Ghostbusters (2016) – A Movie Review

If you have a chance to make it to the theater to see this, I recommend you do.

I loved the original Ghostbusters.  I still remember sitting in the theater as a little kid, being a little more afraid than I expected, and laughing  at those jokes I actually understood.  (As an adult, I realize now there was quite a bit of humor that went over my head.)

When I heard they were introducing a new cast with some of the funniest ladies in the business, I got really excited.   I mean, who doesn’t want a Ghostbusters with today’s special effects?  And in an era of reboots and reimaginings, I appreciated that they were introducing a completely new element by featuring female leads.  Best of all, yes, these ladies are Ghostbusters, but they are totally independent characters from the original.  There is no legacy here, it’s a fresh start.  Of course, certain elements we love must remain, which they do, but they also followed their own path to a large degree.

I guess I shouldn’t say there is no legacy at all, though.  I won’t spoil anything, but there are cameos galore, and every one of them is satisfying.  (Oh, and stay through the credits.  There’s a certain mention you won’t want to miss, especially if you’re a fan of the original movie.)

In fact, that’s how I would describe this iteration of Ghostbusters.  It’s satisfying.  I laughed through the whole thing, as did my wife.  It didn’t blow us away, but it was a fun date movie with plenty of laughs.   Speaking of laughs, Chris Hemsworth played the dimwitted secretary, and he showed his comedic talent as well.  In fact, no spoilers here, but his role ended up being much bigger than anticipated.

I’ll admit that parts of the movie felt a little disconnected – there were moments it seemed to be a series of comedic skits.  And while they attempted a cohesive story, it never quite achieved connectivity throughout.  But, let’s be honest, I don’t think anyone shot for too much depth with this story line.  Let’s not make it more than it needed to be.

However, it did need to look great, and the special effects were a treat.  The director, Paul Feig, is not an action movie guy, but he actually had far more adventure and effects than I guessed he would.  The proton packs were fantastic, the ghosts looked amazing, and the scale of the movie proved bigger than I expected.

The bottom line is that the ladies are really funny, the special effects are amazing, and the cameos were perfect.  If you’re looking for a fun summer movie to take in with a significant other, Ghostbusters won’t disappoint.

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Blended by Michael B. Horn and Heather Staker – A Book Review

Blended (subtitled Using Disruptive Innovation To Improve Schools) entered my world when a representative from Edmentum recommended to my staff that we read it before going one-to-one.

It’s important I provide some background before reviewing this book.  My workplace, where I teach English, is rolling out a new initiative this August in which every single student will be given a laptop to use both at school and at home.  I’ve been teaching since the year 2000, and I’ve been teaching predominately using traditional textbook methods and using mostly whole group instruction.  One-to-one is an incredibly exciting adventure, and I’m very glad to finally reflect the society in which we live, but I’d be lying if I pretended to have any idea where to start with a classroom fully utilizing laptops.

That’s where Blended has been so incredibly helpful.  This book takes a big picture approach to how to utilize blended learning not only in the classroom, but as a school, as a district, even as a culture.  It offers several different models of technology in the school, and it explains which model is probably best suited to your current situation.  It goes into great detail as to why blended learning is vital to the student, and it especially stressed the importance of most student populations having face-to-face time with teachers.  Any teacher fearful of technology replacing them will feel greatly heartened after reading Blended.  It truly values the importance of professional educators working with children and young adults.

I also appreciated that it explained basic terminology, offered some useful websites to help you get started, and provided several anecdotes in each chapter offering real-world examples to illustrate points being made.

This book proved extremely effective at helping me wrap my head around one-to-one, it taught me several different methods I could employ in my own classroom, and it encouraged a positive attitude about technology in the classroom which will help contribute to a productive culture in my workplace.  Best of all?  It straight out tells you that it will not be an easy process and it will take time to find a comfortable method specific to your school and population, but it also explains how to go into blended learning purposefully and strategically.

Though it gets slightly repetitive near the end, I urge you to read this book if you have any questions about one-to-one or blended learning.  Personally, I would consider Blended required reading for any teacher about to embark upon technology in the classroom.

Wonder Woman – Leaving the Boys Behind

So you heard me gush about the Justice League trailer yesterday, and then I saw something that appears even better – Wonder Woman.  If you haven’t seen the trailer yet, prepare to be impressed …

“Power. Grace. Wisdom. Wonder.” Doesn’t the tag line say it all?  We’ve waited a long time for a Wonder Woman movie, but if this trailer is any indication, it was worth it.  Here are a few reasons why Wonder Woman is now the movie I’m most excited to see …

One detail that people may not realize about Wonder Woman is that her origin and story is heavily infused with Greek mythology.  Her mother is literally Hippolyta, Queen of the Amazons.  Yes, those Amazons.  There are different iterations of Wonder Woman’s creation, but Zeus played a role in them all.  The fact that they name-drop Zeus in the trailer tells me that they are not shying away from this vital, and rich, aspect of Wonder Woman’s character.  And seriously, those magic lasso scenes?  Awesome.  They are going for it!

I am also shocked they are planting her firmly in the middle of World War I.  Batman v Superman certified she hasn’t been seen as Wonder Woman in 100 years, which, by my estimation, means the war scenes in this trailer must be the Great War.  Do you know the courage this takes?  First of all, a comic book movie featuring a female lead has not exactly proven a successful endeavor, but to also make it a period piece?  I love it.  The Wonder Woman team has no fear, and that’s exactly what you need to make a great Wonder Woman movie.

Speaking of no fear, Wonder Woman is one of the most powerful entities on the planet.  She’s a warrior-born, the best of a warrior race.  I love the battle scenes in this trailer because they put that on full display.  She takes on a battalion of enemy soldiers using mortars and machine guns with her sword and shield!  That moment of her climbing the ladder from the trenches … mesmerizing.  You don’t get much cooler than that.

Let’s face it – there’s a lot riding on this movie.  Not only does it need to make money to secure a sequel, to bolster the shared universe they’re trying to build, and to recoup their expenditures, but it also needs to fulfill an incredible void in the super hero cinematic world.  Little girls need more than just Black Widow (who is awesome, of course).  Wonder Woman is an icon on par with Batman and Superman, and little girls need her.  They need a hero with whom they can relate, who can inspire them, who can show them that they don’t need to stand behind or next to the boys — they can take the lead and leave the boys behind!  Compared to the male-dominated movies of the last fifteen years, this will be a breath of fresh air.  And let’s face it — boys could stand to see a tough, self-reliant, intelligent woman on screen who isn’t there merely to serve as a love interest or sex object.

Finally, the majesty.  The cinematography of this movie looks majestic.  Gal Gadot emits a regal aura.  Her costume absolutely looks like the garb of an Amazonian princess.  The colors are rich.  The scenes are epic.

Plainly stated, it looks beautiful and feels full of heart.  “Power.  Grace. Wisdom.  Wonder.”  Absolutely.

 

 

5 Reasons I’m Excited About That Justice League Trailer

Yesterday fans rejoiced as the first sneak peek arrived pertaining to the Justice League movie.  In case you somehow missed it …

 

I’m a 40 year old die-hard DC fan, so you knew I’d love it.  I won’t even pretend to be objective about things.

Here are 5 reasons I’m delirious with excitement …

1.  The Look –  I love that the costumes are all very distinct from each other, yet, when seen together, they mesh perfectly.  It’s so important that Batman’s costume looks plausible next to the Flash’s, and I believe they’ve accomplished this perfectly.  Yes, it’s true that some of the costumes are radical departures from the source material, yet in this new shared DC Universe, they are consistent and cohesive with what’s already been established.  Best of all, they appear as though a comic book has come to life without looking “campy” or overdone.  In fact, other than the Flash, I think all of the costumes are fairly restrained.  Is the Flash’s look a bit too much?  Maybe, but I have a feeling it’s going to be the result of Barry Allen’s technical prowess displayed in the trailer.  Remember, he has to deal with incredible friction and debris as he runs.  The comics rely on an “aura” to protect him as he runs, but the movie counterpart may not be so fortunate …

 

2.  The Theme –  Man Of Steel established a theme that was also on full display during Batman v Superman – loneliness.  Batman is forever the orphan.  Superman suffers alienation due to his extraterrestrial origin and his resulting abilities.  Wonder Woman has chosen to leave mankind behind for over one hundred years.  Heck, in the new trailer, the Flash comes right out and says that he needs friends.  I think it’s fitting that the Justice League movie seems to be as much about uniting and overcoming loneliness as it is about an overwhelming threat.  It is by no accident that Batman is the one on the recruitment drive.  Though he touts himself as the ultimate loner, he actually has a rich history of trying to construct a surrogate family.  Plus, it builds off of the end of Batman v Superman.  Batman wants to honor Superman by bringing heroes together to continue what Superman started and defend humanity.

 

3.  The Tone –  While I loved Man of Steel and Batman v Superman, I’m the first to admit that they were serious, perhaps even dark, movies.  Other than Perry White and Alfred, nobody cracked wise very often.  Of course, we have to keep in mind that neither Superman nor Batman are known for their one-liners.  With the Justice League trailer, the tone certainly feels epic, but it also feels substantially lighter.  Not a comedy, of course, but willing to offer a bit of levity every now and again.  Truthfully, even Shakespeare realized the importance of throwing in a chuckle or two for the audience.  I think it’s great that Bruce Wayne had some of the most entertaining lines.  The fish comment to Aquaman, the exchange with Wonder Woman – Bruce seems a man more willing to enjoy himself.  But, obviously, Barry Allen steals the trailer.  To fans of DC, Barry Allen is the light of the DC Universe.  He’s a good man with a good heart.  He tries to do the right thing.  He does not take himself too seriously, and though he’s not outright funny, he’s willing to look at the lighter side of things.  The Flash is greatly needed in this shared DC Cinematic Universe, as the trailer clearly establishes.  His impact is immediate.

 

4.  The Actors –  My wife, who is in no way invested in these characters, actually commented today about how Gal Gadot seems perfect to play Wonder Woman.  Besides her obvious beauty and the fact she served in the Israeli army, she seems to possess an air of royalty befitting the character.  Ben Affleck has the sheer size of Bruce Wayne, but he also encompasses the anger, arrogance, kindness, and intelligence of the character.  Jason Momoa’s take on Aquaman seems perfect and I personally love the direction he’s taking the  king of the seas – he’s a true force of nature.  Ray Fisher clearly shows the man under the metal with Cyborg, which is key to the character.  We didn’t see much of him, but I can’t wait to see more.  Truthfully, Ezra Miller had the greatest feat to accomplish in my mind.  The world loves Grant Gustin’s Flash, as it should.  In his few moments of the trailer, Miller depicts an equally likable Barry Allen.  His Allen seems far more erratic and twitchy, but just as endearing and charismatic.  Though Gustin has had far more time to establish himself, Miller seems to have captured the genuine goodness of Barry Allen.  I love how Miller is constantly looking around as he talks.  Remember that the Flash can live between the gaps of a second.  As he looks away while speaking, I think Miller is establishing that he’s thinking about a great many other things as he’s trying to carry on a conversation.  This take on relativity will be really fun to explore.

 

5.  The Potential – Leaving Superman out of this trailer seemed a wise decision.  The ending of Batman v Superman obviously leaves a great many things to reconcile, and I’m hoping Justice League not only addresses the looming threat of Darkseid, but also the unresolved Superman story line.  Allowing the Justice League to thrive without the ultimate ace in the hole (Superman) is the perfect way for these new heroes to prove their mettle to the audience and, consequently, garner interest in their solo adventures.  Forcing them to work together without the aid of Superman will allow for great conflict and chemistry.  Plus, when Superman returns, as you know he will, there is potential for him to even once again feel alienated as the team is already established and he must play catch-up.

There is no doubt that Marvel has clearly won the world over with their comic book movies and wrote the book on sharing a universe for their icons.  And while I wish DC and Warner Brothers had gotten their act together sooner, it may be a blessing in disguise.  By taking their time and making sure the right people are involved, they appear to be swinging for the fences with each outing.  Personally, I am ecstatic for what the future holds.  But remember, like I said earlier, I’m a lifetime DC fanboy and am in no way objective about these characters.

 

 

My Tentative Technology Plan Concerning the First Week Of One-To-One

I am so very excited for our school to go One-To-One this August.  If you’re unfamiliar with the concept, the idea is that every student in the school will be given a laptop to use during the school day and to take home.  I’m reading a book called Blended in preparation for this new initiative, and it’s really opening my mind to what a great opportunity this is for students and teachers alike.

I won’t go in-depth about the book as yet, but it’s generally stating the importance of students having somewhere to go (the school), having face-to-face time with a professional adult (the teacher), and having the chance to learn in a personalized fashion that also allows them to move at a comfortable pace.  Thankfully, the whole-group factory model of teaching is now a thing of the past and we can start individualizing education.

How is this possible, you ask?  Our school is using an Edmentum educational software tool called Plato Courseware.  As you know, I’ve written about my limited experience with this software, but so far — I like it!  Of course, I know until I’ve got students in the room I won’t fully grasp my feelings concerning it, but at this point I like the content it provides, the format it uses, and the pace at which it progresses.  Best of all?  You can edit it completely to make it fit your needs.

However, Edmentum won’t be the final answer in my classroom.  I plan to also utilize several different web services including Turn It In and even the Khan Academy.  And that’s just scratching the surface.

So, as I see it, my primary concern at the moment is where do I send my students to start, how do I keep all of this organized, and how do I help my students navigate the various websites and online tools we plan to utilize?

The answer has literally been at my fingertips for over ten years — WordPress.

I’ve spent a decade maintaining a website to promote my fiction, share book and movie reviews, and generally talk about whatever struck my fancy.  I’ve utilized it both as a blog, but there were moments I treated it as a static webpage.

As I ran through all the things I want to achieve, I realized that I’d done it all through my own website.  I know what you’re thinking.  “But, Scott, your website isn’t called WordPress!”  It’s not, but that’s because WordPress allows me to buy a domain name and call it whatever I want.  If you don’t want to buy a domain name, you can still name it whatever you want, but you’ll have “.wordpress.com” at the end of it.

So, here’s the plan. I already have a totally free classroom website set up through WordPress called “Foleyd87.wordpress.com.”  (Check it out if you want, but keep in mind it’s in the middle of a makeover pertaining to this article.)  In the past, I treated it as a place students could go to basically download Word documents from class or to find links to any audio or visual things we covered.  I used it as a static webpage, meaning it really didn’t change from day to day.

Here’s where things get fun.  WordPress allows you to treat it as a daily blog, instead.  That means every time you post something, it shows up at the top of the webpage and it is specific to the date you posted it.

WordPress also allows you link to anything on the web (as you’ve noticed from this writing), it lets you download basically any MS Office tool, you can embed video or audio, you can post polls — you can do a lot.  Probably more than you would expect.

Also, when you post something, you can assign it a category.  This writing, for example, has been designated part of my “Gladly I Learn and Teach” category.  If you wanted to click on that category alone, you would only see those articles belonging to “Gladly I Learn and Teach,” but you would see every article I’ve ever written for that category.  Consequently, if you posted something and used the category “Freshman English,” your freshmen could click on that category and go back indefinitely to anything you ever posted.

I also like that WordPress allows you to post a calendar that will always appear on any update you post.  (You can see it on the lower left of this screen if you scroll down far enough.)  For any dates on which you post, that date will be highlighted.  If you click on that date, it will take you to that day and show you anything posted that day.  Imagine a student is absent.  They can click on the date they missed and see everything you did that day.  Not only that, but if your site is interactive, they can make up the work from home on their One-To-One laptop!

So, my tentative plan is that I will send the students to our class website at the start of every class.  I will have that day’s events at the top of the screen and ready to go.  (Remember, WordPress does this automatically for you, and you can even manipulate the dates of when you want something to appear.  In other words, you can create an entry but set it to appear a week later on a specific date.)  Everything will be embedded or linked.  If I want them to go to Edmentum, I’ll have the specific link ready for them to click on and set to open in a new window.  After that, they can click back on my site and watch an embedded or linked video I need them to see.  I can then link them to a formative assessment tool or guide them to a brain break.  My students won’t be on their laptop the entire period of every period, but for the times they are on the laptop, WordPress fits my needs perfectly.

I have a very rudimentary example set up for you to view if you want to take a look at what I’m talking about.  It’s not meant for students to ever see, but it’s something I’ve been playing with as I experimented.  You can view it here.  You can also explore this site which is also a WordPress site.

You can customize your WordPress site in an almost limitless fashion.  They have free pre-made templates and “looks” ready to go for you, or you can try to build your own (which I don’t recommend unless you’re an expert).  What’s really neat, though, is you can customize their pre-made “looks” to add a little personal touch.

If you work at Bloomington High School, I’d be happy to help you set up a site.  Bear in mind that, like any new technology tool, playing with it is the best teacher.  But I’d be glad to help you get your basic page going.  If you don’t work at BHS, feel free to ask questions in the comments below.

 

 

 

 

The Hellblazer: Rebirth #1 – A (Comic Book) Review

The Hellblazer: Rebirth #1 is one of my favorite comics so far in the Rebirth initiative because it’s very well written and very well drawn.

I’ll admit, though almost 40 years old, I have very limited knowledge when it comes to John Constantine.  I think my first encounter with him was the 2005 movie.  I then got to know him a little in Justice League Dark.  And though it wasn’t perfect, I really enjoyed his NBC show.  I’ve always meant to go back and read the classic stories, particularly the ones by Ennis and Azzarello.  Ah, so much to read, so little time …

This issue worked really well because it cut to the core of Constantine’s character, displayed unusual, interesting art, and also proved to be very well constructed.

Constantine is not really a decent man.  He is a master of the dark arts, he’s not particularly nice, he’s rather selfish, he has lots of bad habits pertaining to all kinds of things, and he couldn’t care less about much of anything.  I won’t spoil it, but this issue brings all of that to the forefront in an organic way that progresses the story without bopping you atop the head.

Also, Moritat’s art is so beautifully weird.  I caught myself studying every panel in this comic book for all the little details peppered throughout, and those pages with throngs of people in the background mesmerized me.  I can’t remember the last time I saw an artist depict so many diverse people in a single panel.  The art is a little cartoonish, a little creepy, yet magnificently rendered with cool angles, layouts, and, best of all, facial expressions.  Maritat is the master of facial expressions.

I think what I enjoyed most about this comic book, though, is the way Oliver constructed it.  It’s not a linear story, but, by story’s end, it all makes sense.  It hints at things past and things to come, yet it concludes satisfactorily.  It is packed with different scenes, characters, and conflicts, but it all feels cohesive and unfolds smoothly.  I groaned a little when I flipped through it and saw a few colorful cameos, but Oliver managed to make their appearances interesting and used them to further his characterization of Constantine and even lay down some potential plot threads.

I bought The Hellblazer: Rebirth #1 out of curiosity, and I’m glad I did.