Friday, December 31, 2010

The Kids Are Alright Is All Wrong

I love countdowns and rankings and lists of things that are good and lists of things that are bad, and so on and so forth... and at the end of the year, I spend hours looking at Year End Best and Year End Worst of just about anything. 

And every year, I even do my own Top 100 Coolest Things of the Year... and every year, when it comes to movies, I like to find my ten favorite films of the year.  And the last week of the year, I try to bear down and see a few films that I might have missed before the midnight bells chime, bringing 2011 to our doorsteps.

Random picture of The Goddess, only because I haven't
mentioned her in quite a while.
Right now, The Lovely Steph Leann and I are watching "The Kids Are Alright", starring three people that I really, really like... Annette Bening, who does one of my favorite roles of all time in my 30th favorite film of all time... Julianna Moore, who is one of my favorite actresses and was a pre-goddess to me before The Goddess became The Goddess (and before I fell in love with Amy Adams, of course)... and Mark Ruffalo, who happens to be likable in just about anything and everything.

So, Annette and Julianne play Nic and Jules, respectively, who are lesbians in love, and are mothers to two kids, Joni and Laser.  Yes, Laser.  So, the kids end up finding out who did the "donation" to make their own lives possible, and they end up meeting him, and hilarity, heartbreak, drama and issues ensue.

I can say this, even before the movie is finished playing out... its well acted.  All three leads, Bening, Moore and Ruffalo are playing their own parts perfectly, the story is well done, and the plot, for what its worth, is consistent with no holes or silliness to drag it down.

But... a Christ Follower, how does one enjoy such a film?  The premise of the film itself, two lesbians and their relationship, disrupted by the sudden appearance of their children's sperm donor, spits in the face of what we as Christ Followers believe to be true, right and just according to Scripture and our own belief in God. 

Let's be clear here... I love movies.  I love watching movies, I love how they make me feel, I love breaking apart a film to dissect it, I love thinking about movies that stick with me, I love enjoying Craptastic films that aren't supposed to be anything other than Crapstatic.  And yes, I enjoyed "The Hangover".  And yes, I get a kick of watching "American Pie 2".  And I did see "Boogie Nights" and thought it, taking into consideration the premise again, was a very well done film. 
So to sit here and say "Oh, I can handle the potty humor of 'The Hangover' and I think its hilarious!" and then follow it up with "'Boogie Nights' was enjoyable and Julianne Moore was awesome!" (which, by the way, she was), only to turn around and say, "I don't like the premise of 'The Kids are Alright' because its just too wrong," is a little hypocritical.  But yet, I will say those very things.

What's the difference?  I dunno.  I don't pretend to know.  I never saw "Brokeback Mountain", and not because I am homophobic... I never saw it mostly because all the things I'd heard from people around me was what I suspected--take out the man on man relationship and make it a normal (and I said normal, get over it) man on woman relationship, and its suddenly a boring film about a bad romance, with beautiful scenery.  So, knowing the movie isn't that good, why do I want to see two guys getting it on?  I don't, and I haven't.

So, back to "The Kids Are Alright"... the language is raw.  Tons of F-Bombs.  Julianne Moore is naked, though she does that in many of her films.  There are several, and I mean several, sex scenes.  The lesbian couple watches gay porn to stimulate their own relationship.  The son is named Laser.  These are all the things that are wrong about this film.   As a movie fan, I'm sure you can catch this on Hurricane Rhett's favorite channel, Logo, in a year or so, or maybe the Oprah Network or something later.  As a Christ Follower, I have to tell you, avoid it.  Just avoid it at all costs.

However... if you want to see brilliance from these three leads...

Julianne Moore: 
"Evolution"... one of the most enjoyable, funny pieces of crap ever put on film.  Its stupid, its idiotic, and its hilarious. 
"Children of Men"... its bleak, its dark, its futuristic and its amazingly done
"Boogie Nights"... I can't recommend this film to you, because its the life of a porn star.  I would tell you to watch it on one of those "Cut out the bad parts!" devices you can find at LifeWay, but all you'd see would be a title card and the credits.  But Julianne Moore is phenomenal in it.

However, since we are discussing to good lookin' Julianne Moore and her films... avoid at all costs "The Forgotten", one of the single worst films I've ever seen in my whole life.  Its awful.  Its terrible.  And what's worse is, it starts out as a really good film... and then tanks, hard.  Bad.  Its terrible. 

Annette Bening:
"Mars Attacks"... talk about stupid and brilliant, at the same time.  A great cast, and a great turn by Bening.
"The Grifters"... Once again, its a R rated film with a lot to it, but its a great story and a great movie all around.  John Cusack is especially awesome.
"The American President"... I cannot tell you how much I love this film.  I came up with the term "A Sydney Ellen Wade" performance for Annette Bening's turn as the love interest of President Shepherd.   Every scene she's in, she shines, every word she speaks, she glows and few times have I ever seen someone look so good on camera.  Except Amy Adams, whom I'm in love with. 

Mark Ruffalo:
"13 Going On 30"... Yes, its a silly rom-com, and yes, Jennifer Garner has The McGriddle Effect all over her, but Mark Ruffalo is just charming enough to make guys like him, and make The Lovely Steph Leann jus swoon.
"Shutter Island"... He co-stars with Leo DiCaprio, and holds up well.  The movie is a little over-ambitious, and it almost pulls off being a mind-blowing cinematic experience, only to end up being a really good film with a somewhat predictable twist... but that's not on Ruffalo.
"Collateral"... When making the 2010 edition of The Dave100, I struggled with this film.  See it for Jamie Foxx and Tom Cruise, and how good they are.  And enjoy Ruffalo's supporting role. 

But avoid "The Kids Are Alright".

Tuesday, December 28, 2010

To Go or Not To Go... That Is The Lovely Steph Leann's Question

Got a inquiry from a friend of ours in Sunday School Life Connection at Valleydale Church (an sbc fellowship) that simply asked: 

"In your opinion, when is the best time of year to go to Disney (least crowded)? Its time to start thinking about taking big girl!"

I thought this would make an excellent blog post, though, so rather than just popping up an answer, I asked The Lovely Steph Leann to give her thoughts on the subject.  And she came through...

The Lovely Steph Leann writes:

Having visited Disney World a respectable 18 times (perhaps more, but I was too young to remember), friends of ours somehow presume that I am knowledgeable enough to provide advice regarding travel to “The World,” as I choose to call it.  They wouldn’t be all that incorrect in their presumptions;  however, I always give the caveat that my advice is my advice only, it doesn’t necessarily translate into information that works for everyone. 

In fact, I was reading an article from the All Ears newsletter just the other day where an avid WDW visitor “deconstructed” her “Top 10 list” explaining how some of her favorite tips might not work for some people.  With this in mind, I am here today offering one tip (so make of it what you will): the best time of the year to go to Walt Disney World – with children. 

Now, some of you may be thinking to yourself, d$ and s$ don’t have children.  How can they give advice on the “best time to go to The World with children” when they’ve never actually had this experience?  My thought is simple.  The best time to go is the best time to go, children or not.  So there, all you naysayers. 

Anyway, back to my thoughts.  The months of February, early March, September, early October, November and early December are currently my favorite times to go.  The majority of these months may have unpredictable weather, in that it can get quite chilly in Florida, but I enjoy going then.  The crowds are generally lighter, which is the common denominator with all the months I mentioned.  I like to wear jeans and preferably tops with ¾ length sleeves (or even better, lightweight sweaters).  I burn easily, and this means less skin surface to block with SPF 100 sunscreen.  Also, my incredibly charming, handsome, kind, sweet, courteous, unselfish and good lookin' husband is more likely to carry a backpack in these cooler months, which means I can ask him to carry around my water bottle and a couple of odds and ends that won’t fit in my camera bag.  (note:  I added a little to this paragraph... d$)

While I have never been over Labor Day weekend in September, I hear it is a fabulous time to go.  Most children are back in school and the crowds are some of the lightest of the year.  Also, having an extra day as a holiday does help with how long your children will be out of school.  A few other things about September and October are Mickey’s Not So Scary Halloween Party and the International Food and Wine Festival (which takes place in Epcot). 

The party is a lot of fun, but is an added cost.  Some people use it as their “day” in Magic Kingdom, so they don’t have to use a day on their multi-day pass.  However, if you’re going to be there many days, the extra day on the pass is much cheaper than the party tickets.  So, now you should just go to the party for the characters, the cool parade and special fireworks show.  Up to you whether it’s worth the extra cost. 

The festival may not be significant to those with children, but it’s there all the same.  It can cause crowds to be pretty thick at Epcot, so be aware if you are thinking of going in late September when the festival begins.  In November, you have Veterans Day and Thanksgiving.  I have been during both times of the year, and Veterans Day is a little lighter on the crowds.  However, Thanksgiving week (just prior to the actual holiday) is fabulous in both weather and crowd control, so if you can afford the extra, consider it. 

This is a carousel, and its made of chocolate.  It
was awesome.
December is one of my all time favorite times to go.  The park is completely “decked out” for the holidays.  Several deluxe resorts have a “gingerbread competition” each year, showcasing a gingerbread tree (Contemporary), a 16-foot gingerbread house (Grand Floridian) and a gingerbread carousel (Beach Club). 

Magic Kingdom has Mickey’s Very Merry Christmas Party (again, think about the additional cost) and Epcot has the Candlelight Processional.  The Processional is free with Epcot admission, but you may wish to consider the Candlelight Processional Dinner Package which allows you to see the show from reserved seating, after having enjoyed a fabulous meal at one of the very fine Epcot restaurants.  March has the Flower and Garden Festival at Epcot, and the beautiful topiaries around the park make that time of year another fabulous reason to go then.  February is great because it’s cheap (so is September, for that matter). 

So, ok, I know I’ve overwhelmed you.  But, in a nutshell, just don’t go during the summer, or Christmas week.  Summer is too hot (and sunny, remember the whole sunscreen dilemma) and too crowded (reference d$'s blog about the internationalis groupus when we went in July) and Christmas week, while the weather may be just fine, it is just way too crowded as well (worse than even in the summer, ask and we’ll tell you about the 305-minute wait time we heard about for an attraction in Epcot).

$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$

So that's The Lovely Steph Leann's piece...  Here's what I can tell you.  I haven't been 18 times, I've only been 14 times, so I am definitely not the expert... but there have been occasions when she and I have gone without each other.

June is hot.  June is stinkin' hot.  I have been two Julys in a row, and to me, June was the hottest trip I've ever taken... that's not to say that July is a cool day in paradise--on the contrary, its stinkin' hot too.  Both June and July crowds tend to be pretty heavy at times.  The Internationalis Groups is real, and is to be avoided at all times. 

February has been wonderful for us, because not only is it lighter crowds, its also value season.   If you make it a February trip, make sure your trip ends on or before Presidents Day Weekend, because it gets busy, fast.  MouseSavers.com has a great list of 2011 room rates and such, and will give you an idea when value season turns into regular season turns into holiday season turns into peak season... translation?  Manageable turns into pricey turns into expensive turns into 5th mortgage.

I also took a trip in the first week of October of 2009, with a couple of other guys... now keep in mind, it was me, who knows where to go and what to do to make it a worthwhile trip, and come college guys who can move fast and follow directions well... and it was awesome.   In four days, we did just about every major thing at all four parks that can be done--but no kids with us. 

Watch event calendars for Walt Disney World as well, to make sure you don't end up during Cheerleader Week (some time in mid-February), and know that the annual "Gay Day" weekend is sometime at the end of May or early June... depending on how you want to approach it, let me say that I've heard from several people that "Gay Day" is a great time to go.  Find out what the "schedule" is for the groups, and... well, go to the other park.  I've heard that the crowds tend to be a little lighter, at least compared to most summer crowds.  With kids, though, you might want to rethink it.

The week between Christmas and New Years, aka right now, is the most expensive and busiest week of the entire year.  A room at the French Quarter in Port Orleans that will cost The Lovely Steph Leann and I a rate of $154 in February when we go will actually cost $239 between December 23rd to 31st.  And busy?  Holy crap, yes.  They actually will open up backstage areas to allow crowds to exit the park easier, because the Main Street street is just not big enough.


The reason this picture is a little fuzzy?  Its snowing.  On Main Street.
And referencing what she said above, we heard a story on a podcast that the longest reported wait at Soarin' in Epcot was 305 minutes.  That's just north of five hours waiting for a four minute ride.  Five hours.  When?  Christmas week, that's when.  Thanksgiving Day can also be horrible, but the days leading up to it are great.  As the Turkey Day gets closer, the crowds get bigger, and I'd recommend that if you are there on Thanksgiving Day, go to the Magic Kingdom.  Get there early, and stay there, because it will "max out"--when it maxes out, they don't let anyone else in.  You don't want to be at Animal Kingdom and run out of stuff to do, then not be able to enter any other parks.  The Magic Kingdom has enough to do to keep the whole family busy all day.  By the way, how many people does it take to "Max Out" capacity at MK?  There are no official numbers available to the public, but rumor has it anywhere between 55,000 and 60,000 people.  In one single park.  
She's right though... Christmas at Disney... there is nothing like it.  Nothing.  Like it.   Early December is a great time to go, before it gets unbearable.  And the more weekdays you can have on your trip, the better.

As far as how many days to go, what restaurants to visit, what shows and rides are kid friendly, which resorts to sleep in, so on and so forth, thats another blog post entirely. 

Sunday, December 26, 2010

Tangled

A few weeks ago, The LA Times reported Disney's announcement that they were going to pull back from princess movies for a while.  Last year, the excellent "The Princess and the Frog" didn't do nearly as well as expected, and with the onslaught of "tween" popularity (see: Disney Channel's shows featuring Demi, Selena, Jonas and so on), princesses just aren't that big a deal anymore.

Similiarly, when "Sleeping Beauty" came out in 1959, the next thirty years were movies about cats, foxes, dalmations, and Mowgli, when they finally got back on the princess trail with Ariel, and soon after, Belle, Jasmine and so on.  And now, Tiana was last year, and Rapunzel will start the princessy hiatus. 

And Rapunzel is a great way to go out. 

When The Lovely Steph Leann and I finish a movie, I always look at her as the credits roll and say, "Whaddya think?" and she tells me "I loved it!" or "It was cute" or "Eh".  Then she asks me what I thought, and my answers are a bit more varied... and this time I said, "It was pretty good."  Typically, this means to The Lovely Steph Leann that I didn't like it at all.  Not true... I said the same thing about "The Proposal", and ended up really liking that movie quite a bit. 

And like "The Proposal", the more I thought about "Tangled", the more I liked it.  As pressure to not be princessy built over the year, Disney changed the marketing strategy of this film, even cutting a new trailer that concentrated on the hero, Flynn Rider, more so than the actual subject of the film, that being Rapunzel... but when you see the movie, in the first thirty seconds of the film, Flynn Rider tells you straight up, "This story is not about me...", smashcut to a tall tower where our heroine has been kept locked away.  The story is, and has always been, about Rapunzel.

Mandy Moore does the voice, and is vibrant and enthusiastic with it, seemingly realizing that she is one of the select few that can now say she's a Disney Voice.  The Steph Leann would kill to have such a line on her own resume.  Zachary Levi, from NBC's "Chuck" (and also a Christ Follower, by the way), is energetic and fun as Flynn.

The villian of the movie, Rapunzel's guardian Mother Gothel, is done perfectly by Broadway and television actress Donna Murphy.  Gothel kidnaps Rapunzel right at the beginning of the film, as the exposition is told, and locks her away... Gothel is not straight out evil, she's secretly bad, portraying that of a loving and caring mother while preserving her own self interests at Rapunzel's expense... for 18 years. 

The music is fun, nothing that stands out like "Circle of Life" or "Strange Things" from Toy Story would be, but still, it kept my toe tapping and The Lovely Steph Leann's head bobbing, and upon another viewing, there's nothing to say that I won't learn the songs soon enough.

What I'm really raving about, however, is the animation.  Its absolutely beautiful... its a combination of computer animation and hand drawn animation, and blended together, the colors are stark and subdued, bright and pastel and glorious.  All during the movie, I found my self looking at the detailed backgrounds of the woods, the village, the awesome scene where the candles float through the air, and so on. 

Anyway, if you like Disney fairy tales, especially ones that are smart, funny, have characters that aren't annoying, and music along the lines of recent films like "Enchanted" and "Princess & the Frog", then dig this film.  I don't know that I would go the 3D route, unless you just really want the 3D effects, and in fact, 3D tends to slightly diminish color, so go 2D with it. 

Sunday, December 19, 2010

What's the Story, Morning Glory?

"UPDATE"
Mom is alive.  Not well, not kicking, not healthy, but alive.  Thanks for praying and thinking of her and our family. 

"ITS ALL IN THE WRIST"
I was watching the end of the 13th ranked movie on The Dave100, and was about to watch "The Bounty Hunter" with Gerard Butler and Jennifer Aniston when I looked over to see The Lovely Steph Leann cuddled up in her pink Snuggie.  She's got her eyes closed, earbuds in, trying to desperately finish an audiobook that she checked out online and is due to expire at midnight tonight.

The Lovely Steph Leann, catching a few
winks in the evening
She doesn't like it when I turn on movies she hasn't seen, and wants too, so I hit the DVR button on "The Bounty Hunter" to watch it later, even though I've heard its a dreadful film.  I'm also DVR'ing "The Book of Eli", a great film I did see early this year, and am excited about seeing again later. 

So, to pass the time while I write a little on a late Saturday night, I turned it on The Speed Channel, for a classic episode of "Pimp My Ride"... and here's my thoughts for the night...

So, I've noted the fact that I seldom, if ever, actually get sick.  I wake up with a slightly sore throat or not feeling all that well, and by noon, I'm just right as rain.  Maybe I have a sniffle here and there, but overall, I'm cool.  Sometimes, however, I do pass it on to The Lovely Steph Leann--I can't be selfish and take all the infection, so I want to share.

Getting hurt, however, is another story.  Back in May of 2009, I told the story of the infected finger and the attack that my eyes waged on my body, then earlier this year, my left eye attacked me, and who can forget the coffee inferno that erupted on my foot

Now?  I'm in a splint.

About a week or so ago, I was working on our order that had just come into the store.  It had been piled up quite high, but several of us were working hard on getting it organized, dispersed and off of the cafe floor--I had only a few boxes left, and was trying to help Melanie Z from dealing with it later. 

I lifted a box of coffee, a box of oatmeal and some frap roast mix, and as I turned around to my left to take a step, I didn't see the two boxes of apple juice that lay motionless on the floor.  My shins hit the boxes, and I lost complete control.  The coffee, the oatmeal and the frap roast mix flew through the air, landed on the tile with a skid and slid across the floor.  I followed very closely behind, hitting the ground hard, landing on my left knee and my left hand/wrist.

A few customers came over and helped me up, made sure I was okay, I told them I was.  I shook it off, laughed a little, thanked them for their help.  I made my way to the back room, where as soon as I turned the corner out of sight, I slumped to the floor, holding my knee close to my chest, fighting a scream of pain.  A single tear trickled down my cheek.

One of my co-workers, Vee, walked back and saw me, and simply said, "Wow.  You're not alright."  I laughed through the tear, saying, "I'm sure I'll be fine.  Just give me a minute."  My knee hurt so, so bad.  So, for the next several days, I walked with a slight limp as my knee, bruised and and battered, began to heal itself.  Stairs were horrible, but over the last week, I think its going away.

However comma

...I did notice that my left wrist was not feeling as great.  In fact, it kinda had a little pain to it, depending on which way I turned it.  By mid-week, my wrist and hand just hurt when I worked, and by Friday morning, turning a door knob, pushing down the white mocha pump or picking up a gallon of milk with that hand made it hurt like crazy.   Off to see Dr. Vance on Friday afternoon, and he poked and prodded a little, got an X-ray and made sure it wasn't gangrenous, or riddled with AIDS or anything of that sort.  Nope, just a sprain on the wrist, one that will...

...one that will...

...one... will.... that.... wi...

...

...so, as I typed those previous words, I fell asleep.  Like, zonked out.  It was only for a brief few seconds, but it was long enough for my hand on my mouse to slip, the mouse to crash onto the keyboard, and The Lovely Steph Leann to wake up and stare at me.  I decided it was time for bed, so between the words "one that will" and right now, I've slept 8 hours, I've gone to church, I've had lunch with Hurricane Rhett, Amarylis by Morning (up from san antone), JustFish and his wife Kelly Kelly at Ruby Tuesdays, I've gone by the cigar shop to buy a gift card for my brother-in-law for Christmas, I've watched The Lovely Steph Leann pass out on the couch again, I've talked to Melanie Z on the phone about tomorrow at work, and I've listened to half of Lady Antebellum's "Need You Now" album

Where was I?

Oh yeah, my wrist.  It'll heal.  In about a week or so. 

The whole point of that entire story was that now I have a splint on my left wrist.  I told Melanie Z a few minutes ago, "Ya know, I don't get sick.  I just get hurt."  And get old. 

"NEED YOU NOW"
Speaking of Lady Antebellum, is there a better country song out right now than "Need You Now"?  I mean, this song has everything--being drunk, being desperate, being broken hearted and hurt, and a hot chick singing half the song.  I'll be honest with ya, for the first few times I heard it, the opening keys on the piano makes it sound a little like "I Can Only Imagine" by MercyMe, but there are few songs that are farther apart in subject than "I Can Only Imagine" and "Need You Now". 

Was watching some video clip show on CMT, and this song came up, and Darius Rucker put it perfectly... "The song is beautiful... but when you listen to it, it's about nothing more than a booty call.  A late, desperate, drunk booty call.  But they sing it beautifully."

"MORNING GLORY"
I feel so behind when it comes to movies... I did a count today at church, while a slow song was being sung during the choir concert, and I and/or we have seen about 33 movies at the theater this year, and another three that were 2010 movies I and/or we have seen on DVR, premium cable, NetFlix or OnDemand pay-per-view. 

And I'm so, so behind on movie reviews... but here's one for ya.  

"Morning Glory" tells the tale of Becky Fuller, played by the getting-better-and-hotter-as-time-goes-on Rachel McAdams... she's no Amy Adams, whom I'm in love with, but she's still great.  Anyway, Becky is a ambitious news producer that, due to layoffs, is forced to take a job with a very low key, struggling network, and is hired to take over their terrible morning show.  Colleen Peck (Diane Keaton) is the longtime co-anchor, and is aghast when to complete the morning show team, Becky coerces/forces an old curmudgeon of a newsman, Mike Pomeroy, played by Harrison Ford--we'll get to him in a minute.


Obligatory picture of my Hollywood
girlfriend

Of course, nothing works out perfectly, so we watch Mike Pomeroy and Colleen Peck not get along, Becky have a meltdown over nothing working, and her love interest, played by Patrick Wilson, try to pursue a woman who is giving 110% to her career and nothing to her own life.

This movie works on two levels... first, Rachel McAdams wins in just about anything she is in.  To me, you recast "Mean Girls" with someone besides Lindsay Lohan, and it still works.  But take out Rachel McAdams' Rachel, and it loses something.  She wins in "Wedding Crashers", she shines in "The Notebook" and even makes "Red Eye" bearable, so when Rachel McAdams is in something, it automatically makes me thing that this might be a pretty good movie. 

Secondly, I don't know what happened to Harrison Ford, but he looks like he's been chewing on an onion for ten years now.  The man IS Indiana Jones and IS Han Solo, two of the most awesome icons in movie history, not to mention he was in four non-Star Wars or Indy related films, in The Dave100, that being "Air Force One" (46th), "Witness" (34th), "The Fugitive" (25th) and "American Graffiti" (15th). 

Harrison.  Smile once in a while.  Seriously. 

Anyway, back to "Morning Glory", this role is perfect for him.  Mike Pomeroy is bitter, is angry, feels like his lot in life sucks, and even though he was very successful back in the day, he fees like this new spot for him on the morning show is beneath him.  Ford trudges through the film with grunts and growls and scowls, and if you didn't know any better, he might have just as much contempt for being in this movie as his character does for being on the show in question.

"Morning Glory" is fun and simple, it doesn't try to hard, and you genuninely like and root for Becky Fuller, and can even empathize with her when she and Mike do the inevitable sit down, where they have the "don't work so hard or you will end up like me" conversation.  The movie is practically out of theaters at this point, so catch it as a rental. 

"UNSTOPPABLE"
Another movie we saw recently was "Unstoppable", starring Chris Pine (Star Trek) and Denzel Washington, and its premise is simple... they work on a train line.  They go out on what is supposed to be an easy, somewhat boring train transfer, moving a train and its cars from one town to the next in rural, blue collar Pittsburgh.

In another part of the state, two bumbling engineers accidentally let a train get away from them.  Just so happens this train is pretty huge.  Just so happens that its carrying toxic chemicals.  Just so happens that there is a train full of school kids on a field trip not too far up the track.  Just so happens that there is a dangerous part of the track up the road.  Just so happens this runaway train is, well, unstoppable.  Just so happens that... Denzel and Chris Pine are on the other train and are going to save the day.

Just so happens... I loved the heck out of this movie.  You know, sometimes you just want to be entertained, you don't want to think too much, you don't want to be taught anything or preached to or leave the theater dwelling on the film's message and so on... with "Unstoppable", none of that happens.  Its not a dumb movie, it just doesn't pretend to be anything that its not... its simply an action film with two likable leads on one train, trying to stop another train from going really, really fast.

This is one of those films that I liked watching now, and when it comes on Starz around May or so, it will be fun to leave on in the background while I'm doing other things around the house. 

"NO TREE"
If you come to The Cabana, you won't see a Christmas tree in our living room.  You won't see stockings on the mantle, you won't find lights hung around the railing out on the porch, or a giant Mickey in a Santa suit sitting in the corner. 

The reason why?  We didn't put a tree up this year.  See, I've always poked fun at those people who had their tree up in November, before Thanksgiving... in my mind, Christmas doesn't start until Thanksgiving is over, regardless of Wal-Mart having their trimmings up in September.

But, I kinda understand why people put it up before Thanksgiving.  See, our tree is huge.  Its a decent tree, its 7.5 feet, and its big.  Its one of those older trees where there are branches to install in the tree, first the bottom row, then the next, then the next, then a few more, until you get 2/3rds the way up the tree, then you stick on the top part.  The branches are supposedly color coded, but the white and the yellow look awfully alike, and the yellow has two levels and its just a nightmare. 

I've got to drag this thing out, put all the branches on, then we have to deal with gaps.  Then we have to deal with lights... though I'm thinking  that, starting next year, I'm going to toss every single strand of lights we have here out into the garbage... lights are now about $1 or $2 a box, so I can spend $10 a year to have fresh lights that I don't have to worry about.  The Lovely Steph Leann is all about colored lights, so they are even cheaper. 

Anyway, after the lights finally go up, we've got the ornaments.  I came into this marriage with about a dozen or so ornaments, whileshe came in with about 779 ornaments.  And she wants every.  single.  one of them.  on the tree. 

When Thanksgiving is over, we just get busy.  Really, really busy.  We had a weekend away that resulted in us spending a few days in Disney World, meeting up with some very dear friends while we were there.  We figured when we got back, we'd get the tree up.  When we got back, we were tired, we were lazy, we figured we'd get the tree up in a few days.

A few more days go by, and I finally ask The Lovely Steph Leann, "What if... what if we didn't put a tree up?"  She pauses, reflects for a minute, and said, "Well, I hope that this doesn't start a tradition of not putting a tree up..."  I told her that we would put it up, just maybe not this year.

Mid-December comes around, and no tree still.  The Lovely Steph Leann informs me that we aren't putting up a tree until we clean the floor.  My argument was simply, why clean the floor when we are putting a tree down, with a tree skirt over it covering the area.  Why not clean it after the tree is put away in January?  No dice, says the wife.  No floor, no tree.  I said I wasn't cleaning that part of the floor, and its a stalemate.

Then, a few days ago, The Lovely Steph Leann says, "Well, I'm in agreement... we don't have to put a tree up this year.  Just so long as we don't make this a permanent thing."  I shake my head, thinking that oh, we'll get it up at some point soon.

And here we are, the weekend before Christmas, no tree. And there won't be a tree this year at The Cabana.  Next year, I'm going to become one of those people that I made fun of... our tree is going up in mid-November, BEFORE Thanksgiving.    So when Thanksgiving rolls around, our tree is up, and we don't have to worry about it. 

And it will be a new tree.  Not the beastly monster that we have now, but something a little easier, maybe not smaller, but easier to put up.  Its gotta hold 779 ornaments, after all.

Monday, December 13, 2010

The Long, Dark Road to Geneva, Alabama

its 322 in the afternoon.  I left work around 245pm.  The Lovely Steph Leann is finishing up an important project for a beloved friend, and then we'll hop in Red Robin and cruise to Geneva, Alabama.  To the hospital, to see my dear mum.

Who is slowly fading away.

And its my chance to say goodbye.

More to come. 

Saturday, December 11, 2010

A Toontown Potty Party

So dig this vibe... I'm in Toontown, in the Magic Kingdom.  Well, more specifically, in the Toontown bathroom.  I know, I know, you don't want to hear a bathroom story, but to set up this little nugget of potty humor, I have to pull a TMI on you, coffee drinker, and tell you I'm sitting in a bathroom in Toontown.

The toilet paper holder on the stall wall holds two rolls, side by side, with metal casing on each, save for an opening about three inches wide on the bottom of each roll of which to pull said clean up materials out.  But this time, one of them is empty.  The other is a brand spankin' new roll, which normally is a good thing, because everyone likes a roll of toilet paper that no one else has used.   The problem is, when you get a new roll, you have to find the seam to pull open the first few squares. 

And I can't find that seam.  My hand is spinning this large roll of toilet paper, slowly at first, my fingers skimming the surface of the paper, trying to find how to unroll this paper.  Nothing.  It just spins over and over.  I've been in here for a few minutes, The Lovely Steph Leann is on a bench outside, our other friends with us are walking around, also waiting on us.  Time is of the essence, but I'm having a real problem here--the toilet paper is right there on the wall, I just can't get to it.

My brilliant mind snaps into action--I'll cut it open!  Of course, I don't have a box cutter with me, I like I do much of the time... usually its a habit to stick it in my back pocket, as I almost always have it at Starbucks when I'm on the floor.  That box cutter was sitting on a table in The Cabana about 431 miles away.

But!  But!  I have my keys with me, for some odd reason!  So I flick open Red Robin's key, and start hacking away at the toilet paper roll.  Using the edge of the key, I start slicing away at the toilet paper roll in that little open gap on the bottom, trying to tear away something that will lead to the unraveling of the one thing that will set me free from this otherwise comfy and pleasantly clean Toontown lavatory.

Nothing happened.  Well, nothing happened except for several small shreds of TP drifted down and littered the floor below the stall.  Now, getting desperate, I began to inspect the entire apparatus of the toilet paper holder, and spotted a little lock opening that released the front of the holder.  Using my key, I stuck the edge into the lock and wiggled it a bit using one hand, pulling on the door a bit with the other.

Suddenly, the front of the toilet paper door came unlocked, and as I let it go, it swung down with a loud metal crunch, and the large roll of bathroom tissue slid out into my hands.  I turned it over a few times, looking for the way to get it... well, "open", if you will... and had to move through the shreds I had caused with my key.

Finally, I waded through the shreds of paper that continued to fall around my feet, the paper gave way.  I pulled out a length that satisfied my own needs, and replaced the large roll back on the spindle.  I slammed the TP holder door shut, and heard the lock click. 

"You okay?" The Lovely Steph Leann asks me as I stroll to her bench.
"Oh, I'm good," I smile. "Now."  I relay my adventure that kept me away so long.  She rolled her eyes. 

Ah, marriage.

Thursday, December 09, 2010

Katie vs. The Scruffy Nerfherders.

Here's a story I picked from CNN.com, and thought it was fantastic.  Written by Jamie Gumbrecht, and reposted completely without permission.  The original post can be found by clicking here.

Katie Goldman's universe extends from her home to her first-grade classroom. She is a big sister to Annie Rose and Cleo, a piano player, a Spanish student, a wearer of glasses. She loathes the patch she has to wear for one lazy eye. She loves magic and princesses and "Star Wars," an obsession she picked up from her dad.


The 7-year-old carried a "Star Wars" water bottle to school in Evanston, Illinois, every day, at least until a few weeks ago, when Katie suddenly asked to take an old pink one instead. The request surprised Katie's mom, Carrie Goldman. It didn't make any sense. Why would her little sci-fi fan make such a quick turn?

Little Katie


Goldman kept pressing for an answer. She wasn't expecting Katie's tears.

Kids at school insisted that "Star Wars" was only for boys, her daughter wailed. She was different enough already -- the only one who was adopted, who's Jewish, who wears glasses, who needs a patch. If sacrificing Yoda for the color pink would make her fit in again, so be it.

Goldman's heart sank.

These weren't nameless, faceless bullies who taunted her daughter. They were good kids Katie ran around with on the playground. They were getting older, though, and starting to see what made people the same -- and different.

Now, it was about "Star Wars," but Goldman wondered what lunchroom teasing would progress to in middle school, high school or college.

"Is this how it starts?" Goldman wrote in her blog, Portrait of an Adoption. "Do kids find someone who does something differently and start to beat it out of her, first with words and sneers? Must my daughter conform to be accepted?"

'I need your help'

A few days later, in Orlando, Jen Yates clicked on a link that led to Goldman's blog. Yates couldn't shake Katie's image when it flashed across the screen -- a little girl with long blonde hair, no front teeth, square-rimmed glasses.

"When you hear about bullying, it's like an abstract concept," Yates said. "When you put a face on it, an adorable little girl's face, with glasses, it brings it home."

Yates remembered the isolation of being the weird kid at her high school. She was the teen who hit "Star Trek" conventions on weekends and got snide comments about it the rest of the week. She was the lone geek girl among her friends, mostly geeky boys.


Bullying tragedies dominated headlines this year after a spate of suicides. Studies revealed how deeply the bullies at school, home or online can traumatize kids. The federal government laid out new anti-bullying guidelines for educators trying to combat the issue.

It's tough to lay out anti-bullying rules for kids so young, but tougher still to know how to protect the bully's perennial target: geeks, nerds and anybody whose interests stray from the norm. Whole genres of pop culture are devoted to ridiculing them and Yates knew that Katie's story was how it starts.

Katie isn't alone. Girl geeks are a growing force.

"We've all had those kinds of experiences, if you call yourself a geek," Yates said. "It was about Katie, but it was about every girl out there, every geek out there. It transcended gender, it transcended age.

"I know a Katie. I was Katie."

So Yates did what any geek would -- she went back to her computer.

"My fellow geeks," she wrote on her blog, Epbot.com, "I need your help."

'You are not alone'

Later that day, in yet another time zone, Catherine Taber clicked Yates' post about a little girl and her "Star Wars" water bottle -- Katie.

Taber grew up on science fiction and fantasy, from Stephen King to "Star Wars," but she wasn't bullied. She was an Army brat, always the new kid at school. With each new place, her parents reminded her to be whatever she wanted, and be proud to share it with the world.

"I immediately had to say something," Taber said. "The whole theme of the 'Star Wars' universe is an anti-bullying theme. It's good versus evil, standing side by side with your friends, doing what's right. One of the most important things to stopping bullies in their tracks is to empower kids to stand up for themselves."


Taber found Katie's mom's blog, sent it to everyone she knew, and left a comment she hoped would help.

"I am [the] actress who has the great honor of being Padme Amidala on 'Star Wars: the Clone Wars!' I just wanted to tell Katie that she is in VERY good company being a female Star Wars fans," Taber wrote. "I know that Padme would tell you to be proud of who YOU are and know that you are not ALONE!

"THE FORCE is with you Katie!"

'Part of a very tight community'
Back in Evanston, Carrie Goldman was feeling good. Since she had written about the water bottle incident, other parents at Katie's school had talked to their kids. School leaders were supportive, and working on an anti-bullying program.

Something else was happening, too: Traffic on Goldman's blog was exploding.

Some 1,200 people had left messages there for Katie. Readers were coming from Yates' blog, where more than 3,000 more comments stacked up. There were links from "Star Wars" message boards, parenting blogs, tech sites. A Twitter hashtag, #maytheforcebewithkatie, streaked across social media.

Guys and gals of all ages wrote about how they'd been bullied, and how life had gotten so much better since then. They shared that they loved "Star Wars," that they wore glasses, that they were adopted -- just like Luke, just like Leia, just like Katie.

How awesome would it be to have a real
Star Wars artist turn you into a Jedi?
ThinkGeek, a nerdy online retailer, sent Katie a lightsaber. Artist Scott Zirkel sent a cartoon of Katie as a Jedi, glasses and all. A first-grade class in California sent letters to Katie as a show of support.

Taber and the rest of the cast of "Star Wars: The Clone Wars," sent "Star Wars" merch. Ashley Eckstein, who voices the female Jedi Ahsoka Tano, sent Her Universe clothes tailored for girls. Tom Kane, who voices Yoda, escorted the Goldmans to a screening near their home.

The thousands of comments left online will be bound into a book for Katie to read whenever she needs it. To keep a sense of normality at home, the family reads just a few every night.


Katie, and her parents, have learned that the universe is so much bigger than the first grade.

"You realize how, if you want someone who has something in common, all you have to do is reach out," Goldman said. "It feels really, really good. What we want is for it to feel good for other people."

Katie is donating many of the books and toys to other kids.

A fan created a Facebook event suggesting that people wear "Star Wars" gear on December 10 to support Katie. The Goldmans also asked participants to donate Star Wars toys to charities for the holidays. About 20,000 people have signed up.

"What strikes me is how these individuals who were once so isolated are now part of a very tight community," Goldman wrote on her blog this month. "They have found each other; they are plugged into each other, and they have each other's backs. Now they have Katie's back, too."

Katie isn't doing any more interviews. There are scales to practice, Spanish words to memorize, baby sisters to play with. She still has to wear the dreaded eye patch, and eat lunch with the kids in her class. She is very busy being 7.

But on December 10, her school will host Proud To Be Me Day. Kids will be encouraged to wear something that shows what they're interested in, whether it's princesses, sports, animals and anime.

Katie will have the force of thousands behind her, and a "Star Wars" water bottle.

For what its worth, rock on Katie, rock on

Thursday, December 02, 2010

Sex, Love, God & Gifts

I was skimming through my blogroll as I do many times when I check out my page to make sure things are running correctly, and I came across the latest post for a blog called "Happy Harper Stories".  Its written by Jamie, who is a chick who goes to my church, Valleydale Church (an sbc fellowship, natch) and who I... well, let's be honest, we barely know each other.  Ask Jamie, and I'm sure she's tell you the same thing.  That, however, doesn't mean I don't enjoy her writings.

Now, sometimes she discusses things that don't really curry my interest, some kid stories, some mommy stories, things I can't relate to (yet--give it another 10 months or a year, and I'll be lapping those stories up with a "yep!" and a "that's me!" and a "wow, there now!" attitude) but many times her writing is comforting, fun and always with a twinge, if not a full on display, of the power and love of Jesus Christ.

So, being a stupid boy, naturally when I saw her latest post was entitled "Biblical Submission and Worship in the Bedroom", I had to click over. 

Here is the first paragraph of her post...

Submit to one another out of reverence for Christ. Ephesians 5:21... I have these really great Christian women friends who I get to see once every 3 or 4 months. They are godly women who sharpen me in my spiritual walk. Every time I see them, they make me want to go home and have sex with my husband, so I am sure he loves them. Sound odd? Let me explain.

Her post is about being a Christ Follower and...

(looking around)

(looking around still)

(no one is listening)

...being a Christ Follower and having sex...

SHHH!!!!  Don't say that out loud!  Did you hear me?  No?  Okay, I said... being a Christ Follower and having sex.  I know, scandalous!  Don't you know that Song of Solomon doesn't really exist in the Bible according to some congregations!?

Actually... it does exist.  I would invite you to read the rest of her post, which you can go to here (but please, do come back, I'm not done with you yet), which discusses the joy of such marital fruit that He has given to us.

And it made think about something I wrote on October 31st, 2001 (I was married in 2004, so this predates that)... before you read, understand something--this is not a judgemental piece.  I mean to point no fingers, nor lay guilt on anyone, myself included, for toes that might be stepped on... its just a little slice of God's love and His purpose. 

Anyway, out of the vault of Dave's Encouragement...

"Sex, Love, God and Gifts"

In our Life Connection--Sunday school as it was called for 25 of my 26 years--class at Valleydale Baptist, we've been studying Song of Solomon. The first several weeks this summer were all about dating and courtship, something I will never master, to be honest with you. We took a break in August and September, and started back a few weeks ago in the midst of Solomon and his wife's marriage. We've looked at keeping marriage fresh, the "art" of dealing with conflicts and lately, the "art" of romance--or dating your wife. Okay, we've talked about sex.


Its so strange that we've grown up in a world that has taught us that sex is such an easy thing to do and a casual thing to take part in. Why? Because it’s treated so lightly... Ross and Rachel on Friends had "casual sex" months ago, and now they are having a baby... and though I think the show is hilarious--btw, I'm dealing with that--the whole situation is being treated as a punch line. Instead of seeing this as a degradation of God's gift, we laugh, because the world tells us, "Hey, if you are going to do it, then you might mess up a little."

Somehow, we keep forgetting that God says, "Hey, if your gonna do it, be married."

God created sex. It’s not something that Cinemax created for their late night episodes of Passion Cove, or something Hollywood came up with so they could make Showgirls. God made it. God made it for love. God made a him and a her, and instilled in said him and her a passion and love for each other so deep that they would consummate--sex--and make him and her a "them". Make sense?

Of course, we know sex shouldn't be a byproduct of a date or a night of wanderlust, but a result of marriage and love. Which is the plot line of the latter chapters of Song of Solomon. The entire book is merely a dozen pages or so long, but it far outweighs the world's idea that love is dead, that love is weak, that love is something we generate. We are weak. We are spiritually dead until we meet the source of Love... God. God is Love.

If we say that I am part Hispanic, then it stands to reason that I look it. If we say that Jennifer Pritchett is petite, then by common sense, she should look the part. So, if we say that God is Love, God would look as such... do you follow me?

So what does Love... or God... look like?

As we read Song of Solomon on Sunday, something came to my mind that I read from Rich Mullins. Every word of the Bible is God-breathed, which means He loved us enough to include the poem of Solomon and the details of what God intends in a relationship. But does God just give us the gift of sex in a marriage and then sit back, turning his eyes when we enjoy it?   Laura DeGarmo can sing her head off, so when she lifts praises in song, I picture God smiling. Rebecca Glassco glorifies God on stage, Drew Morris with a guitar, Meredith Quintana with her writings... when Becca acts, Drew plays or Merdi writes, I picture God smiling. What about when two godly people are consummating a marriage? Does God smile? Feeling a little edgy reading this? Ha!

Could it be that God "feels"? Maybe God is capable of the same sort of passion. Could God be excited or must He be that reverent picture of a large bearded man on a huge throne? Are we comfortable with the image of God as Father and nervous about God as a Lover?  Personally, I think of God as a Parent, which is less personality and more role playing than anything. Are we happy to have God as our Creator, but get a little weirded out as being Creative? God is a great Engineer, but what about an Artist? Being Sovereign comforts us, but I think sometimes being a Poet makes us tense. Do we enjoy the glow of God's light but hide ourselves from the heat of His flames?

Does the idea that Jesus tolerated the sinful woman's anointing of His feet, but enjoyed John resting his head on Jesus' chest make us squirm? Rich Mullins laughingly said "How is it we can accept that Moses saw a bush on fire and was not consumed, but we doubt that God can love in a rage and never cool?"

For those of you out of the Song of Solomon class, read the book when you can. For those of you in the class, pay more attention to the love that God has provided Solomon and his lover to share with each other. Either way, try to take a look at God as a Lover of our souls, not just a provider of our needs.

Enjoying the Lover of My Soul...

Tuesday, November 30, 2010

Harry Potter & the Deathly Hallows Part I

So, after the embarrassment and incomprehensible folly that was "Harry Potter & the Half-Blood Prince", a movie that on its own was a very fine film, but in comparison to the book, was a travesty of magical justice the likes of which should land you in an Azkiban type institution for screenwriting failures, I was apprehensive when the first part of the final movie of the Harry Potter saga was being released to the theaters.

Melanie Z and I had planned for months to join our families and see this movie all together, so when the weekend approached , I conferred with my own boss (aka The Lovely Steph Leann) and she conferred with her subordinate (aka her husband) and her servant team (aka the Z Children) and we agreed to skip the opening night and go to the Rave Motion Picture Theater on Saturday night, November 20th, for the 5pm show.  And at 415, I joined the Z Family in their seats, with The Lovely Steph Leann joining us a bit later.

And the movie began.  I could wax poetic about what they missed and what they screwed up, and believe me, the last movie deserved every criticism.  But "Deathly Hallows" was different.



First and foremost, it holds a huge, huge advantage over any of the previous six films, and that is simply that this movie covers only half the book.  The reason "Goblet of Fire" and "Order of the Phoenix" cut out almost half of their respective books is simply a time factor... you would have a six hour movie to cover everything ("Goblet of Fire" skipped the S.P.E.W. subplot, and was one of the few things I enjoyed about the movie versions over the books).

Essentially, the film version, at least Part I, of "The Deathly Hallows", is a little like a table of contents.  You see a live action snippet of each scene that is fully fleshed out in the book itself,  something is allowable because the 140 minutes of the movie covers only about 300 pages, not 500 pages.  

The Following Review is Spoiler Free, Assuming You Haven't Read the Book:
So, the movie starts out by showing each of the main three, Ron, Hermione and Harry, in their separate summer dwellings.  Each know what is coming, and each know the mission they are on, that being to find the "horcruxes" spelled out by Dumbledore in "Half-Blood Prince". 

Harry, of course, is staying at his aunt and uncle's house until his 17th birthday, when a wizard "comes of age", which leads to one heck of a daring escape involving Hermione, Ron, the Weasley Twins, Mr. Weasley and a host of others, including new characters unseen in the films, Bill Weasley and Mundungus Fletcher, and 7, count 'em, 7 Harry Potters. 

You know he escapes, otherwise the movie would be a little shorter than the 2 and a half hour running time, and from the escape starts the journey made by Ron, Hermione and Harry, to fulfill Dumbledore's mission.  There are great fight scenes, a few tense moments, a few emotional moments and one whacked out shot of Ron's imagination coming to life, featuring Harry and Hermione in a crazy make out session, sort of covered in grayish silvery body paint and... well, I'm not positive they have shirts on.

There are a few slower moments as well, integral to the plot, but a good chance to go to the restroom.  More familiar characters pop in and out, including Neville Longbottom, Draco Malfoy and my favorite character in the movies, Luna Lovegood. 

Prepare for a brutal ending to this first chapter, as its no secret that the penultimate film of the Harry Potter series sees much tragedy.  And when it stops, it stops--you can almost feel it coming as the scene builds.  And the screen goes black and that's it. 

Very light language, some violence, though its all due to wizards fighting with wands, and there are some tense moments. 

Bottom line?  The best of the seven movies by far.

SPOILER ALERT

I'm now going to dive into the Harry Potter seventh film, and I'm going to discuss things that you may not know if you haven't read the books. 

SPOILER ALERT

I'm going to discuss deaths, some of the differences in the movie and the book, and further discuss my thoughts on the movie.

SPOILER ALERT

If you don't want to know this stuff, just stop reading now.  Scroll up, or click on something else.  How about a good Christmas story? 

You ready for the spoiler stuff?  Here goes.

Overall, this movie was extremely well done, and done probably as best as could be done.   The book opens up with Snape meeting up with all the bad guys, including Voldemort, and continues onto the escape from the Dursleys home.

Uncle Vernon and Aunt Petunia are just tossing their stuff in the vehicle, and Vernon says, "We have to leave because its not safe for people like us!"  It skims over one of my favorite parts in the entire series--the Order of the Phoenix sends over a few people to help escort the Dursleys out of the house, and Dudley looks around confused, trying to understand why Harry isn't coming with them.  Its funny, yet at the same time, sentimental.

The Order of the Phoenix arrives, and it was really nice to put an acting face to Bill Weasley.  The Seven Potter scene is particularly funny as Fleur, now having turned into Harry via Polyjuice Potion, is still wearing her bra and skirt.

And in all the movies, we have yet to see a full scale wizarding battle... the ministry scene in "Order of the Phoenix" comes close, but only for a brief minute or two.  The battle amongst the Order and the Death Eaters in the skies of London, however, whets the appetite for what's to come.

We know in the sixth film, they neglected to show the battle of Hogwarts, with producers saying that they wanted the full scale battle to be featured in the final installment of the films... which means we have to wait. 

Bill Nighy makes an excellent Rufus Scrimgeour, the new Minister of Magic, and the guy who takes Scrimgeour's place, Pius Thicknesse, is played by an actor who looks nothing like I thought the character would look like--but it still fits perfectly.  Of course, the wedding of Bill and Fleur takes place as it does in the book, only Harry goes as himself in the movie rather than a Weasley cousin, and our three heroes make their escape when the Death Eaters crash the party.  Viktor Krum is nowhere to be seen.

The movie then follows the book fairly closely... like I mentioned, each scene is but a fraction of length and depth that's shown in the book, but again, the book has the power of being written page by page, not acted out minute by minute. 

There are few subtle changes, but nothing worth getting in a fuss over, and Ron's exit from Harry and Hermione is just... well, I don't want to say "heartbreaking", but it does tear at you.  Harry and Hermione go on to Godric's Hollow, and meet up with what ends up being Nagini the snake, and end up back in the woods again, Harry with a broken wand.  And in the midst of their isolation, Harry turns on the radio and has a great swing dance with Hermione... and for a split second, they look at each other, as if there are sparks there, then Hermione walks away.  Its a little odd, definitely not in the book...as a matter of fact, in the sixth film, Dumbledore asks Harry if there is something up with that Granger girl, and Harry defiantly says "no way".  Seems as if this movie wants to reaffirm that point.

Ron reappears, saves the day, saves Harry from drowning and helps to destroy the locket Horcrux--which, in the book, literally fights back, talking to Ron Weasley and goading his paranoia about being second to Harry in everything, and how Hermione truly doesn't like him.  And in the movie, it does a brilliant job of bringing this to life--the locket opens, and this huge cloud erupts, talking loudly to Ron about how he will never equal Harry, and how Hermione could never love him--and then, out of the locket, pops this image of Harry and Hermione making out.  And they look... well, the image only shows from the waist up, but they look naked, covered in silver body paint.  Kinda weird.

The three take a visit to the Lovegood household, with Rhys Ifans playing Xenophelius, Luna's father, and The Tale of the Three Brothers is told in simple, yet effective and fantastic animation.  Then we get to the Malfoy Manor, where they meet up with Luna, Mr. Ollivander and Griphook the Goblin.  Now, remember, in the book, Luna (and Dean Thomas, who is absent from this movie altogether) greets Ron and Harry when they are tossed into the dungeon, but Ollivander and Griphook are on death's door. 

Wormtail appears, but doesn't die in the movie, or at least doesn't seem too--in the book, he's bound by a spell to kill himself after the events in "Prisoner of Azkiban"--and Dobby comes out of nowhere to save all the good guys... taking a knife in the chest in the process, thrown by Bellatrix Lestrange, played so brilliantly by Helena Bonham Carter. 

So, two things bother me about this scene... nothing too big, but its worth mentioning.  First, in the book, Griphook and Ollivander can barely move.  They are so weak and beaten down, when Griphook is taken upstairs, he's literally dragged.  Harry has to convince Griphook to tell the bad guys that the sword in question is a fake... which he does.  In the movie, Griphook and Ollivander are wandering around the dungeon, healthy and spry.  When Griphook is retrieved, Harry says nary a word about the sword, but somehow, Griphook knows what to say.

Secondly, Dobby's burial.  In the book, Harry holds Dobby while Dobby succumbs to the knife injury.  And he wants to bury him, without use of magic, just with shovels.  He even has his response ready when someone asks him why he's not using magic, but no one asks.  Instead, Harry, blistered, hot and sweaty from digging the hard ground, is joined by Bill, Ron and Dean who, wielding shovels of their own, help Harry dig.  There's someone tender and meaningful in this passage, and its glazed over by the movie, with Harry and Ron being the only ones doing anything with Dobby.  Bill and Fleur don't even show up.

Anyway, I really enjoyed the film, and have intentions on seeing it again.  I said before my favorite movie character is Luna, but my favorite book character is Ginny Weasley... but I'm not sure I dig Bonnie Wright.  I also think Fenrir Greybeck is fantastic in the book, but in the movie he's so marginalized and relegated to a second tier character.

Go see the movie, irregardless of whether you've read the book. 

Monday, November 22, 2010

Red Robin (and other thoughts)

Four Random Thoughts

1. Melanie Names a Car
After purchasing the KIA Soul on Friday night, I was able to drive it off the lot... I love love love driving this car, no stinkin' joke.  Its such a great ride.  The issue was that Toni Rocki Honda was still sitting the garage of The Cabana. 

Red Robin's front end
The Lovely Steph Leann had a Creative Memories Open House on Saturday--by the way, have you seen the books that The Lovely Steph Leann does?  You give her pictures and an idea of what you want, she creates this incredible yearbook type book with your pics and your notes and memories.  Her email is StephDollarCM@gmail.com, so make sure you let her know you need her services....

...So, she was out of pocket.  I call upon someone who is always willing to help, that would be Melanie Z.  She agrees to drive with me out to Center Point to drop off Toni Rocki Honda, and get a few of my questions answered, that being "Where is the hood propper upper?", "Can I get some washer fluid?" and "The owners manual shows you need a special KIA adapter for the iPod auxiliary jack, so I need to get one of those."

Melanie Z and her oldest, Jay Z, arrive, and they both love the KIA Soul.  I give Melanie Z the directions to Serra KIA "Up 280, down 459, back on 59, right on Roebuck Parkway which becomes Center Point Parkway..." then I ask her, "Do you want to drive the Honda?"  The fact that she stared at me with a "Are you freakin' kidding me?" look and then proceeded to get into the vehicle itself told me that she was, in fact, driving the KIA Soul.  Then I called out, "Hey Jay Z, you wanna ride with me?" which was also answered by the fact he jumped into the passenger seat of the Soul.  Melanie Z laughed and said, "Uh... what do you think he wants to do?"

Red Robin's back end
We drive out to Center Point, and I get my questions answered, that being "the propper upper is on the underside of the hood, not the engine", "parts department is closed" and "no problem, we will get it ordered for you".  I gave over the key to Toni Rocki Honda to an older guy named David, and that was that.  I nodded my goodbye to Toni Rocki, and walked back to the KIA Soul, with Melanie Z still sitting in the driver's seat.

"Alright, time to go," says me.
"Okay, hop in," Melanie Z replies.
"Um..." I start, waiting for her to get out of the drivers seat. "You like the car?  Like driving the car?"
"Yeah, I love it!" she laughs.  "So, get in."
"I'm driving, Melanie," I say.
"Fine," she grunts.  As Jay Z starts to say, "Mom!  I'm riding in front!" Melanie Z cuts him off... "Get in the backseat!"
"Mooooom!!!!' he stammers, as he gets out and climbs in the back.

By the way, the KIA Soul didn't have a name yet... The Honda was, as I've oft mentioned, Toni Rocki Honda, named for a combination of Toni Braxton and Pulp Fiction, and the Mercury Sable before it was my 1999 Pezochit, named because it was... well, you get it.

I share this with Melanie Z on the way back, and how I had mentioned to The Lovely Steph Leann that I thought of "The Hamster", for the commericals... though I wasn't sold on calling my car "Hamster" for the next four or five years.  She pops up with, "What about... Red Robin?  You know, like the burger place.  Reeeeeed Robin!" 

And as soon as she says it, it clicks.  Red Robin it is.

2.  d$ Gets a Seatbelt
I guess I should share one last Toni Rocki Honda story.

On the way back from Starbucks last week, after working a 12 hour day and doing Christmas set up, which is always a major undertaking, I just wanted to get home.  I had my iPod, hooked onto my belt, and was just finishing Harry Potter & the Half-Blood Prince (I zipped through Order of the Phoenix, Half-Blood Prince and Deathly Hallows in the weeks leading up to the movie) and while driving, I was a bit irritated by the way the seatbelt buckle was sitting on the iPod on my waist.

First... I don't always wear my seatbelt.  Well, I didn't always wear it, now I do, but that's later.  I know, I know, you can give me a hundred stories of people who didn't want to wear their seatbelts and are now dead, paralyzed or have killer hangnails because of it.  I get it, its safety, its secure, its nothing you can tell me that The Lovely Steph Leann doesn't tell me a thousand times.  Cause she loves me, that one does.

So, I get it, don't innundate me reasons why I should always wear my seatbelt.

Anyway, that night, I WAS wearing it.  I pulled up to the red light, in the double turn lane from Hwy 280 to turn onto Valleydale Road.  I unbuckled my seatbelt, tossed off my shoulder strap, and then took the iPod off my belt, and placed it in the console.  I didn't see the police cruiser pull up beside me.

The light turned green, so I moved forward, and didn't buckle the belt.  I chose to wait until I was out of the turn of the major intersection, and when I was moving forward, straight onto Valleydale Road, I buckled my belt again... and thats when I saw the blue lights behind me. 

I quickly glanced down at my speedometer, and I was going about 35 in the 45, because I was still accelerating.  I thought quickly to things that had derailed me before, including my tag (it was fine), my license (I had it renewed three months ago) and any outstanding tickets (none, thankfully). 

There was a car ahead of me who I saw had immediately applied the brake lights.  The car turned onto  Inverness Center Drive, which is the road you travel down about a half mile to get to my subdivision, and I follwed.  The police pulled behind me, and as I pulled over, the cop did as well.  The car ahead of me floored it, and zoomed away.  I would have done the same.

I grabbed my license out of my pocket, and placed it on the dash.  The bright spotlight behind me kept me from seeing the officer approaching my car.  He shone his flashlight in my car, in my face, and asked for my license.  I reached up on the dash and handed it to him.

"Mr. d$, I don't know if you just put that belt on or what, but when I pulled up beside you, you didn't have it on."
"Yes sir," I sighed.  I opened my mouth to tell him that I had it on, and I had taken it off for a second, just long enough for him to pull up and see me with out it on, but I figured that's just like a speeder saying that he'd done the speed limit except for those 100 yards when he was doing 70. 
"Don't know if you were aware of it, but there was a major accident in Chelsea this weekend where three people were killed... two of them wasn't wearing their seatbelts, Mr d$."
"I didn't know that sir," I sighed.  Again, I opened my mouth to say something smart like, "Well was the third person wearing their seatbelt", but quickly closed it again.
"Can I see your insurance information?"
"Yes sir, its in my console here," I said, turning around and opening up the middle compartment, pulling out the little piece of paper and handing it to the officer.

He walked away and I just sat there waiting, in silence.  The officer came back, handing me a ticket, telling me that I had until December 15th to pay it... in Columbiana.  Its already been documented that I'm not a fan of The Glorious Road to Colombiana, so I had a feeling I would be sending this in, either by mail or online.  I asked him how much the ticket is, and he said, "Well, I know it was $10, but I think they recently raised it to $31". 

Of course they did.

So I got my ticket and drove about 200 feet to my subdivision's entrance. 

By the way, I totally wear my seatbelt now, in Red Robin, if for no other reason than that ding ding ding ding noise is really annoying when you start the car and don't buckle in.

3. The Laptop Gets a Cold
My laptop is down.  I'm using The Lovely Steph Leann's own laptop, and am cool with it for now, except I can't update my iPod, which is maddening. 

I've gone through three audiobooks--Harry Potter 5, 6 and 7--and have doubled back and am now listening to Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkibahn.  Its a little strange, though, because I just got done hearing about the heroics of Sirius Black and how Harry dominates the Dementors, and in this book, Sirius is the villian and Harry cowers in front of the Azkibahn guards.

I hope my laptop gets better.  I really want to hear my podcasts.

4.  Starz Gets Some Color
Here's what I love about the channel Starz in Black... if you make a film that has like, one black dude in the background, your film is eligible for appearing on Starz in Black.  Right now, the Bruce Willis movie "Surrogates" is on.  There aren't a whole lot of black people in this film.  Coming up later tonight, a movie called "Beyond a Reasonable Doubt", starring Jesse Metcalfe, Amber Tamblyn and Michael Douglas, three very white people.  Seems like Orlando Jones is representin'...

Of course, also coming up later, is a movie called "Life is Hot in Cracktown", and judging from the cast list, they are overcompensating.

Sunday, November 21, 2010

Just Don't Tell Dave Ramsey

Toni Rocki Honda is showing her age. I guess its expected, as she's fifteen years old now--I've only had over a little over 2 years, and she's only got 123K on her, but at fifteen, part after part is needing to be replaced, little by little, she's costing us a fortune.

My air conditioner went out on me in late August, as I was driving home to Samson for the day. It was working fine until I got to somewhere past Clanton. I stopped at a Hardee's, and after getting my food and getting back in, I heard a small pop of some sort when I started the car. And suddenly, Toni Rocki Honda was just blowing... air. Not cold air. Not cool air. Just air.

Its going to cost close to a grand to get everything fixed in the air, the compressor, the hoses and belts, whatever else. So The Lovely Steph Leann and I have gone back and forth--do we get it fixed, and then hope nothing else breaks, or do we make a plunge and go ahead and get something else... I've never had a new car. Matter of fact, every car I've owned has been nothing but a mechanic's dream--lots of maintenance. I feel like I've had not just a lemon, but a grove.  A new car?  Wow, that would be amazing.

Anyway, the Mizzus was in Pensacola Thursday night, for work, her time of the month. For the trip, I mean. So I headed on my own to do some reconnaissance work at two places we had discussed... the local Kia dealership and the local Hyundai. I know, I know, there are some people out there now that who hear the word "KIA" and "HYUNDAI" and shiver, and automatically think I'm in the welfare line... they give me the guv'mint Land O'Lakes, the guv'mint Kraft slices and the guv'mint Honda... and ten years ago, absolutely.

I remember some retreat I was involved in around 99 or 2000, and the speaker told a joke that a KIA Sportage is a combo of "Sports" and "Garbage".... but I did some looking on the interweb and it seems that both cars are much more reliable now. Plus, I know people who have newer models of both, and they love them.

So I stopped at Riverchase KIA over on Highway 31, and walked around. After a few minutes, a pleasant guy named Ken came out, shook my hand, and we chatted for a while. He wasn't pushy, he wasn't invasive, he built up KIA while not trashing other brands, telling me that Hondas and Hyundais are good cars, but (of course) he thinks the KIAs are better deals. And one I really liked was the KIA Soul... its a far less gay version of the Mini-Cooper. It might be a little out of my price range, but still...

The 2011 Elantra Touring
I left Ken and KIA and drove over to Tameron Hyundai. Tameron is the dealership that sold The Lovely Steph Leann the Honda she drives, and though I've never had a problem with Tameron, and they have always been nice enough, I don't know that Tameron Honda is where I want to go--likewise, Tameron Hyundai isn't where I'll probably buy a car, but I did want to look at some models, like the Elantra, the Accent and the Santa Fe SUV. I was all about the Hyundai Elantra Touring, a station wagon, but much, much cooler looking. Again, probably out of my price range, but we shall see...

The point of this little anecdote, though, was that at KIA, the guy came out after about ten minutes, which was fine with me. At Tameron Hyundai, I was there over 30 minutes, and not one single person came out to talk to me. Its not that I wanted a bunch of pushy salesman around, but seriously, nobody?  Really? 

So Friday rolls around, and The Lovely Steph Leann and I make plans to head out to just east of Birmingham, to the Roebuck/Center Point area--not the safest place to travel once night falls, but it was early in the evening, just after five pm. 

Serra is a name attached to four or five dealerships along a stretch of Centerpoint Parkway, right next to each other--Serra Chevrolet, Serra Hyundai, Serra Kia, Serra everything else--and our plan was to go by Serra Hyundai.  We have both been hearing on the radio "NEW HYUNDAIS FOR $8,000!  WE HAVE TO MAKE ROOM FOR THE 2011s!  GET A NEW HYUNDAI ACCENT FOR $7000!  A NEW ELANTRA FOR $8000!" so we wanted to check it out... now, we are both realists, and we know that it cannot be quite simply "New Car for $8000", but it never hurts to investigate. 

Worst case scenario, we come home with no new car, just the paid for cars we already own.  Best cast scenario, we plop down $8 grand and I drive home with a brand new Hyunda Elantra.  Its possible, even probable, that they were base models, so I told The Lovely Steph Leann we'd have to spend a little more on a radio... what is important to me is an iPod auxiliary jack.  I want to be able to plug in my iPod or my iPhone and listen to it, be it a Harry Potter audiobook or Sara Bareilles' new CD, through the car speakers.  Yes, I could toss in the CD into the CD player, provided it has one, but that's not the point.

Let's keep in mind, I haven't eaten yet.  When I say that, I tell you that I've been at Starbucks at work from about 415am to about 130ish, and on my lunch break, I had to do two things--get tickets for Harry Potter (going the following night), get Melanie something (I told her I would grab her lunch) and get myself something.  I had 30 minutes.  I zipped down to Chick-fila to grab lunch, but realized I didn't have time to eat.  When I eat Chick-fila, I have to doctor up my own sandwich, which takes about five minutes, which I had no time to spare, so I grabbed Melanie's food and then zipped down to the Rave to get tickets, which I did.  And after I got off work, I had some errands to run and some other stuff to get done (Translation: I don't remember exactly what I did--it was two days ago) and when The Lovely Steph Leann got home, we jumped in the vehicle, her vehicle, and headed to Center Point.  She had a late lunch, so she's not hungry.  I'm getting kinda hungry.

Up 280, down I-450, onto I-59, then off to Roebuck Parkway, which turns into Center Point Parkway.  The median length forces us to drive past Serra Hyundai, Serra Chevy and Serra KIA, but as I turn around the median, I told The Lovely Steph Leann I wanted to pull into KIA.  She asked why, and I told her I wanted to look around.  I mentioned that we could walk down to the Hyundai dealership, which is still our original destination.  We stop, park, and start looking around.  The Forte, the Optima, the Sorrento, the Rio and... The KIA Soul.  A cherry red KIA Soul sitting on the end of the row.  There was a white one there too, but it was white.  And not red. 

Its the commercials with the hamsters.  Honestly, I remember the hamsters, but didn't connect it was a KIA commercial--or a car commercial, for that matter--until the sales guy mentioned in.  Just sayin'.

A salesman comes out, introduces himself as Gene, and begins to tell us whats on sale.  We do some looking around, ask some questions, answer some questions, and then the big question gets asked... whats our price range?  Ah, that is the query, isn't it.

We look at a KIA Rio, which is a small, tiny four door car that I kinda like, and will do if need be.  We take it for a test drive, it drives nice, but there are a few things I'm not excited about.  The arm rest for instance--there is no middle console armrest, one that has a lid that you can put stuff in.  There is an iPod auxiliary jack, but that's all the radio has to offer.  The car is tiny.  Of course, when we make it down to Serra Hyundai, the Accent and possibly the Elantra will be not much bigger, so I guess if I don't like the KIA Rio... well...

I will say the Rio drives fine.  Its a good little car, it picked up quickly, it was comfy and I'm okay with small cars, because good gas mileage is important to me.  With Toni Rocki Honda, I fill up once about every three weeks, though it helps that I live 3 miles from the store and also that we usually take The Lovely Steph Leann's Honda because its a more comfy ride. 

We pulled back in and Gene asked us to run some numbers.  He did the whole "Now, you don't have to commit to anything, I just want to see what I can do for you."  The Serra salesman sell cars across all three dealerships, so he filled us in on the Hyundai $8000 deal... you have to buy two.  And that was in the fine print, of course.   Yeah, he could have been feeding us some Bantha Poodoo, but makes sense.

Finally, I ask to test drive the KIA Soul.  He goes and gets the keys, and we pull out of the lot, a car with 31 miles on it.  Its... its just cool.  Its just fun.  Its bright red, a color that I usually associate with 21 year old guys in Mustangs or convertibles to pick up chicks, and higher insurance rates, so I ask about other colors, and am assured that if I want this car, they'll get me whatever color I want.  Of course they will, its a car dealership.

I've already done some research on the KIA Soul, and have liked what I'd seen... its quite safe, it holds appreciation well, its sporty, its not too expensive, its roomier than most cars of its kind and so on.  And in driving it... its fun.  I like this car.  And this is not good, because this thing is brand new!   This thing is costly!  There's no way we're going to be driving away with a KIA Soul.  The Lovely Steph Leann won't allow such a mockery of Dave Ramsey Justice!  Right?  Right?

I noticed something as we walked around a little afterwards... the KIA Rio is about $1200 more than the KIA Soul.  So... if we wanted to get the Rio, which The Lovely Steph Leann liked, then... wouldn't the Soul make more sense?  Its bigger... and cheaper?

Smashcut to a half hour later... we are sitting in Gene's little cubicle and he's in front of us, hands clasped, elbows on table, telling us that he wants us to drive off the lot in a new car.  Of course he does.  This is a car dealership.

The Lovely Steph Leann and I listen to his pitch, and both simply tell him, "No".  It was too much.  Too much down, too much in car payments, car payments that we were trying to avoid all together.  He had written down the details on a piece of paper, and they only would pay $500 for Toni Rocki Honda, which was a travesty in my own mind.  Sure, she needs a $1000 repair in air conditioning, but I am pretty sure I could get a grand for her on Craigslist or even the paper, but $500?

And I watch the car salesmen tricks unfold... "Okay, what if I do this?  What if [crossing out the number 500 and writing in pen] we give you a $1000 [writing the number 1-0-0-0] for your Honda?"  We say "No".  "Okay, well what if I say you don't have to put this much down [crosses out the amount down] and you only put this much down [writes down another number] and we say "No".

He says, "Okay, let me go run some more numbers", and runs off to do a credit check, leaving The Lovely Steph Leann and I alone.  We start chatting quietly about what we are going to do, and suddenly, getting a new car, the bright red KIA Soul, is a distinct possibility.  A real possibility.

The Lovely Steph Leann is the budgeter in our family, the "Nerd", is Ramsey speak.  I am the "Free Spirit", the one who spends a little more than he should, so I'm leaning on her, my wife, heavily to help me through this (isn't that the way it should be, really?).  She says one single "No way, we can't do this", then I'm not going to fight her for it.  I tell her straight up that there is a certain threshold of savings I want to keep in there, and no matter what, we don't go below that.  She tells me what the reality is of our budget. 

Gene comes back with another set of details and agreements.  I smile and simply say, "Okay, man, listen... this is a great deal.  We have talked about it, and we agree this is a great deal, but we just don't think we can do it.  We weren't looking for car payments, we don't want to kill our savings and really, if we have to say yes or no at this very moment, we'd have to say 'no'."  Gene tells us, "I understand.  But let me just tell ya, we haven't sold a car today.  I'm going to do what it takes to get you into this car."  He gets up and runs out.

Gene comes back in, with the same piece of paper, folded over, with words written in Sharpie at the top, saying "XMAS COMES EARLY HO HO HO", with some details on the bottom. And the details are great.  I ask Gene to give us a minute to discuss, and he agrees and leaves.  The Lovely Steph Leann and I then go to work.

The questions begin... "Can we do it?"... "Do we want to take on a car payment, even for just a little while?"... "We can do it, but do we want to do it?"... "How will this affect how we live?"... "What do we do about Disney World in February, and for that matter, in two weeks?"  We talk for about fifteen minutes or so, and The Lovely Steph Leann leans her head back, puts her hands in her hair and just say, "Aarrgghh... this is like buying the house all over again!"

I smile and say, "We either do it or we don't.  I like the car, quite a bit.  But I'm not bothered if we walk out of here without it.  We deal with my Honda for a while, and then we can decide how much money to put into it.  Or, we take the plunge, deal with it for a while, and have a reliable car for a long, long time.  What do you think?"

Again, she says, "Aaargghh!" and then laughs uncomfortably.  Gene comes back in and asks what we think, holding out the paper with a line on the bottom.  Without saying much, The Lovely Steph Leann just leans over and signs the paper. 

We just bought a car.  Its an awesome car.  Its a 2011 KIA Soul, complete with a bright red exterior, four doors, a hatchback, Sirius Radio, an iPod auxiliary jack, 31 miles when I drove it off the lot and, unfortunately, for the first time in over three years since we have been debt free, a car payment.  Just don't tell Dave Ramsey.