Monthly Archives: December 2014

My Favorite Things in 2014

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2014bestmainThere is a quite a bit of geeky goodness to look forward to in 2015 in movies, books, television, and events, but 2014 provided a bevy of great memories. Here is my personal list of some of the year’s top offerings:

Best Big Screen and Comic Super Team: Guardians of the Galaxy. I liked these guys before they were cool, so when it was announced the team’s current assemblage of the galaxy’s rogue gallery would hit the big screen, I was a little skeptical. I thought “what would the over-blown, misguided Hollywood machine do to this wonderful and weird comic title?”

Well, what they did was find an underdog-savvy and relatively unknown director (James Gunn), assemble a cast as varied as the characters themselves, put together a fun, sentimental, and often hilarious adventure, and deploy some of the best marketing strategies I’ve seen in a while. Everything about this surprise success has just been skillfully handled, from the accompanying Awesome Mix Volume One retro-inspired soundtrack, to the ever-improving comic series. Even the 4-D gotgfargo-360x300preview shown at the Disney parks prior to the release got fans ready to welcome this new franchise in a big way.

Honestly, I would be a little resentful of all theses Johnny-come-lately fans of the team, if I didn’t completely understand their wanting on board. May Groot continue do his dance in our dreams into the year to come.

Best Geeky Event in My Own Backyard. The Atari E.T. Unearthing. This year, the most unusual high-profile gaming news happened just an hour outside of my home town, when the community of Alamogordo, N.M. uncovered thousands of cartridges of what is said to be one of the Atari system’s worst games ever made, Atari 2600 Port’s E.T. the Extra Terrestrial. The 1982 game apparently sucked Reese’s Pieces so bad, Atari literally covered up their mistake with a mass burial of the games in the New Mexico desert.

This apparent act of embarrassment on the part of Atari became the topic of urban legend, as no one saw or heard from these little pixel stinkers for more than 30 years. In the Spring of 2014, however, the games were excavated from an Alamogordo landfill…and the collectors went crazy. Everyone from museums, to local officials wanted to claim these little video game failures as their own. The game that was so critically panned no one wanted to ever admit they owned it, was now raising thousands of dollars via Alamogordo-approved eBay auctions, and there was even mention by Alamogordo’s mayor of turning the “E.T. Burial Site” into a tourist-worthy landmark. Even online design retailers TeeFury commemorated the event with a limited edition t-shirt design.

This just goes to show, sometimes the skeletons in your closet—or landfill—may emerge someday with new-found appreciation.

Best New Comic Series: Titan Comics’ Doctor Who. Marvel had a go with The Doctor in the past, and then IDW had their turn, but now Titan Comics’ release of all new Doctor Who adventures has given us wonderful new stories featuring the Tenth, Eleventh, and Twelfth Doctors. The Twelfth Doctor series has been my favorite as it was a fitting companion (no pun intended) for another favorite arrival of 2014, Peter Capaldi’s Doctor Who debut. I have to give special note to the first Tenth Doctor story arc, which features The Doctor’s first Latina companion set among my favorite regional celebration, Dia de los Muertos.

Driving this selection home was the announcement of a new Ninth Doctor mini-series in March 2015. It’s about stinkin’ time!comicteemusic-363x300

Best Geeky Attire: Ninth Doctor Little Black Dress. Speaking of “it’s about time,” Her Universe finally gave Ninth Doctor fans something of which they can be proud to wear, a nice simple black dress with Nine’s signature black jacket and jumper design. I’ve worn this thing to school events, church, on date nights, and just because I feel like it. Departing from the fall-back “Fantastic” and “Bananas Are Good,” Ninth Doctor fans can finally show off his bad boy image in way that Whovians will appreciate and non-fans will enjoy as just a stylish and practical dress. It’s hard not to wear this out and feel a little private sense of pride. Yes, Doctor, we are so impressive.

Best Television Series That Snuck Up on Me: FX’s FargoWith the long hiatus after BBC’s Sherlock Series #3, and the year-long wait between Hobbit movies, I was beginning to get withdrawal for Martin Freeman’s great acting. I learned about the series based on the Coen Brothers’ 1996 film of the same name about a week before it came out, and it became my guilty addiction for its entire 10-series run. The acting on everyone’s part was amazing in this, but it was Billy Bob Thornton’s scary deadpan and Freeman’s evolution from Hapless Nerd Lester, to conniving A-Hole Lester that drew us in.

Within the span of ten-weeks I found myself rooting for poor Lester to rooting for his deserved demise. Stellar acting only Freeman can deliver. I heard there are plans for a second series with a new cast, but I can’t even imagine it topping this one.

Best Book Series: William Shakespeare’s Star Wars Trilogy Imperial Boxed Set. Ian Doescher concluded his first trilogy of the William Shakespeare’s Star Wars series this year, allowing for an attractive boxed set of these books to be released in October, ready for holiday gift-giving. I bought each one of these books—Verily, A New Hope, The Empire Striketh Back, and The Jedi Doth Return—as they were released, but now I wish I had waited from the set. It makes it easy, however, to purchase gifts for everyone else of whom I can’t wait share this clever, well-written tribute to both The Bard and The Jedi. Bravo, Mr. Doescher. When to we get to see, Thee Ghostly Menace?

Best Musical Tribute: The Last Goodbye from The Hobbit: The Battle of Five Armies. Even those who felt Peter Jackson’s decision to divide The Hobbit into three films was a bad idea, it was hard not to shed a sentimental tear for the end of the series when Lord of The Rings alumnus Billy Boyd (Pippin) delivered this beautiful number. The tune was co-written by Boyd, and chosen to wrap up the six-movie Middle Earth labor of love by Jackson. What a fitting, lovely tribute to classic story and epic motion picture adventure series.

Farewell 2014. Thanks for the music, memories, and movies, and keep the fun coming in 2015!

Originally ran in GeekMom on Dec. 26.

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Create a Snowstorm For Any Fandom

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From Doctor Who to Batman, there’s a snowflake out there for any geeky passion. Image by Lisa Kay Tate.

I’ve been making snowflakes since I was a little gremlin stealing my mom’s “good scissors” to cut up leftover squares of tissue and gift wrap into little paper blizzards.

In 2012, graphic artist Anthony Herrera released his first batch of Star Wars-themed snowflake templates, creating a chance to build a winter wonderland for fanboys and fangirls. Herrera created follow-up patterns in 2013, as well as this year, each X-Wing, Jedi, and Droid pattern more elaborate than the next.

Not only have these made my fingers bleed from trying to create them, they set me on a quest to see what other fandoms have been captured in this favorite holiday season art form.

It turns out, there are plenty of geeky snowflake designs to suit nearly every fandom for those willing to take the polar paper plunge in into the world of geeky snowflakes:

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A couple of the Star Wars creations by Anthony Herrera, that got me hooked on the geeky snowflake craft.

Disney. Herrera has also dabbled in the Disney designs, with seven Frozen-themed templates, featuring individual characters, including Elsa’s snowman bodyguard, Marshmallow.

For some simpler designs, Disney Family offers some ideas featuring the classic Mickey head silhouette.

Fans of Tim Burton’s Nightmare Before Christmas can find several templates for Jack Skellington’s spider snowflake featured in the movie. A really simple pattern and tutorial can be found on the Instructables site.

Game of Thrones. Designer Krystal Higgins has created some beautiful snowflake patterns based on each of the nine main houses in George R.R. Martin’s Game of Thrones series. Unlike the actual series, these are suitable for display for all ages. These patterns range in difficulty from fairly simple (House of Tyrell) to unbelievably tricky (House of Baratheon).

For a good way to get some practice with these designs, try out Higgins’ Game of Thrones Valentine heart patterns.

Superheroes. Comic Book Resources has a few reasonably easy DC and Marvel hero snowflake patterns based on Batman, Storm, Wonder Woman, and Iron Man. Compared to the some of the other designs featured in this post, these will take a lot less effort and time to create. That doesn’t mean they don’t look cool. The Wonder Woman and Batman are especially fun to make.

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Keep some sharp scissors and x-acto knife on hand…as well as plenty of band-aids for those snowflake cutting marathons.

Doctor Who. The Whovian snowflake obsession is like the TARDIS: It’s bigger than it appears. I’ve uncovered several sites and crafters who sharing Doctor Who-themed patterns. There are TARDIS patterns aplenty as well as Daleks, weeping angels, sonic screwdrivers, Cybermen, adipose, and even one from my favorite episode, The Empty Child. Epic Geekdom and Oodly Crafting are two of the better resources, the later of which has somehow created a intricate, eye-crossing Gallifreyan circular text that I haven’t had the nerve to try out yet.

I’ve also run across many other templates including designs for BBC’s Sherlock, steampunk designs, pirates, and other assorted fandoms.

Now, I warn novice winter warlocks, many of these designs will take a few unsuccessful attempts to get them looking halfway decent. Even more practiced snowflake-makers might end up with a few wadded-up snow failures around their feet. A couple of the links, including Herrera’s, do have some very detailed tutorials on how to fold these patterns, but this doesn’t mean these will turn out perfect first go round. This skill takes practice and patience…and some excess paper, good scissors, and a sometimes a really, really sharp X-Acto knife.

Article originally published in GeekMom on Dec. 12.

The Many Lives of James Hook

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hookmain-660x414The teaser trailer for one of next year’s big family releases, Warner Bros. Pictures’ Pan, was released Thanksgiving weekend, proving potential for another wild adventure in Neverland. This prequel origin story of Peter Pan is directed by Joe Wright (Atonement, Pride & Prejudice), and shows a group of young orphan boys kidnapped by pirates, as free labor on Neverland.

According to the trailer, a young pre-pirate James Hook, played by Garrett Hedlund (Tron: Legacy) and still in possession of both hands, serves as a kind of roguish foil for pirate leader Blackbeard (Hugh Jackman). That is pretty much all this movie reveals so far, but it does raise some interest in learning more about Hook’s eventual transformation into his villainous self.

The tentative release date on some movie sites is July 17, but the official Pan movie site just promises that “summer 2015″ is when everyone will learn the new history of Peter Pan, The Lost Boys and, most importantly, Captain James Hook.

It seems everyone who loves the tale of Peter Pan wants to learn more about Captain Hook. What makes this great literary villain tick? Well, aside from the clock in his crocodile tormentor’s belly, that is.

J.M. Barrie gives a little of Hook’s backstory in his novel and play, Peter Pan, or The Boy Who Wouldn’t Grow Up. Through the book, readers learn Hook was once a “boatswain to Blackbeard” and a former Eton College man, who apparently comes from family of high status. Barrie writes in the book that if Hook’s real name were revealed, it would “set the country in a blaze,” leaving over-enthusiastic scholars and historians to bicker over who might have been the inspiration for this fictional pirate captain.

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The “bad boy” Hook from Pan (left) and Once Upon A Time. Images ©Warner Bros. 2014 and ABC Studios.

Pan isn’t the first Peter Pan-based story to try to fill in the blanks of Hook’s past. These movies, television series, and books are among those who have also tried to pin down the past of this notorious Neverland antagonist:

Peter and the Starcatchers. This is the first book in the humorous young reader’s adventure series by Dave Barry and Ridley Pearson. Like many stories revealing Hook’s origin, the book focuses on the origin of Peter and what is to become his posse of Lost Boys. It also follows the quest of Molly Aster, part of a long line of magical Starcatchers. On their journeys on the high seas, they meet the evil Black “Stache,” known for his abnormally long mustache and ruthless ways. This pirate is known for his filthy presence (both in hygiene and disposition), as well as his sailing expertise. “Stache” is the pirate who is to become known as Captain Hook. He later loses his hand in the familiar skirmish with Peter.

The story doesn’t claim to follow Barrie’s original story, as there are many original characters and plot lines, but the story Barry and Pearson tell is wild, fun, and worthy of a pirate’s tale. The book’s popularity spawned several follow-ups, as well as a Broadway musical dubbed a “grownup’s prequel to Peter Pan.”

The Pirate Fairy. This sixth installment in Walt Disney Studios’ Tinker Bell video series has become a fan favorite, due the casting of Tom Hiddleson as the voice of cabin boy James. The seemingly innocent James befriends runaway dust-keeper fairy Zarina, as she takes over as captain of pirate ship. Zarina is soon betrayed by the crew in their attempt to get their hands on her rare, Blue Pixie Dust. Lead mutineer, of course, is James, who turns out to be the future Captain Hook. As the Pixies pursue the crew, they run into a cuddly little croc, who will one day grow up to be the one who gets a taste of Hook’s hand. Disney takes a few liberties with its own version of Peter Pan, but still produces a charming story which includes a glimpse of Hook’s first meeting with Smee.

Once Upon A Time. Anyone who follows the Disney series for ABC television knows every character in this fairy tale soap opera will get an entirely new story. Killian “Captain Hook” Jones (Irish actor Colin O’Donoghue) debuts in the series’ second season episode, “The Crocodile.” Hook claims, in this series version of Neverland, that he is not the story’s “bad guy.” Instead, he said Peter Pan is the story’s “treacherous” villain and a “bloody demon.” Of course, there are several “who do you trust” moments throughout the next two seasons (including the current one), but what is certain is this Hook’s history is very different from Barrie’s.

Deserted by his father at a young age, Killian grows up to become a ship lieutenant. He eventually follows his brother Liam on an adventure to find a magical healing plant on a remote island, which turns out to be Neverland. They run into island resident Peter Pan, who warns them the plant is, in fact, dangerous. Long story short, they don’t listen. This leads to an ultimately fatal error on Liam’s part, leaving Killian to eventually takeover as Captain, leading a life of piracy and renaming their ship Jolly Roger.

As in keeping with Once Upon a Time’s fondness for love triangles, Hook loses his hand to a Rumpelstiltskin, with whose wife Killian became involved with. When Killian first encountered Rumpelstiltskin, he was disguised as an old beggar Killian referred to as a “crocodile.” Clever.

This Hook may be a bit “sparkly vampire” for those who like Captain Hook as a true, devious villain. However, O’Donoghue seems to be in on this joke and said in an online interview with E! that he based the character on The Dread Pirate Roberts from The Princess Bride.

Capt. Hook: The Adventures of a Notorious Youth. One of veteran screenwriter James V. Hart’s familiar stories was Steven Spielberg’s 1992 motion picture Hook, a story that deals with Peter Pan’s future rather than the past of Captain Hook, portrayed by Dustin Hoffman. Hart remedies this in his first young reader’s novel about the early life of Captain Hook.

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The captain in a circa-1912 illustration. Public Domain.

In this version of the pirate’s past, James Matthew is raised by an aunt after his father, “Lord B,” rejects him. Born out of wedlock, James never met his mother. There are a few hints throughout the book she might be someone of very significant status. Unlike the bumbling captain seen in so many modern portrayals, this version attends Eton College at age 15, is a voracious reader, and a top student at the college. He wins the affection of an Ottoman Sultana, also being wooed by fellow student and rival Arthur Darling. This love affair becomes quite the scandal and threatens the social status of Lord B, who arranged for James Matthew and his friend “Jolly” Roger to depart Eton on a trading ship. His deeds range from noble to villainous, including freeing the ship’s slaves and murdering the quartermaster with a metal hook.

Hart’s retelling is the most loyal to the original novel, as it attempts to expand on the information given in Barrie’s original works. Not only is James Matthew a tribute to Barrie’s own first and middle name, it follows Barrie’s suggestion that Hook gained his name long before he lost his hand. The first chapter, “Hook at Eton,” even gets its name from the title of a speech Barrie made at the college.

Neverland. One of the Syfy Channel’s storybook makeovers stars Rhys Ifans as James Hook, the devious leader of a group of Oliver Twist-style orphan pickpockets in Dickensian London. When they discover a portal to another dimension, they become transported into another timeless world with pirates, mystical beings, and a lost Native American tribe trapped in time. It is worth watching for Ifans’ great acting job, as he weasels and betrays his way up the ranks with a band of pirates in true Hook fashion. Get ready for a little more sci-fi portal-jumping twists than just following the “second star to the right.” Fans of Spielberg’s Hook will also appreciate the late Bob Hoskins’ reprisal of his role as Smee in this one. The Neverland miniseries airrred in 2011, but is still available on DVD.

The appearances, references, and portrayals of hook as a literary villain are numerous, including Christopher Walken’s portrayal in NBC’s Peter Pan Live!. Veteran actors Jason Isaacs, Tim Curry, and Boris Karloff are also among the many who have donned the famous hook. Notable voice portrayals include Corey Burton, who has taken over the iconic Disney Hook, and Ian McShane and Tom Waits, who captured Hook’s speaking and singing voice respectively Shrek The Third and Shrek 2.

Even though Barrie made sure to leave Hook’s complete history an enigma, many still feel Hook is just the repressive symbol of adulthood. Traditionally, in many Peter Pan productions, the same actor who portrays Hook also portrays Mr. Darling. (Although the Peter Pan Live! production double-cast actor Christian Borle as Mr. Darling and Smee, in order to give Walken a more dramatic first appearance.)

When Pan, the latest, but certainly not final, story of the Captain Hook and his archenemy Peter Pan is released in theaters next summer, pirate fans will have even more pieces of information about his possible past. The Hook puzzle will likely never be completely finished, however, and that’s good thing.

Knowing the undisputed truth about this most infamous of fictional storybook pirate captains may never be fully known, but if it were, what fun would that be? The whole point of Neverland is to remain a child at heart.

And, it needs its villain. It needs its Captain Hook. Hook even confirmed this in the movie that bears his name.

“Fools,” he proclaimed. “James Hook is Neverland!”

Easy Ways To Create With Fall Leaves

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Autumn leaves make for versatile seasonal art supplies.

Leaves have always been one of the “go-to” nature craft items during the fall months, but they are more versatile than you might think. Here are some different kid-friendly ways to use these colorful—and plentiful—art supplies you may or may not have known about.

foldcut-leaf-660x450As Folding and Cutting Paper. This works best with leaves that are still pliable. I’ve found if you run your fingers along a branch of leaves that haven’t fallen yet, those that fall off easily, without having to be plucked, are at this stage.

You can make fall “rosebuds” with larger leaves (like maple leaves) by folding the top down to meet the stem and rolling them gently. Then, secure the bottom with chenille stem or raffia (straw ribbon). I learned about this craft when I was looking for a bouquet for a “corpse bride” Halloween costume, but they turned out to be great Thanksgiving accents as well.

Smaller leaves can be folded lengthwise and cut to make hearts, stars, simple paper doll animals, or other designs. You can also use a small cookie cutter as a guide.

painted-leaf-660x412As a Canvas. This is one of the most fun uses for younger crafters. Larger leaves that are still fairly flat can be used as canvas for seasonal or rustic images. This is also a great backdrop for little “turkey” hands. Laminate them for safe-keeping or glue them onto construction paper.

As a Stencil. Find leaves of different shapes and sizes that are still relatively flat and arrange them on a piece of stencil-leaf-648x470paper—any color will do. These can be held in place by placing a small piece of tape on the back of each leaf. Drizzle or sponge acrylic or craft paint over the leaves, careful not to let it seep under the leaves. These final images can be folded for fall place settings or note cards. This works with spray paint as well, for more advanced crafters.

As a “Painting” Medium. This is actually more like a mosaic than paint, but it takes advantage of the different colors of fall leaves to create a collage or add color to nature crafts. The more crinkly and dry a leaf is, the easier this is to do. Crumble different colored leaves over paper plates. Less crumbly leaves can be torn or cut like paper. Then “paint” flat river stones with the leaves by gluing the leaves over the top of the surface and securing them with a layer of decoupage glue.

mos-leafIf you can’t find a suitable stone, make a disc out of polymer clay. Use a popcicle stick or clay tool to draw a simple design in the clay before baking. For a little more color, add some petals from fall flowers.

As a Stamp. As opposed to the other fall leaf uses, this one needs fresh green leaves to work best. However, there are plenty of evergreen and house plants that can be used in the fall. Place a leaf on piece of light-colored paper and cover it with a paper towel. Gently pound over the leaf with a hammer until it is completely smashed. Remove the remainder of the leaf, for a natural stamped image on paper.

These techniques can find their way onto note cards, autumn centerpieces, wreaths, gift wrapping, paper weights, or any other creative fall use, so go gather some leaves and gather your ideas.

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