Wednesday, June 24, 2015

Just a Little Summer Update!

Our summer has been fast and furious lately! We are smack dab in the middle of VBS week but up till now, our summer has consisted of a lot of Six Flags and Hurricane Harbor!

We watched Jurassic Park with the kids for the first time (awesome) and The Lost World the next night (terrible). We really are excited that Sophia is getting old enough to start watching the movies we enjoy. For the last few years, each of the kids has basically been in different stages, so movie night together has been challenging. Avery went to bed and the four of us stayed up and watched it.

I blinded the boys with my flash!

Sophia and I continued our theater watching spree for this year with a performance of Shrek at the Uptown Theater in Grand Prairie. I'm so glad this is an interest we both share; I relish our times together when we go to these performances. This is our third show to see this year, the other two being the Wizard of Oz and Newsies. I can't wait until she is old enough and we can do a theater trip to NYC. It would be a dream come true. Avery is still too little to sit through the whole thing without being bored but before too long, I see these events being Whitehead Girls Outings!

Father's Day started out at church with breakfast, followed by a lunch at Olive Garden and golf. All of us had a great time!!

Jordan is turning out to be quite the little golfer. We started out finding him a club or two and a small bag, but when Jason got a new set, Jordan got his old ones. He asks every weekend to play. I wish he was here more, Jason loves having a live-in golf partner!!

Up next in our summer is a vacation in July. We were planning on going to Broken Bow, but with all the rain, there are still parts of the park closed and we didn't want to chance going in case of additional flooding. So, we cancelled the cabin and tried to find somewhere else to go, and just couldn't. So we are doing a staycation this year! There are so many things in DFW that we've both wanted to do but haven't done with the kids, either because of cost or distance. We have so many things on the agenda, including lots of eating out!! I can't wait!

Saturday, June 20, 2015

Inside Out: A Review

We just got out of this movie, and I have to say, this was one of my favorite animated movies I've ever seen. The levels upon which this movie speaks to human beings, adult and kid alike, is like nothing I've experienced in a movie before. Not only was this entertaining on a simple level, with the colors and characters attracting the kid-mind, but it also was thought provoking in a complex way, appealing to the adults at the same time. 

This movie doesn't need a huge explanation, you get the idea of it from the trailers. Basically, our main character is a young girl named Riley with two loving parents. She leads a very happy life in Minnesota, where she has friends, she plays hockey and she still has the innocence and silliness of a child. She is told one day that she will be moving to San Francisco after her father's job takes them there. The story is told from the point of view of her mind, with five emotions driving her life: Joy, Sadness, Fear, Anger, and Disgust. In this movie, we see our minds in a totally different way, with Pixar explaining our days with a literal Train of Thought, a control room that allows the emotions to form memories and how we can recall memories during the day (illustrated hilariously in one scene when the memory removal crew sends up an annoying yet catchy jingle to the control room as a joke, showing us how random things can suddenly pop into our heads for no reason), how our memories are stored as our day is over, how our dreams are formed while we are sleeping, and how our core memories formed in childhood create "islands of personality." The emotion characters see out of Riley's eyes as if they are watching a movie and can control things by pressing buttons on a control panel. Joy is our main emotion and the leader of the group, voiced by the amazing Amy Poehler, who takes over many of the day's events and many of the memories of Riley. Until now, Riley has been incredibly happy and has had many happy memories. It's Joy's job to make sure Riley is happy all the time and to make sure Sadness, voiced by the (ironically) funny Phyllis Smith from The Office, never has control of Riley's mind for too long. Riley has five islands of personality: Family Island, Hockey Island, Friendship Island, Honesty Island, and Goofball Island. Any time Riley is in a circumstance that calls for it, these islands come alive to help her various personality traits come out. I know this sounds complex, but it's pretty astonishing how the brilliant writers at Pixar took something as complex as the mind and made it into a story that makes complete and total sense, enough that kids can understand it and adults can be intrigued by it.
I had a chance to listen to the co-writer/director Pete Doctor on the NPR program Fresh Air the other day and he explained how they had to come up with a believable way in which the mind could be projected onto a big screen. The "memory globes" they use in the movie are very simple. Each time a memory is created, on the screen it is shown in the color of the emotion that was running the mind's control board at the time. Joy is yellow, sadness is blue, fear is purple, anger is red, and disgust is green. Joy and Sadness end up lost in Riley's mind by getting sucked up into the tube the makes it's daily memory deposits into long term memory. We can see that the majority of Riley's memories are yellow. However, when a different emotion touches the globe, it changes the memory permanently. Sadness begins touching Joy's yellow globes, turning happy memories into sad ones. Joy tries to keep Riley happy all the time and tries to prevent Sadness from changing Riley's memories. The two struggle, which lead them to getting deposited in various parts of Riley's mind. Fear, Anger and Disgust are left at the controls, changing Riley from a happy kid to an emotionally unstable kid, all in front of her parents' eyes. We can see glimpses into her mom and dad's minds as well, showing us that each of our minds have the same five emotions guiding us, but not all have the same strong emotion making the main decisions. It's genius the way Pixar did this, truly it is.
This movie spoke to me on so many levels, it's hard to know where to begin. As Joy and Sadness begin their journey back to the control room, we see that Riley is having trouble coping with the changes happening in her life. Moving has been difficult for her, and without sadness and happiness there to balance our her thoughts, she begins to react in ways she never has before. As her thoughts change, the islands that form her personality begin to crumble and break away. For example, in one scene, her dad tries to make her laugh by making monkey noises, something her parents have always done to cheer her up. She is unable to participate back because Joy is gone and with that, Goofball Island is gone. When she steals her mom's credit card to run away, Honesty Island is gone. When her friends back in Minnesota are making new friends and she having a hard time in her new town, Friendship Island is gone. What we are left with is a girl unsure of what emotions she is even feeling and without a sense of who she is. Joy finally realizes along this journey that you can't have happiness without sadness too and allows sadness to take over, with Riley having a much needed bout of sadness to her parents, admitting that she is unhappy and misses her home. Her parents then admit they are having a hard time being in new place too, and they share a family hug. Joy and Sadness join hands and take the controls together, creating a new core memory that is both happy and sad, while also creating a new personality island. From that point forward, all of her memories are a mix of different emotions, illustrating how we begin to grow and change as we get older, and how things begin to get more complex and challenging. At the end, we see that puberty is right around the corner, and are able to see into the minds of a few other people, one being the mind of a young boy who takes a look at Riley for the first time (his mind was total chaos and it was hilarious).
This movie was very symbolic in that way, showing how transitioning from one chapter of life to another is not only confusing and difficult, but it also makes you feel like you don't know who you are. Riley was going from a child to an adolescent, while also dealing with the upheaval of her entire life by a move. One of the other characters that appears wondering through her mind is Bing Bong, her imaginary childhood friend, an elephant/cat/dolphin creature made of cotton candy, that is somewhat lost but still there, waiting for Riley to bring him back to life. He eventually leaves her mind forever, showing us that our mind provides ways for us to deal with our life and surroundings, and when those ways are no longer necessary, they are gone. Our memory removal team goes through the long term memories that are fading into gray, along with those in Riley's mind are memories of learning to play the piano, the names of her favorite princess characters and telephone numbers "because those are all in her phone anyway!" This teams sucks up unnecessary memories to make room for new ones. Another part of this movie I loved is how they showed a young child's imagination by a special part of the mind called "Imagination Station." The emotion character at the controls can call on this place to help a child play. In one scene, Riley is imagining her couch is surrounded by lava and they see how Riley sees, actual lava on the ground as she is gleefully playing above it. Having two girls that played this exact game a lot, ("Quick mom up on the bed, we are surrounded by lava!") I could not help but smile, getting a glimpse into the simplistic nature of my daughter's mind. It brought a tear to my eye, not gonna lie.  These memories get dropped eventually into the "nothing area" and just melt away. Like I said, the detail Pixar put into explaining how our mind works is genius and absolutely unique and creative.
What I see this movie doing is opening people's minds to how other people feel. You can now visually see your mind working. Kids can identify feelings from this movie in a way nothing before has allowed them to do. You can say to a child that has seen this movie, "It sounds like anger is taking over the controls today, maybe we can give the controls back to joy for a while?" and they will actually know exactly what you mean by it. It allows people to truly understand that all people have exactly the same emotions inside them, it just depends in each person's mind what emotion is the strongest leader. We also understand that all of the emotions are important for different reasons, for example, you don't want to be an angry person, but when Riley plays hockey, she needs anger to help her play the game her best. And you can't be happy all of the time, sometimes you need to be sad, and that's OK.
This is a movie we will absolutely have in our DVD library and I can't wait to see it again. I am sure there are many details I missed and would love to watch for the second time around. See this movie, even if you don't have kids, it's worth it!!

Thursday, June 18, 2015

Jurassic World: A Review (Spolier Alert!)

I have so many other things going on in my life right now that I would love to post. But, I went and saw this movie, so I thought, hey, might as well post a movie review!
First and foremost, we saw this movie at the newly remodeled Cinemark Movies 16 in Grand Prairie, with Luxury Loungers. If you haven't been here yet to watch a movie, you are doing yourself a disservice! The chairs are pretty awesome, if they reclined back any farther, though, I'd probably fall asleep. It's not worth taking kids here, because the tickets are a little more expensive (a couple dollars more than regular price). I thought it was worth it for a date night or a fun movie like this.
Now, on to the movie! We saw this movie in 3D and unlike many other movies I've seen in 3D, I thought the effect added to the experience instead of detracted from it. I'm sure it is just as fine in 2D, but I loved how I felt like I was right in the action.
Jurassic World is the 4th installment in the Jurassic series. Just a little of the plot: this movie picks up right in sequence of the movies, where we come back to the island years later to find that a Sea World-esque theme park has been built. They speak of John Hammond's vision and speak of it fondly. Of course, despite everything they've seen and all of the chaos that ensued the first three times around, they continue to push the genetic envelope but creating more and more types of dinosaurs. The main character, Claire, played by Bryce Dallas Howard (who is Ron Howard's daughter, I didn't even realize that until yesterday!) runs the park and fills us in early on that the dinosaurs are no longer keeping the public's interest as just dinosaurs. They are constantly having to think of bigger, better and scarier "assets" (as the dinosaurs are referred) to keep the people coming in. Owen Grady, played by Chris Pratt, is the valociraptor trainer, showing us early on in the movie that he has now somehow learned how to create a relationship with these killing machines and train them with a clicker, much like trainers do with dogs. Eh, it's a movie about dinosaurs, does it really need to be believable in the least bit? I don't think so.
To add a bit more to the plot, Claire (who is also a workaholic) invites her nephews to come visit her at the park (gee, I wonder where this is going??) and has arranged for them to have VIP access and all of the upgrades the park has to offer, but is too busy to spend any time with them. She arranges for her assistant (who meets a very terrible and gruesome end!!) to be their escort while she is off trying to woo Verizon to sponsor an attraction of the new Andrometis Rex, a genetically created and mutated hybrid dinosaur. To this point, the dino has never been outside his confined area and the only other dinosaur he has been around is his sibling, which he promptly ate. Oh, and one more layer to the plot - Vincent D'Onfrio plays Hoskins, a man trying to weaponize the dinosaurs by using them in place of soldiers in wars. Because controlling the dinosaurs has ever been a possibility. Have we learned nothing, people? Apparently not, and Jurassic World wants us to realize that the people in this universe still have not learned anything either.
If you go into this movie expecting any more than to be entertained, you are asking for trouble. We are dealing with a far reaching plot, with unbelievable story lines and tons of story lines piled on, at that. So, just check reality at the door of the movie theater. First, the things I loved. Chris Pratt. Oh, Chris Pratt.
Chris Pratt Picture
I've loved Andy Dwyer since the first moment I've laid eyes on him on Parks and Rec and watching him in this movie was no different. He is the one character in this who fights to get the others to look at the dinosaurs as animals, not just dollar figures, there to entertain the masses. He and his training partner Barry (Omar Sky) are the only two people who seem to understand that they are also incredibly dangerous and should be respected as such. His character is, to borrow a line from one of the kids, a "badA&%." He is on a motorcycle riding with the raptors. He is saving the kids. He is saving the heroine. He is funny and rugged. He's the full package in this movie and his presence is very welcomed in onscreen. I also loved how they designed Jurassic World to look. Sponsorships of this movie were heavy handed and obvious - in the courtyard of the park, we see Starbucks, Brookstone, Jimmy Buffet's Margaritaville, we hear Verizon, we see Coca Cola. But it all fit because they weren't shying away from showing that this is what we, as humans, do. Take a trip to Vegas, Disneyworld, Sea World, and you see exactly the same thing - any way to get you there and keep you there spending money, that's what these people are trying to do. And in Jurassic World, they do a great job of it. I love how brazenly oblivious all of these tourists are to the fact that they are in the presence of dinosaurs. They have a dinosaur riding park, much like a pony horse park, for the kids, they have an orb ride that allows you ride through the midst of the running dinosaurs. There was many throw-backs to the original Jurassic Park....the original scene with the Rex in Jurassic Park, where the sheep was there, then gone, is now an observation deck "which may be disturbing to some smaller viewers" and when the Rex eats the sheep, the crowd cheers with delight.
There is a scene with an underwater dinosaur that is like Shamu on steroids, where the crowd watches the huge beast get baited with a great white shark, jump up in the water and eat it, then gets splashed with cheers and laughter. They then go down further to watch the animal swimming underneath the water. We see a comic relief character in this control room named Lowery (played amazingly by Jake Johnson from New Girl) who wears a vintage Jurassic Park t-shirt that he "bought on eBay for $150." He is quickly reminded by Claire, "don't you think that is poor taste?" referring of course, to the massacre of the original cast and tragedy that occurred the fist time around. Stuck in irony and foreshadowing, even our characters who make references to the inevitable, can't seem to see it coming.
Everything in this movie is alluding to man's utter disrespect for nature and what they've created. No one is even hiding it or pretending it's not there. Colin Trevorrow, the director, shows us a world of wonder while simultaneously shows just how dangerous it is that all of these people are trapped on an island with no place else to go, should the inevitable happen. They are one disaster away from being eaten - and we get to see that disaster play out, big time. The basic premise to the movie is that this new dinosaur, the Andrometis Rex, is almost ready to be opened as an attraction, but they seem to be having some "technical difficulties." Difficulties that include having to build the walls higher because this dinosaur be crazy and can still get out, the dino tries to break through the unshatterable glass, he eats other siblings and oh, he was created in a lab from many other types of animals. We later learn he can change colors like a chameleon, change his core temperature, he kills for sport and not food, and oh no, he is actually part raptor, only much bigger. Dun, dun, dun....He gets out by using his incredible intelligence and proceeds to wreak havoc on our island.
There were two things that bugged me about this movie. First, Claire starts off the movie wearing a white outfit with heals, to show us she is no paleontologist with boots and khakis (like Laura Dern), she is a business woman. However, as the movie goes on, she never takes those heels off. If I were Bryce Dallas Howard, I'd be like, "You want me to do an action movie IN HEELS? No way baby, I'm out of here." She runs from dinosaurs, through the jungle, on the back of a four wheeler, through the streets of the park, and the heels never break. Her clothes are torn but those shoes are in great shape. What were they, Steve Madden? Cause I am getting me a pair. Secondly, I hated, absolutely hated, Vincent D'Onfrio's character in this movie. I realize I was supposed to, but I hated the way he played it. It looks like our actor has packed on a few and the costume designers didn't try to hide it. In fact, they tried to accentuate it, but giving him a buttoned up shirt that made the buttons looked like there were hanging on for dear life. His accent came and went the whole movie. Maybe that was all planned, but every time he came on the screen, I had to look away because I thought one of his buttons was going to fly off and hit my in the forehead.

Thinking about taking the kids? If they've seen the first one, they can see this one. I don't feel like it's any more gory than the first one and I think the first one was actually scarier, but don't take them unless they've seen something like it before, because a lot more people get eaten in this one than the first one and they show it (spoiler alert! Ha ha)
Other than that, this movie was a lot of fun. It was tense, it was scary, it was funny in the right places. If you are expecting the original, you won't get it. We didn't know what to expect back then - I remember sitting in the theater as a teenager being shocked at what I was seeing. This time, I knew what to expect so the awe and wonder was not there like the first time around. But I still loved every minute! See this one in the theater, it's worth it!