Tuesday, October 30, 2012

HalloweenTime at Disneyland Beats Homecoming at the High School Anyday

If you're wondering how much my teens love Disneyland – they blew off their homecoming dance to attend a media day at the park. They were going to the dance with groups of friends so there were no dates to disappoint, but something tells me they would have chosen the Magic Kingdom over a boy anyway. Unless those boys happened to be Darren Criss and Ryan Gosling, in which case my girls would have just used their babysitting money to buy extra park-hoppers for their dates.

HalloweenTime and the holidays in general are our favorite times at the park. Besides the changing-over of the rides to their special scarier themes – Space Mountain Ghost Galaxy, Haunted Mansion Holiday (inspired by Tim Burton), the Tower Of Terror (populated with phantom patrons in honor of Halloween) – we're just a sucker for the decorations. Don't ask how many photos I have on my hard drive of this very same pumpkin and street decoration:

And because the kids aren't the only ones who enjoy Disneyland, indulge me for a moment while I post a pic of the meal us adults had while the teens ran straight from the tram to get in line for Space Mountain (because you know kids never eat when they're at Disneyland. No problem - more for us.)

This was from our favorite place, Uva Bar in Downtown Disney, where we always make it a point to stop and have a cocktail before taking on the park. Add that to the list of things I don't remember from my trips to Disneyland as a child.

We were also super-excited to check out CARS LAND for the very first time! But there's so much to see there I'm going to save it for its own post. Unfortunately we didn't have time to ride any of the rides because the lines were so long, but I had fun just checking out the design and architecture. Next time I plan to bring my good camera, and just hang out here for hours taking pictures and eating. Don't judge.

Another must-see when we got back that we missed this time around: There is an 'Art Of Frankenweenie' exhibit based on the Tim Burton/Disney film over at California Adventure that I heard is amazing. If I'm not stopped, I plan to take pictures and eat over there, too.

HalloweenTime at Disneyland officially ends tomorrow (hurry!) but that just means the themed decorations and rides come down (except for the Haunted Mansion Holiday.) Cars Land is there forever, and the Frankenweenie exhibit runs until November 5.

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Thursday, October 18, 2012

HBO's 'ETHEL': Lessons Learned

This past summer I was invited to attend a preview screening of HBO's Ethel (Tonight, 1/18 at 9pm on HBO), a feature-length documentary about Ethel Kennedy that was produced and directed by her daughter, Rory Kennedy. I'm already a fan of Rory's (her Ghosts Of Abu Ghraib was so outstanding) so I knew I would enjoy Ethel - but who knew I'd get such an education at the same time?

(Also, I was thrilled to be able to meet Rory Kennedy in person at the post-screening reception. I tried not to go too fangirl on her, but I knew it was the closest I'll ever come to a Kennedy.)

The film covers Ethel's Kennedy's life, touching on her childhood, her early years with Robert F. Kennedy, raising their eleven children (!), RFK's campaigns and Ethel's world after his assassination. Ethel's life was often eclipsed by her more visible and glamorous sister-in-law Jacqueline Bouvier Kennedy, but it's been a remarkable story nonetheless.

But it's not just a story about Mrs. Kennedy - it's a much more personal, insightful glimpse into historical events that we all know about, but whose intricacies I'd never fully understood. The Cuban Missile Crisis, the standoff with then-governor George Wallace at the University of Alabama, RFK's friendship with Martin Luther King, Jr., his clashing with J. Edgar Hoover – Rory Kennedy does a great job of showing a timeline and insight into these events through interviews with Ethel, her other children and with family friends and associates.

Definitely recommend watching this, and if you have older kids – have them watch it with you. Such an important glimpse into our country's history told so lovingly by the Kennedy family.

Ethel premieres tonight, October 18 at 9pm on HBO.

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It's Official: Nintendo, Wii (Heart) U

A few weeks ago we were invited to Siren Studios in Hollywood to try out the new Wii U system. What a great event – besides turning a soundstage into a futuristic gaming nirvana with individual gaming stations, fancy couches and separate rooms for some of the games – they had Nintendo cookies, too. I say an event is reflected in the cookies they serve, and these were fantastic, classy and my teenagers loved them. And much like the event, they were making some people drool.

Here are some of the down and dirty specs of the new Wii U, and then I'll let my teens give you their reviews of the game. Stay tuned for hilarity.

The biggest difference in the Wii U is the addition of the Wii U GamePad™ controller, a gaming pad that features a 6" window that expands your gaming experience (not all games will require the second screen.) The GamePad also includes motion control, a front-facing camera, a microphone, stereo speakers, rumble features, a sensor bar, and a stylus. (Your old Wii controllers and nunchuks will work just fine with the new system – in fact, hang onto them because only the new GamePad will be included with the Wii U.) Here's a little intro:

Along with the Wii U will be a new movie system, Nintendo TVii. The GamePad will function with your DVR and TiVo and can also be used to search for programming from sources like Netflix, Hulu Plus, Amazon Instant, cable and satellite channels and video-on-demand services. I CANNOT WAIT to check this out:

There will be two versions of the Wii U:
- The Deluxe set that features a black Wii U unit and has 32GB of internal storage. This will retail for $349.99
- The Basic set that features a white Wii U unit and has 8GB of internal storage. This will retail for $299.99

Because I'm old and boring, the first thing I inquired about was if the Wii U would still be compatible with my Wii Fit balance board. It is! But there will also be some new games as well in the form of Wii Fit U so that I can change it up from my old Yoga/Skiing/Segway Circuit routine. (See 'old and boring' above.)

My teenagers were much more adventurous. Their faves of the day were Batman: Arkham City, Pikmin 3, Just Dance 4 and Sing Party. I didn't play all of these, but I did sit in on the demos when the girls were playing – I had no desire to hold up the lines of people waiting for their turn while I tried to find the 'start' button. Have you ever pissed off a bunch of eager gamers? Oh, they get mean.

But don't take my word for it - here are reviews of a few of the games, straight from my 14 & 16-year-old daughters' brains:

BATMAN: Arkham City
"The batman game was super cool and really let you experience Batman first person with full use of all his fancy rich people gadgets. It's a bit difficult to get used to when you first play, but when you finally get the hang of all the controls it makes you feel pretty awesome. The ability to kick-butt as batman is pretty sweet if you haven't heard already."

"Batman had awesome graphics, and you also have the option to be Catwoman, which is super cool because I LOVE Catwoman."

"Pikmin 3 was also an awesome surprise because it's been FOREVER since the last one was out. It'll be a big hit for people not familiar with the previous ones, and of course even more exciting for those who are already fans. (The game in itself is pretty much the same as the others with added characters and new levels and actions with the GamePad.) It's both similar and different enough to live up to the old version's expectations as well as introduce some new things to do with the GamePad.(and omg there's cute lil' rock Pikmin??)"

"Just Dance was great as ever; still my favorite way to exercise without like, actually exercising. Probably the funnest game to play at sleepovers or just hanging out. The mix of wonderfully horrendous '80s songs and modern pop is enough to provide entertainment for happy(but wheezing) teenagers. Plus you can play with 5 people using the game pad so your poor friend doesn't have to sit down while you dance (for added usefulness the GamePad option doesn't require dancing, just in case you have a friend that hates dancing or is injured etc etc - or your mom wants to play and - don't lie - we all don't want to see your mom dougie.)"
"Just Dance was crazy but fun.  The new 'puppet master' feature exhausted me.  It's a great game to play with friends at parties and stuff, I even came back to play it twice!"

"Sing Party can only be described as a beautiful smoothie of Just Dance and Sing it. Although the Carly Rae Jepsen and LMFAO soundtrack will get a little headache inducing when your daughter plays Call Me Maybe for the 30th time in a row at 1 in the morning, even you can't resist the booty-poppin fun of dancing really badly while your friend takes lead rapper."
"Just Dance 4 was crazy but fun. The new 'puppet master' feature exhausted me. It's a great game to play with friends at parties and stuff, I even came back to play it twice!"

And there you have it – our preview of the new Wii U. We loved what we saw, and are totally looking forward to checking it out further. You can pre-order yours over here. Sorry, cookies not included.

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Tuesday, October 16, 2012

Emily Owens M.D.: Three Thumbs-Up (That's one adult & two teens)

One thing I've learned: teens and medical shows don't mix. I've tried before to get my 14 and 16-year-old daughters to check out past episodes of my favorite, ER, but to no avail – they prefer the world of glee clubs, mean girls, quirky twentysomethings and zombie apocalypses. I was even clueless enough to try and entice them with the George Clooney connection, to which my youngest crushed me with, "THAT old guy?" Right then I decided there was no way she was getting my Tony Bennett Live on VHS in the will, either.

So to be honest, when I got invited to a screening of the CW's new show, Emily Owens M.D. I didn't get my hopes up. (Although a big selling point was that the show's star Mamie Gummer is the daughter of Meryl Streep – one of my 16-year-old's faves.) But guess what? They loved it. And so did I.

The show - centered around Gummer's character Emily as a first year med intern – is just the right combination of drama and humor. Emily, still carrying some of the anxieties and awkwardness of her teen years, finds that her new life at the Denver hospital isn't that far removed from her high school life, complete with rivalries, jealousies, unrequited love and yes – mean girls. You can see why my teen girls can't wait for the rest of the season. Well, that and the abundance of "hot guys." (Although some zombies might be a nice touch, too.)

One thing we liked about this Emily – unlike most similar characters in TV and film, she didn't just miraculously turn into a swan one day and have an easy go at life. Instead, she proudly flies her geek flag but powers through her insecurities to take on life's obstacles as an adult.

I got the chance to chat with Mamie via phone, and I asked her if we'd get a chance to get a glimpse of Emily's tortuous high school years in the upcoming season. "I don’t know I’ve been wondering that as well," she said. "We haven’t yet, but I would be surprised if we didn’t." Justin Hartley, who plays Emily's crush Will, was also on the call and said that was one flashback he'd like to see." That would be awesome to find some actress to play high school Emily – it would be kind of cute, wouldn’t it?" he laughed.

I also asked Mamie if she had any reservations about taking on another medical show after last role as a doctor on the drama Off The Map. "To be honest, I did," she admitted. "But this one was so different from what that was. There’s more to do, character-wise, dramatatically than what I was afforded in that show."

Recalling his last role as Green Arrow on Smallville, I asked Justin what it was like going from playing a superhero to portraying a medical intern with just plain old human powers. I love it!" he said. "When I was doing my character on Smallville I had all these gadgets, like a superhero work belt on my costume. The gadgets were there, but I never got to play with any of them.

"And now that I’m doing this doctor thing, I have pockets with a stethoscope, flashlights and pens but I actually get to play with them and use them. I had a superhero suit but now I have a coat that kinds of looks like a cape. But I enjoy it because I get to play with comedy a little bit more, especially in the newer episdoes they’re sort of letting me be, what I hope is funny. I loved Smallville, but ths is more grounded in reality."

Emily Owens, M.D. premieres tonight 10/16 at 9/8c on The CW. 

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