4M Crystal Mining Kit



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Review:

An enjoyable one time project for budding young geologists or rock collectors. We had a fun few hours (spread out over several days)  excavating the crystals, which are pretty, colorful, and decent-sized. My daughter now keeps them in the included leather pouch and considers them her “treasures.”

My rating: (3.5 / 5)

Dirty Dancing 2: Havana Nights Movie Review



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Review:

This movie is a bit of a mess, but it scrapes by on the charisma of its two young leads. The plot tries mostly unsuccessfully to combine a fluffy, feel-good story about a girl gaining self-confidence through dance with the more serious backdrop of political and social revolution in Cuba, and relies too heavily on formula with both plots.Additionally, the dialogue is mediocre to outright cringe-inducing.

However, Romola Garai and Diego Luna are charming and manage to sell the partnership and budding romance of their characters. Patrick Swayze also makes a brief but enjoyable appearance as a dance instructor. The dance scenes are enjoyable to watch, although some of the extras have noticeably more skill than Luna and Garai.

My rating: (3.5 / 5)

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Supernatural Season 1 Review



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Review:

Horror isn’t usually my thing, but so many of my friends were falling head over heels for this show, I decided to give it a shot, and found it much more enjoyable than I expected.

Supernatural follows a pair of brothers on a cross country road trip looking for their missing father, stopping to hunt supernatural baddies of various sorts along the way. The monster of the week plots are generally entertaining, but the real draw of the show for me was the first class family drama. Jensen Ackles and Jared Padalecki have great chemistry together as brothers Dean and Sam Winchester. I also enjoyed the show’s soundtrack of classic rock, the focus on small town and rural backroads America (my America) rather than big city locales like New York and LA, and, of course, the eye candy.

My rating: (3.5 / 5)

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Mrs. Doubtfire Movie Review



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Review:

I recently watched this movie for the first time in years after picking it up from the $5 movie bin at Walmart. I have to say it’s not as good a family film as I remembered. There’s quite a bit of (mild) bad language and sexual references.

On the other hand, it is still as funny as I remembered. Robin Williams is absolutely outstanding in the type of role he was born to play. Sally Field, like her much put upon character, has the somewhat more thankless task of playing the straight woman to his madcap hilarity, but she pulls it off well, and the child actors are also great, especially the adorable Mara Wilson.

Bonus: none of the characters seem to bat an eye about the fact that the Robin Williams character has a gay brother in a long-term relationship with his boyfriend.

My rating: (3.5 / 5)

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The Hobbit: The Desolation of Smaug Movie Review



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Review:

A strong second installment to The Hobbit trilogy, despite continued padding.

Smaug instantly took his place among the most spectacular CGI dragons ever committed to film.

My rating: (3.5 / 5)

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The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey Movie Review



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Review:

I wasn’t happy when I heard that Peter Jackson was breaking up The Hobbit into three films. I didn’t think there was enough plot to justify such a decision, and having seen two of the three films, I still don’t. Jackson had to do a lot of padding to fill out the extra hours and the movies do seems overlong and bloated as a result. ETA: If you agree, here’s one attempt to re-cut the films to something closer to the novel: The Hobbit (Tolkien Edit).

On the upside, Jackson keeps the action going enough to maintain interest, so they’re entertaining, if not entirely satisfying, and the casting is excellent, especially Martin Freeman as Bilbo Baggins.

My rating: (3.5 / 5)

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The Lord of the Rings: The Fellowship of the Ring Movie Review

Review:



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Okay, confession time. I’ve never read the books. My dad read The Hobbit out loud to me when I was a kid, but by the time he read The Lord of the Rings to my siblings, I was too busy with schoolwork and only got bits and pieces of it. So my opinion is colored by that.

That caveat in place, what I really, really liked about this movie (and the whole trilogy really) was how successfully Peter Jackson et al were able to bring Middle-earth to life and make you feel as if you were right there with the characters. It’s definitely one of the most immersive fantasy movies I’ve ever seen. In fact, the closest comparable experience I can think of is Game of Thrones, and they have a lot more hours on the air to create such a richly detailed world. (I don’t own the Extended Edition but I’ve seen the special features and highly recommend them for a fascinating look into the behind-the-scenes work that went into creating such a fully realized world on screen.)

The acting and script can be a bit hit or miss. Both are good for the most part, but sometimes take themselves a bit too seriously. Fortunately there’s usually somebody like Merry or Pippen along to lighten the mood and bring things back to earth. The Fellowship of the Ring also suffers a bit from being primarily a set-up for the other two films and it’s my least favorite as a result, but there’s nevertheless much to enjoy.

My rating: (3.5 / 5)

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Star Trek (2009) Movie Review

Review:



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I wouldn’t describe myself as a Trekkie, but I do enjoy Star Trek, and like many fans more dedicated than myself, I have somewhat mixed feelings about this film.

On the one hand, it’s a lot of fun and I thought they did an excellent job with casting. Chris Pine, Zachary Quinto, Zoe Saldana, Karl Urban, and the rest all did a great job bringing a fresh energy to their characters without sacrificing familiarity.

On the other hand, it’s very flashy and pretty to look at without having much underneath. Large chunks of the plot and worldbuilding for the reboot are blatantly, almost insultingly, ridiculous.

In short, it’s a fun movie to curl up with on a rainy afternoon, but I hope in future that the reboot films will be taken over by someone with more respect for the soul of the original Trek. Meanwhile, the best thing about the reboot universe is the top-notch fanfiction it’s inspired.

A couple personal favorites:

Yeah, I like Uhura.

My rating: (3.5 / 5)

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10 Things I Hate About You Movie Review



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Review:

It doesn’t attain the heights of Mean Girls, but this is an unusually smart and highly entertaining teen movie, loosely based on Shakespeare’s The Taming of the Shrew.

My rating: (3.5 / 5)

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Dead Again



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Review:

Murder! Amnesia! Reincarnation! I stumbled on this supernatural thriller entirely by accident in a Blockbuster back in the day and rented it because of the cast, despite the cheesy-sounding plot. It turned out to be surprisingly entertaining and gripping, and not nearly as cheesy as I expected. Recommended.

My rating:  (3.5 / 5)

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