POP CULTURE

Movies, TV, music, comics/superheroes, etc.

R.I.P. R2-D2

August 14, 2016 | By Brent Almond | POP CULTURE

RIP R2-D2

Kenny Baker 1934-2016 Rest In Peace

While the character of R2-D2 will be around for a long, long time, I wanted to pay respect to the actor who played him in the first six Star Wars films. Special effects aside, Kenny Baker was the one who brought everyone’s favorite droid to life.

In October 1977 I was eight years old, and my dad took me and my younger brother to see Star Wars. There were so many moments in that first viewing that have stayed with me ever since. Certainly the adventure and fantasy are incredible, but the characters are what make the films more than just a thrill ride. Luke was the everyman I related to most; Chewbacca, the furry bodyguard I wished I had; and R2-D2 was the loyal friend — filling the screen with mischief and humor, all without a face or uttering a word.

Not long after seeing the movie (maybe the same day?), we got our first Star Wars t-shirts. My brother got the one with Sand People; I chose R2-D2, and I never really stopped…
.

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Movie Review: ‘Pete’s Dragon’ Soars With Disney Magic

August 11, 2016 | By Brent Almond | POP CULTURE

Disney's Pete's Dragon

Movie: Pete’s Dragon (PG, 95 minutes)
Moviegoers: Daddy (47), Jon (6-3/4)
Individual Reviews: Daddy ★★★★★, Jon ★★★★★
Family Favorites: Star Wars (episodes IV-VII), Ghostbusters (all versions), Despicable Me

Plot Snapshot: For years, old wood carver Mr. Meacham (Robert Redford) has delighted local children with his tales of the fierce dragon that resides deep in the woods of the Pacific Northwest. To his daughter, Grace (Bryce Dallas Howard), who works as a forest ranger, these stories are little more than tall tales…until she meets Pete (Oakes Fegley). Pete is a mysterious 10-year-old with no family and no home who claims to live in the woods with a giant, green dragon named Elliott. Grace sets out to determine where Pete came from, where he belongs, and the truth about this dragon.

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[The remainder of this review contains mild spoilers.]

Disney’s new remake of Pete’s Dragon is a truly enchanting experience, and a welcome improvement on the rather dated original. Directed by David Lowery and filmed entirely in New Zealand, the movie is at its most magical when it’s just boy and dragon. Fuzzy, purring Elliott acts as both loyal pet and doting parent to Mowgli-esque Pete. And while I rarely think 3D is justifiable, the flight scenes alone make it well worth the extra cost.

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How To Make Captain America: Civil War Bento Lunches for Your Little Avengers

May 10, 2016 | By Brent Almond | DAD STUFF, DESIGN STUFF, POP CULTURE

Earlier this year, Babble (Disney’s parenting web site) kicked off an Instagram series called #LunchboxLove. It features fun and creative lunches from fun and creative parents. So of course I was beyond stoked when they asked me to participate — because I’m so fun and creative. 🙂

Our whole family has been looking forward to Captain America: Civil War, so I was immediately inspired to create something from Marvel’s hero-vs-hero soon-to-be blockbuster. I had initially thought I would try and represent several characters in the lunch, but that was proving to be rather complicated. So then I turned my focus on the two iconic heroes leading teams into battle. But knowing my son was a diehard fan of both Captain America AND Iron Man, how could I make him choose?

I didn’t. Avengers assemble… your ingredients!

Captain America: Civil War Bento Lunch

WHAT YOU’LL NEED:

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• Bagels (I used plain, but any kind would work)
• Captain America: strawberry & blueberry fruit spread, cream cheese
• Iron Man: salami, cheddar cheese, mozzarella string cheese, condiments
• Popcorn
• Dried fruit: cranberries, blueberries, cherries
• Red & yellow snacking tomatoes
• Red & yellow bell peppers
• Ranch dressing or other veggie dip
• Cookie cutters (2″ star, 3″ circle, 4″ biscuit cutter)

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Remembering Prince and How His Music Helped Save My Life

April 30, 2016 | By Brent Almond | DAD STUFF, LGBT STUFF, POP CULTURE

Remembering Prince & How He Helped Save My Life

In the summer of 1984 I turned 16. I had a year of high school behind me and was living on a tropical island in the middle of the Pacific. My dad was a military chaplain, and we’d moved to Okinawa, Japan the previous summer. For several months we lived in a house in Okinawa City, and the top floor consisted only of my bedroom and a wraparound balcony with a view of the ocean. Aside from the occasional gecko scurrying across the ceiling, it was a sanctuary of solitude for this eldest of four boys.

I had a pretty good first year of high school, as years of high school go. My grades were good, I made the tennis team, and had a solid group of friends. I’d even been voted “Cutest Couple” with a girl who I happened to be dating when the votes were cast, though soon after reverting to friend status.

By the summer of this story, we’d moved onto Kadena Air Force Base. Military housing is typically bland, but here was accented with island flavor: a clay tile roof, palm trees growing from the patio, poinsettia bushes along the side of the house. I hadn’t yet attained high school party-attendee status, so weekend nights were spent walking to the movies or bowling alley, days at one of the beaches scattered around the island.

At the end of that June, I bought Purple Rain at the BX. Over the course of the summer and into my sophomore year, Prince’s magnum opus was the soundtrack of our collective youth. Blasting from cars and boom boxes, on every Walkman, every track (and some B-sides) played nonstop at school dances.

Like Thriller the year before, Purple Rain crossed lines of gender, race, and genre. But it went even further, delving into and mixing sex and spirituality. This was exemplified most in the album’s two biggest hits. “When Doves Cry” dripped with sensuality, while “Let’s Go Crazy” sang of the afterlife with raucous, unpious fervor. The latter was a revelation for this preacher’s kid struggling not only with faith, but also with my sexuality… and what that meant for my own afterlife.

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Back to the White House: Discussing Gender Stereotypes in Media & Toys

April 12, 2016 | By Brent Almond | MAKING MEMORIES, POP CULTURE

For the second time in less than a month, I found myself an invited guest of the White House. (I don’t think I’ve ever written a more unfathomably awesome sentence.) While hearing the First Lady speak about nutrition and fitness a few weeks prior was certainly amazing, the topic of the second event was much more in my wheelhouse.

gender stereotypes in toys and media

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SuperBunnyEggFriends Easter Craft to the Rescue!

March 27, 2016 | By Brent Almond | DESIGN STUFF, POP CULTURE

Superhero Easter Craft

If the new film Batman v Superman is too dark for your littlest superhero fan, here’s a nifty Springtime/Easter craft I whipped up. I had a lot of fun recreating my favorite childhood heroes in bunny/egg form, and then putting them in silly scenarios. After I was done playing with them, they made eggceptional prize eggs for an epic backyard egg hunt at Grandma and Grandpa’s house.

Enjoy the goofy Easter vignettes, then scroll to the end of the post to learn how to make them yourself.

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Batman v Superman: Pick a Side to Win $200 in Fandango Gift Cards!

March 24, 2016 | By Brent Almond | DESIGN STUFF, POP CULTURE

Batman v Superman SuperLunchNotes

My son’s a little young yet to see Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice, but he’s been witness to this epic battle his whole life. Between TV shows and movies, t-shirts and Halloween costumes, and of course multiple action figures of each — my 6-year-old has grown up amidst this greatest of superhero struggles.

Yet nowhere has this played out more frequently than in his lunch box. The Dark Knight and the Man of Steel are not only the two most iconic superheroes on earth, but they’ve also made more appearances as SuperLunchNotes than another other character. Between the two of them, they’ve accompanied his PBJ and Pirate’s Booty on nearly 25 occasions. And that’s not even counting notes featuring sidekicks, pets, or rogues galleries.

So to commemorate the premiere of the big screen skirmish, I thought I’d feature some of my favorite notes from each titan, then let you weigh in on who should be declared the winner of Batman v Superman: SuperLunchNotes… And your pick could win one of two $100 movie gift cards from Fandango.com!

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SuperLunchNotes: Now I Eat My ABC’s

March 18, 2016 | By Brent Almond | DAD STUFF, DESIGN STUFF, POP CULTURE

As the old year rebooted to a new one, I kicked it off with SuperLunchNotes A-to-Z in my son’s lunch box. I was bored at the idea of just doing a character that starts with each letter, so I decided to include a word describing or associated with the subject. A word he could figure out on his own — either in context or using his ever-increasing reading skills. If he wasn’t always going to eat well, at least he could learn something.

I initially thought I’d also choose words that could apply to Jon, either in reality or aspirationally. But you’ll see I quickly hit a snag with “E” and broke that rule.

In any case, grab your lunch salad and a water (or goldfish crackers and a juicebox — I won’t judge), sit back and enjoy an alphabetized study in scrumptious superheroics!

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1.4 Aquaman  |  1.5 Brave’s Merida   |  1.6 Catwoman

superlunchnotes a-to-z

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Brains, Schmains: How About Some Zombie S’mores!

February 10, 2016 | By Brent Almond | DESIGN STUFF, POP CULTURE

Zombie S'mores!

S’mores are just about the most perfect snack. First, there’s the simplicity of them: chocolate + marshmallows + graham crackers; heat, eat, repeat.

They’re also super easy to customize, personalize, and accessorize. Maybe you like yours with peanut butter, or Nutella instead of chocolate; or maybe once in college you experimented with s’mores made from Pop Tarts and have always fantasized about trying that again.

And finally, s’mores are always in season: they taste just as gooey and delicious whether you’re huddled around a campfire telling ghost stories or huddled on the couch binge-watching The Walking Dead.

Speaking of zombies…
A while back I made some spooky monster s’mores for my son’s class Halloween party. They were such fun to make (and a big hit with the kids), that I thought I’d revisit this snack-craft and see what other monstrosity I could come up with. Then it hit me — ZOMBIE S’MORES. What could be more fitting than a gooey, melty, drippy snack made to look like a gooey, melty, drippy reanimated corpse?!

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An Adoptive Dad Reviews ‘Kung Fu Panda 3’

February 1, 2016 | By Brent Almond | LGBT STUFF, POP CULTURE

Movie: Kung Fu Panda 3 (PG, 95 minutes)
Moviegoers: Daddy (46), Papa (48), Jon (6)
Individual Reviews: Daddy ★★★★, Papa ★★★1/2, Jon ★★★★★
Family Favorites: Star Wars (episodes IV-VII), Big Hero 6, Ghostbusters
Daddy & Papa’s Favorites: The Matrix, O Brother Where Art Thou, The Adventures of Priscilla, Queen of the Desert

Plot Snapshot: Po is living large as the hero of his village, content to “fight monsters and get high-fives from bunnies.” Two challenges soon arise to rock Po’s world: the supernatural villain Kai, who is stealing the chi of China’s kung fu masters; and the appearance of Li Shan, his long-lost biological father.

Po and Li Shan travel to a hidden village where Po meets scores of other pandas, reconnecting with his inner dumpling-eating, hill-rolling, oversleeping self. But Kai is on the hunt for our hero, so Po must train his new panda posse into fierce warriors in order to battle the otherworldly foe.

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[The remainder of this review contains plot spoilers.]

As an adoptive parent, I’ve always been interested in how movies like the Kung Fu Panda series handle the topic of adoption. I was particularly curious about Kung Fu Panda 3, as it introduces Po’s birthfather into the story. This is something more and more adoptive families can relate to, as open adoption is increasingly the norm.

I went into the film with some concerns about how they would treat the dynamic between Mr. Ping (the goose who raised Po) and his biological father. I was half-expecting a bait-and-switch, perhaps revealing Li Shan was not in fact Po’s father; or maybe Po having to choose between one family or the other.

Yet the moviemakers did a good job of resolving the family-related conflicts — which were almost entirely between the two parents, not Po.

Adoptive dad Mr. Ping seemed to struggle more with this new family dynamic — his protectiveness, mistrust, and competitiveness on full display. While I appreciated the honesty with which they portrayed these understandable (and familiar) emotions, I was glad they didn’t roost there, which might have caused some adopted kids or their parents to feel uncomfortable. However, I thought that within the confines of a 90-minute kids’ movie, they evolved the characters quite nicely.

Kung Fu Panda 3

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