Monday, July 11, 2016

BIG SCREEN: Ghostbusters Revieux (PG-13)

Man, there was a lot of online smack talk going around about this Ghostbusters remake long before it was released. From the nerve of filmmakers to (gasp!) cast women in the lead roles, to the placement of minor player/token male Chris Hemsworth at the center of publicity photos, to the sort of goofy but -- gimme a break -- harmlessly fun Fall Out Boy/Missy Elliott theme song, I felt like I needed to cut it some slack and go in with very low expectations.

Turns out, that was unnecessary.

In this installment, much like the original, a trio of scientists (Melissa McCarthy, Kristen Wiig, and Kate McKinnon) teams up to investigate a spate of frightening paranormal activity in New York City. A subway worker (Leslie Jones) with historical knowledge of the city -- and information that helps lead to the source of problem -- soon joins the team, as does a really attractive, but dimwitted male bimbo (Hemsworth), who is inexplicably hired as the worst receptionist of all time. When everything escalates and thousands of mischievous ghosts descend on Times Square, they load up the proton packs, fire up the hearse, and go kick some serious phantom fanny.

I honestly can’t figure out why critics have been so hard on this movie. The cast is fantastic (they mesh together seamlessly as an ensemble, and as many called it, Kate McKinnon is a total scene-stealer), the special effects are super cool (we saw it in IMAX-3D, totally worth it!), the writing is funny, and the plot remains just faithful enough to the original (with some fun cameos peppered in) to maintain familiarity, while allowing plenty of room for the new characters and storyline to fully develop. Best of all, they let the women be strong, smart, cool, and witty -- how’s that not a recipe for a good movie?!

As you may have noticed, it earned a PG-13 rating. The first ghost encounter might be a little scary for younger kids, and there’s a handful of bad language (just your basic curse words, nothing overly hardcore) and rude humor (gestures and references) scattered about. It’s not excessive, but it’s certainly present. Every parent sets their own specific limits for their kids, but I felt completely comfortable letting my 10-year-old watch it. Partly because I have a strict “emulate what you see or hear in the movies, and you’ll be demoted back to baby rated-G movies pronto” policy, but also because, thankfully, the most cringe-worthy reference went way over his head.

Ghostbusters, which opens this Friday, July 15, is probably the most fun I’ve had in the movie theater all summer. And we’ll definitely see it again as a rental!

Thursday, July 7, 2016

BIG SCREEN: The Secret Life of Pets Revieux (PG)

If you’ve ever looked into your pets eyes and SWORE you could read their minds, this movie will probably feel like confirmation. Desperately missing you while you’re gone, expressing disdain for ho-hum kibble -- and I really need to create a meme of Chloe the cat (Lake Bell) saying, “As your friend, I’ve gotta be honest with you, I don’t care about you or your problems.” Hilarious!

But the star of the movie is content little Max the terrier (Louis C.K.), who’s living the perfect life with his doting owner and fellow pet buddies in a high-rise building in New York. He's devastated, however, when said-owner adopts a giant, disruptive mutt named Duke, and everything is ruined. As they clash and try to find ways to get rid of each other, the two dogs wind up loose on the streets where they fight ferocious alley cats, dogcatchers, and a deranged bunny/gang leader (Kevin Hart). A motley crew of pets mobilizes to rescue them, but help comes from an even more unlikely source.

My son and I go to LOTS of movies, and we’ve been watching the adorable and very lengthy trailers for months and months waiting for this movie’s release. All the while, I’ve worried that they gave too much away -- what can possibly be left after so many super cute scenes were revealed in the previews? Turns out, they did, indeed, give away too much. The movie still holds up, but some of the very best scenes lacked comedic impact because we knew all the punchlines already, darn it!

Having said that, it’s still an enjoyable movie, and they truly captured the exact essence of what I assume my neurotic, codependent dog goes through every time I leave the house. Louis C.K. is perfect for the voice of Max, and Jenny Slate manages to make a squeaky but determined little fluffball dog rather endearing, but it’s Kevin Hart who really steals the show with his over-the-top, high-octane delivery as Snowball, the borderline psychotic rabbit. Other members of the stellar cast include Dana Carvey, Albert Brooks, Ellie Kemper, Eric Stonestreet, and Bobby Moynihan.

Overall, it's just a fun little summer family movie. It opens today, July 8. Go here for local showtimes.  

Sunday, October 4, 2015

Local Fixes for Adrenaline Junkies… and Middle-aged Moms with Something to Prove

Are you familiar with the concept of fight-or-flight? It’s all about one’s response to fear. If something is perceived as a threat to our safety or survival, we either run away from it, or run toward it -- like maniacs. Adrenaline junkies definitely fall under that second category.

As a middle-aged mom living in a small town, my riskiest behavior these days is pretty much limited to the possibility of giving my family food poisoning with my terrible cooking skills. But that wasn’t always the case. So, when I began researching this topic for my column in Hammond's Daily Star newspaper, I decided it was a perfect opportunity to combat my midlife crisis by renewing my status as one of “them.” The brave ones. The cool kids. The daredevils.

Okay, enough talk. Time to put up or shut up. Deep breath. Here I go!

Abita Springs. LA
Celebrating a successfully deployed parachute with
Gold Coast Skydivers instructor, Matt
Full disclosure: I did a tandem jump out of an airplane one other time -- about 15 years ago, back when I was single and childless, with very little fear of anything or much regard for my personal safety. Despite having been-there-done-that, it was still a daunting concept. “Yeah, but what a way to go” is no longer a part of my mental process when debating the relative safety of a proposed activity, but according to the United States Parachute Association, out of the 3.2 million jumps in 2014, only 24 resulted in fatality. Pretty good odds, right?

When I first spoke with Gold Coast Skydivers owner/manager Vince Moore on the phone, his youthfulness and enthusiasm almost prompted me to ask to speak to his manager -- or dad! Turns out, he’s a married dad himself, but has maintained that energy that comes from doing what you love for a living. That infectious energy makes the decision to hurl yourself out of an aircraft a little less daunting.

Gold Coast, based out of Mississippi, just recently expanded their business to include this conveniently located jump zone at the St. Tammany Regional Airport in Abita Springs. Once you’re at the site, just prior to the jump, it takes about 30 minutes to wrap up a little business, which includes watching a safety video and signing off on a lengthy waiver, both of which mention death and injury way more than less heroic humans could handle. Next, instructor training. It involves a few simple body positions, but they are well aware that most of us will draw a total blank once the door opens, which is why they repeat the drill plenty of times.

My jump instructor was a delightful dude named Matt Federer, who has an incredibly calm demeanor and a sleeve of tattoos. The combination somehow put me at complete ease. If you don’t bond with your instructor before boarding the plane, you sure as heck will when you’re sitting on his lap as he’s connecting his harness to yours, definitively cementing your fates together as one, come what may. When I developed a stupid, ill-timed foot cramp and momentary flop sweat during the 20-minute plane ride up, Matt deftly cracked the window and talked me down, totally returning me to Zen mode. Whew. Good man.

It’s truly an out-of-body experience when the door opens at 10,000 feet and you realize what’s about to happen. People are surprised to learn that, after the initial lean out of the plane, this experience doesn’t feel like falling. There’s no point of reference, so it actually feels like a little harmless flipping, followed by a sustained hover above the Earth with a whole lot of wind blowing upwards at you. Once the parachute opens, the fun, spinny, floaty part begins, and you wish it weren’t almost over. This adrenaline junkie fix definitely comes with the biggest, baddest set of bragging rights, which is just icing on the cake!

(Note to my fellow middle-aged and/or fleshy ladies... do yourself a favor and wear sleeves if you get the action photos of your jump. The wind is NOT kind to non-toned body parts. Yikes. Had to delete a whole lotta horror show pix!)

For more information, pricing, and hours of operation, visit or call (800) 796-7117.

Hammond. LA
"Alpha Charlie Vector Niner..."
The complicated communication with the tower was
the most intimidating part of the lesson with
Fly By Knight.  But the headset looks cool, right?

When I asked about age limits for flight lessons, Fly By Knight owner Sharon Knight replied, “I mean, you could teach a monkey to fly. You just need to be able to reach the pedals.” And I instantly had just a smidgen more confidence in my own abilities.

I have to admit, I wasn’t all that concerned about this experience, until I found out I would be sitting in the driver’s seat of the Piper Warrior 3, taking off, and flying from their location at the Hammond Northshore Regional Airport to Mandeville. (Yikes, where’s that chimp when you need him?) But, let me tell you, if you’re going to be helming an aircraft with a Volkswagon-eque engine and experiencing a mid-flight controlled stall (all part of the training, folks), you really want the dulcet tones of a delightfully dry-witted British woman in your headset!

If you think you’re just going to hop in the plane and go, not so fast. There’s a checklist with about 50 items to inspect  -- from rivets on the wings to fluid levels in the engine -- before takeoff. As Sharon says, “Planes don’t crash themselves.” Duly noted. According to her, most of the risk associated with flying comes from poor decisions and hazardous behavior, and failure to thoroughly inspect the aircraft for potential issues.

After this 20-ish minute process, I had the utmost confidence that this machine was in tip-top shape (plus, Sharon’s husband is the company mechanic, so there’s that added level of insurance). We boarded the plane, Sharon steered us away from any humans or equipment that I could possibly mow down with the propeller, then we were off. It’s a pretty powerful experience to personally make a hunk of metal leave the ground and magically defy gravity for miles and miles at 2,500 feet. We went all the way to Mandeville, flew over my house, then she performed the aforementioned controlled stall. This was the only borderline nerve-wracking part of the day. 

Next, we circled way up near Global Wildlife Center, where she buzzed her friend’s landing strip closer to the ground to give me a sense of how fast we were traveling (wow, point taken), before heading back to the hangar. We agreed she should handle the landing, which she made look incredibly easy. In fact, the whole concept of actually learning to fly suddenly seems much more doable. When it’s all said and done, it costs between $6,000 and $10,000 to get your license. Or you could just do one beautiful, memorable lesson like I did.

For details on scheduling a lesson, or working toward your license, visit or call (985) 340-8800.

Avondale, LA (West Bank)
Preparing to launch with Racer Rick and his yellow rocket ship.

Let me be clear -- I’m not a NASCAR fan. I’m not even an IndyCar fan. But, man -- offer me the chance to ride shotgun in a souped-up, high-performance luxury vehicle, and I’m so there!

Xtreme Xperience is an exotic-car driving experience that travels to racetracks around the country, so you have to plan to catch them while they’re in town. (They’ll be back at Nola Motorsports Park from December 11-13 -- perfect for an early Christmas gift!) I caught them on their last New Orleans stint in early September, and was given a choice of cars. My car-guy husband recommended the Corvette Z06. Out of a fleet that includes Ferraris and Lamborghinis, it didn’t seem like the sexiest choice, but I was informed that it was the newest, fastest one, with “a supercharged 6.2L aluminum V8 engine delivering 650 horsepower and 650 lb.-ft. of torque.” (Huh? Car-guy husband told me my personal vehicle has about 240 horsepower, in comparison. Okay, got it.) My driver, Rick Schoonover, promptly showed me what this all meant when he hit the accelerator, and I experienced what I can only explain as a straight-line version of zero gravity.  But, I’m getting ahead of myself.

Though I opted for a ride-along, instead of an actual driving experience, I decided to sit in on the driver training class, just for kicks. Two things stood out. First, the instructor acknowledged that the amateur drivers were probably really excited, but that they should dial it down to a seven out of ten once they got behind the wheel. Probably wise. This seemed even more important when he revealed that the brave and/or insane professionals who would be accompanying these amateurs would have no governing devices, and therefore, no means to try to correct or stop the complete stranger in the driver’s seat. Unreal. Can you imagine?  

So, back to the actual experience. After the initial, aforementioned straight-line, zero-gravity sensation, we hit the curvy course -- this is no boring oval. My inner aggressive dude came out when the Lamborghini in front of us applied what I thought was excessive use of the brake pedal. Egged on by my verbal dressing down of the slow Lambo, my man Racer Rick slowed down to let them get far ahead of us, then really went for it. We hit 155 mph in the straightaways, and 75 in the curves. Really stinking cool, I must say. Though you know these cars are built for performance, it’s still mind-blowing when there’s no skidding or screeching tires when you take a tight turn at that speed!

It’s worth mentioning that if you have family or friends accompanying you, but not participating, they can purchase inexpensive pit passes, or watch for free from a balcony overlooking the course. There’s a 100% chance someone will wish they did it, too, so, they can either pony up on the spot, or settle for a few spins on the nearby NOLA Motorsports’ go-kart track, which has separate cars and tracks for kids and adults.

Xtreme Xperience pricing varies, according to which car and experience you choose, so visit or call (866) 273-7727 for options and reservations.

New Orleans Lakefront

Super rad flyboarding. Yeah, sadly -- that's not me.

Okay, so technically, I didn’t actually do this one. Don’t judge me. I don’t come from aquatic people, so that’s my excuse for my irrational watersports phobia. (I would rather jump out of an airplane than scuba dive in a swimming pool. Analyze that.) But, NOLA Flyboarding owner and master instructor Tony Bertucci not only didn’t chastise me, he let me go out on the boat just to watch, so maybe I can get partial credit?

In case you’re not familiar, flyboarding is sort of like standing on a seaworthy snowboard that’s connected to a personal watercraft via a hose. The instructor/operator on the watercraft controls the amount of water that shoots out of the bottom of the board, propelling the rider upright, and hopefully, into the air. It definitely takes some balance and body positioning, but based on the experience of the adventurous young lady who was trying it for the first time the day I visited, it just takes a little patience and a good coach to help you get the hang of it. (Boy, cool, charismatic coaching is a recurring -- and necessary -- element in each of these experiences, isn’t it?) On this day, Geremy Stovall was teaching the lesson, and he brought such a chill, it’s-all-good, Woody Harrelson-esque vibe that part of me almost wanted to give it a try. Almost. Their motto is “Everyone flies. No one fails. Guaranteed.” And, with Geremy’s enthusiastic instruction and encouragement, sure enough, the intrepid student finally succeeded. Very cool.

I’ve been really surprised by how many times I’ve mentioned flyboarding over the last several weeks, and people automatically say, “Oh, over at Brisbi’s?” The NOLA Flyboarding dock is, in fact, located next to Brisbi’s restaurant near the marina on Lakeshore Drive in New Orleans (convenient for a pre- or post-flight lunch or cocktail), and the company has obviously made a name for itself.

For pricing information or to schedule your “flight,” visit or call (504) 982-8346.

I’ll be turning 45 -- solidly middle-aged -- around the time this posts. It's hardly noteworthy, and certainly not impressive, especially given that a 92-year-old great-grandma recently jumped with Gold Coast Skydivers, and a 70-something woman is spending her retirement racing with Xtreme Xperience all over the country, while wearing her awesome “I’m not dead, yet” t-shirt. They’re the real proof that you’re never too old to get your adrenaline fix. Rock on, my sistahs!

Wednesday, July 22, 2015

BIG SCREEN: Pixels Revieux (Rated PG-13)

Hearing that Adam Sandler is in a movie has a similar effect on me these days as hearing that Keanu Reeves was in a movie had on me back in the 90s. Cringe. Pass.

But, that’s mean and sort of unfair. Everyone deserves a millionth chance, right? Besides, my kid really wanted to see Pixels, so off we went. Because that’s what moms do. Sigh.

Pixels opens in 1982 with two kids excitedly rushing to a newly opened arcade. (Behold, the arcade! The only thing my kid has ever found appealing about my childhood. He audibly gasped at the sight of a huge room full of flashing, beeping, blinking video games. As he should. Arcades were, indeed, awesome!) One of the kids finds that he has insane gaming skills and winds up the runner-up in a world championship. These skills come in handy when, 30 years later, aliens misinterpret old video game feeds as declarations of war, and use the games as models for their attacks on Earth. The president (Kevin James) calls on that washed up video gamer, aka his best bud Sam Brenner (Adam Sandler), to lead a team of other former gamers (Peter Dinklage and Josh Gad) in saving the planet.

I was very surprised to see Sandler and James turn in much more understated performances than they usually do, instead letting Gad (you know him as the voice of Olaf from Frozen!) and Dinklage (Game of Thrones/Elf) steal the show. Gad plays an uber-nerdy conspiracy theorist given to hilarious outbursts, while Dinklage is an overconfident, delightfully creepy dude with bad hair and questionable scruples.

I fully expected a giant bucket of stupid from this movie, but it was way more entertaining than I imagined. I love being pleasantly surprised! The soundtrack, video game graphics, and 3-D are cool, and while the story is certainly silly, they kept the pointless gags and really bad dialogue to a minimum, which was a huge relief. Adam Sandler seemed a bit haggard and tired, to be honest -- but I’ll cut my middle-aged brother a break. A little more energy from him would have been nice, but years of silly voices and over-the-top performances are sure to wear a dude out eventually, I suppose.

Overall, Pixels is some no-harm, no-foul fun, but earns its PG-13 rating pretty much solely from some scattered bad language, in case that kind of thing bothers you. It opens on Friday, July 24. Go here for local showtimes and theaters.

Thursday, July 9, 2015

BIG SCREEN: Minions Revieux (Rated PG)

Spin-off movies face really high expectations, especially if the original movies were as universally loved as Despicable Me and Despicable Me 2. And for any contemporary family movie to be really great, it needs to (a) entertain the parents, as well as the kids (b) save up some surprises that aren’t revealed in the trailer, and (c) make my kid laugh so hard he can’t catch his breath. I’m happy to report that Minions succeeds on all levels!

As the movie opens, we get to witness the very origins of the Minion species, and their incessant drive to find the baddest bad guy to serve -- all narrated in Geoffrey Rush’s delightfully dulcet tones.They make some bizarre, hilarious choices throughout history, but when they get stuck in a masterless rut, three intrepid guys -- Bob, Stuart, and Kevin -- set out to find a great villain that will get them back on track, and save all Minion-kind.

The year is 1968, and the greatest villain of the moment is actually the world’s first female super villain, Scarlet Overkill, voiced by Sandra Bullock. The trio is given a trial run as her henchmen, and their lives -- and the future of all the Minions -- depends on their success. So, naturally, many mishaps and much mayhem ensue. (And the soundtrack, by the way, is extra groovy!)

I had high hopes, but low expectations going into this movie. I’ve been disappointed by far too many spinoffs (Penguins of Madagascar) and sequels (Night at the Museum 3) lately, and I was also concerned that the Minion gibberish would become annoying at least halfway through the movie. But I was pleasantly surprised. The movie is full of fun plot twists you just don’t see coming, and there were countless times when I wanted to hit the rewind and/or pause button because I was certain I’d missed funny stuff, given the many layers of comedic details they crammed in. (Another hallmark of a good movie -- immediately planning to watch the DVD!)

Minions opens in gazillions of theaters today. For local theaters and showtimes, go here.