Type A Parent Blog Conference Swag Helps Support Homeless Americans In Atlanta

Blog Conference Swag

If you’re following me at all on social media (Shameless plug: I would love to connect with you on Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram) you undoubtedly already know that I attended my first ever blog conference this past weekend in Atlanta, Georgia.  As a relatively new-ish (sort of) blogger, I had no idea what to expect from the Type A Conference. The things I learned, the experiences I had, and the connections I made during my time there far exceeded anything I could have ever imagined and I plan on sharing all of that with you in a later post (I know, I’m such a tease). Tonight, I want to spend some time chatting about all of that wonderful conference SWAG that you get when you attend events like these and what I decided to do with some of mine to (hopefully) help a stranger in the Atlanta metro.

Conference Swag

 

Before I begin, I think it’s important for me to mention what inspired me to do this. I am a pretty sarcastic person in my normal day-to-day life. I’m someone who has a very dry sense of humor but underneath all of that is a person who really, really cares about others. This past Spring, I had the opportunity to visit New Orleans and one of the things I noticed during my time there was the massive numbers of displaced Americans living on the streets throughout the city. Homelessness is a real, very serious issue in our country and it’s not something we talk about as often as we probably should. Fast forward a few months to a warm evening in August when I had an encounter with an incredible and very friendly homeless citizen at the Country Club Plaza here in Kansas City. As I was speaking to this guy, I started thinking about my three year old daughter and it hit me: Homeless Americans have families, too.

thought bubble

That homeless man on the corner, the man who probably hasn’t eaten all day, he’s got a mom who he once lovingly referred to as “Mommy” much like my own daughter does to me.

That homeless teenager, the girl who probably hasn’t showered this week, she’s got parents of her own.

All too often we overlook homeless citizens who are living on the streets. They’ve become invisible to us and we have a tendency to simply ignore them.

All too often, we forget that these people matter too.

World Help

When I checked in at my conference on Thursday, I was given a bag with an assortment of goodies from some of our sponsors. I am lucky. I am lucky because I have all of things that I need in my life and I knew that I wanted to take some of this stuff that I had been given to do something that would help someone else, even if it’s in a very small way. So I began collecting. Throughout the weekend, I gathered small items (some from sponsors of the conference who were giving them away and some that were complimentary items from the hotel) and, on the last day, I packed them up and gave them away with an extra shirt that I had in my suitcase.

Helping The Homeless In Atlanta

What I was able to give back to a random stranger, admittedly, wasn’t much but I hope that it helped make their day just a little bit easier, just a little bit brighter. Beyond that, I hope that sharing what I did with each of you inspires you to do what you can, with what you have, to help others. It doesn’t take much to make a difference in this World but you can. You really can.

So get out there and do something. Buy someone a coffee. Stop to say “hi” to a beggar on the street, even if you have nothing to offer but your time. Do something, anything. 

A huge thanks to some of the sponsors of this year’s Type A Parent conference who provided some the goods that went directly to help someone in need in Atlanta.

http://calraisins.org/ http://www.stjude.org/stjude/v/index.jsp?vgnextoid=7b22b46b476a7410VgnVCM100000290115acRCRD http://www.restonic.com/ https://www.popmoney.com/ http://jscreen.org/?gclid=CN6iuLi3-8ACFcRcMgoduGIAeQ http://grandatlanta.hyatt.com/en/hotel/home.html http://www.gogosqueez.com/ https://www.facebook.com/BeechNuthttps://www.taboola.com/

 

I can’t wait to share my journey at Type A with each and every one of you in the coming weeks! Until next time…

Special thanks to my friend Kate for helping me distribute the bag at the end of the conference. I could not have done this without you. 

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Parenting Without Faith

I want to preface this by mentioning that this is not an easy post for me to write. Although I’ve been documenting my life as a parent online for well over a year now, it isn’t often that I share intimate details of my thoughts, feelings, or beliefs. What I want to discuss tonight is something that’s been weighing heavily on my heart for well over a month and I hope that you’ll allow me the rare opportunity to be vulnerable with you without judgement.

Last month, I had lunch with my incredible friend Bethany. She’s someone I’ve been close with for several years and I was happy for the chance to spend some time with her while she was back in town. As we were eating, we witnessed a father and his young son at a table near us. Before they began eating, they sat together and prayed. It was really moving. But it was also heartbreaking, for me. Heartbreaking because that’s not something that I can share with my own daughter. We’ll never (at least not at this particular moment in our lives) share a moment like that together because I am parenting without faith.

Having grown up in a Christian household, been a leader in my youth group during high school, and active in my religious community during college, I am no stranger to what it means to have faith. While attending undergraduate studies with a major in a religion and culture so vastly different from my own, I began exploring other faith based systems. My journey, thus far, has led me to a place with a lot of unanswered questions. When my husband and I had a child of our own, coming to terms with the fact that we simply don’t know, was even more difficult to accept.

Fast forward to last week when my little family of three was sitting together in the kitchen. My daughter, now almost three, asked my husband (after he let out a loud cough) if he was okay. He replied, without thinking, “I think I’ll live.” Without missing a beat, my daughter said, “I want you to always live. And mommy.” Speechless. As the tears pooled in my eyes, I found myself thinking back to that father and son last month and how I wish, more than anything, that I could provide that same comfort and promise to my own child that this stranger was undoubtedly able to offer his son.

You see, parenting without faith (at least for me and my spouse) is not simply a choice that we’ve made for our family. I want, more than anything, to be able to provide my daughter with answers to life’s biggest questions (Who are we? Where did we come from? Why are we here? Where are we going?) but the truth is, I can’t. We’ve flirted with the idea of attending some sort of religious institution for the sake of giving her a foundation of faith but, for us, that would be disingenuous to where we’re at in our journey and what we believe about life. There is comfort in religion – a comfort my family does not have.

For now, we’re teaching our child that the World is a beautiful place. That life is a precious, precious gift that we should cherish, respect, and enjoy. That we should treat this planet and all of its inhabitants with love and compassion. That people have all sorts of beliefs, ideas, and differing answers on life’s biggest questions and that it’s okay. One day, when she’s old enough, we’ll encourage her to explore and find her own path…wherever that might lead her. While we certainly can’t make any promises about what tomorrow may bring, and as heartbreaking as that may be for us, we’re forced to simply focus on today.

I think it’s important for people to understand that we’re not parenting without faith because we reject God or because we somehow are apathetic or indifferent towards having beliefs. I wish, more than anything, that I could be certain that I had answers. But that’s not my life. We’re not parenting without faith because we don’t care about our child’s future or her (perceived) eternal salvation, we simply don’t have the answers. Parenting without faith doesn’t make us immoral people and it certainly doesn’t mean that our child will grow up to be any less respectful, loving, or compassionate towards herself, others, and the World around her. Our goals, our hopes for our child (and any other subsequent children we may have later on down the road) are the same as yours.

So, please, don’t make assumptions about our lifestyle and don’t assume things about the way we raise our child. I may not be parenting with faith, but I’m still parenting with love.

Mommy & Me Date Ideas

Mommy and Me Dates

When my daughter started her part time preschool program this Fall,  I knew I wanted to do something special each week that just the two of us could enjoy. Having been home together full time for the previous year, I found that I was really missing having her with me all day every day. To be entirely honest, I still miss her but I know that giving her this opportunity to explore and develop in a learning environment is an experience that’s unbeatable and I feel fortunate that we’re able to provide that for her. One of the things that I worried about when we made the decision to enroll her was the closeness we have together that I feared would start to fade. Even though I still get to spend two full days a week and every afternoon at home with her, it isn’t the same as it was before (sometimes for the better, sometimes for the worse). So, once a week, we go on “Mommy & Me Dates”.  We take some time after school one day a week to do something for just us.

When the weather was nicer, we spent some time outdoors (thanks for the free entertainment, Mother Nature) going to the park or just taking a long walk together. As the weather has shifted and the cold, winter air has started to settle in across the Kansas City metro, we’ve had to find indoor activities to enjoy on our “Mommy and Me Dates”. Even if you’re not a mommy (Dads can do this, too) and even if you don’t work outside the home, I still advocate getting out of your normal ‘zone’ to enjoy some time away with your little one in an environment that’s special. I wanted to share some of the things we do with all of you in hopes that it might inspire you to do the same.

5 “Mommy And Me Date” Ideas (That Dads Can Use Too!) Winter Edition

KidsCoffee Starbucks

1. Quiet Time 

My husband and I are both coffee drinkers and some months ago, our daughter started to catch on. Every once in a while (okay, all the time) she would ask for a ‘sip’ of our coffee (which, for those of you without kids, always means the whole thing). I think that’s why our occasional visits to a local coffee shop are so special to her. Starbucks had child’s sized hot drinks available for about the same price you would pay for a milk at just about any of your local fast food chains making ‘coffee dates’ pretty affordable. Going to these coffee shops is also a great learning opportunity. The first time we went, I had to explain to my daughter that people go to coffee shops for a lot of reasons. Some people go to work, some people go to read, and some people go to enjoy quiet conversations with their friends. I was surprised at how well she understood that it’s okay to talk in coffee shops but we have to keep our voices low and stay in our nice, comfy seats (which wasn’t a problem at all).

books

2. Story-time

Nothing compares to the feeling of sitting down with your child and reading a story together. Books have the amazing ability to take us to kingdoms far, far away where we encounter dragons, knights, princesses, talking animals, and all sorts of fun journeys that only exist in fairy tales. Watching the look on my daughter’s face as we navigate our way through a captivating book is priceless. Also priceless (in the literal sense of the word) is enjoying story time together. Our local library provides lots of opportunity to enjoy books right there in the building. With seating available in the children’s area, it’s a great way to enjoy reading in a setting a little different than your own home. If sitting at the library isn’t your scene, most Barnes and Noble stores have seating in their children’s book sections as well that you can use to read to your little one.

Cat Room SPCA

3. Cuddle Time  

I know there will inevitably be some readers who will cringe at my next suggestion but your local animal shelter is a GREAT way to enjoy some time with your little one. Spending time with animals is wonderful not only for children (who learn about being gentle, being compassionate, and responding to an animal’s cues) but it’s also beneficial for the animals who don’t often have enough human interaction. We’re fortunate in that our local SPCA animal shelter has rooms where the well behaved cats are free to roam around. Even better, our local animal shelter welcomes visitors and allows people to explore the cat rooms freely for as long as you’d like.

It's An Ordinary Blog

4. Play Time 

We are lucky to have several fun spots that offer open gym time around Kansas City and, as my daughter gets older, I’m finding that she enjoys that kind of activity more and more. While attending open gym isn’t always the most conducive for spending quality time together, it does grant me the rare opportunity to watch my child test out her abilities. It also offers me the chance to teach her that I’m always there for her whether that’s through encouraging her to jump into the foam pit or lending a hand as she works on the balance beam, she knows that I’ve got her back. No matter what. Many places offer open gym time for reasonable rates (ranging from $2 to $8) and kids get to expend all of that excess energy that’s been building up indoors during the colder months.

Be All There

5. My Time

Maybe it seems ridiculous that an hour of completely undivided attention is something to consider ‘special’ but the fact of the matter is that we live in a society where we’re constantly faced with distractions. Many of us take the world with us wherever we go in our pocket or purse. We’re so constantly connected to everything around us that it’s hard to step away and just be connected with the little person who matters most. My favorite “Mommy and Me Dates” are the ones where I’m giving my child my full attention. Even better is that she gets to pick the activity. Sometimes we paint nails together, sometimes I do her ‘makeup’, and sometimes we just play puzzles or have a dance party. I know that whatever we end up doing on these dates is going to leave a lasting impact on her memories of me from childhood and those are moments I hope we can still share together whens she’s an adult.

What’s your favorite thing to do with your child? 

The Graham Cracker Death Trap (A Gingerbread House FAIL)

Gingerbread House Fail

I’ve been dreaming about this day for years.  

The day we would sit together as a family, creating beautiful gingerbread houses that would make any Pinterest goer green with envy.  Oh, yeah. I got this.  Except not.

Gingerbread House

I was so excited to be able to share this special time with my toddler, making gingerbread houses for the first time.  Something I hoped we would be able to turn into an annual tradition. But now, my hopes and dreams have been forever ruined because I realize that I suck at making gingerbread houses.  I mean, I’m terrible at it.  I mean, it’s pretty bad. Like really bad.

Gingerbread House decorating

Let’s backtrack to earlier in the weekend when I  braved the crowds in hell at our local Walmart for some wine and gingerbread house making materials.  Somewhere in the store, nowhere near the candy and graham cracker aisles (because, you know, it’s Walmart and nothing makes sense), I saw actual gingerbread house decorating kits. “Pffft! PAH-LEESE,” I said to myself, “That’s for idiots who don’t know how to decorate their own houses. Not me!” And so I spent more than I care to admit on candy, frosting, graham crackers (which I used, instead of making gingerbread, to save time), and various other little treats that we could adorn our lovely homes with.

Its An Ordinary Blog

As we sat down at the table to start decorating our homes, I was thrilled.  Mostly at the idea of documenting our awesome journey in gingerbread house making to gloat about on Facebook (yeah, I’m awesome) but also because it’s our first year doing this.  I actually cannot remember the last time I decorated a gingerbread house.  It may have been never.  I consider myself to be a relatively crafty person so I had no doubt in my mind that I was going to rock that shit.

Gingerbread House Decorating

My toddler lovingly placed rainbow sprinkles across her rooftop.

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She was so careful and meticulous about placing the decorations on her house.  I was so proud.

It's An Ordinary Blog

My husband’s craftsmanship.  He is, perhaps, one of the least artistic people that I know and in this particular case, it worked to his advantage.  He was extremely proud that he created something that looked somewhat like a house and actually remained intact as he completed the project.  HOORAY lowered expectations.

It's An Ordinary Blog

Pretty quickly after I started constructing my gingerbread mansion, I realized that I’m not cut out to be a contractor.  I have no idea what it means to create vaulted ceilings and it’s safe to say that no gingerbread men will be hiring me to play a part in the construction of their homes.  I opted for a flat roof with Kit Kat solar panels on the roof (because, you know, being environmentally conscious is important to me and it had absolutely nothing to do with the fact that I was incapable of making a structurally sound roof).  It looks more or less like a safe house that would harbor a wanted terrorist for interrogation rather than a comfortable environment for any loving gingerbread family.

It's An Ordinary Blog

At some point, through no fault of her own, my daughter’s house came crashing to the ground. Presumably crushing all of its gummy bear residents under mounds of sweet, sweet rubble.

It's An Ordinary Blog

Here they stand…our condemned gingerbread neighborhood.

Next year we’re buying a kit.

“Captain Phillips”: In Review

CaptainPhillips

Captain Phillips

Release Date: Friday October 11, 2013

MPAA Rating: PG-13

We are quickly approaching that time of year where movie studios will release films in hopes of landing the coveted oscar nomination. To kick off the season, we’ve seen critically acclaimed, star-driven movies released in successive weekends. “Gravity” is already considered to be a sure thing for a best picture nomination, and “Captain Phillips”, with its wide release a week later, is no less deserving.

“Captain Phillips” is a thrilling true story about the 2009 hijacking of the U.S. container ship Maersk Alabama by a crew of Somali pirates. The movie’s dedication to realism, the immersive style of director Paul Greengrass, the powerful performance by Tom Hanks, and the film’s artful handling of complex global socioeconomic realities combine to make it one of the years best film’s so far.

As far as “based on a true story” movies go, this one seems to have been mostly accurate. Not only does it stay true to the essential details of the story it is based upon, there are many details which make the movie seem more realistic. The filmmakers have real medics and Navy SEALS playing important roles.  The actors portraying the Somali pirates have a very powerful presence. Hanks was not allowed to meet them until they began filming the hijacking scene in order to add an extra level of authenticity to the scene. This is one of many decisions by Greengrass that worked on every level. Greengrass’ style of putting the audience in the middle of the action has never been more effective than it was here. The danger of this technique is that when overdone the viewer can be confused or disoriented. Greengrass uses the style with skill and restraint. The audience is on both the Maersk Alabama and later the lifeboat, but one can always follow the action without getting seasick.

Hanks’ performance is his best in many years. He portrays the titular Captain with a strong sense of unwavering calm. When that calm breaks at the end, it is a wave of raw and honest emotion that will move most of the audience to tears.

Another area where the film shines is its handling of the pirates themselves. With a story that could have played out like a generic rescue mission, the filmmakers resist the temptation to make them caricature villains. As things begin to go wrong for the kidnappers, there is a real sense of fear and desperation that makes the characters seem more real. As the audience learns more about their situation and the people that we work for, we are asked to consider how much their life of piracy is a result of the situation that they are born into. This is not to say that the film acts as though they are not doing wrong, but it recognizes that where you are born plays a large role in what opportunities life gives you.

With two and a half prime movie-going months left in the year it is too early to declare “Captain Phillips” the best movie of the year, but I can say that it is certainly worth seeing and deciding for yourself.

On my scale of 1-10 with 1 being the worst, 5 being the best and 10 being the worst again, I give “Captain Phillips” a perfect 5 with an emoticon based subranking of: ZOMG THAT MOVIE WAS FREAKING GREAT!1!!11!!!1!

Costume Discounters: Little Dragon Costume In Review!

| Cooler Weather | Hot Apple Cider | Pumpkin Patch | Boots & Sweaters |

It’s Halloween Month! 

Discount Toddler Costumes

Happy October, Everyone! I am bursting at the seams excited to start this month! October-March are my absolute favorite months of the year. Bring on the cold weather, the hot cocoa under the stars, the falling leaves, and, of course, the adorable Halloween costumes that we all look forward to each year. If you’re like me (overly excited parent of a ridiculously adorable two year old), you’ve already put a lot of thought into your plans for #Halloween2013 (I am fully aware that hashtags do not, in fact, work on WordPress. #DontCare #NerdAlert). If you happen to be in the market for an amazing costume at a discounted price (hello savings!), I invite you to check out my friends over at Costume Discounters. They offer a vast array of inexpensive costumes for adults, children, and pets (who doesn’t love a dressed up dog or cat?!) that you can have delivered directly from their website to your door. This is the perfect solution for parents who don’t want to brave taking their child out to the mall to pick out the perfect costumes (nobody wants to deal with the “I want {every single item ever}” for each item you look at) for the entire family. Take a peek at the Little Dragon Costume that C will be sporting this year:

Costume Discounters

This costume is every bit as adorable in person as it is online and, believe me, it’s pretty cute. What I love the most about it, from a purely logistical standpoint, is that it comes in just two pieces: the main costume and the wings that attach to the back. There is little worse than trying to assemble multiple aspects of one outfit on a two year old. Having one piece that gently slips over her head is a much more feasible choice for parents who plan to be on the go this Halloween season (yes, it is a season: don’t judge). The wings attach, using three pieces of velcro, to the shoulders on the back of the costume. The material is soft and comfortable against the skin and it’s not too heavy so it’s something my child can wear freely as we walk up and down the streets of our neighborhood on Halloween night. Best of all?! C LOVES it. 

Little Dragon Toddler Costume

When I’m saying that she loves it, I mean…she absolutely loves it. So much so that she cried when I took it off of her. It was a sad moment. But I look forward to the happy moment when she, once again, gets to wear it. Given the fact that this item is sleeveless, I will plan to pair it with a solid color long sleeved top and some tights on Halloween night but this will serve as an excellent addition, that she can wear as is, to her dress up clothes once the holiday is over. With any article of clothing, I encourage you to pay attention to sizing before you order. C is ~35″ tall and ~29 pounds and she is wearing at XS costume (which is intended to fit a 3T-4T for toddlers). I’m certain that the XXS would have worked as well but might have been a bit shorter than we would have liked. The vibrant colors, ease of the fabric, and the fun nature of the costume itself will be a hit at our festivities and I can’t wait to show her off in it.

Little Dragon Costume

As you venture out (or online) for your Halloween needs, take a few minutes to check out Costume Discounters. Right now they’re offering a 20% discount on orders of $20 or more (use the code Fun20) and free shipping on all orders over $60. You can find them online (http://www.costumediscounters.com/), on Facebook, and on Twitter. Drop them a line on their social media pages and be sure to tell them that It’s An Ordinary Blog sent you!

Toddler Halloween Costumes

Costume Discounters sent me a Little Dragon Toddler Costume for free in exchange for my review. I am under no obligation to write a positive review and my expressed opinions are uniquely my own. As always, please feel free to reach out to me anytime with questions: ItsAnOrdinaryBlog@gmail.com. 

Costume Discounters

Mad About It Monday: The Label Makers

Mad About It Monday- Copyright It's An Ordinary BlogWelcome to Mad About It Monday

…because passive aggressive Facebook posts were so yesterday…

Happy Monday, Everyone! If you’ve been following along for a while, you know that I usually take some time each Monday to discuss something that’s been bothering me (either seriously or sarcastically). If you’re new here, you can find some of my old posts here:

Today I want to talk about something that’s been bothering me for years: Labels.

Generalizations | Labels | Stereotypes 

Some labels are okay; like the one that tells you that your favorite beverage contains “100% Juice” or the one that helps you better understand how to care for that 97% cotton, 3% spandex article of clothing. Those labels are great. They’re beneficial and they’re necessary. Nutrition and product labels are the only ones that matter. Society could stand to do without the rest of them, don’t you think?! I’ve talked before about that feeling of never being good enough (Never Enough) but labels are something that other people give us that are beyond our control.

Muslims Are Terrorists | Overweight People Are Lazy | People With Disabilities Aren’t Intelligent

I think one of the most dangerous things about labeling a person is that it is a shortcut.  It creates a false sense of understanding, without having to put in the requisite time and effort to truly comprehend the nature of that which is being labeled, be it an individual, organization, or an entire society.  Labeling something suggests that it can be defined by that one thing, but nothing is ever so black and white.  People are complicated, as are countries, religions, and anything else that one may be tempted to define in a bumper sticker sized sentence.  True understanding requires that we first recognize and then cast aside our preconceived notions.

Last night I listened to a TED talk that summed my feelings towards religion and doubt more eloquently than I ever could.  Though the speaker did not specifically talk about labeling people, I think the need to cast doubt upon our own understanding can be applied to our understanding of individuals as well as the broader subject of religion and faith.  Belief without introspective questioning and doubt is shallow and incomplete.  It is the same kind of intellectual dishonesty as labeling an individual.  Both are the easy path, but the easy path is usually not the best one.

I encourage you all to not take the easy path.  Don’t label someone, because you would not want to be labeled.  You are not that easily defined and neither is anyone else.

You may not be able to prevent others from labeling you but you can set the example by not labeling others. 

When you have the chance, take the time to watch Lesley Hazleton’s TED Talk. I promise, it’ll inspire you.

My friend and new blogger Aimee over at Here Comes Baby B asked me if I was going to offer a link up this week. So I said, “Sure, why not?!” If you’re interested in sharing your own “Mad About It Monday” post, you can do so here:

Why, Yes. We Did Have An Arrested Development Watch Party!

arrested-development-season-4-poster-2

Every once in a while you come across a television show or movie that is absolutely up your alley. For me, that is Arrested Development. So you can imagine how excited I was when I found out that Netflix planned to release the long anticipated fourth season this Spring. We knew, as soon as the official announcement was made, that we were going to host a watch party. Why?! Why not?!

Arrested Development Watch Party

Together with a few good friends, we plowed through the first eight or so episodes of season 4 and are planning to finish the marathon over the weekend. Who needs sleep, right?!  In preparation, I attempted to make frozen bananas (.10 cents gets you nuts). I was out of wax paper. “No big deal,” I said to myself, “I’ll just put them on a plate, right?!” Wrong. In case you’re as much of an idiot as I am (let’s hope you’re not) learn from my mistake: Chocolate covered anything will not easily come off of a plate. By “not easily” I mean not at all. I found myself saying, “I’ve made a huge mistake.” I threw in some Pop Secret and a few other snacks and we were good to go.

If there’s ever an Arrested Development movie that’s released…we’re going to do something extra special in its honor.

Arrested Development Watch Party

I’m curious…what’s your favorite show?!

Arrested Development Hey Brother

What?! Another Movie Review, You Say?! “Now You See Me”

“Now You See Me”

MPAA Rating: PG-13 (for Language, Some Action, and Sexual Content)

Cast: Jesse Eisenberg, Mark Ruffalo, Woody Harrelson, Melanie Laurent, Dave Franco, Isla Fisher, Morgan Freeman, Michael Caine

Running Time: 115 Minutes

Release Date: May 31, 2013

I must begin this review with a confession: I love magic. When my husband and I talk about vacationing in Vegas one day, we don’t talk about drinking or gambling or any other form of Vegas debauchery, we talk about going to see Penn & Teller. I consider myself to be a very analytical person, and trying to figure out how a good magician pulls off a particularly clever illusion is an enjoyable challenge for me.

So it’s fair to say that “Now You See Me” is right up my alley, and it did not disappoint. The movie begins with four different magicians demonstrating their particular talents while being recruited by a mysterious person in a blue hoodie. They unite to become the Four Horsemen, and in their first show rob a bank in the middle of their act and distribute the stolen money to the audience.  On the case are skeptical FBI agent Dylan Rhodes (Mark Ruffalo), Interpol agent Alma Vargas (Melanie Laurent, from “Inglorious Bastards”) and Thaddeus Bradley (Morgan Freeman).  Thaddeus is a former magician turned professional illusion buster who makes a living exposing the secrets of famous magicians.

The robbery, however, is only the beginning. As the Four Horsemen continue towards their grand finale, the FBI and the audience are left trying to figure out what they are building towards, and who is pulling the strings behind the scenes.

Like and good magical illusion, “Now You See Me” takes you on an adventure with so many twists and turns that it’s hard to keep up, but you’ll have fun trying. It’s entertaining, captivating and enjoyable with an ending that you’ll never see coming. It features compelling and charismatic performances by a strong cast, and holds your undivided attention all the way through. Though the special effects are occasionally distracting, and remind you that you are being fooled by computers instead of real people, the sense of wonder and awe that draws people to magic is definitely there.

On a scale of 1 to 10 with 1 being the worst, 5 being the best, and 10 being the worst again, I give it a 4 and an emoticon based sub ranking of, “Excited Winking Face”.

Hey, Look! It’s a Movie Review! “After Earth”

After Earth

MPAA Rating: PG-13 for sci-fi action violence and some disturbing images.

Cast: Jaden Smith, Will Smith, Sophie Okonedo

Running Time: 100 Minutes

Release Date: May 31, 2013

Potential viewers, take heed: After Earth is most definitely not a 1990’s Will Smith sci-fi movie. Cypher, as portrayed by Will Smith, is not the alien punching, cigar munching, one-liner spouting Will Smith that we all know and love.  Well, maybe he used to be, but now he’s retiring to become a better dad.

In the world of After Earth, what was once humanity’s home planet has been abandoned due to irreparable human-inflicted damage. In the meantime, the creatures remaining on Earth have evolved into fear-smelling human killing machines.

The only way to protect one’s self is to become devoid of fear, and thus be absent of the fear-induced pheromones that draw the creatures’ attention. Cypher is good at “ghosting” his fear. So good, in fact, that he is the Prime Commander of the Interplanetary Authority that deemed Earth uninhabitable. His son Kitai (as portrayed by Smith’s real life son, Jaden) is not so good. He flunked out of Not Being Afraid of Stuff school (not its actual name) and, along with everything else he fears, is afraid of being seen as failure in the eyes of his father. In an effort to bond, Cypher plans to bring his son on one last, nice and easy mission.

Obviously, predictably, and inevitably, they crash on Earth and have to face great peril in order to survive. The only problem is there’s not that much peril.  For a movie where the main characters are stuck on an entire planet that is out to get them, there is a surprising lack of action and excitement.

What there is, in abundance, is father and son bonding, and that is where this movie succeeds.  Over the course of the film we see both father and son trying to protect the other and each of them grows in the process.  The movie does not succeed as a thrilling sci-fi adventure as it portrays itself in its trailers.

Also of concern is the philosophy of fear being a choice that should simply not be chosen.  In the world of After Earth, fear is what gets you killed.  In the real world, it is just the opposite.  Healthy and rational fear prevents people from making stupid choices and putting themselves in dangerous situations.  Obviously one does not want to be paralyzed by fear, but it should be something that is acknowledged and overcome rather than totally suppressed.

After Earth is a surprisingly heartwarming father-son story about a boy learning to be a young man, and a general learning to be a father.  Those going in with that expectation will be pleased, but those looking for action will find that it missed the mark.

On a scale of 1 to 10 with 1 being the worst, 5 being the best and 10 being the worst again, I give it an 8 and an emoticon based sub ranking of, “Confused Face”.