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Author: Elizabeth Engelman

First Step to Wedding Planning: Breathe

First Step to Wedding Planning: Breathe

If you just got engaged and are feeling overwhelmed, this is the 3 part guide for you. I got engaged in 2013 and married in 2014. It’s a crazy process with too many options, too many possibilities, and too many expenses. This is a practical guide to give you advice based the the mistakes and lessons I learned while planning my wedding.

I will say that the single most important aspect of planning a wedding is knowing what you do and don’t want to focus on. Do you really love music and want to dance into the night or would you rather skip the DJ and focus on the decor? Some people want a spectacular wedding dress while others might want to spend more money on the food or venue. Whatever your preference, you need to get that settled with your fiance before moving on to looking at venues.

Questions to Get You Started

Once you’ve established what you want out of your wedding it will be much easier to budget based on the things you and your fiance see as priorities.

You and your fiance should both list the top 3 most important aspects of your ideal wedding. After you’ve done that share with each other.

Examples:

  • The food
  • DJ
  • Venue
  • Location (close by or destination)
  • Time spent with wedding guests
  • Large wedding guest list
  • Expensive wedding dress/tux/suit
  • Large wedding party
  • Additional wedding events (rehearsal dinner, brunch the day after the wedding)
  • Decor/Flowers

If you both wrote down 3 things and nothing overlapped, that might be a problem. But in that case I’d say pick the top two from each of your lists and then agree on the 5th item that’s a priority.

Questions to ask & answer with you and your fiance before wedding planning:

  • What’s the best wedding you’ve ever attended. What about it did you like so much?
  • What’s the worst wedding you’ve ever attended. What didn’t you like about it?
A Cure For Wellness

A Cure For Wellness

This post contains mild plot point spoilers but honestly you shouldn’t waste your time seeing the movie anyway. Just read my post and you’ll be all set.

 

A Cure For Wellness is one of the biggest letdowns in some time. Similar to Crimson Peak a few years ago, it had a beautifully haunting trailer that drew me in and made me want to see a “scary movie,” a genre I tend to avoid. I’m a scaredy cat who will have nightmares for days after a mildly scary episode of TV. So, mustering up the courage to see a scary movie is a big deal. And then, I see something like A Cure For Wellness and I just sit there bored out of my mind trying to envision a better version of the movie than the one on screen.

Wellness is a master class in how not to pace a film. The beginning drags but I figured it was a lot of build up to a exciting second half. The excitement never came. At 2.5 hours I’m not sure what the director felt was so precious to keep. It’s as if the storyboards were written on cards that fell on the ground and however they were shuffled back together was the order they edited the film. With so many resets to the action, it was difficult to ever get into a groove.

I’ll give you the one sentence description of the plot. A young man, Lockhart, goes to a sanitarium in Switzerland to bring back the CEO of his Wall Street firm only to find something is not right in the seemingly idyllic spa. The problem is he figures that out almost immediately but not quite as fast as the audience. I heard multiple people whisper to their movie-going companion, “Don’t drink the water,” the very first instant the water was shown. Everything is so on the nose as to not leave anything for the audience to discover.

Let’s get back to the pacing. One of the keys to a scary film, especially when the main character has a broken leg*,  is the sense that there is no where for them to go and no way for them to run. Think Misery or literally any other suspenseful film with an injured protagonist. So, what does A Cure For Wellness do with this plot point? They continuously let Lockhart leave. He goes into town multiple times and even calls work. Yet, he goes back and keeps drinking the Kool-Aid even though he knows it’s bad for him. The film gives the main character too much distance from the rest of the brainwashed patients at the sanitarium though. Since he never buys in to the lies the staff is telling, we never buy in. And if we never buy in, it makes the whole thing seem ridiculous.

For a film that takes no chances and has no real sense of tension or terror, it seems to have no problem leaning gratuitously on sexual violence toward the end. A rape scene completely changes the tone of the film and one specifically unnecessary moment had the audience make its first collective sound of the movie, a big grossed-out groan. The fact that the love interest is a pre-pubescent girl and the main town secret revolves around incest should give you a sense of what the film relished in, as opposed to finding real terror in the experiments performed on the guests (patients).

* Bad storytelling is when a plot device is thrown away the second it will make the rest of the story harder to tell. As soon as the film needed Lockhart to be able to run and fight, they let him remove his cast and magically walk on his broken leg. Now, given that the caretakers are all crazy perhaps it wasn’t broken in the first place. But, the director made us listen to the sound of Lockhart walking on his crutches for almost two hours (many times the only sound in the scene) so just for that reason he should have been held to using them for the rest of the film.

I won’t get started with the eels, or the face masks, or the eels, or the dead babies in jars, or the use of dentist as torturer, or the eels. All I’ll say is, never sign your name on a form that’s in a foreign language you can’t read. Also, if Stranger Things taught us anything, don’t mess with sensory deprivation chambers.

If you want to be scared by something associated with A Cure For Wellness read about the real-life history of the location used during filming. That will raise the hair on your arms. The movie will just leave you with a bad taste in your mouth.

 

Snakes on a Plane – The Best Film Experience of My Life

Snakes on a Plane – The Best Film Experience of My Life

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It seems as if people don’t make going to a movie in a theater as much of an event as it used to be. People have big screen TVs and streaming services to recreate the visuals of a theater in their own home. And why go to the movies when people are just going to talk and be rude on their phones the whole time, am I right? Well, this is the story of a time when a movie-going experience far outweighed the movie and became my favorite movie memory.

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It was 2006 and the best movie theater in my college town, San Luis Obispo, CA, was The Fremont, an old theater with only one screen and 500 seats. A group of about 10 of us were pumped for the movie and only got more excited once we realized how energized the rest of the audience was. The theater was only about half full but you would have thought it was a full house from the sound. The moment I knew this would be an experience unlike any other? The moment someone threw a fake snake into our row. That’s right, the movie I’m talking about is SNAKES ON A MOTHERF***ING PLANE! 

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Stranger Things

Stranger Things

Stranger Things is the perfect show for someone who can’t handle genuine horror films but loves coming of age films, sci-fi, and Stephen King type scares. People are calling this Netflix show an homage to Spielberg films and King stories. I couldn’t ask for more. Spielberg films have a special place in my heart and film-adaptations of King’s books are the only scary movies I legitimately enjoy watching. Everyone knows Spielberg is great with kids (just watch Jurassic Park and try and figure out how he managed to keep those kids likable when no other similar film can) but King is also great at portraying the fragile nature of childhood and navigating the complications of the teenage years.

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Can you see the Spielberg and King homages?

The basic plot of Stranger Things is simple. Boy goes missing and his friends and family go looking for him, only to find supernatural occurrences, and a little girl named Eleven, in their small town. The 3 young boys looking to find their friend are, as others have written, the best example of onscreen friendship in a longtime. They argue, make up, and genuinely respect each other. After the events they witness they are surely bonded for life if they weren’t already. They are depicted as nerds who get picked on and play Dungeons & Dragons for hours at a time but us savvy 2016 viewers know these kids are the future of our tech-focused world. Not since Freaks and Geeks have I wished I’d played Dungeons and Dragons growing up. They take the game so seriously, as if their lives depend on it, which they might.

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Dungeons & Dragons as played on Stranger Things and Freaks & Geeks

The casting throughout Stranger Things is amazing. The girl who plays Eleven does more of the heavy lifting than most of the other characters combined and does it with ease.

The teenage side of the story, a love-triangle shoehorned into the more horror side of the show is less appealing to me but only because I’d rather be one of the kids riding bikes and strategizing over walkie talkies than reliving the awkwardness of first loves and teenage melodrama.

The adults, for the most part, are either played as “dufus dad” “meddling mom” or “skeptical adult.” Neglectful parents who have no idea what is going on with their children only works by setting the show firmly in the past. In 2016 calls to CPS would be ringing off the hook. In the 80s though, that neglect meant freedom to discover and have real, or imaginary, adventures with friends. Not the scheduled/supervised visitations kids call playtime now. Okay, this paragraph got a little preachy but I couldn’t help thinking about how different this show would have to be if it was set in present time.

Joyce, the mom of the missing boy, played by Winona Ryder, seems to be played as just another frantic emotional woman but she’s the first person to realize something isn’t right and screams for help until she’s finally heard and believed. I won’t give too much away but Winona’s emotional connection with inanimate objects in this film is a master class in acting. I’ve never felt more towards less interesting objects.

Lights are a main character throughout the film.
Lights are a main character throughout the film.

Everyone is talking about the nostalgia and references that fill every scene and it’s there in spades if you want to dissect the show. The show knows you’re looking for them and flips some of the expectations on their heads to make you remember you are watching a new story.

The show is most inventive with the props and the monster. The use of lights (not lighting) is clever from a visual and emotional perspective. It should remind filmmakers that using everyday items gone awry as an indicator of other-worldliness always works. We have to look and use this stuff every day so when they don’t work as intended, or work on their own,  it is the perfect indicator that it’s okay to freak out. The monster stays firmly where I like it, in quick flashes at the far corner of the screen. Nothing can turn a monster movie from scary/suspenseful to funny/ridiculous faster than a good hard look at the creature (I’m looking at you Signs).

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I want to go to there.

I was genuinely scared, surprised, impressed, and intrigued throughout Stranger Things. It’s only 8 episodes and definitely best to watch at least two at a time. The first couple episodes really build up the cast and the vibe and then the end of episode 3 will make you question what kind of show you thought you were watching. Make sure you watch episodes 3 & 4 together.

Parental/child viewing suggestion (I don’t have kids):

I think this show is okay (if not still possibly too scary) for 10 and up. The kids in the show are about 11 or 12 so depending on the types of shows and movies you already let them watch I would say this could be a fun show to watch together. Fair warning to parents – while this show is mostly about childhood it is also very much about parental love and loss of a child so you may need a hanky handy.
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Other Thoughts To Read After You’ve Watched The Show:

  • Dustin’s ““Why are you keeping the curiosity-door locked?” should win an Emmy for best line of dialogue ever.
  • Poor Barb. She’s the real tragedy of the show. So, in the 80s if a kid ran away it was cool to just not go looking for her?
  • How does no one in this small town know there is a large government facility built next door?
  • That scene with Winona Ryder in the cabinet talking to her son through the Christmas lights. All the feels as the cool kids say.

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  • How cool was it when the kids were escaping on bikes from the caravan of white vans. We all thought El was going to make them fly like in ET but instead she flipped the van LIKE THE BADASS SHE IS. Did you catch my winking nod to this in the paragraph above?
  • Observation from Kevin: The government had time and forethought to create an AV Club pamphlet but not enough strategy to capture the kids?
  • Isn’t Mr. Clarke the best teacher ever?
  • So the main message of this show is “don’t trust the government” right? Very timely.
  • I appreciate that Steve isn’t the straight up jerk they could have made him out to be. Proving once and for all you can be a “Steve” in the pejorative and a “Stand Up Steve” all at the same time.
  • The scene of Nancy, Steve, and Jonathan waiting and fighting the monster makes the love triangle almost worth it.

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  • I hope Nancy goes full Ripley in season 2.
  • Eleven calling her Dr. Brenner “papa” is the creepiest thing in the entire series.
  • I totally fell for the scene where Lucas shoots the monster with his slingshot and it pins him to the wall. I was so excited for him. He did it. He defeated the monster! When it was revealed that it was actually El who did it with her powers I was equal parts laughing at myself for falling for that trick and happy the show made me so invested that I was able to fall for it. Kind of sums up the entire series.

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Death, Grief, and Pop Culture

Death, Grief, and Pop Culture

Today marks the one-year anniversary of my dad’s death. I thought I’d have at least another 20 years to prepare for the death of a parent but instead my loss, and the loss for my entire family, came suddenly and unexpectedly. The most important lesson I’ve learned in the past year is that everyone handles the grieving process differently and its impossible to get everyone to say and do what you need in order to feel emotionally supported. For some people, they want to grieve in private and don’t want to talk about it. I had my brief time with that urge but it passed and then I desperately wanted to talk about my heartache but found that many people think its uncomfortable or impolite to ask me how I’m doing or even acknowledge the situation. In turn, I didn’t want to burden my friends and family with a constant barrage of tears. I went where I always go for comfort, television and movies, but found there is no safe place to be when you are trying to hide from grief.

Growing up I always prided myself on the fact that I never cried at movies. I would brag about it and make fun of my mom for crying at commercials. I thought crying equaled weakness and I never wanted to be perceived as an “emotional” girl. Of course, there’d been times in my life when I cried over a boy or a lost friendship but to me, crying over some piece of pop culture always felt beneath me. I’ve cried more in the last 365 days then I knew was humanly possible which, looking back on my childhood, seems like that damn was bound to break at some point.

The week after my dad died I was flipping through the TV channels and stopped at The Lord of the Rings: Return of the King and watched for a few minutes just as the scene where Eowyn’s uncle (basically her father) is killed and she must say goodbye to him. I completely lost it. My husband held me as I cried and then I started laughing at how absurd it felt to be crying uncontrollably at a movie I’ve seen before and a scene that never made my eyes well up previously. If only I’d known that was just the beginning.

I’d been a big fan of the television show Parenthood. The father in the show, Zeek, always reminded me of my dad. So, in the final season (spoiler alert) when the show started dealing with Zeek’s heart issues around the same time my dad was having a procedure on his heart, I got very nervous. I thought, “Please don’t let Zeek die because it will make me nervous for my own dad.” And then my dad died before Zeek. I saved the last six or so episodes of Parenthood on my DVR for months because I wasn’t ready to watch my reality play out again on television.

Three weeks after my dad died I went and saw Interstellar over Thanksgiving weekend. I spent two and a half hours watching what is essentially a love story between a father and his daughter. A story about how love has no bounds in time or space. I cried quietly to myself throughout the ending everyone else thought was confusing or cheesy. This was my new emotional state.

In the months that Parenthood was holding a spot on my DVR, I couldn’t escape what felt like a constant onslaught of men having heart attacks on television and in movies. Fathers dying seemed to be everywhere.

When did the trope of male characters having heart attacks become such a prominent thing and how can we make it stop?

I found myself avoiding dramas at all costs. I tried sticking to mindless television and comedies to escape the theme of loss prominent in every show. I’d watch Shark Tank to withdraw from my emotions only to have one of the entrepreneurs say she was doing this for her dad who had passed away. I’d listen to Nerdist, a generally funny and lighthearted podcast, and come across episodes where host Chris Hardwick talked with guests about the death of his father. I went to see Trainwreck thinking it would be a fun lighthearted movie to take my mind off things. And then I had to sit in a dark theater with no tissues as I watched Amy Schumer’s character eulogize her dad at his funeral. I wanted to run out of the theater and cry in the bathroom but I stayed and felt a bit of comfort crying alongside the characters.

There’s a moment in Pixar’s brilliant Inside Out where the characters Joy and Sadness realize that previous memories that were once only filled with Joy had become tinted with sadness. They think this is a mistake and try to fix it, only to realize memories change based on current circumstances. This moment rang true to me in regards to the process of dealing with loss and grief. When my dad died, all the previous, once joyous memories turned blue. Moments like my wedding, which were pure joy only months earlier, became too painful to think about. I couldn’t bear to look at family photos. I had to remind myself that there can be joy without sadness but part of what makes sadness so powerful is the joy that came before. My sadness was coming from a place where joy was once so prevalent and that should be something to be grateful for. If I didn’t have such happy memories I wouldn’t be as sad about all the memories I’ll no longer get to make with my dad.

Months passed and I finally sat down and watched the final episodes of Parenthood. By this time, I knew what was going to happen to Zeek but instead of running from it I embraced it. I sat on my couch and cried along with the Braverman’s for hours. It was cathartic in a way I didn’t think possible. I still catch my breath when I’m watching something and a father dies but now I find myself embracing it much more. Sometimes I find myself seeking out a sad story so I can have an excuse to let my emotions run free.

Joe Biden recently said, “…My family has suffered a loss, and I hope there would come a time, and I’ve said this to many other families, that sooner rather than later when you think of your loved one, it brings a smile to your lips before it brings a tear to your eyes.” I’m not quite there yet. I still have a hard time looking at family pictures or listening to my dad’s favorite songs but now I know I can turn to myriad stories within pop culture that remind me that I’m not alone in my grief. Am I feeling angry at the loss today? Do I want to curl up in a ball and cry? Do I want to laugh in the face of this new version of my life? I know now I can find a piece of media that will match my mood and my place in the grieving process. I now know that when and how I choose to process my grief is up to me and that if I want to cry at a commercial showing a loving father and daughter it shouldn’t make me feel weak. It should make me proud to have had such a wonderful dad who still impacts my life every single day.


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Fall TV: 8 New Shows Worth Watching

Fall TV: 8 New Shows Worth Watching

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Originally, I was going to write a review of all the new fall shows. Then I thought, “No one wants to read about that many shows.” So instead, I’ve weeded through the new fall TV for you, narrowed it down to only the best or most entertaining new shows, and left the mediocre behind. I gave all the shows a fair shot by watching at least two or three episodes since I don’t think its fair to ever judge a show based on only the pilot episode. Without further ado, here are the new shows I’m sticking with for the rest of the season and you should too.

You can find the first few episodes of almost all these shows online so go catch up now.

New Fall Shows

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Crazy Ex-Girlfriend
This musical comedy with original songs, about a woman who quits her job in NYC to move to California after a run-in with an ex-boyfriend, is unlike anything else on TV. And that’s a good thing. Its smart, funny and different. All pluses in my book.
Mondays, 8pm, CW
Premiered October 12th

The Grinder
Rob Lowe plays an actor who played a lawyer on TV moving back home to “help” his brother (Fred Savage) run his real-life law firm.
Tuesdays, 8:30pm, FOX
Premiered September 29th

American Horror Story Hotel
LADY GAGA! Blood. Ryan Murphy’s messed up humor/horror aesthetic. Other than a cohesive story, what more could you ask for?
Wednesdays, 10pm, FX

Quantico
Everyone’s calling it Grey’s Anatomy meets Homeland. Or Grey’s Anatomy meets How to Get Away with Murder. Hopefully, this show can figure out how to continue being interesting and entertaining passed season one, (unlike Homeland and Murder). But there is no mistaking the similarities between it and Grey’s Anatomy. FBI recruits live together, flirt and, eventually, one of them is accused of being a terrorist. The show is fun and exciting to watch and rests on the fantastic performance of Priyanka Chopra, who is doing a fantastic job.
Sundays, 10pm, ABC
Premiered September 27th

Life in Pieces
I wasn’t sold on the conceit at first. Each episode is 4 short stories each revolving around the parents, children and grandchildren in one family. Certain storylines are more interesting and funnier than others but there is enough interesting commentary and thoughtful jokes to keep me watching. It’s closer to a comedic version of Parenthood than it is similar to Modern Family. Also, Wizard Fingers!
Mondays, 8:30pm, CBS
Premiered September 21st

Blood and Oil
Taking the place of Revenge, The O.C., and Dallas, this show is about rich and poor people (all beautiful) living and working together in an oil boom town in North Dakota. The drama is ridiculous but it’s the only soap I watch and sometimes you just want to watch a show that makes you happy that you and your parent aren’t sleeping with the same person.
Sundays, 9pm, ABC
Premiered September 27th

Heroes Reborn
If you didn’t see the original version of Heroes, you may want to go back and rewatch the first season. Otherwise it is a bit confusing to figure out the relationships between all the Heroes, villains and corporations in this “Save the World” epic that spans countries, time and, in the most interesting new story, skips between reality and a video game.
Thursdays, 8pm, NBC

Fargo
Season 1 was amazing and season 2 takes place in the 1970s. Same fascinating tales of human error, pain, and murder. Much cooler clothing and hair.
Mondays 10pm, FX
Premiered October 12th

Returning Shows You Should Be Watching

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There are plenty of great returning shows on TV both big (The Walking Dead) and small (The Mindy Project) but four, all in their second seasons, prove that some truly great shows premiered last year and are staying strong in round two. Interestingly, they’re all comedies.

You’re The Worst
I just discovered this show a couple months ago, binged on the first season and am now hooked on the second season. Don’t let the title fool you, the show is about a couple and their friends but they aren’t the worst, in fact, they’re pretty fun to spend time with. And where else outside of a gangster film do you get to watch people casually do cocaine?
Wednesdays 10:30pm, FXX

Jane the Virgin
The most charming show on tv is back. This show is a comedy, telenovela, and family drama all rolled into one big heartfelt story.
Mondays, 9pm, CW
Premiered October 12th

Fresh Off the Boat
This comedy takes place in 1995 when Eddie Huang’s family moves to Florida. The show started out about the immigrant experience but it’s become more about this family all growing together. Hudson Yang as Eddie is the most adorable kid on television.
Tuesdays, 8:30pm, ABC

Black-ish
Definitely the best family sitcom to come around in years. The show recently spent an entire episode on the use of the “N” word and did it brilliantly. Playing off the generational and economic differences between the parents and kids is great 21st century comedy.
Tuesdays, 9:30pm, ABC

Premiering Soon

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Supergirl
Melissa Benoist stars at the cape-wearing hero. I loved early Smallville and we need a strong, interesting female super hero so I’m hopefully optimistic.
Premieres October 26th, 8:30pm, CBS

Wicked City
Ed Westwick (Gossip Girl) stars as a serial killer in Los Angeles in 1982.
Tuesdays, 10pm, ABC
Premieres October 27th

Angel From Hell
Jane Lynch plays a foul-mouthed guardian angel. Sounds like the movie Michael with John Travolta but I’m going to check it out because of Lynch.
Premieres Thursday November 5, 8:30pm, CBS

Aziz Ansari Master of None
Autobiographical sitcom where each episode focuses on a specific topic.
Premieres November 6th, Netflix

The Man in the High Castle
The show I’m most excited about is an adaptation of a Philip K. Dick novel based on the premise of an alternate reality where the Axis Powers won WWII.
Premieres November 20th, Amazon

Jessica Jones
Private detective Jessica Jones is Netflix’s latest Marvel super hero show. I’m excited for a Superheroine and to see what Krysten Ritter can do with the role.
Premieres November 20th, Netflix

Did I miss anything? Is there a show you’re watching this year that I should be? Anything you want me to review?