Battlestar Galactica, Season 1 Review



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Review:

I heard rave reviews of the 2004 Battlestar Galactica reboot for a couple years before I actually sat down to watch it. This was partially because I was confused about where to start, so just in case somebody else has the same question: you start with the miniseries. The miniseries is included with the season one box set, so you don’t need to buy/rent it separately (although that is an option).

Once I finally sat down to get started, I was quickly captivated. In fact, I think the miniseries and first couple seasons of Battlestar Galactica are some of the best science fiction ever committed to screen. The storyline focuses on the captain (Edward James Olmos) of an outdated starship that is about to be decommissioned and turned into a museum. Shortly before the ceremony is scheduled to take place, the ship’s crew receives word that human civilization is under attack by their former robot slaves, the Cylons, who have attained sentience and turned on their former masters. The massive attack is carried out so swiftly and comprehensively that within hours, the human race is reduced to just 50,000 survivors.

Battlestar Galactica never struggled to find its footing, as some shows do early on. The writing in the miniseries and first season is solid throughout, the special effects are excellent, and the large ensemble cast, led by Olmos and Mary McDonnell, is outstanding. Like many great sci-fi series, the show grappled thoughtfully with serious real world religious, philosophical, and ethical quandaries, even as its characters wandered alien star systems in search of a legendary planet called Earth where they hope to find safety. At the same time, it held the interest of less philosophically inclined viewers with gripping storylines and plenty of space battles.

For me, one of the main strengths of Battlestar Galactica is its characterization. I thought the writers did a great job juggling the many different arcs and storylines and making each one both individually and collectively interesting and appealing. I quickly grew to care about nearly all the characters and even though I became increasingly unhappy with the direction some of the character’s arcs took in later seasons, I never lost my fundamental investment in the characters and their fates. This turned out to be both good and bad in the end, as I’ll discuss in my reviews of the later seasons, but it was unequivocally a good thing in the miniseries and season one.

Not going to lie: eye candy is an additional bonus of the show. I started watching the miniseries one evening without my husband. He passed by the tv at one point and practically got whiplash from Number Six, who is played by Tricia Helfer, a rare model-turned-actress who can actually act. (Grace Park, who played Number Eight, also got her start as a model.) For the ladies, you have Jamie Bamber (though the infamous towel slip is in season two), Tahmoh Penikett, and others.

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My rating: (4 / 5)

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Lagaan: Once Upon a Time in India Movie Review



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Review:

I’ve seen a few Westernized Indian movies, like Bride and Prejudice and Monsoon Wedding, but Lagaan was my first experience with a real Bollywood film. I think it was a pretty lucky first choice.

The main plot of Lagaan revolves around a poor farming village in 19th century India, which is stricken by a horrific drought and unable to pay the taxes (lagaan) it owes to the British Raj. The hero, Bhuvan (Aamir Khan), makes a bet with the arrogant and cruel officer in charge of collecting the tax that if the villagers can beat the British in a game of cricket, their debt will be forgiven. But if they lose, their tax will be increased by three times.

What follows is good old-fashioned, feel-good fun. Although I’m not much of a sports fan and know almost nothing about cricket, I found it easy to get swept up in the film’s story, and it rarely lagged despite clocking in at nearly 4 hours of running time.

You always hear about Bollywood’s fantastic music and dance numbers, and several of the dances in Lagaan blew me away with how good they were. My favorite was Radha Kaise Na Jale:

Since there’s no subtitles in this copy of the clip, here’s what’s going on: Gauri (Gracy Singh) is in love with Bhuvan but fears he is falling in love with a British woman who has taken pity on the villagers and is coaching them at cricket. During a religious celebration in their village, Bhuvan and Gauri re-enact a ceremonial dance for the villagers (and the British woman) about a goddess (Radha) jealous of her flirtatious lover (Krishna), while Krishna tries to reassure her that his heart belongs only to her. Of course, there’s a double meaning in every line and gesture.

Great film! I highly recommend it.

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My rating: (4 / 5)

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Rome: The Complete Series Review



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Review:

HBO’s Rome has been on my to-watch list for years, and I finally watched it, so I can now officially add my voice the the chorus declaring it a crying shame that the show was cancelled after just two seasons, rather than the intended five. At least they had enough warning to wrap up the storyline in a coherent and relatively satisfying way, but the second season felt rushed as a result of trying to squeeze everything in before the end. Fortunately, despite its premature cancellation, the quality of the acting and the production values remained outstanding throughout.

In particular, I thought both writers and actors did a great job making ancient Rome, ancient Egypt, and their inhabitants both clearly alien to the modern Western audience, yet also sympathetic and relatable. One of the things that especially stood out to me was how brave the Roman characters were in the face of death. Rome has a considerable number of both actual suicides and people preparing for the possibility that they might have to commit suicide (for “honor” or to save themselves from a worse fate), and pretty much every single one is conducted with calm and stoic determination. As were most of the assassinations.

The historical accuracy was mixed at best, and I thought that some of the writers’ choices about when to stick to historical fact and when to switch things up were more successful than others. On the side of the good choices, I especially enjoyed Atia, Octavia, and Servilia, who were all substantially more entertaining than their reportedly pious and matronly real-life counterparts. Most of the changes made to their stories were so fun I didn’t care about the inaccuracies. In fact, Atia of the Julii is one of my new favorite female characters ever. Horrible human being, but so entertaining! Kudos to the writers and Polly Walker for bringing her to such vivid life!

One of my favorite Atia moments

One of my favorite Atia moments

On the other hand, Lucius Vorenus and Titus Pullo had a much more mixed bag. I loved most of their interactions with the historical characters, and of course their interactions with each other (I’m always a sucker for a good bromance), but with the exception of Vorenus and Niobe’s complicated relationship in season one, most of their other non-historical relationships and storylines were kind of a mess. I didn’t like Pullo’s storylines with Eirene or Gaia at all, and the whole thing with Lucius Vorenus running the Aventine as a sort of ancient Roman mob boss also failed to hold a candle to anything he did with Caesar, Antony, or Octavian.

Another non-historical storyline I didn’t like was the incest. Though it was a minor plotline, it disproportionately annoyed me. I don’t have a problem with incest storylines per se, but they have to be justified very carefully for me to suspend disbelief. Incest is a nearly universal taboo, after all. Rome‘s incest seemed to come out of the blue for both characters. It certainly wasn’t as organic to the characters as the incest in The Borgias, which was set up from the very first scene they had together. As a result, it felt more like it was tossed in for shock value than anything else, which, in the context of a show with so much other shocking stuff going on all the time, just seemed cheap.

Overall, I thought that the first season was better than the second, partly because the second season was so rushed, and partly because too much of what little time was left in the second season was taken up by less interesting subplots like Vorenus in the Aventine and Timon the Jew’s fanatic brother. However, when season 2 was good, it was very, very good. The finale was especially spectacular, and a worthy ending to a great series.

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My rating: (4 / 5)

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A Royal Affair Movie Review



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Review:

Winston Churchill once said, “It has been said that democracy is the worst form of government except for all those other forms that have been tried.” A Royal Affair is the sort of movie that reminds you how right he was.

As frustrating as democracy can sometimes be, imagine what it might be like to try and enact any sort of meaningful reform or change in a country ruled by a king who is weak-willed, unstable, and quite possibly insane. Add in entrenched conservative interests such as a powerful Church and aristocracy, and an uneducated and superstitious populace, and you have the unenviable task taken on by Johann Struensee, an ambitious but idealistic commoner who rose to become the de facto regent of Denmark after becoming the personal physician of King Christian VII. Along the way, Struensee also become the lover of Christian’s queen, Caroline Matilda of Great Britain (sister of the hapless King George III, who had his own share of mental problems later in life), which proved the catalyst for his ultimate downfall.

Speaking of helpful reminders, this film is also a pretty good reminder of how much life sucked for the average princess, historically. Caroline is shipped off to a foreign country at the age of 15, her friends and family taken from her, even her beloved books sent back to England due to Denmark’s harsh censorship laws. Married to the aforementioned unstable and possibly insane king, she is all but raped on her wedding night, gives birth at the age of 16, and is left neglected and bored in the palace while he goes off for tours of Europe and wild nights with prostitutes. One can hardly blame her for seeking solace in Struensee’s arms, but the laws of her own time were not so forgiving.

The story of their doomed romance and efforts at reform is beautifully shot, sumptuously costumed (especially given the film’s relatively small budget), and very well acted. Mads Mikkelsen as Struensee and Alicia Vikander as Caroline Matilda have good chemistry together and really make you feel for both characters. I was also impressed by the performance of Mikkel Boe Følsgaard as the unstable but well-meaning Christian. Christian and Struensee’s relationship lacked the UST of Caroline and Struensee’s, but was more complex and ultimately more interesting. It was as sad to watch their friendship fall apart as the more dramatic and involuntary severing of Caroline and Struensee’s relationship.

One minor disappointment – if Wikipedia is to be believed, the real Caroline had a penchant for wearing men’s clothes in public, which scandalized the nation as much as, if not more than, her affair with Streunsee. Although Struensee encourages the film Caroline to ride astride, rather than sidesaddle, there’s no other indication of her cross-dressing habit, which is a pity, really. The real Christian was also notable for affairs with young men, though his most long-lasting and famous extramarital liaison was with a female prostitute.

Despite these and some other emissions and changes, the film overall seems unusually historically accurate for a movie (readers with more extensive knowledge of Danish history are welcome to correct me if this impression is incorrect), yet its accuracy comes without sacrificing good storytelling. Highly recommended.

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My rating: (4 / 5)

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Tangled Movie Review



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Review:

On our wishlist

When it was released, Tangled was the best Disney film in years. Now, of course, we’ve got Frozen heating up the competition for best Disney film of the new millennium, but Tangled was a huge step in the right direction after years of mostly mediocre Disney offerings.

It had an appealing heroine, an exceedingly handsome hero (though Disney has yet to beat Anastasia‘s Dmitri for sheer animated hotness), some good songs, a pair of hilarious animal sidekicks (my daughter liked Maximus so much she wanted us to name her brother after him!), a villain who rivals Frollo in terrifying psychological realism, and some simply gorgeous animation (though I still prefer the classic Disney style to the computer generated stuff). The plot was a fun blend of action-adventure, humor, and pathos as well.

My rating: (4 / 5)

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Lego Duplo My First Train Set (10507)



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Review:

My siblings and I had a big bin of Lego Duplo train tracks when we were growing up and had a lot of fun with them, and they’re still one of my son’s favorite toys when he goes to visit his grandparents.

We decided to start his own collection with this set, which has a battery powered two car train and enough track to create a full circle. Although it doesn’t allow as much scope for creativity and engineering as some of the sets with more track, my son loves it and plays with it daily. He enjoys both setting up the circular track and just letting the train chug freestyle across the floor. Its engine can handle both hard floors and most carpeting, though more uneven surfaces cause it problems.

My rating: (4 / 5)

Lemony Cucumber and Couscous Salad Recipe Review

Ingredients:

  • 1½ to 2 cups Israeli couscous
  • 2 medium cucumbers
  • ¼ bunch parsley
  • 1 medium lemon
  • 2 Tbsp olive oil
  • ¼ tsp garlic powder
  • ¼ tsp salt
  • freshly cracked pepper to taste
  • 3 oz. crumbled feta cheese

For directions, please visit Budget Bytes.

Recipe Notes:

I skip the feta and add some fresh mint in addition to the parsley.

Recipe Review:

Easy to make, with a fresh and refreshing flavor. A perfect summer salad! Goes great with the Greek Marinated Chicken recipe from the same blog.

My rating: (4 / 5)

Greek Marinated Chicken Recipe Review

Ingredients:

  • 1 cup plain yogurt
  • 2 Tbsp olive oil
  • 4 cloves garlic, minced
  • ½ Tbsp dried oregano
  • 1 medium lemon
  • ½ tsp salt
  • freshly cracked pepper
  • ¼ bunch fresh parsley
  • 3½ to 4 lbs chicken pieces

For directions, please visit Budget Bytes.

Recipe Notes:

I dump the marinade into the baking pan with the chicken, which produces a lot of delicious sauce. I recommend cooking some rice on the side to soak all the goodness up. This recipe is also excellent with the Lemony Cucumber and Couscous Salad from the same blog.

Recipe Review:

Easy to make, but super moist and flavorful! Budget Bytes is one of my favorite recipe blogs and great recipes like this are the reason why.

My rating: (4 / 5)

Lego Research Institute (21110)

Review:

lego research institute (21110)

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Lego has a super cool site called Lego Ideas where Lego fans can submit ideas for new sets. The community then votes on the ideas, and the most popular (and feasible) ideas are made into commercial Lego sets, with the original creator receiving a share of the profits.

I’m an occasional voter on the site and one of the ideas that I absolutely loved was a female Lego fan’s proposal to create a set featuring female scientists. It was recently released as Lego Ideas Research Institute (21110)!

Outside of the insanely popular Lego Friends theme (which uses a different style of minifig), women and girls are under-represented in most of Lego’s themes. My daughter has complained about the lack of female minifigs in Lego Castle (her favorite theme, aside from Friends), so this set is great just to get some more female hair and faces that can be mixed and matched with the Castle sets. However, I also love the Research Institute set itself, especially the dinosaur!

You can order the set at Lego.com.

My rating: (4 / 5)

 

Bucky 40 Blinks Ultralight Sleep Mask Review



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Review:

I’ve been trying to take more naps during the day recently thanks to my problems sleeping at night. Unfortunately, I’ve always had problems sleeping when it’s light out, so I decided to experiment with sleep masks to see if they would help. I decided to try the Bucky 40 Blinks Ultralight Sleep Mask because I liked that I could comfortably open my eyes, blink, etc. while wearing it. I don’t wear makeup often enough for it to matter, but it should also reduce smudging and protect lash extensions.

The 40 Blinks Ultralight Sleep Mask does look a little silly – like a bra for your head – but it does a good job of blocking the light and is comfortable to wear. I do suspect the straps might be too thick to be comfortable all night if you sleep on your back (as I do) but I’ve only used it for short naps so far.

My rating: (4 / 5)