Being A Dad

 
 
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A while back, while putting off working, I watched some trailers for upcoming movies. Yeah, I'm one of those guys that loves the previews before movies. Can't get enough of them. Anyway, one that caught my eye that day was Real Steel. When I found out it was based on the same short story (by Richard Matheson) as a great episode of The Twilight Zone (with Lee Marvin) my interest was further piqued. 

And then I forgot about it, figuring I'd catch it late one night on of the countless movie channels we get. 

But then, about a month ago, I started to hear whispers that this was actually a family film. The previews would never reveal that because studios are afraid they will scare away the all-important teenage and young adult audience. But I read a few reviews and they did indeed confirm that this was a family friendly flick.

I asked Jackson if he wanted to go and he enthusiastically said yes. Technically that's not true. Very few kids use the word yes. It could have been a yeah, but just as likely it was a head nod or perhaps a grunt. Regardless, we made a plan and went. 

And I have to say, it was awesome. Sure it's cliche-ridden and you can see plot points coming a mile away but judging from the amount of cheering Jackson was doing during the movie, I'm guessing he didn't care much about those details. 

In essence, the movie is Rocky meets Rock 'Em, Sock 'Em Robots. Lots of action, lots of loud music, lots of robots smashing robots - perfect for any red-blooded boy (and their immature dads). 

There's some objectionable language but it was nothing Jackson hadn't heard already while we're watching the Jets play. And there's one scene of people on people violence that is a little disturbing but it doesn't last too long. 

Oh, and one other thing. When we were making the plans to see the movie, Jackson suggested we invite my dad, figuring he'd enjoy it too. It was the first time I've gone to the movies with both my son and my dad and it made for a pretty great moment. 
Right up to the point where dad got kicked out for throwing popcorn at a group of kids a few rows in front of us. 

 
 
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And... I'm back.

It's not a stretch to say Eddie Murphy's cinematic output since the days of 48 Hrs., Trading Places and Coming to America has been spotty at best. And even that is being overly complimentary. But I've always liked him. Which is part of the reason, I suppose, why I liked Daddy Day Care.

Now there are two reasons I'm not going to try to convince you this movie is the modern day equivalent of Citizen Kane. 1) it's not. And 2) I never really liked Citizen Kane.

Regardless, this movie has a lot going for it especially the casting of Jeff Garlin and Steve Zahn as Murphy's two main co-horts. Other recognizable faces include Angelica Huston, Regina King and Lisa Edelstein. And there's a performance by Cheap Trick and a kid who spends most of the movie dressed in a Flash costume. So I mean, really, what more could you want?

There's plenty of physical stuff for the kids to enjoy, with a healthy dose of poop jokes thrown in for good measure (my boys never met a poop joke they didn't like). Jackson and Griffin both have their favorite rewind moments and it's safe to say the movie holds up to repeat viewings.

So if you're looking for something to watch with the kids, give this movie a shot. Or maybe take them outside. I hear that whole fresh air thing is pretty good too.


 
 
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Jackson has been doing a lot of independent reading lately, which is great, but it does limit my exposure to books for kids.

Every once in a while, however, he does prefer that I take the reading reigns and one of our recent selections was Slumpbuster from The Super Sluggers series by Kevin Markey.

I picked this up around the holidays when Jackson started to show an interest in chapter books and since he's a walking encyclopedia of baseball knowledge (the other day he was talking about Juan Uribe's home run totals from last year), I figured the subject matter was a slam dunk (look at me mixing sports metaphors).

The Super Sluggers series follows the exploits of the Rambletown Ramblers, a little league baseball team. The lead character of Slumpbuster is the Ramblers third baseman, Banjo H. Bishbash aka The Walloper. As you might have guessed from the title, the story involves Banjo's first ever batting slump. To make matters worse, the slump is a visible, tangible black cloud that follows him wherever he goes.

The book is set in the modern day but is written in a Runyon-esque style with colorful character names and expressions that sound like they were plucked from the Great Depression. Some might find this is over the top, or even cheesy, but Jackson really appreciated it. 

A nice touch by the author is at the end of the book where he lists the full Rambletown Ramblers roster (say that three times fast) along with their stats for the season. Jackson ate that up with a spoon (and a kid-sized bag of chewing tobacco). 

So far there are two other books in The Super Sluggers series and we'll be picking up the next selection shortly. If I'm lucky, Jackson might even let me read it with him.  

 
 
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This is a tricky one.

On one hand, I really liked it. On the other hand, it's not really for kids.

Let's tackle the second issue first. Rango is certainly being marketed for kids - the trailer appeared in front of every kids movie for the past six months or so and Burger King is even giving away Rango toys (even though this is the least cuddly cast of characters since Deliverence). But unless your kid recognizes and appreciates references to Don Knotts, Lee Van Cleef, John Huston, Clint Eastwood, Hunter S. Thompson, or Apocalypse Now, he or she is probably not the target audience for this movie. And remember how confusing the plot of Chinatown was? Well, Rango is basically using the same premise. Throw in a bunch of killings and a pace that's more Leone than Pixar and you realize this isn't your typical animated fare (as an aside, what do we call these movies? They're not cartoons, they're not live action, they're animated but by computers... any suggestions would be appreciated).

Cautionary tales aside, there's a lot to like here. For starters, it looks amazing (and not a third dimension in sight, bless their hearts) and the soundtrack is really good (featuring one of my personal faves, Los Lobos). And it's kind of refreshing to see a movie like this that makes no attempt to cater to a younger audience (no Bieber references, for example). The cast, led by Johnny Depp, is top notch too.

So leave the little ones at home and take the older kids - just don't be surprised if they start showing an interest in Walter Brennan and rolling their own cigarettes.

 
 
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I should start off by saying that I did doze a bit during the movie.  But that had more to do with the 3-year old sleeping on my lap than my interest level.  The part that I was awake for was pretty good.

Somehow our kids completely missed the more recent wave of Disney animated movies - Beauty and the Beast, The Little Mermaid, etc.  I bring that up because Tangled, while not traditionally animated, fits right in with those films.  Which is why I think (at the risk of sounding sexist) that girls will love this movie.  There's some serious girl power going on (courtesy of Rapunzel) along with the  prerequisite wicked stepmother (courstesy of Donna Murphy although I thought it was Bebe Neuwirth until the credits rolled).  The derring-do is supplied by Flynn Ryder - a character name that both Jackson & Griffin (once he woke up) found hysterical. 

Much in the Disney tradition, characters break out in song at the drop of a hat (or hair, as the case may be) which is why you should expect Tangled - The Musical to hit Broadway sometime in the near future. 

I just read that this is the first Disney "princess" movie to get a PG rating and I suppose that's appropriate but there's very little here that could possibly cause nightmares and it's relatively tame compared to most children's fare.  Unless there was a decapitation scene when I was sleeping, then I might change my mind.   

Oh, and one other thing - your kids will want to see this in 3D because all kids want the extra "D", but there's nothing to justify the extra money you'd have to spend on a ticket.  If they really want to see 3D, tell them to look out a window. 

 
 
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There are many reasons I really enjoyed this movie...

Will Ferrell - Supposedly, the role of Megamind was offered to both Ben Stiller and Robert Downey, Jr. and I don't think it would have been nearly as funny without Ferrell.  Thumbs up to Tina Fey, Brad Pitt and David Cross for their voice work as well. 

Melancholy - you'll never want to pronounce it the same way again.

Fun for kids, fun for grownups - while there's plenty here for the kids to enjoy, there's just enough for us old folks as well, from a fresh twist on Obama posters to a great Donkey Kong sight gag.

The geeks shall inherit the earth - this is a superhero movie after all, so obligatory comic book references are essential and there are some good ones here - from Superman to the Flash to Green Lantern. 

Most importantly, I've always loved going to the movies.  Before the kiddos came along, the Mrs. and I used to go all the time.  Now that our income and time isn't nearly as disposable as it used to be, we seem to talk about going to the movies more than we actually go to them.  So it was with great pleasure that we got to take the boys this past Saturday morning and experience the whole thing through their eyes (while they were open, anyway - Griffin fell asleep on my lap with about a half an hour to go). 

And while a massive bucket of popcorn at 10:30 in the morning might not be an ideal breakfast, it can't be any worse than their daily meeting with that lucky leprechaun and his magically delicious marshmallows. 


 
 
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Yesterday was library day at Jackson's school.  It's always an interesting proposition for a number of reasons - will he remember to bring home the book, will it be a book he already owns, will it be a copy of Finnegans Wake again, etc.  

I was quite pleased to see John, Paul, George & Ben make a return visit to our house.  The book is written and illustrated by Lane Smith and features a humorous take on the lives of John Hancock, Paul Revere, George Washington and Ben Franklin.  And lest you be concerned that Smith took too many liberties (pun intended) with their stories, there's an entertaining true or false section at the end to help readers separate fact from fiction.  

Jackson & Griffin's favorite passage involves (somewhat predictably) Paul Revere and a search for a pair of extra large underwear but there's lots of fun stuff throughout for readers of all ages.  

Smith is perhaps best known as the illustrator of The Stinky Cheese Man and Other Fairly Stupid Tales and his artwork here serves as a perfect complement to the text.  

So if you say you want a revolution, you could do a lot worse than spending some time with this fun book.  

 
 
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I was never a big Ben Stiller fan.  I can appreciate his talent but always found him to be a bit unlikable on screen. Oddly enough, that wasn't the case with the second installment of the Night at the Museum franchise and I think that's part of the reason I prefer the sequel to the original.  

Another reason is the supporting cast.  I love Dick Van Dyke (one of the villains in the first movie), but he didn't have a lot to do and was absent for most of the film.  The MVP of Smithsonian has got to be Hank Azaria.  Playing the main heavy, Kahmunrah, with an accent borrowed from Boris Karloff along with providing the voices of The Thinker and Abe Lincoln, Azaria really delivers.  His scene with a certain green muppet and a black cloaked bad guy is hysterical.  

Owen Wilson and Steve Coogan, returning as miniatures brought to life, are very funny as is Bill Hader as a crazed General Custer.  I can never tell Amy Adams and Amy Ryan apart but I can assure you one of them is in this movie playing a fast talking Amelia Earhart (I almost said whip-smart, but I can't stand that phrase).   And while Jonah Hill might already be overstaying his 15 minutes of fame, his scene here with Stiller is pretty strong.  

The only disappointment is the usually dependable Christopher Guest has absolutely nothing to do here as Ivan the Terrible.  Oh, and the Jonas Brothers make an appearance but it's brief so no real harm done.  

I can't say I'm looking forward to Night at the Museum: Brunch at the Whitney (in 3D), but as long as this one stays in heavy rotation at our house, I can't complain.  

 
 
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We rented this DVD late last week and Jackson has already watched it start to finish three times.  So I think it's safe to say it gets a healthy thumbs up from him.  

I wanted to see the film when it was in the theaters but like so many other releases over the past few years, we missed it.  So one night after everyone went to sleep, I watched it and loved it.  

I never read the book (written by Roald Dahl) so I can't speak to how faithful an adaptation it is, but I definitely recognize Dahl's trademark darkness as well as his fascination for pretty despicable human beings.  The other major element at work here is the director Wes Anderson, who has a healthy bag of idiosyncrasies of his own. I happen to be a fan of Anderson's films but of course your mileage may vary.  

The film stars George Clooney, perfectly cast as Mr. Fox, and Meryl Streep as Mrs. Fox. Jason Schwartzman, who I sometimes like, sometimes don't, is great here as their son Ash.  Other standouts include Wally Wolodarsky as Kylie, Eric Anderson as Kristofferson and Michael Gambon as the hideously evil Mr. Bean.  

Completing the experience is an old school stop motion animation reminiscent of the old Davey and Goliath show and a great soundtrack that includes the Beach Boys, the Rolling Stones, the Bobby Fuller Four and Burl Ives.

There are a couple of scenes that are pretty intense, including the killing of some animals, so keep that in mind if your kids are sensitive to that sort of thing (as opposed to the kids who relish it, I suppose).  




 
 
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Not because they're one of the greatest bands ever.  Not because they've recorded some of the best songs in the history of music.  Both of those statements are true, of course, but the reason they appear here is much simpler...

A couple of weeks back, we were making our way home from Hershey Park.  It was very late and we had more than four hours to go.  Both kids were sleeping in the back. Suddenly, Griffin woke up screaming.  Inconsolable.  We were moments away from him waking up Jackson.  Then a song from The Beatles appeared on my iPod.  

Griffin stopped screaming and said, "The Beatles", before falling back to sleep.  

That was pretty fab indeed.