Hector and the Search for Happiness (2014): Simply Sublime

Still from trailer for Hector and the Search for Happiness

Despite having worked as a “film critic” and being a member of the Nevada Film Critics Society, I am not jaded enough to find the 2014 film Hector and the Search for Happiness anything other than simply sublime. Reading various reviews and finding that the film opened to mixed and negative reviews surprises and disappoints. Simon Pegg is truly wonderful as are his co-stars in the film and Rosamund Pike works brilliantly in this far removed from Gone Girl role.

Helmed by award winning English director Peter Chelsom (Serendipity, Shall We Dance) from a script adapted from the French book of the same name by François Lelord, the film follows the journey of Hector, a psychiatrist who is fed up with his relationship, his job and his life. He undertakes a trip to discover just what happiness is and how to get it.

In many ways the movie is like an exotic travelogue. Pegg’s character visits Singapore, Africa and America in his journey. Like a modern day Phileas Fogg, just without the balloon, Passepartout or indeed the wager that gets the whole thing started, Hector travels to several different countries meeting new people and old friends in his search.

Hector and the Search for Happiness also has a bit of an Alan Whicker or Michael Palin (the old Monty Python member who traded in his comedy chops for travel documentaries) feel, where the main figure learns of other cultures and how they see the world. Even before finding out that the film is based on a French novel, one can tell by the structure of the film and its plot that this could very easily have been a film from that country.

The use of cardboard cutouts in the plane scene, the flashbacks to childhood and the feeling of the film is one of arthouse chic. This combined with the simplicity of its message must have put off the more serious minded critics who reviewed the movie at the cinema.

Leaving such pretentious prattling behind and looking at the cast, the film delivers brilliantly. Stellan Skarsgård drops his Norwegian accent, and leaves the world of the Avengers behind, to become Edward; a richer than rich businessman who insists that one can buy happiness. Jean Reno leaves his badge and assassins tools at home to play an African drug lord who trusts no one but loves his wife completely.

Christopher Plummer uses his dulcet tones to narrate and play the small cameo of a professor who uses a machine that looks like an old fashioned hair dryer to track emotions in the human brain. Toni Collette plays Hector’s former flame with perfection.

The end of the film moved me to schmaltzy tears as Pegg discovers a few home truths. (I’ll not say what they are, no spoilers here.) His journey may not be life shattering over all, although at one point it looks as though Hector may not survive, but it is interesting enough to keep the viewer watching.

*On a side note, I did notice that just as in real life, all airport terminals do indeed look the same no matter where they are.*

Sure, some of the signposts are a bit stereo-graphical in nature but that does not spoil the message of the film or take away our delight when Hector finishes his search. Despite what other reviewers have said about this particular offering my verdict is a full 5 stars. Any film that can make me cry in Burger King in front of strangers, without the darkness of a cinema to hide my blushes, gets full marks. Hector and the Search for Happiness is streaming on US Netflix now. Watch this one and enjoy, unless you are too sophisticated for it.

Made by Raffi by Craig Pomranz: Different is Good

Cover of Made by Raffi Artwork by Margaret Chamberlin
In a world where bullying takes the top spot in the news it is refreshing to see a children’s book which addresses the issue of being different. Made by Raffi by Craig Pomranz, and illustrated by Margaret Chamberlain, is a story that celebrates just how good it is to march to a different beat.

Published by FRANCES LINCOLN CHILDREN’S BOOKS, an award winning company that specializes in releasing books that celebrate diversity, the story of Raffi has been getting a lot of positive attention across the globe.

The youngster is a lad quite different from his schoolmates. Raffi cherishes quiet and rather than boisterously play with the other children, he learns about knitting and sewing from one of his teachers at playtime.

Raffi’s teacher reveals a creative world of color to the boy and he discovers that not only does he love this new pastime but that he is very good at it. The child talks to his mother and father about his knitting and they assure him that his interest is nothing to be ashamed of.

His classmates make fun of Raffi at first but that all changes with the advent of a school play and soon everyone wants something “made by Raffi.”

Pomranz points out that the tale of a boy who likes to sew and knit is based upon a true story. The book has, thus far, been printed in at least six different languages and published in as many countries. Reaction to the story has been positive and the Archdiocese of New York Catholic schools received 75 copies of the book from a donor to be included in their libraries.

The book, Made by Raffi is available from Amazon and Barnes and Noble in the U.S. and it was just recently announced that the book was shortlisted for the Little Rebels Award. Children’s books published in 2014 which promote diversity are nominated for the award and the winner will be announced on 9 May this year.

Craig himself revealed that the story was written to support children who are perceived as being “different because of their appearance or hobbies.” As positive reviews continue to pour in for the book aimed at the 4 to 7 year-old age group, Pomranz has passed on the information that composers Amanda McBroom (Bette Midler’s The Rose) and Michele Brourman (The Land Before Time) have written a song titled “Different” to be included as part of the book.

The author told MikesFilmTalk that he was in Los Angeles recently speaking with the two composers and May is the month they hope to have the song out. Reviews for the Made by Raffi have been positive and The Bookseller and Rhino Reads have both written about the picture book with the diverse message.

These types of books should be part of every school library in the world and Mr. Pomranz is to be congratulated on writing splendid tale that celebrates uniqueness and shows that children are the answer. Made by Raffi is a real 5 star book that has an important message for everyone.

You can follow Craig, and Raffi, on Twitter @MadebyRaffi

Playboy Mansion Halloween Party 2014: Was That Snoop Dogg?

Playboy Mansion Halloween Party 2014: Was That Snoop Dogg?

On October 25, 2014 the Playboy Mansion halloween party was a huge hit for all those who attended despite logistical problems that left around 500 to 800 guests stranded twice, which will be looked at in pictures and a brief discussion, but before that there is one question begging to be answered…Was that Snoop Dogg? The evening party was a long drawn out marathon of shuttle problems, dropped communication and a lot of security – “Lemme see your wristband!” A sidenote here, the security folks were very helpful and they only shouted to be heard over the din of the hundreds of queuing guests. Starting out at the iconic Roosevelt Hotel on Hollywood Blvd, the guests were already primed for the main event having been to various pre-Playboy Mansion parties being held at the Roosevelt.

Playboy Mansion Halloween Party 2014: Avoid the Figure Flattering Black

Playboy Mansion Halloween Party 2014: Avoid the Figure Flattering Black

Ever since Jack Nicholson and Morgan Freeman did it in the 2007 film The Bucket List it has been popular to put down things to do before shuffling off this mortal coil, visiting the Playboy Mansion (West) for the 2014 Halloween Party allowed that particular item to be crossed off several lists but, a word to the wise if attending this little soiree, avoid the figure flattering black outfit. Especially if the attendee is male, over a certain age and going as Lex Luthor a la Smallville‘s Michael Rosenbaum who has been known to appear in all black attire complete with natty black shirt and tie.

Lena Dunham as Essayist on Tour: Preferably Clothed

Lena Dunham as Essayist on Tour: Preferably Clothed

Lena Dunham, darling of feminists the world over, will now be seen as an essayist on tour, preferably clothed and without any long winded rants on her right to show off her naked body. Her collection of essays, titled Not That Kind of Girl, is not on par, by all reports, with her “funny” HBO show Girls which has won a number of awards. Earlier this year, during a Q & A session in Los Angeles, Dunham was asked just why so much nudity featured in the program, specifically her nudity.