Friday, September 28, 2012

Mousey Movies - The Sorcerer's Apprentice

The Sorcerer's Apprentice Movie Poster
A budget of $150,000,000 combined with a box office of $215,283,742 will get you a label of box office flop!  No, I’m not talking about John Carter.  That sad marketing tale has a budget of $250,000.000 for a box office of $282.778.100.  So clearly the first film should have been a hit as it outperformed my favorite flop.  Yet, The Sorcerer’s Apprentice was labeled one of the biggest flops of 2010.  Admittedly it does appear that Disney live action films have been lacking on return of investment when you begin to break down the numbers and do not see double or triple returns.  And one begins to wonder how Oz: The Great and Powerful and The Lone Ranger will shake out financially. 
Nicolas Cage plays Balthazar Blake, a wizard apprentice to Merlin.  He faces off against fellow apprentice Maxim Horvath over hundreds of years in a struggle of good and evil.  If Horvath wins the evil of Morgana le Fay will spread across the earth destroying life as we know it as she resurrects every dead evil wizard that had ever lived.  The only power that can stop the forces of evil is the next Grand Merlinean.  The unlikely candidate for Merlin’s power is physics student Dave, an very unlikely hero.  The likable Dave, played by Jay Buruchel, attempts to date a past school mate Becky, played by Teresa Palmer who also appears in Disney’s Bedtime Stories, as he balance college and magical studies.  But this is just a side note in a movie built to be a Mousey Movie:    
·        To Infinity and Beyond:  When we meet Dave for the first time we initially see what must be a favorite toy, his Buzz Lightyear.

·         Mr. Narrator Man:  There is a lot of back story to fill in.  So of course they use a narrator to catch the audience up on hundreds of years of mostly off screen action.  That voice sounds so familiar, and it should to Disney fans as its Blackbeard himself, Ian McShane.  Disney fans can visit this dread pirate within the current version of Pirates of the Caribbean in Anaheim and Orlando and revisit his tale in Pirates of the Caribbean: On Stranger Tides.

·         Multi Bear: Alfred Molina, I must give you mad respect.  I have been aware of Molina, especially as a villain in his long career.  His portrayal of Doctor Octopus in Spider-Man 2 was disturbing to me.  I still will not let me kids watch that installment of the webslinger because I am convinced the scene where Doc Ock awakens in the hospital will give them nightmares.  It kind of gives me nightmares and action movies do not generally impact me that way.  But I failed to understand was how long and rich his film career has been including Raiders of the Lost Ark and playing the husband in Not Without My Daughter, just two iconic movies on his resume.  Disney fans may recognize Molina as villain/con man/reputable businessman Sheik Amar in Prince of Persia: The Sands of Time.  But honestly what really got me nerded out was that recently he voiced the Multi Bear in Gravity Falls.  Seriously if you have not caught Gravity Falls yet, do yourself and favor and enjoy the awesomeness.  In Molina’s episode the main character Dipper can become a man the typical way, by killing the arch enemy of the Minotaurs (yeah Minotaurs) the likeable Multi Bear.    
·         National Treasure:  So let me throw another set of numbers at you.  With a budget of $100,000,000 and a box office of $347,512,318 you have a hit!  And you get to make more movies!  And when your sequel has a reasonable raise in its budget to $130,000,000 and you make 457,364.600 you get to make another movie.  In this case the other movie was The Sorcerer’s Apprentice.  The first two films were National Treasure and National Treasure: Book of Secrets.  These films brought huge windfalls for Disney with a team of producer Jerry Bruckheimer (of Pirates fame), director Jon Turtletaub, and lead actor Nicolas Cage.  Clearly with the gang back together this team had a long leash and a bigger budget for their record of success.  I honestly enjoyed The Sorcerer’s Apprentice, but maybe the number crunchers would have preferred National Treasure 3.

·         Mops:  Any Disney fan who hears Sorcerer’s Apprentice instantly thinks Fantasia and the original “Sorcerer’s Apprentice” sequence featuring Mickey Mouse and the Wizard Yensid.  The imagery that sticks with most of us is the uncontrollable mops cleaning as Apprentice Mickey attempts to use magic to cut corners with a nearly tragic result.  Fortunately for Disney fans, Dave attempts the same shortcut with similar results.  

·         Master Magician: After the credits there is a brief scene in which someone picks up Horvath’s hat.  Another distinctive hat is also visible, a tall blue wizard hat covered with stars that resembles the one worn by Mickey Mouse in the “Sorcerer’s Apprentice” and the main icon and wienie of Disney Hollywood Studios. 
Maybe I have a thing for box office flops?  I honestly really enjoyed The Sorcerer’s Apprentice and I think I can pin it on two reasons.  First, stuff blows up.  I like stuff blowing up in escapist adventures and Cage in my book has done a nice job giving us enjoyable movies where explosions happen at just the right time.  Second, this movie was filled with references like the mop sequence to please the Disney fan.  If you asked if I recommended this film, I would admit it has gotten a rewatch with me.  So, give it a try it may make you feel magical.      

Monday, September 24, 2012

Between Books - Walt's Revolution!: By the Numbers

“Never tell me the odds!”  - Han Solo
I would like to add the median, mode and range.  Numbers typically do not translate to story for me.  And I prefer to go on feelings in many of my decisions.  So in fantasy baseball I am more than willing to ignore a numerical trend if I have a feeling or belief that the player has tools that are not being demonstrated but will in the future.  In short, I am allergic to numbers. 
At the same time when I discovered that the late Harrison “Buzz” Price had written a memoir about his experiences with Disney and other entertainment companies, I began to covet it.  I needed it, wanted it, and had to have it.  So as soon as it arrived in the mail, I tore it open and began what turned out to be a slow stroll through Price’s life work.  He told me about the odds, and how he determined them; which made me slow down my typical reading pace.
Cover of Walt's Revolution
Harrison “Buzz” Price recounts his life and vocational career in Walt’s Revolution: by the Numbers.  Price theorizes that Walt Disney began a revolution in the entertainment industry and the perception of what amusement attractions were with his Disneyland Park in 1955.  He discusses the initial impact of Disney’s original park and attempts to copy Disney’s success in world’s fairs, regional theme and amusement parks, museums, indoor attractions and within the gambling industry.  To start his story of Disney’s impact, Price states with his own story from his education to first working with Walt Disney when the firm he was working for, Stanford Research Institute, was asked by Disney to determine the best location for his new theme park.  Price led this effort and made the recommendation of the Anaheim location where it was built.  Disney called on Price again while leading his own company Economics Research Associates to research sites for an East Coast site which would eventually become the Walt Disney World Resort.  Truly it is Price that helped establish the location of the beloved theme parks today.  Along with his work with Disney, Price also discusses his decades of research within the entertainment industry which saw him partnering with almost every major amusement and theme park company as Price and his associates were considered the foremost consulting firm for completing economic and impact studies.  Along with the story of the studies he completed he also discusses the formulas and statistical tools he used to complete his typically highly accurate predictions.
I have a history background, not a statistical background.  And Walt’s Revolution is full of numbers!  Still I was able to find sections that delighted me.  I really enjoyed his discussion of working with Walt Disney.  His firsthand accounts give you a glimpse into the working relationship of a key consultant with Walt Disney.  As Price recounts stories of becoming the impromptu bartender in the Disney plane on a cross country trip, one feels as if you are a fly on the wall in the talks that made Walt Disney World happen.  And he does an excellent job of explaining how to work with Walt Disney; a philosophy of responding “Yes, if” and not “No, because” when needing to respond negatively.  In fact at my workplace many of us have discussed the “Yes, if” philosophy and are attempting to incorporate it into our vocational lives.
But for me and I believe many readers this book will also be a slow walk through Price’s life.  He discusses in depth a number of statistics, economic principles, and mathematical tools.  Economists and statisticians may find this discussion second nature, but others (like me) likely will read it as a foreign language.  Price is a man who literary developed his own statistical formulas, which he explains in depth in providing background.  But for someone who thinks words and not numbers these can be hard to push through.  Additionally at times the narrative becomes a list, projects that Price supervised with some background on them.  And for me lists can become uninteresting to read as they tend to come off the page with little life.
Harrison “Buzz” Price’s Walt’s Revolution: By the Numbers is a mixed bag for me.  I loved the firsthand accounts of a Disney legend, especially his stories of working with Walt and Roy O. Disney.  On the other hand the use of lists and numbers made the read difficult for me.  In short, he told me the odds!  This book will fit best in the Between Books library of completists, researchers and statisticians.  But the casual reader should likely consider borrowing a copy first if they want to dive into this book, especially if the price tag is above $25.   

Friday, September 21, 2012

Mousey Movies - Newsies

Newsies Poster
Everywhere I look as a Disney fan I see Newsies!  D23 wants me to know about Newsies, the Tonys are raving about Newsies, and clearly some of the bigger Disney watchdogs on Twitter love Newsies.  Now part of this is the success of the recent Broadway musical production of this story.  And this revival is leading to new or refreshed interest in Newsies.  And since I had never seen it, some of you gasped I’m sure, I manned up and took on this two hour musical adventure.  There is something about that sentence that does not seem right!
Set during the Newsboys Strike of 1899, Christian Bale plays Jack Kelly, a newsboy leader who organizes New York’s newspaper sales force into a unionized group in a struggle against newspaper tycoons led by Joseph Pulitzer played by Robert Duvall.  Now I have to admit, I am a huge fan of Batman Begins and The Dark Knight so I was prepared to enjoy Bale’s performance.  But allow me to digress.  I really enjoyed Pierce Bronson as James Bond in films such as Goldeneye.  He really became one of my favorite Bonds with a prefect look and disposition.  I mean I even was willing to overlook the stealth car that he was saddled with in Die Another Day.  But then the Between Wife had me watch Mamma Mia! and James Bond sang!  It was not great (let’s not go all negative here) and I was sad.  I really wish that Bronson had learned from Bale in Newsies.   Because Bale’s singing and dancing is not great.  I have heard several times that Bale does not like to discuss Newsies, and if I had to guess it’s because for an actor who prides himself on his high level performances this effort probably did not meet the standards his holds himself to, especially since many of the boys on screen around him truly were skilled singers and dancers.
So how did it fair overall in the Between House?  Well, the female members of the family are very familiar with and enjoy Annie, and so I attempted to sell Newsies as boy Annie.  I mean both have a Roosevelt in them how could I be wrong.  In their opinion I was wrong!  The Between Wife reached for her book and the oldest Between Kid watched but stated, “This is sad!”  Me, well I am no musical theater expert.  For me Beauty and the Beast is what musical theater should be (and I mean the animated version) and I did not believe that it reached that level. And it’s no cult favorite for me (I will duck your tomatoes)!  Hey, I thought it was better than Cats, but I really don’t get Cats!  I just see singing cats, I at least see and understand the plot of Newsies.   
As I have said in the past, not every movie is a Mousey Movie, I really wanted to make Batman Begins Mousey but I just couldn’t stretch it past Bale.  And I won’t write up every movie because I don’t want to be overly negative.  I for example do not enjoy singing Gnomes.  But I have to admit that though it is not a re-watch favorite for me, Newsies is Mousey:

·         Go Wildcats!:  I’m going to say it.  Kenny Ortega is a future Disney Legend.  He has earned that honor and I refuse to deny it.  Ortega directed and choreographed Newsies as his initial Disney offering.  After a later turn directing Hocus Pocus, he complexly revolutionized, in my opinion, the cable made for television movie with The Disney Channel’s High School Musical and High School Musical 2 (for heaven’s sake I watched the second live as it premiered with High School Musical plates and cups.  The older Between Kid loved the first two, but by the time Ortega added High School Musical 3: Senior Year interest in this franchise began to wane in the Between Home.  Ortega’s other Disney credits include The Cheetah Girls 2, Hannah Montana & Miley Cyrus: Best of Both World Concert and concerts such as High School Musical: The Concert.  Ortega has to be applauded as he shared his love of musical theater and dance with kids since 1992 starting with Newsies.           

·         Part of Your World:  Ortega should be a legend but composer Alan Menken already is!  You cannot argue his honor as his collaboration with lyrist Howard Ashman ushered in a new golden age of Disney animation with The Little Mermaid and Beauty and the Beast.  The list of Menken’s Disney projects is incredible including Aladdin, Pocahontas, The Hunchback of Notre Dame, Hercules, Home on the Range, The Shaggy Dog, Enchanted and Tangled!  As much as the lyrics did not speak to the Between Family, I did catch myself and a Between Kid humming the tunes Menken wrote.    

·         911:  When I was little my dad liked to nap.  This was a dangerous choice, as I loved the show Emergency!  So to young Between Disney a sleeping adult equaled a perfect candidate for me to try out CPR as seen on tv.  Let’s be honest, we are lucky nobody got broken ribs!  Kevin Tighe played paramedic Roy DeSoto, one of my heroes who cruised around saving the innocent on a weekly basis, and teaching me how to save my sleeping father.  Tighe plays Newsies’ villain Warden Snyder.  Tighe has had a steady acting career including appearing in a TV-remake of Escape to Witch Mountain and appearing on ABC’s Lost as Anthony Cooper the father of John Locke.  For my personal safety, the Between Kids are not allowed to watch Emergency! at this time.      

·         Street Rats:  Kelly refers to the newsboys as street rats several times throughout the movie making any Disney fan scream Aladdin in their head!  Like in the animated classic, street rat is used to show the low societal view that the public had for the these young men hustling for a living on the sidewalks of New York. 

·         Paper, Paper: Walt Disney was born two years after the actual Newsboy Strike, so we cannot claim that he remembered this event especially as he lived in the Midwest.  Disney did not ever work as a newsboy, but newspapers did help support the Disney family.  As youngsters both Walt and Roy O. Disney served as news butchers, selling newspapers and other concessions on trains, much like newsboys.  And when the Disney family moved to Kansas City, Walt and Roy O. both delivered newspapers for their father Elias Disney.  The Disney boys could have related to Jack Kelly, supporting yourself with the local press.  Though they never unionized formally against their father.      

I have to admit it, Newsies is not for me, but it is Mousey.  For heaven’s sake I did not even address Ann Margret of The Santa Clause 3: The Escape Clause, and I love me some Tim Allen as mythical figures.  But as Mousey as it is, I probably will not be watching this again for quite some time.         

Monday, September 17, 2012

Between Books - Roller Coasters, Flumes and Flying Saucers

Cover - Roller Coasters, Flumes and Flying Saucers
There is a chance that you have never heard of Arrow Development.  But if you have ever visited the Disneyland Resort or Walt Disney World Resort you probably have experienced their work.  While you are likely aware of the legendary Imagineers who designed and themed the early attractions introduced by Disney, it was Arrow Development Co. which manufactured and built many of the classic rides we still love today.
Roller Coasters, Flumes and Flying Saucers: The Story of Ed Morgan and Karl Bacon Ride Inventors of the Modern Amusement Parks by Robert R. Reynolds documents the growth of Arrow Development from a start-up company to the premier manufacturer of theme park attractions.  Reynolds alternates between narrative sections on the background and history of Arrow Development and founders Ed Morgan and Karl Bacon and transcripts of interviews with Morgan and Bacon.  The author and interviews chronicle how Morgan and Bacon started a small machine shop after World War II, with a truck as one of their most valuable assets and grew their successful business.  Their early jobs included contracts with the U.S. Navy, Stanford Linear Accelerator and a crop dusting company, not entertainment companies.  Morgan and Bacon decided to bid on a merry-go-round in San Jose, California, their first steps into the amusement industry.  Arrow’s later small scale paddle boat, the Lil’ Belle, caught the interests of Disney which was making it own strides into the amusement industry in the early 1950’s with a project called Disneyland.  Arrow would be contracted to build the creations of Disney’s talented designers including King Arthur’s Carousel, Casey Jr., Mr. Toad’s Wild Ride, and Snow White’s Scary Adventures for Disneyland’s opening day.  With the success of these attractions and the successful contributions Arrow Development provided, they became a highly influential ride manufacturing firm within the growing amusement industry.  Reynolds outlines the continued successes with both Disney and other companies.  Reynolds’ narrative discusses continued successes such as it’s a small world, the Monorail, and Pirates of the Caribbean working with Disney and other clients.  The author also outlines Morgan and Bacon’s relationship with Arrow Development and Arrow’s legacy today including the roller coaster design firm D.H. Manufacturing led by Ed Morgan’s son Dana.       
I had heard of Arrow Development, but reading Bob Gurr’s Design: Just for Fun hit home for me the key role this company had in the early days of Disneyland.  Gurr made it clear that Arrow delivered what Imagineers dreamt.  And Gurr’s book led me to pick up Roller Coasters, Flumes and Flying Saucers.  Roller Coasters, Flumes and Flying Saucers pays off in providing greater detail in Arrow Development’s early and ongoing role with Disneyland and later the Walt Disney World Resort.  What are especially gratifying are the long sections of Morgan and Bacon in their own words discussing Walt Disney, other Disney personalities and the complexity of designing the attractions and ride vehicles tasked to them.  Their stories literally go into the underside of many of our favorite Disney rides and provide explanations of how they were engineered.  Though Reynolds’ commentary is readable and helpful, it really is the words of the founders of Arrow Development that catch the reader’s attention.  I have seen some reviews that have noted the text is highly technical and unreadable.  I am allergic to math and though some of their explanations were above my head I never found them so distracting that I had to stop reading.  Instead I found the book easy to read and the technical aspects are just a small detour.            
In many ways my thoughts on Roller Coasters, Flumes and Flying Saucers are a value question.  To buy a used copy on at the moment is a minimum of $40 with some copies over $100.  This is collector book territory for me and I expect rarity or a bonus to make the purchase worthwhile.  I honestly could not see ever paying $20 for this book.  I would need a specific research reason to pay this much for a non limited edition autographed collectible book.  Luckily the Between Wife is introducing me more and more to eBooks.  While I cannot see spending $40 for this book, I think the $4.99 for the Kindle version is a steal. 
However, I do want to add that for me there were issues with images reading this text on Kindle apps across several devices, none of them an actual Kindle.  The text includes a number of black and white images.  However, for me they were difficult to see.  They were not scaled well typically not taking up the full screen.  And they did not enlarge well, making it difficult for me to look at the fine details.  I am sure in the print version the pictures are very beneficial but in the electronic form they were almost distracting at times. 
Who is Arrow Development, Ed Morgan and Karl Bacon and why as a Disney fan should I even care?  Roller Coasters, Flumes, and Flying Saucers makes it clear that they were key partners in the foundation of Disneyland and the later expansion into Florida.  Robert P. Reynolds provides us a useful commentary of this relationship, one that relies heavily on the words of the Arrow Development founders.  And at $4.99 for an electronic version readers can add a useful book to their Between Book library.    

Sunday, September 16, 2012

Mousey Movie Preview - Wreck-it-Ralph's Second Trailer

Poster - Wreck-it-Ralph
Are you a hobo?  The Between Kid over the last few weeks has asked us that question at very random times.  Watching TV, are you a hobo?  Eating, are you a hobo?  Playing the backyard, are you a hobo? 

I am a little slow sometimes, and the Between Wife who saw the original Wreck-it-Ralph trailer only once put two and two together.

So it appears that the marketing campaign for Wreck-it-Ralph has reached the hearts and minds of the youngest members of the Between Household.

So, it’s the prefect time while the iron is hot for Disney to release a new trailer for this November release.

What did you think?  We have already seen much of the group therapy session.  But we get more video game cameos with Dig Dug and Sonic.  I really enjoyed the hit a guy with glasses joke.  But I kind of wish that we did not see how Ralph did in his tour with Hero’s Duty.  Still the Between House is pretty excited for this feature!  

Saturday, September 15, 2012

Goofy Gadgets - Captain America: Sentinel of Liberty

Logo Captain America: Sentinel of Liberty
Captain America is back on the World War II battlefield in Captain America: Sentinel of Liberty for iOS devices like iPad and iPhones.  HYDRA led by Red Skull has kidnapped three of the Howling Commandos including Bucky.  Outnumbered only Captain America can rescue them from the battlefield, factory and plane were they are being kept behind enemy lines.  To free his men, Cap will have to fight HYDRA soldiers, put on an acrobatic display and use his shield to defend himself.
This is the second Avengers themed app I have tried out.  In many ways Captain America: Sentinel of Liberty is like that first game Thor: Son of Asgard in that fact you play the hero and walk through levels defeating opponents as you get closer to your goal.  And like Thor, Cap has a throwing weapon that can be launched from a distance.  However, the fighting sequences seemed a little clearer in Cap’s game and not as jumbled to me.  Like the Thor game, the user is taught how to use moves as you walk through the game so you can learn as you go.  Players can also find extras, unlockable historic comic cover images, by picking up HYDRA files.  

Captain America: Sentinel of Liberty Logo Screen
The navigation is different however.  In Captain America: Sentinel of Liberty, players use their finger to draw where Captain America should walk or hit!  So to go right, draw your finger right on the screen.  Likewise you do the same to go left.  However, it took me a few levels before I realized all I had to do to stop Cap’s running was double tap on the screen.  Additionally, this drawing control is quirky to me.  To hit you also draw toward your opponent.  But sometimes, oftentimes, when I draw to hit I start Cap running.  And if Cap is running he is probably not hitting!  

Screen Shot from Captain America: Sentinel of Liberty
Captain America in Action
I don’t typically pay for apps and I got this one for free.  For that price it is an enjoyable game that I will play for a few weeks and then totally forget about.  This is also my pattern with games I typically pay for.  That’s not all bad as it has helped me move away from Temple Run: Brave.  I do not believe I would pay the original $4.99 price tag on it however, though the regular price of $2.99 seems solid.  I do like this game better than Thor: Son of Asgard.  But I also like Captain America better than Thor in most movies and comics.  For anyone who has dreamt of being Captain America, this game is for you and will give you several hours of fun.     

Friday, September 14, 2012

Dreaming Disney - Homemade Mint Juleps

A cup of Disneyland Mint Julep
A Treat from the Mint Julep Bar
I did not know.  I did not realize.  I did not even consider that there would be a Disney snack that I would enjoy almost as much as Dole Whip.  It just seemed improbable.
Then I ate at Blue Bayou and had my first mint julep.  And I was thrilled that the Blue Bayou’s serving included refills because it was awesome in a cup! 
So we left the Disneyland Resort and I thought I would have to wait until we returned to Disneyland before I could enjoy this beverage again, I had never had it before so how could I expect to stumble on it in Betweenland?  I was wrong!   At my next birthday I came home to find a pitcher in the fridge.  It has become a birthday tradition over the last few years as the Between Wife mixes up this recipe from
    • 1 lb granulated sugar
    • 6 cups water
    • 1 1/4 ounces lime juice concentrate
    • 8 1/2 ounces lemonade concentrate
    • 3/4 cup creme de menthe ( syrup available at liquor stores. Do not confuse it with creme de menthe liqueur)
    • mint leaves
    • lime slices
    • maraschino cherries
  1. Combine the sugar and water in a 3 quart saucepan. Stir the contents until the sugar is dissolved.
  2. Stir in lime and lemonade concentrate next. Continue stirring and bring to boil just below the boiling point (210 degrees.) DO NOT BOIL!
  3. Remove pan from heat and chill. Once chilled, add a ratio of 1 part syrup to 5 parts chilled water.
  4. Transfer beverage to pitcher and enjoy!
  5. Garnish each serving with mint leaves, lime slice and a maraschino cherry.
  6. Sorry, the yield is estimated.

This recipe and others you will find online help you enjoy a little piece of Disneyland in Betweenland.  It is truly fantastic to come home from a long day of work, throw on a Disney travel video and let the stress of the day roll away.  The Between Family will warn you to follow the directions carefully.  The first time we accidentally doubled the lime juice in our first attempt, which lead to experimentation as we dialed in the correct flavor.  And be advised the crème de menthe is likely in your grocery store’s ice cream toppings area. 
Fear not true believers, Disneyland in a cup can be yours to be enjoyed!  What is your favorite park treat that you reproduce at home?