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Monday, December 30, 2013

J.R.R. Tolkien would have been pleased

Grade: B+

In a Nutshell:  I love it when great literature is made into movies! I wonder how J.R.R. Tokien really visualized all of the characters in his epic stories.  I don't know how he would have thought about Peter Jackson's versions, but I'm sure he would have been thrilled with the growing fan base.

Fill up your popcorn buckets early folks…this is a long movie. It feels good to be back in Middle Earth. According to the Associated Press, it looks like everyone was willing to spend Christmas with The Hobbit . The second part of The Hobbit trilogy won the weekend box office, bringing in $29.9 million over three days.  Tried and true fans of the Lord of the Rings have been supporting the Hobbit’s story, although most will admit this second trilogy isn’t quite as novel or spell-binding as the first.  (Terrible puns intended.)

Bilbo Baggins (the terrific Martin Freeman) continues his journey with thirteen Dwarves and Gandalf the Grey (beloved Ian McKellan) to reclaim the lost Dwarf Kingdom of Erebor within the grand mountain.  You can’t blame Director Peter Jackson for trying to cash in on a proven hit.  Did you know Pan’s Labryinth’s Guillermo del Toro was one of the writers?

Uplifting theme: Good vs. evil.  Light vs. darkness.  Courage vs. cowardice. In the first Hobbit movie, Bilbo was so frightened by the idea of a quest that he fainted.  With each progressing film, Bilbo develops heroic qualities and reveals hidden reserves of inner strength.  Mankind, and perhaps even WWI England, may be whom Tolkien wanted to inspire to greatness.  Epic literature often features swords with names to show the bravery of the holder, so it is fitting that as Bilbo’s courage grows, he names his short sword that killed the spiders “Sting.” 

Things I liked:  The dragon was amazing.  I loved how you could see the fire building beneath his throat and belly before he roared with flames.  Very cool.  It gives real meaning to their expression “the flames of war.” The barrel scene was whimsical and action-packed, albeit cheesy and not as polished as the rest of the CGI in the film.  You can see individual hairs blowing in the wind in the 3D version of the High Frame Rate.  At first, the 48 frames per second feels odd to the senses, but the quality is amazing.  I love the simmering Smaug played expertly by Benedict Cumberbatch. 

We learn another trick the ring can do: it allows Bilbo to understand what the giant spiders are saying.  Ick.  Fans of Lost will be happy to see Canadian beauty Evangeline Lilly take to the screen as Tauriel, one of the many new characters that don’t exist in J.R.R. Tolkien’s original book.

Things I didn’t like:  I tried to read The Hobbit when I was in college and shamefully admit I just couldn’t get into it.  While I loved The Lord of the Rings, there is something missing in this Hobbit trilogy.  I confess that I was completely exhausted when I watched this film, so I don’t know if it was that or because the movie was dragging that caused me to doze off a time or two. 
What happened to sexy, playful Legolas?  He was angry and moody throughout the entire movie.  Poor Orlando Bloom.  Have you noticed that Orks never walk, but are constantly running at a wicked pace?

Humans are always so greasy and dirty in these films, have you noticed?  The Master of Laketown’s assistant had some “ripe” zits that were incredibly disgusting to look at.  Gandolf’s only power (although effective) was to slam down his staff and bring evil-destroying light.  Other than that, he was fleeing on a horse or running…it would be nice if he could contribute more magic to get everyone out of their never-ending dangerous predicaments.

Funny lines:  
  • “What is that?”  “Our host!”
  • “Did he offer you a deal?”  “I did.  I told him he could #$%!#$.”  (We assume that’s some kind of profanity in Dwarf lingo.)

Insightful quotes:
  • “When did we allow evil to become stronger than us?”  - Tauriel
  • “Do not think that flattery will keep you alive.”   - Dragon
  • “What have we done?”  - Bilbo
  • “He cannot see beyond his own desire.”  - Bard the Bowman
  • “Such is the nature of evil.  In time all foul things come forth.”  - Legolas

Things to look for: 
  • The comical self-portrait and statue of Stephen Fry as Master of Laketown
  • Speaking of Laketown…did you notice Stephen Colbert in the movie?!  He played a Laketown spy and was invited by Peter Jackson who declared him the king of Lord of the Ring geeks.  Rumor has it he may in the third installment as well.
  • I know a guy in real life who looks just like the handsome Aidan Turner who plays Kili.  He’s an inspiring artist who makes super cool t-shirt designs at   He’s in the 3rd & 6th photo on the “Us” page.  There’s a shout-out for ya Nick!
  • Stunning black & white horses towards the beginning of the film
  • Cool transformation scene when the “Skin Changer” turns into a human
  • The Prancing Pony from Lord of the Rings at the beginning of the film
  • Beautiful, long Elf locks.  Someone from Loreal needs to make an Elf a spokes model
  • A quick peek at what a woman Dwarf and baby Dwarf look like in the photo inside the necklace.  Look fast!
  • The rock that looks like Rodin’s famous “The Thinker” just outside a cave

Tips for parents:  Lots of fighting and some scary scenes with spiders, Orks, fiery dragon, and other creepy creatures.

Fun products if you're a Tolkien fan:

The Lord of the Rings (50th Anniversary Edition)
Tolkien Calendar 2014, The hobbit
Lord Of The Rings Sting Sword Letter Opener

Frozen will melt your heart

Movie Title:  Frozen

Grade: A

In a Nutshell:  Magical.  Visually stunning. Old school Disney romance with a modern feel, similar to Tangled.  This one is worth buying on DVD for the fam.  Somehow this is going to be made into a Broadway musical some day, right?  The detail and humor are Disney perfection.

Uplifting theme:  Love IS an open door.  It’s a bit of a dramatic illustration of believing the mistaken notion to “conceal it – don’t feel it.”  Embrace yourself and your unique strengths and weaknesses. Of your worries and stresses - let it go.  Girls, your handsome prince may not wear a suit with epaulets.

Things I liked:  Idina Menzel 's beautiful voice…yes please. All of the snow-filled animation is simply gorgeous from the delicate snowflakes to glittering snow packs to icy palaces, foggy breath, windy flurries, and a lively snowman.  You can hear the snow crunch and you feel like you’re IN the fog and cold snow storm….watch it in 3D if you can!  The human movement, facial expressions, and Kristoff’s awesome hair are all amazing.  We’ll probably see Kristoff’s boots for sale in the Ugg store pretty soon.  Elsa’s cute figure is inspiring and yet false advertising at the same time.  Kristen Bell did a terrific job too.

Things I didn’t like: The African chant music seemed out of place.  My son (the animation student in college) thought the artwork was so elegant that Olaf the Snowman seemed out of place and a bit of an annoyance a la Jar Jar Binks in Star Wars.  My sister disagreed and thought Olaf was a welcomed comic relief, connecting the two sisters to their childhood relationship.  Speaking of Olaf, lovable Josh Gad, who voices the enthusiastic snowman, praised Disney’s animation talent by saying “If there’s something snow can do, Disney animators have absolutely discovered it!”  The Art Direction team was sent to Norway for inspiration for snow-filled mountains and even costuming on the film.

Funny line:  “We finish each other’s….sandwiches.”

Things to look for:
  • Famous artwork on walls in the palace.  I especially love the Fragonard. 
  • Drool on Anna’s mouth when she’s asleep
  • Aurora Borealis.  That’s on my Bucket List for things to see before I die.
  • The axe in the beginning scene.
  • Romantic robot dancing from the movie Hitch when Anna and Hans sing “Our mental synchronization can have but one explanation.”
  • Anna sings through the keyhole
  • So much to see in the troll scene!

Insightful quotes:
  • “Only true love can thaw a frozen heart.”  – Pabbie/Grandpa
  •  “Some people are worth melting for.”  - Olaf the Snowman
  •  “Don’t know if I’m elated or grassy, but I’m somewhere in that zone.”  - Anna
  •  “You sacrificed for me?”  “I love you.”  - Anna & Elsa   (something all sisters should say to one another)
  • “The heart is not so easily changed, but the head can be persuaded.” 
  • "People make bad choices if they're mad or scared or stressed."  - Troll 

Tips for parents:  No bad language, but a tiny bit of a dark theme.  Enough action for the boys to be entertained, beautiful music for the girls to sing along to, and thought-provoking character development for adults to enjoy.  Thanks to YouTube, you’ll be able to watch some of your favorite songs and scenes again until the DVD hits store shelves.

Saving Mr. Banks features Disney Magic That Touches the Heart

Movie Title:  Saving Mr. Banks

Grade: A-

In a Nutshell:  This is an absolutely lovely film that wraps a perfect Disney bow around your heart.  It’s the untold back-story of how the beloved movie Mary Poppins came to be.  Walt Disney is vividly brought to life by two-time Academy Award winner Tom Hanks.  Until now, very few fans knew that Disney spent 20 years trying to convince the curmudgeonly author of the Mary Poppins books to allow him to turn her stories into the iconic film that we all adore.  The fantastic Emma Thompson, also a two-time Oscar winner perfectly portrays P.L. Travers, the author who struggles with her hidden fears and the ghosts of her past and who is the one who ultimately saves Mr. Banks in the end.  This should be Emma Thompson’s third Academy win…

Uplifting theme:  This spoonful of sugar touched a sensitive spot on aging Baby Boomers in the audience who cried like babies in the end. (weak grin)  While P.L. Travers reviews in her mind the tormented life of her charming father’s addictions, she too is caged by her personal demons.  SPOILER ALERT: It wasn’t until Walt Disney and P.L. Travers chose to change their painful childhood memories, focusing on the good and allowing the anger to melt away, that Mr. Banks was saved. We would be wise to do the same.

Things I liked:  While her prickly personality battles against the Disney machine during the day, she cuddles with the soft mouse at night in her hotel room.  I loved the moment when a giant Mickie Mouse offers to escort a hesitant P.L. Travers into the debut screening of the movie.  An underused gem, I loved Bradley Whitford in The West Wing: The Complete Series Collection and “The Good Guys” (Pilot [HD]), so it was great to see him again.  The handsome Colin Farrell and talented character actor Paul Giamatti added nicely to the star-studded cast.

Things I didn’t like:  The medicine that was spoon-fed included a dose of Disney branding that was a bit self-serving on the eve of the half-century anniversary of Mary Poppins 50th Anniversary Edition , albeit clever marketing.  I was surprised to learn that P.L. Travers didn’t want actor Dick Van Dyke in the Mary Poppins movie…I LOVE him and thought he was truly magical in the film!

Funny line: Walt Disney says to P.L. Travers who sits awkwardly on a carousel “I had a wager I couldn’t get you on a ride.  I just won twenty bucks!”  The author of a children’s book about a flying nanny ironically questions Disney by asking “Where is the gravitas?”

Insightful quotes:
“Live a life that isn’t dictated by the past.”   - Disney
“We restore order with imagination.”  - Disney
“A leisurely stroll is a gift.”  Ralph
“A mouse is family.”  - Disney
“This world is just an illusion.”  - Robert Goff Travers

Things to look for:  Notice who says “Don’t leave me”, “Never.  I promise” and how it is fulfilled. Apparently, Walt Disney smoked like a chimney and was rarely seen without a cigarette.  It was decided in this movie to remove that portrayal, but there is one quick mention of it when Walt, himself, stamps out a cigarette to protect the children’s sensitive eyes. 

Tips for parents: Saving Mr. Banks is a bit slow-moving for children, without big action scenes to make up for it.  While it is about Walt Disney’s magical world, the film is more about character development and the magic of creating one’s future, rather than dwelling on the past.  

Interesting books to read on the subject:
How to Be Like Walt: Capturing the Disney Magic Every Day of Your Life

The Animated Man: A Life of Walt Disney

Mary Poppins - The Complete Collection

Thursday, December 26, 2013

The Secret Life of Walter Mitty Inspires

Movie Title: The Secret Life of Walter Mitty

Grade: A-

In a Nutshell: We’re all a little bit like Walter Mitty, imagining ourselves doing great things while reality jails us in some dull cubicle to eek out a living. In this fresh remake (the 1947 version starred the lovable Danny Kaye), Walter Mitty is, ironically, a “negative asset manager” for LIFE magazine who daydreams about heroism and romance, but lives an uninspired life. Because he hasn’t done anything “noteworthy or mentionable”, he can’t seem to catch the eye of his co-worker (Kristen Wiig) until... I remember reading this James Thurber’s short story in middle school and began drafting my very first “Bucket List.”

Uplifting theme: Stop dreaming. Start living. I took my family to see this comedy directed by Ben Stiller and asked my kids what they thought. One of my sons said “Motivated.” I prompted “Motivated to do what?” “More.” Another son chimed in “Motivated to do more instead of read about it on blogs.” The magazine Walter Mitty works for is, appropriately, LIFE. Now, go out there and use your passport.

Things I liked:  Gorgeous cinematography! Inspiring visions. Some of the biggest moments of the film were the ones that featured simple joys. The subtle humor had my husband’s contagious laughter fill the theater. Ben Stiller is the king of awkward moments. The 1947 film portrayed an overbearing mother, but in this version the lovely Shirley MacLaine brings to life a supportive, but aging mom who unintentionally brings out the best in her son.

For the younger generation who never had the pleasure of reading LIFE from 1936-1972, it was the photojournalism magazine that introduced us to places all over the world. Its motto, spotlighted in the movie was: “To see the world, things dangerous to come to, to see behind walls, draw closer, to find each other and to feel. That is the purpose of life.”

Things I didn’t like: Walter Mitty is in really good shape on that skateboard, considering he was supposed to have been working in a dark photography office for 17 years. I know, as if the rest of the film was entirely believable. The great cell phone reception on the mountain top of the Himalayas provided some laughter from the audience.

Funny line: “I have that The Curious Case of Benjamin Button thing.”

Things to look for:  Read all of the signs on streets, walls, and even mountains during the film for insightful narration. You won’t see Stiller’s famous “Blue Steel” humor from Zoolander , but a solid dramatic performance that is endearing.

Tips for parents: Rated PG! Yay! There are some intoxicated guys in a bar drinking REALLY LARGE glasses. A couple of “mild” swear words. A funny Ben Stiller movie with no F-bombs and crude humor…a refreshing relief. It was a nice change to see Kristen Wiig and Sean Penn with clean characters as well. Your family will enjoy the thrilling action scenes and peaceful moments of reflection.

Now I'm ready to go to Iceland or Greenland

Wednesday, December 18, 2013

Addicted to Instagram now

Ok, so I'm becoming slightly addicted to Instagram now...

Lately, I've been posting a lot of foodie pics because I teach at Le Cordon Bleu School for the Culinary Arts and do a lot of Mystery Shopping at awesome restaurants.  Feel free to follow me at:


Saturday, November 30, 2013

2014 Ready Resource book is now in stores!

Copy of 2014 Ready Resource

Click on the link above to watch a "book trailer" for the new edition of "Ready Resource for Relief Society"!

Tuesday, November 19, 2013

What someone who loves books said about my newest book!

Do you love to read books? Shauna Wheelwright loves books so much that she created a blog about it!   In fact, it's called "I love to read and review books". 

She recently read my newest book "Ready Resource for Relief Society" and had this to say about it:

I am really impressed with this resource book!

This gives a teacher of Relief Society a plentiful supply of materials to supplement the lessons from the Church Manual.

In this resource guide you get for EACH LESSON:

*Hymn selections that correlate with the lesson.
*A brief summary of the lesson.
*Quotes from Apostles and Prophets
*Picture ideas to use from the Gospel Art Kit
*Church video suggestions

and my favorite part...

*it gives you OBJECT LESSONS to use to bring more understanding to the lesson!

But that's not all...

You also get:
*Ensign articles to use

*Scripture Mastery verses to expound the lesson
*Correlating pages from Preach My Gospel
*AND a CHALLENGE to help the class members put the lesson to practice in their own lives.

And if that is not enough...
*There are handouts all ready made for you!

This makes teaching SO EASY!


The book hits stores THIS WEEK!  Woohoo!

To grab a paperback copy or an ebook version of it, buy it online at Amazon.

Thanks Shauna!

Tuesday, November 5, 2013

Win a free book CONTEST!

So, are you ready for the holidays? Would you like to be? An inspiring author and good friend of mine, Connie Sokol, is launching her newest book "Simplify & Savor the Season", a three-part holiday planner to help you savor the celebrations!
You can WIN A FREE COPY by sharing in the comment box below what you do to celebrate and enjoy this holiday season, which includes Halloween, Thanksgiving, Christmas, and New Year's. I'll pick a winning entry and send you a copy of her ebook and eplanner!

 Connie's fun book details the to-dos, including menu and gift planning, with quick tips on how to lose the unnecessary and focus on the essential. After organizing, sit back and enjoy the season with “5 Holiday Juicers”—tips that teach how to keep life joyful, not stressful. Then curl up and relax with “Savory Suggestions, Snippets, and Stories,” a collection of laugh-out-loud anecdotes including “How the Real Halloween Fright Happened the Next Day,” “Thankful for Warbling,” and “Let Go of the Cookie-Cutter Christmas.” Make your holiday celebrations meaningful and memorable as you Simplify & Savor the Season!

To learn more about this book and others, visit where you can also sign up to receive her fun newsletter. Some testimonials of her newest book are:

“Reading Simplify & Savor the Season is like getting an early holiday gift: permission to let go of meaningless frills and pageantry and instead, focus on family and love. And it helps the most diehard procrastinators get organized in time to enjoy the holidays.” —Elyssa Andrus, author of Happy Homemaking: An LDS Girl’s Guide 

“Love it! I don’t have to hold my breath anymore. Connie is the master at bringing clarity to the chaotic. This book brings to light the little things that make all the difference. I want to tell all women that serenity during the holidays really can happen. What a gift! –Kalli Wilson, International Wellness Coach 

Connie Sokol is a mother of seven, a national and local presenter, and a favorite speaker at Education Week. She is the Motherhood Matters contributor on KSL TV's “Studio 5 with Brooke Walker”, and regular blogger on She is a former TV and radio host, newspaper columnist. Mrs. Sokol is the author of several books including The Life is Too Short Collection, Faithful, Fit & Fabulous, Create a Powerful Life Plan, 40 Days with the Savior, and Caribbean Crossroads. She marinates in time spent with her family and eating decadent treats. For her blog, TV segments, podcasts and more, visit

Monday, November 4, 2013

Sneak Peek at Ready Resource for Relief Society 2014

I'm so excited to announce that my newest book "Ready Resource for Relief Society - Teachings of the President Joseph Fielding Smith" will launch on November 19, 2013!  Woohoo!  It will be available for purchase in stores and online on that date.  Yay!

Here is a sneak peek at the lesson topics for next year's Relief Society and Priesthood lesson manual for the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints.  My book will offer creative and fun ideas to help teachers with object lessons, visual aids, video suggestions, artwork, handouts, inspiring quotes, article links, as well as 3 new features: Seminary Scripture Mastery tie-ins, Preach My Gospel pages, and personal challenges for every chapter!

Topics for 2014 include:

Lesson 1      Our Father in Heaven
Lesson 2      Our Savior, Jesus Christ
Lesson 3      The Plan of Salvation
Lesson 4      Strengthening and Preserving the Family
Lesson 5      Faith and Repentance                     
Lesson 6      The Significance of the Sacrament
Lesson 7     Joseph and Hyrum Smith, Witnesses for Jesus Christ   
Lesson 8     The Church and Kingdom of God   
Lesson 9      Witnesses of the Book of Mormon
Lesson 10     Our Search for Truth
Lesson 11     Honoring the Priesthood Keys Restored through Joseph Smith
Lesson 12     The Oath and Covenant of the Priesthood
Lesson 13     Baptism 
Lesson 14     The Gift of the Holy Ghost
Lesson 15      Eternal Marriage 
Lesson 16      Bringing Up Children in Light and Truth 
Lesson 17      Sealing Power and Temple Blessings 
Lesson 18      living by Every Word That Proceeds from the Mouth of God
Lesson 19      In the World but Not of the World 
Lesson 20       Love and Concern for All Our Father’s Children
Lesson 21       Proclaiming the Gospel to the World 
Lesson 22       Prayer – a Commandment and a Blessing 
Lesson 23       Individual Responsibility  
Lesson 24       The Work of Latter-day Saint Women: “Unselfish Devotion
                       to This Glorious Cause”    
Lesson 25       The Birth of Jesus Christ:  “Good Tidings of Great Joy”
Lesson 26       Preparing for the Coming of our Lord

Tuesday, October 8, 2013

Ready Resource for Relief Society 2014 is now available for pre-order

Great news! The 2014 "Ready Resource for #ReliefSociety" is out!

Well, it's not on store shelves just yet, but you can pre-order your copies on Amazon today!

The picture shows a cover similar to last year's edition, but it will actually be blue in 2014.  This handy resource book makes lesson preparation so much easier so that you can spend more time focusing on the Spirit and meeting the needs of your specific class.

There are 3 new features in this new edition:

* Scripture Mastery verses that help parents memorize the same scriptures as their teenagers in Seminary.  Each lesson focuses on the Scripture Mastery references that relate to the same topic.

* Preach My Gospel page references to help the class become more familiar with this terrific missionary tool. President Monson said in the Fall 2013 General Conference "Now is the time for members and missionaries to work together..." The page references will help readers learn how to incorporate missionary work and focused studies on the topic.

* A weekly challenge to deepen learning and increase application of the topic.

The 2014 edition still includes the favorite features you love to help you prepare your Sunday lessons during Relief Society and Priesthood:

* Object lesson ideas

* Hymns and music that go along with the theme

* Suggested artwork and visual aids

* References to articles in Church magazines and General Conference talks

* Ideas for showing videos to correlate with each week's topic

* A handout that can be copied and given to everyone in the class I think you're going to LOVE this new book!

If you're interested in any of the previous year's issues, they can also be purchased online at Amazon for a new low price! They're TERRIFIC for Family Home
Evening lessons and youth topical lessons for Sunday School!  


Ready Resource for #ReliefSociety

Tuesday, August 13, 2013

Planes script writing doesn't soar to expectations

If Planes was about a bomber, then it would be mission accomplished. The voice talents of Dane Cook, Stacy Keach, John Cleese, Brad Garrett, and Priyanka Chopra are the best things about the movie Planes, a Disney release, but NOT a Pixar production.  It is Prana Animation Studios that put this one together.  Not exactly a household name, but they’re the ones who released Tinker Bell and Secret of the Wings (another Tinker Bell movie) straight to DVD release.   Unfortunately, the quality of this film reveals its history.

Planes was originally created to be a direct-to-DVD release, but when little ones clamor to see a summer flick with a giant tub of buttery movie-theater popcorn, why not squeeze more money out of it and slip it into the theaters first?  Ohhhhh, now this movie makes more sense.

The movie begins with the title “From above the world of Cars” hoping the Disney connection will help this movie to soar to megabucks.  It flops. Cars was somewhat unique and successful, and although Planes has a similar look, it doesn’t quite make it off the runway. Without Pixar’s humorous magic, the audience didn’t laugh for almost 15 minutes.  I don’t know if any parents ever did.  The humor is definitely geared towards younger children, almost at the parents’ expense.  The simplistic underdog story lacks the sophistication to entertain bored parents, yet provides endless stereotypes to offend them.

Dane Cook voices Dusy, a crop-duster who dreams of becoming a racing plane, has a secret fear of heights.  Kinda lame, right?

While most movie critics consider this film to be a soulless cash grab, there are some visually colorful aerial views of landscapes, although older folks may get dizzy in the 3D version.  (I’m showing my age.)  Little ones who love airplanes will be in heaven and the merchandising profits are sure to please Disney. The “believe in yourself” ending is predictable and unoriginal.  I mean, we just finished watching Turbo a couple of weeks ago.

It’s a disappointing movie theater trip, but at least you got your buttery popcorn fix.  Little ones will enjoy it.  Parents will endure it.  Are we going to see “Boats the Movie” next?

Grade = C