Movies: Robot and Frank

June 22, 2014

I was waiting in line to check out books at the library when I noticed Robot and Frank on a nearby rack displaying a dozen or so DVDs. I’m not sure if their placement there means they’re popular, or recommended, or what. I often recognize the titles but rarely see any I want to watch.

As this was one I hadn’t heard of and it involved a robot, I was interested enough to pick up the box and read the description on the back. If it had been a book, that would have been enough for me to take it home to read. But since a movie would be for the whole family to watch, I first wanted to read some reviews.

The reviews were all positive, but the next time I went to the library it was checked out. I suppose it must be relatively popular, because it was weeks before I managed to find it again (back in the regular movie stacks but set apart on a display shelf).

It’s hard to sum up briefly, which is probably a large part of what I like about it. It doesn’t fit the usual categories of Hollywood movies (not surprising since it was an indie film, distributed by studios after it won a prize at the Sundance festival).

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Movies: Odd Thomas

June 11, 2014

Dean Koontz is one of my favorite authors, and Odd Thomas is one of my favorite books by Koontz. I was surprised, however, to discover that it had been made into a movie. Part of what appeals to me so much about the character of Odd Thomas is his “voice” – the way he tells his story and how he talks about himself and about life. That didn’t seem like it would translate well onto the screen.

But it does, surprisingly well, because the movie allows Odd to narrate the story, rather than just trying to display it through images and action. It’s not the same as the book, of course – a movie adaptation always has to pick and choose and leave out a great deal. But on the whole I think it is very faithful to the book – and I ended up choked up at the end of the movie just as I did at the end of the book.

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Books: I Shouldn’t Even Be Doing This

June 7, 2014

I rarely read biographies, and I only picked up this one because it came up in a search I did in the library catalog. I’m working on a humorous speech for Toastmasters, which requires me to include material I have heard or read, along with personal experiences of my own.

I started working on a speech about names, but had trouble finding material. So I decided to switch my topic to golf. I was sure I could find plenty, but it wasn’t showing up in the books in the humor section of the library. So I used the online catalog. This found me a book by Bill Murray and another by Bob Newhart.

I associate them with humor, but not necessarily with golf. In the end I found two other books on golf humor, which turned out to be in the golf section, along with serious books on how to improve your game. The book by Newhart has only one short chapter about golf, which didn’t look helpful to my speech. But I decided to read the book anyway, just for a change of pace.

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November 30, 2013

Working at a college doesn’t always mean getting an education myself (though I am seriously considered taking a class in German next year, since my 8th grade son says that’s the language he wants to study in high school). But now and then I do learn something new in the course of my work – quite aside from the constant process of learning how the software works that is the focus of my job.

With Thanksgiving approaching, a colleague forwarded an article about turkeys and Big Bird. I really had never thought either about what happens to a turkey’s feathers when it is slaughtered to become Thanksgiving dinner (or any other time of the year), or about where in the world those bright yellow feathers come from that make up Big Bird’s costume. But apparently the two are connected.

While Big Bird is not a turkey (according to Muppet Wiki, Oscar has claimed Big Bird is a turkey, Big Bird has claimed to be lark), his costume is made from turkey feathers. Approximately 4,000 of them – unless you want to take the Count’s word for it that there are over 5,961.

This article, written during the 2012 presidential campaign, when Mitt Romney said he wanted to cut funding for PBS, describes how feathers are prepared for Big Bird’s costumes. This introduces a whole new subject to learn about, which gets into the challenging topics of economics and politics. (I’m inclined to agree with this article.)

I doubt that any feathers from the turkey we ate on Thursday (and yesterday, and today, and probably tomorrow) will ever find their way to Sesame Street. Most poultry feathers are either used in low-grade animal feedstock or thrown out (incinerated or consigned to landfill). But scientists have been working on ways to recycle the feathers into useful products.


Movies: Ender’s Game

November 10, 2013

The problem with going to a movie made from a great book is that you know the movie will inevitably fall short, but you still want to see the story played out on the big screen. Because the author of Ender’s Game (the book) was one of the producers of Ender’s Game (the movie), I knew the movie would get the key things right. But I still had to keep reminding myself that the movie is a separate work, and that it can be good in different ways from the book, even while lacking so much that made the book great.

The first thing that surprised me was that the movie started with Ender as a preteen rather than a 6-year-old. To see a boy of around twelve use the violence necessary to keep a bully from ever attacking him again just does not have the same impact as seeing that happen with a mere 6-year-old. Still, it makes its point, while bowing to the reality that finding a much younger boy with the ability to play this role convincingly would be as hard as finding a real-life Ender Wiggin.

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Just my type?

September 18, 2013

As a fan of the Harry Potter books (and movies), when I saw this on facebook I was naturally curious to see which character in the series has the same Myers-Briggs personality type as I do. I was not exactly thrilled to see that – at least according to whoever put the chart together – I share the ISTJ type with Severus Snape.

OK, so the description matches: “… Somewhat reserved and prefer to work alone … Deeply value traditions and loyalty and often put duty before pleasure.” Yes, that sounds like me. But … Snape?

My husband, an EFNJ (yes, opposites do attract), is more like Dumbledore, “the Teacher.” I have always admired Teachers (who often are in fact teachers), and wanted to be like them. I’m sure that’s why I became a Spanish teacher. I suppose there are ISTJ teachers who are much more approachable than Snape. But I decided that my ISTJ personality belonged to a computer room more than a classroom.

I discovered that people have tried to identify the Myers-Briggs personality type of a lot of characters in books and movies. This article only identifies one book for each type. I apparently share the ISTJ type with Inspector Javert in Les Misérables; not exactly the most favorable comparison either.

So I found this page, which identifies a great many characters for each type. It also lists Inspector Javert, as well as Spock from Star Trek, Agent K from Men in Black, Susan Calvin from Isaac Asimov’s I, Robot, and a lot of characters I’ve never heard of. I don’t know how accurate the identifications are, though – Hermione Granger is listed here as ISTJ, while the chart I looked at first classed her as INTP. This page doesn’t list her there, but it does have Agent K in that category as well as in ISTJ. Hmmmm.


5K in 33:26

August 4, 2013

For months I have been preparing for yesterday’s 5K race, hoping to beat my time from last year. Until last week, though, I remembered wrong how long it took me last year, and thought I just needed to finish in about 36 minutes or so.

Then I went back and checked last year’s time: 36 minutes, 29 seconds. How had I managed that? (I remember being equally surprised last year when I was told my time upon finishing.) My best time in my recent runs averaged about eleven and a half minutes per mile.

That would put me under 36 minutes, but not my much. What if I couldn’t push myself nearly to exhaustion as I did last year? (Last year I ran with someone who kept pushing me to keep going, and it was easier to put my energy into complying than arguing I couldn’t do it.)

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Movies: Iron Man 3

May 10, 2013

If you like nonstop action and lots of thing blowing up, you’ll probably enjoy Iron Man 3. If you’re looking for originality, character development, and a chance to give your adrenaline glands a rest – well, you probably wouldn’t be in the theater watching it. Unless, like me, you wanted to do something together with your comic-book-action-hero-loving husband and sons.

One viewer at imdb.com calls it an average movie and says that he (I’m guessing, but could be she) was hoping for a darker story. It was plenty dark enough for me, thank you, and so filled with violence that after a while I started letting my eyes glaze over a bit. I just don’t get what’s entertaining about explosions.

Special effects are impressive, I suppose, if you like special effects. Personally I don’t like watching people’s bodies look like they’re turning into molten metal.

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Movies: The Pirates! Band of Misfits

March 12, 2013

I wouldn’t want to have spent money in order to see this movie, but as a free checkout from the library, The Pirates! Band of Misfits not a bad family movie. The story is kind of wacky (actually the whole movie is kind of wacky), but there is a lot of humor, and a message about being true to your friends and to who you are (though even this last bit is saved from undue moralizing by its humorous context).

Pirates aren’t usually role models for the values of friendship and personal integrity, but these aren’t exactly your typical bloodthirsty pirates. The Pirate Captain (that is his name, not just his title) claims to enjoy running people through, but his motivation for attacking other ships is to collect enough loot to win the Pirate of the Year award.

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Movies: The League of Incredible Vegetables

December 30, 2012

Our family watches a lot of superhero movies. We recently reorganized the DVDs, setting aside a rack just for superhero movies. And we like Veggie Tales. So when a new Veggie Tales movie came out with the title The League of Incredible Vegetables, well, of course we had to buy it.

Since my boys are far past the age of the target audience, it’s hard to say just how effective the video is in getting its message across. But it’s fun to watch, even for teens and adults, and of course no one is too old to need the lessons taught by Big Idea’s colorful vegetables.

The subject of dealing with fear is one Veggie Tales has addressed before. Their very first video, Where’s God When I’m S-Scared?, is still one of their best, even if the animation isn’t as good as those produced using today’s computers and software.

Both videos teach that God is bigger than the things that make us afraid. The earlier video addressed Junior Asparagus’s fear of monsters in the closet, a fear that is very real for young children even if the monsters are not. The fears cited in this new video seem a bit odd, in comparison.

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