Kickstarter Games: Batting three out of four

Posted by barb on Sep 9, 2015 in Games

I rediscovered Kickstarter when the Veronica Mars folks were trying to fund their movie. I now peruse the games section regularly and put some money behind a new game every once in a while. In the past year, I’ve received four games that I’ve backed – Evolution, [redacted], Exploding Kittens, and Galaxy of Trian. I’m happy to say that three of them turned out to be pretty fun. Here is a quick review of each of them.


Evolution came about a year ago, and we’ve played it at our game nights a couple times. The game mechanics are fairly simple, and easy to remember once you play through a couple of rounds. In each round, you draw cards, then play one to the watering hole — these will be revealed later, but determine how much food is available to the herbivores. Then everyone plays at once (they recommend this for the 6-player game, but it speeds things up, so we do it for all games), playing as many cards as they want to do a variety of tasks: add a new species, add a trait to a species, grow the population a species, grow the size of a species. Then the food is revealed, and the players feed their species, going around the table starting with the start player. Herbivores eat from the watering hole, and carnivores attack other species as they can. The food is swept into a bag, and then the next round starts.

I liked this one enough to support the expansion Kickstarter this past spring – Evolution Flight. We haven’t played with the expansion, but will likely do that at our next game night this month.

Exploding Kittens

Exploding Kittens is a simple card game which caught my attention because one of the co-creators is the guy behind The Oatmeal. It’s easy to learn and quick to play. The art is a lot of fun (as expected).

Game play is simple, play some cards, then draw a card and hope it isn’t an exploding kitten. If it is an exploding kitten, hopefully you have way to defuse it, otherwise you are out of the game. The last unexploded player wins.

Since it’s fairly quick and easy to explain to newcomers, this is a great game to play on game night while waiting for another table to finish their game.


[redacted] came on Kickstarter shortly after Evolution, and it looked like fun, so I backed it. I received the game late last year (December, maybe?). After reading the rulebook, I had no clue how the game play worked – it felt like the rules needed another go-through by people unfamiliar with the game and maybe some reorganization. So, the game sat on our shelves for a while.

One of my game night regulars kept asking when we would try it out, but I hesitated to play it at a normal game night, because it would take a lot of start-up to figure out the rules. We decided to try it out with just four of us last week at a small game night.

I re-read the rules ahead of time, as did my husband. The game play itself sounds relatively simple – each player is a spy working with another player, but they don’t know who their partner is until they discover each other through interrogations. Each player moves through an ambassador’s house with a specific objective in mind, depending on the scenario being played. In our game, we were two teams of trainee spies trying to activate a computer virus, requiring one of us to find the right floppy disk and discard it in the computer room while another player is in the control room. Players take turns moving through the board, stopping when they reach a room they want to use or when they encounter another agent.

Each room has a different function or ability – from the storage rooms where agents can pick up new items to the X-ray room where an agent can look at other players’ items as they pass through X-ray-enabled doors.

However, the mechanics of the player encounters was confusing, game start-up was not well explained in the rule book, and it wasn’t clear when items were to be discarded. We had to consult the rules during every player’s turn, and often couldn’t find what we were looking for.

Expect we could watch the hours of online videos about the game to figure out the answers to our questions, but the game should be completely contained in the box. I shouldn’t have to have an outside source available to determine the rules. I don’t expect to try it again.

Galaxy of Trian

Galaxy of Trian was another that came on Kickstarter shortly after Evolution, but the game itself took a bit longer than the creators projected, so I only just got it about a week ago. However, I appreciate that they took the time to get the game right – the components are well-made and the rules are clear and well-written.

The game itself is a bit reminiscent of Carcassonne in that you play tiles with the goals of closing nebulae, connecting planets, walling off empty space, and preventing your opponents from doing the same. You have the option of playing an emissary on a tile as it is played, and those emissaries can occupy a nebula (and extract minerals once its closed) or a system of planets. The trick is that you have to have the most emissaries in a region when it is closed to occupy it. And, if the non-controlling player closes a region, your emissaries are stuck there for the rest of the game…unless they are in a position where you can play a teleport or exmitter on an adjacent tile AND you haven’t upgraded them to aa research station yet.

Andrew and I played a couple times. It will be interesting to see how it plays with additional players. The Kickstarter version I bought also came with a number of expansions, however, I want to try the base game a few more times before introducing those.

Galaxy of Trian player board Galaxy of Trian Tiles


Zoo Zoom 8k

Posted by barb on Nov 23, 2014 in Running


Sure, I completed a half marathon last weekend, so maybe I should have taken a week or two off from racing. But, I had wanted to do this race last year, but wasn’t able to, so I decided to go for it this year. I talked my friend Stef into doing it with me.

It was in the upper 30s when we got to the zoo — not the coldest I’ve run in, but not my first choice. Apparently it was in the teens last year, so we couldn’t complain too much. We tried to stay warm while waiting for the start.

Ready to race!

Here’s Stef crossing the start:
Go Stef, go!

I hung back a bit more, because I wanted to stay out of the way of the faster runners. The first part of the route went through Druid Park – near a lake, and the looping back to the zoo’s entrance.

Runners in the park

Andrew caught me near the zoo entrance:

Shortly after I hit the half-way mark, Stef was nearing the finish. (She used to race competitively…she tried to tell me how “slow” she would be in the race. She finished 7th in her age group, and pulled off 8:20 minute miles. Yeah…so slow!)

Stef nearing the finish

In Mile 3, the course plunged down a hill. I had fun running down the whole hill — my 30-30 intervals be damned! I knew I’d have to come back up it, walking, so I wanted to enjoy the downhill. I slogged up the hill, through part of the zoo, and into another uphill. But I knew the end was close.

I stopped to hug the penguin on the way to the finish.

Hugs for the penguin

Finish lin

Afterwards, we stuck around the zoo to say high to some of the animals.

Barb and the goats Stef and a new friend





Avengers Half Marathon

Posted by barb on Nov 16, 2014 in Running

Disney pulled me back in — I thought I was done with running half marathons, but then Disney goes and puts on an Avengers-themed race. (And a Star Wars-themed race, which I will also be doing in January.)

I started getting into the theme right away at the expo. Here I am with my new boyfriend:
Me and my new boyfriend

I stayed on East-Coast time, so getting up at 3:30 AM wasn’t TOO bad. I had flat Barb ready to go.
Flat Barb is ready

So I got up and ready in a flash.
Captain Barb ready to run

The hotel was fairly close to Disneyland (just across the street), so I walked over the start, dropped off my bag, and a that point the runners were being called to the corrals. There were lots of runners in costume all over. I loved this Tony Stark, playboy, though I can’t imaging running in a tux!
Tony Stark, playboy

Corral H, the last corral for those of us slow-pokes, was HUGE. It had more people in it than the first three combined (give or take). I made my way close to the front of the corral and seeing the rest of the people stream in over the next 30 minutes gave me hope that I’d have the extra time I needed to finish the race. I started chatting with a couple of other ladies – one of whom had followed me as I was threading my way through the people in the corral to get as close to the front as I could. It was their first half marathon, so I chatted about my experiences at my previous halfs, and I think it helped them feel a little better. If nothing else, it helped pass the time until we were able to move up to the start.

Start line

One thing I did this time that I forgot to do at Dumbo, was I enjoyed the course. I took the time to take in the sights and all of the other people in awesome costumes. Sure, I got into my own groove, focused on my intervals, and tried to keep up my pace, but I also remembered to look around. In particular, I remembered to look for the photographers, so I have a slew of decent race photos this time. (Though, I accidentally ordered them on CD, rather than as downloads, so I have to wait a couple weeks to get them.)

I didn’t stop much through the parks, but I had to grab a picture of the Haunted Mansion, all dressed up for the holidays.
Haunted Mansion dressed for the holidays

The parks took just the first 3 or so miles of the race. Once we got out of the park, it was much less crowded, making for easier running. But, around mile 5, the wind picked up. When I checked the weather later, we had been having gusts of 20-25 mph (!). Starting around Mile 5, many of the mile markers were down – we could see the clocks, but the rest of the signs were down.

The wind took out many mile markers

I kept up my running through the 6 mile mark, managing a negative 10k split. But then, the wind overtook me. Either that, or I had gone out too fast — my training maybe didn’t prepare me to keep up the pace I had initially set. I’m not sure which.

The other problem was that the course then turned onto the Santa Ana River Trail — a big dirt trail. Combined with the wind, it was hard to run. We were treated to the this street art, though:

Street art for the race

Around Mile 7-8, Disney had invited a cosplay club to cheer us on. I didn’t count how many were there, but it seemed like a lot. My favorite was Star Lord, who, sadly, I didn’t get a picture of.

Soon thereafter, we got to Angels Stadium. I remembered to enjoy this experience, which I’m not sure I did last time. Taking in the stands, and they had a marching band going on the field as we ran through.

Entering the stadium

I was excited when I passed Mile 10, because they tend to relax the sweep a bit at that point. Though, that was also when I noticed the pace bikes more and more, so I didn’t get too complacent. I was walking full time, but didn’t let myself slack.

The wind had not let up at all. There was a f–king tumbleweed rolling down the street. A TUMBLEWEED.

There was an f---ing tumbleweed!

I walked in the rest of the race, crossed the finish and got my medal. I managed not to cry after crossing the finish – that’s a first for me.

Finish line

The family reunion area was closed due to the wind, and I suspect they had taken down the backdrops for finisher photos (though maybe they didn’t have them to begin with??).

Turns out, I had a PR…by 8 seconds. Heh. Not much to write home about, but given the change in my training, I’m actually happy. This time around, I trained at a slower pace than my previous races. I think this strategy helped me avoid injury during training, but didn’t do anything for my confidence. I’m going to change up my training plan a bit for Star Wars, but I’m jumping into the middle of the plan, so I don’t want to do anything too radical.



Philadelphia – Day 5

Posted by barb on Sep 22, 2014 in Travels

We decided to see one last site in Philly before we drove home today – the Philadelphia Zoo.

Philadelphia Zoo

I wanted to go partly because they had an okapi there – one of my favorite animals &#150 but also because I’m just a sucker for zoos.

We found the giraffes.


And hippos.

Hippo shake

Andrew had a moment with the otters.

Andrew and the giant otter

The orangutans had sheets in their enclosure for some enrichment today. When we got there, one of the orangutans had her sheet on like a veil. Then she dropped that one and followed the other orangutan, who had a purple sheet. They both hid under that sheet for a few moments, then got up and walked off together, one holding the other’s shoulder. Very cute.

Orangutans huddled under a sheet

Orangutans ditching the sheet


One really cool thing this zoo had was what it calls “Zoo 360.” Essentially they have “tunnels” through parts of the zoo so that some of the animals can roam a bit further than their normal enclosures. I think they had it for some of the primates, but we experienced it in the big cat area. As we were walking through the exhibits, we saw a pair of clouded leopards meandering over us.

Zoo 360 - clouded leopards exlporing

And while we were having lunch, across from the big cats, a jaguar came over to see what was up. (It’s a little hard to see in this picture, but the “tunnel” was near the window of the cafe.) It happened that some of the zoo’s maintenance workers needed to get to something near the tunnel, so we watched them wait until the jaguar turned back around to a point where a zookeeper could close off the tunnel.

Zoo 360 - a jaguar visits near the cafe where we ate lunch

In the small mammal house, we saw the aardvarks sleeping together. Look at that belly!

Sleeping aardvarks

And, of course, we found the okapi!


We did take a moment to get a picture of the two of us.

Happy 10th Anniversary to Us!

Andrew and Me



Philadelphia – Day 4

Posted by barb on Sep 21, 2014 in Travels

One of the things Andrew and I have talked about seeing in Philly for a long time was the Mütter Museum. It’s one of the offbeat museums that we’re attracted to across the country, though a bit more legitimate (or at least more successful) than some of the others we’ve gone to (for example, the Dime Museum in Baltimore and the Museum of Questionable Medical Devices in Minnesota both closed a couple years after we had visited them).

Unfortunately, the M&uulm;tter doesn’t allow pictures inside the museum. Or maybe that’s fortunate. It’s a museum of medical curiosities, with loads of specimens collected through the 19th century. Andrew and I wandered on our own, taking in whatever interested each of us. At one point I passed him as I was walking into another room, and he just looked at me, shook his head, and said, “So much can go wrong.”

There was an extensive skull collection from a variety of people who died in a lot of different ways and with different ailments evidenced in their skulls. I was struck by the side-by-side skeletons of two women, one who had regularly worn a tightly-laced corset and one who did not – the damage to the ribcage was spectacular. Also noteworthy was the drawers full of things people have swallowed. Each drawer was labeled with things such as, “hardware,” “buttons,” “pins,” and “toys.”

[The Mütter Museum was free with our Philadelphia Pass, a $15 value.]

From there, we thought we might try to take in part of The Barnes Foundation Museum. However, when we got there, we found that they sold timed tickets, and the next entrance was a couple hours off. I didn’t really feel like waiting that long, especially since the museum would close just a couple hours after we got in, so we took a pass.

Instead, we hopped the hop-on-hop-off bus for the last time, and circled around the loop past the Philadelphia Art Museum where I snapped a few pictures from the bus.

Joan of Arc statue


We rode the bus almost to the end of their tour route and hopped off to see Elfreth’s Alley. This is the oldest continuously-inhabited residential neighborhood in the U.S.

Felicia at Elfreth’s Alley

Elfreth’s Alley selfie

From there, we weren’t too far from our hotel, so we walked back. On the way, I made us stop at the Besty Ross House gift shop to pick up a scrapbook kit I had seen there yesterday, but didn’t want to carry around all day. We also stopped at a comic book and game store, grabbing The Reef 2-player game that we played in our hotel when we got back.

Playing a new game

Final tally on the Philadelphia Pass?

Paid: $80 for a 3-day pass (which was an internet special that got us a 3-day pass for the price of a 2-day pass)

Which got us:

  • 3-day pass on the Big Bus Tour, $48 value
  • The Franklin Institute admission, $18.50 value
  • Betsy Ross House admission, $5 value
  • Eastern State Penitentiary admission, $14 value
  • Ghost Tour of Philadelphia, $17 value
  • Mütter Museum admission, $15 value

Grand total: $117.50

So, even at full price of $100, the 3-day pass would have been worth the money. (No, I’m not being paid by the Philly Pass folks – I was just curious to see if we got our money’s worth!)



Philadelphia – Day 3

Posted by barb on Sep 20, 2014 in Travels

Half-marathon training doesn’t take a break, even for 10th anniversary vacations, and I had a 9.5 mile run on my schedule for this weekend. The plan was for us to head up to Fairmount Park where Andrew would rent a bike (with his newly-purchased bike shorts from the night before) and we would both do the 8-mile loop (Andrew a couple times, resupplying me with water along the way). That was the plan.

Little did we know there was a big 5k going on in addition to normal Saturday busy-ness. We ended up driving pretty far past the bike rental place before we could find a parking spot. We dithered for a while about what to do. I *could* still do my run while Andrew sat and read his book a the car. But, then I would have no back-up – no source of fresh water or Gu/sports beans to ensure I didn’t run out. And, I’d be feeling bad about leaving Andrew just sitting there for a couple hours. In the end, we drove back to the hotel, run not accomplished. I decided I would make it up one evening on the treadmill after work next week.

The revised plan for the day was to start at the Betsy Ross house. We toured the house, meeting Betsy Ross on the way.

Betsy Ross' House

Betsy Ross' House

[We got in free here with our Philadelphia Pass, a $5 value.]

Then we hopped the hop-on-hop-off bus again (our 3-day passes from yesterday were still good!) to the Eastern State Penitentiary. It was an active prison from 1829 to 1971. It was a new type of prison, where inmates were isolated from everyone. They had a small room with just a small opening for food, and that opened to a small private outdoor area. From the time they went in to the time they went out, they saw no one else. The idea was that they were to ponder what they had done wrong. Not much had been done to the site since it closed in 1971, so it stands in ruin. Very cool.

Eastern State Penitentiary

Eastern State Penitentiary

Felicia behind bars

Al Capone was even here for a little while.

Al Capone's cell at Eastern State Penitentiary

[We got in free to the Eastern State Penitentiary with our Philadelphia Pass, a $14 value.]

We didn’t want to pack too much in to the day, so we went back to the hotel and kicked back for a little while before heading off to Ghost Tour of Philadelphia

It was fun to hear ghost stories of the area. Do I believe them? Not really, but still fun to scare yourself every once in a while.

Ready for a ghost walk

[We got our ghost tour free with our Philadelphia Pass, a $17 value.]

Our tour ended at Washington Square, where we stopped to look at the Tomb of the Unknown Revolutionary War Soldier – beautiful at night.

Tomb of the Unknown Revolutionary War Soldier



Philadelphia – Day 2

Posted by barb on Sep 19, 2014 in Travels

We started Day 2 of our adventure by returning to the Independence Hall visitor’s center. We had picked up a brochure yesterday for the Philadelphia Pass – a pass that gets you into a bunch of sites for free. It included one of the hop-on-hop-off bus tours, and we found an online special to get the 3-day pass for the price of the 2-day pass. It seemed like a good deal – I’ll summarize how we did with that on the last day.

Our plan was to go to the Franklin Institute, and the best way to get there (without walking) was to grab the hop-on-hop-off bus, so we picked up the Big Bus Tour near Independence Hall.

[We got a 3-day pass for the Big Bus Tour free with our Philadelphia Pass – a $48 value.]

The Franklin Institute is a science museum. It was between traveling exhibits, so we missed out on a couple of the exhibit halls, but the permanent exhibits were still well worth our time.

Franklin Institute

There was an exhibit on the brain, which included a segment on optical illusions and tricking the brain. The most striking thing in the exhibit was an illusion where you and a friend enter a hotel room. The room is slanted, as is a bed that one of you lays down on. Within a couple seconds, your brain is convinced that your still-standing friend is standing at an angle, not that you are laying at an angle. Very freaky.

Sidewalk painting optical illusion

There couldn’t very well be a science museum named after Benjamin Franklin without a hall on electricity! The electricity exhibit included some historic pieces from Franklin’s research on electricity and some things to try ourselves.

Andrew was playing with an exhibit, and ended up with a bit of static electricity in his hair!

Electrified Andrew

There was also a big exhibit on flying and air flow – the Franklin Air Show. Felicia *had* to try out the fighter jet cockpit.

Felicia in the cockpit

We also took in an IMAX show, walked around Sir Isaac’s Loft (exploring forces and gravity), and spent a little time in the Amazing Machine’s (exploring mechanics and machines).

[The Franklin Institute was another thing included in the Philadelphia Pass, an $18.50 value.]

Since today was officially our anniversary, we tried to find a nice-ish restaurant on our way back to the hotel. We settled on a Thai place on South Street. It was a great choice for us – not too upscale (because we just don’t *do* that), but very good food. While at dinner, Andrew realized that he had forgotten bike shorts for our planned run (me)/bike (him) expedition tomorrow. So, he ran off after dinner to see if he could get to a nearby bike shop before they closed. I walked back to the hotel, and found this sign along the way.

Philly sign



Philadelphia – Day 1

Posted by barb on Sep 18, 2014 in Travels

Andrew and I decided that we needed to do something for our 10th anniversary. Sure, we’re planning a big trip in a year or two, which is really our anniversary present to each other (much like we waited a couple years for our “real” honeymoon – a Mediterranean cruise to see the 2006 total solar eclipse &#150 but had a few-day getaway a B&B nearby right after our wedding). We decided on Philadelphia because it’s close, and we’ve been talking about wanting to go for a while.

We started up in the morning, not too early, but with a goal of getting there before lunch so we would have the afternoon to walk around and decide how we would spend the rest of our trip. It was a quick drive (< 3 hours). Our hotel room wasn't ready yet (no surprise, since check-in was at 3PM). So, we dropped off our car and luggage, grabbed a quick lunch, and started walking toward the Independence Hall area.

We started at the Liberty Bell, since the line was fairly short. Learned (again, since I had been there once before) that the famous crack appears the way it does due to efforts to fix it. It had a small crack and was re-cast twice before this crack was widened in an attempt to fix it. No luck, so they finally gave up.

Liberty Bell selfie

Next we walked across the street to the Independence Visitor Center. We grabbed a bunch of brochures for other places we wanted to visit, and then found out that we could get (free) tickets to see Independence Hall – where the Declaration of Independence was signed.

Signing room in Independence Hall

At that point, it was getting too late to see much else, so we walked around to the Philadelphia City Hall and found a couple of nearby parks with sculptures. One of my favorites is the “Your Move” sculpture, a park with oversized game pieces scattered around.

Andrew with "Your Move"

Barb with "Your Move"

Finally, we made our way back to our hotel – a long walk from where we ended up. We saw Benjamin Franklin’s gravesite on the way. People, inspired by his saying, “a penny saved is a penny earned” leave pennies on his grave. We later heard that the grave makes about $4,000 per year in pennies.

Franklin's grave

We also found dinner near our hotel at a place called Lucha Cartel. I particularly taken by their take on The Last Supper – done with Mexican wrestlers painted on the backs of skateboards.

The Last Supper, at Lucha Cartel in Philadelphia

I had a pineapple jalapeño margarita, which was hot, but tasty.

Pineapple Jalapeno margarita




Posted by barb on Sep 1, 2014 in Cute Pets

Artemis in the sunshine

My 16-year old kitty crossed over the rainbow bridge early this morning. We’ve known for a while that we would need to make hard decisions soon, so it wasn’t a shock, but that didn’t make it any easier.

Baby Artemis and her mama
Baby Artemis and her brother
Baby Artemis

She came into my life in my last few months living in New Mexico. A friend had found a mama cat with a litter of kittens who were about 2-days old in March 1998. I was leaving New Mexico to move to Maryland at the end of May, just about the time the kittens would be ready to leave their mama. Artemis was the only girl of the litter, and I claimed her, since I already had a boy cat, and he marked.

In late May, just after my undergraduate graduation, Artemis, Ares, and I drove with my parents back to Minnesota. We spent a couple weeks in Minnesota, getting some of the things I would need to start my graduate student life in Maryland, and then Dad and I drove with the two cats to Maryland.

She, Ares and I all went through many life milestones together. I entered grad school with them, got my master’s degree, quit grad school, went back to grad school and graduated with my PhD with both of them. I met Andrew, dated, moved in with him and his cat, Duncan, and married. I also lost my Dad with both of them in my life. Ares crossed the rainbow bridge a few months after I lost Dad, and I think that was the beginning of the end of Artemis – she had known him as long as she had known me, and spent more time with him, since they were always in the in house together. She never quite recovered from losing her friend.

This weekend I told her that if she was ready to stop fighting, I was ready to respect her decision. On Sunday, she stopped showing any interest in food, and lost some control. We knew it was time. Overnight she was in some distress, so we had to let her go. I have to believe that she’s now finding her friend Ares again, sitting in my Dad’s lap, purring and getting pets.

My names for her included: Artemis, Little Miss, Baby Girl, Little Girl

Favorite stories:

Potted ArtemisArtemis in the blinds

Hiding Artemis: Jocco couldn’t find Artemis when he was pet-sitting for me once when we were in grad school. He ended up calling my friend Stef (who was also going to help out with the pet-sitting) for help. She asked him a bunch of questions, like, is food disappearing? have there been poops in the litter box? Since he wasn’t himself a cat-owner, I’m sure these questions seemed odd. I don’t remember if he found her, or if Stef finally had to come over, but in the end, Artemis had been hiding under the ottoman of my comfy chair. Silly, clever girl.

Snuggly Ares and ArtemisCaught!

Alpha Artemis: Artemis had always been shy around humans, so we kind of assumed that she was a submissive kitty. In my apartment, it was just her and Ares, and I never really saw them squabble, so I had no evidence to the contrary. However, Andrew brought a new cat into the mix when he and I moved in together – his cat Duncan. It took some time before we saw them interact much, but I remember one time they both rounded the corner on the landing of our second floor at the same time from different directions. We watched as Duncan started to challenge Artemis, and she put it right in his place. There was some growling, and maybe some paw swipes (I can’t remember), but fairly quickly, Duncan submitted (can’t remember if he slunk away or laid down — over time, we saw him do both). I think Andrew and I had different reactions – I uttered a “go girl”, encouraging Artemis, but Andrew felt a little bad for his kitty. We were both shocked to learn that she was the alpha in the house.

Artemis on the blanketArtemis attacking the catnip mat

Snooze-control: When I was still a full-time student, I had a lot of freedom for what time I would get up in the morning, as long as I was to school on time for class. I would set an alarm to make sure I didn’t sleep away the whole morning, but usually would snooze 1-5 times (it was fairly random). Somehow, Artemis would know exactly when I had decided that THIS snooze was the LAST one for the morning. She would choose the moment when I hit the snooze button to jump up on the bed and lay on my chest. Almost every morning. And often, she would get me to snooze once or twice more.

Artemis' pawArtemis cleaning her earArtemis with the catnip

Laptop patrol: Ever since I got my first laptop (and more recently a tablet), Artemis was sure to let me know when I had spent enough time with it sitting in my lap. She would come and sit on the arm of my comfy chair, and head-butt my hand or bat at my fingers – making it clear that SHE should be in my lap, not the stupid computer. Most of the time she was right…and pretty much all of the time in the past few months.


Oscar-nominated short films for 2014

Posted by barb on Mar 2, 2014 in Movies

For the past several years, Andrew and I have been going to see the Oscar(tm)-nominated short films at our local theater (well, it’s not exactly local anymore, since we moved to the other side of the Beltway…). So, this year, when the program showed up at Cinema Arts Theatre, we made a plan to trek over to Fairfax for the day and catch both the animated and live-action programs.

Here’s my take on this year’s crop.

Spoiler Alert I’m probably going to give away some of the plots/turning points in these shorts, so go see the films first, before reading!

Animated shorts

Get a Horse [Clip]

This was a Disney short, and starts out in the old black and white, small screen format. Suddenly, a couple characters break through the screen and find themselves in 3D color. The film continues with the characters popping into and out of the screen – into 3D color then back to flat, black and white.

It felt like this concept had been done before, many times. In fact, it seemed vaguely like Day and Night from Disney Pixar, which was nominated in 2010.

If this one wins, it will be because of the sentimentality of the old-style Mickey Mouse.

Mr. Hublot [Trailers]

Mr. Hublot is an OCD single man living in a steampunk-inspired future with tons of retro-looking automation. One day, he sees an abandoned robot-dog, and he can’t get this little guy out of his mind.

This one was my favorite. Though the story was predictable, with the ending set up fairly obviously in the opening shots, the story was uplifting…and the puppy was cute. And the animation style was straight-forward and fun to look at.

Feral [Trailer]

This one was about a feral child picked up in the woods. While there was a story present, the main driver of this piece is the watercolor-style animation.

Personally, I find this type of animation hard to look at, but I can appreciate the beauty that others must find in it. This one may win, just because the style sets it apart from the others and makes it seem more “arty”, which often attracts the Oscar voters.

Possessions [IMDB]

Bizarre story based on the old Japanese idea that if possessions are old enough, they begin to possess a soul that can taunt people. A “fixer of all things” is caught in the woods during a storm and stumbles into an old house. All night the objects in the house taunt him int fixing them.

Room on the Broom [Trailer]

Going in to today’s movies, we were both hoping there wouldn’t be yet another Gruffalo short…well there wasn’t, but Room on the Broom was from the same team and author. It is based on a children’s book, so the film was cute, as were the Gruffalo shorts, but not terribly substantive or interesting beyond the cuteness.

My prediction is that Feral will win, because of the animation style more than anything. We’ll see tonight!

Live-action shorts

Helium [Trailer]

The live-action program started with this, a sentimental piece about a hospital janitor trying to comfort a dying child with tales of the world of Helium, a more-fun alternative to Heaven. It was cute and sad and sentimental – everything that we come to expect from the live-action shorts. Sigh. From the moment it started #150; in a hospital with a sick child – we knew exactly where it would end.

The Voorman Problem [Trailer]

What do you do when a prisoner proclaims to be a god? And, when that prisoner convinces the entire prison population that he’s a god? Send in a psychologist of course. This short shows us what happens next.

One of few comedies that we’ve seen in all the live-action shorts we’ve seen over the years, this one was fun and extremely well-done with just a few short scenes.

Avant Que De Tout Perdre (Just Before Losing Everything) [Trailer]

This short captures the day a woman’s decides to take her kids and leave her abusive husband. I found myself drawn in almost immediately, and continued to be engaged throughout the entire piece. The danger for this woman felt very real, and the urgency carried through every moment of the piece.

This one could win tonight, and I would heartily support that win.

Aquel No Era Yo (That Wasn’t Me) [Trailer]

Set in Africa, this piece follows a pair of Spanish aid workers who are kidnapped by a group of child soldiers. The acting was not great – perhaps because the actors were working in English, which was clearly not their first language. However, even if the acting was great, I would have been disengaged from the beginning. I know that child soldiers are a real problem in parts of the world, and I do know that their plight needs to be brought out to the public…it just seems that there are other ways to do it. Or maybe not. I know it’s complicated.

If this one wins tonight, it will be due to the subject matter, not the film itself.

Pitääkö Mun Kaikki Hoitaa? (Do I Have to Take Care of Everything?) [Trailer]

A very short (7 minute) comedy about a family late getting ready to attend a wedding. So many unexpected moments, and I may have laughed out loud. I doubt it will win, but this was my favorite.

I’m guessing that either That Wasn’t Me or Just Before Losing Everything will win tonight. It’s so hard for comedies to win these awards, though those were probably my favorite in this program.

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