Tuesday, May 31, 2011

An Unexpected Journey

This will be the title of the first of two Hobbit movies produced and directed by Peter Jackson.  New Line Cinema, Warner Bros. Pictures and MGM have announced the titles and dates of the two-film adaptation of J.R.R. Tolkien’s beloved classic The HobbitThe Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey and The Hobbit: There and Back Again will arrive on screen a year apart.  An Unexpected Journey will premier on December 14, 2012 and There and Back Again will release on December 13, 2013.  Mark your calendars.  These are going to be good.

These films take place 60 years prior to Jackson's adaptation of the Lord of the Rings Trilogy.  The Hobbit follows the journey of Bilbo Baggins, a gentle hobbit who is reluctant to get involved with a group of 13 dwarves.  The dwarves' goal is to return to their ancestral home in the Lonely Mountains and reclaim a stolen fortune from the dragon Smaug.  He is ultimately convinced to join the quest because he believes it to be a noble mission.  Through this quest for good, Bilbo learns that courage, honesty, and imagination count far more than physical power.

In the film, you can expect to see many of your favorite characters from the trilogy.  They return to the screen alongside a great new face.  Martin Freeman, Watson from the BBC series Sherlock, takes on the central role of Bilbo Baggins.  Also returning to their roles from The Lord of the Rings movies are: Ian McKellen as Gandalf the Grey; Cate Blanchett as Galadriel; Orlando Bloom as Legolas; Ian Holm as the elder Bilbo; Christopher Lee as Saruman; Hugo Weaving as Elrond; Elijah Wood as Frodo; and Andy Serkis as Gollum.  A star-studded cast to be sure.

Now I know it seems like ages from now until we get to see these amazing films.  And most of us have been anticipating this film since its first whispers of production, but fear not.  In the months leading up to The Hobbit's release, I have a few suggestions to pass the time.  For those of you who wish to see The Trilogy in theaters again, it is being released in a 3 night event in select theaters.  "The Academy Award®-winning trilogy will be featured in an exclusive series of three in-theater events including The Lord of the Rings: The Fellowship of the Ring™ on June 14, 2011; The Lord of the Rings: The Two Towers™ on June 21, 2011; and The Lord of the Rings: The Return of the King™ on June 28, 2011. Each event will begin at 7:00 p.m. local time."

If you live in the Boston area here is a list of local theaters that will be participating.
AMC Boston Common 19 with IMAX,  BOSTON MA 02111
AMC AMC Liberty Tree Mall 20 with IMAX,  DANVERS MA 01923
NAM Legacy Place,  DEDHAM MA 02026
NAM Patriot Place,  FOXBORO MA 02035
AMC AMC Framingham 15,  FRAMINGHAM MA 01701
NAM Lowell Showcase Cinemas,  LOWELL MA 01851
REG Solomon Pond Mall 15,  MARLBOROUGH MA 01752
AMC AMC Methuen 20 with IMAX,  METHUEN MA 01844
Check out Fathom Events for more info and for theaters in your area.

If Games are your thing, then boy are you in luck!  Fantasy Flight has a slew of great Lord of the Rings titles.  Whether you are looking for an epic battle, cooperative experience, or a light family game, they have it all.  One of my all-time favorites is the Lord of the Rings Board Game by Reiner Knizia.  In this game you must work your way through four boards, cooperating to overcome challenges and prevent the Ringbearer from being corrupted.

A new favorite of mine is The Lord of the Rings LCG (Living Card Game).  This is a cooperative card game that allows players to customize their characters.  There are four distinct spheres of influence that offer different benefits to the party.  Through cooperation, players overcome the obstacles drawn from the encounter deck on their quest for victory.  This unique game has countless combinations of settings and enemies, and players can build their party from 16 different characters. 

If you are looking for something lighter and appropriately themed, let me suggest The Hobbit Board Game also by Reiner Knizia. This great family game allows players to take on the roles of the dwarves, aiding Bilbo in his monumental quest to defy the odds and become a legend.

If a more epic battle is what you seek, then let me suggest War of the Ring or Middle Earth Quest.  Both of these immerse players in the world of Middle Earth where they must struggle to survive in a land full of chaos. Which side will be victorious?

Any of these games would be fitting for any game night.  And might I suggest a basket of Lembas Bread to share at the gaming table?  Happy Gaming!

American Geek Mom's Lembas Bread:

2 1/2 cups of flour                                         1 tablespoon of baking powder
1/4 teaspoon of salt                                       8 tablespoons of cold butter (1 stick)
1/3 cup of brown sugar                                  1 teaspoon of cinnamon
1/2 teaspoon maple syrup/honey                    2/3 cup of milk/heavy cream (or more, if necessary)
1/2 teaspoon of vanilla

1) Preheat oven to 425 degrees Fahrenheit
2) Mix the flour, baking powder and salt into a large bowl.
3) Add the butter and mix with a fork or a pastry cutter until the
mixture resembles fine granules.
4) Add the sugar and cinnamon, and mix them thoroughly into the mixture.
5) Add the milk/cream, honey and vanilla and stir them in with a fork
until a nice, thick dough forms.
6) Roll the dough out about 1/2 in thickness.
7) Cut out 3-inch squares and transfer the dough to a cookie sheet.
8) Criss-cross (DO NOT cut all the way) each square from
corner-to-corner with a knife.
9) Bake for about 12 minutes or more (depending on the thickness of
the bread) until it is set and lightly golden.
10) Wrap in a Mallorn Leaf or store in a sealed container.

"In a hole in the ground there lived a hobbit.  Not a nasty, dirty, wet hole, filled with the ends of worms and an oozy smell, nor yet a dry, bare, sandy hole with nothing in it to sit down on or to eat: it was a hobbit-hole, and that means comfort." -J.R.R. Tolkien  

Monday, May 30, 2011

Innovative Parenting: Comics for Toddlers

When I became a parent I didn't realize I was also signing up to be a professional wrestler.  Dressing and diapering my son in the morning can sometimes feel like a grappling match.  For instance...

I move in to grab hold of my target. He is a small target, so I suffer a -4 penalty.  I strike with an attack of opportunity, which catches him off guard.  He is mine!

The battle is on.  As quickly as I can, I get him undressed.  Next comes the diaper.  I distract him with a tube of diaper cream, which gives me enough time to get him clean before he wiggles away.  It is not uncommon to see Logan running naked through the living room squealing with delight before I can grab him again and complete the task.  It's not that he wants to be naked (well maybe a little), but that he wants to do it himself.  In many cases he takes his pants along with him and tries desperately to put them on his head!  He's seen me dress him thousands of times. Now he wants to give it a go.

You may think that because children are a part of the process of getting dressed every morning that you can hand them a pair of pants and they'll pull them right without much thought. That is not necessarily the case.  Most of the time a few lessons are needed to get them on the right path.  It dawned on me that I had the perfect solution for this challenge packed away upstairs.

Not long before Logan was born, I was given a cute little book called Little Mouse Gets ReadyI had only recently been introduced to the Bone comic book series, and did not know much about Jeff Smith's work.  I was pleasantly surprised to learn about this little gem.  I mean, It's a comic book that is engaging to a toddler!  Talk about starting him early.

Truth be told, comics are a great way to get children interested in reading.  Jeff Smith chose wisely when he decided to use a landscape format.  Several pages are divided up into two panels, which makes it an easy read for youngsters.  Because the story has equal parts pictures and text, it has the ability to hold a child's attention longer than blocks of print.  An added benefit is that comics have been proven to be a great way to expand a child's vocabulary because they provide context to words the child wouldn't normally be exposed to.  Logan's not quite ready to read yet, but I know this will be great when he is.  Until then, he can follow along with me.  The story makes a serious effort of showing how one gets dressed every day.  From buttons and Velcro to snaps and where the tag on underwear goes, this story is an  accessible guide for my son to practice and learn.   And the best part...It's fun to read!

Do you have children who are learning to dress themselves?  What sort of crazy outfits have they put together on their journey to independence? 

The following are some other young reader comics you may want to check out -  
Jack and the Box by Art Spiegelman
Silly Lilly and the Four Seasons by Agnes Rosenstiehl
Benny and Penny in Just Pretend by Geoffrey Hayes

Thursday, May 26, 2011

Board Games Gone Hollywood

We've seen comic books turned into movies.  We've seen action figures turned into movies.  We've even seen video games turned into movies.  What's next?  Board Games!


If the Dungeons and Dragons movie has taught us anything, it's that Hollywood doesn't really get it.  Yeah they made Clue and Jumanji, which got decent reviews, but this new craze of Board Games gone Hollywood has me a bit worried. 

So far in the pipe line we have Battle Ship with Rihanna playing a naval officer, Real Steel starring Hugh Jackman that looks to be the real-life version of Rock ‘Em Sock ‘Em Robots, a version of Monopoly from Ridley Scott, and a Ouija board movie with who knows what kind of horrifying plot.  So, when I heard the latest vision for the Candyland plot, I had to roll my eyes.  Seriously, a Candyland movie with a Lord of the Rings feel.  I think that's kinda stretching it. 

Glenn Berger explains his vision like this...  "although [Candy Land] has characters from that world and takes the idea of people finding themselves in a world that happens to be made entirely of candy where there are huge battles going on," it is not remotely like the game.  Not sure what to make of that.

If Hollywood is really serious about making blockbusters out of board games, the least they could do is explore some more exciting options.  I have heard mention of a Magic: The Gathering movie, which may have potential, but I fear that it will suffer the same fate as Dungeons and Dragons.  The truth of the matter is that most board games are rather abstract and don't really have a story.  If you want to use a board game, why not try something more interesting like Pandemic, Forbidden Island, Thunderstone or any of the Fantasy Flight games set in the Realms of Terrinoth?  There are bound to be some good stories there.  Unfortunately, those games do not have the same familiarity as the Hasbro titles floating around behind the scenes.  So, Hasbro and Hollywood will spend the money and films will get made, but I'm not holding my breath that any of them will really strike gold.

I don't know about you, but for now, I'll stick to playing games! 

Sunday, May 22, 2011

My Rapture came in the form of a Board Game

So I'm still here.
Are you?

For the past few days I have been bombarded by theory after theory of what's to come on May 21st.  Well, nothing came.  And I'm quite all right with that.  On the other hand, I did get some very helpful info from the CDC on how to prepare for the Zombie Apocalypse! 

Speaking of zombies,  I am a huge fan of The Walking Dead, and was thrilled to learn that Z-Man Games will be publishing a board game about it!  The Walking Dead Board Game will be arriving this summer and will be filled with all kinds of post-apocalyptic goodness.  You will get to play as Rick, Shane, Andrea, and other favorite characters as you dismember zombies, gather supplies and simply try to stay alive.  The game will be for 1-6 players for ages 13+.   So even though there is still no official premier date for Season 2 of The Walking Dead, I guess I won't have to wait as long to get my Walking Dead fix.   

Robert Kirkman, creator of The Walking Dead, had this to say about the board game: “I've always loved board games, but never knew they could be this cool! We've done test plays of The Walking Dead board game at the office, and the game play scenarios ring true to what Rick and the other survivors face in the comic book. I couldn't be more impressed with Z-Man Games.”

This could be the perfect game to add to your collection of zombie killing supplies.   Buy it and practice up!  You never know when it might come in handy.

Learn More
***This Just In***(May 23, 2011) - Cryptozoic has announced a second Walking Dead board game based on the TV Series!  Cryptozoic’s game has an interesting mechanic built in.  The players begin as humans fending off the zombies, but they may become zombies too.  If they do succumb to infection, they can cooperate with others who have been infected and team up against the remaining “human” characters in the game.  Cryptozoic's version should be arriving in stores in September.  So Much Zombie Goodness...I can't wait!

Friday, May 20, 2011

Castle the Graphic Novel and the Growth of Online TV

Last night, after we put our son to bed, my husband and I sat down to catch up on a little TV.  We didn't turn on our Direct TV or Cable.  We didn't even load up our TiVo.  Instead, we booted up our laptop and checked our Hulu queue.

Excited to see the new Castle available, we clicked on the episode and began our evening ritual.  I had heard news that Nathan Fillion was going to show artwork for a new graphic novel from Marvel entitled Castle: Richard Castle’s Deadly Storm.  I couldn't wait to see it.  The reveal happened in the opening moments of the episode, but was quickly overshadowed by a very suspenseful episode.  

I have been a fan of Castle since its debut, and can't wait to see what will happen with this new graphic novel.  I think what makes me the most excited is that it will be accessible to a larger audience.  It's something I can suggest to my mom (she loves mysteries and detective stories), and will draw new fans to the comics industry because of its wider appeal.

If you recall I also mentioned that we did not turn on the cable to watch this episode.  In fact, in our house, we have the most basic of basic cable just to get the deal with Comcast for our internet.  And we are not the only ones.

Gone are the days of TGIF and Full House.  Families no longer gather on the couch to watch TV at eight PM.  We no longer want to know what night shows are on, we want to know where we can watch it online?  Our lives are busier and our priorities have shifted.  In this digital age, we flock towards what's faster and more convenient.  We want media on demand and we want it without interruption.   Hulu, NetflixAmazon Instant Video, and iTunes are fast becoming the new way to watch TV.  On top of that Clicker.com is becoming the TV guide of the internet, and provides users with links to their desired TV shows all in one place.

Let’s take a look at what's out there. 
Hulu is a service that allows you to stream current episodes as well as some movies and older shows for free.  You can subscribe to shows which will automatically appear in your queue anywhere from a few hours to a few days after it airs on TV.  Most shows have a limited viewing window, so you need to stay up to date.  Hulu has also added Hulu Plus for $7.99 which gives you unlimited viewing of past episodes and access to a wider variety of movies and shows.  The down side to both of these is that they contain some ads.

Netflix, primarily known for DVDs, now has a watch instantly service that is just as geared toward watching online as it is to renting DVDs.  It currently offers unlimited online viewing for $7.99 a month, but is a less up-to-the-minute episode player.  On the up side, it is great for watching movies and previous seasons of TV shows you missed the first-time around.

The new kid on the block is Amazon Instant Video, which offers a catalog of more than 90,000 movies and TV shows.  Most of the rentals cost between 99 cents and $3.99, but you can also rent TV shows by the season.  If you are an Amazon Prime member, you have access to 5,000 videos in their catalog included with your $79 annual membership.  This one seems to be most worth it for those who are already members.

And finally, there's Apple’s iTunes.  You can stream episodes of current TV shows as early as a day after they air for around 99 cents an episode or buy a season pass at a cheaper rate.  Both Amazon and iTunes offer movies the same day as the DVD release.

Below is a handy chart I discovered on Clicker which gives you the breakdown.

There are unfortunately still a few shows that require a live feed, namely sports.  But even sites like MLB.tv for baseball and ESPN 3 are offering some form of live streaming.  The truth is, none of these sites have it perfect, and it all depends on your watching needs.  So pick what works for you.  There is no denying that this is the way of the future, but who will come out on top?

Wednesday, May 18, 2011

The return of a childhood favorite.

While sifting through my Facebook posts I discovered this little gem.  The Flintstones Animated TV Series is returning!  This beloved cartoon is set to air on FOX in 2013, and will be produced by Seth MacFarlane.  I definitely enjoy Family Guy, and have to wonder what the new Flintstones will become.  I immediately began to think "My son will be just the right age to enjoy the antics of Fred and Barney when this airs.  I can't wait to share this classic with him."  But I have my reservations.  Movies like The Parent Trap and Charlie and the Chocolate Factory were revamped, but I found I still preferred the originals.  Hopefully the revamp of this 1960's cartoon will live up to my expectations.  Only time will tell.

Tuesday, May 17, 2011

Teething and Table Top Games

I'm a Gamer.  I play games.  Lots of games.  Board games, card games, cooperative games, party games, deck-building games, you name it...I've probably played it!  So Many Games...So Little Time. That says it all. I've loved that phrase ever since my husband opened his game store nearly ten years ago.

As the wife of a game store owner and the editor of a board game podcast, I've definitely had my fair share of experiences with games.  There are a lot to choose from.  But recently, that phrase has found new meaning.  Particularly the second half.  SO LITTLE TIME.  I never realized how much free time I actually had in my life until it was gone.  So what changed?  I became a mom.

The moment I held my son in my arms I new nothing would ever be more important.  I had prepared myself for the fact that gaming would take a back seat to my role as a parent, but I was sure that I would still have time to play games, edit podcasts, buy groceries, catch up on my shows, cook dinner, keep the house in order, and sleep.  Piece of cake!  Right?  Wrong.

No amount of books, discussion with family and friends, or practice in a daycare could truly prepare me for my role as a full-time mom.  The level of exhaustion a mother reaches far outweighs any all night D&D sessions or four day gaming Cons, and my son didn't make it any easier on me.  He decided to wait until after his one year birthday to finally sleep through the night.  Now that's a lot of sleep deprivation!

Lack of sleep aside, over the past year I have learned to balance my new life.  I think of it as a game.  Each day I discover new strategies to improve my previous day's score.  Today's Challenge: completely edit a podcast before nap time is over.  Challenge complete!   My most recent victory, achieving a full night's sleep.  Wait, What?  He's getting new teeth?  Crap!  Time to level up my character.

So there you have it.  I'm a mom, I'm a gamer, and I'm here to share my experiences with you.  Everything from games you can play with a baby on your hip to how to bake fresh Lembas bread for a full night of Tolkien-themed fun.  YUM!