Wednesday, December 30, 2015

Star Wars: The Force Awakens

I have waited to write this until I had seen the movie another time. I don't normally do that with reviews of movies I see. However, this one has a lot of  extra expectations and my emotions can easily be swayed by the nostalgia of it all, seeing it with my best friend in Pocatello, and general excitement and love for Star Wars.

And even now, more than a week after the first viewing and having seen it two more times, I'm not sure how to write a decent review of the film (I forgot to pack my journal so I couldn't even write about it the old-fashioned way!). My reawakened love for Star Wars is limiting my ability to be fair in my review.

My initial reaction was that I liked it, but didn't love it. I certainly didn't think it was a massive misstep like when I first saw The Phantom Menace (and my general dislike for the prequels has been replaced with a new appreciation for them, after watching them all again in conjunction with the original trilogy and after reading this article).

What I really liked about the film was its continuation of costumes and production design from the original trilogy. I was completely in love with the costumes for the First Order, and how their workplace resembled that of the Galactic Empire. I nearly swooned when the computer targeting system of locking onto targets was identical to that used in the original. Those throwbacks to the original were awesome.

The throwback to the general story of Episode IV was less awesome. It's not exactly the same story as Star Wars (so let's please stop calling it a remake), but it does hit a lot of the same story points. I guess I was expecting something different from this new trilogy. It's hard to make fresh a story that is so well known.

The new characters are all pretty great. Rey is a scavenger on a sandy planet who is good with nearly everything (remind you of Anakin....or Luke?). Finn is a stormtrooper turned not-stormtrooper. I like this guy, but his conversion from indroctrinated-from-birth-stormtrooper to guy-who-helps-out-The Resistance was a bit too much of a stretch for me. And Poe Dameron. I love Oscar Isaac. His character has a lot of potential, perhaps will be Solo-esque, but we just don't get enough of him. And no, I do not want to read comics or books to find out his backstory; he is a MAIN character in the movie and his story should be told on screen.

Chewy, who has always been awesome, gets awesomer with this movie. He doesn't take Han's crap, he gives Leia a super great hug, and his sadness and then anger after Han's death is moving. Remember when Chewy saved C-3PO in Empire and took it upon himself to put him back together? #ChewyIsTheBest

I have a few quibbles with the film. The Resistance. What are they? The Empire was defeated, and somehow the First Order has taken up residence in their absence, but the Republic is still a thing. So what is the Resistance? I don't believe for one second that Luke would just abandon the Republic and his family after one of his trainees goes to the Dark Side. He worked SO HARD for the good in Anakin, that I find it hard to believe he would just leave and not try to help out. Also, why is there a map to his whereabouts if he's in hiding?

One major issue for me was some of the modern-ness of the dialogue. In the original trilogy, and even the prequels, everything had a Star Wars galaxy equivalent - Leia calls Han a nerfherder; Luke blasts womp rats at home in his T-16. A few conversations in The Force Awakens took me completely out of the Star Wars universe and made me feel like I was in a Michael Bay picture. First was Poe's meeting with Kylo Ren in the beginning of the film. Poe does a little bit about who should talk first and that it's hard to understand him with the whole mask thing. I really disliked this.
     Second was Finn asking Rey if she had a boyfriend, a cute boyfriend. First of all Finn, has supposedly been raised from birth to be a stormtrooper. How the crap does he know about jealousy and boyfriends? This little line of dialogue is such a sore point for me because it has no place in a Star Wars movie; it doesn't belong in this galaxy.

(It's always nice when someone else publishes something validating your thoughts; read this, particularly numbers 3, 9, 15 and 40).

The difference with this trilogy is that the writers and everyone involved know it's going to be a trilogy, so they can set things up and keep plot points and backgrounds mysterious for now to play into the larger story. A part of me likes that, so I can obsess over random things like Rey must be a Skywalker, right? And how did Maz get Luke's lightsaber from his hand-losing fight with Vader on Cloud City? Where is Lando? Why does C-3PO have a red arm?

I think that so many people were unimpressed by the prequels that we are willing to give into the nostalgia of this new trilogy and think it's great. It's not that it's not great....just sort of running on empty nostalgia. I guess nothing can ever really match the joy and wonder of the originals.

Monday, December 21, 2015

Excitement for Star Wars

When Disney announced the release date for the first Star Wars movie in ten years, I immediately contacted Lindsay and we made plans to see it together. It would be the first to have a release date in December instead of May. We sadly would not be able to see it opening day at midnight to keep with tradition, as the earliest I could get out of Texas would be the weekend.

That meant we had to wait four days to see it. Four days would have been fine ten years ago, but we now have social media. However, everyone was really great about not posting spoilers. Most of those that did post did it in vague generalities. There was also an awful lot of people saying it was great. Like really great.

And then, suddenly, my careful plan to keep my expectations in check, to not get too excited so I wouldn't be let down again, crumbled. I. Was. Excited. And it scared me. My plan included not reading anything about the film. No spoilers. No stories about the cast. No behind the scenes photos. Absolutely nothing. I didn't even watch the trailer over and over online. After seeing the teaser trailer when I saw Avenger: The Age of Ultron, I decided to keep it old school and wait for a viewing of the full trailer to happen organically.

Or, for the universe to show it to me. So I waited to either see it as a preview at a movie I was seeing, or on  t.v. One night I was watching Jane the Virgin and there it was, unexpectedly in front of me. I got chills.

The plan helped for the months and weeks leading up to the release. But it couldn't do anything post-release. Thursday to Sunday was tough, knowing that other people, people who were less of fans than Lindsay and me, had already seen it! Some of them multiple times by the time we sat down in our seats.

 We saw it. I still wish we had seen it at midnight, as those are the best crowds. Our audience was rather subdued; Lindsay and I had to start the clapping and cheering when the green Lucasfilm logo came on screen. We had to start the cheering when the screen crawl started.

But we saw it. And I will write about my reaction to the movie next....

Sunday, December 20, 2015

My First Brush With Denton

This weekend last year I arrived in Denton for my second interview with the City for their position of Bike/Ped Coordinator. I left Topeka on a drizzly and overcast day after our Planning Department holiday lunch get together. I got to Denton mid-evening and stayed at a hotel off of I-35 and University. I had dinner at Brahm's, then prepped for my interview the next day.
                           My interview outfit
 Since the interview was in the afternoon I had some time to check out Denton. I drove to the Square and spent some time at Recycled Books. I had made appointments to check out some apartments so I'd be ready if/when I was offered the job. I'm actually living in the first apartment I looked at, but at the time it was really discouraging. Nothing was wrong with the apartments, exactly, except when I compared it to my present. My apartment in Topeka was pretty spectacular. It was large. It had wood floors and exposed brick. It was spacious with plenty of storage and room for my bike. I loved that apartment. The options in Denton were smaller and more expensive.

I got frustrated and discouraged. And then it snowballed. I voxered my friend Kate and actually cried. I was sad about leaving not just my awesome apartment, but my awesome friends, too.There may have also been some lingering emotions about an ended relationship, as well.

I found my way to the library so I could compose myself prior to my interview. I reviewed my responses. I looked over the info about the Hickory Grand Street Project. I reapplied my red lipstick.

The interview went great (I'm an excellent interviewer). Afterward I felt much better about everything.

That was Friday. Monday morning Mark (my boss) called to offer me the job. And I love Denton. Yes, my apartment is small and has no storage and is very close to a loud music venue (the link is for a music fest, and those happen quite frequently as well). Yes, I miss my friends in Kansas. But Denton is pretty darn fantastic.

Saturday, December 19, 2015

Star Wars Memory Lane: Revenge of the Sith

May 19, 2005
Today was Episode III. The movie was totally awesome, way better than the first two prequels and on par with the original trilogy. Not once did I want to fall asleep - it was so captivating. 

At this point, Lindsay and I are living in separate states, and a lot has happened since Episode II. We were in Pocatello for about a year before we almost moved to L.A. When that didn't happen (after putting a deposit on an apartment), we decided to go separate ways. Not because of any riff, that's just the way things happened. So she was in Washington and I was in Utah, and we coordinated to see Episode III in Pocatello at the same theater where we saw all the other ones.

I don't think we camped out overnight like previously, since we were coming in from different states. We had good line position, though. It's not recorded in my journal so I really don't know.

In-the-moment Julie really liked it. Present-day Julie, though, with the passage of time, sees the flaws in it. Anakin's turn to the dark side still happens far too quickly.

The problem with the sequels is that they are moving towards certain things; they are limited to a story that has already been created for it. So instead of telling a great, original story like Star Wars, this one feels more like it's connecting dots. Characters have scenes with conversations where the sole purpose is to get to the next plot point. I imagine it's difficult to produce a story this way, but it was George's idea and he chose to do it.

The movie is still pretty satisfying, though. The ending fight between Obi-Wan and Anakin is pretty thrilling.  Rewatching the originals is a different experience now; everything feels weightier and more emotional.

I'm willing to slightly overlook some of the issues caused by the prequels. Obi-Wan in Star Wars states he never remembers owning a droid, but the prequels make it pretty clear that droids are a huge part of life. Leia says she remembers her mother as kind, but sad; Padme, though, dies after giving birth. I've since reconciled this with myself as Leia referring to her adoptive mother, who likely was sad. And if Obi-Wan and Yoda want to hide Luke and protect him, why do they give him to Anakin's half brother. And why does that half-brother decide to use the last name Skywalker instead of his last name of Lars. Why did R2 and C3PO and Chewbacca need to be a part of the prequels?

It's not quite how I imagined it, based on what had already happened in the Original Trilogy, but there are some great memories. 

Friday, December 18, 2015

Star Wars Memory Lane: Attack of the Clones

May 22, 2002 (This journal entry comes two and a half years after my last one...apparently I was too busy to write during my senior year of high school and first year of college)
After three long years of waiting, Episode II of Star Wars was finally released. Lindsay and I were prepared this time. We were determined to get a good spot in line, and since we didn't have school to worry about, we spent the night! That's right, we got there Tuesday around 4:30 p.m. and waited unti lMidnight Wednesday (technically Thurs.) to see the movie. I must say that it was worth the wait. The movie was awesome, completely enthralling. And after catching so much flak for falling asleep during Episode I, I knew I couldn't in this one. But this one was just so good there was no chance I was going to sleep. I've already seen it four times in five days, that's how good it is!

Lindsay and I had just returned to Pocatello from a year in Ephraim at Snow College.


I do remember seeing the film multiple times, but I nearly forgot that I was so enamored with the film when I first saw it. I think that the bar was set so low with Episode I that it wasn't difficult for this to seem better. So in comparison, yes it's better than The Phantom Menace, but still not great.

Let's start with the fact that this film takes place ten years after Phantom. Here's where I think George got it completely wrong. Those ten years are important. Anakin, the kid who is going to become Darth Vader probably experiences a lot in those ten years. Likely has experiences that shape him. His relationship with Obi-wan develops completely off-screen. Instead we are treating to an opening scene that is supposed to set the tone of their relationship - Obi-wan the patient and wise teacher, Anakin the petulant padawan. But it's based on dialogue setting up the relationship instead of us seeing the relationship unfold. I also feel like the attitude of Anakin as petulant and whiny to be a bit forced and over the top, which it has to be jammed in our faces because we've had no time with him between little kid and now.

The relationship with Padme is even more troublesome Instead of seeing it develop, we get a few sentences by Anakin stating that he's thought about her every day for ten years. She, of course, has not, as she's been busy doing the political stuff and trying to stay alive from attacks by Count Dooku. Naturally she still thinks of him as that "little kid on Tatooine." But then they are thrown together, he her protector as they travel back to Naboo. And then they are falling in love, even though they say about ten words to each other. He's actually slightly creepy in the way he looks at her and touches her (that balcony scene, and the floating food one after, and then the scene of them by the fire....ugh). It's ridiculous. If we're going to buy that Anakin turned to the dark side due to his love for Padme, it needed to be a more developed relationship.

This is where the structure of the two Episodes so far fails. Menace needed to be condensed into thirty minutes, instead glossing over the kid Anakin and focusing on the growing Anakin. Those are the important years. Relationships would have developed on-screen and made more sense. Then we could have spent an entire film with the Clone Wars, instead of one attack at the end of the movie. That's all we get of the infamous Clone Wars. More time with Anakin as a padawan would have made his turn to the dark side in Episode III seem less rushed.

And still with the CGI. Obviously it wasn't going to miraculously go back to the effects of the Original, and yet I still complain about it.

The structure of the film is quite similar to Empire, in that it separates into two separate storylines that eventually converge at the end. Obi-wan is on a mission to find out who was behind the attack on Senator Amidala, leading him to discover the droid army and a mysterious Darth Tyranus; this mirrors the Luke storyline in Empire. Padme and Anakin fulfill the Han/Leia/everyone-else-storyline, except to much lesser effect. Instead of the subdued love story of Han/Leia, we get Anakin and Padme. Which I guess should be more passionate since it changes the course of the Galaxy. 

You know what I do love? The Padme/Anakin love theme. I think it's lovely. And Yoda showing off why's a Jedi Master. And Mace Windu's purple light saber.

Thursday, December 17, 2015

Star Wars Memory Lane: The Phantom Menace

Settle in folks, because I had a lot to say about Episode I: The Phantom Menace. I was concerned after Jedi that I had nothing else to look forward to, not knowing that two years later there would be a new trilogy to obsess about.

May 19, 1999
Today was a great day!! Actually, it all started yesterday. As you know, Star Wars was released today, and Lindsay's mom gave her permission to go to the midnight showing earlier today (we were sophomores at the time; Lindsay had a car because she was cool). So Tuesday morning, before early morning, we drove by the theater to check out the line, which was already around the corner of the building. Lindsay had to go to at least her first three hours (Lindsay had an attendance problem in high school). We checked out after third and went to sit in line for the biggest movie of the decade (perhaps hyperbole....). We had tons of fun. We got our tickets after waiting for five hours. But I had to go to work at five, so I couldn't wait in line all night to get into the movie (I worked at Wendy's). Lindsay couldn't get back down until seven, so we had a friend save our spots. I got off work early because Justin said he would close for me, just so I could go to Star Wars. Waiting in line was the funnest part. It was a great experience. We were all wired from Mountain Dew. The lines started moving and everybody cheered. I was so excited to get in.
       The movie wasn't what I expected. I was kinda disappointed. George Lucas wrote it, but the dialogue was completely different from the original Trilogy. And they over-used the special effects. Everything was computer-animated except the people. Things didn't look real like they did in the Trilogy, because they actually used real things. I t was hard to stay awake because I was so tired, and because now I was comfortable in a seat instead of standing (I was teased about this by my family forever)
     It was bunches of fun!! One BIG Party!! I got 3 1/2 hrs. of sleep!

Over ten years later, my feelings about the film have not really changed. The film just wasn't fun at all. Trade federations and blockades and midichlorians and that pod race that went on fifteen minutes longer than it should have. Atrocious acting. Jar Jar Binks.

And the CGI! George didn't even bother to build sets taller than his actors, because everything was just green screen. Everything was flat and uninteresting, every cityscape and space battle stuffed with too much extra ships or people or buildings or everything. We went from models and real actors to a handful of real actors and everything else created with computers.

The only redeeming quality is the Duel of the Fates at the end with Darth Maul, a character that was super hyped prior to release but then didn't do anything, and Qui-gon and Obi-wan. This movie should have been thirty minutes, and then transitioned into the legit Attack of the Clones. I'll talk about that when I blog about that film.

Previously: Return of the Jedi
Next: Attack of the Clones

Wednesday, December 16, 2015

Star Wars Memory Lane: Special Edition - Return of the Jedi

March 15, 1997
Today I saw Return of the Jedi. It was so good, except for the end where all the Ewoks are celebrating and dancing. They changed the song to something totally different and stupid. I love that song. I was so upset about it. But now that they are all over, I don't have anything to look forward to anymore. I mean, now what? 

I finally had something critical to say about the Special Editions. I really don't like the song change. It's been a long time since I've watched the SE - is it still like that?

I know that in releases after the prequels, Hayden Christensen was added in as the blue-glowing version of Anakin Skywalker at the end of Jedi. How do people feel about that?

Seeing the films on the big screen was quite a big deal for me. I clearly enjoyed experiencing them on the big screen (I'm still obsessed with seeing "old" films on the big screen for the first time). However, I am not a fan of the Special Editions. To me, the films were perfect the way they were. Most of the changes are minor, but they still bother me - the addition of CGI cities and animals and explosions aren't needed.

I complained about this for awhile, so one year for Christmas Lindsay found VHS versions of the original on Ebay. We were able to watch them because we still had VCRs back then. Now they just sit on my shelf, next to my two versions of the VHS releases (both, sadly, Special Edition) and the 2006 DVD release (which is also Special Edition). Sadly, I don't think I'll ever be able to get the original edition on DVD....

The reviews will get a bit less full of love here on out, as I'll start tackling the prequels.

Earlier: A New Hope and The Empire Strikes Back
Tomorrow: The Phantom Menace

Tuesday, December 15, 2015

Star Wars Memory Lane: Special Edition - The Empire Strikes Back

February 24, 1997
Tonight we saw Empire Strikes Back. It was so good. The cloud city was so much better. They added some things to it, too. It wasn't very packed, though, because everybody had seen it on Friday or Saturday. 

 We weren't able to see it on Friday or Saturday because we were busy that weekend. That's at least what I wrote, and I'm pretty sure I wasn't the one who was busy. My mom, trying to placate me and be a good mom, told me we would see it on Monday for Family Home Evening.

Also, my preference for packed movie theaters was apparent even at fourteen. It still is; my favorite time to see a movie is opening day/weekend when crowds are the biggest. In a few years I'd discover midnight showings.

Empire is the best of the trilogy. It's dark and totally awesome. The poster art features only bad guys and their weapons of destruction. It takes place in a short amount of time (apparently....) and ends with the rebels defeated, missing limbs and entire people. There's also the big reveal of Vader being Luke's father. It's still my favorite, and the Special Edition isn't too bad (still not my preferred version, though).

Yesterday - A New Hope   Tomorrow - Return of the Jedi

Monday, December 14, 2015

Star Wars Memory Lane: Special Edition - A New Hope

I'm going to do these how they happened in real life, not chronologically in the Star Wars universe (which is also a bit wonky.....Episode IV before Episode 1...what?!). 

My first memory of Star Wars is watching them on t.v. in my parents' bedroom. The trilogy seemed to air on one of the cable channels around Christmastime, and I remember watching them with lots of excitement. For Christmas one year Santa brought my family the boxed trilogy set, meaning I could now watch them when I wanted without commercial interruptions. My obsession began.

Back in 1997, we didn't have the internet and social media. I apparently didn't find out about the re-releases until I went to a movie with my mom on January 18 and saw a trailer. I mentioned this in my journal. I generally state that I'm excited and can't wait. Two days later, I mention that I watched Star Wars and The Empire Strikes in preparation, but did not have time for Return of the Jedi

And then Saturday afternoon, after returning from a sleepover, we went to the theater. This is my excited and critical review of it in my journal:

February 1, 1997
Today I watched Star Wars. But it was on the big screen! It was so cool. My dream come true. The city where Luke finds Han is totally changed. All the effects were way better. Especially when the Death Star blew up. On February 21 The Empire Strikes Back come out. I can hardly wait. 

Julie of 1997 was pretty pleased with this experience. At this point, I'm just super jazzed to be experiencing it on the big screen, in a movie theater. Present Julie is less enamored with the Special Edition versions.

Tomorrow - The Empire Strikes Back

Sunday, December 13, 2015

Star Wars Memory Lane

We are now one week out from the release of Star Wars: The Force Awakens. Exactly one week from now I will be settled into a seat at a movie theater in Pocatello with my best friend, Lindsay. The previews will just be ending, and the all-familiar Star Wars theme will start playing. The theater will go crazy.

I have seen ALL of the Star Wars films in Pocatello at the same theater - the Carmike 7. That theater was torn down a few years ago, and a new, bigger one built not too far away on the other side of the mall. When I say ALL of the Star Wars movies, I obviously am referring to the Special Editions, since the originals were released before I was born (well, the last one I was a month old). So it's pretty great to be seeing the latest one in the same city with my best friend.

The Special Edition was released in 1997 as part of the 20th Anniversary of the original release. Turns out, I was an avid journal-er back in the day. Yes, I have journal entries for ALL of the Special Edition releases AND the Prequel Trilogy. So, as lead up to the release of The Force Awakens, each day I am going to go down memory lane and share what 1997 Julie felt about seeing Star Wars for the first time on the big screen, and what 1999, 2002 and 2005 Julie felt about the prequels.

In anticipation, please watch the video below. I LOVE rom-coms, and this parody perfectly captures the essence of rom-coms and my feelings about Star Wars post-the prequels. 

Thursday, December 10, 2015

Denton Is the Best

It's fall here in north Texas. I know the calendar says it is December 10, but it certainly doesn't feel like that. It has been perfect, amazing, magnificent fall weather all week long - temps in the 70s, sun shining, no humidity. The other day I had an eye appointment after work. I left my office around 5:15, made the short walk to the office on the Square, made a stop at Rusty Taco on my short walk home, and basked in the gloriousness of it all.

Not just the weather, and the pink sky from the setting sun, but the fact that I walked to all my destinations. I love this little town of mine (it's not really "little", we have 113,000 people....). I love that I live two blocks from work and right off the Square, where I can walk to get tacos, or check out a music act, or experience the latest festival, or people watch, or buy ice cream, or go to an optometrist, or get a good burger, or even get a hot dog at 3 a.m.

It's perfect and I love it.

Monday, December 7, 2015


I have been waiting anxiously/patiently for Spotlight to make its way to Denton. My cousin Phaedra already saw it in SLC (oh how I miss the Broadway...) and raved about it. What's strange is that I can't really explain why I was excited for this movie, other than the fact that it received great reviews. I don't even remember seeing a preview for it. I've since watched the previews, and I'm glad I didn't see any of them prior to the film. Not because they reveal too much, but there is something awesome about going into a movie with no notion of what to expect.

The movie did not disappoint. Spotlight is an investigative team at The Boston Globe. They research long-form stories that takes months to put together. When a new editor arrives, they are pushed to write a story on the Catholic Church and the allegations of sexual abuse of young children by priests. It's a difficult subject to face, as Boston is very much a Catholic city.

I really liked the film. It's understated, which fits the topic well. There's no flashy camera movements or overt screen positioning (and believe me, I love those things; like the it's-all-one-take flashiness of Birdman and the tracking shots of The Social Network). What really makes this film work is the actors. All of them are terrific. Seriously, all of them.

My favorite would possibly be Liev Schreiber as the new Boston Globe editor, Marty Baron. He's quiet and thoughtful, and Schreiber plays the role with lots of restraint. He's a forceful actor, and is generally in much showier roles. Such as the lead in Showtime's Ray Donovan (although I'll always remember him as Stuart from Kate and Leopold).

Then there's Mark Ruffalo. He's one of those actors who is good in everything. He has a moment in the film when he reaches his breaking point and starts yelling at those around him, including his boss. It's heartfelt, emotional, brutal, a man trying so hard to do what's right.

Stanley Tucci, another fabulous actor who easily goes between playing Julia Childs' husband to host extraordinaire Caesar Flickerman to a German doctor who creates special serums (on a side note, can we talk abut how there are a ton of superheros in this film - Michael Keaton was Batman and Birdman, Mark Ruffalo is the Hulk, Liev Schreiber played that thing opposite Wolverine, John Slattery is Howard Stark), plays a lawyer trying to do the right thing. Then there's Billy Crudup playing another lawyer, sorta sleazy on the other end of the spectrum.

The movie is straightforward, not just in its directing style but also its storytelling. It reminds me of Frost/Nixon, which just so happened to be my choice for Best Pic that year (it lost to Slumdog Millionaire) and Apollo 13 (those are both Ron Howard films....). The film not only focuses on the larger story of the cover up by the Catholic Church, but also the personal stories of each of the reporters and how their faith and relationship to the Church is affected by the scandal.

Faith is an interesting thing. One of the characters in the film sums it up best in how he deals with the issue: My faith is in the eternal, I try to separate the two.

Saturday, December 5, 2015

Denton Holiday Lighting Festival

Friday night was the Denton Lighting Festival, a yearly tradition to celebrate the start of the holiday season with the lighting up of the tree on the Square. But this being Denton, we don't just light up the tree and call it done. We have live music all night long. And funnel cake and corn dogs. And Wassail Weekend. It's magical and awesome.

My coworker and I decided to hit it up together, each of us experiencing it for the first time. We were excited for the wassail. It's like a chili cook-off, but with wassail. A list of all the businesses participating in Wassail Weekend is provided, and signs that say "Wassail Station" in a stop sign are posted on their doors. Everyone goes around and gets tiny samples from each place, eventually voting on their favorite one. Some were citrus-y, a couple too cinnamon-y, and one that was my favorite.

After getting some sustenance from the Parks booth, it was time to enjoy the live music. This is one of the things I love about Denton - music is always a part of everything. And we have some pretty darn good musicians from Denton (some are even Grammy winners). I love the atmosphere of these music events - everyone is just happy. Couples dancing, kids dancing, nearly everyone clapping or moving their body in some way to the music. It's joy and happiness and contentment and I love it.

My co-worker asked if I sometimes felt like I lived in the world of "Gilmore Girls." Yes. Sometimes I do.

Thursday, December 3, 2015

God is Not Petty

I grew up in Pocatello. It's a small-ish city that is predominantly Mormon (perhaps not actually, but when you're a kid and most of your socializing is with people you go to church with, your social circle is small and yet feels like your whole world). The culture of being a Mormon was very prevalent.

When I was twelve or so, I remember a girl from one of the wards in our stake being pregnant and unmarried. This was kind of a big deal. People talked about it in hushed tones, perhaps fearful if they talked about it out loud it might happen to their daughters, too. As if it could be the worst possible thing in the world. This girl wasn't a girl at all, as she wasn't in junior high or high school. And yet it was still so tragic to everyone around me. And I, being young and not knowing anything except what I had been taught my whole life, also thought it was tragic.

Then this girl, who married the boy, ended up having a miscarriage.

I remember asking my mom, "Did God punish her?" That was the connection I made based on everything I knew and had learned as a twelve year old - sexual sin is the worst, being pregnant and unmarried makes you a pariah, and naturally God would want to punish you.

My mom looked at me and explained that God is not punishing her, He does not work like that. I remember her being slightly off put by my question, and she answered it emphatically.

And she's right. God isn't petty or spiteful or mad at us for making bad choices. God is loving and unconditional.

So when we have tragedies, real tragedies where innocent lives are taken in a public place, be it a school or a movie theater or the place you work, it's not because "society" has removed God from those places  and God is being spiteful. It's true, we don't have a national religion, we don't make everyone pray at school, we don't build publicly-funded monuments to religious leaders or organizations. But that doesn't mean God isn't allowed in those places.

God is everywhere, and anyone can pray to him at anytime they want. I can sit in my office and say prayers all day long. A student at school can say a prayer before a test. A family can say a prayer at a restaurant before eating their food. A person can wear a t-shirt that states, "I Love Jesus" and wear it wherever they please.

Bad things don't happen because we no longer have state-endorsed prayers in school, or because we removed a Ten Commandments replica at the courthouse. Bad things happen because bad things happen. Bad things always happen. People get cancer. Marriages fall apart. Finances are mismanaged. Wars happen. If we expect God to stop every large-scale tragedy because we are saying endorsed prayers at school, then shouldn't we also expect Him to stop every other personal tragedy just because I pray and have faith?

That's not how it works. Many times we have to do things, take action, start the ball rolling, because God expects us to do our part.

Sunday, November 29, 2015

Thankful For....

November is the "Month of Thanks." I, however, was not organized enough to use social media during the month to list off what I'm thankful for. Anyone who can see my FB or IG feed pretty much knows that I'm thankful for Biscuit, Denton and the Royals. But since the month is winding down, I will post a bit more of the things I am thankful for.
--co-workers who are friends who will watch over Biscuit when I'm out of town
--a car that works and can take me to all sorts of places, most recently Topeka, Kansas
--the ability to learn new things, even if it's difficult
--a bed that is mine, even if it is old
--friends who go out of their way to get chili from Porubsky's for me
--hamburger joints
--re-reading books
--numerous people who care about me and insist I let them know when I've arrived home safely
--memories and good times
--hot bread straight from the oven
--random acts of kindness that remind me people really are great
--Amazon Prime
--liquid gel pens
--the ability to stay connected through a multitude of ways
--hot showers

I could go ahead and say that I'm thankful for my family and friends and health, but those feel like such givens. It reminds me of Miss Congeniality, when all the contestants say they want world peace. Of course we all want world peace!.

(I realize that not everyone is thankful for their family and friends and health, but I would dare say they are the Family Feud-top-three-answers during the Thanksgiving dinner-go-around-the-table-and-say-what-you're-thankful-for.)

Sunday, November 22, 2015

I Saw Mockingjay Part 2

I have been trying to write out my reaction to Mockingjay Part 2 since seeing it with friends from work Thursday night (yes, we have now moved up midnight showings so films actual release the day before). It's always a bit sad when a movie franchise comes to an end, especially when there are so many good memories associated with it.

Catching Fire is my favorite of the film series (it was darn near perfect), but The Hunger Games is my favorite from the novel series. The problem with Mockingjay Part 2 is that it's a Part 2 of a book that was the weakest of the series. The book is not demonstrably longer than the others (it's actually one page shorter than Catching Fire). The filmmakers and studio honchos were able to make one movie out of each of the previous books, but now all of a sudden the last book needs to be two movies?!

So deciding to split a book into two movies reeks of being done for purely financial purposes - make as much money as possible. Because of this lame choice, we got Mockingjay Part 1, a film which didn't have anything at stake and ended up being a placeholder film. Which then made Mockingjay Part 2 a last grab.

I can't entirely fault the movie for not being great, as the book itself wasn't the best. The first half, before Peeta comes back, is really quite dull. The last half of the book, after he's returned, is clumsily put together. It then rushes to a conclusion that, while satisfying, happens far too fast.

The film did, though, have some moments that were genuinely great. The attacks by the mutts was intense, and even though I knew Finnick would die I was still shocked when it happened. Hijacked-Peeta was sad and scary all at the same time, and I wanted him to just snap out of it.

Katniss' goodbye to Gale was a bit odd. I missed seeing all of the characters I had come to love from the previous installments - Beetee, Johanna, even Finnick is short-changed. Again, though, that's really a problem with the source material.

I have always been a Peeta fan, and I was glad that he and Katniss got their happy ending. They certainly deserve it after the things they had to go through - two Hunger Games, torture by the Capitol, everyone they love dying. To me it was satisfying conclusion to characters and a world I have become attached to.

Saturday, November 7, 2015

Bond Number 24: Spectre

Did Skyfall really come out three years ago? It feels more recent than that, and yet I can't really remember a lot about it, except that I was underwhelmed and loved Ben Whishaw as Q.

Today I saw the latest installment in Daniel Craig's tenure as 007, Spectre. After seeing Steve Jobs last week, this film felt a bit like the opposite. Sorkin is known for his extremely talkative scripts, and is famous for the "walk and talk". Bond is a man of few words. Jobs used small sets and the relationships between the characters was important. Spectre takes places in myriad locations - Mexico City, London, Tangiers, Austria, Rome - and relies on Bond being Bond.

I can't say I particularly enjoyed this outing of Bond. For me, it has been a steady decline in enjoyment since the stellar, Casino Royale. (Royale was pre-blog, Quantum of Solace was seen in NYC, and I never finished my review for Skyfall). The gadgets and helicopter fights and seducing women and fast cars don't really do anything for me.

I know this is a silly thing to complain about, but I can't help it. Dr. Swann gets taken away from her office by thugs who worked for her father. And yet, she somehow has a fancy evening dress, lipstick, a blow dryer, and a (killer) white outfit over the next couple of set pieces. Where did they all come from?! That's what I was thinking about during the film.

Also, she is all feisty one moment, telling Bond she won't fall into his arms and find solace after the death of her dad. Then, like a day or two later, she tells Bond she loves him. What?! Seriously, what?! I'm still a big fan of Vesper Lynde, and no one has been as good as her since she came to a watery end in Casino Royale.

Some thoughts on the film that reflect my own:
"But Craig has never handled the series’ humor well and Mendes can’t decide whether he’s making a straight 007 movie or inviting us in for a goof. … Spectre is a movie that wants to have fun but simply doesn’t know how.” - Ty Burr of the Boston Globe

"The story is tangled and complicated, but not in a clever or revelatory way: It’s needlessly obtuse, like a first draft in dire need of tightening.” - Rene Rodriguez of the Miami Herald

Friday, November 6, 2015

Second Tornado Siren

Yesterday was the second tornado siren since moving to Texas.

I was running errands after work, my attempt to be productive instead of continuing my binge of Jane the Virign on Netflix. I knew we were expecting rain, and it was quite windy, but I didn't think there'd be a tornado warning.

But there I was in Lowe's when my phone gave me an update: Tornado Warning for Denton County. The was still pretty and blue, with not a dark cloud in site. Lovely, actually. I could hear the sirens.

As I got in my car to head to Barnes and Noble (on a quest to get the Sports Illustrated Royals World Series cover) the National Weather Service interrupted my NPR-listening to tell me that a storm with tornado strong winds was just now leaving Argyle and was making its way to Denton. I kept going, though, as the mall was close. I arrived and the sky was still calm, and found that the bookstore had not yet received the issue I wanted.  I then went on a quest to find a World Series tshirt (to no avail....). When I made it back to Barnes and Noble not ten minutes later, ready to leave, it was clear that something was definitely on its way: the sky had turned dark and was overtaking the light.

No rain yet, so a bunch of us stood outside to watch the storm come in. It was magnificent. Then a bolt of lightning and a crack of thunder sent most of us inside. Once the raindrops started to fall I made my way back inside the book store as well. And then it hit. 

Rain and wind and lightning and thunder. 

It passed, and I made my way home. In quite heavy rain. Biscuit was safe and sound.

And tornado experience number two was in the books. 

Tuesday, November 3, 2015

How 'Bout Them Royals!

Sunday night the Royals made an epic comeback in the ninth inning, when they were down 0-2, to win the game and the World Series 7-2!!!!!!!!

I decided to be a Royals fan when I moved to Kansas in February 2013. I attended my first game on Memorial Day that year. It was a game against the St. Louis Cardinals, and there were way more Cards fans there than Royals fans. That season and the next, I attended many more games with friends. Some had fireworks, some were cold, some we won, and some we lost.

My last game this season was, once again, Memorial Day weekend against the St. Louis Cardinals. Except this time there were clearly more Royals fans than Cards fans!

Here is my own look back on the past two seasons:

I went with my friend Will Bishop to my second game, which I chose because the game had fireworks after. And then a group of friends and I went to a Royals-Red Sox game.

A late September game with my friend Will. 

A girls night at The K in May 2014.
 Later in May before a couple friends left Kansas after graduation. It was surprisingly cold.

Two games in August, one with friends for a church activity,
and then again to see my friend Kate sing the national anthem. #awesome

My sister came out in September 2014 and we went to a game with my friend Amber. 

And then the Royals had their amazing Wild Card game. And I watched from the airport and in hotels.

I knew I needed to be a part of the action, so I bought a ticket to game 3 of the ALDS against the Anaheim Angels. Billy Butler stole a base and the Royals swept the series

Then it was the World Series, watching games with friends at various places in Lawrence and Topeka. And even one in Kansas City.

Game 7 with my friend and co-worker Susan (our boss was also there).

It was a tough loss, but pretty awesome that we went all the way to Game 7 of the World Series! 

In Texas for the next season, making games harder to attend. I went to three of the games in their series against the Rangers. 

I made a trip to Kansas for Memorial Day and went to a game with friends. They played the Cards, just like my first game on Memorial Day two years ago. But this time there were clearly more Royals fans than Cardinals fans!

And then the Royals won the World Series. And it was awesome. 


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