Friday, May 31, 2013

Fall Colors at Hobby Lobby!

Just as you can always count on Hallmark to be among the first to roll out the red carpet for the return of Santa Claus, Hobby Lobby is seemingly always ready to start raking fall leaves and bust out Halloween decorations.

The photo to your left was taken three days ago, a clear indication that Fall Colors are ready to start invading the wide world of retail in just a few short weeks.

I felt right at home standing among these scattered pumpkins and amber orange ornaments. Everything was placed so carefully on the shelf. So new and so fresh. Waiting for someone to make the first purchase of the 2013 Halloween Season.

Perhaps it would be fitting if that person was me. And I really wanted to buy something. I looked. Studied. And otherwise lounged around in this half filled isle for at least ten minutes. Lots of things jumped out at me. Like those white pumpkins towards the middle of the photo. I can think of a million and one different uses for those but not at $25 a piece.

That is the biggest downfall to early Halloween shopping. Prices are inflated to roughly three or four times what they are actually worth. Especially at Hobby Lobby, which is notorious for overcharging on items like this.

I desperately wanted to but could not in good faith buy anything... but I love the fact that I can visit this store from now until the end of October and have this little slice of the fall season ready and waiting for the season to come.

Thursday, May 30, 2013

Reviewing Hallmark's 2013 Keepsake Dreambook!

Click for Larger Image!
In the grand hunt for Christmas it seems almost unfair to include Hallmark in the same category as all the other retail stores. When we complain about Wal-Mart setting up a few rogue Christmas Trees in the middle of October, it's typically because we've all forgotten that Hallmark has secretly been preparing for Santa's Arrival since May 4th.

Forgotten or just simply not aware of how soon Hallmark gets the holiday ball rolling. Personally, I am going with the latter of the two options. I feel like nobody really shops at Hallmark this early in the year. Not unless you are eighty or are birthday shopping for someone whose eighty years old.  And during either scenario you probably don't take the time to really stop and look around the store.

You should. You really, really should. Not only can you find tucked away artifacts from the previous seasons holiday festivities but the coming Christmas Season always starts right here and it starts in the form of the 2013 Keepsake Dreambook!

But before we dive deep into the pages of the 2013 Dreambook, I wanted to take a brief minute to elaborate on a few of the items that I picked up that were clearly leftover from last season, which you can see in the photo up above.

Christmas Tree Scented Candles will go great with a cup of hot chocolate and a few holiday tunes and this big Pumpkin Spice candle is sure to help bring about the illusion of cool fall weather on those long, hot summer nights. And believe it or not this wasn't even everything that they had. A few sporadic ornaments still decorated the store along with a couple other odds and ends that just screamed of the holiday season.

Click for Larger Image!
The star of this show, however is the 2013 Keepsake Dreambook and if you are like me and simply cannot wait for the coming Christmas Season than this book is exactly what you've been waiting for.

The Dreambook is a fairly hefty catalog, filled to the brim with 87 pages of just about every kind of ornament you can think of. Licensed items, sports stars, vintage decorations, religious items, it's all here.

And like anything else it's all subjective to the readers personal taste. I picked out a just a few of my personal favorite items from the book. Mileage may very from person to person, but I think you'll all be able to appreciate what I've chosen to write about.

Click for Larger Image!
My love for all things Charlie Brown related instantly drew my attention to this page of ornaments themed around 'A Charlie Brown Christmas'. All of them were pretty cool in there own rights but my pick for 'best in show' has to be this Pigpen ornament.

Pigpen is such a great character. I've always enjoyed the way he has this permanent cloud of shit that just sort falls off him all the time. Perhaps because I feel like everyone went to school with that kid. The one really dirty kid who always sort of smelled like manure and everyone avoided. That's Pigpen. Not outright described like that, because hey it's a children's cartoon but that's the subtext going on here.

I'm rambling. I know. I love the ornament... especially the lines of dirt that have been carved into the snowman. Details. Someone should probably call DHS on Pigpen's parents.

Click for Larger Image!
Out of all the National Lampoon 'Vacation' films my personal favorite will always be the Christmas flick. It's just classic in every sense of the word and would probably be the obvious choice to turn into different themed ornaments. Which is why it shouldn't be all that surprising that Google has pages upon pages of different Christmas Vacation Ornaments that you could deck your tree out with.

And once you've got your fill of Christmas Vacation ornaments you can move onto this replica car from the first film, which is just a button press away from playing a sample of  "Holiday Road" for your musical enjoyment.

I love this car! While I wish it was themed around the holiday film instead of the first movie I fully understand that they've probably tapped the 'Christmas Vacation' well dry by this point. In the end its still a really strong ornament and probably my favorite of all the ones you'll see in this article today.

Click for Larger Image!
I never shopped at Hallmark until a few years ago when I first found the 'Nightmare Before Christmas' themed ornaments for sale. From that point on I was hooked. And I've bought the new 'Nightmare' decorations every year since.

This year it looks like we are getting Jack ridding in his creepy alternative to Santa's Sleigh (or in this case would it be Santa's Slay?). Being a big enough fan of the film it doesn't really matter what stupid scene they base these ornaments around, I'll buy them regardless.

Hallmark knows this. That is why in some off years we get Jack dressed as a snowman. Those are the off years. This one I don't think is quite an off year, however. I really do like Jack's Sleigh o' Scares and look forward to picking it up when the time is right!

Click for Larger Image!
Towards the very back of the book lurks one page dedicated to Halloween Themed Christmas Decorations and never have I been any happier than when I found them. Even though I spend a lot of time writing about Christmas over the course of the year (mostly because the holiday seems to never truly go dormant anymore) I can tell you that my true passion is Halloween.

It's the holiday that I put the most time and effort working towards. The one I can relate with the most and also the hardest to find out of season. Halloween is strictly a September through October kind of affair. I love seeing this little glimpse here in May!
I always set out a secondary, smaller Christmas Tree each year with a Halloween theme. Complete with purple and orange lights and a few spooky ornaments I've picked up over the years. Having something new to add to my Halloween Tree is definitely something I'm looking forward to later on this year.

And as we gear up and dive into the Summer Season I really do quite enjoy secretly making preparations for the coming Halloween and Christmas holidays! If you get a chance be sure to stop into Hallmark and take a look around for yourself. Perhaps you'll be able to leave with a few leftovers from last season like I have. At the very least, you'll be able to thumb through this catalog and start make preparations for the most wonderful time of the year. =)

Friday, May 17, 2013

Mountain Dew: Kickstart!

As the days get longer and the temperatures start to rise this can only mean one thing, the 2013 Summer Season has arrived! And despite the unseasonably late snow storm from a few days ago, I am very much ready for things to spice up around here.

I like a lot of the little nuances that happen during the summer months. Specifically the strange phenomenon known as the Limited Edition Soda. All kinds of weird offshoot flavors tend to spring up this time of year and most of them are long forgotten by years end.

Mountain Dew AM
Click for Larger Image!
As a soda collector, I like to procure every possible variation of these limited edition beverages. 2013 hasn't shown anything spectacular quite yet, but it's still early in the year and I'm sure there will be plenty of sights to see.

Mountain Dew: Kickstart isn't exactly a Limited Edition Soda so much as it is a slightly bizarre idea from Pepsi that seems destined to end up being available only for a short time.

For those who don't follow soda company trends, you might not realize it but the sale of carbonated beverages is on the decline. Turns out people started to realize that drinking gallons of the sweet stuff daily might not be the wisest of health choices.

In order to make up for this lost market share a lot of companies are either trying to promote "healthier" (if such a thing exists) and lower calorie alternatives to our favorite drinks. This is where the Dr. Pepper 10 and Coke Zero's of the world come from.

Along with these low calorie beverages, Pepsi is also attempting to crack into previously untapped markets. Namely the breakfast / coffee drinking crowd. Taco Bell currently offers 'Mountain Dew AM' as part of its breakfast menu but for those of us who don't like diarrhea before noon time, Mountain Dew: Kickstart waits in hopes of waking us up each morning.

Kickstart is currently available in two different flavors, Orange Citrus and Fruit Punch. Sold in 16 fl oz metal cans, they differentiate themselves from either traditional soda cans or the larger plastic bottles and the bright color scheme help them to stand out from the sea of energy drinks they are competing against.

The price? I don't exactly remember. Let's go with $1.99... that sounds reasonable right? The important thing here is clearly the taste and this my friends is were I find the biggest fault with Kickstart.

Mountain Dew AM
Click for Larger Image!
I cannot help to shake the feeling that Orange Citrus and Fruit Punch are basically just diet versions of Mountain Dew Livewire and Code Red, the readily available alternative versions of Dew that have been on shelves for years now.

Both flavors are largely forgettable. To the point that its honestly hard to describe them. One tastes exactly like every orange soda you've ever had and the other is Hawaiian Punch in a metal can.

Am I being overly critical on Mountain Dew: Kickstart? Perhaps. I just find the flavors of both drinks to be so underwhelming that neither of them really feel worth the effort. I guess I'm also still slightly confused about who exactly these are made for.

If its an attempt to grab hold of the early morning market, it's not going to succeed. The folks who are addicted to coffee are addicted for a reason and no amount of Mountain Dew is going to convert them over.

Likewise, us Dew-Addicts don't mind popping open a can pretty much as soon as we wake up in the morning. So who is this for? It's surely not any healthier than a traditional carbonated beverage, doesn't have a unique taste, and I can't think of any specific time of day that it makes the most sense to drink.

I hate to call Kickstart dead in the water but quite frankly if this stuff is still available by this time next year, you can color me surprised.

Wednesday, May 8, 2013

Iron Man 3 Film Review!

Perhaps the biggest question going into Marvel's Iron Man 3 wasn't whether or not the film was going to be good but instead if audiences would be willing to go back to a film focused on a single hero after seeing the ultimate team up adventure flick, The Avengers.

Turns out so long as your film stars Robert Downey Jr. the answer to this question is a resounding yes. Iron Man 3 is not without flaw but the overall experience is well worth the price of admission. Welcome to phase 2 of Marvel's extended universe.

Click for Larger Image!
Iron Man 3 tells the continued story of billionaire playboy Tony Stark (brought to life once again by the charismatic Robert Downey Jr.) who is now dealing with an inner conflict of sorts, brought on by the years he's spent portraying Iron Man for the world to see.

The first film famously ended with Tony Stark proclaiming that he is indeed Iron Man. By the time the 3rd film rolls around, Stark clearly isn't so sure anymore. Who is Iron Man? Is it the armor he created or the man living inside it?

Does the suit of armor define Tony Stark or does Tony Stark define the suit of armor. These are the films central questions and by the time it's all said and done you'll know the answers to each.

I applaud the films writers for taking this opportunity to show Tony Stark growing as a character and attempting to make him more dimensional, without going the easy route and telling the 'demon in a bottle' storyline. Iron Man 3 pushes Stark in directions that we haven't quite seen before and it was an enjoyment to see how the character reacted.

Of course nobody wants to watch a movie that deals just with Tony Starks insecurity issues. Enter the Mandarin (Ben Kingsley) and Aldrich Killian (Guy Pearce) as the films main antagonists. Both of whom act as Iron Man's biggest foes to date. And that includes the alien force from The Avengers.

Perhaps the biggest complaint with the second film was that Whiplash seemed to serve only as a minor distraction to Iron Man. Never really posing anything more than a minor threat. Mandarin and Killian dish out punishment in spades and best Stark a number of times, the likes of which we haven't seen up until now.

And they do so in ways that are different from anything else we've seen thus far in a big budget comic book movie. I won't spoil one of the films major plot points but I will say that while hardcore comic book fans might not like the way Mandarin is presented on screen, it fits the films narrative structure and makes sense within the context of the connect universe Marvel has worked so hard to create.

As for Ben Kingsley, he is absolutely brilliant as this version of the Mandarin. Kingsley is such a strong actor and he brings Mandarin to life in a way that we've never seen before. This is not just simply Bane stuck into an Iron Man film. It's a full fledged character. Written for and adapted to the big screen specifically for Iron Man 3.

Guy Pearce is no slouch either, making Aldrich Killian one of the more interesting characters to be presented on a Marvel screen. I loved Killian and the evolution that he goes through. Ultimately ending the picture as a sort of badass, uber version of the T-1000 from Terminator 2.

Tony Stark (the character) needed someone who could challenge him not only physically but mentally. Aldrich Killian is able to pull this off and almost succeed in doing so. Clearly this is the farthest we have seen Iron Man pushed and exactly what the film needed to live up to the high standards set forth by The Avengers.

The rest of the films (main) cast is rounded off by the returning Gwyneth Paltrow as Pepper Potts,  Don Cheadle as War Machine/Iron Patriot and Jon Favreau as Happy Hogan.

It's nice to see all of these actors return to the franchise and by this time in the series each of them knows the different nuances to there respective characters. It allows for some very nice comedy beats and very organic exchanges between them.

My only complaint here is that once again it feels like Don Cheadle gets short changed. Despite the fact that War Machines armor has been "re-branded" to a new Iron Patriot look, Cheadle doesn't really do a whole heck of a lot throughout the course of the film. Why even bother putting him in the movie if your not going to use the character?

I expected much bigger scenes involving War Machine this time around and ended up leaving more than a little disappointed with how this character was handled. As for the Iron Patriot rebranding of War Machine, it's another one of those instances that works really well within the context of the film, despite being entirely different than the source material.

Click for Larger Image!
In the comics Iron Patriot is a completely separate character from War Machine. Controlled by none other than Norman Osborn and created out of scraps from a bunch of older discarded Iron Man suits. Osborn ultimately would go on to paint his new armor with a patriotic scheme meant to call upon the memories of Captain America.

This was never going to happen in any Marvel movie. For a number of different reasons, but chief among them being the fact that the cinematic rights to the Spider-Man franchise currently being owned by Sony Pictures.

Marvel couldn't include Norman Osborn in an Iron Man film even if they wanted to (which they probably don't) ... but they are free to use the Iron Patriot likeness all they want. Consider it an awesome piece of fan service but try not to concentrate so heavily on the characters origins and instead stop and think about how it fits into the Marvel Universe, as established by the films that came before it.

Which to be perfectly fair, the same thing can be said for the Mandarin character in Iron Man 3.

Speaking of the expanded Marvel Film Universe, Iron Man 3 does a pretty good job of fitting in with everything that came before it without overloading the audience with information pertaining to the prior films.

You can go into Iron Man 3 without having see a single Marvel film and still walk away enjoying the final product. Obviously the more you know the better but it doesn't beat you over the head with details that happened in the five films prior to this one.

Which isn't to say it is ignoring the events of what happened before it. You can very clearly ready between the lines and see how The Avengers has shaped not only Tony Stark but the world around him.

It is important to remember that Thor's arrival in the Marvel Universe is a literal game changer. Here is someone who perceives himself as a literal god from another world, that has descended into ours. This alters everything. As you watch the film, keep this in mind and I think you'll gain a better understanding of how deep Mandarin's character really is, and quite frankly central to Iron Man 3.

Overall the film delivers on all fronts. You'll run into a select few scorn fans who seem to think this is the worst Marvel film ever made (clearly they don't remember Ang Lee's Hulk) but don't listen to them. Iron Man 3 delivers by all accounts.

4 1/2 out of 5

Thursday, May 2, 2013

... and on the 236th day it snowed!

Click for Larger Image!
Do you know the significance of the number 236? It's the exact number of days, as of Thursday, May 2nd 2013 that we have left until Christmas. Under normal circumstances I wouldn't bring up the Christmas Countdown Clock with so many days left to check off. However today is not normal circumstances. Today it snowed.

I'm not just talking about your run of the mill late night snow that doesn't amount to anything. We got roughly six inches of snowfall. The thick kind. The heavy kind. The kind that cancels school and plugs up roadways. In a perfect world this is what everyone secretly hopes for in the first few weeks of December.

Only it's not December. It's May. Just last week it was hot enough that I had to put a fan in the window. Today I had to bust back out my winter jacket as I plowed through six inches of fresh snow.

And then something strange happened. I was venturing about, enjoying my day off from work and snapping a few photos of this unique May snowstorm when I was hit with the sudden urge to make a trip to one specific store.

Click for Larger Image!
Believe it or not... I somehow knew that something holiday related was waiting for me inside. I went. I searched. Up and down every isle, looking carefully at each product on the shelf until I finally found it. RENUZIT HOLIDAY AIR FRESHENER. The holiday cookie kind. Just sitting out on the front of the shelf, waiting for me to purchase it.

I found it at one of the local grocery stores. One that I frequent quite often. I've been their dozens of times since Christmas ended and trust me this air freshener hasn't been out on the shelf. Had it been I would have bought it months ago.

Yet here it is. And here the snow is. This has to be the greatest 236th day until Christmas that anyone has ever celebrated. Everyone else is bitching about the unseasonably cold and snowy weather and I'm just sitting here loving every minute of it.

I think I'll make a cup of hot chocolate and watch Charlie Brown pick out a really horrible Christmas tree tonight.