Monday, April 30, 2012

The Brits Have Done it Again!

Last Friday, when my husband was gone on a scout camp, I finally gave "Downton Abbey" a look (knowing he wasn't interested, I had to find a time when I could watch it alone). Three long episodes later, at midnight, I had to force myself to stop watching and get some sleep. We were planning our Marvel Movie Marathon for the next day, beginning at 10:00 a.m., so I knew I had to get to sleep so I would have time to wake up and get going in time. It was very difficult to stop. It's truly that good.

I understand series 3 has not aired yet in the US-- correct me if you know otherwise, but series 1 and 2 are both available. Mostly. I watched 1 on Netflix, and finished it up today. I still find it fascinating how the Brits do TV. Instead of many short, commercial-filled episodes, they make fewer, longer episodes. It works. 

If you don't know, the show is a period drama (which I wouldn't have thought I would like), set in England. Series I begins in 1912, just as news of the Titanic tragedy has reached Downton, and ending with the beginning of WWI. It is a very well woven story of the aristocratic family (the Lord, his American wife and their 3 daughters) and their staff-- butler, maids, cooks, etc. It's a wonderful picture of how life was at that time for both groups of people. It is very well cast and written. Watch for Maggie Smith to steal every scene she is in-- she is superb, of course. 

The show kind of reminds me of a soap opera, but more real, more genuine, and impeccably written. There are characters you love and characters you love to hate. There is love and hate and people trying to destroy each other and help each other. There is the new "liberal" radicalism: rallying for women's rights. There is propriety and the installation of Downton's first telephone. The British are very good at this sort of thing, and they always manage to weave in a little comedy, even in the midst of drama. Humor is what makes drama entertaining.

I was surprised how quickly I got drawn in and had that addicted, don't-want-to-stop-watching feeling. 
I desperately wanted to continue on to season 2 (I'm American, I can't keep calling it series, try as I might), but Netflix isn't currently running it, and I don't want to pay iTunes for them. I can be patient. I've got other shows to catch up on in the meantime...

Sensitivity warning: In the first episode there is a gay kiss, firmly establishing one ongoing character's "orientation", I suppose. A couple of episodes later there is a scene with a man and woman in a bedroom, where sex is imminent, but not shown. You've been warned.

Thursday, April 26, 2012

Pre-Avengers Plans

T-minus one week and counting!! "The Avengers" opens next week, on May 4th, with much happy anticipation on the part of me and my family. To prepare, and as an excuse for some cheap fun, my brother suggested a "Marvel Movie Marathon", which I offered to host, since I have the day off this Saturday and we also have a giant TV. Also, all my children are old enough to watch the movies, so I'm not going to have the problem of little ones with nothing to do. We're watching them in release date order, rather than by chronological order (as some die-hard geeks might prefer), starting with  "Iron Man" and ending with "Captain America". I know some local movie theaters had the same idea, but I'm really happy with doing it at my house, where it will be free. Plus I made homemade Snickers candy... so win-win-win!
I only hope I'm not getting my hopes up just to be disappointed... I mean, with "The Avengers". Fingers crossed...

Monday, April 23, 2012

How It Should Have Ended

Have you come across How it Should Have Ended or HISHE on Youtube yet? I can't remember how we discovered it, but we've really enjoyed some of their cartoons, especially those that include superheros sitting together at a cafe. They've created send-ups of most of the most popular films of our modern time, including the Lord of the Rings, Star Wars, Titanic, new releases like The Hunger Games, and all of the latest superhero films. They're creative, and usually quite funny. Here are a couple of samples to whet your appetite. (Yep, I used the word "whet" in a sentence. 5 points for me.) Go check them out!

Saturday, April 21, 2012

The Death of a Show

I've seen every episode of "The Office". Both the British and American versions. While I enjoyed the British show, I actually preferred the American version. For a while. Back when it was still really good.

People thought that Jim and Pam's relationship working out would be the death of the show. It wasn't-- not really. We still had Andy's antics and Dwight's bizarre behavior, and Michael's unpredictable storylines. But it did start declining about that time, I guess.
When Steve Carrell left, I thought the show could survive. I hoped that the writers would make good choices, but I am finding myself disappointed episode after episode. The last two were especially bad. Just dumb.
I'm not crazy about Robert California. He's kind of an empty, soulless character that I can't seem to really care about.
And I don't like other the new character, Nellie. At all. She reminds me of Ricky Gervais' character on the British version of the show, but she's even worse. 

So, the question is, how much longer can a show in steep decline last? I have a feeling this will be the final season for The Office. It's time. It should probably have ended with Michael's departure.

They had a long run-- we're into season 8, after all. It's probably time to say goodbye. I was sorry we didn't get to see a wedding episode for Michael and Holly, maybe they could do that as their farewell episode-- that would be so nice. Kind of a reunion show.

I've read that there is a spinoff show being developed for Dwight , but I hope it falls through. That character is not a leading character and should not be.

Friday, April 20, 2012

The Happiest Day of 2013

As suggested in this article in the Huffington Post, I will be taking the day off next year when Netflix releases an entire new season of "Arrested Development". If you missed it, AD was a short-lived show that aired on the Fox network, and consequently was cancelled long before it should have been. It was the most perfectly cast, smartly written, intelligently witty comedy I think I've ever watched. I LOVED it.
It is definitely a show just for grown-ups; there's a lot of naughty humor peppered throughout, but there are also so many imaginatively hilarious situations and sight gags and subtle, dryly witty lines, that I felt it was worth watching regardless of the naughty stuff. As always, I wish Hollywood would clean it up. This show contains many good examples of how clean humor can still be hilarious-- there are SO many funny things.

This is the show where Michael Cera's career really took off, and where we girls of the 80's rekindled our crushes on Jason Bateman all over again. I remembered him from such shows as "Silver Spoons" and campy movies such as "Teen Wolf 2". On Arrested Development, he really shone as Michael Bluth, the one "normal" member of the Bluth family and the one trying to hold everything together. He got some of the best lines and his facial expressions are priceless. I might just have to re-watch the entire show soon. It only ran for 3 seasons, and I'm thinking the third season was particularly short. Good, good stuff... Hooray for Netflix and a season 4 on the way! I can only hope they will recapture the magic and it won't be just a sad imitation of what the show once was.

Guess I'll be keeping my Netflix streaming account a little longer...

Thursday, April 19, 2012

Book Review: The One and Only Ivan

From my Goodreads book review of The One and Only Ivan by Katherine Applegate:
What a sweet little book! I kept noticing this at the library, as it's still a new(er) release, so the cover is still shiny and clean. I was half sold by the adorable elephant and gorilla picture on the cover, but I wasn't in the mood for a circus-animal-rights book. I am actually somewhat ambivalent on the whole zoo-circus thing, but completely against cruelty to animals. I don't like certain things about zoos and especially about circuses, but I still didn't want to be preached at in book form. I don't like politically charged stories-- just good stories. 

Then I opened the book and read the first page and I was hooked. I didn't realize the story is told from the point of view of Ivan, the gorilla! And told in such a believable, honest voice. Simple, authentic and very sweet. 

Ivan lives in a "domain" at the "Big Top Mall", where he was once the star attraction. His fellow show animals are his friends, as well as the daughter of the cleaning man, who gives him supplies to draw with. He loves painting and creating. I don't want to tell too much of what happens, because I know often a story description will actually turn people off to a story because it simplifies it too much. 

This is a nice little book, an easy read and a very sweet story. It is somewhat predictable, but still has surprises, and the end left me feeling gratified. It's written for young people, found in the Junior Fiction section at our library, but still very enjoyable for us adults.

Judging a book by its cover sometimes pays off! I thoroughly enjoyed this book. I could nitpick and criticize, but I won't. I enjoyed the story, read it in about a day, and though I won't be buying a copy for my collection, I would recommend reading it. It might even be a good read-aloud, though some of the subject matter might be a tad too heavy for very young children.

Wednesday, April 18, 2012

We are Young

Youth anthems. Every generation has one or two. Or more. 
By definition, and anthem is: "a song, as of praise, devotion, or patriotism" My teenage sons tell me that the current Teen Anthem is "We are Young" by Fun featuring Janelle MonaE (or some such nonsense). It's a very catchy song, though the lyrics are about drinking and getting high in a club and being so inebriated at the end of the night that one needs someone to "carry" them home. But it's super popular and always on the radio, and I find myself turning it up and singing along. So I told my boys just to imagine it's a juice bar and the kids are "high on life" and the "carry me home" stuff is symbolic, meaning "you've got my back".  That works, right? Yes it does. I've lived many blissful years in a somewhat untouched bubble of innocence by playing such mental swapping games.
My teenagers also told me another anthem of their generation is the hugely popular "Party Rock" by LMFAO. (Which I insist stands for "Laughed My Flabby Arm Off". It works for me)
I totally understand the emotion of youth and the power of the background music of our lives. I remember that feeling of empowerment when I was about 17 years old. Our lives were ahead of us, the future was bursting with possibilities and we were young and energetic. The world was OURS!

Now we're the old people! When did that happen?

I'm trying to remember what our youth anthems were, in the 80's. I graduated from High School in 1990, so spent most of the 80's in Jr. High and High School. We had Alphaville's "Forever Young", which is kind of depressing, and of course Cool and the Gang's "Celebration". There's Joan Jett's "I Love Rock & Roll" and the awful "We Built this City" by Starship (aka REO Speedwagon). Other possibilities I found while perusing the internet and VH-1's top 100  are:
"Faith" by George Michael
"Livin' on a Prayer" by Bon Jovi
"That's What Friends are For" by Dione Warwick and others
"Girls Just Wanna Have Fun" by Cyndi Lauper
"Karma Chameleon" by Culture Club
"Walk this Way" Aerosmith
"We're Not Gonna Take It" by Twisted Sister
"It's the End of the World (as We Know It)" by R.E.M.
"Everybody Have Fun Tonight" by Wang Chung
"Lean on Me" by Club Nouveau

So, what were the anthems of your generation? Or, if you are in the same group as me, what did I miss?Is there one song that stands out as THE anthem of our High School/College years?

Tuesday, April 17, 2012

Nathan Fillion and Adam Baldwin were reunited on this week's episode of "Castle". Years ago, they were both on the geek favorite, much missed, "Firefly". Fillion, of course, played the Captain Mal Reynolds and Baldwin was the dark, sometimes-untrustworthy Jayne Cobb. In the latest episode of "Castle", Baldwin plays a similarly unorthodox, angry, violent character, a gang cop, whom Castle teams up with for a case. It was nice to think that these two friends had reunited and enjoyed filming together, and it was a decent episode of Castle, but I kind of feel like we're just being teased each week until Castle and Beckett finally tell each other of their mutual loveyness. It's annoying. And I'm glad there are only a few episodes left this season, because I'm tired of waiting for it!

Monday, April 16, 2012


As a sort-of geek girl, I do love my superhero movies. I haven't really read a lot of actual comic books, nor do I collect anything specifically superhero-related, but I'm kind of gleefully dorky about the movies-- especially the upcoming "Avengers". I've allowed that movie to mentally overshadow the other two huge films of 2012: "The Amazing Spiderman" and "The Dark Knight Rises", but I will be seeing them opening weekend with my three teenage sons. Maybe the reason for my love of these movies is aesthetic... maybe I just like watching hunky (and moderately good-looking) actors flying and leaping and slashing and shooting and climbing and... hmmm. I think I'm on to something.

So who's your favorite super hero? Who is your favorite actor-as-hero?
Here are a few to get you started:
Christian Bale as Batman? Awesome.

Hugh Jackman as Wolverine

Chris Hemsworth as Thor- yummy...
There are so, so many others, it would fill up many pages, so I'll stop here. I'm really looking forward to all the superhero movies coming out this summer. What about you?

Thursday, April 12, 2012

Riff With Me

Have you ever heard of Mystery Science Theater 3000 (affectionately shortened to MST3K)? It began years ago and basically the story is that this man is trapped on a spaceship with just a couple of robots for companions and is forced to watch "the worst movies ever made", which he and the robots mock and "riff"throughout. The premise is stupid, and we usually skip all the spaceship scenes, preferring instead to get to the good stuff-- the mockery of B-Movies, which is usually amusing and often laugh-out-loud hilarious. The two main stars are Kevin Murphy and Michael J. Nelson. Episodes included such films as: "I Was a Teenage Werewolf" and "The Brain that Wouldn't Die" and my kids' favorite, "Eegah! Most of them are pretty funny.

More recently, Murphy and Nelson (and another guy, Bill Corbett) have branched out, creating Rifftrax, wherein they make fun of older films and contemporary movies, from your favorite Star Wars six to "Jurassic Park" to "Captain America". With these modern films, instead of being able to just watch the movie with their dialogue overlaid like on MST3K, instead, you pay a nominal fee and download an MP3 track of their dialogue and watch the movie on a DVD which you have to provide. We have quite a few of these. Our favorites are "Thor" and one of the "Lord of the Rings" movies. My sons will roll their eyes that I couldn't remember which, but my brain just can't keep everything there. :)

It reminds me of how sometimes when I was a kid, my dad would turn down the sound on a movie and we would all join in making fun of it-- silly comments or fakey dialogue for the actors. It was always fun!

We have a separate speaker which we place on top of our surround sound receiver, with someone's ipod plugged into it, ready to play the MP3 Rifftrax for the film, then Murphy and Nelson tell you on the track how to sync up the film to their dialogue track. It's relatively simple to do, provided you have a way to hook up an ipod or your computer to a speaker to play the MP3.

If you've never heard of MST3K or Rifftrax, but enjoy making fun of bad movies, or good movies with bad moments, or just good movies... you will probably get a kick out of Rifftrax. A word of caution to my high-standard readers: they are not all young-family friendly. Nelson and Murphy don't cuss much beyond the "Bible" swears, but they do sometimes make comments that are naughty in nature. My sons generally roll their eyes or on a second viewing will talk loudly over the top of such dialogue, and we do what we can to edit these moments. I do with they wouldn't make those kinds of jokes, but comedy being what it is, Rifftrax are relatively fairly clean.

Recently we watched "Thor" for the second time with Rifftrax, and it was even funnier than the first time. There were moments that I laughed until I cried. I really do recommend you go look for a movie you already own or can borrow from your library and spend the $4 or so for a Rifftrax. One good starter is "Jurassic Park", as it features the dependably funny Weird Al Yankovic as a guest riffer, and the DVD is widely available. Have fun!

To Kindle or Not To Kindle. That is the Question.

Last Christmas my husband gave me a Kindle Touch. At first, I thought it would be fun-- I love reading and figured I could download some classics and such for free, check some titles out through the library's Overdrive website (if you haven't been to Overdrive, you really should. Ask your library about checking out free audio and e-books. If you're in Utah, I know they have access codes for you!!) and I wanted to be up-to-date (or close) on what's being used right now. Not having the funds to justify a Kindle Fire, we went with the Touch.

It was okay, as far as the technology goes. I have an iPod Touch, and I couldn't help comparing the speed of the Touch's response to the Kindle's. No comparison. The Kindle was slow to respond and often didn't do what I was trying to tell it to do. I did figure it out, though, and downloaded some free books, including a demo version (I think one chapter) of "The Eye of the World", which I was planning on reading again as this is the year of the "Wheel of Time" for me. 13 books, the 14th coming out at the end of the year, I can average 1+ a month easily.

I began reading "Eye" and enjoying it so much that I considered buying it for the Kindle so I could continue that way. Each book in the series costs between $7 and $10. Each. Um... I already own them in print, so why would I spend that much? I opted not to buy them.

I put the Kindle aside, picked up my book version and didn't pick up the Kindle for a week. Then I realized a few things.
  1. I didn't want to spend money on ebooks. I work at a library and I own the books I was planning on reading for most of 2012 already.
  2. As such, I probably wouldn't even use it very much for the entire year. 
  3. In a year, maybe I could afford something better, like an iPad or a Kindle Fire or some other tablet-type thing that I could use as an e-reader as well as the best toy EVER.
So I returned it. He had put half the cost (total was about $100) on a credit card, so I paid that off and took the $50 and spent it on... drumroll please... books! Yep. I bought books with it. Sigh. I'm incorrigible. 

Would I recommend a Kindle non-Fire? Absolutely. It would be the perfect thing to take on trips-- especially if you can afford trips. And eBooks that you actually want to read. In fact, if I ever get to go on trips, I might just invest in another Kindle for that very purpose. Maybe. I'm hopeful that they will just continue improving so that by the time I'm ready for one, they will be as awesome as my iPod Touch, but big enough to read comfortably on.

I'm curious about how others feel about their Kindles, Nooks and e-readers. Have you enjoyed them more than I did? Do you feel like it's justified to pay money for books you already own, just to be able to read them on the e-reader? 

Tuesday, April 10, 2012


Hooray for over 1,000 views of this blog! Thanks, friends and followers!

Today I finished the 4th book of the "Wheel of Time" series. Have I told you about my undying devotion and affection for this book series? Why yes, I have!

I had forgotten how much I love this book. I was thinking the second or third book was my favorite, but no, it's this one. Perrin and Faile's storyline is incredible. I love Rand's visit to the Aiel Waste and Nynaeve's first run-in with Moghedein. So many wonderful twists in the stories and some wonderful resolutions (Perrin... again. I love Perrin.) Oh, and Mat. Mat's character development is layered and I love how loyal he is to Rand, in spite of wanting to run away and escape the pull of Ta'veren. I hate and love what happens to him in Rhuidian, too. Such a good book!!!

If you haven't read these books, I do recommend them. To everyone I meet. They are clean- no language or graphic naughtiness, and the characters are loveable and authentic and amazing. The way Robert Jordan wove the various stories and characters together was magical.

I have friends who say, "I don't like fantasy" and don't give them a look. That's fine, but I really do recommend them to everyone. They are just that good. And how can you not like fantasy? Did you like Harry Potter? Cinderella? Anything with magic is considered fantasy, but it's not all wand-waving and latin-based hocus-pocus. Anyway, if you've ever liked anything other than romance or westerns, you will probably like these. And if you don't, please don't tell me. My brain might explode from trying to wrap my head around something so impossible. :)

Thursday, April 5, 2012

Marvel Timeline

In excited anticipation of the impending release of "The Avengers", I came across this great Marvel timeline website-- check it out!

Musical TV Remakes

Recently I took my daughter to see "Annie, Jr." at our local Jr. High. I was reminded of all the less-than-professional performances my dad attended to support me over the years. She absolutely loved it and even said, "When I go to Jr. High, I think I might like to be in a show..." Yes, my heart was warmed...

She asked later if we could borrow the movie version of "Annie" from my dad. Turns out he no longer has it, but my brother has both the original 1982 Film version and the 1999 made-for-TV remake, with Victor Garber and Kristen Chenoweth. He loaned us both. We started today with the remake version-- I don't remember why I didn't watch it when it aired in 1999, but we enjoyed it together.

I couldn't help but draw comparisons between "Annie" and the 2003 made-for-TV remake of "The Music Man" which also features Garber and Chenoweth. "Annie" is so far superior to the weak effort of "The Music Man", it's impossible to not see the differences. Of course, I only watched "The Music Man" the one time it aired, and vowed never to watch it again-- I like Matthew Broderick well enough, but his presence and voice weren't up to the role of Harold Hill. And, frankly, Chenoweth is talented, but she simply didn't fit Marion. I adore the original theatrical version, and I was so annoyed by the remake that I think I didn't dare watch the TV "Annie" on DVD, expecting it to be just as weak and depressing.

But I've been pleasantly surprised. Kathy Bates? Brilliant. I thought Carol Burnett was perfect in the theatrical version, but Bates brought her own thing to the role and it was excellent. And Audra McDonald was wonderful, as expected. It was fun to see the show with a broadway-caliber cast. And the little girl who played Annie was spectacular AND her hair wasn't distractingly obnoxious.

If you haven't seen it, check it out! But I vote for avoiding the 2003 "Music Man". Unless you like torture-by-TV.