Habitica

There’s a glut of self-improvement apps coming out for your smartphone lately. WeightWatchers, Strava, FitBit, the various one’s built into Android and iPhone’s operating systems, and plenty of other ones.

Most self-improvement apps focus on a specific purpose, whether that’s exercise, dieting, or quitting bad habits.

My self-improvement app of choice doesn’t have any specific focus. And if you haven’t already guessed from the title, the app is called Habitica.

Habitica Banner

Habitica lets you define your goals, what habits you want to develop, and which bad habits you want to lose. You can also define rewards for yourself (such as eating a piece of cake while on a diet). Let’s take a closer look. Continue reading

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Dirty Grandpa Movie Review

Dirty Grandpa

If you’re into comedies where most of the jokes are attacks on Zac Efron’s masculinity then Dirty Grandpa is the movie for you.

Quick plot rundown, Efron plays Jason who has to escort his grandpa Dick, played by Robert De Niro, to a vacation in Florida.

Jason is a lawyer about to be married to his trophy wife fiancee, Meredith. Dick’s wife just died after a decade long fight with cancer.

The one thing on Dick’s mind after being faithful to his wife through ten years of serious illness is, you guessed it, having sex. (Really subtle naming of that character…)

Jason is forced into a wingman position as his grandpa tries to get in bed with a college girl.

Along the way Jason realizes his fiancee is a horrible person and he rediscovers his love of photography.

So the plot is pretty much what you’d expect if you saw the trailer. Shockingly the plot follows Campbell’s Hero’s Journey almost exactly but the doesn’t save the movie from the abyss it falls into.

What about the basic ingredients of comedy? The jokes and the laughs?

There isn’t much.

There are a lot of insults lobbed at Jason as he is the straight man. Most of those fall flat.

Dick’s physical abuse of Jason becomes a running joke. Why the writers thought that was funny enough to make a repeated joke, I don’t know. There’s no slapstick to it. It’s just a grandfather attacking his grandson because he thinks it’s funny.

The funniest moments centered on the unashamed lust shared between Dick and the college girl, Lenore, played by Aubrey Plaza. Everything else was pretty much just vulgarity masquerading as humor.

When I don’t like a movie I try to think who would like it. That’s a hard task with Dirty Grandpa. I’m a fan of South Park which is about as vulgar as it gets and I still hated this movie.

So should you see it? Absolutely not. Too much disgusting nudity, not enough real jokes, and stilted character development makes this one of the worst movies I’ve seen. If you’re going to the theaters see something else instead.

-GoCorral

Sisters Movie Review

Sisters

The other day I saw Sisters, the comedy starring Tina Fey and Amy Poehler.

I’ve heard that Fey and Poehler are good friends and that definitely helped with their chemistry in Sisters.

Fey and Poehler produced the movie and given how the movie played out it seemed very much to be a movie they had chosen because it needed a pair of leading ladies.

The two sisters are opposites. Fey plays Kate, a mother of a college-aged daughter and a hair stylist who is constantly getting fired for her attitude. Poehler plays Maura, a goody two-shoes character who is financially successful but still has trouble talking to men. Both women are in their forties.

The parents of the titular Sisters move out of their old home into a retirement community. They call their daughters and ask them to come clean out their rooms before the sale of the home closes.

Kate and Maura are upset that the house representing their childhood is being sold.

As a way of saying goodbye to that part of their lives and moving on into the future they decide to throw one last house party.

They invite all their friends from high school who are still in the area.

From there the movie is fairly predictable. Crazy hijinks ensue. Drugs are involved. The cops are called. The party gets more and more out of control. By the end the house is absolutely wrecked.

While there were some good parts I did not like the movie as a whole.

Comedies don’t always make me laugh when I watch them alone, but in a room full of people I expect to laugh a lot.

I did not laugh much during Sisters and neither did the other people in the theater. The jokes just weren’t good enough.

Sisters also offered a weak subplot of Kate and Maura working out the personality problems they’d taken from childhood to adulthood. This plotline didn’t really move forward until the final few minutes of the movie. It served as a vehicle for the jokes, which is fine in most comedies, but not in ones that aren’t funny.

It’s possible that I just missed the jokes because they were directed at people in their forties like the characters in the movie; however, there were a few middle-aged people in the theater and they weren’t laughing either.

Maybe the movie would be funnier to people who are fans of Fey and Poehler, but that’s not me. I dislike their past work.

Ultimately, I can’t really recommend seeing Sisters. A comedy that isn’t hilarious just isn’t worth watching.

-GoCorral

Minions Movie Review

Minions Poster

My wife and I saw Minions this weekend and we were both a little disappointed.

We both liked the first two movies, but the series is suffering from sequelitis where each new movie is a little worse than the one before.

Part of that problem is honestly a stronger focus on the minions with each new movie.

They’re good as sidekick characters, but a mute slapstick comedic lead hasn’t worked since Buster Keaton. People just expect more out of their movies now.

The plot of the movie is summed up pretty well in the trailers if you’ve seen those. Three minions try to find a villain to serve. They find Scarlet Overkill who tells them to steal the Queen of England’s crown. Hijinks ensue and Scarlet Overkill ends up wanting to kill the minions.

The trailer used most of the funnier bits of the movie in it, so there weren’t many surprises left to see.

The best part that was left out of the trailers was the Nelson family, a group of bankrobber fans of Scarlet Overkill.

They’re just a happy loving family that also happens to rob banks and idolize super villains.

Back to the general point, why didn’t the movie work for me? Because none of the characters were interesting (besides the Nelsons).

The minions are cute and funny, but they don’t speak. They literally cannot deliver punchlines to jokes.

There are basically only two other characters in the movie besides the minions, Scarlet Overkill and her dopey husband, Herb.

Scarlet is the embodiment of rage. She rages really well and Sandra Bullock was a great cast to play that character, but is she funny? NOPE! I don’t go to the movies to see people get mad over petty things. I don’t got anywhere for that sort of thing.

And Herb… He’s newspaper comic level funny. I can literally read the jokes he does every single day in the comics section. It’s just weak stuff.

My wife and I are fans of the series, so we’d be the most likely group of people to enjoy this movie, but we just didn’t. I wouldn’t recommend it to other adults who liked the first two Despicable Me movies. Maybe for kids, but not adults.

Another thing my wife and I had heard the movie was sexist before going to it. Gotta say, that was entirely wrong.

Minions has the same problem every other movie has with a lack of female characters. There’s Scarlet and the Queen. That’s it.

The Queen is barely present, so most of the sexist accusations would have to revolve around Scarlet’s portrayal or just the general absence of female characters. Since nearly every movie is missing female characters I assume what we’d heard was directed towards how Scarlet was portrayed.

And it just wasn’t sexist. She’s a powerful woman with a husband who is the “power behind the throne.” Basic role reversal already.

At one point she’s getting put into a corset-type dress which one could claim is sexist, until the dress turns into a giant rocket 2 minutes later in the movie.

You could also claim her desire to be pretty was imposing society’s values of what women should be, but that just feels like a stretch.

The final issue might be Scarlet’s life long dream to be Queen of England. You could see that as her wanting to be a princess or you could see it as her wanting to be the ruler of a country.

The sexism just wasn’t there (besides the no female characters thing).

Anyways, most of the people who read this blog are adults, so I recommend that you don’t see this movie. Even if you are a fan of Despicable Me. Just watch the trailer again. It’s pretty much the same and will save you a lot of time and money.

-GoCorral

The Buried Giant by Kazuo Ishiguro

People should post books they read on Instagram instead of food they eat.
People should post books they read on Instagram instead of food they eat.

I finished reading a book called The Buried Giant by Kazuo Ishiguro that my step-mom had gotten me. I’m going to be delivering some spoilers about the book in this post, so be forewarned. If you’re interested in Kazuo Ishiguro’s writing or King Arthur stuff I’d recommend you finish the book on your own before reading this post.

The book is set a generation or so after King Arthur, when all his knights are getting old or dead.

The book follows the journey of a married couple, Axl and Beatrice, who are traveling to their son’s village.

A mist covers England clouding people’s memories. People forget things after the simplest of distractions. Old memories are difficult or impossible to recall. And the problem affects everyone.

The memory mist springs from a dragon and it becomes the quest of Axl, Beatrice, and a few people they meet on their journey to slay the dragon.

The dragon slaying is all fine and good and I loved reading those parts. It may not be a traditional King Arthur tale, but I love reading new takes on old things and it hit a home run in being a King Arthur story.

What bothered me about the book is what has bothered me about a lot of books, the ending is sad.

I remember a conversation I had with my dad when I was in high school. I asked him, “Why do modern stories have bad endings? Ancient stories always have the good guys killing the bad guys and everyone living happily ever after. Like King Arthur.”

My dad said something along the lines of, “Modern stories have bad endings because they’re more real. Fairy tales like King Arthur are fine for kids, but grownups like stories that are real, that they can relate to. It’s cathartic.”

That answer was good enough for me back then, but I’ve done some more thinking on it since.

First, bad endings are not solely the province of modern stories. Oedipus Rex is a perfect example of an ancient story with a horrible ending. Romeo and Juliet is based off the Greek myth of Pyramus and Thisbe. The Iliad has a powerful ending, but no one really gets what they want. Hector is still dead and Achilles still feels empty.

The second thing I realized is that it isn’t so much the sadness that makes stories feel real. You can’t just have something bad happen to someone and expect people to start feeling empathy for that character.

No. What makes stories real is having characters on both sides of a conflict who could both be described as good.

The Greek myths are perfect examples once again. Achilles is the hero of the Iliad, but so is Hector. They’re both great admirable people (at least to the Greeks. I don’t think someone with the epithet, “the Mankiller,” would be very popular today),

They’re both heroes in the story, but they have antithetical goals. One must die for the story to reach resolution. And that’s what makes it sad.

The conflict doesn’t always need to end in death and the characters don’t always need to be diametrically opposed, but ultimately the “villain” of an adult story must have real motivations for what they are doing. And most real motivations are fundamentally good. People do things to help themselves or the people they care about, not because they want to hurt other people (sadists are exempt).

An easier separation between what I’ve called good and bad endings in the past would be children’s stories and adult stories.

Stories need to be simplified for children which can mean having a villain who is just villainous for no good reason (Jafar, The Star Wars Emperor, Mordred from King Arthur, etc.).

But back to The Buried Giant!

Early on in the book Axl and Beatrice encounter a woman who tells them about a mysterious island that is clearly some sort of allegory for Heaven.

It’s said that you can live on the island and never see the other people living there.

Only a couple that is truly in love will be able to interact with each other on the island.

A couple’s truly in love status is tested by the boatman who brings people to the island. He asks couples a series of individual questions before permitting them to travel together.

The woman that Axl and Beatrice meet describes that happening to her and her husband. They answered the questions and then the boatman said the water was too rough to bring them to the island at the same time.

Thinking she would get to see her husband on the next boat, she said, “Fine,” and her husband went first.

When the boatman came back he informed the wife that she had failed the questions and that she would not be seeing her husband on the island. She left in a rage and wandered England before eventually telling her story to Axl and Beatrice.

Our protagonist couple talk about the island constantly. They are concerned that they won’t be able to answer questions about their love for each other if the dragon’s memory mist prevents them from remembering why they originally fell in love.

In the final chapter of the book they talk to the boatman. The boatman talks to Beatrice first and then to Axl. We only hear Axl’s conversation.

The boatman is very casual and brings up a fight that Axl had with Beatrice once. Axl explains the fight, but is suspicious that he and Beatrice will be denied joint entrance to “Island Heaven” if he tells the whle truth (the reader never learns the whole truth).

The boatman agrees to take them both to the island. Axl hops in the boat with Beatrice.

And then the boatman says, “I can’t take you both at the same time. The weather is too bad.”

Axl’s face darkens. He knows he failed the questions, but he doesn’t want to say goodbye to his wife. He stays in the boat.

Beatrice tells Axl she’ll be fine. They can just meet when the boatman brings the next boat.

Not wanting to upset his wife, Axl gets out of the boat and trudges towards shore.

And the book freaking ends there.

I understand that sad endings are sometimes more realistic, but this felt more like the author screwing with me.

Couldn’t they have been allowed to go together? Couldn’t we have learned a few more specifics about what Axl and Beatrice fought about long ago?

Nope! Ishiguro does the smart thing. If you have questions that don’t need answering in a story, then don’t answer them. People will come up with their own answers and those will always satisfy the readers more than anything you can come up with.

So does the boatman come back and take Axl to be with Beatrice? It’s possible, but my own answer to that question was, “No.”

And that’s a sad ending.

-GoCorral

Good and Bad

I had a strange amount of ups and downs today.

I started off by trying to install some child locks on our bathroom cabinets. Our new cat has been trying to sneak in and we think it’d be best if she doesn’t have access to all the toilet paper at once or all the chemicals that could hurt her under the sink.

Child locks come in two parts, the part you have to push to open it and the part the pushy part inserts into to keep the door locks. I’d glued the holdy part onto the cabinets on Monday.

I checked the glue today and was a bit rough in handling one of the holdy parts. It popped off in my hand. I sighed and reglued it on.

I glued on the pushy part and found it was very difficult to align it correctly with the holdy part. Fearing that I did it wrong, I only glued in one of the pushy parts today to see how it looks tomorrow.

After that frustration I went out to fix the flat in my bike. The flat had happened on Friday and I got new tubes on Monday.

I put the first tube in and it immediately popped. Figuring they can occasionally be duds, I pulled it out and put a second one in. It seemed fine and I biked off to work. It popped just before I got onto campus. I sighed and walked the rest of the way to my job.

I figured I was too pissed off to immediately get to work at lab, so I decided to make a quick appointment with an optometrist in town.

The optometrist informed me that I needed to know the exact amount of coverage my health insurance gave me for vision before I could get an appointment. On to calling the health insurance company then!

I called my health insurance and was put on hold (typical). I waited and zoned out not listening to the recorded message. Then the message said, “Goodbye,” and it hung up. I have no clue what led up to it saying goodbye, but I’m pretty sure it wasn’t the usual hold music.

I called again and avoided the previous menu options that had resulted in the robot disconnecting me. I ended up waiting an hour on hold before I got to talk to a human person.

The whole time it faked me out by switching up which robot voices were telling me about the health insurance website. Each time the voice changed I thought I had finally reached a real person only to have my hopes destroyed.

I eventually got the health insurance and the optometrist appointment set up.

After that my day improved. I stained some worms to see if they turn blue over the next two days. I checked some injected worms to see if the DNA I injected into them had successfully integrated into their genomes. IT HAD! WOOHOO!

I called my wife to come pick up my bike during the afternoon so I wouldn’t have to walk it home. She came by and put it in the car and reminded me why I love her.

At the end of the day my wife came home with two cupcakes for me.

A good day in the end despite the rocky start! 🙂

-Mister Ed