Sunday, April 27, 2014

The Procrastinator's Movie Review: "The Way Way Back"

The Way Way Back

Release Date: July 26, 2013

Who was in that one again? Steve Carell, Toni Collette, Sam Rockwell, Liam James

I can't remember the plot. Fourteen-year-old Duncan (James) is forced to go to his mother's (Collette) jerk boyfriend's (Carell) summer home on the coast with both of them and the boyfriend's snobbish teenage daughter. While there, he's miserable until he finds a local waterpark and meets the manager (Rockwell), a man-child who becomes Duncan's friend and father figure, oddly enough. Both of them also have roles in the movie - and it's fun to watch Rash as Lewis, a worker at the waterpark wearing "Jeffrey Dahmer glasses."

The review: This movie is fantastic. It was written by Nat Faxon and Jim Rash, who also wrote The Descendants with George Clooney. Faxon was the lead in "Ben and Kate" two years ago and Rash is the cross-dressing, Jeff-Winger-loving Dean on "Community," and they are great writers. I enjoyed The Descendants, but The Way Way Back was way, way better, in my opinion.

While this could be pigeonholed as a "coming of age teen movie," it avoids all the cliches and keeps its theme unique. When the boy goes to a party thrown by the waterpark manager, you think that the cops are going to come and the mother is going to forbid the boy from ever seeing the manager again. When there's a teenage girl who lives next door, you assume she's part of the shallow teen crowd that inhabits the beach and has to be convinced that the boy is a cool guy. But those things don't happen. It keeps the movie fresh and unique.

The most enjoyable performances are from Carell and Rockwell, because they are playing against type. Usually Carell is the lovable loser and Rockwell is the smug jerk, but the roles are reversed here. Carell is awesome as the jerk and my favorite performance is from Rockwell, who has a great sense of humor and timing. James is super awkward and slow to respond, which is perfect for his role.

I was very into this movie, and the ending made me cheer, because it did everything right.

MVP: It's gotta be Rockwell, whom I've always liked, even if he's always taken unlikeable roles. It was fun to root for him, for once.

Blurb Musing Rating (out of five):  Five station wagons. This movie is fantastic - you need to see it!

Wednesday, April 23, 2014

Phyyyyysics. Physics, physics, physics, baseball, physics. (I hope you're writing this down.)

Have you ever been to a baseball stadium all day? 9 to 5? (or so?) Unless you have a full time job with a Major League team, it's probably never been the case. Today I was able to be at Coors Field all day with my students for their annual Weather and Science Day. Back in Wisconsin the older kids went to the Weather Day at Miller Park, but I never got to go. This time, when the principal suggested my kids come along this year, I jumped at the chance.

We got there early - before much of the other students arrived. We got there right before the park opened and went to their new parking structure, about a 10 minute walk from the stadium. My students that drove with me were moving at a snail's pace, and I'm not used to that when I go to a sporting event. 

When we made it into the stadium, we didn't sit in our gameday seats, but they ushered everybody into the first level, first base side. They were estimating about 13,000 students in attendance, so not a seat was empty when the thing started at 10:30. Unfortunately, the sound system was pretty bad, and it was very hard to hear the announcers. Apparently this had not been the case in previous years; people who have done this multiple times said the sound system had never been this bad before. 

The local NBC affiliate and Colorado State University were the partners for this event, but the group that put this all together was called Little Shop of Physics. They did about an hour-long physics lesson with three parts: Mass, Energy, and Waves. All of them were related to weather somehow. 

This floating Earth picture is all about air having mass. 

They gave each of us a small bag of science goodies so that we could participate too. Before the class started, some of the kids were trying to blow up these bags. But then we learned in the class that they only need one large breath to completely blow up.

Another experiment involved shooting tiny stuffed baseball players out of a chute, showing that it actually takes more energy to shoot a lightweight ball the same distance as a heavy baseball. And to my shock, I actually got one of the souvenirs! I decided to make him a classroom mascot, and one of my students decided to call him "Benny."

Another main point was that hot air rises and cool air falls. They had tissue paper lanterns placed over hot air and then released. The result was very Tangled.

Of course, there were some mishaps.

The final point dealt with waves, and how they travel. They got to use parachutes and plastic balls to show that when the parachute snaps down, the resulting wave causes the plastic balls to shoot up. Unfortunately, my one good shot of the plastic balls in the air accidentally got deleted. Oops.

Apparently, this lesson was a world record, with an official attendance of over 10,000. 

After the physics lesson, the students dispersed - most of them coming up with us to the 300-level, invading all bathrooms, food lines, stairs, escalators, you name it. It took a bit to get to our seats, but they were up to my standards.

(Sidenote: Some day I'll splurge on seats right behind home plate or right next to the dugout. Someday. End sidenote.)

We had an hour to burn before the game started, so my students either ate their own lunches or bought very expensive nachos. I took some time to take pictures of the pretty scenery around the stadium. (This was before it got crazy cloudy and windy and rainy.)

First pitch against the San Francisco Giants came at 1:10 p.m. with a strike. The sun was out, the crowd was happy, and the Rockies pulled ahead quickly.

Unfortunately, none of those things lasted. The Giants hit six home runs, including a grand slam in the top of the 11th inning to break an 8-8 tie. By that time, most of the school kids had left, making it very quiet. The clouds came over the stadium and the wind picked up, sending much of the students' leftover garbage onto the field. (It kind of reminded me of 2006 when Comerica Park was full of seagulls for a couple of days.)

I ended the game in right field after Justin Morneau (who thought I'd ever root for him?) hit a 2-run home run to bring the game within 2. But a double play ended the threat, and I headed back to the parking structure.

It was a good thing this was an afternoon game; after the crowd left the clouds moved in and thunderstorms and rain rolled through. We don't get solid downpours very often around here, so this is very good for us.

I enjoyed the day very much, and it was a great alternative to my normal Wednesday of teaching. (Wednesday is my toughest school day of the week.) I hope to do it again soon!

Saturday, April 19, 2014

The Music Zone II

It's time for another list of the Blurb Muser's favorite songs! Believe me, I could be at this for a while. I have a lot of favorites!

Without further ado...

All My Days - Alexi Murdoch
This song may sound familiar if you watched any TV or movies in the late Aughts (early 2000s, for you non-hipsters). I know it from two movies: Real Steel and Away We Go. It's just so simple, but it is hauntingly beautiful and brings out many feelings.

The reason I like it: It's just a guitar and a guy with an average voice that makes a great song.

Julie-O - Kevin Olusola
This is for all my Pentatonix friends. Before Kevin became the ultimate beatboxer on one of the best a cappella groups in the world, he was just a mild-mannered cellist who put both his loves together to make an amazing cover of this piece. Yes, it's a cover of a song you've never heard - but you should never hear the original; it's not that good. Just listen to this one. No - watch this one. 

The reason I like it: I watched this for the first time when I was doing work in the Czech Republic, so it will always remind me of that wonderful trip. 

This is Gospel - Panic! At The Disco
When I get really excited to make a new CD, I tend to have my absolute top favorite songs, and then I hear half-way decent stuff and stick it on there, too. Eventually, a few years will pass by and I will listen to the CD again. I will love my favorites, but a few might make me think, "I put this in there?". Others, though, grow on me, and this is one of them. I heard it as I was listening to Channel 93.3FM out of Denver, liked it, and bought it. But the more I listen to it, the more I love this song.

The reason I like it: It's not about a girl - the song was written by lead singer Brendon Urie about drummer Spencer Smith's drug addiction. Once you know that...

Minneapolis - Underworld
This one takes me back to London, 2012. No, I wasn't in London, but this song was used as the athletes were introduced at the 2012 Summer Olympics. I bought the Opening Ceremonies album for the music used in the artistic portion of the show, but nowadays I only listen to the athlete/country introduction section, because it's so infectiously entertaining!

The reason I like it: It comes at 3:09. It's just a synthesizer, but it's so great!

Skylanders Main Theme - Hans Zimmer and Lorne Balfe
My brothers apparently are playing through this game this weekend, so I thought I'd throw this in. While the rest of the video game was scored by Lorne Balfe (and all the other Skylanders games, too, and all of it is fantastic) Hans Zimmer and Balfe composed the main theme, which is not what you might expect from video game music if you're only knowledge of video games came from the '90s. Zimmer is known for his movie scores, but does a fair share of video game music, as well.

The reason I like it: It starts simply, and then swells up. You wouldn't expect that from music featuring thousands of mini figs.

The Newsroom Theme - Thomas Newman
If you hear a Thomas Newman piece, you just know it's Thomas Newman. He has a style that's all his own, and it's not hard to pick out. He's done Finding Nemo, WALL-E, and Saving Mr. Banks - the last of these I correctly guessed it was his work while I was watching the movie. Back to The Newsroom: This opening credits scene was beautiful to watch - and I was crushed to find out they remixed it for season 2. I'm glad I stopped watching after season 1, or else I might have thrown my computer out the window upon hearing the new version.

The reason I like it: The music works perfectly with the opening credits, featuring Walter Cronkite, David Brinkley, and Dan Rather. It doesn't work as well with the rest of the show, but as far as opening sequences go, it's solid.

Hoedown - Aaron Copland
Yes, it's the "Beef" song. But I had a friend in college who did a music visual poster with this song, with each distinct section represented with a picture, and it was amazing. There were cows and pastures and cowboys, and then for the final DUN DUN DUN, she revealed three steaks. Music lovers: we geek out at weird stuff.

The reason I like it: I love when the original string melody gets blown up by the entire orchestra at 1:12. If I'm by myself, I'll stop what I'm doing and throw my hands out wide and let everyone join in!

Baka - Outback
A Walt Disney World find. This piece can be heard in Disney's Animal Kingdom, near one of my favorite eating areas - Flame Tree BBQ. The version I like has less rock instruments and is more mellow, but this one is okay. Look it up on iTunes - you'll hear the WDW version.

The reason I like it: It's gotta be the didgeridoo.

Dangerous - Big Data (feat. Joywave)
If you recall my previous Music Zone blog, you'll hear how I had heard a great song on the radio, and then could not find it ANYWHERE. Well, I was watching one of my favorite shows, Arrow, when I heard it in the background! So I looked up "Arrow songs March 19" or some date like that, and boom! I found it! Thank you, Arrow producers, for helping me find awesome songs. (This is the second one to date.)

The reason I like it: All you need for a song is a rockin' bass guitar line.

Rather Be - Clean Bandit (feat. Jess Glynne)
I tend to troll other people's posts to each other on Facebook, because if both of them are my friends, their posts to each other will appear on my timeline. My brother and sister post music to each other often, so I tend to listen to what they recommend to each other, like it, and buy it. I hope they don't mind. This is my sister's recommendation to my brother.

The reason I like it: The video is wacky, but it's got a great vibe. It just makes you feel good!

That seems like a good song on which to end this blog. Got any recommendations? Let me know! I'll be posting another Music Zone soon!

(Make sure to share this blog with your friends!)

Monday, April 14, 2014

Retirement is for People Over 50

News came out today that swimmer Michael Phelps - of Olympic fame, for those of you who don't follow that - has come out of retirement to compete a next week at a meet.

Of course, now all the speculation is that he will be looking to get himself ready for the Olympics in 2016. In a normal Olympian swimmer's regimen, the year following an Olympics is a light year. The world championships are held in the odd years, but Phelps often takes a year off (right after or the second year after the Olympics) anyway. As a result, he missed about as much hard-core training as he did following the Olympics in 2008.

The biggest change is his age. He will definitely not be the fastest swimmer in the pool, but his regimen and focus might be his strength. If he wants something, he can definitely take it. If he's not in it 100%, then he struggles.

There will be many great swimmers, but Phelps suffers from Tiger Woods-itis: if he isn't competing, swimming just isn't that interesting. Missy Franklin and Ryan Lochte gained popularity in 2012, but Franklin went back to school and Lochte ended up being portrayed like an idiot on reality TV. Phelps is a guy that will draw a crowd even if it's winter in northern Minnesota and there's not a swimming pool to be found.

I posted this earlier, but I was not at all surprised by this decision. Even though all questions about "retirement or Rio" were met with vague or short answers by Phelps, there was no way I thought he wouldn't compete. He will be 32 at the time of competition, which is some athletes' prime of life. He will have a long journey, but it's clear that swimming is his one true love, and it's not easy to walk away from that.

Saturday, April 12, 2014

Hitting the Slopes Again

Today I returned to the great slopes of Breckenridge for another round of skiing with my cousins. The challenge was to see if I could replicate the success of my runs a month ago. If it hadn't been an anomaly, I was seriously going to consider buying a full season pass for next year.

My uncle and aunt (my cousin's parents) were in town, and my uncle came out with my cousin and I. It was clear that it was no longer Spring Break, because the chair lift line was nonexistent. We had done three lifts in less than an hour, which was great. I didn't have any troubles on the chair lift - getting on or off - and each time we took the run differently. At first the hills were pretty crusty and quick, but in no time at all the warm sun and the skiers made the snow very mushy.

After our third run on Silverthorne, the rest of the family arrived and we decided to try a blue hill. We took the Mercury chairlift to the top of Peak 9 and the Bonanza run. Because it was still morning and we hadn't taken a break yet, I didn't have much trouble with this blue run as the last blue run we'd done. I almost wiped out backwards, but threw myself forwards and kept my balance. I also nearly went off the run and into some trees, but my skis only took me to the edge.

We took a break at Tenmile Station - once again far less crowded than March - and then my uncle and I did four runs down the green hills while my cousins traveled to the black runs (they're that good!). Silverthorne was very torn up by the skiers and the warmth, and there were a good amount of skiers taking the hill. But my uncle pointed out that the hill to the right of Silverthorne should be given a look.

That hill was Frontier - and it was great! When we got off the Quicksilver chairlift, we went to the far left and a nearly empty Frontier slope! The snow wasn't as cut up as Silverthorne, and no one was around! It was actually so nice, my tired uncle suggested we go up top and do it again.

My second trip to ski was a great time, and I'm going to keep getting better over next season. Maybe I'll even spot this sign on one of the other hills! (But not the moose. Those can stay away when I'm not in a car and a mile away.)

Saturday, April 5, 2014

The Amazing Mini Blurbs!

Saw a movie IN THE THEATERS last night!
It's not often when a movie can persuade me to fork over ten bucks to see a movie on its opening weekend. But Captain America: The Winter Soldier did just that yesterday. I felt like my money would be well spent, and I wanted to support the movie. It didn't need my money - it will likely top the weekend box office (this weekend and probably next). But I really enjoyed this movie.

CA:TWS is very much not a superhero movie. It is a thriller that just so happens to have humans with super powers. There is enough deception going on that it feels like a Jason Bourne movie, but enough Marvel references to remind you that Tony Stark exists in that universe.

The action in the movie is stellar - especially the opening scene on a hijacked boat and the final battle around the helicarriers. Some of the hand-to-hand combat uses too much shaky-cam, but still packs a wallop. You definitely should go see this movie.

Quality Family Fun
In the theater last night, I saw a lot of families with children. CA:TWS is rated PG-13, but since the marketing of these movies is geared towards children (many in my classroom have Avengers school supplies and clothing), it's only natural that kids would want to see the movies in the theater. I'm not too sure how much of the movie they understood, and this was one of the more violent Marvel movies.

Some people might compare these movies to movies like Star Wars, but when I thought about it more, the Star Wars franchise uses lightsabers and blasters in its battles, while Marvel movies are very realistic. If Marvel is going to raise its movies' stakes and create many sub-genres within the MCU (Marvel Cinematic Universe), including more mature content like this, parents need to understand that not all these movies are intended for their kids.

Final Four triple team
I got a chance to view the TBS/TNT/TruTV coverage of the Final Four today, and I enjoyed the variety of coverage. It just makes me wistful that I could have been watching a Michigan-covered broadcast, had a last second three-pointer spoiled the whole thing.

Childhood Book ReRead
I decided to reread one of my favorite books from my childhood this past week: The Giver by Lois Lowry. I had read that book three or four times when I was in the middle school ages, and loved it every time. But it had been quite a few years since I'd read it, and when news of the movie came out, I thought I should read it again.

It was shocking to read it again. All the words were the same, but my view on things have changed. In this post-Hunger Games world, the idea of a dystopian society is much more easy to imagine. My worldview has also changed, and the idea of Sameness is awful. I used to not mind the idea of family units and specific, orderly rules and assigned positions and marriages and children. But when the definition of "release" is revealed, I finally saw that world for what it truly was. Now I am disgusted with the community from the very beginning of the book, and look forward to the time when Jonas finally sees his world for what it truly is.

Sometimes people go back to the things of their youth and see that it really stunk more than they thought. The Giver has proven to be exactly the opposite: it's better than I remembered!

Thursday, April 3, 2014

The Procrastinator's Movie Review: "The Great Gatsby"

The Great Gatsby

Release Date: May 10, 2013

Who was in that one again? Leonardo DiCaprio, Carey Mulligan, Tobey Maguire, Joel Edgerton

I can't remember the plot. Twenty-something young man named Nick Carraway comes to work in New York City and lives on Long Island in the summer of 1924, where his next door neighbor charms him with his rich lifestyle and crazy parties. The man - Gatsby - was a soldier in the Great War, and is in New York to win back the love he lost, Daisy Buchanan (who happens to be Nick's cousin). Unfortunately, Daisy is married to Tom now, who is a pretty big jerk and having an affair with a local mechanic's wife.

The review: I do have some background when it comes to The Great Gatsby: I read the book two years ago and really, really liked it. I think if I'd read the book any earlier in my life, I wouldn't have gotten as much out of it as I did. And as soon as I finished the movie, Bam! Baz Luhrmann announces he's making it into a movie.

I was pretty excited to hear Luhrmann was making the movie, because the style of 1920s New York seems ripe for a Luhrmann movie. And that portion of this movie doesn't disappoint - the lavish parties at Gatsby's mansion and views of New York City are spectacular. 

The casting of Leonardo DiCaprio also is very good. He can turn from smooth talker to childish wuss in no time flat, and even makes the phrase "Old Sport" work. Anyone else saying that phrase would sound like an idiot.

I don't mind Tobey Maguire either - he gives enough of a bright-eyed New York newbie excitement at the beginning of the movie that you believe him. His narration could be a little more animated - but that's the consequence of having Tobey Maguire be the narrator. His voice doesn't do very much.

The dragging parts of the movie take place after Gatsby and Daisy Buchanan finally reunite. Gatsby's manipulation of Daisy and convincing her to run away with him doesn't work, because Carey Mulligan doesn't give her any fire. Daisy isn't an independent spirit in the book, but she isn't so weak, either. 

The ending of the movie also takes a very long time to finish. From the end of the confrontation between Tom Buchanan and Gatsby to Nick's final words, the book sped through that with blazing speed. Maybe it was just my urgency to see how the story ended when I read it, but the movie seemed to take three times as long, and there was too much idle chitchat. 

I did not like the movie half as much as I did the book, but it was still a decent movie. But as it usually goes: the book is always better than the movie.

MVP: I'm gonna go with the police officer who tries to pull over Gatsby and Carraway as they drive to a speakeasy operated by Gatsby's boss, Wolfsheim. Gatsby doesn't stop, pulls out a card, and the policeman apologizes and says he'll recognize him next time. That was worthy of a chuckle.

Blurb Musing Rating: Three Jay-Z songs (yup, they're in there.)