Ice Age The Meltdown

January 16th, 2007

Link: http://imdb.com/title/tt0438097/

Ice Age The MeltdownYour favorite sub-zero heroes are back for another incredible adventure in the super-cool sequel to the global hit comedy Ice Age.

The action heats up -- and so does the temperature -- for Manny, Sid, Diego and Scrat. Trying to escape the valley to avoid a flood of trouble, the comical creatures embark on a hilarious journey across the thawing landscape and meet Ellie, a female woolly mammoth who melts Manny's heart.

With its dazzling animation, unforgettable characters and playful music, Ice Age The Meltdown is laugh-out-loud fun for the whole family!

I laughed a lot. Certainly I laughed more than I had expected to. As things got underway, I figured Ice Age The Meltdown would be the classic animated sequel -- thrown together too quickly to try and ride the wave of initial popularity. If I may be so bold, I enjoyed Ice Age The Meltdown more than it's predecessor.

The story was a little...childish, but consider that it is still primarily a kids' movie. While it may have happened earlier, I cite Toy Story as being the first movie to include more adult humor, and Ice Age The Meltdown follows suit. This movie goes above and beyond the legacy created by Toy Story. I would even recommend you reserve the movie for your slightly older children because some of the writing borders the inappropriate (my only example here is when Manny is called "pervert"). With that simple disclaimer made, the rest of the movie was a lot of fun. There was plenty of funny dialogue and hilarious physical comedy. I was watching for some sort of message, but if they meant to, I am not sure they succeeded delivering one.

I enjoy the Ice Age series and its characters. I am not sure how many movies the series will be able to span, but I am confident that they could do at least one more. I enjoy the dynamic of the "herd," comprised first of a sloth; a sabretooth tiger; and a woolly mammoth, and now including a second mammoth and two possums. Their personalities go well together as they interact in a prehistoric age reminding me of another kids series I enjoyed growing up: The Land Before Time.

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Top 5 Movies: About Incarceration

January 11th, 2007

Kill Bill Volume 1

January 11th, 2007

Link: http://imdb.com/title/tt0266697/

Kill Bill Volume 1The acclaimed fourth film from groundbreaking writer and director Quentin Tarantino (Pulp Fiction, Jackie Brown), Kill Bill Volume 1 stars Uma Thurman (Pulp Fiction), Lucy Liu (Charlie's Angels, Chicago) and Vivica A. Fox (Two Can Play That Game) in an astonishing, action-packed thriller about brutal betrayal and an epic vendetta! Four years after taking a bullet in the head at her own wedding, The Bride (Thurman) emerges from a coma and decides it's time for payback...with a vengeance! Having been gunned down by her former boss (David Carradine) and his deadly squad of international assassins, it's a kill-or-be-killed fight she didn't start but is determined to finish! Loaded with explosive action and outrageous humor, it's a must-see motion picture event that has critics everywhere raving.

Of the two times I sat down to watch Kill Bill Volume 1, I can say that I only fell asleep once. Watching it for the first time, I never realized how slow the story is. I actually used to make excuses about how tired I was that day I fell asleep rather than seeing what really happened. There is some amazing action in Kill Bill Volume 1, but it is neatly bundled into only a few scenes. Those scenes were great, and the marriage between live action scenes and anime shorts worked very well.

The movie was pretty funny, more so than I had expected. The humor was in the writing in some parts, but also in just how ridiculously bloody the fight scenes were. Think of Kill Bill Volume 1 as a cross between Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon and The Evil Dead. From Crouching Tiger we see the live action fight scenes choreographed like Japanese anime cartoons. From Evil Dead we get high-pressured spouts of blood coming from every slash and cut.

The language is not the best, but it is the fight scenes that would probably prevent you from showing this movie to young children and the squeemish.

Kill Bill Volume 1 was good, but not great. I am hoping that it will gain favor with me when I see Volume 2. I have heard that they really must regarded as two parts of a whole and that it is unfair to judge them separately.

Get yourself a large caffeinated beverage and enjoy Kill Bill Volume 1. That is unless my suspicions are correct and I am actually the last person to see this movie.

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Goodbye to the Blue Plate

January 10th, 2007

www.michigan.gov/sosIt is with a heavy heart that I write this post today. With the expiration of my license tags around the corner I received my renewal information in the mail. Inside the envelope was a small information sheet regarding the end of an era. The State of Michigan is doing away with the plain blue license plates that we hold so dear.

Beginning Jan. 1, 2007, Michigan has a new standard license plate (white background, blue letters) that replaces the blue standard plate (blue background, white letters). Public Act 177 of 2006 requires the Department of State to stop issuing, renewing, replacing or transferring the blue plate.

The new standard plate is clean in design, rust-resistant, tamper-proof and easily identifiable. Unlike the blue plate, whose color scheme made it difficult to see at night, the new plate's fully reflective background makes it much more visible. (link)

Gone is the license plate that, when we see another while driving out of state, reminds us of home; gone is that license plate that signals "friend." It appears that the State is opting, rather, for a plain and boring, but "state of the art" plate. But why?

FISCAL IMPACT
The Department of State estimates one-time costs related to the new plate at approximately $11.0 million. Under the bills, the cost of the new plate would be funded from the Michigan Transportation Fund. The cost estimate is based on the design and production of 6.0 million plates, including postage and handling costs. The bills also would result in additional annual ongoing costs in future years of $690,000. The Department annually orders 1.5 million plates related to new vehicles and replacement plates. The reflective plate required by House Bill 5607 (H-3) costs $0.46 more per plate than the current blue plate.

The Department of State anticipates that the new plate would result in improved compliance with vehicle registration laws, more than offsetting one-time costs related to the new plate. This is based on a noncompliance rate of 3% (166,735 vehicles). Using an average registration cost of $92 per vehicle, the Department estimates that $15.3 million in additional revenue would be generated to the MTF (a net MTF increase of $4.4 million after one-time costs associated with the new plate). (cite)

So it seems that as a (for lack of a better term) ploy to get vehicle owners to not fradulently fake their registration, everyone with the blue plate gets a new plate. I hope you have a spot picked out on the wall for your comforting blue plate to hang.

www.michigan.gov/sosAnd who got the final say on this design? I can understand the blue bar across the top. I may have seen an out-of-state plate recently that was similar, so we are copying other states. But why put the state's website across the bottom? Other states have bookmarked the name of the state with the "www." and the ".gov" across the top with no problems. Why can't Michigan do that and leave room for some slogan, some poetic signature of the state across the bottom?

For more information regarding renewal if you are a blue plate owner, go here.
For complete information regarding House Bill 5607 pertaining to Public Act 177 of 2006 go here.

Goodbye Blue Plate, you will be missed.

The Poet - Michael Connelly

January 9th, 2007

The Poet by Michael ConnellyMichael Connelly has written one explosive thriller after another featuring Detective Harry Bosch. Now, in an electrifying departure, he presents a novel that breaks all the rules and will keep your heart racing and your mind guessing until the very last page.

Death is reporter Jack McEvoy's beat: his calling, his obsession. But this time, death brings McEvoy the story he never wanted to write -- and the mystery he desperately needs to solve. A serial killer of unprecedented savagery and cunning is at large. His targets: homicide cops, each haunted by a murder case he couldn't crack. The killer's calling card: a quotation from the works of Edgar Allan Poe. His latest victim is McEvoy's own brother. And his last... may be McEvoy himself.

I have heard that a major key to writing well is to write what you know. In turn, as a murder-mystery writer you cannot write well about a crime scene unless you have actually stood outside the yellow tape and taken the situation in with all of your senses, or so the story would go. And that is the emphasis behind Michael Connelly's The Poet as I see it. Before becoming a best-selling author, Connelly wrote for newspapers, "primarily specializing in the crime beat" (MichaelConnelly.com). So before he wrote books, Connelly was a reporter. And instead of "typical" detective fiction, The Poet is about (what else?): a reporter.

I was immediately drawn to main character Jack McEvoy. He was sculpted with more precision. He was written with more passion. I may be way off base with this, but it seemed to me that McEvoy was a more natural character for Connelly to write. I have been to talks given by Michael Connelly where he shares experiences with police officers he was privileged to have, so you know there is truth in his detective fiction, but it was fun to read the same type of story wrapped in a different package. He had ridden along with the officers, but he had lived as a reporter. It was entertaining to get some insight into how reporters fight for information since they do not have the authority or the reputation with the police, and see just how competitive their world can be.

Yes, there is a girl. And right away I was closed minded to the whole thing. "This story did not need romantic involvement," I pleaded to the book in my hands, "it is so good without it." But I was wrong. Too often the romance is built in to make the book more marketable to a wider audience. Not so in The Poet.

I cannot remember the last time I came across a book that was so hard to put down. The Poet was interesting, entertaining and suspenseful. I found myself finishing the last page, closing the back cover of the book and wanting for fresh air. "THAT was a good book," I said aloud, to no one in the room.

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Night at the Museum

January 8th, 2007

Link: http://imdb.com/title/tt0477347/

I did not plan to see Night at the Museum.

I did not want to see Night at the Museum.

But...I was invited to go. So I went. Why not, right?

I liked it.

Before going to see it for myself, I was perplexed by the numbers this movie was posting at the box office. The only rationale I could attribute to its success was that it was pretty much the only "kids movie" out, but that couldn't be enough of a driving force to get that many people to go see it. But now it all makes sense.

If you are in search of a thought-provoking, well-written plot with rich character development, Night at the Museum should not be on your list. If you want a fun (and at times very funny) film with a good message for your kids, make sure Night at the Museum is on your list. The story was a little hokey; I can admit that. But it was still entertaining.

Ben Stiller (who I do not typically enjoy) is Larry, the consistently out-of-work, divorced father who takes a job as night security for The Museum of Natural History. The job sounds simple enough, but he soon finds it is much more than he bargained for when on his first night everything in the museum comes to life. Yes. Literally.

The story, very narrowly, is about Stiller being a hero to his kid. Much more broadly, the story shows kids how much fun history can be (apparently as long as you don't have the teachers I had in high school!). The movie has probably influenced an increase in trips to museums all over the country by exciting children about the mysticism of the exhibits. Any movie that can be entertaining and educational like that deserves praise. I will even admit that it caused me to consider a trip to a museum one of these days.

But the real highlight for me was the constant banter between Owen Wilson and Steve Coogan, as Jedidiah and Octavius respectively. They played leaders of groups of miniature characters in the "diorama room" of the museum, constantly at war with each other. Their interaction with each other and Ben Stiller was hilarious. (They even made me a little nostalgic for the good old days of The Indian in the Cupboard.)

I saw Night at the Museum in IMAX, which did not seem to make much of a difference. It was a pleasant viewing and listening experience, but I would imagine that Night at the Museum is just as good in your normal theater, so save yourself the extra few dollars.

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Roasted Garlic Bread

January 7th, 2007

This recipe was available at foodnetwork.com and was taken from an episode of Easy Entertaining with Michael Chiarello. I wanted to make my own garlic bread, even though the Texas toast available in the freezer aisle of my local grocer is so good. I looked online for a recipe I liked and found that for something as simple as garlic bread, there are an incredible amount of different recipes. Many suggested I use 4 cloves or 6 cloves of garlic. I chose this recipe because it says use 4 HEADS of garlic. I was sold.

4 heads garlic
1/3 cup extra-virgin olive oil
3 sprigs thyme, plus 1 tablespoon finely chopped
Grey salt and freshly ground black pepper
8 tablespoons unsalted butter (1 stick), at room temperature
1 loaf of good, crusty bread, cut into slices

Preheat oven to 350 degrees F.

Cut top from each head of garlic, exposing the cloves. Place heads of garlic (cut side up), on a piece of heavy duty aluminum foil. Pour olive oil over them, and top with thyme springs. Season with salt and pepper. Wrap the foil tightly. Place in a small ovenproof pan, and bake until the cloves begin to pop out, about 1 hour. Remove from the oven and cool.

To remove the cloves, open the foil and squeeze the lower part of the head of garlic. In a small bowl, mash the cloves to form a paste. (At this point the paste can be used or stored in the refrigerator or freezer.)

Add butter and chopped thyme to the bowl, stirring to combine. Season with salt and pepper, to taste.

Toast both sides of the bread, using a hot grill, grill pan, or broiler. Spread the roasted garlic butter paste onto the toasted bread. Serve immediately.

The only small variation I opted for with this recipe (not including my inability to find grey salt) was to actually sprinkle grated parmesan cheese over each piece of bread once the garlic butter paste had been applied. This recipe was great using the loaf of Italian bread I picked up at my grocer's bakery section. I had slices of mozzarella that were about the size of a silver dollar and maybe 1/4-1/2" thick. Those went great on the pasta, but even better on the bread especially when it was topped with my friend's homemade sauce.

You can bet I will use this recipe again.

January 6th, 2007
Jeffery Deaver - The Twelfth Card - 257[S]he was finally lulled to sleep -- not by a mother's good-night kiss, or a father's deep voice reciting a prayer, but by the litany of a stranger's beautiful words.

Running with Scissors - Augusten Burroughs

January 5th, 2007

Running with Scissors by Augusten BurroughsRunning with Scissors is the true story of a boy whose mother (a poet with delusions of Anne Sexton) gave him away to be raised by her unorthodox psychiatrist who bore a striking resemblance to Santa Claus. So at the age of twelve, Burroughs finds himself amidst Victorian squalor living with the doctor's bizarre family, and befriending a pedophile who resided in the backyard shed. The story of an outlaw childhood where rules were unheard of, and the Christmas tree stayed up all year-round, where Valium was consumed like candy, and if things god dull, an electroshock-therapy machine could provide entertainment. The funny, harrowing, and bestselling account of an ordinary boy's survival under the most extraordinary circumstances.

I was worried. And as the book began, I became more worried. I was not worried that my expectations were too high, because they weren't. I was worried that they were so low that I was doomed.

For so long David Sedaris has been the benchmark for dysfunctional memoir. I was not afraid the new guy on the block would unseat Mr. Sedaris from his position, but rather I was afraid that someone else was just trying to ride Sedaris's coat tails to sell a few books. I was not excited for "My childhood was horrible, but boy am I glad I made it through...and somehow learned to write" to become the next hot genre. That would surely turn into a shouting match about whose story was more horrific and it would get out of hand. And the writing, which would not be done very well to begin with, would suffer. (And yes, I do over-analyze everything. Thank you very much.) In fact, I had heard that the writing in Running with Scissors left much to be desired.

To my surprise, not only did I enjoy Burroughs's writing, but I enjoyed the book as a whole.

Even though I wrote above that I became increasingly worried over the first few chapters, I found myself really enjoying Burroughs's colloquial writing style. It was funny and very easy to read. I do not think that I laughed nearly as much as other people that I know who have read the book, but I am harder to please in that regard.

The only bump I hit came early in the book. There was a brief recounting of a story involving the actions of the 6-year-old boy in the house. I was immediately concerned that the rest of the book would be filled with unnecessary anecdotes about other people. I was afraid that Burroughs had written a book that solely focused on the crazy things that happened around him and the crazier people who were a part of them, rather than actually writing about himself. I was pleasantly surprised to find that I only had that feeling at that one moment.

From what I can gather, Augusten Burroughs did not write this book to get anyone's sympathy. Nor did he write it as a self-deprecating book of jokes to make us laugh at his misfortune. But do not be surprised when you can laugh at some parts and you will easily feel sorry for what he had to go through. Running with Scissors was a touching memoir written with crisp wit. The language was very harsh at times and there were...unconventional sexual situations; if that is a red flag, you would probably do best to stay away from Running with Scissors. Otherwise, I will probably not seek out other works by Burroughs, but I am glad I read Running with Scissors and I believe it lived up to much of the praise it has received.

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Coupon Cash Value

January 4th, 2007

I figured I could not be the only person to ever wonder why the back of my coupon read that it had cash value. I also figured that I could not be the first person who for a brief moment considered that to be the solution to my money woes: gather up all of the Burger King coupons I can find and send them in, redeeming them for that 1/100¢ each. Before you know it, I will have amassed a king's ransom. I was immediately disappointed in myself for not having a handle bar mustache that I could twist between my fingers while I schemed.

But wait. 1/100 of one cent. That means 100 coupons equals one penny. 3900 coupons covers postage. I would probably need another 500-1000 coupons to cover the cost of my envelope. But 5000 coupons will not fit in a regular envelope. This is simply not economically feasible. My plans have been thwarted again...

If it is inconceivable that anyone would ever attempt to redeem the coupons for their stated cash value, why are they even given cash value in the first place?!

Well I did some digging around. Here is some of what I found.

Q: I HAVE NOTICED THAT THE BOTTOM OF MANY COUPONS SAY, CASH VALUE ONE TWENTIETH OF A CENT. WHY IS THAT STATEMENT IS ON COUPONS?

A: WE CALLED THE COUPON COUNCIL FOR YOUR ANSWER. AND IT SAYS, SOME STATE LAWS REQUIRE THAT IF A CONSUMER DOES NOT WANT TO PURCHASE THE PRODUCT ON THE FACE OF THE COUPON, THAT THE CONSUMER CAN REDEEM THE COUPON FOR ITS CASH VALUE.

AND SINCE MANY COUPONS ARE PRINTED AND DISTRIBUTED ON A NATIONAL BASIS, MOST MANUFACTURERS HAVE DECIDED TO PUT THE CASH VALUE ON THE COUPON TO SIMPLIFY THE PROCESS. THINK OF IT AS A PROMOTION THAT HAS TO HAVE A STATED VALUE.

http://www.nbc4.com/answerstoaskliz2002/1448491/detail.html

Who knew there was such thing as a Coupon Council? Cool.

Another site suggests that the whole thing started around the Depression when the government provided books of stamps (not-so-distant relative to today's coupon) to the citizens. Rather than redeeming the stamps for items one did not necessarily require, he or she could redeem the stamp for its stated cash equivalent. It was then state laws around the country that have predominated over the issue.

More information on this story and more is available at the following sites: http://www.geocities.com/srivathsajoshi/lukuchap53.html
http://ask.yahoo.com/20030808.html