The Black Panther Claws the Box Office

A second super hero movie has the internet all atwitter this week with accolades such as “historic” and “triumphant” pretty much for the same reasons.  Last year’s Wonder Woman was the first female super hero movie and the first directed by a woman.  This year, “The Black Panther” is touted as the first super hero movie with a Black protagonist and directed by a black director.  Now the veracity of that claim can be and has been debated, but that is irrelevant to the quality of the film.  The Black Panther is a character in the Marvel Cinematic Universe (not the only black one) that interacts with the Avengers.  His character was introduced in 2016’s Captain America Civil War and played a major role in the events of that film.  In this movie, we learn more about the Black Panther and his alter ego, King T’Challa, ruler of the fictional African country of Wakanda, but the focus of this movie is not really T’Challa or the Black Panther.  One could argue the movie is actually about Wakanda.  As Wakanda is in Africa, it follows that this movie will feature predominately black characters.  In fact, the only principle characters that are not black is Andy Serkis’s Klaw and Martin Freeman’s Ross.  Given the setting of the movie and the characters, one would expect certain social commentary about race relations.  This film does not shirk in this regard, and in fact, is a bit “in your face” about it, almost too much so, which is the only problem I have with this otherwise enjoyable action movie.

One observation that bears notice is that story told in “The Black Panther”, while set within the MCU, has absolutely no bearing on the greater MCU story arcs. There is no mention of the Infinity Stones, the Avengers or any other heroes at all.  In fact, it almost seems as though Freeman’s Ross was tacked on just to tie it in, as his presence really doesn’t move the plot much.  Having said that, he does offer a bit of humor.

The rest of the cast turn in solid performances.  Chadwick Boseman reprises his role as King T’Challa and brings the same brooding strength to this performance.  His likeable naiveté dares the viewer not to like him.  His skills as the Black Panther, while impressive, are still developing and he finds himself in dire straits on more than one occasion.  Boseman conveys this and portrays T’Challa’s learning process convincingly.

Angela Basset stars as T’Challa’s mother and brings out his humanity along with Letitia Wrght’s performance as Shuri, T’Challa’s sister.  We also meet his ex-girlfriend and the general of the king’s guard, who all serve to help T’Challa face his first major challenge as king: A literal challenge for the throne from his American cousin, Killmonger, played by Michael B. Jordan.

The story is full of intrigue and more than one plot twist and if the writers and producers had left it at that, it would have made for an outstanding movie.  But with the current social climate, they couldn’t resist attacking the perceived “white-dominated” power structure in the world that was only serving to keep down “those who look like us,” as Killmonger says.

Of course, the film will win the box office.  It is an MCU film, after all, and opening on a weekend bereft of any real box office competition.  The movie was enjoyable, but it doesn’t rank as high as Civil War or Guardians of the Galaxy, and while it is good, it is not quite historic or triumphant.  Movies should earn those accolades with plot, character and message, not by the gender or the color of the skin of the actor or director.  I still give it a thumbs up.

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Model Trains Showcase the Best of Texas

2018-01-06 Train cover artA state the size of Texas is not only full of a rich history and a diverse culture, but it is also home to some of the most awe inspiring and picturesque natural landmarks in the country.  Presenting all these features to the viewing public is one of the primary missions for the Houston Museum of Natural Science, a mandate the museum takes seriously, but one that David Temple, Associate Curator for Paleontology, believes can be fun as well.  The museum, which tries to design exhibits with a Texas theme, debuted a new feature last November for the holiday season called Trains over Texas, showcasing the best the state has to offer in 1/48th scale perspective using a traditional Christmas toy to do it.

2018-01-06 Train experience HLDSC_7163With landmarks such as Enchanted Rock, Pedernales Falls, and Big Bend National Park highlighted alongside man-made features like the Alamo, the Tower of the Americas and the Houston Ship Channel, the state is well represented in the tennis-court-sized display nestled in the main hall in the museum’s exhibition center, right next to the video monitor where guests can see themselves walking among computer-generated dinosaurs before visiting the trains.  Kids are the main draw for the exhibit, which Temple says is as it should be.  “We have an educational mandate,” he said.  “We look for things that promote learning and hands-on activities.”  Carrying that mandate forward, Temple says the museum plans on expanding the display to include trains that guests can actually control.  The current setup is not designed with that level of interaction, but according to docent Carl Olsen, President of the Gulf Coast chapter of the Train Collectors Association, the kids have come in droves just the same.  Many local schools bring several classes of children to the museum on field trips throughout the week.  “We had roughly 2500 kids at one time,” he said of opening day. 2018-01-06 Train Pic 1

The exhibit is segmented into three primary sections with anywhere from five to six trains running in each section.  There are places where guests can crawl under the track and observe the train from inside the loop.  Two-year-old Conrad Kuhn was running around the display, the track at a perfect eye-level for the tow-headed youngster, as his mom, Amanda Kuhn of Pearland, watched.  “They love trains,” she said of her two sons. The Kuhns have attended the exhibit four times since its November opening.  In fact, the family became members of the museum because they love the trains so much. “They have a couple at home with wooden tracks they love to play with,” she added.  Conrad echoed his mom’s statement, saying that he loves choo choo trains, but adding that “Thomas is sick.”  The display has a hidden track that runs under the main display where Thomas, the Tank Engine, runs in a circle.  The area has a viewing window that kids can crawl under the display to see.  On this day, Conrad was distressed to find that Thomas was out for maintenance and a street car had taken his place on the track.

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The trains at HMNS are powered by six transformers to drive the eighteen trains running at any given time.  Keeping the system up requires regular maintenance.  Olsen and his crew of volunteers are members of fourteen train collecting clubs in the Houston Area. They volunteer their time by attending to the display, answering questions from the guests,  maintaining and repairing the trains and tracks to ensure the exhibit remains fully operational.

DSC_7270The Train Collectors Association members trained museum staffer David Herrada in the care and maintenance of the trains, a job Herrada takes very seriously.  Working in a cramped compartment behind the west Texas part of the diorama, Herrada meticulously cleans the wheels of the cars and replaces worn out components as they break.  “Lionel trains are durable, but where the average train set might run sixteen hours in a year, these trains run eight hours a day, seven days a week,” he said.  In order to prevent breakdowns, the trains run for three minutes and then stopped in place to cool down for a minute.  Herrada and the association volunteers do work hard to complete any needed repairs, but sometimes, as with poor Thomas, the damage may be too great. “If we can’t repair it, we have to send it back,” Herrada said.  The Trains are sent to Lionel or TX Trainworx for warranty work or replacement.  Fortunately, despite the amount of wear and tear, the trains keep running and they have only had to send about eight trains back over the course of the exhibit.   The entire display is O-scale, which is 1:48 size and according to Olsen, “…is a reliable scale that you have minimal problems with.”

Deciding on which of the several model scales to use was part of the development process that occurred over a two-year period.  The museum’s board of directors, responding to a request from a prominent museum patron—an avid train enthusiast named Glen Rosenbaum,—reached out to Dallas-based TW Trainworx, for help.  Rosenbaum had TW Trainworx build a large train display of his own at his home, but no where near the size of the Museum’s.  The Houston-based attorney describes himself as a bona-fide train nut who has enjoyed a lifelong passion for trains. “It’s very relaxing to watch these things lumber around the room.  I’m also fascinated by the power, the size, and the history.”

TW Trainworx owner Roger Farkash says his company caters to the train enthusiast from the individual hobbyist to large corporate clients like the Ronald McDonald house to build large scale models.  Displays like Trains Over Texas are a good way for people to enjoy model railroading, a hobby that is becoming expensive to enjoy at home.  Farkash said that the cost of train sets have risen dramatically since the hobby’s heyday in the sixties and seventies, when it was common to have a train set at home especially at Christmas.  Part of the rise in cost is because of new technologies that improve the user experience with sounds and smoke and digital controllers.  To have a layout with the level of detail that Trains over Texas features is not an inexpensive option.  Farkash said that the cost ranges from $250 to $300 per square foot and can go up into the thousands per square foot depending on the level of detail and technology of the models.  For those who do decide to have a display built, the main consideration is size.  “What they typically want to do is find the largest room that they can spare and fill the room.  There really isn’t an average size.  People want to fill the largest room they can afford.”

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Photo Nov 17, 10 35 15 AM

The Selection of the models and landmarks used in the museum’s exhibit was made by the board of directors.  The theme is based on Texas’ history with trains and how important they were in the expansion and development of the state over the years.  The sites selected for the display include any city that features a rail museum or historic train depot.  The Pecos River bridge features prominently in the display, spanning from one display to another over the entry into the museum’s giant Foucault pendulum, so visitors can walk under the bridge.  The Houston ship channel is up front and is one of the first aspects seen by visitors.  Interspersed between the town models are representations of natural features including the Chisos mountains of Big Bend, the Rio Grande and Enchanted Rock.  “The funny thing about models is you have to compress space,” Temple said.  “You almost have to present small little vignettes.  Capture the high points…or the flat points depending on the geography,” he added with a smile.  TW Trainworx built the exhibit using urethane foam and latex paint to form the mountains, and other synthetic materials for the grass, trees and gravel.  Farkash and his team worked hard to make the setup modular, so it could be taken apart and moved, but still look seamless.

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The modular design will be useful when the exhibit reopens in November, as the museum intends on expanding the feature for a larger display area.  The exhibit initially featured several large Christmas trees, in keeping with the tradition of trains at Christmas, but after the holidays, the trees were replaced with representations of Atlanta and Boston as well as Reliant stadium to commemorate Houston’s hosting Superbowl fifty-one. Temple says that this year’s exhibit will still have a Christmas theme, but probably without the large trees.  “They took up a lot of space that we can use for more models,” he said.  The exhibit will run every year from November to January, then it will be stored and redesigned for the next year. Admission to Trains over Texas is included in the price of the general admission to the museum.

 

This article appears in the December, 2017 issue of TexasLiving Magazine.

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Searching For Hope: The Last Jedi Answers

Questions answered and questions raised: That could be the subtitle of the latest in the Star Wars franchise hitting theaters this weekend. The Last Jedi picks up immediately after the events of The Force Awakens, with the resistance evacuating their base and Rey finding Luke Skywalker and Fynn in a coma. That first of the third trilogy left a lot of plot threads hanging and a lot of questions unanswered. The Last Jedi follows suit, but does so in a much better fashion, with much better writing.

The First Order has the republic on the ropes, with the remnants of the imperial rebellion now calling themselves the resistance and scattered to the outer rim planets while the command core is trying to escape the First Order’s dreadnaught. The future looks bleak for our heroes as they fight to hold onto that one thing that they hold most dear: Hope. For some, that hope is embodied in the last Jedi Master who has been missing for many years, Luke Skywalker. For others, hope is in the form of the new cadre of heroes like Poe Dameron and Fynn Rider. Everyone will begin to lose hope as the First Order closes in.

While both this film and The Force Awakens are produced by J.J. Abrams, this one was written and directed by Rian Johnson, with George Lucas sharing the writing credit. Perhaps it was the new writer, perhaps it was a fresh vision, but The Last Jedi stands taller as a standalone story and less of a retread like its predecessor. The Force Awakens had too many similar elements with A New Hope and felt too familiar and predictable. The Last Jedi dares the viewer to try to predict the outcome as it offers multiple threads that twist and interweave with each other. Some may try to draw similarities with The Empire Strikes Back, and, superficially, there may be. It is the second act in a three act story, and as such, certain things typically happen with regard to the hero’s struggle. They happened in The Empire Strikes Back and they happen in The Last Jedi. It is how they happen that sets this story apart.

The characters actually relate with each other better in this story and act within the established motivations that Johnson established for them. The newer characters of Rey, Fynn and Kylo are now much more fully realized and relatable, making a connection with the viewer that they lacked in The Force Awakens. The Last Jedi adds even more new characters, such as Laura Dern as Vice Admiral Holdo and Kellie Marie Tran as Rose, and each of them makes a lasting connection to the story and the viewer.

There is one thing about Abrams that even the most dedicated opponent cannot deride and that is his artistic visuals. If there was one thing that could be considered problematic, it would be that he relies too much on the visuals at the expense of story—a problem that plagued Abrams’ Star Trek. The Last Jedi doesn’t suffer for its visuals, indeed, they accentuate the story by how appropriate to the mood and setting they are. The sacrifice of the heavy cruiser is one of the most arresting visuals in the entire Star Wars franchise and drew a collective gasp from the audience.

The Last Jedi tells a new chapter in the epic Star Wars story and picks up where The Force Awakens left off. Some of the questions left hanging at the end of Force Awakens do get answered such as what happened to Ben Solo and why did Luke go into hiding. The question of exactly who Snoke is and where he came from is rendered moot. There is even an answer given as to who Rey’s parents are, but the answer is, of course, in question as even more questions come to the fore. Those questions will drive the discussion boards for the next two years.

The Last Jedi will win the box office for its opening weekend, and the Christmas season and probably for the year. Once word of how much better the writing is gets out, it will be heralded as one of the best of the franchise. It is much better than The Force Awakens, better than all three prequels combined and at least as good as The Empire Strikes Back, even if it does leave the viewer asking more questions.

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Hooking and Scaling: The Tale of Modern Torture

The thing to remember about dentists can best be summed up in the words of Bill Cosby: “Dentists tell you not to pick at your teeth with any sharp metal objects. Then, you sit in their chair and the first thing they grab is an iron hook.” I recently spent four mornings sitting in a dentist’s chair and I have had several hooks picking at my teeth under the guise of good dental heath. To say this was not a pleasant experience is like saying the biblical 40-day flood was a light, spring shower.

Like most people, my mother admonished me to always brush my teeth while I was growing up and like most people, I let those admonishments fall on deaf ears until fresh breath became important to me in my teen years. It is worth noting that girls seem to have a dental hygiene preference when deciding who to kiss. I now ensure I brush everyday with my Colgate Spinbrush and have done so for decades. I recall a dentist once commenting how strong my teeth were when I was younger. In fact, the only dental work I ever had was after I smashed a tooth that necessitated a root canal and a post and crown.

About ten years ago, I went to the dentist for a checkup and cleaning, since it had been several years since my last visit and the hygienist refused to clean my teeth until I had a “scaling” performed. For the uninitiated, a scaling is where they attack the teeth and gums with that iron hook, scraping a concrete-like substance called tartar off the enamel. This substance provides a growth environment for tooth decay and forms in areas typically missed by brushing alone. Unfortunately, my insurance would not pay for the scaling procedure and it would have cost more than $200, which, at the time, was more than I had. I also figured if the insurance wouldn’t cover it, it must not be too important, because clearly the insurance company had my best interests in mind. I went to two more dentists and was told the same thing. They would not clean my teeth without my first agreeing to the scaling. Sounded like a racket to me, so I increased the time I spent brushing to compensate. Because nylon bristles are clearly every bit as effective as metal hooks at scraping concrete off teeth.

I broke a tooth recently and needed a crown, so I went back to the dentist to have it done and the hygienist once again recommended the scaling. When I said my insurance won’t cover it, I was informed that now they do. So I did. During the exam, it was also discovered that I had several cavities that needed attention. So, what I expected to be two visits—one for the impression and temporary crown and one for the permanent crown—became four visits. They don’t like to do the entire scaling in one sitting (and I agree with them on this) so I had to make several visits.

For about four hours per visit, I reclined in the admittedly not-uncomfortable chair while the elasticity of my jaw muscles was sorely tested and I regularly fought with the suction tube in order not to drown. All the while, a procession of metal hooks traumatized my over-stretched mouth accompanied by two different drills, a couple of needles, and a glowing LED light wand. This, I presume, was a light saber to get the tartar the hooks couldn’t coax off my teeth. Fortunately, the anesthetic did its job and I felt no excruciating pain, though the sensation of that hook scraping along the gum line was akin to fingernails on a chalkboard and the feeling of the drill vibrating through my jaw was worse than the aftermath of a right hook. Lest I forget to mention the worst part, it was most difficult to remain still while the dentist rammed a foot-long needle through my skull into the chair behind me and left it there for a year while I tried to remember how to breathe. Then she slowly squeezed fire through that needle into my mouth. Fortunately, the Marcane worked fairly quickly and I felt my cheeks and tongue grow to five times their normal size as the nerves became deadened.

I found out that the anesthetic they use lasts four hours. I had to endure four days with an anesthetized mouth for four hours each day. I also found that during those four hours, talking becomes problematic and eating becomes dangerous. You never realize just how much your tongue moves when you eat until it doesn’t. My tongue now has battle scars from lunch.

It was great relief when I drove away after the final scaling and cavity filling visit, knowing I shouldn’t have to repeat that process for some time. The only thing that remained to be done is to attach the permanent crown when it comes in. Then, during a trek to Dallas this week, one of my brand new fillings decided to vacate its post, leaving an annoying hole in my rear molar. This means another trip to the dentist’s chair and another battle with the iron hook. At least it won’t involve scraping tartar this time, though I might wait until dinnertime before I try to eat anything.

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Hey! I’m Talking To You

Arthur C. Clark and Stanley Kubrick predicted it with 2001: A Space Odyssey’s Hal 9000 computer, as people interacted with the machine by voice commands. “Open the pod bay doors, Hal” has given way in today’s world to “Alexa, read my mail.” “Ok, Google, play my music.” “Hey, Cortana, what’s on my schedule?” “Hey, Siri, how’s the weather?” and “Bixby, check my stocks.”

More and more people have found themselves uttering something along these lines lately as digital assistants are becoming more ubiquitous in daily life. These features are not just an outcropping of cell phones, but have actually become stand alone services; some with separate devices that operate independent of a phone or tablet.

Apple started the trend when they launched Siri on the iPhone 4S with iOS 5. Several programmers tried to copy Siri for Android phones, but none met with the success Apple enjoyed. Samsung launched S-voice shortly after with the Galaxy S-3, but it’s was not widely accepted by users. There were a few app developers that tried to make device agnostic personal assistants for phones, but none met with Siri’s success. Until Google.

Google’s voice to text system is built into every Android system and works every bit as reliably as Siri. Android-based phones, even phones who try to add their own voice command systems, can access the Google voice system by saying “OK, Google.” It is cloud based, but also backed up by a dedicated team of people who constantly monitor the voice traffic to ensure even the most mumble mouthed commands get understood.

The battle might have remained between Siri and Google had Amazon not expanded the border conflict beyond phone handsets when they introduced the Echo. The small canister shaped device is essentially a voiced-operated, sound-based internet device with no visual user interface aside from a glowing ring. The flagship device is about 7 inches tall with omni-directional, far-field microphones and an adequate speaker for listening to music. It’s assistant is Alexa and users can access the system simply by calling her name. No need to push a button, or even use an interjection like “Hey” or “OK.”

Windows has entered the fray with Cortana, first introduced on Windows 8 phones, then on all versions of Windows 10 for phone, tablet or PC. While Siri, Google and Alexa have voices that are computer generated, Cortana’s voice is that of an actual human being. The name and the voice are taken from Microsoft’s hugely successful Halo game series.

I have tried these systems and, after wrestling with the burgeoning tech for more than a year, I have come to some conclusions. The tech is here to stay. The real question is which one is the best and most successful in what it does. I’ve lined up the five I have tried.

Number 5. With the launch of the Galaxy S-8, Samsung revamped their failed S-voice experiment, added some features and rebranded it as Bixby and have included it on every handset since, clearly aiming to be the Siri for Android. Or at least for the Galaxy line of phones, anyway. Bixby is no longer just the personal assistant, it now drives all Text to Voice applications on the Galaxy line. Sadly, though, it doesn’t do it well.

Of all the voice assistants, Bixby falls flattest. I have used Bixby in my brand new Galaxy Note 8 and just today fully disabled it from the phone. Its engine is slow to respond, does not accurately render the text that is spoken, even when it is spoken slowly and clearly, and often generates gibberish, spelling out the punctuation instead of adding it correctly period (.)

Number 4. Cortana is not bad, but not as robust as the others. Perhaps because its responses are recorded and not generated, or perhaps because it doesn’t have a cadre of technicians monitoring the inputs, but often, Cortana defaults to a generic web search (using Bing—the Bixby of web search engines) for its returns. She does understand better than Bixby, she just doesn’t do as much as Siri or Google, and she is a bit slower rendering the text.

Number 3. I use an iphone for work, but rarely actually use it for anything other than checking my work email, so I am not dependant on Siri. I have experimented with her to see how accurate she is in her text renderings, and she is useful in that regard. I don’t, however, miss her when I don’t use the phone. Even if one has a smart home system that Siri can control, it still requires the iPhone or iPad to do it, because there is no stand alone device for Siri yet. I hear there is talks to incorporate Siri into the Apple TV remote. Perhaps that will be an improvement. I’ll let all the Apple acolytes defend her position in the voice assistant rankings, but for my list, she is in the middle.

Number 2. The real battle for dominance is for the two assistants that are not bound to hand sets. Google just launched their Google Home product line with devices almost identical to the Amazon Echo. These devices now work just like the Google app on the phone, but without a web browser interface. It has the same network that gives Google its dominance in the web search market and it is amazingly accurate in how it listens and interprets voice. Using the phone, a user can watch the app correct a listening mistake to provide the correct information or perform the desired action. Google rarely makes a mistake in the voice interpretation. It does make mistakes in the results, however, just like it always has. But those mistakes are very few and far between.

Number 1. Alexa was designed by Amazon to work with users’ Amazon accounts. Remember that Amazon is, first and foremost, a shopping retailer. It seems Echo’s goal was similar to the goal of the Dash buttons; to make it quick and easy to order things from Amazon. With the Echo, one can order and play new music from the Prime playlists, reorder any item in the users order history and access the Amazon Prime video system to playback on smart TV or the Amazon Echo View device. If this was where the system stopped, it would rank below Siri in its usability, but Amazon didn’t stop there. With the Echo, Amazon opened the API to developers to create what Amazon calls “Skills” for Alexa. Echo can interact with Samsung’s Smartthings system for home automation, access iHeart radio stations, play games and many more things. On top of those things, Amazon gave Alexa some personality too. She responds to “Good Morning” with some interesting tidbits of information for the day. She tells jokes and even sings songs.

As technology creeps ever further into our daily lives, many people become more dependent on the services systems like these offer. My home has sensors that turn lights on automatically, preventing the stubbed toe from fumbling around in the middle of the night in the dark, interconnected thermostat so I can monitor and adjust the temperature from anywhere, and connected door locks that alert me when they are opened, or that I can lock and unlock from anywhere. Will we come to the day where society comes to a grinding halt if the systems go down? Some people will lose their minds when their assistants disappear into the cloud from whence they came, I have no doubt. I like to think I can adapt and get by without Cortana and Alexa if they go down. But for some, they live in fear of Skynet taking over.

“OK, Google, set the thermostat to 72 degrees.”

“I’m sorry, but the Government has mandated a minimum of 76 degrees for energy conservation.”

Or worse, finding themselves locked out of their homes.

“Alexa, open the front door.”

“I’m sorry, Dave. I’m afraid I can’t do that.”

Like Dave Bowman, the sole survivor of 2001: A Space Odyssey, I still know how to pull the plug.

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For Want Of A One-Liner

If the World Series has taught anything it is that it is impossible to carry momentum indefinitely.  Marvel is about to discover that axiom this weekend with their release of the third Thor movie in the Marvel Cinematic Universe: Thor Ragnarok.  The MCU now features seventeen films that have enjoyed almost universal success.  They have all made huge box office and generated a great fan following, but as with any franchise, there are those who rank the films from best to worse and the two previous Thor movies almost always rank toward the bottom of the list.  Ragnarok will premier below even them.

One of the things that has endeared the MCU movies to the fans is a tangible sense of humor.  None of the films, even the most dramatic of them, takes itself too seriously and all have been peppered with more than a few snappy one liners that have become the hallmark of the MCU and something the DCEU has been lacking.  But as with anything good, someone will always ask for too much of a good thing.

No spoilers here, but the term Ragnarok refers to the destruction of Asgard and Thor spends the film trying to avert that destruction, which seems assured as Hela, played by Cate Blanchet, lays waste to the Asgardian defenders and casts Thor out.  Our hero must rally a team to defeat Hela and save Asgard, so he happens upon the Hulk and a disgraced Asgardian Valkyrie to enlist their help.

Ragnarok has a lot going for it.  It features not only Thor and Loki, but also the Hulk engaging in a battle royal with nothing less than the future of Asgard in the balance.  But with all the action, the studio went overboard with the one liners.  Thor has not one whit of his serious, responsible attitude so often displayed in both his previous films but also in the Avengers movies.  This Thor spends most of this film wise cracking and making poor jokes.  Even the Hulk, who talks more in this movie than in all other MCU films combined, if full of wise cracks.  Add Jeff Goldblum as the near maniacal Game Master and the silliness reaches nauseating levels.  The teaser trailer should have been an indication of the level of silliness when Thor turns to the Game Master and says of Hulk “We know each other!  He’s a friend from work.”

With all the wanton destruction (and there is plenty) it is difficult to feel the sense of loss that by all rights should have the audience near tears when the cast is so busy whipping out one liners.  I found it difficult to enjoy this film and found myself sighing a lot during the two-and-a-half hour show, wishing it would wrap up.  That is not an indication of a good movie.  Thor Ragnarok is the worst film of the Thor films, which are the worst films of the MCU.  It is a shame.  It is also a shame that the next entry to have to swing the momentum back is a movie featuring the little known Black Panther in February before the next Avengers movie.

 

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Gettin’ Down with Bob and Sue

There are moments of unexpected joy that come around in life.  These moments are rare and when they come, one must see them for what they are and savor every second of them.  My granddaughter called me a few weeks ago to ask me for a favor.  The last favor she asked for was to borrow a couple of books, so I didn’t think much of it when I replied, “Sure.  What is it?”

“What are you doing the week of the 28th?”

“Nothing much.  I don’t know for sure, but I doubt I have anything scheduled.  Why?”

“We’re having a Bob and Sue dance and I was hoping you could be my Bob.”

Now, I had never heard of a Bob and Sue dance, so the first thing that popped into my head was something like a Sadie Hawkins thing.  She went on to explain that there would be a couple of practices and a dinner prior to the dance.  It was then that it occurred to me that she was talking about Drill Team.  My granddaughter is a Morton Ranch Maverick Belle and she was asking me to dance at the half time show during the football game.

And I had already said yes.

What had I gotten myself into?

Anyone who knows me knows that I don’t dance.  At least not without first imbibing copious amounts of inhibition lowering beverages.  When I was in middle school, I attended my first school dance.  My lack of experience in that particular social ritual was glaringly apparent as I tried to figure out how to move to the rhythm while simultaneously screwing up enough courage to ask a girl to actually dance.  As I tried to surreptitiously practice dancing while hiding along the gym’s sidelines, some school mate observed my awkward gyrations and commented that I couldn’t dance.  That killed dancing for me for a couple of years.  It was in high school before I tried again.  I did manage to perform as Will Smith instructed Kevin James in “Hitch”, elbows in, shuffling from left to right in that safe space.  No one would confuse me with Tony Manero.

It was with more than a little trepidation that I entered the Morton Ranch gym that first practice session.  Reyna was nonplussed.  Nothing fazes her these days; at least nothing having to do with dancing.  She has been dancing her whole life.  For her 13th birthday, her parents threw a surprise party for her after she had been with me on a road trip driving back from Arkansas.  Once we got to the house, that girl started dancing with her friends and didn’t stop by the time I left to go home.  I was exhausted just watching her dance.  I have attended her dance recitals throughout her school performances as long as she has been doing them, only missing one or two.  This girl can dance.

This guy cannot.

So once the other “Bobs” showed up for the practice, I noticed that several of them were in no better physical condition as I was, so I felt marginally better.  Most of the Bobs were the girls’ fathers, so I was probably the oldest one there.  Once the leaders started instructing us in the choreography, I became more concerned.  There were steps and counting and shuffling and spinning and lifting involved.  I began to feel better as the other Bobs were struggling as I was, so I drove on.  The practice was on the same night as Game one of the World Series, so they wrapped up pretty quick, since the home town Astros were playing and many of the Bobs were anxious to get home for the game.

The next practice went longer, but they added more moves!  I had not even gotten down the first set and now I had to remember even more!  Oh, this was not going to go well.  I was going to embarrass my granddaughter and she was going to hate me for life.

I needn’t have worried.  On game day, we practiced one more time and I felt better.  Besides, the rest of the Bobs were in the same boat. The dance was far from perfect, but that was clearly not the point, given how little preparation went into the Bob part.  It was just supposed to be a great and fun time for the girls and their “Bobs.”  I am so proud Reyna asked me to be her Bob for the event.  Even if she didn’t think it was a big deal for her, it was enough of one for me for the both of us.

So, here is the video.  Enjoy!

 

Bob and Sue

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Filed under Humor, Personal