Wonderbook: Book of Potions & Walking With Dinosaurs

Wonderbook Titles © SCEE
Wonderbook Titles © SCEE

It’s been a year since Sony released its Wonderbook alongside the Potter-verse centred game Book of Spells. The peripheral wasn’t quite the success they hoped for. The mixture of requiring expensive accessories (the Wonderbook requires a Playstation Move system as well as the physical book for games to work) and a distinct lack of advertising or at least advertising to the right people, kids, doomed it to failure. By January, shelves were loaded with unsold games.

Now, one year on from launch, Sony has finally provided some new titles for those of us with a Wonderbook gathering dust at home.

First up is the second in the Harry Potter range, Book of Potions. The game follows almost exactly the same premise as the original Book of Spells but there are some new features included too, such as placing the Move controller beside your book when instructed, which magically changes your wand into a wooden spoon, tongs, garden shears, or other tools you might need to brew your potions.

Once again you are given the option to link the game with an existing Pottermore account, thus bringing in your selected house and wand from the platform. If you’re not a member, you get to choose both. As the book progresses, players are gradually introduced to the character of Zygmunt Budge, an accomplished potioneer who helps you learn to brew your own potions.

My son playing Book of Potions © Sophie Brown
My son playing Book of Potions © Sophie Brown

When I looked at Book of Spells last year I was impressed with the game and Book of Potions gave me the same positive impression.

However, it is not without issues. I invited my nephew (a few weeks shy of turning seven) over to play and he found it exceedingly difficult and grew bored fast.

Creating a potion requires a large number of steps and with the slow progress of a child, there can be a lot of waiting before any potions are actually brewed. Even with three children taking turns, they all got bored of chopping the onions required for the initial potion and I ended up taking over to get them through that process and onto something new.

The new tool, switching mechanism, was also a point of frustration, even my husband and I found it difficult to position the Move controller in the exact spot on the floor required for the game to pick it up and make the transformation.

The game as a whole seems a little confused with gameplay clearly aimed at a younger audience—the potion making process reminded me of Nintendo’s Cooking Mama—but dialogue, back-story, and a level of precision aimed at those much older for whom the actual game would be a little tedious.

The second game we looked at was Walking with Dinosaurs, obviously adapted from the hit BBC series.

This was the one I was really looking forward to and the main reason for inviting my nephew over to play. As with most children of his age, he’s more than a little bit keen on dinosaurs. The book takes on the form of an illustrated encyclopedia of dinosaurs, with each page focusing on different aspects of their lives and the environment.

The mini games are far more varied than Book of Potions too. An early game requires you to sit perfectly still and quiet to stop a large gorgosaurus from finding you in the bushes. Of course, as my nephew decided instead, there’s always the option of shouting to make it come over, much to the disquiet of his four-year-old sister who was desperately trying to make him shut up! Other games included using a hammer and brush to uncover fossils, placing bones into a skeleton to form a dinosaur, and finding a selection of creatures in an animated 360 degree 3D picture.

Totally Enraptured by Walking with Dinosaurs © Sophie Brown
Totally Enraptured by Walking with Dinosaurs © Sophie Brown

Progressing through the book unlocks collectable cards, not of any interest to my four year old who was mostly enamored by the big dinosaurs stomping about in our living room, but brilliant for kids of a certain age for whom collecting cards and stickers is an obsession.

My nephew was completely enraptured by the game and didn’t want to take turns with the other kids, even when there were a few difficulties such as figuring out why a puzzle wasn’t unlocking or pointing the controller at a very specific point on the screen.

Unlike Book of Potions, Walking with Dinosaurs really knows its target audience and works at their level. The game is also being released to coincide with Walking with Dinosaurs 3D hitting movie screens, and characters from the film—Patchi, Juniper, and Gorgon—make regular appearances.

Wonderbook is still a dubious piece of technology, if only from a cost perspective. The requirement of a Move in order to play makes buying the technology cost prohibitive, and now with the release of the PS4, the PS3 is already taking its first steps toward the dusty shelf of retirement.

Are parents really going to want to fork out $50-80 (only the original Book of Spells can be bought packaged with a Move—both new games are only available standalone or with a Wonderbook) for the system? For those already in possession of the system then both games are genuinely good experiences—especially Walking with Dinosaurs if you have a dino lover in your home—at a fairly low cost.

Worth $80? Sorry Sony but no, not at this time.

GeekMom received both games for review purposes. 

16 Actors Who Make Love Actually One of the Geekiest Casts Ever Assembled

Everyone’s favorite Christmas movie (if it’s not at least in your Top Five, I don’t think we can be friends anymore) is now over a decade old. And it turns out, the gloriously convoluted story of Londoners in love packs some serious geeky street cred. Before and after Love Actually, several members of the cast made their mark in some pretty big movies and TV shows. Here’s a catalog of their greatest hits (and this isn’t even including the various guest appearances on Doctor Who).

1. Andrew Lincoln

All Love Actually photos © Universal Studios, 2003.

Let’s start with an obvious one. Lovesick Mark, with his cue cards and unrequited love, went on to become:

Sheriff Rick Grimes, the often-infuriating hero of The Walking Dead.

2. Alan Rickman


Snape. Snape. Severus Snape. Continue reading 16 Actors Who Make Love Actually One of the Geekiest Casts Ever Assembled

Harry Potter and the Book of Stamps

© Warner Bros. Entertainment
Stamp Preview © USPS / USA Today

Starting November 19, the U.S. Postal Service is offering a magical opportunity to dress up your holiday cards, correspondence, and acceptance letters from Hogwarts with a collector’s booklet of 20 First-Class Forever Harry Potter stamps.

The stamps will feature 20 different photographs from all eight Harry Potter movies, including our favorite wizards like Harry, Ron, and Hermione; their classmates and professors; magical creatures like Hedwig and Fawkes the phoenix; and even villains like Voldemort and Bellatrix Lestrange. Nothing says jolly like Bellatrix Lestrange on your Christmas cards!

If you have Potterhead philatelists to shop for this holiday season (and who doesn’t), the USPS has you covered. The USPS web site is currently taking pre-orders for the collection, or you can head to the closest post office on Tuesday to get your Muggle mitts on the stamps.

Gothic: The Dark Heart of Film

Gothic: The Dark Heart of Film © BFI
Gothic: The Dark Heart of Film © BFI

From Harry Potter to Night of The Living Dead, the juxtaposition between the geek and the gothic has always been broad and varied. Magic, vampires, mad scientists and all things that go bump in the night sit happily in both camps, and that’s why, even as not much of a horror aficionado, I was keen to read the latest compendium from the BFI (British Film Institute), Gothic: The Dark Heart of Film. The book is a companion to the BFI celebration of gothic film and television currently taking place across the UK.

Published as a large format paperback filled with beautiful movie stills and film posters, Gothic looks at the history of all things creepy and sinister, beginning with silent era movies like Nosferatu and bringing the genre right up to date with modern British horror such as 2012’s The Woman in Black.

The book is divided into four parts. Part one deals with the Monstrous: vampires, werewolves, zombies, and other creatures of the night. We see how our treatment of these creatures on screen has evolved alongside society and trace their evolution, from the classic image of Bela Lugosi’s Dracula through to modernized images such as the sparkling Cullen family in Twilight and even Sesame Street’s own resident bloodsucker Count von Count. There is no judgement to be found, no argument that one portrayal is better or more accurate than another, only a fascinating discussion of how our reactions have changed and how Hollywood has adapted to keep us coming back for more.

Image from Nosferatu: The Vampyre © BFI
Image from Nosferatu: The Vampyre © BFI

Part two deals with the Dark Arts: from devil worship to mad scientists and serial killers. The range of films up for discussion is startling. While classics like Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde and The Fly are naturally ripe for inclusion, the chapter also covers films such as Shutter Island, Black Swan, and the Hannibal Lecter series.

Part three—Haunted—has an obvious focus on ghosts stories but tales like Sleepy Hollow, Psycho, and Misery also find their home within its pages; there are more ways to be haunted than you might wish to think about. There is a detailed discussion of the role of children in gothic cinema beginning with Snow White and The Seven Dwarfs (who here wasn’t scared of the forest scene as a young child?) through to modern children’s gothic films like Frankenweenie via less obvious choices like Edward Scissorhands, The Addams Family, and Dark Shadows.

The fourth and final part of the book—Love Is a Devil—has some of the most disturbing content as it looks at the influence of love and the actions it can drive characters to. While some of those choices are more innocent (think Bella in Twilight), the chapter also highlights less romantic love stories such as Hannibal and Clarice.

The comparison between traditional portrayals of  Dracula and the charming yet twisted Hannibal Lecter had escaped me until now but is one of the points I will carry with me. My appreciation of the storytelling of gothic cinema has been truly changed by this book. Part four also takes an in-depth look at the role of women in these films and on television, from submissive Eleanor in The Haunting to vengeful Carrie and on to tough heroines Buffy and Ripley.

A Chapter on Haunted Landscapes © BFIThroughout the book are dozens of cutaways that discuss specific aspects of gothic cinema in detail. There are in depth looks at “The Architecture of Gothic Cinema,” “Children’s Gothic Television” (featuring such British classics as Knightmare and Children of the Stones as well as modern fare like Trapped! and Young Dracula), the “Southern Gothic” of New Orleans, and the surrounding areas and even “Queer Gothic.”

Each one gives a brief yet interesting look at its subject that will often have you wanting to go out and read more.

Gothic is a brilliant book that manages to cover almost every aspect of the gothic cinema without ever becoming pompous or self-indulgent. It perfectly toes the lines between academic treatment of the subject and unrestrained fanboy/girl adoration using a succession of great writers to cover the different subjects under review. Guillermo del Toro, Mark Gatiss, and Charlie Higson are amongst the enormous list of contributing authors. While the book does have a strong focus on British cinema, fans of all types of gothic cinema from Italian to Japanese will find chapters just for them. If you have even a passing interest in the genre then this book is well worth your time.

GeekMom received a PDF of this book for review purposes. Gothic is available to purchase on Amazon UK or direct from the BFI.

Geeky Fun with 100 Ghosts: A Gallery of Harmless Haunts

100 Ghosts \ Images: Quirk Books
100 Ghosts \ Images: Quirk Books

Initially, I saw 100 Ghosts: A Gallery of Harmless Haunts by Doogie Horner as simply another Halloween-themed coffee table book. However, once I started flipping through it, I realized: this is more than a mere coffee table book…it’s a costume reference library!

After all, ghosts are not only synonymous with Halloween, they are the most simple of costumes, gentle on both the creator and the budget, so that anyone can make one!

Not all the ghosts in the book are possible costumes but many are and with 100 pictures–including some extraordinarily geeky options (phantasmic Fantastic Four, anyone?)–there is bound to be a beloved bogey or apt apparition for everyone in the family. Personally, I’d go with spectral Harry Potter. He looks easy and recognizable.

I’m not the only one jumping on the geeky ghost wagon! Check out these great images of other GeekMom’s geeky ghostly creations!

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100 Ghosts: A Gallery of Harmless Haunts is available on Amazon for $8.99 and is reading fun for the whole family.

Disclaimer: GeekMom was given a review sample

Transformers, Simpsons, and Minions Ohh My! — Universal Studios Orlando

Optimus Prime and Megatron battle it out \ Image courtesy of Unviersal Orlando
Optimus Prime and Megatron battle it out \ Image courtesy of Universal Orlando

This year, Universal Studios has unleashed the power of the Transformers and added a Springfield touch to its Orlando theme park. A few weeks ago, I had the chance to experience their newest ride, Transformers 3D, as well as check out the newly-expanded Simpsons area. After checking out Transformers, my husband and I gave a Flaming Moe a try, chowed down on Chicken and Waffle sandwiches, and  had Krusty Burgers. Afterwards, we hit up Despicable Me and the Curious George playground to let our son get soaked and let us relax after filling our stomachs with theme park cuisine.

The newest attraction at Universal Studios is Transformers The Ride 3D. When we first approached the N.E.S.T facility, we were greeted by a massive statue of Optimus Prime. Some guests have taken photos of themselves mimicking Optimus Prime’s pose in, what Universal calls, Optimus #Priming! If you have little kids, this is a fun picture to take before you enter the ride.

Once inside, we were greeted by “military personnel” who directed us into the Express Pass queue line. The Express Pass is Universal’s quick entry system that allows guests to wait in a shorter line to marquee attractions. Each pass allows you entrance into the Express Pass line once per attraction and can cut your wait down considerably during peak seasons. The Express Pass line is a lot less interesting to go through, however, so if you’re interested in the details and replica props–including the AllSpark and the Decepticon Grimlock’s tail scattered throughout the building–stick with the main queue line (this is best done as soon as you enter the park, so no dilly-dallying).

Admittedly, I didn’t ride Transformers The Ride 3D; I have a hard time riding Spider-Man over at Islands of Adventure and I was told Transformers has a lot of similarities to it. Instead of getting my own first hand account, I enlisted the help of my thrill-junkie husband and 7-year-old thrill-junkie-in-training son to ride it for me and give me their input. Once we got to the loading zone, I was shown the door into the child swap area and I watched my family jump into their Transformer escort, EVAC.

EVAC is the newest Transformer to roll-out with the Autobots and even though his only purpose is to be essentially the ride vehicle, he’s still a pretty cool Transformer.

A few minutes later, they met me at the child swap area and it was evident they’d had fun. My son had no problem letting out a loud scream of approval while we were walking out the exit so everyone around would know he enjoyed himself.

Once we were outside, my husband told me all about the ride.

“Visually, it’s stunning, especially the level of detail they went into. I know it has three separate floors, but I couldn’t tell we were moving from one floor to the next. Something that was really cool was at the end of the ride when you are going back to the loading zone, if you turn around, you can see Optimus Prime watching to make sure you get through safely.”

When I asked him what he thought the thrill level was on a scale of one (kiddy ride) to five (extreme), he said it felt like Transformers was about a three, because at times it really feels like you’re going fast down the track, when in reality it’s just the special effects messing with your head.

Be warned! Once you exit the ride, you will find yourself inside a tight-fitting gift shop. If you’re interested in t-shirts with the Transformers and Universal logo on them ($25 and up), this is the place to be. Little kids and big kids will find the selection of Transformers impressive—but almost all of the models can be found outside the park. The only Transformer you will not find outside of the park gates is EVAC.

Now, do you really think Universal would have created a new Transformer without making a toy version to sell in the gift shop? Of course not and my husband couldn’t resist picking up his own EVAC ($24.99) to take home and transform. My husband told me he usually pays around $12 to $15 per Transformer, so EVAC’s $24.99 price tag is a little steep. On the upside, my husband wasn’t disappointed in EVAC’s design, so he’s happy with his purchase.

When you’re done at the ride, head over to the Transformers Meet and Greet area to catch up with either Optimus Prime, Bumblebee, or Megatron. If you don’t see them in robot mode, they might be out in vehicle mode. Universal’s goal is to have at least one Transformer out at all times and they rotate on a set schedule, so my recommendation is if you want to see all three, stick around for the full rotation and get it done. The lines can get pretty long and the Transformers’ handlers are happy to tell you when to jump back in line for the next Transformer coming out. Professional photography is available, but it’s pricey—costing up to $50 for a photo package, so make sure you have your own camera handy and feel free to hand it to a N.E.S.T operative so they can take the picture for you.

After riding the Transformers, I was a little on the hungry side, so my family headed over to Moe’s Tavern and food court in the Simpsons area. While there, I noticed a sign on the wall that said “One Drink Per I.D.” I wasn’t sure how they monitored customers but the bartender explained to me that,

“The one drink per ID means one drink at a time. This is still a family park and we don’t want people walking around with more than one alcoholic drink at a time. If security sees someone walking around with more than one alcoholic drink, they will either ask that one of the drinks are thrown away or both are thrown away.”

This made me feel a little better about Universal selling alcohol all over their parks, rather than in just one area (like at the Magic Kingdom).

Moe’s Tavern’s signature beverage is the Flaming Moe, an orange soda drink with a dry ice touch and an expensive price tag ($7.99 per glass). This is a neat drink to try once, but after that, you may find Butterbeer satisfies your thirst a little better (and for the cost of one Flaming Moe, you can get two 16-ounce Butterbeers).

Located in the same area as Moe’s is the newly remodeled Simpsons food court, which includes restaurants such as:

  • The Krusty Burger – featuring the heavy-on-the-cheese-sauce Krusty Burger.
  • Cletus’s Chicken Shack – home to the Chicken and Waffle sandwich.
  • The Frying Dutchman – specializing in fried fish.
  • Lisa’s Teahouse of Terror – specializing in salads.
  • Luigi’s – which specializes in pizza.

Lisa’s Teahouse of Terror is basically a refrigerator with pre-made salads, wraps, and sandwiches (entrees start at $6.99). This is the best option for healthy meals, so if that’s important to you, make sure you are in this area of the park around lunch time. Luigi’s also has a vegetarian pizza.

Even though it’s a food court, you still have to enter a line to get to the food locations, so I would eat lunch a little early, say around 11 A.M—certainly no later than 11:30 A.M, to beat the crowds.

The “Taco Truck” outside of the food court is also a great place to eat and has some of the tastiest steak tacos I’ve ever eaten (cost is around $8.99 for two tacos with guacamole, salsa, and chips). For picky eaters, this is a nice option because you can customize your taco with flour or corn soft shells, meat, and toppings.

We spent $40 for three entrees and two drinks for lunch. Included in that total is one Krusty Burger, one Chicken Waffle sandwich, one cheese pizza, one large soda, one Flaming Moe, and two cupcakes.

Moe’s isn’t the only location in Universal that sells alcohol. Many of the cart vendors spread throughout the park offer adult beverages for purchase–as do the restaurants–so no worries if you get away from Moe’s and suddenly have the urge for a cold brewski. For those interested in Duff Beer, I’ve been told the brew in the Simpsons area is unique and created locally.

Journeying to another area of the park, I went on one of my favorite Universal rides…

Despicable Me is the most kid-friendly simulator I’ve ever been on. I’ll go ahead and warn you the line goes really slow, because they can only load so many guests into the building at a time. Once you’re inside, it goes by a bit quicker and you have Gru and the girls to keep you entertained.

After you pick up your 3D glasses, Gru walks you through the process of becoming one of his minions. Unexpectedly, your training gets handed over to the girls and they take you on a ride through the minion lab and eventually you help save the day. As you exit the ride, the minions are there to great you with a dance party as you exit the ride. The downside is they’re only around for about five-minutes each time and only while the ride is exiting (in theme parks this is known as a “show-dump”).

Not everything worth checking out at Universal Studios is complete. Half of the fun can sometimes be in watching the progress of a new attraction take place.

It’s no secret that Universal is expanding the Harry Potter area in Universal Studios, and while not much is known about this area, it has been confirmed that Diagon Alley, the Hogwarts Express, and Gringotts Bank will be featured areas. I’ve heard plenty of rumors about what Gringotts Bank is supposed to be, but one thing is for sure: This is going to be a family-friendly marquee attraction.

Universal isn’t just for the big kids. For families traveling with little ones, make time to take them to Barney (hear me out here) for the indoor playground area, so you can get some air conditioning and they can run off some energy. Curious George is also a great play area, but be warned…you will not come out dry!

If you get a chance to head out to Universal Studios, make sure you hit up Transformers, Despicable Me, and have lunch with the Simpsons. My advice is to arrive before the park opens so you can hop on Despicable Me first and then go straight to Transformers when you’re done. Both rides can have over a 90-minute wait on a good day, so hit them first and get them out of the way.

Tickets start at $92 for adults and $86 for children for a one day one park ticket. Make sure you visit Universal Orlando’s website for the most current ticket prices. If you plan on coming down this year, my advice is to arrive just after Thanksgiving to avoid the Christmas peak season.

GeekMom received tickets to visit these attractions.

On Breaking, or Not Breaking, the Harry Potter Spell

One of the many dog eared copies of Harry Potter strewn about our home. Photo: Cristen Pantano

“Oh Potter, you rotter, what have you done?”

Last November my husband began reading Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone to our son. After a few chapters, they were both hooked.  Within a few weeks, they were on to book two.

One weekend our son told us that he had been thinking about some things from the first book and wanted to know if he could reread it to himself. This is where it all began.

He reread the first two books, and was then frustrated with the pace at which my husband was reading book three aloud to him. We told him that he could go on and read it to himself.  He was enchanted by Harry and Hogwarts, and there was no stopping him.

When it was time for book seven he dove right in, but,  he put the book down after about three chapters. He has been elusive in his reasons for not finishing, so we haven’t pressed. I’m thinking he was scared; others have suggested that he probably doesn’t want it to end.

When he put book seven down, we thought that after almost eight months of nonstop Harry Potter, he would read something else. We couldn’t have been more wrong.

Each day he picked one of the Harry Potter books and carried it around all day long. He would read various chapters and passages at random, then decided to start at book one again. The books have become an additional appendage on his body. They are dog-eared, stained, tattered, and strewn about the house.

At first I thought this was great, he was reading and loving what he was reading. But then, as the calendar moved toward September it hit me that he hasn’t read much other than Harry Potter for almost a year. I asked friends for suggestions: What did their kids read after Harry Potter?

Percy Jackson was a fail, but children’s Greek mythology books were a hit. The Wonderful Wizard of Oz, score! Meanwhile, Encyclopedia Brown and The Hardy Boys are collecting dust as Harry Potter continues to log many miles.

I decided to ask my fellow GeekMoms if their children had done this with Harry Potter, and whether I should just let it go, or encourage other books. Many responded that their kids had a similar experience with Harry Potter. Some let it go, and some encouraged one other book in between each Harry Potter book. Many also shared with me their own book obsessions. There were also a few responses that stopped me in my tracks.

GeekMom Samantha had this to say, “…there is clearly something he is working out, something he is grappling with that the books are providing for him. Something that only reading them over and over will give him. Eventually, he will move on when he comes to his moment of clarity or closure.”

GeekMom Ariane posed this succinct question, “What’s your concern with this behavior?”

What was my concern?  Honestly, I still can’t  completely answer that question. I guess I would prefer that he read a variety of books.  Maybe I feel that that is what he is “supposed” to do? Maybe I fear an unhealthy obsession? I seriously don’t know. I don’t even know if I am that concerned, or if it’s just that I think that maybe I should be. Ariane stumped me.

With all of the GeekMom responses in mind, and my inability to pinpoint what my concerns were, we decided to let it go but keep other new books available to him.

Last weekend we visited our favorite local bookstore. The owners chatted with our son and helped him pick out some great new books for us to read to him, and for him to read on his own. He has read one and the others are sitting on the coffee table, waiting…

I have asked him many times why he keeps reading the books. He usually just shrugs and keeps on reading. Today I told him that I was going to write about his love for Harry Potter. This time he looked up and said, “I just don’t want it to end.”  With GeekMom Sam’s words in my head, I told him that as long as he keeps reading them, the adventure will continue.

Percy Jackson: Sea of Monsters Director Thor Freudenthal Balances Humor and Darkness

Thor Freudenthal on set with Logan Lerman. Photo: 20th Century Fox

I recently had the opportunity to join a discussion with some of my fellow bloggers and Thor Freudenthal, director of Percy Jackson: Sea of MonstersDuring the Q & A about the movie, Freudenthal revealed some of the thinking that went into his direction of the movie, such as taking it in a darker direction than the first. (If you’re not familiar with Percy Jackson: Sea of Monsters, the latest installment in the Percy Jackson franchise, check out my movie review.)

Thor Freudenthal: If you have an ensemble piece like this one, with Tyson’s journey of accepting who he is and coming to terms with it, Percy regaining his confidence as a hero, Annabeth overcoming her prejudice, Clarisse and Percy sort of making up at the end…there are a lot of threads to keep track of. Central to it all, to me, was the story about kids who have all been dealt kind of a rough hand because their parents are gods, and they’re absent gods. It’s up to them to sort of find their own place in the world.

Now as far as the darkness is concerned, I tried to lean a little bit more on the pacing and the sense of humor in the books. There is kind of a light tone from the chapter heading in the books to Percy’s own voice really narrating everything in the kind of funny, sardonic, irreverent way that we wanted to translate here. The challenge is that you’re also dealing with the death of characters, the sort of looming darkness of the villain, and so forth. It’s a tough thing to kind of all bring under one hat, but that was the attempt.

I felt—at least from what I’ve heard in terms of responses—that people felt the humorous tone was more present in this movie than it was in the first one.

Chris Columbus is the director who brought the first Percy Jackson movie to the screen. Seeing Thor Freudenthal’s take on Percy Jackson is reminiscent of when Alfonso Cuarón took over for Chris Columbus in the Harry Potter movies. Good on Chris Columbus for being the first to bring these huge properties to the screen, but it’s nice when a new director can come in and add more depth. Freudenthal talked about the challenges of making the second movie in the franchise, taking into account feedback from the first movie.

TF: [Viewers] were presented with a series of decisions that were already made, from casting to how the story was sort of left at the end of the first movie, so it’s challenging to pick up the pieces and try to do the book justice. But it’s also very liberating because the setup has already been done, meaning Percy has learned who he is. We’re already in that world. It’s established, so now you can sort of dig a little deeper into it, as far as how you create the different aspects of Camp Half-Blood. I wanted to create more of a life in the camp; I wanted to show different sides of it. And I wanted to sort of widen the scope of it.

On set with Alexandra Daddario and Brandon T. Jackson. Photo: 20th Century Fox

Thor Freudenthal is no stranger to bringing book properties to the screen. He was the director of the first Diary Of A Wimpy Kid movie. (I love that movie.) Freudenthal spoke of his different experiences on the two films.

TF: It’s always tough to translate a book to a screen simply because they’re such different formats. A movie is not a book. In the case of Diary of a Wimpy Kid, starting the franchise, we were very, very concerned with casting it correctly. That was the one thing that at some point seemed to be a sheer insurmountable task: Finding a kid that in everyone’s mind matches the stick figure drawing character from the books that sort of embodies the attitude of the character as well as a certain look that you think matches, even though all you have to go by is a circle and two dots.

What maybe both book adaptations have in common is that in a book—and this is specifically in the Wimpy Kid book—you can open the book at any page and read a fun episode or story or a tangent, something awesome or something funny, whereas the movie generally has to be on one particular track. It’s a very singular track. It’s one straight line that moves forward without much deviation. That means you have to find the sort of simple story arc, as we call it, or the goal that the character has or faces, and then group everything else sort of underneath it. Everything that the movie does has to be in service of that story.

In the case of Wimpy Kid, we decided that it should be a friendship story between the wimpy kid, Greg Heffley, and his best friend, Rowley, which is sort of present in the book but really more in the background. In the movie, I wanted to make it sort of the general through-line of the story.

Percy Jackson was even more challenging because the book is a sprawling, multi-hundred page epic. And in a two-hour movie, you can’t really do that. We had to sort of make really tough choices to keep the pace up and create a three act structure. And the result—since the story is about Camp Half-Blood becoming vulnerable and the barrier of Camp Half-Blood being destroyed—that’s where we had to start our movie, rather than start it in school where the second book started and spend a whole lot of time there, which really wouldn’t have amounted to much in the movie. So, it’s fine in the book, but it doesn’t really help the general plotting of the story, which means we have to introduce characters differently and bring them to the table differently.

Speaking of differences between the book and the movie, Freudenthal spoke about the tough choices where the movie is different from the book. [Warning: Spoilers ahead.]

TF: It was partially me reading the books and discovering that there is a sort of bigger mythology under the story, mostly having to do with Thalia’s tree and the back story of Thalia. Thalia sort of becomes the beacon of courage to everyone at camp: What the tree means as a symbol, the barrier, the prophesy—which wasn’t introduced in the first movie— we had to somehow segue it into this movie. That in itself was interesting. [It was] essential to have Percy be confronted with his supposed future and make it sort of add in okay. Of course the character’s journey results in [Percy deciding] himself what his destiny is. So, that was a neat thing thematically and something that was not in the first book that I felt should be included.

Now here’s another interesting thing about making a movie like this. Kronos is such a lingering threat throughout that we talk about him in the prophesy. Luke, the villain, talks about him. When you talk about a thing so much through your first and second act, you have to show it. If you talk forever about Kronos, and there’s no Kronos, it doesn’t really work as a one, two, three act. In a book, it’s fine because you’re closing a book and you’re looking forward to book three, and ultimately Kronos will appear. I think if the movie series continues, the movies can adhere very much to the outcome of the prophesy as it relates to Kronos, Luke, and Percy, and so forth. But for this movie, I felt that it needed a finale that delivered on the promise.

And finally, I loved hearing about the inspired casting of Nathan Fillion as Hermes.

TF: Well, I have to tell you, I will gladly take full credit for this because I was prepping the movie, working with the writer, and I was hanging out with my little brother. We’re both Nathan Fillion fans. I mean, I loved Dr. Horrible’s Sing-Along Blog. I love Firefly. I was always a huge fan of comedy. And his pacing, his timing, he seems like a great guy. So, we’re watching Firefly, I forget which episode. I was thinking about Hermes, and Hermes is a guy who’s very much a showman, very much sort of in love with himself, but holds that sort of deep regret with how he dealt with his son and what that might mean for the future. So, he’s a regretful dad. And I was, like, “Oh, my God.”  Suddenly it just came to me. What an inspiring kind of lucky thought. What if he’s Hermes?

So, I called up 20th Century Fox. I met him over coffee. He was the nicest guy. When I described it to him he instantly said that he wanted to do it, which was lucky. And so, there he was. And my little brother, being such a fan, he’s, like, “Hey.  I’m coming to visit you in Vancouver when you shoot that scene.” My little brother is actually in the scene with him.  He’s an extra.

Check out Percy Jackson: Sea of Monsters now open in theaters, and you can explain to your book-loving tween about how sometimes directors have to make tough choices.

Destination: Great Family Games for Casual Gamers

Destination Games © Sophie Brown

Destination is a British board game which places players in the role of a taxi driver attempting to visit all of his or her destinations and return to the taxi rank first.

It’s a deceptively simple idea made all the more tricky by the need for fuel and the twisting roads that make planning out a route harder than you might imagine. For this review I was playing the London edition of Destination; many different cities and a number of special edition versions have also been released but we’ll come back to those later.

Destination is a game with very few rules that are all easy to explain. It is perfect for game night, with more casual gamer friends & family, or with kids. The game comes packaged in a tiny box and the board is assembled jigsaw style from four pieces to form a map of the city you’ve chosen. While clearly not to scale, the map tries to be at least close to geographically accurate. The London edition shows the Thames curving through the city and there are lots of illustrated landmarks to spot: Buckingham Palace, the London Eye, and The British Museum are among those found on the board. Before you even start playing it’s fun trying to recognize each of the 40 numbered destinations from their location and surrounding pictures.

The Destination London Board © Sophie Brown

At the beginning of a game, each player is given seven destination cards from the deck and two fuel cards, each of which is valid to get the player to one destination. Each player places their taxi in the rank and the game is off as the players race to reach each of their destinations and return to the rank first. There is a lot of simple strategy involved: To reach a destination you must have a fuel card in your hand. This means planning routes that will take you past the garage to fill up with more fuel cards (up to a maximum of four in your hand at any time), trying to avoid doubling back on yourself which wastes time, and trying to plan a logical route through the city. Landing on traffic lights forces you to pick up a traffic light card which has a chance of helping or hindering you. You might have all your fuel stolen, be forced to the garage (helpful if you need fuel but irritating if you’re sent there from the other side of the city when you don’t), or get free fuel.

Whatever happens, these cards can significantly alter your approach so you can’t go planning your strategies too far in advance. To win the game, you must be the first player to visit all your destinations and return to the taxi rank by exact count.

One of the best things about Destination is the variety of editions available. Over 15 different cities and regions have now been released and the games manufacturers hope to one day produce enough editions to create a map of the entire UK. There’s something appealing about playing on a map of familiar landmarks. It’s the same lure that has made the thousands of Monopoly variants bestsellers in their respective regions.

While pretending to drive around Norwich wouldn’t mean much to the majority of us, for locals (and possibly even more for ex-locals) there’s a clear nostalgia factor involved. I can guarantee you that if and when Destination releases a game of my home city of Manchester I will be buying it. The simplicity of the underlying game mechanic has also made it possible for themes to be easily overlaid giving rise to special editions for Pixar, London 2012, and Harry Potter.

The Harry Potter edition of Destination, actually titled Destination Hogwarts, plays slightly differently to the standard edition of the game. In the original you visit your seven destinations and race back to the start to win, but in Hogwarts once you reach a destination you collect a number of house points (paper notes akin to Monopoly money) and then take a new destination from the pile to replace it. The game only ends after every destination has been visited. Once you have visited all your destinations and there are none left in the pile you race back to your common room (dependent on which character you are playing as) and the first player back wins an extra 150 house points, however as in Quidditch that may not be enough to secure their victory.

The Destination Hogwarts Board © Sophie Brown

Destination Hogwarts also removes the need for fuel cards (or at least some sort of magical replacement, broom servicing kits perhaps?) which results in a much simpler and less strategic game. The traffic light cards are still there as Dark Mark cards that affect your house points. Examples include: receiving a howler from home, being burnt by a blast-ended skrewt and sent to the hospital wing, or conjuring a patronus to save another pupil from a dementor; but these do little in regards to affecting your strategy. This is however one Dark Mark card you really want to avoid; if you are caught with a copy of The Quibbler you are expelled and instantly lose the game!

This brings up another issue with Destination Hogwarts, the ambiguity of several rules.

As you travel around the beautiful Hogwarts board you move through the school, the grounds, the Forbidden Forest, and the lake via boats. Normally you throw two dice but the rules state that “if you choose to travel by boat you may only use one die” and that “you may only use one die when you enter the Forbidden Forest.” That’s fine if you’re already there, but what if you’re not? If I’m one space away from the boats then surely I’m “choosing to travel by boat” but I’m still technically on land so do I throw one die or two? It’s even more of an issue the further away you are. I could easily be well within Hogwarts, but with two dice, end up rolling a large enough number to end up in the lake or forest. Do I need to stop my turn before I enter them and roll again with one on my next go? It’s up for debate. The same goes for the Quibbler expulsion rule. If I am holding an invisibility cloak “get out of trouble” card can I use it to avoid being expelled or does the Quibbler rule override it. You might find that you need to lay down some of your own rules prior to playing.

My final issue with Destination Hogwarts was pretty much the first thing I noticed when I unpacked the game. The very first sentence in the rules instructs each player to “select a piece and [be] sorted into a Hogwarts house.” Here are the pieces, I’ll give you a moment to spot the problem:

Playable Characters in Destination Hogwarts © Sophie Brown

Where is Hufflepuff? I know the house isn’t exactly the most popular but to completely omit one of the four houses from a Hogwarts themed game is simply ludicrous. Even Ravenclaw only manages one showing. I know Gryffindor will always be the most popular option, especially in a game aimed at children, but would it really have been so difficult to even out the character options a little bit?

The Destination Games are highly enjoyable if very simple for more experienced gamers. They’re great for playing with kids or casual/non-gamers who would be overwhelmed with highly strategic or rules-heavy games. Hogwarts is a stunningly beautiful game that will heavily appeal to Potter fans willing to overlook the obvious flaws and play for the sheer enjoyment of running around Hogwarts attempting to win the House Cup. Neither of these games will set you on fire with their brilliance but sometimes great theming is enough to carry a game and that’s what Destination pulls off. Despite the issues in the game-play, the themes are so beautifully captured that I wouldn’t hesitate to buy more variants of the game if the right ones came along. I’m already imagining Destination Star Trek, Star Wars, and X-Files among the thousands of possibilities out there. Please make it so!

GeekMom received these items for review purposes.

Diving Into Percy Jackson: Sea of Monsters

Percy Jackson: Sea of Monsters © 20th Century Fox

Fans of Rick Riordan and Percy Jackson rejoice! The second movie installment, Percy Jackson: Sea of Monsters hits theaters this week. I recently attended a press screening and brought with me the biggest Percy Jackson expert I know, my 12-year-old niece.

If you are new to the Percy Jackson juggernaut, here’s a quick recap. Percy Jackson thinks he’s an ordinary boy, but then finds out he’s the son of Poseidon. He meets other half-human, half-god kids at Camp Half-Blood, sort of an outdoorsy Hogwarts for demigods. In the first installment, Percy Jackson & The Olympians: The Lightning Thief, Percy goes on a quest to recover Zeus’ missing lightning bolt. By the end of the movie, [spoiler for the first book and movie] he discovers Luke, disgruntled son of Hermes, is the Lightning Thief.

Percy Jackson: Sea of Monsters begins back at Camp Half-Blood. The heroic luster of retrieving the lightning bolt and saving the world has worn off, and Percy is full of self doubt. Clarisse, daughter of Ares, the god of war, fuels his doubts by being generally awesome in camp activities and snarky and competitive with Percy. Percy’s friends Annabeth, daughter of Athena, and Grover the satyr, try to bolster his confidence, but it’s the help of his absentee father that he seeks. Instead of getting his father, though, he gets a half-brother he never knew he had: a brother that happens to be a cyclops.

When there’s a serious threat to Camp Half-Blood, it’s Clarisse, not Percy, picked to go on the quest to save it. The tree that protects the camp has been poisoned, and only the Golden Fleece can heal it. Now it wouldn’t be a movie if our heroes didn’t go after it, too, so Percy, Annabeth, Grover, and his new cyclops brother, Tyson, start a quest of their own. The villainous Luke is back, and he wants the Golden Fleece for a wholly other purpose — resurrecting Kronos to bring about the fall of Olympus to make room for a new generation of gods.

© 20th Century Fox

The movie is an entertaining, action-packed adventure with comedic touches to keep it from getting too serious. I enjoyed Percy Jackson: Sea of Monsters much more than Percy Jackson & The Olympians: The Lightning Thief. The first movie was goofier and had cheeseball special effects. Sea of Monsters features more sophisticated movie-making, with effects that are actually worthy of being in 3D.

The performances are all great. This may mark my age, but Logan Lerman who plays Percy reminds me of a young Christian Slater. He just the right mix of dreamboat and nerd. Brandon T. Jackson as Grover steals every scene he’s in. He really needs to be the star of his own movie. And the movie grownups have casting that will make many GeekMoms very happy. Anthony Stewart Head plays Chiron, a sort of Giles to Percy’s Buffy. Stanley Tucci is perfectly cast as Mr. D, also known as Dionysus, the god of wine. In the best casting of all, Nathan Fillion places Hermes, a smooth-talking businessman and messenger to the gods. Firefly fans will enjoy a little side joke he slips in about cancelled shows.

I wish I liked the girls a bit more. Annabeth and Clarisse have such similar smart-talking styles that it can be a little hard to tell them apart. It’s nice that they’re both powerful, though, and thanks to them, the movie passes the Bechdel Test. I also appreciate that though there are clearly sparks between Annabeth and Percy, there’s no action on those sparks. She’s not there to be a love interest. She’s a friend, a hero, and a demigod.

© 20th Century Fox

I’ve only read the first book, but my niece was generally pleased with Percy Jackson: Sea of Monsters‘ faithfulness to the book. She was very glad to see Annabeth’s hair restored to blonde after being a brunette in the first movie. [Spoilers ahead] She was a little bit put out that Kronos, who doesn’t make an appearance this early in the book series, makes an appearance in the film. The scene he’s in really called for it, though.

For the non-Percy fan, I also brought my 8-year-old daughter. It may be scary for some 8-year-olds, especially with a scene that gets all Arc of the Covenant, but this is a girl that’s read and seen the entire Harry Potter series. She’s not easily shaken. She enjoyed the movie but isn’t in a hurry to read the books. Instead, she’s been devouring George O’Connor’s Olympian series. That’s fine by me, but I’m going to go read The Sea of Monsters now.

Pinbusted or Pintrusted: Golden Snitch Cake Pops


As you might tell, I’m having a blast with these Pinbusted or Pintrusted posts! I didn’t realize how powerful Pinterest can be when used with a goal in mind.

For example, I have a Nyan Cat birthday party board, which I used to plan for my youngest son’s birthday party earlier this year.

Last summer, my oldest son requested a Harry Potter birthday party. We were on the heels of Dragon*Con, when he had a magical experience as a pretty-darned-good award-winning Yule-Ball-attending Harry Potter, so of course I started a Harry Potter birthday cake board on Pinterest. When I found this Pinterest pin for “Golden Snitch Cake Pops” I thought: I can do this for my son.

My Harry Potter met Professor Dumbledore at Peachtree Center at last year's Dragon*Con. Photo: Patricia Vollmer.
My Harry Potter met Professor Dumbledore at Peachtree Center at last year’s Dragon*Con. Photo: Patricia Vollmer.

I’ve been a Bakerella fan for years. Her cake pops are works of art! I am the proud owner of the original Cake Pops cookbook. (GeekMom Judy reviewed it a couple years ago.) I can’t be sure Bakerella invented the cake pop (her post where she first thought about sticking a stick in a cake ball is very cute), but she certainly brought them — and the ability to make them — to the masses.

But all these years, I never made cake pops. For my sons, though, I’ll try anything!

While I didn’t do the butterbeer flavored cake as suggested in the pin (my kids don’t care for it, after having tasted it at Harry Potter World at Universal’s Islands of Adventure earlier in 2012), I did follow the guidance on how to mix the crumbled cake with icing, roll the cake pop balls, and attempt to dip them in melted candy melts.

It didn’t go well at all. I couldn’t get the cake balls to stay on the sticks, nor could I maintain the correct consistency for the candy melt to dip the cakes properly. I used Wilton gold-colored “Color Mist” product to turn the pops gold. At least that part was easy.

I like to think I’m a pretty good cook/chef/baker. I can’t say whether it was the humidity or just my incompetence, but this whole process was incredibly frustrating for me. How does Bakerella make it look so easy? It must be my incompetence: thousands of people — besides Bakerella — have successfully made them, right?

A tray of wingless golden snitches drying. I used a gold-colored edible spray paint to make them gold. Photo: Patricia Vollmer.
A tray of wingless lumpy golden snitches drying. The candy melt product was too thick. I used a gold-colored edible spray paint to make them gold. Photo: Patricia Vollmer.

I had no problem rolling out the gum paste to cut out the wings, but I had a hard time keeping the wings on the cakes, even though I made a point to cut one side of each wing to fit into the pop. Out of 36 cake pops, I could only get the wings to stay on about six of them.

One of my most successful cake pops. Photo: Patricia Vollmer.

Did the kids mind? No. Did the cake pops taste good? Yes, I think they did. In the grand scheme of things, was my son’s birthday ruined because the cake pops came out a little lumpy? No, not at all.

Pinbusted or Pintrusted? For me, pinbusted! Call it the perfectionist in me. However, I have friends who have done perfectly successful cake pops. Perhaps this is one of those instances where practice makes perfect. I know I can do this. Time to break out the candy melts!

Show us your cake pops! Go to our Facebook and/or Twitter pages and upload pictures of your cake pop successes and failures. Be sure to tag @GeekMomBlog on Twitter!

Life Geekery Tablet Covers

Life Geekery, used with permission

I stumbled across Life Geekery’s shop a few months ago when I was searching Etsy for Harry Potter goodies (as one does). I  wasn’t even looking for a Kindle/iPad/iPhone cover at the time, but when I found this shop Ihad to have one. The heart wants what the heart wants, so Harry and my iPad Mini have been together for three months now.

Life Geekery is run by the husband and wife team of Matt and Nikki Mason, and their handmade designs are witty, made with Eco Felt, and priced around $30. I contacted Nikki to find out what inspired them and how they got started.

We’re a super nerdy husband and wife team that love to craft! The whole geeky cozy business started simply because I wanted a fun little case to store my own Kindle and couldn’t find exactly what I was looking for. After coming up with a few different ideas we decided to make them and put them up on Etsy just to see if other people would like them as much as we did…and they did! Now we get to spread the joy to nerds everywhere and we couldn’t be more happy about that!

So, basically, the couple behind this business is just as much fun as their product. With more than 700 sales in less than two years, the shop is definitely popular. In addition to the awesome Firefly, Star Wars, Harry Potter, and Dr. Who cases pictured above, designs also include Chewbacca, Frodo Baggins, and several others (Sherlock cover, stop flirting with me!). I’ve seen a Ron Weasley cover on their site, and I could swear I saw a TARDIS flash by on their website banner.

Sherlock cover by Life Geekery, used with permission
Sherlock cover by Life Geekery, used with permission

I asked Nikki who comes up with the designs, and she told me, “My husband and I collaborate on the designs, but he’s more of the designer and I’m more of the sewer.” Nikki and Matt are based in Hawaii, and each case is handmade to order—you can specify the tablet or phone it’s meant to fit. This means your case will not arrive right away. I waited a good few weeks to get mine, but I’ve had it since early March and thought it was well worth the wait.

I had to get used to having the opening at the bottom since these are sleeves and not cases (my typical cover preference). I’ve never used a sleeve for a Kindle or iPad before, so for the first few days I nearly dropped my Mini a few times because I kept carrying Harry right side up. And felt is slippery. I think I would slightly prefer to have the opening at the top of the sleeve, but I’m torn because I like the instant access when plugging it in to charge. Cases are fiddly on that point. And, honestly, once I got used to carrying Harry upside down it was no longer a problem. My Mini is protected, and it looks very cool. It’s also very easy to find in my giant, bottomless bag of stuff, and it makes me happy every time I see it. This has been one of my favorite purchases of 2013.

For the love of all that is awesome, check out Life Geekery’s shop!

Eat Like a Geek: Peppermint Toads


My daughter recently had a Harry Potter themed birthday party. The festivities of the day are for another article, but part of the Honeydukes gift bags were homemade Peppermint Toads.

My husband and I are foodies. Why do something food related halfway when you can do it right? This includes candy recipes that call for those Wilton flavored discs that are used as candy coating. Why make candy if you are going to use those? Continue reading Eat Like a Geek: Peppermint Toads

Spotting Couture Fashion Designers in Your Favorite Movies

Daniel Craig stars as James Bond in Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer Pictures/Columbia Pictures/EON Productions’ action adventure Skyfall. Photo by: Francois Duhamel; Skyfall ©2011 Danjaq, LLC, United Artists Corporation, Columbia Pictures Industries, Inc. All rights reserved.

Couture fashion designers and movie costume designers don’t often cross sides. They’re both about making a look, but they’re different fields. That doesn’t mean it never happens. Some characters, because of who they are, need to be dressed in designer labels. The Devil Wears Prada wouldn’t be the same with made-up designers. Carrie Bradshaw wouldn’t be the same without her Manolos and Jimmy Choos. And sometimes, even the geek-appealing shows and movies get characters dressed in high fashion names. Here are a few examples:

Jean-Paul Gaultier is an exception to the seldom-crossover rule, having actually done costume design for many movies, including The Fifth Element. This year he had the honor of being a member of the Cannes jury, only the second costume designer to do so, the other being the late Eiko Ishioka.

Wedding dresses on TV and in the movies are almost certainly designer gowns. For example, Twilight‘s broody Bella Swan married Edward Cullen in Carolina Herrera. In Spider-Man 2, Mary Jane wears a Willi Smith gown. On Smallville, Lana married Lex in a gown from Monique Lhuillier‘s fall 2006 collection.

, Effie Trinket (Elizabeth Banks, left) and Katniss Everdeen (Jennifer Lawrence) in The Hunger Games. Photo credit: Murray Close, © Copyright 2012 – Lions Gate Entertainment

In The Hunger Games, the look of those from The Capitol in particular was a huge part of the costume designer’s job description, and Judianna Makovsky created gobs of beautiful costumes, Effie Trinket’s bright garb, taking inspiration most notably from Italian designer Elsa Schiaparelli and her famous pink. But Effie’s feet were dressed in another inspiring designer’s footwear–Alexander McQueen. And to bring it full circle, Alexander McQueen once turned to the geek world for a fashion show, echoing the chess game from Harry Potter and the Sorceror’s Stone (which Makovsky was also costume designer on) in a 2005 show.

In Sofia Coppola’s 2006 Marie Antoinette, the clothes are by costume designer Milena Canonero, but the shoes are Manolo Blahniks. Blahnik studied 18th-century shoes in London and Paris, which made his designs perfect for the film.

What’s Bruce Wayne without a billionaire’s look? In The Dark Knight and The Dark Knight Rises, Christian Bale was dressed (quite well!) in Giorgio Armani. Armani worked with the movie’s costume designer, Lindy Hemming (who also did Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets), to create custom suits under a Giorgio Armani for Bruce Wayne label. Bale got two for The Dark Knight Rises, but co-stars Michael Caine, Gary Oldman, and Joseph Gordon-Levitt got their own, and Anne Hathaway’s Catwoman got accessories out of the deal.

Once you start to recognize Christian Louboutin‘s red-soled shoes, you’ll see them everywhere. Start with Pepper Potts in Iron Man. But note that not all red soles are Louboutin, and Valentino and Yves Saint Laurent claim to have done it long before Louboutin. A recently ended lawsuit concluded by giving Louboutin the right to protect its red soles when the rest of the shoe is a different color, but YSL will be able to continue making its all-red shoes.

In the latest Bond film, Skyfall, James Bond is again dashingly dressed, of course. This time Daniel Craig is in Tom Ford, as he was in Quantum of Solace. But other Bonds have had other designers, so I’ll just hit a few:

  • In Casino Royale, Daniel Craig’s leather jacket is Armani. The movie’s costume designer, Lindy Hemming, found it in LA for $4,000. They needed around 25 of them, so fortunately they were able to work out a better price with the company.
  • Pierce Brosnan wears Brioni suits in all of the movies where he portrays Bond, generally with a Turnbull & Asser tie. Daniel Craig wears one as well in Casino Royale–in fact, at the casino table, everyone is wearing Brioni.
  • In Dr. No, From Russia With Love, Goldfinger, You Only Live Twice, and Diamonds Are Forever, Sean Connery wears Anthony Tailor, who was the tailor for director Terence Young. George Lazenby then wore Anthony Tailor to his casting call for On Her Majesty’s Secret Service.

And naturally this list would be incomplete without the most glamorous swine of the screen, Miss Piggy. In the 2011 film The Muppets, she wore Chanel to play the fashion editor of the French Vogue. And for this year’s Oscars, she appeared wearing Zac Posen with accessories by Fred Leighton.

It’s not always so simple, though. Amy Westcott was the costume designer for Black Swan, and she won quite a few awards for it. Designers Kate and Laura Mulleavy, whose label is Rodarte, are credited for Natalie Portman’s white gown, one of her tutus, and the Swan Lake costumes in the movie. But controversy arose over who actually created some of the designs. And while you might think the gentlemen of Inception are wearing designer suits, each one of them was individually created specifically for the character by costume designer Jeffrey Kurland.

As a final note, a little fashion trivia. Although I did use the word “couture” at the beginning of this post, I did so in the more generic sense. The designers I mentioned are not actually all officially haute couture, which is a term defined and protected by the Chambre do commerce et d’industrie de Paris, a regulatory group that declares which fashion houses are truly haute couture and can thus advertise themselves as such.

9 Fictional Beverages You Can't Have (And Recipes for Them)

Image credit: Ruth Suehle

In part one of this post, I covered fourteen fictional foods and their recipes. Now it’s time to turn to the potent (and not so potent) potables of our favorite far-off places.

Mudder’s Milk

On Higgins’ Moon in Firefly, there’s a lil’ ol’ city called Canton where the biggest export is mud, and to keep the mudders moving, this drink, far from “mother’s milk,” provides “all the protein, vitamins and carbs of your grandma’s best turkey dinner, plus 15% alcohol.” Our beloved knitted-hat-wearing big damn hero likes it too. Here’s one Mudder’s Milk recipe for you to try.

Pan Galactic Gargle Blaster

It takes a two-headed guy to invent a drink that has an effect “like having your brain smashed out by a slice of lemon wrapped round a large gold brick,” and that’s just what Zaphod Beeblebrox did for the Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy universe. Not only are you likely to have trouble finding the real ingredients (Ol’ Janx Spirit, water from the seas of Santraginus V, Fallian marsh gas, and other delights, plus the tooth of an Algolian Suntiger to finish it off), Douglas Adams said in an interview that “there are a number of environmental and weapons treaties and laws of physics which prevent one being mixed on Earth.” That means you’ll have to choose one of the many Earth-bound imitations.


At one time you could buy Fry’s favorite beverage in Futurama, as Slurm was sold as an energy drink, but if you still want it, you’ll have to turn to eBay. It probably wasn’t squirted out of a real Slurm Queen anyway. This imitation recipe calls for rum, sour apple schnapps, pineapple juice, and 7-Up. Good luck with that. You might end up wishing for the Slurm Queen.

Continue reading 9 Fictional Beverages You Can't Have (And Recipes for Them)

Before Geek Was Cool

Credit: accountrements.com

Being a geek is no longer geeky. Role-playing games are being used in classrooms, “graphic novels” are considered literature, conferences about geek pop culture are in major cities with thousands of attendees, and every cool kid is going to see the latest Harry Potter in the theaters. After this movie about magic and monsters, what’s the next most popular thing around? Vampire love. Yeah, times have changed.

Back in my day (creak of my ergonomic office chair) fantasy and science fiction were lumped into one genre: nerd. And that wasn’t a good thing. It was a lonely thing. Years ago there was no Harry Potter phenomenon, The Lord of the Rings had yet to come to theaters, and Star Wars consisted of three movies from the last decade. I would bring novels I was reading into school, and kids would peer at the cover with some fiery demon being fought by a sword-wielding warrior.

“Huh…you’re into that stuff?”

Yes, yes I was. I loved fantasy adventure books, especially if they had some humor. (The Xanth series was particularly amusing in junior high.) Never once did anyone look at my book and reveal that they were into that “stuff” too. Maybe that’s why I kept bringing my books in. Not just to keep me from being bored in class, but in that hopes I would find my geeky tribe. Interestingly, I had friends. They just weren’t geeks. The only two kids in school that, in retrospect, may have been geeky were two Chinese boys that read manga. But at the time, that was considered weirder than my stuff.

I did book reports on The Hobbit and The Illustrated Man. Other students in my class were confused as to why, but didn’t say too much about it. I was more known for my musical ability than the books I read. I never showed anyone the fantasy stories I wrote at home, not because I was embarrassed, but because I didn’t think anyone would be interested in them.

Like many geeks, I was introduced to the culture through my family — mainly my dad’s love of science fiction books and movies. The introduction came early when I hid under the seat at four years old during The Empire Strikes Back. My dad still laughs while telling that story. Amazingly, I wasn’t scarred too much, and grew up with a love of the unexplained and fantastic. When I first met my husband, I was dumbfounded that someone else read the same books as I did. Plus, he had had friends all through junior and high school that did too. His uncle had introduced him to Role Playing Games, he showed the game to his friends, and that was their main source of entertainment. I couldn’t imagine being with a whole group of people that liked fantasy. Is it any wonder I married this man?

Then along came a book about a boy wizard with a scar on his forehead, and now my kids and their friends happily declare, “I’m geeked!” You whippersnappers have no idea how good you have it. No, no, you don’t. And I’m thrilled.

Molly Weasley Comfort Cooking

Eating shepherd’s pie just like Harry. Photo: Amy Kraft

After a long winter’s day, ever wish you could just cozy up in the Burrow and have Molly Weasley whip you up a little roast chicken with mashed potatoes? Or feast in the Great Hall on some lamb chops? Now you can… with a bit of Muggle work.

When I was sent The Unofficial Harry Potter Cookbook for review, I thought it was going to be little more than some fun gimmickry. But, on thumbing through the pages, there are some delectable-sounding treats, including a lot of stick-to-your-ribs winter fare, the kind I usually have to head to a pub to get.

Sure, the gimmickry comes first, but that’s what makes it great fun for fans. It appears that author Dinah Bucholz has scoured the seven books for any mere mention of food, and then paired that nugget with a recipe. Mr. Weasley mentions to Kingsley Shacklebolt that Molly’s making meatballs for dinner? Accio meatballs! Here’s a recipe for Molly’s meatballs with onion sauce. Like Harry, want a taste of treacle tart while Ron and Hermione argue? Or a taste of the vol-au-vents from Bill and Fleur’s wedding? Early and often we’re warned that this book is unofficial. JK Rowling has nothing to do with it. Please don’t sue them! However, this unofficial book reads as wonderfully delicious fan fiction.

But does it work as a cookbook? The organizing principle not only gives the book a structure that follows the arc of a Harry Potter book, it also encourages a wide range of recipes:

  • Chapter One: Good Food with Bad Relatives
  • Chapter Two: Delights Down the Alley
  • Chapter Three: Treats from the Train
  • Chapter Four: Recipes from a Giant and an Elf
  • Chapter Five: The Favorite Cook’s Dishes
  • Chapter Six: Breakfast Before Class
  • Chapter Seven: Lunch and Dinner in the Dining Hall
  • Chapter Eight: Desserts and Snacks at School
  • Chapter Nine: Holiday Fare
  • Chapter Ten: Treats in the Village

The recipes focus on British cuisine, and lacking any other British cookbooks I decided my first crack at the book would be something basic: shepherd’s pie (though as both the book and GeekMom Sarah would quickly point out, I actually made cottage pie because I only had ground beef on hand). Surely you’ll remember in Chamber of Secrets when Harry barely touched his shepherd’s pie because he was so dreading his detention with Professor Lockhart?

Harry and Ron slouched into the Great Hall in states of deepest gloom, Hermione behind them wearing a well-you-did-break-school-rules sort of expression. Harry didn’t enjoy his shepherd’s pie as much as he’d thought.  Both he and Ron felt they’d got the worse deal.

Overall, the recipe was pretty easy, made with mostly staple ingredients. The timing of elements in the instructions could be clearer, but an experienced cook won’t have much trouble parsing these recipes. As for taste, it totally served it’s purpose as wintertime comfort food, but I already have a few things I’d do differently next time – definitely use lamb to make a proper shepherd’s pie, and spice it up a bit. I expect to start scribbling in the margins like the Half-Blood Prince.

It may not be the finest cookbook for British food out there, but it sure is fun cooking to these literary references. And if you have any plans to throw a Harry Potter theme party, this cookbook is a must-have.

Geek Tragedy in Middle America

My twelve-year-old son finished Americus and said, “This is a good book.”

I’m always annoyed to read the list of “banned” books in American schools and libraries. It’s one thing for a parent to decide what to put in their own child’s head, but a town board? Harry Potter was banned in many places because ignorant people believed that by reading these books, children would learn about satanic practices. Morons. When I heard about this I wrote a song called, “Fool’s Blues.” I’m guessing MK Reed and Jonathan Hill felt similarly angry to churn out the graphic novel, Americus.

In their book, which I checked out from my library, a young geek named Neil has to save his beloved fantasy book series from being banned. He already knows, through junior high hell, that being a geek sucks in a small town, but he also learns that you can find your tribe and stick together to protect what matters.

“You kids better stop thinking on your own and start listening to what I tell you!” pretty much sums up much of the adult mind-set in the town of Americus, Oklahoma. The main plot is about a mother (see quote above) trying to convince the town board to ban The Adventures of Apathea Ravenchilde from the public library on the grounds that it is akin to pornography in its moral degradation of youth. This same mother sent her son (Neil’s best friend) to military school for declaring he was gay. However, the graphic novel is really showing what life is like for outsiders in real towns like Americus, where the enemies are, “liberals, atheists, and gays.”

This is a place where Neil’s mother gets flack from other women for letting her son wear black shirts. Apparently, only troubled youth that will eventually burn down the school wear black. Neil reads for fun (big mark against him) and the library is one of the few havens for geeks in Americus. Charlotte, the librarian, is a friend.

Mr. Howard, Neil’s neighbor, tells of his experience in high school, “Each day brought another indignity…now I sell them steaks, and they pretend like all that never happened.” Later, Mr. Howard defends the fantasy series at the town meeting, saying everyone needs an escape from reality.

Neil’s POV in high school is a highlight of this book. The first day of class speeches by the teachers are spot on. I reread them out loud to my husband to our mutual amusement. The biology teacher: “Now we all know that God created the earth 6,000 years ago for man to live on, but science tells it another way…” is hilarious. Though my favorite is:

“Realistically, most of you will quit or graduate high school and become cashiers and waitresses, and those of you with lofty goals might be a real estate agent or car salesman. Regardless, you’ll never use algebra again. But some of you might go to college and to prove that you’re more intelligent than a field of corn, you’ll need to take the SATs, half of which is math…”

Neil is pessimistic, frustrated, and misses his best friend. Yet, the young boy finds music and books that make him happy. He speaks up for what he cares about and makes friends along the way. I recommend this book for junior high and up.

The Girl Who Waited for the DVD Boxset

Image: Amazon.com

In 2001, as I was commencing the final year of my Bachelor’s degree, a friend handed me her copy of Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone, thinking I would enjoy it. It was a good read, so I borrowed the second book. That was good too, but I have to admit, its main appeal for me was that it was a nice easy break from Thomas Pynchon and Freud. That same weekend, I read the third and fourth book. It was Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire that hooked me. As luck would have it, that was the year the first movie came out.

By the third movie there was no doubt that the entire series would be made, unlike Phillip Pullman’s His Dark Materials Trilogy, which never quite overcame the poor showing of its first movie, for me it also never made it past the first book. At this time, I knew I would be marrying a Yank and moving across the globe at some point. Not much point in buying the Region 2 DVD when it came out. By the time I moved in 2003, I had made my decision. I would wait for the box set. My mother in law bought the movies as they came out, so I could get a Potter fix that way if necessary, but I would wait for the inevitable box set in all its glory.

Well the wait is paying off this week. On Thursday at midnight, Friday 11.11.11, the final installment of the Harry Potter movies will be released on DVD and Blu Ray, alongside a $100 box set in the format of your choice, reduced to around $50 in most places this week. I’m still trying to decide if I want to go to my local store at midnight or not.

Don’t get me wrong, I’m not a Potter fanatic. I can see the successes and failures of the series in both of its mediums. I can probably list a dozen movies I would choose to watch before reaching for this set. But this has been an eight year wait for me, and that alone excites me. I never wait for the box set, I’m the impulse buyer in the family. It was with gritted teeth that I resisted each release of The Lord of the Rings, because my husband wanted the box set and inevitable extras. I foresee a Harry Potter marathon over Thanksgiving weekend, in which much tea will be drunk and many crocheted hats made. I also see death and gloom, but only because I like Sybil Trelawny!

As box sets have become the norm over the years, I have begun to regret previous purchases. I like my Region 2 box set of The West Wing, it takes up little space. My Gilmore Girls collection is almost an entire shelf, whereas the box set is quite petite. Space saving is the name of the game these days, especially with thirteen Little Enstein DVDs on the shelf. I doubt I will ever be a full convert to online streaming, much as my IT husband, I am a hardware kind of girl. But after an eight year wait for Potter, I think I have a better chance of becoming a box set girl in the future. Unless of course Glee Season Two appears for $15 like the first season did, who can resist that price?

Harry Potter and the Dead Best Friend

Image: Wikipedia.com

It’s hard to imagine the Harry Potter series without the presence of Ron Weasley throughout the whole seven books and eight movies. But it has come out today that J.K. Rowling thought about killing Ron halfway through the famous series of books.

It is hard to imagine a world where Ron Weasley is dead but apparently he was once on the chopping block. This news is shocking, of course, and has the whole internet buzzing.

For me, it feels like when J.K. Rowling announced that Dumbledore was gay, which seemed, as this does, as a way to grab a little more of the spotlight. I am interested in the secrets behind the well loved stories, but I thought that was what Pottermore was for.

What do you think about the news that Ron nearly snuffed it? You can read more about this story at Yahoo Movies.

Ghosts, Books, and Coincidences

Haslams Used Books
Haslams Used Books Photo by Gina Clifford

Founded in 1933 during the Great Depression, Haslam’s Bookstore is a “third place” for many people in the small St. Petersburg, FL community. Its owners share great stories with regular customers, celebrate local authors, and revel in helping people find books that sometimes change lives. Checking email on an iPhone and downloading the latest John Grisham thriller from Amazon, many wonder about the future of independent booksellers. Haslam’s, however, is not a typical bookstore.

According to Ray Hinst, the manager of Haslam’s Bookstore since 1973, Haslam’s is haunted. Perhaps the most notable story begins with Jack Kerouac. Back in the 1950’s, an inebriated Jack Kerouac frequented Haslam’s so that he could relocate his books to the more prominent top shelves. Fast-forward to a few years ago, Jack’s books mysteriously began dropping from Haslam’s shelves. When word spread, psychics flocked to investigate. After full-fledged Ghostbuster-style investigations, the psychics proclaimed that Haslam’s is teeming with spirits, and Jack Kerouac’s spirit is likely among them as he attempts to reshelf his books.

Judge Robert Beach is a believer. In fact, Judge Beach, a prolific world traveler, has reserved his own section in Haslam’s travel book section. Haslam’s has even affixed a small brass placard in the travel section that reads “Reserved for the spirit of Judge Robert E. Beach.

Judge Beach Placard
Judge Beach Placard Photo by Gina Clifford

Reminiscent of how the wands choose the wizards in the Harry Potter tales, Ray says that if you feel a strong connection with a book you pull from the shelf, you should buy it. Ray believes strongly that Haslam’s customers are bound to the books they ponder.

To pick up a book and put it back on the shelf sets off a perturbation in the universe.”

Numerous stories prove Ray’s theory as he recounts some amazing coincidences relating to customers and books. One of his more memorable stories concerned a woman who was seeking an uncommon translation of a hand bible. As Ray handed the woman the book she sought, she discovered her mother’s name embossed inside the cover of the book. It was her mother’s bible. Even more amazing, neither the customer nor her mother ever lived in the area.

In an interesting coincidence of my own, I took a friend to visit the bookstore one rainy weekend. As she perused the spiritual/occult/religious section, she stopped abruptly to observe two books she randomly shelved on her own bookshelf at home were staring back at her in the same order on the Haslam’s bookshelf.

Yet again, we’re reminded of the Harry Potter stories as Tea Cup, a lanky, mottled grey feline born feral and raised at Haslam’s, slinks around the store like Crookshanks. Tea Cup, who warily slinks through the store, leaps onto high shelves and even sits on the register as she observes the throngs of customers milling around the store. Like Crookshanks in the Harry Potter tales, Tea Cup seems capable of judging persons with ill intentions. On more than one occasion, Tea Cup has alerted the staff to nefarious customers.

Tea Cup - Halsam's cat
Tea Cup at Haslam's Photo by Gina Clifford

Haslam’s allure lies in serendipitous search and discovery. Old physical books, inseparable from the spiritual realm, offer travel to far lands, adventures in outlandish fantasies, and maybe even a connection to the original book owner long passed from the physical world. If you believe in ghosts, this is a great place to haunt on a Saturday afternoon. If not, it is still a great place to discover old books just waiting to “choose” you.


Quidditch: Nerds Fight For Gender Equality

I was busily buying tickets to attend the Quidditch World Cup next month, and found myself perusing the IQA (International Quidditch Association) website. There is a documentary film coming out about the 2010 World Cup: what started as a Harry Potter fan game in Vermont a few years ago has become a sport drawing hundreds of teams from around the world to New York City.

On their website, I found this video about a new ruling in the sport. If you watch it, skip to 3:25 to get to the point. Basically, as the sport is growing in popularity, women are becoming marginalized. The board of directors at IQA decided to pass a rule that would require all teams to have a 4:3 ratio of gender equality. Apparently this has not been enthusiastically embraced. You may be surprised that anyone cares enough about a fantasy sport to get riled up. However, Muggle Quidditch, based on the Harry Potter series, has become its own legitimate world. Quidditch is not a joke, it’s a way to socialize and exercise and yes, to have fun.

Why is it co-ed in the first place? Because that’s how it was in the books. Because everyone can be athletic. And because the founders made it that way. In the video, the board of the IQA is passionate about their sport and the impact it can have on gender relationships and sports around the world. It’s still for fun, but fantasy books are for fun, yet Harry Potter changed the way the world looks at geeks. You know it.

I actually got teary-eyed listening to the Commissioner speak about how Joanne Rowling was pushed to change her name so no one would know she was a women, since it would hurt sales of the book. He and the board believe women and men should be treated equally in all areas of life, and if they have the power to do something about it, they will. I applaud their decision, and also their willingness to wait to implement it until after this year’s cup, so teams do not have to restructure their member rosters last minute. That’s just polite.

Next month, I’ll be cheering with my two kids, one boy and one girl, at the World Cup. It will be one of the few places where both my kids can be inspired in creativity, competition and community.

First Look at Lego Harry Potter: Years 5-7

When I wrote my review of Lego Harry Potter: Years 1-4, I called it “one of my favorite Wii games of all time”. It remains one of my favorites, so it is with great delight that I receive this trailer for Lego Harry Potter: Years 5-7.

The embrace of Lego Ron and Lego Hermione is my favorite part. I can’t wait to start searching for some Lego horcruxes. I think it’s a safe bet to say that this game is gonna be awesome. It’s available on November 11.

Building Voldemort

He Who Must Not Be Named Image Jennifer D.
Wandering through the aisles of my local craft warehouse, I came across a styrofoam head. My daughter immediately said, “Hey, that looks like Voldemort!”  Ah ha. My Harry Potter festivities would not be complete without a Voldemort. So into the basket went the head and into overdrive went my brain trying to figure out how to make this work. The easy part was decorating the head. I found a picture of He Who Must Not Be Named online and set to work drawing those lovely blue veins he has all over his head. I then cut his nose off with a knife and drew his famous snake nostrils. Next, I colored his eyes red and put snake like pupils in them. It was sufficiently creepy, but he had no body. Having never made a full size body for Halloween, I had not idea where to start. Then I stumbled across King’s Home Halloween Party Ideas. She had some fabulous ideas and responded to my email with even more great ideas. With her help, I came up with this for his body. Here is what you will need:

Decorate the head as described above. Next, straighten the hook on the wire hanger. My head had a hole in the bottom, but it was too big for the hanger wire so it wouldn’t stay on. I used duct tape to build up the wire and then crammed the head on until it was secure. Next I took the pool noodle and cut it with a utility knife so that the hanger bottom would fit inside. This will be his shoulders. I then duct taped the noodle to the hanger to help it stay on. I then cut several long lengths of fishing line and attached them to the hanger in various points to hold him up. Next, I found the middle of a black sheet and cut a hole big enough for the head to fit through. Of course, then the hole was too big and kept slipping off. So I used the black duct tape to tape the sheet around his neck. I haven’t actually tried to hang him with the fishing line, but it should work, right?

Moldy Voldy Image Jennifer D.
Now that he is done, I have had him in my closet. My husband has taken it upon himself to scare me to death with moldy Voldy several times now. The first time I was coming in the back door and it looked like a man standing there. Just this afternoon, he had You Know Who peeking through the window shade at me. I think I am going to have to hide it from him before he gives me a heart attack.

DIY Harry Potter Textbooks

Image Jennifer D.

After the one of the hottest summers here in Oklahoma that I can remember, Halloween is finally approaching and I am busy scouring magazines and the internet for fantastical ideas for this years party. Being that it was the year of the last Harry Potter film AND that my daughter started reading (and loving!) the books on her own this summer, we naturally chose to transfigure our house into Hogwarts.

I have been bursting with a list of fabulous ideas, but no time to execute lately. So today, I put my broomstick down and worked on a set of Harry’s text books. There are tons of elaborate tutorials on how to make a set of Hogwart’s text books. They range from making a book from scratch to resurfacing the cover. Those are way more work than I wanted to do so I decided to wing it and figure it out as I went. I am definitely one of those not read the directions and just figure it out types. Several weeks ago, I bought some old Reader’s Digest books and other various sized books at a local book store. We also get the enormous Cabela’s catalog that comes with a hard cover and is the size of a textbook. In fact, for some reason, this year we got two. So those two tomes combined with what I bought at the used book store gave me a selection of seven books.

I found a list of book titles and chose the ones that I liked and that would most likely fit on the spines of the books. At first, I tried wrapping a couple of books in a burlap type fabric and then painting them with tea and coffee to help age them. They looked ok, but I wasn’t thrilled with them. Then I had the idea to use paper and do book covers. I found this nifty website that had textures. I downloaded several textures from their site and set about picking which ones would go with which title. I had already downloaded and installed some Harry Potter fonts from MuggleNet. Once I had the right texture, I added text to the image and printed them out. I used rubber cement to attach the paper and voila! It was a fairly easy project and my daughter could have easily helped (she was at school). If you decide to make some book covers, be sure you have plenty of color ink on hand and verify that the lettering is going the direction you want. It’s no fun having to run to Flourish and Blotts right in the middle of a project.

Banned Book Week: Harry Potter and The Banned Book

Image: Mandy Horetski

I didn’t get into the Harry Potter books right away. I think I had heard about them but I didn’t get around to reading them until the next town over from my hometown banned them.

The fact that Zeeland, MI school system banned the Harry Potter books was big local news so my dad (who is a geek as well) picked up a copy of the first Harry Potter and got hooked.

We went on a family vacation to Arizona around that time and my dad brought Harry Potter with him. I started reading it then, and I became a Harry Potter fan at that point. My mom read them as well, and even my sister did, even though she didn’t like anything else remotely geeky.

I’m sure my family would have gotten into the Harry Potter series at some point, but I do think it’s funny that the reason we got into the series was because it was banned.

The Harry Potter series isn’t one of the top banned books, but it was the one that directly affected me. I thought it was silly that it was banned, but I’m glad I was able to get into the series at that point in time.

Magical Travel Posters For Muggles


Image Courtesy Of Caroline Hadilaksono

My daughter started second grade this week and she has spent her summer enjoying Harry Potter. She has read the first two books on her own and just started the third. Of course, for our annual Halloween party what could be a better theme given that the last movie came out this year.  In my continuing search for party ideas, these fantastic travel posters came up. They were created for Muggles who are looking to spend some vacay time in the wizarding world. I love the vintage vibe! See how the artist, Caroline Hadilaksono, came up with these posters here. If you would love to get your own set, she has them for sale too!

GeekMom Rewind: The Reluctant Harry Potter Fan Looks Back

Image: Scholastic Books

I had every reason in the world not to read Harry Potter. I just wasn’t going to do it. Oh, people told me I ought to. “You like hobbits! You like magic! You like elves!” But I didn’t see the point. I had my beloved books. And by the time the craze was really hitting, I was in college. College kids have no need for silly books about schools of magic, for goodness’ sake. I was an English major. I had literature to read.


So how was it that I ended up walking to the library one afternoon and, instead of getting books and journals to study, I picked up Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone? I’m not sure. I was fully prepared to hate it. To loathe it. To laugh and point and mock. To call up my Harry Potter fan friends and ask them why exactly they thought I, a serious student of the English Language, would ever stoop to read such drivel.

But I didn’t do any of those things. Instead, I kept reading. And reading. And reading. The next morning (since I stayed up all night reading the first book) I marched over to the library to get the next one. Then the third. The fourth, that wasn’t available. I had to get it from a friend. I dropped by her dorm room, kind of strung out, begging for the book and then bobbing my head, thanking her profusely when she handed it over. Ah, that smooth dust jacket. I can still remember.

So, suffice it to say, the books hooked me. They hooked me like books hadn’t in a long time. At that point in my life I really needed something like Harry Potter. Something to remind me of the simplicity of good story-telling, about magic and whimsy. Sure, Rowling commits some serious crimes against adverbs. She takes a great deal from medieval mythology and legend; her Latin isn’t exactly polished.

But you know what? None of that mattered when I was reading. Because for that week during midterms, during which I should have been studying, I was transported somewhere else. I really wanted to enroll at Hogwarts. I was a kid again. Worrying about grades and dorm-room drama, all that just melted away for a time.
Continue reading GeekMom Rewind: The Reluctant Harry Potter Fan Looks Back

Music Week: Confessions of a Soundtrack Geek – Part One

The London Philharmonic Orchestra Playing The Lord of The Rings Symphony © Henry Burrows via Flickr
The London Philharmonic Orchestra Playing The Lord of The Rings Symphony, conducted by Howard Shore © Henry Burrows via Flickr

Before I start this article, I think I need to get one thing straight with you. I am a soundtrack geek.  When a new movie is coming out that I am excited about, such as Deathly Hallows just the other week, not only am I eagerly awaiting the release of the film itself, but also the soundtrack. It’s the same with TV shows. Right now I am getting rather excited about the potential for a Doctor Who Series Six album to tie in with the second half of the series that begins airing at the end of this month. I have the soundtrack albums from countless movies and TV shows plus I even have several gigabytes of background and on-ride music from the Disney theme parks.

I’m not entirely sure when my interest in scores developed. I remember buying the score album from The X-Files: Fight the Future back in 1998 when I was just eleven, but that was more out of an obsessive “buy everything related to this movie” phase than genuine interest in the music. I certainly don’t think it was listened to that much. I also had an album of cult sci-fi and fantasy TV themes back then, but I think the real love for this music began with a friend a few years ago. When we would drive around in her car, she would usually have the soundtracks to Lord of The Rings, Harry Potter or some other film playing, and I found myself increasingly drawn to them. I began getting copies for myself and now I have a vast collection of soundtracks and scores. I find them great for listening to when I’m writing, as the vast majority are instrumental so I don’t start singing along or inadvertently typing the lyrics instead of whatever it is I’m trying to write. It never ceases to amaze me how such deep emotions can be conveyed without needing to speak a word.

As the terms soundtrack and score can be used somewhat interchangeably, I feel I should clarify that my interest lies with the orchestral background and incidental music, rather than albums that compile tracks by various music artists that are heard in the show or film. Often, two albums are released, an example being with Twilight: New Moon where both a score and a soundtrack collection featuring tracks by Muse and OK Go are available. Although I do own several of these soundtrack compilations as well, to me they are more like themed albums rather than the true music of the film or show.

Here then are some of my personal favourite soundtracks (or series soundtracks) for you to check out. This post will focus on film soundtracks with TV shows coming later this week. The linked track titles in my favourites will take you to short clips courtesy of Amazon and iTunes.


Star Wars Album Covers
Star Wars Album Covers

If there was an award for the most iconic film theme ever created, I’d say it was a fair bet Star Wars would be in the top three at least. I am one of those rare people, especially amongst geeks, that genuinely likes the prequels as well as the original trilogy. They certainly aren’t as good to me but the originals are such genuine classics that they never could match up. Nonetheless I will most certainly be hitting the cinema to watch them all again in 3D from next year – if only to see some of my all time favourite movies back on the big screen.

One way the prequels do match up to, and for me, possibly even out-do their predecessors, is in the quality of their scores. Even Phantom Menace, which even I concede as the worst Star Wars film (well, if you exclude the Clone Wars film) has some truly fantastic music. “Duel of The Fates” is easily one of the best Star Wars pieces of all the films put together, as is the epic “Anakin vs. Obi-Wan” from Revenge of The Sith. The original trilogy also has some outstanding pieces but, no, the Cantina Band is not among them for me! Naturally the “Imperial March” ranks as a classic but there are other great tracks including “Binary Sunset” and “The Battle of Yavin”. However for me, if you want great Star Wars music, this is probably the only time I would always turn to the prequels over the original trilogy.

My favourites: Duel of The Fates (I), The Hologram/Binary Sunset (IV), Across The Stars: Love Theme from Attack of The Clones (II), Victory Celebration/End Title (VI), Anakin Vs. Obi-Wan (III)


Album Covers for Harry Potter 1 - 8
Album Covers for Harry Potter 1 – 8

In terms of iconic themes, the twinkling Harry Potter theme (actually entitled “Hedwig’s Theme”) is hot on the heels of Star Wars as one of the most well-known pieces of music in film history. Out of all the films series I own, the Potter scores are probably the ones which are most different from beginning to end.  The light-hearted, jovial sounds of the Philosopher’s Stone soundtrack with its fun brass sections is a million miles removed from the quiet tragedy and swelling drama of Deathly Hallows Part Two; however certain scenes do hark back to the early films such as the comical “Detonaters” in Deathly Hallows Part One giving the soundtracks as a collection a feeling of being the individual pieces of a whole. A number of different composers have worked the Potter position over the years, almost as many as there have been Defence Against the Dark Arts teachers at Hogwarts, each lending their own unique flavour. The result is a collection that progresses along with Harry’s story, not disjointed despite including so many styles, but gradually changing and darkening over time.

My favourites: Hedwig’s Theme (Philosopher’s Stone), Fireworks (OOTP), When Ginny Kissed Harry (HBP), Into The Rushes (HBP), Obliviate (DH1), Lovegood (DH1), Lily’s Theme (DH2), Dragon Flight (DH2)


Independence Day Score by David Arnold
Independence Day Score by David Arnold

Films like Star Wars have become known for their scores, the theme music being instantly recognisable and other bits of their music well-known as well. Independence Day on the other hand is a far more obscure soundtrack but no less beautiful for that. A big blockbuster movie that relies more on impressive visuals needs an equally large scale score to match so this album is more about big sweeping pieces than intimate, touching ones; that being said a standout track for me is “The First Lady Dies” which plays over a scene I count as one of my top ten tearful moments in sci-fi.

My favourites: 1969 – We Came in Peace, Aftermath, The First Lady Dies (extended edition only so no mp3 available)


Covers of Twilight, New Moon & Eclipse
Covers of Twilight, New Moon & Eclipse

With two more scores yet to come from the two parts of Breaking Dawn, this collection is far from complete, yet it already includes several great tracks. Creating the lullaby written by Edward for Bella in the first film was always going to be a challenge for any composer, however Carter Burwell created a beautifully simple piece that stands out from the rest of the album which manages in turn to convey well the mixture of overwhelming teenage passion with a constant sense of foreboding. Taking the reigns for New Moon was Alexandre Desplat who was later responsible for both Deathly Hallows scores; to me there is a marked similarity between the three scores which can be heard distinctly if you compare “Obliviate” from Hallows Part One with New Moon’s “Memories of Edward”.

My favourites: How I Would Die (Twilight), Bella’s Lullaby (Twilight), New Moon (New Moon), Memories of Edward (New Moon)


Cover of Wall-E by Thomas Newman
Cover of Wall-E by Thomas Newman

Whilst Disney movies are well known for their big musical numbers, Pixar films are less musically driven. However the speechless robots and corresponding lack of dialogue in Wall-E really threw the score into the limelight more than with any of its predecessors. The love story between Wall-E and Eve had to be told almost completely non-verbally and so tracks like “Define Dancing”, where the pair dance through space together, are vital to the film in a way few score pieces get to be. The characters of Wall-E and Eve are partly explored by their music too, with the former having fun, bouncy pieces when he is on screen, shifting to far gentler, flowing strings for Eve.

My favourites: Define Dancing, First Date, 2815 A.D.


The Fight The Future & I Want to Believe Album Covers
The Fight The Future & I Want to Believe Album Covers

The two X-Files films were released ten years and four show seasons apart, in every way they are completely different beasts.  While the first film, Fight The Future focused and progressed the show’s central mythology, the second, I Want to Believe was a stand alone story which only briefly hinted at the main plot.  A result of these differences is a significant difference in sound styles.

Fight the Future uses a score that sits perfectly within the TV show; in fact many pieces from it were later used in season six episodes. It begins with the classic six-note theme music presented in a hauntingly quiet stripped down with just a lone instrument sounding them out before the full orchestra bursts in dramatically. The score does for the music what the film did for the visuals, taking the same basic outline and doing it on a far grander scale. This was the first time an orchestra had been used for the franchise—all previous music being entirely created by synthesizer—and it gave the film a much more dramatic feel. Hearing the theme motif being played out by a full brass section was incredibly thrilling the first time and continues to be so.

The second film is overall a far slower, more melancholic affair. Mulder and Scully are older and have suffered far more over the years than they had in FTF. The plot itself is also darker and creepier that the blockbuster feel of the first film. There are no helicopter chase scenes or huge explosions here so the music is subtler and sweeter in some ways as we are now seeing a couple finally admitting their love for each other. Of course there is plenty of angst between the pair that results in quiet and terribly sad moments too. These things can never be allowed to run smoothly.

My favourites: Threnody in X (FTF), Soda Pop (FTF), Corn Hives (FTF), Facts (FTF), The Trip to DC (IWTB), The Surgery (IWTB), Good Luck (IWTB), Home Again (IWTB)


Jurassic Park Album Cover
Jurassic Park Album Cover

Jurassic Park is, and will always remain, one of my all time favourite movies. It was released when I was was only six but I got to see it soon after once it came out on VHS and I have loved it ever since. This was music I truly grew up with and so it holds a very special place in my heart. The classic theme tune plays at the entrance to the Jurassic Park island at Universal’s Islands of Adventure in Orlando and I can honestly say that it was that piece of music that almost brought me to tears when I first walked under that gate as a seventeen year old finally getting to experience a sort of childhood dream come true—walking through the gates to Jurassic Park. Just listening through this music as I write this is enough to almost bring me to tears, this is the music that is truly close to my heart. As with Independence Day, a film of this scale needs a big sound, one capable of lending the appropriate majesty and awe to creatures most of us grew up holding in real reverence and, as usual, John Williams delivers the goods in spades.

My favourites: Journey to The Island, Dennis Steals The Embryo, Welcome to Jurassic Park

There are so many great soundtracks that it would take forever to cover them all. Here then are a few honourable mentions from other great movie soundtracks. No doubt I’ve missed dozens more. Why don’t you comment with your favourites too? Don’t forget to check back later this week for part two which will be all about the scores from TV shows.

Married Life (Up) – Michael Giacchino
King of Pride Rock (The Lion King) – Hans Zimmer
The Medallion Calls (Pirates of The Carribbean – The Curse of The Black Pearl) – Klaus Badelt
Mind Heist: Trailer Music (Inception) – Zack Hemsey
The Raider’s March (Indiana Jones Quadrilogy) – John Williams

Chance for Early Access to Pottermore Launches TODAY

Just like many of you, we here at GeekMom are anxiously awaiting our chance to explore Pottermore, the new online Harry Potter universe. Well, beginning today we can all take a shot at gaining early access. With the 7 Books, 7 Days, 7 Chances promo, fans are invited to

…find The Magical Quill, and then submit your registration details. Each day, from 31 July to 6 August, a clue will be revealed here. Solve the clue and you will be taken to The Magical Quill.

Each clue relates to one of the books in the Harry Potter series and the difficulty of the clues will vary. Note that just finding The Magical Quill and solving the clue does not assure you early entry. Space is limited, so if you want a sneak peek you’ll need to think as cleverly as Harry, Ron, and Hermione.