The Caution: Idiot At Play Year In Review

As 2013 comes to an end, most of the other websites out there are wrapping everything up with a ton of "Best Of/Worst Of" lists containing most of what we got throughout the year. Sure, ranking the best and worst in movies, television and video games may be all the rage for some people, but I'm way too lazy for that. Besides the fact that it wouldn't be fair considering I don't remember what happened in January and February.

But 2013 was a pretty remarkable year for me. So instead of all of that fluff about The Wolverine and Pokemon X/Y, I'd rather write about a subject that is near and dear to my heart: Me.

So here's my Year In Review for 2013 as it relates to my life.

1) I got married!

Yes, after a 7 year relationship with my girlfriend/fiancee, we finally tied the knot...on our 8th anniversary of being together. It was a fairly small wedding, as far as today's weddings would be judged, but hot damn if it wasn't awesome. Firstly, we got married in a movie theater, up in front of the screen, with our names up on the marquee and everything. We also had some freshly popped popcorn waiting for all of our guests. (No imitation butter, though, which was kind of disappointing.)

But probably the best part of the entire ceremony (you know, besides uniting with the love of my life) was the film that we made to show right before. Getting married in a movie theater gave us the opportunity to show a movie to everyone beforehand, an advantage we didn't want to miss out on. So we spent a few weeks before the big day and, with the help of the bridal party, put this little gem together.

And this brings us to "What Made 2013 So Awesome #2"...

2) We went to Walt Disney World!

As a wedding gift, my grandfather bought us a honeymoon to Walt Disney World and my wife's bridal party got us a Park-Hopper tickets to two of the parks. I hadn't been to WDW since I was 19 so I was really looking forward to the time away. Not to mention that my wife and I would be getting a real honeymoon, which we didn't expect.

We had a blast there, going to both Universal Studios parks as well as Magic Kingdom and Hollywood Studios. But to top it off, the week we were there kicked off Star Wars weekends at Hollywood Studios, a full on celebration of all things Star Wars. Not only that but my wife got the chance to get her picture taken with Ariel.

3) We got our own place!

For the past 4 years, our financial situation forced us to live with my wife's parents because we couldn't afford a place of our own. However, in 2013, we managed to free up enough debt where we could get an apartment and live comfortably. It's a small place with just enough room for us and all of our crap but it's a step in the right direction and I couldn't be happier.

4) I published my first novel!

Self published actually but it still counts. The Non-Linear Flow of the Universal Tides is available in e-book format from Amazon. Pretty soon, I'll also have it up for Nook, iBooks and at Smashwords, as well as paperback but that will be something to celebrate at the end of 2014. For now, though, I'm proud that my work is finally available to the masses.

In addition to that, I finished work on a second book, one that I co-wrote with my wife. It's an illustrated children's book. We already have an artist on board and I'm just waiting to see what he has in store for me. I don't have more information besides that but again, hopefully we'll be celebrating its release next December.

5) I dusted off this blog!

I've always been proud of Caution: Idiot At Play and even though I went hard with it for a little while, there have always been long periods of neglect. But these past few months have shown me how much fun I have writing stuff like this so hopefully, I'll be able to keep up with it without the all of the downtime. I know that, as long as I don't burn myself out, I should do fine.

Anyway, those are my biggest accomplishments for this year and why I classify 2013 as a success. How was this year for you? Feel free to comment below and let me know!

And finally, we here at Caution: Idiot At Play want to wish you a happy and healthy New Year and if you're going out to party tonight, please be safe.

Happy New Year!


My New Christmas Tradition: Ninjabread Cookies

When I first found the Ninjabread Cookie Kit in my local Five Below store, I quickly bought it with the intention to use it as blog-fodder. I wanted to start a new recurring feature: The Five Below Find of the Week, where I showcase all of the neat stuff that I find in Five Below because, let's be honest, they do have a lot of cool crap. But being that I purchased it before Thanksgiving and it's now Christmas Eve and I'm just now getting to it, this post has taken on a completely different vibe.

At first I thought that using this kit was going to be easy; make a couple cookies, slap some icing on them and impress your friends. Well, no. It's a little more involved than that. Not much more, mind you, but I needed to set a little more time aside than what I originally had thought.

The kit itself is mostly complete. It comes with a bag of gingerbread mix, a packet to make the icing and four different cookie cutters. All you need to supply is water, butter and honey. Yes, honey. Having no honey in the house, Mrs. Idiot had to text me at work to pick some up, otherwise I would have had to trudge my way back outside into the abnormal warm December temperature to get some.

Once I got home, Mrs. Idiot was nice enough to help me mix up the dough even though she spent most of the day in the kitchen making cookies and pies for Christmas Day. You know, important stuff, not frivolity like I was doing. So she mixed up all of the ingredients but had me roll everything out and cut the cookies. I was a little nervous at first, knowing that I was going to fuck up at least two of them. But after I got the hang of it, and managed to flour the countertop correctly so they'd stop sticking, I did pretty well.

The box said that it made 16 cookies. I got 14 out of the recipe, which was good enough for me.
We popped them in the oven and baked them for 10 minutes. They came out perfect.

After we let them cool, Mrs. Idiot left me to the decorating while she attended to the Gingerbread Cottage we purchased (not at Five Below; the cottage we found at Pathmark). I had a few specific ideas that I wanted to make but I wanted to get the hang of the decorating first. I've never piped icing before; you can tell from a few of the squiggly lines on some of the cookies, but once I got the hang of it, things moved along swimmingly.

I admit, I used the picture on the box as a guide for decorating some of the cookies, just to make sure I blocked out the arms correctly and to get a few ideas for facial expressions. A couple of my favorites, though, are the bearded master and the scared guy in the back.

Once I figured out the basics of piping, I decided to delve into the ideas for cookies I wanted to make.

First up: Bruce Lee.
Luckily, we had some black cookie icing in the house. Even though I was able to pipe the outline, the black icing had a much different consistency than the white icing. So when I put the black down, on the hair and the pants, it started to dribble over the sides. Well, I let loose my own dribble of profanity once I saw that. I moved Bruce to the side and let him sit for a while as I went on to the other cookies. By the time I got back to him, the black icing had mostly set, so I cleaned up the piping and made him look a little better. It's not perfect, but I'm pleased.

Secondly: Snake Eyes from G.I. Joe.
This one was pretty easy. I just piped the outline in white and filled it in with black icing. Again, the black began to dribble so I put it to the side to set. Once the black was dry enough, I went in with the white to make the visor and the belt and strap across the chest. Again, not perfect, but it was my first time so cut me some slack.

And finally, the cookies I'm most excited for: Teenage Mutant Ninja(bread) Turtles!
Even though I didn't have them in mind when I bought the kit, when I realized I could make these cookies, I was overly proud of myself. It took a little preparation: I had to find food coloring to make the icing green and give them a thin coat. Thankfully, Mrs. Idiot loves baking so we had the red, purple, and blue icing in the house. We just needed a little more food coloring to make the orange. I then utilized all of the skills I learned in the previous forty minutes to block off how their arms would look with white, draw in the colored face masks and shoulder- and knee-pads, then a little black for the belts and mouths. I was going to use black for the eyes as well but decided on white because that looked more like the cartoon.

I'm really pleased with the way they came out but I think I might make some alterations for future versions. I'll probably make the green icing darker. And instead of piping the outline with white, I'll probably use an even darker green, or maybe even a black with a more workable consistency. Beside that, I'd just like to add some more detail to them.

All in all, I'm happy with what this $5 kit yielded me. I got to have a few hours of fun in the kitchen and look forward to biting the heads off of some Ninja(bread) Turtles. Plus I now have a new family tradition. Even if they don't have these kits in stores next year, I already have the cookie cutters so all I need to do is mix up a batch of cookie dough and I'm all set.

As it's about that time, I want to thank you for reading my ridiculous ramblings here at Caution: Idiot At Play. If you celebrate, I hope you have a fantastic Christmas. If that's not your thing, then enjoy the holiday season and have a happy and safe New Year! We'll see you back here for more idiocy soon!


Comic Review: Krampus

With Christmas right around the corner, I'm doing quite a few things to get into the holiday spirit; watching Christmas movies, basking in the glow of colorfully decorated houses and eating as many freshly baked goodies as I can find. Sadly, I'm not able to enjoy comic books as much during this time of the year, mostly because you don't see many Christmas-themed comic stories. At least not in the same vein as prime-time television shows.

But that's not to say Christmas comics don't exist. In fact, Image Comics is getting into the holiday spirit with their recent release of Krampus, written by Brian Joines and drawn by Dean Kotz. In it, the Secret Society of Santa Clauses discovers that little by little, their magic is fading, preventing them from completing their preparation for Christmas. To combat this, they turn to a great creature that has been imprisoned for years, a creature that they are unsure they can even trust: The Krampus. Striking a deal, the Krampus goes out into the world in search of what is leeching the power from the Santa Clauses.

If you're unfamiliar with the Krampus, it is a beast derived from Germanic folk-lore that appeared during the times of Yule. It frightened the naughty children and sometimes kidnapped them and brought them back to its lair. The Krampus is basically the Yang to Santa Claus' Yin, doling out the punishment to the bad kids while Santa provided the rewards for being good.

Anyway, back to the comic. I like the idea of basing a series around the Krampus. Though he's got a bit of a cult following in America, he's still somewhat obscure, which gives a writer a great amount of freedom to create his or her own mythology. Unlike zombies and vampires, who are both steeped in years of lore, most often certain rules need to be adhered to, otherwise you risk causing an uproar among fans. Despite this, I wasn't crazy with the way the Krampus is presented in the series, mostly because Joines insists on adhering to a phonetic spelling of the creature's Germanic accent, replacing the spoken "th" for a "z". I get what he's doing, but it becomes annoying, kind of like Rogue's diction in X-Men. George Bernard Shaw understood the annoyance this habit can elicit; after introducing Eliza Doolittle in his famous Pygmalion, he phonetically writes her thick accent but gives up after a few lines of dialogue, stating "here, with apologies, this desperate attempt to represent her dialect without a phonetic alphabet must be abandoned as unintelligible outside London". But this is a written play, something far different than a comic book. The common mantra in comics is "Every comic is someone's first". So I can see why Joines chooses to keep with his phonetic accent, but that doesn't mean I like it.

The story also feels a little rushed to me. The issue kicks off quickly, en media res of Belsnickel being chased by a hoard of Sugar Plum Fairies. From there, it switches scenes to the North Pole, introducing a plethora of characters, all of the different Santa Clauses from around the world. They've already realized their powers are draining and by the middle of the book decide to enlist the help of the Krampus. It all happens so fast that the story gets muddled and nearly forgettable. I think it just suffers from being weighed down with too many characters; there are so many Santas in the Secret Society, all of which start showing up in the second scene that it becomes overwhelming. Are all of these men important? Should I devote time to learn who each of them are? From what I can see, no, but it took me until the end of the issue to realize that.

The art, supplied by Dean Kotz, is simple but eye-catching. Kotz doesn't spend much time with details but his panels are easy to follow. He uses a lot of dynamic angles to help tell his story, adding a lot of excitement to the issue. Unfortunately, one of the draw backs to the story is that many of the characters are all old, bearded men, so they pretty much look alike, This tends to create some confusion as to who is who, especially in the scenes with the Society of Santas. But Kotz manages to at portray many of the character's expressions, conveying their emotions through their eyes.

A kitschy idea from the start, Krampus has a lot of good concepts but I'm not entirely sure they're executed properly. Too much story crammed into a single issue and a glut of characters makes it fairly difficult to follow. But I am willing to accept these things as a troubled introduction. I am interested in seeing where the story goes because, like I said, the concepts are intriguing. Taking a Yule-themed creature like the Krampus and making him the protagonist. Pitting him against what's been commonly accepted as an innocent symbol of the season, the Sugar Plum Fairies. Yeah, the first issue was pretty bumpy but I'm looking forward to the follow up.


Psych: The Musical

If I were to rank my favorite television shows, I'm pretty sure Psych would be in the top 10 somewhere. Maybe even top 5. I'm not sure what the exact number would be as I'm just too lazy to really figure out my favorite shows but yeah, Psych is definitely up there. It just has so much that appeals to me: the dynamic between Shawn and Gus, the themed episodes, and the big-name guest stars they always seem to attract.

Even though the seventh season of Psych ended back in May, USA Network held back the final two episodes to air as a two hour special. Remember how I mentioned one of the draws of the show was the themes? These episodes are no different. But the theme they chose is a little off-kilter.

This special two-parter is a musical.

That's right. Unlike most other long-running television programs (with a few notable exceptions), Psych tackles the idea of a musical-themed episode. As I'm not a fan of musicals in general, I was a little nervous that the special would come off as hokey or ridiculous. But I trust the Psych writers as they tend to have more hits than misses and this two-parter was put together well, maintaining the spirit of the show and the characters.

Psych: The Musical opens with a careful introduction to the players, namely Shawn and Gus (James Roday and Dulé Hill, respectively). "Under The Santa Barbara Skies" explains Shawn's long con of pretending to be a psychic so that he can assist the Santa Barbara Police Department with solving homicide cases. It's an effective way to make the special accessible to new viewers that may not be aware of the show's premise. The song also serves a secondary purpose, to introduce Shawn's feeling of dread that something bad is about to befall Santa Barbara.

"Under Santa Barbara Skies" is well sung and well choreographed, slowly easing viewers into the idea of a full blown musical. It maintains the same clever Psych-style of humor, such as the West Side Story reference of Gus encircling a knife-wielding thug. This is far from the only reference in the episode, which also has a recurring joke of Gus trying out for a musical version of Disney's Wall-E. There's also a clever reference to Shawn's fascination with actor Billy Zane with his comment of "There is no other Phantom" when someone mentions The Phantom of the Opera.

Most of the songs were on point, like "I've Heard It Both Ways" in which Shawn and Detective Lassiter (Timothy Omundson) try to prove their theories as right and the other's as completely ludicrous. What makes it such a great scene is how well Omundson and Roday play off of each other; their constant back-and-forth is a staple of the show, with Lassiter trying to keep his cool while Shawn always trying to get his goat. That kind of dynamic comes out well in this number.

The episode's lowest point comes from coroner Woody (Kurt Fuller) despite my affection for the character. His song, "Often It's the Opposite" just comes off as bland and rhythm-less. It spends too much time focusing on Woody's sad love life than adding anything to the plot which, I suppose, is the point but it seemed more like filler than anything else. As if they were just trying to shoehorn the character into the story.

But without a doubt, my favorite part of the episode was Gus. It's fairly common knowledge that Dulé Hill is an accomplished dancer, having starred off-Broadway alongside Savion Glover in Bring In Da' Noise, Bring In Da' Funk. This isn't the first time he's shown off his tap skills in the show, but it's probably the best use of them. I also loved "Jamaican Inspector Man", a song Gus "wrote" in an attempt to score a part in the fictional musical the episode revolves around.

Though I can't say Psych: The Musical is the best episode(s) of the series, it's probably the best of the season. It manages to retain most of the charm of the show, sticking closely to its theme and working as many of the series' in-jokes into the script as possible. Though the concept behind the show, the idea of Shawn's fake psychic powers, gets pushed to the back burner here, with his hyper-vigilance being barely used. Despite that, I look forward to adding Psych: The Musical to my DVD collection.


The Donut & Coffee Company

Groupon is a dangerous creature. Sure, it's great that they provide consumers with some amazing savings on a huge variety of services and products. I never would have gotten the chance to see The Legend of Zelda: Symphony of the Goddesses for such an awesome price without it. But it also introduces you to stuff you've never heard of before, which normally isn't a bad thing. But when you can buy something new for half of its regular price, you'd be more inclined to buy it. Even if it sucks, at least you didn't pay full price.

This is how I discovered The Donut & Coffee Company, also known as DOCO.

After spotting the deal on Groupon, I quickly went to DOCO's website to see what they had to offer. Almost immediately, I purchased the deal. Two dozen donuts for a little less than $14. You're probably thinking that $14 sounds high for two dozen donuts but before you judge, hear me out. These aren't your standard Dunkin' Donuts type offerings, the factory made, chocolate dipped donuts covered in seasonally colored sprinkles. On, no. All of DOCO's donuts are completely freshly made, on the spot, gourmet-type donuts. Take a look at what their menu has to offer.

Cherrygraham - Freshly made DOCO donut, hand dipped in our cherry glaze and topped with graham cracker
French Toast - Fresh baked donut, hand dipped in maple glaze and topped with cinnamon
And my new favorite... Chocolate Bacon - Freshly made DOCO donut, hand dipped in chocolate and topped with fresh bacon.

Yes, you can get a bacon donut.

But that's really just the tip of the iceberg with them. They also make fresh Kronuts, those donut/croissant hybrids that everyone has been going crazy for, as well as beignets. I have no idea with a beignet is but from the pictures on the website, it looks delicious.

Armed with the Groupon in hand, my wife and I took a drive down to Farmingdale New Jersey to pick up our specially priced donuts (and to make it home in time for the 2:50 airing of the Doctor Who Anniversary Special). And even though we brought home two dozen, adding unnecessarily to our reserves of junk food, I have no regrets. The donuts are delicious and should be enjoyed. If you live in Central New Jersey or even if you're willing to drive for an awesome pastry, then you need to check out DOCO. They're totally worth it.

Second row from the right: Chocolate Bacon donuts


Week Late Movie Review: Frozen

I never intended to see Disney's newest animated feature, Frozen, in the theater. Not out of some misguided boycott against fairy tales but more because, given my economic climate, I need to carefully pick and choose which movies I pay to see. But then I got an email from AMC Theaters saying they were giving away an Olaf pin with every ticket purchase between December 6th and 8th, which enticed me. I figured we could save money by going to a matinee showing, then use our AMC Stubs rewards toward popcorn and me and my wife could go for right around $15.
I won't lie. My patronage can be bought with cheap trinkets.
Right off the bat, I adored the movie. Elsa, the older daughter to the royal family, was born with the ability to make and control ice but she's forced to suppress it after an accident involving her little sister, Anna. Elsa's parents try their best to teach her how to control her powers but after they die, Elsa withdraws into herself, afraid to be around anyone for fear of her powers. This leaves Anna all alone, being kept at arms length by her sister despite all of her attempts to include her in her life. It's a great example of parents doing their best for their children but their choices go very wrong. The danger they instilled in Elsa harmed her relationship with her sister, and actually destroyed her opinion of relationships in general. All of the damage Elsa caused and her quest for solitude can be traced back to this moment. She's far from the villain despite everyone's protests to the contrary.

What I liked most about Frozen is that it doesn't follow the standard Disney guide to storytelling. Yes, it has its fantastic adventures through worlds unknown. It has the cutesy little animals/creatures that act as the comedy relief. It has the beautiful princess who battles her own awkwardness on her path to find true love. But the idea of love in Frozen is much different from other Disney movies. Anna falls in love with a big, handsome prince yet fails to realize that true love is under her nose the entire time. But more importantly, the love story takes a back seat. It's not about a woman validating herself with a man; it's about sisters finding each other and rekindling their friendship.

One thing I have to say is that I wasn't crazy about the songs. In fact, most of them were quite annoying. Unlike past Disney movies like The Little Mermaid and Beauty and the Beast, where the musical interludes mark an important point of the movie's plot, here they just seemed to break out into song for no reason. Well, honestly, that's not true. The more I think of it, the more it occurs to me that the majority of these songs were vital to the plot, but that still didn't make them interesting."Let It Go" and "For The First Time In Forever" were probably the best of the bunch, really capturing the spirit of the characters, Elsa and Anna respectively. The others just felt like filler, used to make a full soundtrack and capture a few more sales.

That being said, however, I give props to the voice cast for singing the vocals. Most Disney movies keep those separate, using talented voice actors for the speaking roles yet musicians for the music. But here, the two blend, and quite well. This was clearly intentional considering the actors they chose for their roles; Idina Menzel, best known for her role in Rent, both on Broadway and on film, played the part of Elsa. Jonathan Groff was nominated for a Tony for his role in Spring Awakening and plays the part of the male lead, Kristoff. But I was surprised by Kristen Bell, an actress not known for her singing roles. Hearing her belt out Anna's songs was eye-opening, making me realize that she's more than just a talented actress but a hell of a signer as well.

All in all, Frozen was a delightful surprise. My Disney preferences tend to lean toward the classics; I was really disappointed when they did away with the traditional animation in exchange for the CGI stuff. And while I didn't really swear them off after that, none of their newer movies really appealed to me. But I will happily say that I loved Frozen and I'm glad I gave it a chance.

Now, because I enjoyed it that much, I leave you with Elsa singing "Let It Go" from the film.


A Plethora of Snacks Part II: This Time It's Christmas

Without a doubt, I have problems with impulse control. (I mean, how else would you explain that title?) In October I purchased nearly $70 worth of groceries at Target all because they were special for Halloween. Well, now December has rolled around and all of those Halloween treats are gone...replaced with special Winter/Christmas treats. Yeah, I lost all self control again as I began to pile goodies in my cart just because they were labelled "Limited Time Only". (Actually, I showed great restraint as I only spent about $20 as opposed to nearly $100 in October.)

So anyway, here's my thoughts on what I purchased.

Market Pantry Gingerbread Cheesecake Sandwich Cookies
I was excited about these because they looked like the Pumpkin Spice Cheesecake cookies that I bought in October. However, they are not good. The gingerbread flavor is so intense that it burned my mouth. I like gingerbread cookies, and even gingersnaps, but every gingerbread cookie I've ever had has been much sweeter than this one. The cheesecake creme in the middle was really good, tasting almost exactly like it did in the pumpkin spice cookie. But the gingerbread was just too much. After one cookie, my mouth tingled for about fifteen minutes after eating it. That's the kind of reaction you expect when you eat a sliver of ginger on your sushi but not when you eat a cookie. If they weren't spicy, I'd like these but for now, I doubt I'll ever buy them again.

Hot Cocoa Chocolaty Cereal Bars
I'm having a hard time explaining these, mostly because I only got to try one before Mrs. Idiot ate the rest of the box. They're really good; so soft and chewy and very tasty. The chocolate flavor isn't overwhelming. It may look like the flavor is intense but it's actually quite mellow. The bar itself is filled with a vanilla creme, adding another layer of taste to them. What I like best about these is that you can eat them as a breakfast replacement or just as a snack between meals.

Angie's Holidrizzle Iced Gingerbread Kettle Corn
Angie goes far beyond standard kettle corn with the Holidrizzle line. At first glance, it looks like regular kettle corn punched up a little with some cinnamon. The first taste seemed to confirm that. However as you keep eating, it gets to be more delicious. The ginger is subtle, coming in the form of the aftertaste as opposed to kicking you in the tongue like the Gingerbread cheesecake sandwich cookies.

But my favorite part of the kettle corn is the drizzle. There is a thin sprinkling of white chocolate all over the popcorn. The stuff isn't drowned in it but there's enough to provide your mouth a cooling sensation when you find it. The white chocolate adds an entirely new level of flavor to the kettle corn, elevating it far beyond your regular junk food fare. This is the kind of snack you want in a bowl at your next Christmas party. I guarantee you people will be all over it.

Candy Cane Oreo Cookies
I love Oreos but I didn't expect to like these all that much. After trying the first one I was happy to find that they are surprisingly good. I like the presentation of the dual-colored cream, red and white, giving the visual impression of a candy cane. They split it in half so it's not striped like a true candy cane but whatever. It's still a nice touch. The cream is mint-flavored with just the right intensity; it's not so powerful that it tastes like you're eating toothpaste while not weak enough to be barely noticeable. It adds a refreshing kick to each bite and meshes well with the chocolate cookie. Overall, these are some great cookies and I would probably rank them even higher that October's Candy Corn variety.

Market Pantry Candy Cane Milk Chocolate Covered Sandwich Cookies
I was going to group this item in with the other Market Pantry stuff but it seems better off after the Oreos. After all, they are just Oreo cookies covered in chocolate and topped with crushed candy canes. Does that sound good to you? It should because they are. I've had chocolate covered Oreo cookies before so this really wasn't anything new to me but they are absolutely amazing. I can really only say two bad things about them: first, they are so ridiculously sweet that it's hard to eat more than two in a sitting (which probably isn't a bad thing) and two, there's only 10 cookies in the box. But yeah, if you see these on the shelf, grab a box. You'll be happy you did.

Sugar Cookie Flavored Peeps
These are just not good. Unlike the Chocolate Covered, Mint-Flavored Christmas Tree, these just have no real discernible flavor to them. You can kinda tell that they taste a little different from a standard marshmallow Peep, but it's barely noticeable. And it's not good either. What little flavor it does have is so synthetic that it's just not enjoyable. If it wasn't for the chocolate-dipped bottom portion, 2 out of 3 of these little bastards would have just gone right into the trash.


Wonder Woman in the "Man Of Steel" Sequel: Can WB Pull It Off?

You've probably heard the news by now that Warner Brothers have finished their search to fill the role of Wonder Woman for the upcoming Zack Snyder-directed sequel to Man of Steel. Gal Gadot, best known for her roles in Fast & Furious, Fast Five and Fast & Furious 6 has been honored with the role. Seeing pictures of her, I will admit that she fits the mold of how I think Wonder Woman should look; tall, dark, and exotic. But having never seen the Fast & Furious movies, I can't comment about her acting ability.

No, my true concerns lie with: why? Why add Wonder Woman to a movie that will already feature Superman and Batman? It was a shock to fans to learn that Batman would be a part of the Superman sequel (and received yet another shock when Ben Affleck was cast in the role). That news had them frothing at the mouth to get one step closer to a full-fledged Justice League film. But now we learn Wonder Woman will be a part of it and it has to make us wonder if this is the Justice League movie.

All of this makes me nervous for the second Man of Steel movie. It seems like Warner Brothers is rushing into things after seeing the success Marvel had with The Avengers franchise. Considering WB owned DC Comics for years before Marvel got into the movie business, by all intents and purposes that multi-film plan should have been WB's from the start, with Batman, Superman, Green Lantern, and Wonder Woman each getting their own movie leading up to a culmination of Justice League. But Marvel beat them to the punch despite not having the help of a big movie studio until years later. WB are probably kicking themselves and, as a result, are rushing into something big...that can easily blow up in their faces.

Wonder Woman by Clint Cearley
Take the Green Lantern for example. He is a driving force in comic books; he's been around for years and has a huge fan following. A number of characters have taken up the mantle of the Green Lantern and has been the center of a number of exciting storylines. Warner Brothers' attempt to translate him to the big screen was a huge undertaking which turned out to be less than favorable. The character became the punchline of a two-hour long joke, completely changed from the kind of person that he is in the comic books. Why? Because apparently Warner Brothers doesn't "get" the characters that they own. They see them as cash registers, used only as a way to generate income for the company. What they don't understand is that fans will only buy into what they enjoy and, like it or not, if they see a character that they respect being misrepresented, they tend to get turned off. That's where Marvel succeeded, by treating their characters with respect.

It feels like WB and DC are revisiting this mistake with the Man of Steel sequel. Though Zack Snyder is a talented director, the film still has the chance to go so, so wrong. Introducing too many characters generally results in the sacrifice of development, not only of the main characters, like Superman and Lois Lane, but also in the supporting characters. We've seen the history of Batman many times over; this is the first time movie-goers are seeing Wonder Woman in action. Well, second, technically, as The Lego Movie somehow beat WB to the punch to bring Wonder Woman to the big screen. (My mind still reels when I think about that.) What kind of character will she be? Are we going to see her alter ego, Diana Prince, or will she just be deflecting bullets with her bracelets as she fights Superman and Batman?

Don't get me started on her origin story. Everyone knows how Batman got his start but I've been a comic book fan since 1990 and even I don't quite understand Wonder Woman's origins. Something about clay and lightning, Amazonian princess sent to America to spread the word of love and peace. I honestly think that in order to make the character work in the tone the films are using her backstory needs to be updated a little bit. Granted, it's easy for me to say that as I understand not everything from the comic books can translate to the movies; unfortunately, that's not a trait a lot of comic book fans have.

Despite all of that, what's important is that Warner Brothers needs to remember they have to treat the character respectfully. She's more than just a female version of Superman. She is a symbol of female empowerment to a great number of women, both comic fans and non-comic fans alike. If they aren't willing to allow that aspect of the character to show through in the movie, then tossing her into the fire will just blow up in their faces.


A New Amazing Spider-Man 2 Trailer Swings Your Way

Today is a day I've been looking forward to for quite some time; a new trailer for The Amazing Spider-Man 2 was released just this morning. I really enjoyed The Amazing Spider-Man and have been following the news on the sequel as closely as I could, without looking at anything that would spoil the movie for me. If you haven't gotten the chance to see the new trailer, or just want to watch it again, here it is!

One of the most notable things about the trailer is the appearance of the Rhino. It's been no secret that the character would be in the film, played greasily by Paul Giamatti, but now we finally get to see him up close. They don't show much of him, though; we just see enough to get the idea that the Rhino suit would be more mechanical than natural.

Another obvious part of the trailer is Harry Osborn's (Dane DeHaan) transformation into the Green Goblin. Late last week, the news broke that Green Goblin would be showing up in the film (doing his best Tombstone impression). To emphasize this, the trailer offers a bit more of the character in action. Not much more, mind you, but he does show up for almost 2 whole seconds. I'll admit, I'm really nervous about the inclusion of Green Goblin in this movie for two reasons. Firstly, I don't like the idea of the character starting with Harry; in the comics, the mantle of Green Goblin was a concept of legacy, with Norman (who is in this movie, played by Chris Cooper) creating the villain which would later be adopted by Harry. It also was used as a way to establish Norman's insanity and dual personalities, a trait that was also passed to Harry. But by having Harry begin as the Green Goblin, it negates the idea of the evil within Norman, an idea that I'm not really crazy with.

The second reason I'm not digging it is just because it means the movie will feature three villains. We all remember what happened the last time Spider-Man faced off against three bad guys and I'm sure none of us want to revisit that.

The highlight of the trailer, though, is definitely Electro, who seems to be the main antagonist of the film judging by how much screen time he gets. It's all pretty amazing because he makes for some awesome visuals. The final battle looks epic, surpassing the action of the first film's showdown with the Lizard, and even the Raimi films. From what I can tell, the special effects team really knocked it out of the park with Electro, bring great life to a being made of pure electricity. But more than that, Jamie Foxx looks amazing in the role. Granted, he is mostly CG, but he still manages to make Electro seem real.

But without a doubt, my favorite part of the trailer is Spider-Man, and why shouldn't it be considering it's his movie. Andrew Garfield played a great Peter Parker in the first Amazing film and I'm looking forward to seeing more of him in this one. I also love the way they have Spider-Man flipping around, jumping all over the place, taking advantage of his "spider-agility". One of my favorite shots from the trailer is Spider-Man sliding down the hood of a moving police car before leaping to the next one. It's a quick shot but it really caught my eye. I also love where Paul Giamatti's pre-Rhino character, Aleksei Sytsevich, is firing a machine gun as Spider-Man twists in the air to avoid the bullets. All of these are small things that make the movie look spectacularly dynamic, proving to me that director Marc Webb really understands the character.

The Amazing Spider-Man 2 opens in theaters on May 2, 2014, just in time for Free Comic Book Day. Despite the onslaught of movies based on comic properties we will be getting in 2014, I am totally looking forward to Spider-Man. Like I said, I loved the first one and based on this trailer, I can expect to fall in love with the sequel as well.


The Maxx: Maxximized #1

Back in the early 90s, the comic book industry was going through something of a new Genesis. Comic stories were evolving; longer, multi-issue stories were becoming the norm as opposed to the one- or -two-off tales, not to mention the multitude of crossovers into other titles. Art styles were evolving, becoming far more detailed and intricate and, as a result, full of life. And Image Comics took the industry by storm, offering characters and stories that were much darker and much more grown-up than the Super Hero Titles offered by Marvel and DC. Spawn and Youngblood began to rival the likes of Spider-Man and the Justice League. One of Image Comics' earliest series, The Maxx created by Sam Kieth in 1993, proved to have immense fan appeal, which continues to this day.

Twenty years after its release, Kieth has decided to revitalize The Maxx, rescanning all of the old pages, recoloring them and bringing them to IDW Publishing where they have been rereleased as The Maxx: Maxximized. Returning to a monthly schedule, fans will be able to revisit the mentally unstable, purple-clad hero in brand new, remastered, hi-fidelity quality.

I never really got into The Maxx back in my early days of collecting, mostly because Marvel's characters had pervaded my sensibilities. Granted, I knew what the Maxx was and watched the animated series on MTV, but never read the comic. It wasn't until a few years ago when I purchased a number of long boxes of comics from an estate sale and found the first two issues of the series when I even saw the inside of a Maxx comic. Now that Maxximized is finally here, I like the idea of the rerelease. It gives fans like me, who missed the series originally, the chance to catch up on a classic comic book series, as well as giving younger readers an opportunity to read it.

The Maxx: Maxximized is the exact same story as it was 20 years ago. When the series was announced, Kieth promised that nothing would be changed with the story, for better or worse. Essentially, all this is is a facelift, making the book prettier than it was. And for the most part, it's successful. The colors have been completely redone, all by the skillful hands of Ronda Pattison. Comparing Maxximized with the original #1, you can definitely see a difference. Pattison adds a lot of depth to the book by emphasizing the differences between highlights and shadows, as well as creating subtle shading in objects, most notablly in characters. She brings out the richness of the blacks, giving the book the harsh, gritty tone that Kieth intended it to have. There have even been some complete palette changes, with Pattison choosing darker, cooler colors over the warm colors of the original book. This swap gives the city a much more frightening feel which, again, strengthens the tone of the book.

One of my favorite changes, however, is the flashback sequence of Maxx in the Outback, battling an army of Isz. The pages are colored to look like an impressionist watercolor painting, with thick, organic colors lining the length of the panels. It's a fantastic change from the original that not only helps to separate this scene from the events of "the real world" but also makes for a breathtaking visual in the middle of the comic book. Seriously, as soon as I turned to that double-page spread of the Maxx sitting on the grass with Julie's face hovering over him, I realized I found my new favorite spread. It's a far cry from the static image of the original print and wonderfully executed.

Each new issue features a brand new cover created by Kieth himself. The first issue's cover is a play off of the original, showing the Maxx in a similar pose but on a multi-colored background as opposed to the flat black. It's definitely a nice change, and a nice thing to include in the new issues. I like the new cover, too, because it really speaks to the character's mental state. The impressionist lighting teeters on the fragility of the Maxx, who, when reading the story, we learn is not all quite there.

When I first learned about The Maxx: Maxximized, I wasn't quite sure if it would be necessary. With all of the retreads and regurgitation of comic stories we get now, do we really need a rerelease of something two decades old? But after reading the first issue, I have to say yes, we do need this, if for no other reason than to provide a bit of comic book nostalgia to readers. The Maxx was a fan favorite back in the day; it spoke to a lot of people through its surreal imagery and storytelling. Who's to say that it can't amass an entirely new audience? I, for one, am glad to get another shot at the series.


Welcome to the Evolution

I don't usually post stuff like this but seeing as how it's family, I don't see how I can not.

My sister recently opened a new cycling studio, Evolution ByCycle, in Central Jersey, most specifically East Brunswick. If you're unfamiliar with cycling, it's basically a stationary bike but you have an instructor in the front of the room yelling at you to push yourself harder and faster. I mean, the instructor is there to help inspire people to expand their limits so that they can get more physically fit but as I'm not one for working out, it seems a lot like yelling to me.

Apparently, cycling is all the rage nowadays. People like cycling as an exercise routine because it's low impact, which reduces the possibility of severe injury, and raises the heart rate significantly while burning a high amount of calories. The problem with cycling is that not a lot of places offer it on a consistent schedule so it's either not at a convenient time. or if you can find a class that fits your schedule, it's obnoxiously far away. Having been disappointed with her own local cycling studio, my sister just decided she needed to open her own.

After looking for places to set up shop, she settled on the quiet town of East Brunswick in the Lexington Downs Shopping Center at the corner of Lexington Avenue and Cranbury Road.

If you're in the East Brunswick/Central Jersey area and are looking for a place to cycle, check out Evolution ByCycle. They have a wide range of classes available, all at great prizes, featuring top-of-the-line Schwinn stationary bikes. You can purchase different packages, allowing you to add cycling sessions, and don't require you to pay a membership fee. You can also share sessions with your family, so if you purchase 10 sessions, you can give a few to your husband or daughter or whoever.

Did I mention no membership fees? I think I did but it's worth repeating.

With New Year's coming up, a few of you are sure to have "Get in Shape/Lose Weight" on your Resolution list and cycling is a great way to get that taken care of.

Oh, and here. Print out this image and bring it with you or pull it up on your phone and you can get your first ride free. So if you're not sure if cycling is for you, you get a free session to test it out.

You really have nothing to lose.
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