Thursday, May 23, 2013

Movie Review: Star Trek: Into Darkness

   It's kind of hard to review this movie without giving anything away to those who haven't seen it, (I'm sure there are a still a few) but I'll do my best to stay spoiler-free.

  This may be the movie I was looking forward to most this summer (which is kind of depressing, since now I've seen it and there's still a lot of summer left.) I loved J.J. Abrams' 2009 Star Trek reboot, I thought he did a great job of renewing and modernizing the concept, while still keeping true to the original characters. Though I've been a fan of all the Star Trek incarnations, I don't really consider myself a "Trekkie" (or, if you prefer, "Trekker"), so I didn't have a problem with the changes made for the new version. I'm just fine with the time-travelling Romulans creating an alternate timeline for the new Star Trek - the new movies can make whatever changes they want without harming the continuity, since the original Star Trek exists within the original universe's non-destroyed Vulcan timeline.

 In this sequel, the main villain is played by British actor Benedict Cumberbatch - you may know him from the BBC's "Sherlock." (And if you haven't seen "Sherlock," Netflix it or something, it's amazingly good.) Nothing adds weight to a character, especially a villain, like a British accent, and Cumberbatch does a great job without completely stealing focus from Kirk and Spock. Without giving away plot points, all I can say is there's cool spaceships, explosions, an all-too-brief glimpse of Klingons, and lots of witty banter between Kirk, Spock, Bones and Scotty.

 Though I loved this movie, I think I loved the first one more. This one seems a bit long, some slow spots could have been edited a bit. The lens-flare effect was cool-looking in the original, but is now starting to get overdone. Don't get me started on the completely unnecessary cameo by Leonard Nimoy. (Does he have a contract with Paramount requiring him to be in anything having to do with Star Trek?) And not to give anything away, but hard-core fans of Gene Roddenberry's idealized vision of the future may have a problem with the less-than-ideal portrayal of some Starfleet officers.

 But minor quibbles aside, still an awesome movie, definitely the best ride so far this year. I'm sure I'll see it many more times on cable and Blu-Ray.

 But seriously, J.J., enough with the lens flare. You're giving me a headache.

Wednesday, May 22, 2013

Movie Review: Iron Man 3

 I love big blockbuster movie season (a.k.a.: summer) but it's hard to get to the theater every weekend, especially when you have little kids. That's why, last Saturday, we did a double-feature of "Iron Man 3" and "Star Trek: Into Darkness." First up: "Iron Man 3."

 I didn't expect to like the Iron Man movies. I never read the comic books, didn't know much about the character, and didn't particularly care for Robert Downey Jr. Surprisingly, I've really enjoyed the Iron Man movies, and this latest one is no exception. "Iron Man 3" picks up after "The Avengers," with Tony suffering from insomnia and anxiety after the alien attack in New York. When his former bodyguard is injured in a bombing, Tony issues a personal challenge to The Mandarin, the mastermind behind several terrorist attacks.

 As always, the special effects are great. Explosions, flying suits of armor (or pieces of armor) - it all looks real - and we didn't even see the 3D version! Iron Man is all about the flying suits of armor, so it's crucial that the audience believes this technology is real. Part of what makes it seem real is that it doesn't always work perfectly. We get to see the breakdowns, buggy software and dead batteries.

 Robert Downey Jr. seems to have found the perfect role in irreverent genius millionaire inventor Tony Stark. As good as he was playing off the other hero personalities in "The Avengers," he can also carry a movie pretty much on his own. Not that his supporting cast isn't good: Don Cheadle is back as Rhodey and War Machine (rebranded as Iron Patriot), and Gwyneth Paltrow as Pepper Potts. I still don't see much romantic chemistry between Pepper and Tony, but their relationship is such a small part of the movie, it doesn't really matter. And Oscar-winner Ben Kingsley as attention-seeking terrorist The Mandarin is just wonderful.

 I don't know if I liked 3 quite as much as I liked "Iron Man 2," but it's well worth the money to see in the theater.

Saturday, May 18, 2013

Kids Say the Creepiest Things!

  So, I came across a pin on Pinterest the other day that linked to postings of some of the strangest and/or creepiest things kids have said. (I think the original source was Tumbler, or maybe Reddit. I don't really know what either of those are.) There were hundreds of posts, and boy, there were some doozies.

  Leaving aside the stuff hinting at ghosts and reincarnation, (which is in a different category altogether) there were some great examples of the random, weird stuff that comes out of kids' mouths. Like the mother who woke up to see her four-year-old's face inches from hers, saying "I want to peel all your skin off." (Context: Mother had been sunburned and was starting to flake.) Or the three-year-old who, upon holding her newborn sibling for the first time said, "It's a monster, Daddy. I think we should bury it."

 Reading these posts (I scrolled through for days, I literally couldn't put it down) made me feel a little better about some of the things my kids have said. Really, in a way, it's comforting to know all kids have a streak of sociopathic freak in them, not just mine. So in the spirit of making other moms feel better about their kids, here are some of the bizarre things mine have said.

 Now, the little girl is only two and a half, and a bit slow to talk besides, so she's only got one on the list. She only says a few phrases, and her diction (or lack thereof) makes her difficult to understand, but last week she came out with a good one. I was waking her up in the morning, when she stood up in her crib, looked me up and down, and said clear as a bell, "Nice shirt, red!" Now, though I have red hair, as far as I know, no one has ever called me "red" in her hearing. (My husband pointed out the lettering on my shirt was red, she could have been referring to that.) What kicks this over from unusual to slightly creepy, is the shirt I was wearing:

At least she has good taste - this is the shirt Ray Park (Darth Maul) said he liked when I wore it to KC Planet Comicon!

 I could probably come up with a dozen things the almost-seven-year-old boy has said, but I'll keep it to just the last six months:

  •  To a kindergarten classmate in the school library: "Are you going to kill yourself now?" Said from inches away, with a wide grin.

   He has no real understanding of death or suicide at this age, he has no clue why the adults were so freaked out. (The kid he said it to, by the way, was unfazed.) No, he doesn't watch violent television, or play video games of any kind. Yes, he was pulled out for small group instruction on social skills and peer interaction. We're just lucky to live in a district that allows teachers to use common sense, elsewhere kids have been expelled for less, even kindergartners.

  •   From completely out of the blue, at the dinner table: "I can't wait until I die, so I can be a ghost and haunt this house." Me: "I don't think I want to live in a haunted house." "That's OK Mommy, you and Daddy will be dead a long time by then." 
 Context: He loves ghosts, witches, vampires, etcetera. Halloween is his favorite holiday, he keeps the decorations up in his room all year long. That day he had seen a "Backyardigans" episode where three of them pretend to be ghosts in a haunted house and try to scare their friend. Seriously, if you can't trust the "Backyardigans"...

  •   And finally, my favorite. A rainy day, all the lights off in the living room. It's quiet, so I go out to check on him. He's set up his play tent in the middle of the room. Me: "Corran, are you out here?" From inside the tent, in a raspy whisper: "I'm not here anymore." Me: "So where are you?" The tent flap slowly lifts, all I can see is a white face and the light from the hall reflecting off his eyes, like a cat: "I live in the Everfree Forest, near a tree with the face of danger." And the flap verrrrrry slowly drops again. Me: "Oooh-kaaay, I'm going back to washing dishes."

 So, I guess if you have creative, intelligent, imaginative kids, they're going to express themselves in, uh, imaginative ways. Better than having dull, boring kids, right? And if anyone wants to, please comment here with the weird stuff your own kids have said.

Monday, May 13, 2013

Book Review: Necessity's Child

"Necessity's Child"
by Sharon Lee & Steve Miller

 This is the newest novel in the authors' popular Liaden Universe series. "Necessity's Child" is a standalone novel, not in the Val Con/Miri or Theo Waitley story arcs, but complementary to them. The story follows Syl Vor, one of the younger generation of Clan Korval, as he adapts to the clan's new life on Surebleak, and Kezzi, a child of the Kompani, a secretive family group living underground on Surebleak. But this story also revolves around Rys, an agent for the Department of the Interior, injured and left for dead on the doorstep of the Kompani. Left with amnesia from his head injury, Rys finds a place with the Kompani while trying to discover who he is. But if he remembers his past, will his agent training reassert itself, making him a danger to Clan Korval? Or will he become the man he was before the Department of the Interior brainwashed him?

 There are a LOT of Liaden Universe stories, and I've never been disappointed in any of them. This one is no exception. Lee and Miller know how to write characters you care about, and they've created a universe for them that's so real, you feel as if you've been there. Reading one of their novels is a time-consuming activity - not because they're overlong, but because as soon as I finish, I feel the need to re-read everything else in the series, revisiting all my old friends.

 While this is a great novel, it's probably not the place to start if you've never read any of the other Liaden novels. It assumes the reader is already familiar with the characters and setting, and would probably be too confusing for a beginner. Start with "Agent of Change" and work your way up from there. And leave yourself plenty of time: These are books that will have you reading "just one more chapter," until you look up and realize it's hours past your bedtime.

Tuesday, May 7, 2013

Pin-Tried: A New Blog Series

 Thanks to my iPad, Pinterest has now passed Facebook as my number one time-waster. It's just so easy to pull up and troll through during those odd five minutes waiting for water to boil, or the boy to put his shoes on, or during commercials (in the rare instance that we actually watch TV live instead of through the DVR.)

 While going through my boards, I realized I had tons of fun recipes, crafts and kid projects pinned, but I'd never actually TRIED any of them. (Not an uncommon problem, judging from some of the humorous pins I've put on my "Funny & Geeky" board.)

 So, in the interest of holding myself accountable for actually doing some of these, I've decided to make it a blog series - every Tuesday, I will try to blog about something I got the original idea for on Pinterest. (Which, since most of these pins originally came from someone else's blog, is a fascinating example of the Internet cannibalizing itself. But I digress.) I'll rate my attempts using the completely unscientific scale of  "Epic Fail," "Close Enough" and "Nailed It!" I know this isn't a completely original idea, I already follow Pintester, who documents her hilarious Pin fails. It's mostly just to motivate myself into trying something new, instead of just accumulating digital idea collections.

First up: Cinnamon Roll Cookie Bars
Verdict: Nailed It!

 The original pinner said these tasted just like cinnamon rolls, and they were right! Soft and chewy, super-cinnamon-y, and with the perfect powdered sugar frosting that comes on the best bakery cinnamon rolls. I made these strictly according to the recipe the first time, and they came out just a hair overcooked. Also, the frosting tasted like eating spoonfuls of straight sugar. The second time, I cut a couple of minutes off the baking time. I also doubled the frosting (frosting is my favorite part, I thought it needed more) and added a teaspoon of almond extract - I think it gave the frosting a little more depth of flavor.

 If you love cinnamon, make these. They're so good, I was rationalizing eating them for breakfast. (Hey, if it tastes like a cinnamon roll, it counts as breakfast.)

Here's the recipe:

Cinnamon Roll Cookie Bars

1 box yellow cake mix (I used white, it worked fine)
1/2 cup melted butter
2 eggs
1/2 cup packed brown sugar
1/4 cup sugar
1 1/2 tablespoons cinnamon

2 tablespoons milk
2 cups powdered sugar

Mix all ingredients and pour into a greased 9"x 13" baking dish. Bake at 350 degrees for 25 minutes.
When done remove from the oven, cool, and pour icing over the top. 

Monday, May 6, 2013

Product Review: Squeeze 'n Blow Pop-Up Bubbles

 When preparing the kids' Easter baskets, I was looking for small, fun (and cheap) outdoor toys. Since we go through a ton of bubble juice every year, bubbles are a no-brainer. While looking for something else entirely, I ran across a display of these:

At the sale price of 2/$5, this was a little more than I planned to spend - you can get a bottle of bubbles for $1 or less pretty much anywhere. But I was swayed by SpongeBob, which the boy loves, and the idea of no-spill bubbles. (They also had a pink Dora one for the little girl.)

The bubble wand pops up when the bottle is squeezed
 So, the idea here is a pretty good one: instead of having to stick your fingers in the bottle to try to pull out the bubble wand, the bubble wand is pushed up through a hole when you gently squeeze the bottle, already ready to blow. Stop squeezing, and the wand drops back down to reload. Repeat for more bubbles. Should be easy.

 Like I said, the idea is good; the execution, however...well, there were some problems.

  • When I first opened it, no matter how gently I squeezed, when the wand popped up bubble juice spurted out with it, to run over the sides and down my hand and arm. This happened until the bottle was about half empty.
  • The squeezing process churned the bubble juice into foam, making it very difficult to blow any bubbles. I probably only got bubbles once out of every four or five squeezes.
  • You have to squeeze pretty hard to get the bubble wand up, and you have to maintain the pressure to keep it up while you blow - as soon as you let up, it slides back down. The age says three and up, but my six-year-old was not able to do this consistently. Granted, he doesn't have a lot of patience and he'd rather have me blowing the bubbles anyway, but after about five minutes, my hand and wrist were sore from the force required to keep squeezing this thing.
On the plus side, when we were able to blow bubbles, it blew a lot at once, and they were very pretty, iridescent bubbles. But overall, there is no way this was worth the money.

Saturday, May 4, 2013

Movie Review: "Oblivion"

 "Oblivion," starring Tom Cruise, Morgan Freeman

 I didn't know a lot about this one going in, just what I'd seen in the previews. Tom Cruise plays Jack, a tech left behind as a caretaker for giant hydro machines, along with his comm officer/partner Victoria.  The rest of Earth's population has moved to Titan after an alien invasion - at least that's what he believes. Inconsistencies start popping up, flashbacks to a life he doesn't remember.  I didn't think there was room for yet another post-apocalyptic movie, but this one has a pretty original slant. The visual effects are just wonderful, as far as I could tell, flawless. Like most disaster movies, we get to see the remains of New York (I think there's a law requiring it), though we don't get to see the actual destruction.

 Though I'm not a big Tom Cruise fan, I really enjoyed him in this. The action/adventure hero is pretty much the only kind of role he does, but hey, he's good at it. My only problem: he doesn't have much chemistry with either of his female leads. But the action scenes are good, and the story moves along at a pretty good clip, not a lot of slow parts. There are some really creepy exchanges between Victoria and Sally, their boss up on a space station in orbit - they start off sounding normal, but as time goes on, and you start to realize something is off here, they just get creepier and creepier.

  I found the ending both predictable, and a bit unbelievable (though I can't say why without spoilers), but overall, this one is worth paying to see on the big screen. It's a good opener for the summer blockbuster season.