Tuesday, June 30, 2009

Movie Review: Taken

We all know the famous Klingon proverb quoted by Khan in Star Trek II: "Revenge is a dish best served...cold." I remember seeing that quote on a marquee for Kill Bill. I think it was for Volume 1 because it was quoted during the film. The Bride seemed to think she was dealing cold-hearted revenge on the people who messed up her wedding day. She didn't seem particularly cold as she went about killing a ridiculous amount of people in Vol. 1 or not killing them in Vol. 2. She was fueled by rage and anger and she let it show. And she was hot in Bruce Lee's yellow jumpsuit, no doubt. All the flash and style of Kill Bill seems to be the total opposite of what the Klingons meant.

On the other hand, Taken would make a Klingon proud. In it, Liam Neeson's somewhat estranged 17-year old daughter wants to go to Paris for the summer with a friend to drink in the culture. Neeson's character is an ex-military special ops type who is totally paranoid about her safety. In order to make the story interesting of course, he decides to let her go even though he doesn't think it's safe for two teenage girls to go to a foreign country. They get kidnapped. His daughter is on the phone with him when she is caught, so he gets his first clues and makes his speech about how he is going to get the kidnappers. The story then follows him as he finds more clues and kills whoever he gets the clues from. Some people he just kills because they are in the way or happen to be in the area. The more innocent bystanders only sustain flesh wounds.

Neeson's character and performance are anything but hot. He runs around in a suit most of the time and has a bad haircut throughout. He is definitely not the male counterpart of the Bride. Like her, he is motivated rage and anger at the loss of his daughter, but he isn't vindictive or stylish in offing the bad guys. He just kills 'em dead and moves on. Neeson does no substantial emoting (either negative against the bad guys or positive with his daughter) and is mostly deadpan. Maybe the performance was intentionally that way. It sort of fits the character but doesn't attract any acting accolades.

Also, he is completely indifferent to the fate of other girls who have been kidnapped (including his daughter's friend). He only helps people who can put him closer to his daughter. He becomes a very unlikeable hero. Sure he loves his daughter and will do anything to get her back. But he has absolutely no other redeeming qualities.

The filming style of the movies is also very toned down and bare bones. No flashy or slick editing of scenes. No exotic or imaginative locations. In spite of being set in Paris, no obligatory iconic scenery (Eiffel Tower, Notre Dame, etc.) is shown or incorporated into the story. The action is pretty straightforward and enjoyable if unimaginative and cliched (he hits every one he shoots at while the bad guys can only hit the walls/car/other bad guys around him). So that leaves the viewer pretty cold too.

I do have to say in its defense, I prefer the bare bones grittiness of Taken as compared with the stylish emptiness of Kill Bill or Man on Fire. Neeson's character is an immoral man bent on one thing. There are no distracting visuals or editing or fancy dialogue or acting trying to cover up the near soullessness of the lead character. I appreciate the honesty, but can I honestly say I enjoy it?

What can I say? I would really like this movie, if only I was a Klingon.

Monday, June 29, 2009

A good day with the family

We've started week two of being a family with two children. We ran some errands, got good naps, had some fun and ate well too!

After breakfast we got ready and went on a family excursion to our local Target to get some needed household items. Unfortunately we mislaid our list of things to get. Fortunately sleepless brain syndrome is wearing off (or we are becoming immune) because we remembered everything on our list. The only thing they didn't have was a dehumidifier for the basement. We wound up going to Best Buy nearby to get one. After bringing it home, we realize we might need something bigger for our basement, which is pretty big and has overwhelmed our current dehumidifier.

We also bought gas for the first time for the van. Wow, that was pricey. By the way, Jacob insists that our van is a truck. He keeps calling it "truck" or "re' truck" (since it is red). I think he is trying to reassure me that I won't turn into a soccer mom. Not that there's anything wrong with being a soccer mom, it's just not me.

In the afternoon we took Jacob and Lucy to a local park that Jacob hasn't played in yet. We took a stroller for each child. Jacob started pushing his empty stroller but wound up push Lucy's. He pushed her stroller in Target too. What a nice brother he is! Hopefully, he'll stay that way. So far there hasn't been any sibling violence, intentional or not.

At the park, Jacob rode on a see-saw for the first time. He treated it like a drum. He also rode on a merry-go-round, which he also treated like a drum. The cool thing he did was to get onto the riding panda all by himself a few times. One time he threw his leg over with too much enthusiasm and landed on the other side, but he was okay. And yes, he did use the panda's head for a little drumming.

We come home and mommy and daddy napped in shifts and then we had lovely carbonara for dinner. Jacob loves to feed himself pasta. Watching him stuff his face with noodles and then slowly suck them up is pretty hilarious. We'll have to catch it on video someday. If we can ever tape him without him knowing. He is a ham for the camera.

I hope tomorrow is just as good. We'll probably go to the library and maybe some grocery shopping. I should check and see if there is story time tomorrow. It would be Lucy's first!

Sunday, June 28, 2009

Happy News (not just that there's a new post)

There's been a substantial delay in posting, but I believe that I have an excuse for my absence.

Last Saturday my wife and I went to a cookout at our friends' home. A couple hours after we got home, Angie said it was time to go to the hospital to deliver the baby. The baby was due the Thursday before, so she wasn't too late in coming. After a long night of not really sleeping, baby Lucy Beatrice Reninger was born at 5:44 a.m.! Everything went very well (much faster than Jacob's birth). I had to wait around to call the family to let them know the good news, because it was Sunday morning and I didn't want to wake them up too early. Angie and I are definitely aware of and respectful towards getting enough sleep.

Plenty of pictures are posted over on Facebook here and here. We need to break out the video camera and get some good footage of our new girl.

The other excuse is that I have an ear infection since last week (it's older than Lucy by a day or two) which is only just starting to clear up. So sleep has definitely been an issue for me in more ways than one.

Well, Jacob just woke up so that is the end of this blog post. More later!

Friday, June 19, 2009

Jacob makes a grilled cheese paradox

Jacob tried a new trick yesterday. At 9 a.m. he asked for a nap, we went through the whole routine and then after a minute of lying down, he got up and started playing with his toys. He eventually did go to sleep at 10:20.

And woke up at 11:00. No amount of singing or soothing would get him back to sleep. Yikes!! Since he did have a snack, I thought we'd go shopping and to the library before eating lunch. The trip went fine and we were home by a little after 1. I had a secret hope that he'd fall asleep during the drive. Unfortunately in the van he sits pretty upright and did not doze off. So I made his lunch and fed him and started a grilled cheese sandwich for me. When he was done eating, he started saying "A nap, a nap!" I flipped the sandwich and turned off the stove and took him upstairs since he was so insistent. We went through the whole routine and then after a minute of lying down, he got up and started playing with his toys. So I decided to bring my lunch up to his room.

The only problem was, by the time I got downstairs, my grilled cheese sandwich was both burnt and cold! I ate it anyway. He did eventually get a good nap from 3 to 5 p.m. Which meant that I finished my lunch at 3. What more sleep experiments can he try?

He did ask for a nap at 9:15 today, but I knew he was faking. He's down for a real nap now. At least, I hope he stays asleep for more than 40 minutes. Say a prayer...

Tuesday, June 16, 2009


"I need shoes" is officially Jacob's first sentence. He said it this morning when we were going out to Costco. He repeated it tonight when Aunt Rosemary took him out to see the dogs in the back yard. Hopefully "I love you Mommy" or "I love you Daddy" will come soon.

Getting ready for #2--the minivan

It's been far too long since a post. Things have been busy, but the new child has not arrived yet. We are mostly ready for her to come.

In preparation, we have bought a minivan. It is a 2006 Honda Odyssey with lots of space inside and power side doors. The doors open with a click on the key fob, which is pretty cool. The only bad thing is trying to figure out how it works. Seems like it should be easy, just push the button and the door opens. When we picked the car up at Carmax, the salesman tried to use the clicker to open the driver side sliding door. It wouldn't open! Eventually we figured out that the gas tank door was open so the sliding door must be programmed not to open and tear the gas door off. Then we went to Target and my sister couldn't get the door open. The inside button wouldn't work, the key fob wouldn't work, even the door handle wouldn't work. Then I put the van in park and the door worked. So many safety features we'll have to figure out.

Jacob has enjoyed riding in the minivan. His safety chair is forward facing now. He likes to stare out at the window and identify other vehicles. Mostly just trucks. He even calls the van a truck. Hopefully he'll figure that out soon. We enjoy taking him in and out easily from the vehicle.

We sold the green car to Angie's parents. Her dad was up here over the weekend. He got to play with Jacob and he was gracious enough to help out with some chores. We were sad to see him go. He had a quick trip back to Florida. We'll get to see him again in August. We plan to schedule the baptism then, but have not worked out any details yet.

Sunday, June 7, 2009

Movie Review: Drag Me to Hell

It's Saturday night and a full moon is out, so what better thing is there to do than go see a scary movie. I went tonight to see Sam Raimi's Drag Me to Hell. If I had to sum it up in one word, "awesome!" comes to mind.

The basic plot is a loan officer at a bank refuses to give a third extension to an old gypsy woman for her mortgage, so the gypsy woman curses her to be tormented for three days and then be dragged to Hell (for more of the same ad eternam). Naturally, she wants to get out from the curse and the rest of the movie chronicles her torments and her attempts to get free.

Sam Raimi is quite adept at setting up and paying off the scares throughout the film. He can build up to a scary moment as shadows chase the protagonist across the hall or jump something unexpected and unnerving in an instant. His real brilliance is in mixing humor into the horror, so the audience is at once shouting in fear and laughing at the same time. He did a lot of that in the Evil Dead films, and shows no sign of faltering here. It's an amazing way to build and relieve tension at the same time. And it's a little easier to go home without constantly looking over your shoulder.

He also gives a great fight scene between the gypsy woman and the loan officer, better than any and every fight in X-Men Origins: Wolverine. And he gets more terror out of one handkerchief than other directors can get out of buckets of blood and gore. Which is not to say there aren't lots of gooey, gross bits in Drag Me to Hell. Again, these are tempered with humor so that the viewer isn't just grossed out.

The movie is an intense and humorous thrill ride, like a great roller coaster. It's fun to watch with a Saturday night crowd that is laughing, hooting and screaming with you. I would recommend it, though not if you are too squeamish (like my wife, who didn't come with me).

Saturday, June 6, 2009

Jacob has more to say...

Jacob is starting to use more words and is becoming more and more cute thereby.

He can count from one to ten when we read counting books, though his pronunciation is not the crispest and cleanest. We are working on that. I was pretty amazing when he first did it on his own, without prompting from us. Now we try to show him off all the time if we can. We really should bring counting books with us wherever we go. One should go in the diaper bag.

The other day about 10:30 in the morning, Jacob laid his head on the family room couch for a minute. Then he lifted it up and came over to me and said (quite clearly this time), "a nap." So he walked up to his room and I followed. We read a story then he crawled into bed and was out after only three verses of Twinkle, Twinkle Little Star.

Jacob has also requested many times to go into the basement by saying "bah-men." Of course, he wants to go and play with the cats. He is starting to be more gentle with them but it is a slow process. When he gets a grip on a tail, it is awfully hard to get him to let go. Even when the cat hisses! After two weeks, the cats should probably know better than to go within Jacob's grabbing distance.

He started referring to Aunt Rosemary as "Ah-me." He has lots of fun hanging out with her, too. It seems impossible, but he just gets cuter and cuter every day!

Thursday, June 4, 2009

Star Trek Review and Reflection

I saw the new Star Trek movie twice. The first time I was really impressed with the fun and fast pace. The second time I started to notice a couple of things about the movie, now that I wasn't constantly being wowed by J. J. Abrams' masterful direction. He can certainly keep a movie moving.

If you have to pick who was the main character in the movie, the obvious two to choose from are Kirk and Spock. The movie was written by nerdy fan boys, thus Spock is clearly the main character. Consider the evidence: (1) Even though the movie starts with the birth of Kirk (in a brilliantly orchestrated sequence) more time is devoted to Spock's back story. (2) Kirk is legendary for his womanizing, but who really sees the most romantic action in the movie? Spock wins this one hands down. (3) Who is the only character from the "original continuity"? Again, it's Spock (or Spock Prime according to the credits).

I listened to a podcast with the screenwriters (hear it here) which was both enlightening and frustrating. Enlightening was the discussion of what Nero was doing for the 25 years from killing Kirk's dad to going after Spock (Klingons showed up en masse and took him to a prison planet; later his crew frees him and thus Uhura hears about the Klingon fleet being wiped out); why use a Rimbaldi device from Alias (to curry favor with J. J. Abrams); and other fun tidbits. Frustrating was their discussion of why Nero didn't try to save Romulus from the supernova. They had some excuse about how he didn't want to meet his wife as a young woman and he had to wait around for Spock to show up and then it would be too late to save the planet. They seemed to think he only went back 25 years. Of course, the Romulans arrive 25 years earlier than Spock Prime did, but Spock Prime also traveled into the past. If Spock Prime was 125, it seems as though he arrived when his younger self was in his twenties or early thirties. If so, that would leave about 100 years before Romulus's destruction and plenty of time to use the Rimbaldi red matter to turn the supernova star into a black hole, per Spock Prime's original plan.

So I really liked the film, but the more I think about it, the less I enjoy it. Oh well, there are plenty of other blockbusters coming.

Wednesday, June 3, 2009

Another play date

Jacob and I made it to our Wednesday play date this week. He had a very good time at Sharon and Chloe's. We played at the house for a while until Sharon suggested that we walk over to the park.

The park is much like other parks in Columbia, with swings, wooden climbing structures, riding animals on springs and lots of mulch. Jacob followed his latest modus operandi and played mostly with the mulch. He did ride on the slide a couple of times and climb for a little bit. But mostly he was handing out leaves and sticks to the parents there. The others enjoyed the equipment quite a bit.

We went back to the house for a snack. The children started playing again. We almost ended in tears when they were all playing in the corner of the kitchen and Jacob tripped on something (possibly his own feet). That wouldn't have been so bad if he hadn't reached out and grabbed Eddie, who also fell over. Eddie fell into Chloe, who somehow wound up behind the curtain. Justin was smart enough to have evacuated the area before everything went done. Or, more accurately, everyone went down. There were some sobs but the little ones recovered quickly. All were happy when we finally had to leave.

I hope every play date ends so well!