2014 Reflections and 2015 Prognostications

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I don’t know about most of you, but for me 2014 was a real mixed bag. There were some amazing things: pulling off the ANWA Conference in February, the birth of my sixth (and last) child in August, the baptism of my oldest son, and the publication of my first novel in October. I also discovered Mexican hot chocolate, The Pioneer Woman (and thus the concept of adding cream to nearly everything), and Pinterest.

There were hard things, too. Some of it very personal, some ephemeral in nature, and some that is just par for the course when you have a romp (a large group of otters)of children under the age 8. I’ve developed severe reactions to certain social situations. I have panic attacks (less so now that medications and essential oils are on board). I feel like the Lord has spent 2014 trying to teach me about humility and compassion for individual people. I’m not sure how effective it’s been, but I do feel changed.

I’m just not sure it’s for the better. My New Year’s tweets from last year were all about making it through by the skin of my teeth and being ready for something lighter in 2014. I really hope God got a good laugh out of those because this year has just been hard. Even the good stuff was taxing. And now that I am looking into 2015, I feel like I am peeking around the cracked open door, more than a little trepidatious of what lies in store. If what lies ahead isn’t healing and warm and fuzzy in nature, I’m not sure I’m ready. I need a year of comfort, a year that convinces me I am in the right place and safe, again.

I am choosing to take the rain (it’s raining here in AZ) as an omen. See, in the desert rain is hope. Rain is the promise that tomorrow we won’t wither away, and that the place we have put our roots will nourish us a little longer. Rain is life here. I have also had more than one encounter this year with hummingbirds. Most of you will shrug and say, “So?” For me and my family hummingbirds are also a sign of hope. They are a sign that we are watched over and loved from above. They signify that we are not alone in our journeyings and that heaven is aware of us. Moving to a home with a hummingbird feeder and the flowering plants that attract them in AZ was not coincidental. It was part of a decision to draw closer to the Spirit. And I know this year will see me filling my cup with that which is, “lovely, of good report, or praiseworthy.” –LDS Articles of Faith 1:13.

So as far as 2015 goes, I think in some respects it’s going to get harder. I will be out and about in the world (at least a few times) selling my book and me as an author. I will be diving into the task of writing the next book in the series, The Ideal Apprentice, as well as a middle grade piece I am working on. I still have kids to raise and a house to clean. I have a husband who has taken just as large a hit over this year as I did, and could use a little T.L.C. But I am confident that somethings will get easier, and that I will find ways to sustain myself so that this coming year leaves me feeling full and ready for 2016.

I hope your goals leave you feeling optimistic, as well. Happy New Year, everyone!!

Anika Goes to the Movies (or Redox, whatever): Guardians of the Galaxy

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I promised myself I would never pay money to see this movie. Turns out $.54 is my threshold for no money (thank you again for the Redox code Deanna).

Quick review: 3/5 stars. Yeah, some of it was funny, but there was too much swearing and very little of it was clever. Use the redox code. Don’t pay for it.

And now come the spoilers.

I have not read the Marvel comics that this is based on. Therefore, I am sure, the parts of the movie/story that I was actually interested in are in the comics. But since all I have seen is the movie I wanted to better understand the religious/political strife that causes the villain, Ronan, to decide on destroying an entire civilization. And while I understand the jealousy/rivalry going on with “sisters” Gamora and Nebula, I wish that would have been developed a bit more. Overall, I found the storytelling weak and the ending unsatisfying. *shrug*

If I never hear Bradley Cooper’s voice as a talking animal again, it will be too soon. (and yes, I know they are making a sequel. *ugh*). A raccoon with a Napoleon complex, making the plans, and generally being the most aggressive character of the bunch is just too on point for me. It is a concept that is trying too hard to be funny. And even when I don’t have to look at him, I don’t like Bradley Cooper. So, strike one.

The movie opens with the most painful moment in child protagonist, Peter Quill’s life (losing his mom to cancer), the same day he gets picked up by aliens and made a slave. And apparently threatened with being eaten. I guess that’s a regular thing out in the galaxy, the consumption of sentient beings. And our sad little boy who lost his mom, turns out to be a double crossing, womanizing, lowlife who is trying to build himself a reputation as the thief “Star Lord” when he grows up. I don’t know about you, but I like my heroes to have redeeming qualities. And there is no reason for any of the other characters (several of which call him names like imbecile and idiot during the course of the film) to follow him in the end. So it starts sad, and then gets weird and ick, and ends in a way that makes no sense. And Chris Pratt is not Nathan Fillion and never will be. Strike two.

The upside: Antagonist Ronan, aka actor Lee Pace, was pretty flipping cool. And Lee is fastly becoming one of my favorite actors. (The guy rides a battle moose in the Hobbit for goodness sake. Awesome!) And anywhere Djimon Hounsou is, I want to be. There wasn’t nearly enough of him. More Djimon!!

There were a few funny sequences. I’ll leave you to discover them if you are so inclined.

The two best bits of the movie though are the characters Drax (member of a race that can’t understand metaphor, sarcasm, or idiosyncratic speech) and Groot (a humanoid tree whose limited powers of speech allow him to say “I am Groot,” with various bits of inflection). These two are a riot. And the best part of the whole movie is potted baby Groot getting his groove on in the credits. Don’t skip out on that bit.

So that’s the long and short of it. Happy viewing. And stick around for a post later today on the impending New Year.

Anika Goes to the Movies: Into The Woods

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Quick review: 2/5 stars- Um, yeah. Roughly two hours of semi-painful, not really PG rated broadway oddness. Definitely wait for the Redbox or skip entirely. All you are missing is Meryl Streep.

All the spoilers ahead are part of a spoilers union. You don’t want to anger them with comments regarding their presence.

This was awful. I have seen the full video version of the original broadway cast with Bernadette Peters. And that was fun. It was also not for children.

But let’s start with the few redeeming factors. Meryl Streep, Emily Blunt, and James Cordon did some excellent acting. And Daniel Huttlestone (you might remember him as Gavroche from Les Miserables in 2012) who played the boy Jack did a fantastic job. The music wasn’t terrible most of the time, though let’s face it Jonny Depp can’t really sing, and Chris Pine lip-syncing himself wasn’t great. Also the cinematography and the CG stuff was lovely. It was visually interesting to say the least, though occasionally claustrophobic since, you know, they are in the woods all the time.

Other than that. . . this is not a PG movie. I had seen the headlines floating around that Disney had seriously tamed this down, and in some respects they did. But they obviously pushed this through to get the audience they wanted. None of the violence is visual or graphic, but people still die and get blinded and have bits of their feet cut off. They cut out Rapunzel’s pregnancy, but not the Prince and the Baker’s Wife’s infidelity. One man, supposedly a good guy, knowingly kisses another man’s wife. And of course, the song where she waxes philosophical about whether or not it was wrong stayed as well. Not sure about y’all, but I usually think of PG as 7yrs and up. There is no way that anyone under the age of 13 should be exposed to the concept of infidelity in a movie, let alone in a fairytale context. (Yes, I understand there are kids in the real world that have to deal with their parent’s immoral choices all the time, and that PG means parental guidance is suggested, but I’m glad I didn’t take my 8 year old with me to the PG Disney movie today, and that should say something.)

Furthermore, the acting styles of the various players just don’t mix. You have Anna Kendrick playing Cinderella with some real sincerity and then Chris Pine is the hokiest prince of all time. The song, “Agony” is agony to watch on the big screen. Jonny Depp’s adaptation of the wolf, while intentionally a mix of woodland and neighborhood predator, is just skin-crawlingly creepy. There is so much about this movie that on the big screen is just uncomfortable rather than comedic.

Marrying a musical to the cinematic screen is a tough business. You either have to give it a definitively “on stage” feel so that the music and the campy theater stuff doesn’t feel out of place, or you have to scrap that and find a way to make the music meld into a film setting. And frankly, the last movie I can think of that did it well was the 2005 version of Rent.

And this is just a personal thing, but I forgot how repetitive the lyrics are in this one. Don’t get me wrong they are rather clever most of the time, but after two hours of awkward disappointment I got a headache from the singsongy style and the word repetition.

I know this film is up for awards. Whatever. It didn’t work for me. It neither did what is was meant to do as the play did, bringing real moral questions to some of these fairytale stories, nor did it mellow enough to be a fun twist on the originals for most of the family.

My overall response to the Christmas movie today: Bah! Humbug!!

But better things are coming I promise. I got The Hundred-Foot Journey on DVD. So next time Anika Goes to the Movies in her living room, there will be a really happy review.

Literary Advent Update

So, this week wasn’t much better than the last. We made it through Max Lucida’s The Crippled Lamb and another, more traditional version of The 12 Days of Christmas illustrated by Laurel Long (it’s so gorgeous, I could just look at it forever), and then last night my mom read them a story that I haven’t read in years, but is one of my childhood favorites, The Ox Cart Man by Donald Hall. So much in there about work and family and love. It’s got layers. This week I am determined that there will be a story every night, but the fact that I have Piano Guys tickets for Tuesday might hamstring that. We shall see.

Anika Goes to the Movies: Big Hero 6

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Yes, I know this one is late. We went to see it on Thanksgiving. I took my oldest (8yrs) and my nephew(6yrs I think) and it was all the fun! Also for anyone hoping to see a review of Mockingjay, I remind you, I don’t review books. And since I have read the book, I won’t be reviewing the movie. Sorry. Anyway, back to. . .

Quick rating: 4.5/5 stars Super Cute!! Super nerdy! I will probably pre-order and wait by the mailbox with baited breath. You know, for the kids. <_<  >_>

All my reviews contain spoilers. You have been warned.

Hiro is adorable! And sarcastic. And fun! And his brother Tadashi is thoughtful and brilliant and kind of epic in the superhero type way. Except, you know, he dies. Within the first third of the movie. I knew that going in and my kid handles that sort of thing really well, but I forgot about his cousin. Being a little younger and not being someone I get to hang out with often, I wasn’t as sure about him. So when the unthinkable happened I looked over at my nephew to see how he was handling it. He seemed to do ok, but I did have to explain to his mom that someone died and she might want to talk to him about it. But if you have really sensitive kiddos, or really young kiddos that haven’t dealt much with death yet, maybe you wait to watch this one, yeah?

Anyway, Baymax is about the cutest character I have ever seen. I want an oversized plush with a warmer so that I too can spoon a giant warm marshmallow. Get on it Disney! He is the embodiment of compassion and courage. There is nothing he won’t do, except hurt people, for Hiro’s wellbeing.

The voice acting was nuanced and well done, the morals were good (though one of the characters who is a jerk gets off with barely the trauma of someone trying to kill him), and the animation was wicked cool. And the story was smart without trying too hard. But I think the good guy turns bad guy thing was a little overplayed. And while the Hiro’s nerd friends-turned-super-heroes are great, the real hero of the movie is Tadashi. But he’s dead. It’s frustrating. And it illustrates one of my biggest frustrations with pop culture representations of the good guy. Why can’t the good guy just be the man making a robot that can act as a personal health companion. It’s brilliant, and as Tadashi says to Baymax, “You are going to help a lot of people.” I get that this doesn’t make for the most exciting story telling, and I am really happy that they included someone like Tadashi in such a glowing light. But in the end Baymax still has to be outfitted with armor and made to learn karate in order to be “heroic.” If a sequel is forthcoming, then I want to see Baymax saving the day with his compassion and his medical capacities more.

Of course, as a story teller I wanted more. More of the back story. What happened to their parents? How does Hiro go from traumatized kid to genius? There is just a ton there that I would love to know. And there are gaps, big old science doesn’t work like that gaps.  This is after all a kids movie so the story arch is more important than little details about how AI and inter-dimensional travel would really work. You just go with it. Ironically, in the movie you have the genius characters telling their mascot friend Steve, that his requests for on command animal transformations, etc. are not science.

Overall I loved it. If you haven’t taken your kids to see it (ages 6 and up), DO IT!! I hope they do a sequel, but not in the grand tradition of Disney sequels that suck rocks. Let’s break that mold this time guys, what do you say?

Happy watching ’til the next time Anika Goes to the Movies!