Tuesday, September 23, 2014

My Definitive Harry Potter Book Rankings

In preparation for my upcoming trip to Orlando and the Wizarding World of Harry Potter, I took some time to read all seven Harry Potter books in a row. It was definitely worth it. I'd forgotten how amazing that whole series is from start to finish!

But with seven different books, all covering a different year in Harry, Ron, and Hermione's life, there have to be some stronger books than others. So with that, I give you my Definitive Harry Potter Book Rankings. (Movie rankings to follow - I'm watching a movie a day!)

Spoilers Abound!

#7: Harry Potter and the Sorcerer's Stone

With the first book comes a whole lot of exposition, and not as much main plot. The actual story isn't as much discovering the importance of the Sorcerer's Stone (or Philosopher's Stone, depending on where you live) than it is Harry adjusting to living in a world of magic and establishing his friendship with Ron and Hermione.

Defense Against the Dark Arts Teacher: Quirrell

Best Part: I gotta give it to the Great Hall, and the fact that the food just appears, and it's delicious all the time! I wish I'd had that in high school and college.

Positives: This first book does a great job establishing the Wizarding World, and J.K. Rowling is magnificent at providing great quips in the midst of exposition. However, it's awesome seeing just how much from the first book came back in later books. (Harry's first Golden Snitch, the Invisibility Cloak being in Dumbledore's possession, Griphook the Goblin and Gringott's Bank, etc.)

Negatives: It doesn't get too far in the overall Harry Potter lore - unfortunately, that's just the responsibility of being the first book in a series. This was the only book that I had a hard time motivating myself to read. After this one, I could barely keep the books out of my hands!

#6: Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix

Harry's truthfulness is in doubt as the Minister of Magic (and other Ministry officials) doubt him that Lord Voldemort has truly come back. Dolores Umbridge is truly terrible, and always seems to get the upper hand on our heroes. The Ministry takes a center stage here.

Best Part: Dumbledore's Army, led by Harry. Using his knowledge learned in the first four books, Harry teaches the useful information to other students. Especially fun is reading about the different Patronuses of the students.

Defense Against the Dark Arts Teacher: Umbridge

Positives: I love the idea of The Order of the Phoenix. Best of all was that all the favorite adults in the series were members of the Order, including Remus Lupin, Kingsley Shackelbolt, the Weasleys, Sirius Black, and Nymphadora Tonks. It was great seeing adults outside of Hogwarts being featured. The O.W.L.S. are also a great way to show how wizards deal with standardized testing.

Negatives: Um, angst much? Harry turns all dark and moody - even during the times when the Ministry and fellow Hogwarts family members aren't suspecting him of fabricating his Voldemort story. He gets all touchy when he's not made prefect - well duh Harry - you're always getting detentions and you don't do your homework and are going where you are not supposed to be. I hated the "romance" between Cho and Harry, even if it was just supposed to show us later how much he really loves Ginny. Also, Sirius is a pretty big jerk for most of the book, and then he dies. That was horrible to read - I had really liked Sirius at the end o book three and all of book four. Then Harry opens up the two-way mirror? How many headaches would that have solved with Umbridge if he'd just opened it right away? There's also a huge lack of Dumbledore because he's being a jerk too. It's not only Harry being a jerk here.

***Bonus: first mention of Aberforth Dumbledore is in this book, during the DA's first meeting at the Hog's Head. I loved rereading these books after finishing book seven - there were so many other Easter eggs to spot.

#5: Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets

The Chamber of Secrets was opened in Hogwarts by the Heir of Slytherin: Tom Riddle, AKA Voldemort. The second time he does it, he uses one of his Horcruxes - a diary - and possesses Ginny to do his dirty work. Everyone thinks it's Harry, since he can talk to snakes. The origins of the four Houses of Hogwarts are explained.

Best Part: I loved when Lockhardt uses Ron's broken wand - a huge pain for the whole book - and ends up erasing his own memory. Serves him right, the git.

Defense Against the Dark Arts Teacher: Lockhardt

Positives: Voldemort's backstory begins to unfold, and the diary plays a HUGE part in later books. I love connections! Dobby at the end of the book is also good. The fact that Moaning Myrtle was the girl killed by the basilisk was genius - she was hanging around them the whole time! If you read the book after you know that Ginny's the one responsible, all the small comments referencing her make even more sense. All the Petrified beings are petrified in different ways: water, mirror, through the ghost, etc.

Negatives: I was never a big fan of the Deathday party - it just seemed way too depressing to celebrate. Every time Lockhardt showed up, Harry wasn't the only one groaning. And Dobby at the beginning and middle of the book was just bothersome. I was annoyed at more things in this book than any other book. (You might think I'd say that about Order of the Phoenix, but I was more irritated while reading that book than anything else.)

#4 Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire

This is where my rankings start to get harder to sort. Books Four, Three, Six, and Seven are fantastic, so it's hard to figure out which order in which I should put them.

This is the book where everything changes, and the world gets a lot bigger. Harry's name gets drawn for the Triwizard Tournament, but he also has to deal with the new information he has about Death Eaters and the Pensieve and Wizengamot courts. Oh, and Cedric Diggory is killed by Voldemort, who comes back from near-death thanks to Harry.

Best Part: I loved the Quidditch World Cup and everything about it: the Ministry's security, the different countries coming together, the crazy tents that the wizard families have, and hearing how insane the Quaffle flies when the professionals play.

Defense Against the Dark Arts Teacher: Barty Crouch Junior, technically. For most of the book we think it's Mad-Eye Moody.

Positives: Anything pertaining to the Triwizard Tournament was fantastic. I could actually picture the scene with Harry and the Norwegian Ridgeback and "Accio Firebolt!" in my head just like it played out in the movie. I loved going in the Pensieve and seeing the different Death Eaters - including Bellatrix Lestrange, who is not named in this book, but you can tell one of them is her. Things also get very serious at this point - like I said before, Cedric is murdered. I remember reading that part as a sophomore in high school, and I actually stopped reading and stared at the page for a long time. I couldn't believe that had just happened. (The problem was, I couldn't talk about it with anyone because I was the first in my family to read the book!) The revelation of Barty Crouch Junior was also a great surprise, and the whole scene with Voldemort and the priori incantatem was marvelous.

Negatives: The Yule Ball was a bore, and really made Harry and Ron look like losers. I loved the Triwizard Tournament, but was bothered that there were only three tasks stretched out over the course of a whole school year - did the Durmstrang and Beauxbatons kids really have to stay at Hogwarts all year? Couldn't they just have come over on those special weekends? Rita Skeeter took over the Lockhardt Annoyance Award. There was a lot of fluff, being that this book was ridiculously huge. Most of it was needed, but there were other parts that could have been eliminated - S.P.E.W. most of all.

#3: Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban

When I first started to read the Harry Potter books, the first three were out, so I read them right in a row. Prisoner of Azkaban was my favorite of the three by far. Harry finds out one of his father's best friends was convicted of murder and of telling Voldemort where the Potters were hiding back when Harry was a baby. Then he finds out that it was all a ruse - it was his father's other friend that told the secret! Oh, and his father's other other friend taught at Hogwarts...and he's a werewolf.

Best Part: Without a doubt, it's the Time-Turner scene, when Hermione and Harry go back in time and watch themselves handle the evening hours with Lupin, Sirius, Buckbeak, Hagrid, Snape, and Peter Pettigrew. The moment when Harry realizes it was his own Patronus that saved him and Sirius, and he just lets loose with a beautiful stag.

Defense Against the Dark Arts Teacher: Lupin

Positives: I was thrilled to see Gryffindor win the Quidditch Cup. Buckbeak the Hippogriff was great, because it showed how to be nice to animals, and I was glad he was so vital to saving Sirius in the end. I loved Lupin, and it was great reading what actually could be studied in a real Defense Against the Dark Arts class. The idea that chocolate could help recover from dementors was a stroke of genius. Peter Pettigrew being Scabbers was a big reveal - I should have figured Rowling had plenty more shocks in store for us in the other books. I also really liked the end - when the Dursleys pick up Harry, and he just casually mentions that his godfather is an escaped convict and just saunters off.

Negatives: Don't get me wrong - I love the Marauder's Map as much as the next Muggle, but I could never figure out how they managed to show the entire school on that piece of parchment. Between all the levels of the school and the hundreds of kids and teachers walking the corridors, wouldn't it be hard to read? I also never liked that no one would let Harry go to Hogsmeade, even if they all thought Sirius was trying to kill him. He just wanted some butterbeer and a trip to Zonko's, for pete's sake!

#2: Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince

I was shocked to see how much I loved this book as I read it compared to Order of the Phoenix, which I read as fast I could just to get it over with. Harry goes on Pensieve adventures with Dumbledore to figure out Voldemort's complete backstory, and he discovers that Voldemort has ripped his soul into six pieces so that he can conquer death. But before they can start destroying other Horcruxes, Dumbledore is killed by Snape.

Best Part: It's horrible, I know, but it's Draco Malfoy's character arc. For five books he was this huge annoying prat who insulted non-purebloods and blood traitors and didn't really do anything. Finally, in this book, he is recruited by Voldemort to get Death Eaters into Hogwarts and kill Dumbledore. Over the year he gets withdrawn and pale, and we even see a stroke of his humanity as he cries in the bathroom with Moaning Myrtle. I didn't think he would kill Dumbledore, but the fact that his disarming spell meant that he held the Elder Wand for so long without realizing it was incredible. Malfoy is one of my favorite characters, to be honest. It was nice to see him finally do something worthwhile.

Defense Against the Dark Arts Teacher: Snape, Snape, Severus Snape

Positives: Slughorn was hilarious, especially because of the Slug Club and his ability to have so many connections to famous wizards and witches. Ron's fling with Lavender Brown was also fun to read, even if it meant that Hermione and Ron were on the outs for a bit. Harry's kiss with Ginny in front of the whole Gryffindor house earned a fist in the air from me, even though I was sad when he broke up with her at the end of the book. I never liked Snape, so the fact that he killed Dumbledore was, at the time, the worst thing anyone could do in the history of ever. I thought I could never forgive him for that one. Neither did Harry. The Ministry's proactive approach to avoiding Dark Magic was great, too, even if it didn't always work. Harry under Felix Felicis was impressive - I was glad to see how well-written a lucky day could be.

Negatives: I never liked that this was called the Half-Blood Prince, since that plot point isn't integral to the main part of the story. Big deal - Harry uses a note-ridden Potions book and does really well. He could have gotten the Felix Felicis so many other ways. I didn't find the Potions book to be useful to the story at all. I also didn't enjoy the scene in the cave with Dumbledore and Harry - probably because the water-drinking scene and the Inferi made me so uncomfortable. I wish it had gone faster.

#1: Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows

Here it is: everything that has been mentioned in the books now ties up in a (mostly) neat bow. Harry uses the Elder Wand, taken from Draco when he gets taken to the Malfoy's mansion, and kills Voldemort. Lots of awesome characters die.

Best Part: The Battle of Hogwarts. After so many pages of truths and fakeouts and discoveries and escapes, this is what everyone was waiting for. Rowling writes the Battle so well - all the chaos and horrible scenes all happen at the same time, and people show up for a bit but then return to the fray, and sometimes there are quiet points and sometimes all hell breaks loose. And the fact that Harry kills Voldemort with the Elder Wand - but uses "Expelliarmus" to do it.

Defense Against the Dark Arts Teacher: Amycus Carrow, but that doesn't really matter

Positives: We see an entire year outside of Hogwarts, which would have been a tiresome setting if they had continued the trend of going there for the book. Instead, Harry, Ron, and Hermione are on the run, looking for Horcruxes most of the time, and discovering the story of the Deathly Hallows. It explains how Harry's father had an Invisibility Cloak (passed down from the first wearer of the Hallows: Ignotus Peverell), and how Dumbledore had the Elder Wand, and that the Resurrection Stone was in Marvolo Gaunt's ring, but then hidden in Harry's first Golden Snitch. Voldemort's name is a tracker for Death Eaters to find supporters of Harry Potter. We see a wizard wedding for the first time. Dumbledore's past is opened up for us to read, and it shows that he was just as conflicted and haunted by his past than the other characters. He wasn't perfect, and I think that makes me like him more. Mrs. Weasley kills Bellatrix. Ron and Hermione finally get together. Crabbe dies because he's an idiot, but Harry rescues Draco in the Room of Requirement. That old busted up diadem in the RoR was the lost Diadem of Ravenclaw. The Grey Lady and the Bloody Baron have briefly told backstories! Neville leads Dumbledore's Army! Neville is a giant pain to the Death Eaters at Hogwarts! NEVILLE KILLS NAGINI WITH THE SWORD OF GRYFFINDOR!

Negatives: I know it would have been easy to keep the story going and wrap up the seventh book in a couple of months, but did Harry, Ron, and Hermione have to spend weeks at a time traveling around Britain, living in a tent? It seemed to be way too long for them to be wandering around, not doing anything. Sure, their moping about was interspersed with Awesome Terrifying Plot-Thickeners (going to the Ministry, breaking into Gringotts, visiting the Lovegoods, getting captured and taken to the Malfoy's mansion), but I feel like it could have been sped up, just a bit. Oh - Hedwig's death was awful. Dobby's too, but Hedwig's was worse. It was just a little white owl! Don't kill it!!!



So there you have it. What do you think? Which is your favorite/least favorite book? Do you agree or disagree with me on any points? I'm excited to see how different my book list is from my movie list! (Stay tuned for that!)

Sunday, September 21, 2014

Doctor RevWho: "Time Heist"

Okay, this is a Doctor Who story I can get behind. It is complete, it doesn't make my brain hurt trying to keep track of everything, and it all makes sense.

"Time Heist" was what I was hoping for: a caper with a twist. If we look at it in the right order, the Doctor and Clara get a phone call from Ms. Karabraxos, an old lady who was the richest person in the world, but she is now dying with one regret: that she took the last two creatures of a species, imprisoned one of them, and made the other act as security for her bank. When a solar storm destroyed the bank, she thought the species was extinct.

Her request to the Doctor was to penetrate the bank and save the species. The Doctor took Clara, gathered two other people - Psi and Saibra - that would be able to help (with the promise of being paid at the end), constructed a plan, and then wiped all their memories, so that they would have no trace of guilt as they entered the bank - which is what the species ("The Teller") detects.

The four of them enter the bank, find a bomb that scatters debris elsewhere and then reconstructs the area blown, enter the channels of the bank, find instructions to open the vault, almost lose Psi and Saibra, discover them again, and find the private vault which contains many riches and a much younger Ms. Karabraxos. She is still conceited and smug and leaves them to die when the solar storm threatens the bank, but not before the Doctor gives her his TARDIS number and a mention that he's a time traveler. Meanwhile, the Doctor finds the imprisoned companion of the Teller, and gets the six of them out before the bank is destroyed. They all go their merry way, except for Ms. Karabraxos, who eventually regrets leaving the species behind, and calls the Doctor! Repeat!

There were initial holes left in the plot as it was played out, but they were filled in as the plot went along. There were some great quotes - especially near the end ("Shuttity-uttity-up!") and the Doctor got to be brooding at parts but a genius in other parts. He even insults his past and current choices of wardrobe ("I was hoping for minimalism but I think I came out with magician.")

This was a great spacey adventure that kept us guessing until the end, and I thoroughly enjoyed it. I can't wait to view it again!

Saturday, September 20, 2014

Floyd the Chipmunk - the Story

Who is Floyd?

A student? A coworker? A boyfriend? 
No to all three! Floyd has been a very special part of my life ever since nine years ago in October. 

Was Floyd a real chipmunk? 
Yes he was! 

Did you run him over or something? 
Um...what? 

Y'know, that's why he's stuffed. 
That's just morbid, and totally Janitor-from-Scrubs-esque! And he was a little crazy! 

Okay, if that's not the story, then what is? 
If you insist, I will tell you! 

Long, long ago, I was a mere sophomore in college in New Ulm. My big brother had just graduated, leaving me as the alone on the hill. I had carry-over friends from MLS, and I'd made a couple more friends over the year, but I still hadn't found anyone who could really be my best friend. 

Then I was invited one night in the fall to a "Girls Night" by some girls down the hallway from me (and my roommate, who I'd barely talked to freshman year but someone suggested I room with her because she was really nice) - one of whom I knew from singing in the Honor Choir in 2002 at a Worship Conference. So I said yes. The Girls Night was a big success, and when the next one came up, I asked to bring a friend- someone who had been down the hall from me the previous year. 

As the Girls Nights continued, that girl I invited and the girl I'd known from before and my roommate stuck around, along with a girl I'd never talked to before. Eventually it was just us five doing these Girls Nights, and we almost preferred it that way. We got to know each other really well, and had lots of fun doing stuff that got us away from thinking about classes or boyfriends or breakups or trying to survive your first year of College Choir. 

One of my friends- the one I'd known since 2002- had done some summer nannying over in Colorado, and one Girls Night she was sharing her photos and stories with us. She pined to go back, and one of us (I can't remember who) said that we should take a road trip there sometime! After we determined that year was too busy, we saw that in our Junior Year, we had a four day October break! Perfect! 

Now I've fallen prey to one too many schemes for which I get my hopes up, only to realize I'd been putting my hope in something that would never actually happen. But lo and behold, this one actually started coming true! 

Hold on hold on. Is one of these friends named Floyd? Because you haven't mentioned him yet! 
I'm getting to it! Anyway... 

We organized a spiral notebook and thought of all the things we would need to do a vacation. Considering none of us had ever planned or booked a vacation before, I thought we did a pretty great job. We thought of everything our Dads (or Moms) would have thought to do, and made sure we got a hold of the supplies. 

The summer passed, and we were really excited for October to come. So excited, in fact, that we did a "test trip" the week before Labor Day, and camped out at Devil's Lake in Baraboo, Wisconsin. There was rain and cold water and a sprained ankle (was that this trip or next? I think it was this one), but we had fun. Now we were ignoring class even more as we waited for the first quarter to finally be over! 

The day finally came: October 19, 2005. We got out of classes, packed up Betsy (my '99 Plymouth Voyager, who reached 200,000+ miles thanks in part to this trip!), ate supper in the cafeteria (really bad food, since everyone was already gone and the caf didn't really care what the crap they served), and that evening took off for our all-night trip! 

You drove all night? Are you sure you didn't run Floyd over as you were driving at 4 a.m? 
What is with you and roadkill?! 

Yes, we drove all night, each of us taking a few hours at the wheel. For anyone curious, yes, Nebraska at night looks exactly like those postcards you can get. Pitch black and boring. The gas station we stopped at was completely closed up, but you could still get gas! I've never seen that before. 

I had the fourth shift, and did pretty well. I was still feeling good as we got into Colorado, but my nanny friend took over, because she'd just been there and knew where to go. And let me tell you, driving into Rocky Mountain National Park when the sun is rising is amazing! You get into the park, and no one else is there. It's just you and the huge herds of mule deer as the sun makes its appearance. 

So we got out, groggy and gross-looking, but we really wanted to make sure that we got to hike the mountains (or around the mountains, depending on which friend you were). It hadn't been that cold in Minnesota, but in the mountains it was chilly! We walked and took tons of pictures and I began my ongoing act-stupid-when-a-camera-is-on phase. Why? Because the girls loved it! I think they still do! And if they don't, they should probably tell me soon... 

We took our first break, and settled on some rocks to eat granola bars and have a devotion from the Meditations book (like we'd done at Devil's Lake). As we were eating and admiring not being in flatlands, a little chipmunk crawled up to where we were sitting. 

Let me guess: after wasting a huge portion of this note, we finally are talking about Floyd. 
For once, you're correct. 

The chipmunk looked a little different from chipmunks I'd seen in Michigan. For one, this guy was a lot bolder. You could tell he just wanted a bite of our granola bars. He was adorable, too! We made sure to take a picture of him. 

After we encountered him for about 5 minutes, we- 

Wait! That's it?! You met a little chipmunk for five minutes and you're whole life evolves around him? That's a little crazy. 
Well, it depends. You see, we were all at MLC to become teachers, and any chance to create a teaching moment is one that we could take. Although it didn't start as a teaching moment. 

We loved the chipmunk and named him Floyd during our trip. We decided to make him our Fantastic Five mascot (for that was our name- not the Fab Five our the Fantastic Four or anything like that). We thought we could find a little stuffed chipmunk as we went around Colorado- they have stuffed everything there! Right? 

...right? 

No! For the life of me, we couldn't find a little stuffed chipmunk ANYWHERE! And you know how long it took us to finally find the little thing? 

...two months? 

TWO YEARS! Every toy store, every gift shop, every garage sale we went to we were looking around, but it still took us TWO YEARS to finally find our little Floyd. 

So now, what to do with him? By 2007, three of us were about to graduate from four-year programs and get teaching calls. (Thank God- they all got calls!) So we decided to make him our little traveller. For a few weeks he would spend time in our classrooms and get to know our kids. The kids could draw pictures and stuff like that, and those things would get mailed on to the next teacher to share with her kids. Best of all, we could take him on all of our own trips, ones with the group and individual trips, too! 

One year alone, Floyd had been down to Mexico, up to the Mackinac Bridge, and even over to Italy! We take pictures and make him a little scrapbook to show the kids where he's been and what ancient building Floyd is "attacking" today. 

Even cooler is now we have created a "Floyd Box," which contains all his albums and papers from kids in other classes. When I showed the box to my kids, I had Mesa first and second graders deciding where Floyd would travel next, Milwaukee first and second grade postcards featuring him around their classroom, and Lake Mills fourth graders' book reports featuring a picture of them reading with Floyd! How cool is that? 

So now I have to decide what to do in my classroom. My kids love to have him at DEAR time. They race to get him so they can show their parents. They play with him instead of doing their work. It's really fun to see something concocted by my friends turn out so beautifully. 

Hopefully in a few months I will get him back again, with a whole new set of papers and pictures. 

But what about the rest of your story? What else did you do in Colorado? 
Besides throw snowballs, take the best picture ever, eat some awesome Thai food, stay at a sleazy hotel, have to call the lobby (twice!) to see where the local ER was, take one of our friends there, meet a germaphobe nurse, learn the girl has pink-eye, see the Air Force Academy Chapel, see where the Olympians practice (my personal favorite part), be threatened to stop at every cute place to take a scenic photo OR ELSE at Garden of the Gods (which, seriously, was every ten feet), go to a youth hockey game, visit the nanny kids, try not to puke when you see all their Colorado Avalanche paraphernalia, see downtown Denver, buy a beautiful panoramic picture that finally got framed and hung a month ago, see the church my father started now be a thriving beautiful self-supporting church, go to Casa Bonita- the craaaaaziest Mexican Restaurant I've ever been to (and I've been to Mexico!), and meet the other high-profile (so high-profile we proclaim October 22 his day) member of our group, John the Cliffdiver? 

Oh, not much.

Sunday, September 14, 2014

Doctor RevWho: "Listen"

Well that was certainly confusing.

First we thought the Doctor was talking to us. (At least I did.) Then Clara and Danny are on a date. Then they're not. Then we see a young Danny. Then we're back on the date. Then we're in the future. Then we're in the Doctor's timeline! Then we're on the date again?!

Did I mention this episode was written by executive producer Steven Moffat, known for his crazy storylines and confusing plots?

So apparently the Doctor has discovered a new alien that freaks him out, but is the alien really there? Did we just discover that the Doctor was paranoid the whole time since Clara ended up being the one to scare him without him knowing it was her? Then what was under the blanket?!

Why don't we just talk about the stuff I did get. Danny clearly has issues, because he gets upset at Clara twice, but he apologizes and she's okay with it. (Probably should have just started with the drinks like you were supposed to and take it slow.) Clara is clearly curious, but how many more times are we going to see Danny get irritated by something she says?

There's also some insight into Danny's future, when his grandson (great-grandson? did anyone catch that?) says his family has a history of time travel. Will we see Danny in the TARDIS sooner rather than later? Are they going to draw this out for a long period of time? I hope not.

The Doctor spends time trying to figure out the week's problem, which was a problem, but now it isn't? Wait, I'm supposed to stick with things I understood...

We had some funny moments, including the Doctor's confusion at Clara's three mirrors and the fact that multiple people think Clara has a "wide" face.

All in all, I was confused and hope that a second viewing will help me to figure out what was going on. I was hoping for an episode that was a little more concise and understandable, but I really should stop expecting that from Moffat.

Next week seems a little more down my alley: bank heist!

Saturday, September 13, 2014

The Procrastinator's Movie Review: Cuban Fury

Cuban Fury

Release Date: April 11, 2014

Who was in that one again? Nick Frost, Rashida Jones, Chris O'Dowd, and Olivia Coleman

I can't remember the plot. Nick Frost plays a man named Bruce Garrett who used to love salsa dancing as a kid - he competed and won a bunch of trophies with his sister - but bullies who beat him up caused him to give it up. In present day, he's overweight and works at an office where his new boss Julia (Jones) is cute and awkward and also can do a bit of salsa! Unfortunately Drew (O'Dowd) is a jerk who decides he's going to be with Julia, and Bruce decides he's going to take up salsa again to win her, with the help of his sister (Coleman).

The review: You probably didn't hear about this movie when it came out, which is a shame - it's great! It's a bit raunchy (no nudity, but lots of innuendo and blatant stuff too), but also very funny with great dancing. The editing does a great job of making it look like Frost and Coleman and Jones are actually doing all those crazy moves, even though they probably weren't doing all of them.

My favorite scene is where O'Dowd and Frost have a salsa dance-off during their lunch hour instead of a fistfight, and it's just hilarious how the scene plays out.

The movie also isn't just your average dance movie with a thin plot. There's unexpected things, too, which is great. I like when a movie isn't predictable.

MVP: Nick Frost does a great job being the lead role, since he's usually relegated to the supporting goofball. (See: the Edgar Wright trilogy) He's great and he can dance very well.

Blurb Musing Rating (out of five): Four sequined shirts. Could have done without all the sex jokes, but otherwise great!

Tuesday, September 9, 2014

The Disney Update

I am now less than 30 days away from my Disney vacation! Since it gets closer every day, I'm going to fill you in on a couple of things I've planned so far.

Flights

I fly out on a weekday evening and return on weekend night. I'm doing both flights direct, with no layovers. (Just the way I like to travel!) I'm flying with Frontier, which has decided lately to add on a gazillion surcharges, including the carry-on bag. I will check my yellow Disney suitcase, which I have taken on all my Disney trips lately and I love to death.

Rental Car

I have rarely rented a car (considering I'm only a few years past the rental-car-privilege-age of 25), but I've had pretty good experiences in Denver and Tampa. This will be my first time renting in Orlando, which has been known to be a very good rental car destination, considering the millions of tourists that go through MCO.

The one problem is that my flight gets in on Tuesday at 11:30pm, and I'm worried that if I come in later, Dollar Rental's counter (where I have my reservation) will already be closed. I picked Dollar because I get a mid-size sedan for twenty bucks a day, plus some extra charges added on. I've heard from Disney people that Dollar is a good place to go. Hopefully I can say the same!

Hotel

This was my one sticking point when I was planning initially. I really wanted to stay on-site at Universal for one night, and Disney for the other three. But the rates for these on-property hotels is staggering, and since I'm going solo, I don't have anyone with which to share the charge.

Instead, I'm staying at an off-site motel that I have stayed at in the past, and had a good experience. It only takes ten minutes to get to the Magic Kingdom's Ticket and Transportation Center.

Itinerary

Two things are confirmed: I will be visiting Universal Orlando for the first time ever on my first day, and on my second day I will be attending my first ever Mickey's Not-So-Scary Halloween Party. (Yup - that's what it's called.) I am very excited for both things.

To prepare for Universal, I have been re-reading the Harry Potter novels. While the first two are okay, I always get into it a lot more during Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban, which is debatably my favorite of the series. (It changes every now and again.) The ending itself is enchanting to read, and I always enjoy the twists. Now I'm racing through Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire.

This will help me get in the mood when I first enter Diagon Alley for the first time. I haven't looked in-depth at any photos or videos of that area, because I want to discover things for myself when I walk up and down the streets. I also look forward to getting on the Hogwarts Express and going to Hogsmeade village, which is in Islands of Adventure, and going into Hogwarts. Just typing that makes me giddy!

Day Two, Three, and Four are Disney days. Since I have recently spent two days at the Magic Kingdom, and really got to experience it in-depth, I'm not going to spend too much time there. I'll enjoy the new things that have appeared since 2012 (New Fantasyland, mostly) and try to experience as much as I can during the Halloween Party. You can dress up for that, and I have a fantastic costume picked out!

I can get into the party around 4pm, but I will spend the first part of the day in Epcot, enjoying the Food and Wine Festival for the first time. I know I will have some very jealous friends when I post pictures of the amazing foods I will be eating!

Day Three is a toss-up day, but I will probably spend the first part of the day in the Animal Kingdom, and the late afternoon and evening in Hollywood Studios. My favorite nighttime spectacular of all time is "Fantasmic!" and I can't pass up the opportunity to see it for the twelfth-ish (maybe more?) time.

On Day Four I hope to finish up at Hollywood Studios and Epcot again, doing things I didn't have time to do earlier. I need to have the rental car back at the airport around suppertime, but there's plenty I can do before then.

Goals

The main goal for this trip is to record as much audio as possible at Animal Kingdom, Hollywood Studios, and Epcot. I've already done an entire series on the background music of the Magic Kingdom, and I want to be prepared when I start the other parks. So much of my time writing about Magic Kindgom music was spent researching and wondering if this information I was finding on the Internet was really genuine, and it took a long time to confirm. But now that I'll be in the parks, I can know it for myself!

Another goal is to enjoy the parks at a leisurely pace. It hasn't been terribly long since I've been to Orlando, so I don't feel that pressure to do EVERYTHING I can. Sure, I will be there at park opening to enjoy as much of the parks as possible, but instead of running down Hollywood Boulevard I might take it at a stroll.

The final goal is to figure out Fastpass+ and the My Disney Experience. Both of these have rolled out in 2014, and I've tried to stay current with all the information. Fastpass+ replaces the old Fastpass system that my family discovered (and loved) back in 2000. Instead of racing around and getting paper tickets, you use your phone to reserve times at favorite attractions. You can only reserve three attractions at a time, though. Even though I said I wouldn't race around doing everything, I'm still going to try this out so I can better inform people of what to expect.

Excitement!

I am very excited for this trip to happen! I am looking forward to doing research for my TouringPlans.com posts, and I will likely post other information here on the Blurb. Stay tuned - it's going to get very magical around here!

Sunday, September 7, 2014

Doctor RevWho: "Robot of Sherwood"

When I heard the title of this episode, my mind automatically went to, "Robin Hood...as a robot!"

Happily, my mind was not correct.

Instead of going with an obvious concept, writer Mark Gatiss (of Sherlock and Game of Thrones fame) goes with a different concept, and it works out brilliantly for this episode - my current favorite of the season.

As I was explaining to my father today, Doctor Who is full of genres. I have a hard time calling it sci-fi, because sometimes the sci-fi concept is used very loosely in an episode. (If you have time to look back at other episodes, try out "Midnight," which is a psychological horror episode at its finest.) The genre here was definitely action adventure, and all but guaranteed that I would enjoy it.

My favorite Doctor Who episodes are usually the ones that don't take themselves incredibly seriously. There is a lot of fun involved, with entertaining banter and a clever plot. My favorite episode 2-parter of all time, "Silence in the Library" and "Forest of the Dead," is fantasy and sci-fi with a fantastic enemy, a twist in the plot, and fleshed-out characters (RIP, Other Dave).

"Robot of Sherwood" introduced a great character right away in Robin Hood, played wonderfully by Tom Riley. He portrays the man as a swashbuckler, but also brings around the fact that he and his Merry Men laugh at everything - even things that aren't really that funny. I couldn't help but laugh myself when Robin would whip out a "Ha-HA!" in odd situations. Of course, the fact that they're laughing is explained to Clara - the situation is not funny, and they know it.

The Doctor likely shared our skepticism of the bandits' humanity, which made it all the more enjoyable to see him try to deduce what they were. He examined hair, drew blood, and even asked them to pee in a goblet. He also guesses that they are not exactly in England - perhaps a hologram, or a miniscope?

Fun Fact for Newbies (FFFN): The idea of a "miniscope" was introduced with the Third Doctor, when he and his assistant Jo get trapped in a miniaturized group of habitats that is actually a sideshow attraction. The episode arc was "Carnival of Monsters," and it's pretty great!

Our initial thoughts of the men are incorrect, and it's revealed that the Sheriff of Nottingham and his knights are actually the robots, stealing gold and people to help repair their "skyship" and get to their destination of "The Promised Land" (a repeat from "Deep Breath").

As I heard in one podcast, this episode was a romp. The Doctor and Robin have some fantastic conversations - especially in the dungeon - trying to one-up each other. Clara shows that she knows what she's doing and is actually the one in charge of things. The scene with the archery contest was the turning point - taking a playful episode and finally revealing who were the robots of the title.

I am always looking for good single-episode "introductions" to Doctor Who, for those who just want to see what it is about before really starting at the beginning. This would be a great episode to use to whet one's appetite - especially if they love adventure stories, like me!

Wednesday, September 3, 2014

SYTYCD Wrap-up

Was there ever any doubt?

I mostly tuned in to the last half of the finale (work commitments prevented me from seeing all of it) to see if anyone would de-throne Ricky, but America stuck with their choice from pretty much Day 1. Everybody thought Ricky would win, except for, well, me.

I didn't see it right away. His dancing reminded me of other dancers and didn't really stick out. To be honest, no one this season really stuck out for me, and it wasn't till last week that I realized I was rooting for Zack.

I'm okay with the decision, and one of these days I'll be rooting for the person that wins! I always seem to side with the second-tier people because I think they don't get enough love, or I'm sick of all the hype the main people are getting. Eventually I will side with the overhyped person - probably when pigs fly.

Before I finish, I gotta mention the Top 10/All-Star dance near the end, done to The Temper Trap's "Sweet Disposition." That song is one of my favorites to begin with, but adding the amazing moves by Christopher Scott (I'm thinking he did much of the stuff I liked) really made it one of my favorite group numbers of all time. Nothing can touch "Ramalama," of course, but plenty can get in that second group of favorites!

I hope you enjoyed Season 11, and may Season 12 come quickly!

Monday, September 1, 2014

Doctor RevWho: "Into the Dalek"

It's hard for me to adjust to the fact that there were two new Doctor Who episodes two weeks in a row, and there will be another one this Saturday. We fans haven't had that pleasure since the spring of 2013, and that was a pretty long time ago.

Plus, if you put the past four Doctor Who episodes together ("The Day of the Doctor," "The Time of the Doctor," "Deep Breath," and "Into the Dalek") three of them feature a Dalek in some form. I honestly have some Dalek-fatigue, and came into this episode looking forward to getting it out of the way so we could have some new episodes with new villans or threats.

I did like this episode, however. It allowed the Daleks to feature in a different way than usual: by injuring one in such a way that he turned into a good guy.

I spent quite a bit of the episode pondering why exactly the Doctor and his friends miniaturized themselves in the first place. Why repair an injured Dalek? Didn't one of them at least wonder if the Dalek would be restored to its normal, humanity-hating personality once it was turned back to normal? I sure would have.

Once that took place, however, I enjoyed it a lot more. I was eagerly wondering if the Doctor, Clara, and Journey would be able to remind the Dalek of his memory of the star being born. It was pretty evident how that would happen if it did; they had pointed out the brain and memory bank of the Dalek early on in the episode.

For anyone that had never viewed "Dalek" from series 1 (featuring the Ninth Doctor as played by Christopher Eccleston), they might have been surprised to see the creature inside the Dalek, and probably was a little more jarring to see. I was impressed to know that the metal armor of a Dalek is still part of the Dalek and can cause pain if injured.

We got to see Clara's day job as teacher at Coal Hill School. Fun Fact For Newbies (FFFN?): Coal Hill School was the workplace of two of the Doctor's original companions back in 1963. Barbara and Ian were teachers there and went off on many adventures with the First Doctor.

Now, Clara teaches there and meets a new teacher named Danny Pink - an incredibly gorgeous "Maths" teacher with a background in the military, which apparently has scarred him deeply. I'm looking forward to getting to know Danny Pink better - not just because he's easy on the eyes (yup, I'm already infatuated), but because his story is practically begging to be told. I'm hoping he learns about the Doctor and the TARDIS very soon, because it's always fun to see the different reactions!

I'm going to be bold and say that eventually Journey Blue will join the TARDIS team - probably once Clara has left. Doctor Who has been known to tease new companions before the join full-time (Clara being one of them) and she seemed very gung-ho about wanting to go with the Doctor at the end of the episode. Perhaps she leaves her military life behind and goes into the private sector?

That's all for this week - remember: "Don't be a lasagna."