Over The Hedge (2006)

Cover image for Over the hedgeDVD – What happens when an urban animal family hibernates for the winter in a big log surrounded by their lush and well-stocked forest, then wakes up to find this huge green monstrosity running down the middle of the forest as far as the eye can see? Pure panic ensues when they need to figure out what this thing is, why is it there, and how will they gather food because their forest has largely been torn down. Enter RJ the raccoon. He owes a big black bear a huge cart of human food and thinks he can get a gang to help him steal it all from the inhabitants of the new subdivision. Will they help him, will he make the deadline, will he learn and grow to know what it means to be part of a family?

I absolutely love Over The Hedge. Although it is animated (hello young ones!), there is plenty of adult humor throughout to make it entertaining for all. The animation, graphics, and insight of the natural behaviors of the animals is spot on. A superb cast of actors lend their voices to the film. Wanda Sykes as a skunk? This alone should make you want to watch this!

Spare Parts: Four Undocumented Teenagers, One Ugly Robot, and the Battle for the American Dream by Jashua Davis

Book – Joshua Davis’ Spare Parts, expands on his 2005 WIRED article “La Vida Robot” to delve deeper into the lives of four undocumented immigrants whose ingenuity led them to a surprising victory at the prestigious MATE 2004 robotics competition. These four young bright students, Lorenzo Santillan, Oscar Vazquez, Cristian Arcega, and Luis Aranda found acceptance and encouragement from two dedicated teachers, Allan Cameron and Fredi Lajvardi.

Davis does an excellent job describing how the boys assemble their underwater robot “Stinky” out of spare parts, junk, humble in all respects, in the middle of a desert and without access to a pool. He also describes the daily struggles in the lives of the teens, how they lived in constant fear of violence and deportation. The book’s bittersweet ending shows the reality of being a bright yet undocumented student. Despite these young men’s incredible potential, their future is stagnated in poverty as their undocumented status bars them from access to engineering programs, academic funding and military service. However you might feel about the current political discussion on immigration you can’t deny that these young men, and others like them, can teach us something worthwhile about resilience and the American dream.

The film Spare Parts, is based on award winning Carl Hayden robotics team, stars George Lopez and Jaime Lee Curtis. The film isn’t bad, it’s great in fact. My only issues are the predictable, feel-good happy ending, that George Lopez’s character is an amalgamation of Allan Cameron and Fredi Lajvardi and that the more poignant events following the boys’ success at the robotics competition covered in Davis’ book, is ignored.

Spare Parts is available on OverDrive for digital download on Kindle and other electronic devices.

Because Internet: Understanding the New Rules of Language by Gretchen McCulloch

Book – There are two kinds of language: the formal, official language of grammar guides and English classes, and the way people actually write and talk and communicate. And what better way to see that than on the Internet, where billions of people write everything from formal blog posts to casual tweets to friends on a daily basis? Of course, writing isn’t speaking, which is why Internet users have developed things like the ~sarcastic tilde~ emphasis or the convention that typing in ALL CAPS is the equivalent of SHOUTING (I genuinely couldn’t bring myself to put more than a couple of words together in all caps; it feels so rude).

Gretchen McCulloch is a linguist who studies these things, everything from the differences in Twitter styles between different demographics to the grammatical structure of memes (it’s more rigid than you might think). I first heard of her when she was the Resident Linguist of the now-defunct website The Toast, but her work circulates in Internet circles on a regular basis. Her book is just as funny, insightful, and fascinating as her blog posts and podcast episodes. Anyone who’s interested in language and the way people adapt it to their needs will find Because Internet fascinating; anyone who’s ever sneered at chatspeak or Internet slang may find themselves a little more sympathetic after reading this book.

Bad Times at the El Royale (2018)

Movie – If you like movies that are weird, but in a good way, and reminiscent of Pulp Fiction, then you will enjoy Bad Times at the El Royale. Set in 1969 near Lake Tahoe, the El Royale motor lodge used to be grand in its day. Unique that it is on the border of California and Nevada, the once austere lobby of the hotel has a line going down its center separating the two states. Something very bad happened there a decade ago and the seven strangers that randomly gather will be affected by those events.

A vacuum cleaner salesman, a Catholic priest, a Motown singer, and a hippie chick enter the lobby that appears to be deserted. After banging on an office door Miles, who is the manager and lone employee, emerges and assigns rooms based on the guest preferences – if they want to be in California or Nevada. (California rooms cost a little more.) When the priest requests a room, the hotel manager tries to discourage him by saying, “Father, this is no place for a priest.” Regardless, Father Daniel Flynn needs a place to spend the night. We already have a feeling that there is something sinister and creepy. As each guest begins settling into their room we begin learning their secrets and there is plenty of mystery. So far, I mentioned five characters. Who are the other two? You will have to find out for yourself. The film is very atmospheric and you feel like you have been transported back to the late ‘60s. There is also lots of great music from that era, including some Motown tunes which are belted out by the singer. This is a hard boiled thriller with lots of twists and turns. The storyline and stellar cast make for a fun viewing experience.

I also really enjoyed music, so I was very pleased that Hoopla has a soundtrack from the film.