binge session.?

I think there are two theories on this.

The first requires planning and thought. First start with buying a DVD or checking out your steaming system for a complete season of your favorite show. Before you can plan the watching time, there is another factor you must take into account: The snacks.

big-bang-theoryMy personal preference is for Cheetos but since that is off the diet now I go for buttered popcorn sprinkled with cinnamon. Perhaps you prefer nachos or pizza. The point is you want to make sure you’re completely stocked for a season’s worth of The Big Bang Theory or Ninja Warriors. That includes beverages and TP. There is nothing worse than being in the middle of a binge watching session and running out of TP.

That requires you to leave the house after hours of binging wearing pajama pants and a tee shirt with greasy food stains on it. Ain’t nobody got time or the desire to see that.

finding-bigfootBut once you’re set, go for that binge session of Downton Abbey or Finding Bigfoot or SpongeBob. Keep at it all day and all night until you have seen each and every episode whether it is on a DVD or streaming.

Theory one requites planning and organization, which some of us like to do.

Then there is my second theory.

It’s the one in which you find yourself with free time, like an entire day of free time. So you turn on the TV, search through available programming and start watching something, something you have vaguely heard about, such as Supernatural or Buffy the Vampire Slayer or Dog with a Blog. The first episode or two are great or at least passable but you want to see more.


Buffy the Vampire Slayer

The next thing you know fourteen hours have passed, you made it through a season, and the dog is dancing around with his legs crossed. Your clothes are rumpled, stained with any food you found in the meantime, and you begin to dance around the room with your legs crossed.

There is no planning, no stored snacks or TP, and the dog is ready to bite you.

But what a great run of your favorite TV show in a matter of hours.

Until next week, see you in the rental aisle.

The Craft of a Good Actor

Family Movie Night

By Karyn Bowman

It wasn’t that he was goofy looking or had funny eyes that made Gene Wilder funny. It was that he was willing to take every character and every scene to the nth degree. He wasn’t the romantic lead or the true action hero. But what Wilder gave us was perfect comic timing and ideas that seemed outlandish until he performed them.

VARIOUS - 1979

Mandatory Credit: Photo by STEVE WOOD/REX/Shutterstock (74497b) GENE WILDER VARIOUS – 1979

Interestingly enough, Wilder stated that comedy was even funnier when you played scenes straight. You don’t need to make funny faces or sounds, playing the scene as most people might live it can be funny.

As soon as the word came out that Wilder passed away last week, my husband instantly stated we needed to get Blazing Saddles. It is this movie, Willy Wonka, Young Frankenstein, and Silver Streak that may be what Wilder is known for doing. It is these movies that he seems to be the straight man while creating total havoc.

It is a different formula from what the Marx Brothers were doing but his work makes us laugh just as hard. It could be the timid accountant in The Producers or the mad creator doing the soft shoe with his monster in Young Frankenstein. His performances always seem like he is completely present in that character no matter what the character is doing, whether it is a mean character or someone kind of sweet and lost.

Wilder had not performed in movies for the last twenty years. He stated that he did not like the modern films with so much swearing and explosions that seem to make no sense to the actual story. Then in the last three years, Wilder dealt with a diagnosis of Alzheimer’s disease. He left public life after that. It was comforting to hear that in the end he was surrounded by family and listening to Ella Fitzgerald.

tom-cavenaughAnother actor in that mold of playing it straight no matter what is Tom Cavenagh. My son watches the CW network show, The Flash in which Cavenagh plays a bad guy masquerading as a good guy. Each side of his character is believable. I find his character especially compelling because Cavenagh has played a number of good guys.

His first big role was in the TV show Ed in which he played a former New York lawyer who comes home to his small town, buys the local bowling alley, and sets up a new law practice. He sweetly romances the girl he had a crush on during high school with some success and some failure. But you instantly like this guy. It feels that what you see is what you get. I have noticed this in other movies as well.

But in The Flash, there is something different driving the character. He has a desire to create what he needs to happen in the future and so he must be a mentor to the one person he will destroy in the future. While I would say that The Flash is better for teens and young adults, Cavenagh’s other movies – Yogi Bear and How to Eat Fried Worms are better movies for younger children.

As for Wilder’s movies, Willy Wonka is better for the younger generation but his other movies are more suited for teens.

Until next week, see you in the rental aisle.


Family Movie Night

By Karyn Bowman

For whatever reasons I am seeing a lot of hate for Anne Hathaway.

Why would any one hate Anne, right? I know what you are thinking, she was so cute in those Princess Diary movies. And she was great in Les Mis, she sang so beautifully in that movie. I honestly thought she was an angel in Jean’s death scene.

But there are plenty of people who hate the 33-year-old actress.

Anne HathawayThey say she grew up in the theater and therefore she has picked up a lot of ‘theater kid’ bad habits. She is always willing to give it one more try, willing to suck up to the director. She has little ticks that give away what she is thinking about as she is acting.

In fact, there are times that I wonder why she didn’t go harder in various scenes in movies such as The Intern (2015) where she could have been a more Miranda Priestly type. I always felt that character, with as much as she had to say about modern feminism, needed to be tougher in the workplace. Yes, she is cool and hip but her assistant has a meltdown worthy for a boss who is meaner.

Perhaps the problem is more that Anne Hathaway is incredibly beautiful and talented. It is true that she became known because of a Disney movie. She performed in a few other fairy tale-based movies. But Hathaway has also taken risks, such as when she was Jake Gyllenhall’s wife in Brokeback Mountain (2005). She is playing a woman who may or may not know that her husband is gay. But she went after him and their marriage is not entirely unhappy.

Anne Hathaway CatwomanAnother risk taking role for Hathaway is in The Dark Knight Rises (2012). Here she is playing Cat Woman, not as a sexy siren but as a woman willing to do what it takes to survive. Perhaps not as seductive as Michelle Pfeifer’s turn, Hathaway brings a toughness we haven’t seen in her before. Yes, she is a criminal and she is willing to do what it takes to get the job done. In this version, Selina Kyle does not have any regret over her actions. She has her reasons and sticks to a code of her own making.

Her toughness really comes through in Rachel Getting Married (2009) as she plays a young woman released from rehab in order to attend her older sister’s wedding. While filled with one liners and heart breaking truths, it gets down to the nitty gritty about guilt and how one comes back from the worst thing they ever did in life. Hathaway does not play it safe in this movie, seldom letting her own sunny personality come through.

Les Mis Fantine IMDb com

Anne Hathaway as Fantine in Les Miserable, image from

Perhaps my favorite movie with Hathaway is Les Miserables (2012). It is a long, heart breaking opera-style movie about the poor in post-revolution France. Here, Hathaway must be hopeless, downtrodden, filled with despair as she loses her job and must find other degrading ways to earn the money needed to support her daughter. And yet she is the moral center of the story, she is the one who gives us hope in the end.

Is the Hathahate true hate or is it jealousy?

Until next week, see you in the rental aisle.