The RROY REPORT Holiday Gift Guide 2014

Ah yes, time now for our favorite tradition here at RROY REPORT HQ, a tradition that dates back to the dawn of holidays. You may not be aware, but it was my ancestor, Rhameses Roy, who suggested gold, frankincense and myrrh in the very first RROY REPORT Holiday Gift Guide.

Let’s see what’s hot for 2014.

Video Games

I haven’t owned a video-game system since the Sega Genesis (ask your grandparents) and I don’t really want the Disney Infinity system. But I really do like the little action figures that you use to play the game with. A set of Avengers figures would look really nice on someone’s fireplace mantle. Or more likely in the basement office.

disney infinity avengers figures

Home Video

This year’s must-have movie releases would be “Captain America: The Winter Soldier,” “Guardians of the Galaxy” and “X-Men: Days of Future Past”  (I suppose if you’re a completist you’d also want “The Amazing Spider-Man 2″). Cap and X-Men are currently available, “Guardians” goes on sale Dec. 9.

But of course the big-ticket item in home video this year is the long-awaited, finally-released “Batman” television series from the 1960s. It’s taken almost a half-decade to get all the legal rights entanglements (long story, look it up elsewhere) cleared up.

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It’s also taken that long for nerd culture to finally come around to accepting that comedy Batman was actually pretty cool. Nerds long hated the Adam West version for making Batman look silly when we all know that a guy who dresses like a bat to fight crime is something that should be taken very, very seriously. Fortunately, Tim Burton and Christopher Nolan cleared that up so now we can enjoy the campy fun of “Batman ’66,” as it’s now called.

And seriously, there’s never been a better rogues gallery on film than Frank Gorshin, Burgess Meredith, Julie Newmar and Cesar Romero. I coulda done without Louie the Lilac.

There were three seasons which you could buy individually but why would you do that when you can get the whole thing in one deluxe package with cool extras? Different stores have different packages, so shop around.

Music

2014 turned out to be a pretty good year for music by artists I like. If you didn’t grab U2’s “Songs of Innocence” when they were offering it for free online then have someone give it to you. Either way you’re not paying for it. I’d pretty much given up on U2 in recent years, especially after the lackluster “No Line On The Horizon,” but “Songs of Innocence” is a real return to form. It’s their best album since “Pop,” and that was back in 1997. Highlights include “Song for Someone” and “Every Breaking Wave” but there’s really not a clunker on this disc.

 John_Hiatt_-_Terms_of_My_SurrenderReport favorite John Hiatt released “Terms of My Surrender” back in July and I only found out about it recently. Hiatt needs a better publicist. Anyway, while not one of his strongest albums it’s still Hiatt, so it’s pretty good. More bluesy than the typical Hiatt release. Worth owning for “Baby’s Gonna Kick” if nothing else.

“Brill Bruisers” is the latest by The New Pornographers. I haven’t had a chance to listen to it yet but it’s the NP, so I’m confident it will be good. Bruce Springsteen’s “High Hopes” came out in January and would probably be appreciated by any fan of The Boss — assuming they don’t already have it. It’s an eclectic mix of covers and remakes and out-takes. I’m not that crazy about it but it has its moments.

Customize It

hawkeye_down_arrow_large_mugDon’t you hate it when you get up in the morning and you want your coffee and you reach into the cabinet and there’s your Spider-Man mug and your HULK mug and your Billy Joel mug and your Who mug but what you really want to drink your coffee out of is a Hawkeye mug — but there are no Hawkeye mugs.

And don’t you hate it when your friend is getting married and you’d like to get them a nice set of Hawkeye glassware, but there is none? And heaven forbid if you’d like a Hawkeye cap or messenger bag or luggage tag or iPod case or lamp.

Until now.

Go to marvel.com and click ‘shop’ then click ‘personalize.’ From there you can pick from any of a number of characters — including Hawkeye — and then you can pick from a number of images and stick them on a number of items ranging from T-shirts to dart boards to playing cards to pillows. It’s pretty awesome.

avengers-festive-sweaterOr you can head over to cafepress.com and pick up the Hawkeye mug pictured up top, as well as numerous other items like a Hawkeye wallet or shower curtain (Don’t send me a Hawkeye shower curtain. It would never make it into our bathroom). And don’t forget welovefine.com which has a nifty selection of Clint Barton and Avengers merchandise, including the Hawkeye polo shirt and this neat Avengers holiday sweater which would be really awesome if it were actually available as a sweater and not as a t-shirt or hoodie.

Finally 

I just discovered this in my research. The Hawkeye Christmas Tie (also available in other Avengers). The perfect apparel for your holiday Christmas party. They also offer Avengers Christmas mugs and t-shirts. All available from the good people at cafepress.com

hawkeye_xmas_neck_tie

Thanks

Before we begin, I would like to thank everyone out there who is reading this in between spending time with their family, friends or whatever significant others you hang out with on Thanksgiving. The important thing is – you’re not out shopping.

Because if you are out shopping – you are the problem. Lots of people want to blame Wal-Mart and company for being open on the holiday and making their employees work instead of being with their families getting stuffed on turkey and watching football. It’s not Wal-Mart’s, K-Mart’s or Whatever-Mart’s fault. They are heartless, soulless corporations who only care about money. They wouldn’t be open today if people weren’t out there shopping.

So give it a rest. All that crap that you have to buy today will be there tomorrow. In fact, if no one shows up at the stores today, the shops will lower the prices even more tomorrow to get rid of the crap.

And now back to our regularly scheduled counting of the blessings:

That for which I am thankful, 2014

“Guardians of the Galaxy” didn’t suck

Almond Joys

Mounds
(because sometimes you feel like a nut, sometimes you don’t)

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Hawkeye print from Wizard World St. Louis

Brenda, then Keegan, now Karen

My new used car

http://youtu.be/OtuGCMiztzA

Only 6 months until “Avengers: Age of Ultron”

Surviving Family Road Trip Vacation with minimal meltdowns

Supertramp

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A friend who’d dress up as Wonder Woman for Halloween
when she’d really rather be Elsa

The Colbert Report, 2005-2014

The guy who plays Penguin on “Gotham” is the best Penguin
since Burgess Meredith (Sorry, Danny DeVito)

The Adam West “Batman” TV show is finally on home video

The Kansas City Royals

Those who don’t judge me by my hit count

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Spending the night with the Smiths in their cabin in the mountains

Groot

The Monkees at The Fox

Quicksilver scene from “X-Men: Days of Future Past”

The Polar Express dessert bar

And, as always

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At The Movies: The Hunger Games: Mockingjay – Part 1 (Part 1)

OK, I know what you’re saying: “Where’s my ‘Hunger Games’ review? What’s this Stephen Hawking love story review doing here? Have you gone all art film reviewer on us?”

FIN09_Seashore_1Sht_Katniss_Payoff_900No, no. rest assured it’s nothing like that. You see, “The Hunger Games: Mockingjay – Part 1″ screening was Tuesday night which conflicted with opening night for “Motown: The Musical” at the Fox and, well, I can get a nice date night with The Wife out of a show at the Fox. Taking her to a movie isn’t quite as impressive — unless it has Hobbits or Mr. Darcy.

So I haven’t had a chance to see the movie yet. I may see it Saturday morning if I can get out of bed in time for the first matinée. If I do, I’ll report back later that day. If I don’t, well, does it really matter?

If you’ve seen all the previous “Hunger Games” movies what are the chances you’re going to drop out now? And if you’ve never seen a “Hunger Games” movie, why would you start with the first half of the last chapter? This is pretty much the definition of “critic-proof.”

At The Movies: The Theory Of Everything

Who would have expected that one of the most touching and moving love stories committed to film would center on  theoretical physicist Stephen Hawking?

“The Theory of Everything” is a biography that doesn’t focus on the genius professor’s work examining black holes, quantum mechanics or the general theory of relativity — and thank God for that, I got enough of that from “Interstellar” — instead the spotlight is on his marriage to Jane Wilde Hawking and his struggles with amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (ALS).

theory_of_everything_PosterDirected by James Marsh and inspired by the memoir “Travelling to Infinity: My Life with Stephen” by Jane Wilde Hawking, the film opens in 1962 with Stephen (Eddie Redmayne) a graduate student at the University of Cambridge. One night at a party he meets Jane (Felicity Jones), who is studying languages. Both awkward and shy, they strike up a friendship that blossoms into romance.

But just as Stephen’s personal and professional life is taking off, his body begins to fall apart. After falling to the ground while walking on campus, Stephen is taken to a hospital for tests. The diagnosis: Lou Gehrig’s disease, a neurodegenerative disorder that would slowly cause his body — but not his brain — to waste away. The prognosis: Two years to live.

Stephen tries to push Jane away but she refuses. Instead the couple marry and raise a family, all the while dealing with the challenges of Stephen’s condition as well as the challenges that come from his success as a scientist and author.

I’m generally not a fan of romance movies but this one really worked for me, primarily due to two fantastic performances by Jones and Redmayne. While Redmayne certainly had the more challenging physical role — which he pulls off with impressive form — Jones is equally compelling as she struggles to keep it together while dealing with all the stresses pulling at her.

The film also boasts an impressive supporting cast and is lovely to look at. It’s a quality film that takes gives an intriguing look at a public figure that we know of due to his work but don’t really know that well.

 

 

On Stage: Motown: The Musical

One of the most ambitious and entertaining musicals of the modern era is now playing at the Fox Theatre.

“Motown: The Musical” is ambitious in that it covers a two-decade time span to tell the story of Motown record company, founder Berry Gordy, and snippets from the lives of musicians Diana Ross, Smokey Robinson and Marvin Gaye. All the while incorporating 60 classic tunes from the era.

It’s entertaining because, well, it features 60 classic Motown hits; a rocking orchestra; flashy lights, costumes and multimedia backdrop;  and a cast of incredibly talented singers/actors.

Reed L Shannon as Michael Jackson (center) with the Jackson 5 in a scene from MoTOWN THE MUSICAL First National Tour (c) Joan Marcus, 2014

Reed L Shannon as Michael Jackson (center) with the Jackson 5 in a scene from “Motown The Musical” First National Tour.
(c) Joan Marcus, 2014

The show begins in 1983 during rehearsals for Motown’s 25th anniversary celebration. Back in his Los Angeles home, label founder Berry Gordy (Clifton Oliver) isn’t sure he wants to take part in the festivities. His company is in a slump and may have to be sold because he can’t compete with the major labels who keep scooping up all his major talent.

The story then shifts briefly to 1938 for a childhood vignette then fast-forwards to 1957 as Berry leaves his job at a Detroit auto factory to pursue his dream to be a songwriter. While he has some early success, the unfair business practices of the record industry causes Berry to approach his family for a loan so he can start his own company.

Berry quickly hooks up with talent like Smokey Robinson (Jesse Nager) and Marvin Gaye (Jarran Muse) and the hits just keep on coming. Act I deals with the volatile years from 1962-’68 as the artists deal with racial inequality and threats as they tour the South and ends with the death of Martin Luther King and a powerful performance by Muse of “What’s Going On?”

Act II opens in the still unsettled sixties but then moves into the seventies and the addition of new talent like The Jackson Five (on opening night the role of young Michael Jackson was played to perfection by Leon Outlaw Jr. The role is also played by Reed L. Shannon). As Berry tries to keep his artists happy — Marvin wants to move from pop music to more socially relevant songs — he also has to deal with challenges from other, larger record companies.

Another key thread in this musical mosaic is Berry’s relationship with singer Diana Ross (Allison Semmes) and his push to move her from Supremes lead singer to solo star. You knew there had to be a love story somewhere in this epic tale.

“Motown: The Musical” is one of the most energetic, exhilarating shows I’ve seen lately. There are too many musical highlights to focus on one or two. All of the lead actors, and many of the ensemble, have amazing voices. The band was loud and sharp. The colorful costumes ranged from the simple to the outrageous. The show makes good use of sets and video. And the music, of course, is timeless.

“Motown: The Musical” runs through Nov. 30. http://www.fabulousfox.com/

 

At The Movies: Rosewater

“Rosewater” is the kind of movie that’s easy to admire, hard to recommend.

The story is solid and uplifting. The cast delivers compelling performances. It’s an impressive debut from first-time director Jon Stewart. It’s a fine film.

But do you really want to spend date night watching a young man being psychologically — and sometimes physically — tortured for more than an hour? And pay for it?

220px-Rosewater_posterBased on the memoir “Then They Came for Me” by Maziar Bahari and Aimee Molloy, “Rosewater” stars Gael García Bernal as Bahari, an Iranian-born journalist living and working in London. In 2009 he returned to Iran to visit his mother (Shohreh Aghdashloo) and cover the country’s presidential election.

In the unrest that follows the election, Bahari shoots video that doesn’t please the government. Further complicating matters, he takes part in a segment for Stewart’s news-satire program “The Daily Show,” where he’s interviewed by Jason Jones, who is pretending to be a spy. It doesn’t help that Bahari’s father and sister both had run-ins with the government.

Sure enough, one day the authorities arrive and cart Bahari away. He spends the next 118 days either in solitary confinement or in a small room with his interrogator (Kim Bodnia). He spends most of the time blindfolded.

“Rosewater” shows that Jon Stewart has more talent than just being a fake-news anchorman. He takes a serious incident and presents it with humor and compassion.

The Polar Express, Union Station And Dessert Buffets

Like all rational people I do not acknowledge the existence of Christmas until after Thanksgiving. So I wasn’t too excited when I got the invitation to a press event promoting the new Polar Express Train Ride at Union Station.

And then somebody said “free food.”

And I said “it really is the most wonderful time of the year.”

And so it was that Thursday night I took the train down to Union Station, in part because it seemed appropriate, in part because I didn’t want to have to drive or park downtown and in part because I was meeting The Wife there so we already had one vehicle downtown.

Oh, Union Station. Once you were a major transportation hub of this great nation. Then you went into disrepair. Then you became a shopping mall/hotel. Now, well, you’re still a shopping mall/hotel but you’ve seen better days.

I remember when they reopened Union Station as a shopping mall/hotel. It was impressive. You would walk in and a big crowd would be gathered around the Fudgery where the workers would be slapping large slabs of fudge around on a marble table and singing songs. I bought my 30th anniversary Avengers poster at a shop in Union Station. We spent our wedding night in the Omni Hotel therein.

It was a big deal. It lasted, I dunno, five or six years? Now it’s a dimly-lit shell with a few shops and a half-empty food court. One lone person was slapping fudge around and he wasn’t singing. Why is it dimly lit? How many shopping malls do you walk in wondering if someone is hiding in the shadows about to grab you? I realize it’s big and hard to light but I don’t like the feeling that I’m the Wayne family walking home from the theater as I’m walking INSIDE the mall.

On the plus side, I will say I went into one store — Fat Sassy’s — that I thought was pretty cool. If you’re looking for an Elvis Presley Christmas ornament, check it out.

We quickly walked through the mall to the hotel area where we discovered you can no longer walk the length of Union Station anymore because the hotel area is off-limits to those without key-cards. What the hey? Our options were to wait for someone inside the hotel area to have mercy and open a door for us or go back outside and walk around the building to the hotel front door in downtown St. Louis in the dark. We waited. Someone let us in.

St. Louis Union Station Hotel (no longer the Omni) is very nice. Clean, well-lit, classy. We made our way upstairs to the Grand Hall where the event was taking place. The Grand Hall is very grand — barrel-vaulted ceiling; big, comfy chairs; nice bar.

poXwM7Ug0KrvNd1E_U6M1GvGA3dyWbiQZCCwIy9cstUAs a new event this holiday season — ’cause you can only sit through “The Nutcracker” so many times — Union Station is offering The Polar Express Train Ride. Excursions begin Nov. 22 and run through Dec. 30. Apparently they sold out their initials runs and recently added new dates — Dec. 15-17.

The event consists of a round-trip ride to the North Pole (use your imagination) with people dressed up to resemble characters from the beloved children’s story/movie.

We didn’t get to experience the train ride but we did enjoy the Panoramic Light Show that takes place in the Grand Hall. Images are projected into the ceiling that offer a history lesson on the station as well as images from the Polar Express film. It’s pretty cool.

The main event — at least for hungry people, I suppose the train ride would be the main event for everyone else — is the buffets. There is the children’s buffet, the adult buffet and the Grand Dessert Buffet. They served the children’s buffet at the media event which was fine by me because I’d rather eat chicken tenders and mini corndogs over chicken breast with autumn rice and chef’s vegetables any day. The buffet was delicious — I highly recommend the chicken tenders with honey mustard sauce.

10675715_10205075677761673_4055689643975285298_nWhich brings us to the Grand Dessert Buffet. Holy Christmas miracle, was that a lot of sweets. I tried my best to try as much as I could but alas, too many chicken tenders. I highly recommend the gingerbread mousse — it was light and not too filling. Everything was good and the display was impressive. Oh, the apple tart thing was really good too.

So if you’re looking for something to do this holiday season that doesn’t involve watching The Grinch for the 1,345th time, catch the train to Union Station. And if you’re in charge of the mall there — invest in some light bulbs.

For more information on The Polar Express Train Ride visit http://www.stlpolarexpressride.com/