Barbie: Spy Squad – JenEric Movie Review

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Hello Cinephiles,

Today we’re talking about the 2016 film Barbie: Spy Squad.

Story

Definitely geared towards younger audiences, it’s a solid intro into the secret agent / spy genre. The twist was predictable for me, but I’ve seen a lot of these.

Score: 0.5

Characters

The main three characters are the usual super awesome Barbie and friends. They fit into the basic spy stereotypes very well. The techie computer guy felt really relatable and the over-the-top spy aunt was pretty funny.

The villain felt a little meh and the heel-face turn was abrupt and could have used more set up.

Score: 0.5

Dialogue

The dialogue oscillates between cutesy and inane. There are a few funny jokes and the overall message is good.

Score: 0.5

Visuals and Music

The visuals are standard Barbie movie with lots of cute spy and action bonuses. It’s not great, but it’s not terrible.

The music is catchy… too catchy. They have 1 song and they use it A LOT!

Score: 0.5

Fun

I enjoyed this the first time I watched it. It has constantly been on of my daughters favourite movies since she could ask for it. She used to say she was going on missions with her spy girls and then do a bunch of flips.

Score: 1

Overall

One of the best Barbie movies available with a strong message and catchy music. It’s a great intro into spy and action movies without the gratuitous violence. It’s fun and one of my daughter’s favourite movies.

Score: 3 stars out of 5

Gaming with kids

Hello Parents and Educators,

We were asked about using tabletop RPG’s as an educational tool while integrating real life history and geography.

Baby Dragon with Cubie from Alina Pete and a glowing d20.

It’s a massive question and I could write an entire book about it, but here’s what I answered:

Hello,

This is the Eric half of JenEric, I write the RPG stuff and most of the stories. My wife is the one who did the homeschooling but she felt this was a bit beyond her.

Thank you so much for that question. That is a great question and will depend a lot on your kids and your preferred style of play.

First I’d (selfishly) recommend using Oneshot – The Simplest RPG. It’s just the rules, they are very simple and you’ll be able to use them for almost any scenario.

As for the educational part, I’d recommend you make a list of things you want the kids to learn about and build around those goals. If you’re planning on different historical locations, you should break them down. I find it helps to break down each location/time and then list the characters, places, important events, and reason for the characters to be there.

If you’re jumping around in history and geography, you need to either make a series of small adventures or try maybe make it time travel related. With the time travel, the kids can get attached to a character that they’ll see grow and experience,

Another good way to keep it fun and keep them interested is to have a fun villain. I’m a big fan of cartoonish villains for kids, but you know your kids best.

Hook them into a story and they won’t even notice they’re learning.

As much fun as movies, tv, and books are; be careful not to use them too much as research. A good place to start is WIkipedia, each article has sources and those sources usually have a lot more information and further reading.

I hope this helps,
Eric Desmarais

Anyone have further advice for gaming with children in an educational manner?

Stay safe and be kind,

Éric

Change in Schedule – Dear Pegasus and Dragon

Dear Pegasus and Dragon,

Your mum and I had a plan. It was a good plan. Until Dragon went to school we’d have your schedule be 11pm sleeptime and 11am wake up. This meant we had more time with you and the grandparents after dinner.

It worked really well and we were getting mentally prepared to change it when the pandemic and first lockdown hit. We decided that since mum was mostly homeschooling Dragon that we’d keep going.

Now that Dragon is going to be going to full time digital school next week (Yikes) we’ll be switching your schedule to 8pm bedtime and 8am wakeup time.

I’m kinda terrified about how it’s going to work. Worried that we’ve messed up your internal clock or something. Hopefully everything will be okay, but I definitely expect it to be a hard first few weeks.

As much as this past year or so has been terribly scary and more than a little frustrating, I’ve enjoyed the extra time we’ve had together. I’m not sure you’ll remember much from this year but between the homeschooling activities and the extra time at night to snuggle, I’m not going to forget.

This feels like a big change for us, but if we do it right you won’t remember it.

Love you both,

Papa (Éric)

Heat, Allergies, and Mental Health

Hello My Imaginary Friends,

Everyone is different; our bodies react to weather, stress, and fatigue in different ways. So my experience isn’t the same as everyone else’s.

August sucks for me. Especially weeks like this week, where we had high temperatures and high pollen count. Despite living indoors with air conditioning, the heat and pollen still affect me. It means I can’t sleep very well (up every 20-30 minutes), can’t breath very well, and generally feel crappy.

I think the worse part of poor sleep, allergies, and feeling crappy; is that it makes everything seem worse and hopeless. This isn’t new, but I always forget. In the future, I should probably plan trips around this time to keep me moving and not thinking.

I crashed yesterday and snapped at my wife for something that wasn’t her fault (Sorry).

It’s a vicious cycle of feeling like I should be doing more and not having any energy to do it. So when I take time to rest or relax, I then feel guilty and that makes me feel depressed and anxious.

At least the kids are liking the weather. Here’s a cute picture of them playing on the splash mat in our backyard.

Once the heat breaks, I’ll start feeling a little better. Until then, I have to keep reminding myself that it’s okay to take time to recover and not to feel guilty about it.

Be kind to yourself!

Éric

The House with a Clock in Its Walls – JenEric Movie Review

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Hello Cinephiles,

Today we’re talking about the 2018 film The House with a Clock in Its Walls.

Story

I was very impressed. The movie had the right level of intrigue and excitement and the pace was a great balance between Gothic horror and kids horror. The plot was relatively simple and gave space for the characters’ backstories and the world building.

Score: 1

Characters

A lot of times, stories like this will neglect character development for the adults or the kids, but this one did a great job balancing it. The villain was surprisingly sympathetic for a corpse.

Cate Blanchett was amazing in her role and really made me feel for the character.

Jack Black managed to do what he does best and make a loud, arrogant, character who is both sympathetic and likeable.

Owen Vaccaro was wonderful as the quirky kid. I am a little sad they cut the fat-phobia story, but it’s probably for the best.

Score: 1

Dialogue

Quirky, weird, and definitely memorable. The skills of the writer (who wrote for the first five seasons of Supernatural) were definitely well used.

Score: 1

Visuals and Music

The visuals were beautiful and creepy. I wasn’t a fan of the abundant poop jokes however.

The music was atmospheric and fun.

Score: 0.5

Fun

I watched this with my 2 year old and he loved it. Kept saying “scary… fun!” In the actually scary parts he hugged me. I think my 4 year old would have yelled at the screen when the cabinet was opened and flailed like an angry octopus.

Its exactly the kind of kid’s horror that I grew up with and it felt like something I would have watched in the 90’s, but better in almost every way.

Score: 1

Overall

Fun, exciting, and scary with more heart and better acting then expected. This is a movie made by horror fans for future fans. It’s a great introduction for those kids that can handle and enjoy the scary moments. It’s also a great nostalgic feel for those of us that grew up with this style of storytelling.

Final Score: 4.5 Stars out of 5

I like to play games

Hello My Imaginary Friends,

I love games. I love board games, table top games, card games, and video games.

I had never bought myself a video game console. I have an amazing brother who’s bought me a PS3 and PS4 and a lifetime ago we got a free Nintendo Wii with a computer purchase. (Before that, I used my mom’s systems.)

Dragon on her giant Yoshi. (I’m mildly sad she’s stopped calling it sushi.)

Well, last week there was a sale we couldn’t resist and we bought a Nintendo Switch. I worry that it’s about to be replaced, but hopefully there’s a few more good years in them.

Of late, Pegasus has been obsessed with watching me play Mario Kart on my phone. (He’ll climb on my lap and say, “race” although it sounds like “wash”) Dragon has been doing well with Disney Infinity, but I feel she needs games that are a little simpler.

With that in mind, we got Mario Kart 8 deluxe, Switch Fit, Lego Avengers 2, and Just Dance. I’m planning on getting Yoshi’s Crafted World for the kids. I’d also love to get Link’s Awakening and maybe one of the Mario games.

For someone who’s really busy, having something that I don’t have to spend an hour re-learning the controls or several hours doing side quests will be a nice change (Looking at you, Spiderman). To be honest, I’ve missed Nintendo.

So any recommendations for games? Both for a 4 year old with little gaming experience and a 37 year old who loves games, but isn’t very good at them?

Stay safe and be kind,

Éric

Zenon: Girl of the 21st Century – JenEric Movie Review

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Hello Cinephiles,

Today we’re talking about the 1999 film Zenon: Girl of the 21st Century.

Story

At it’s core, this story is one that Disney and countless others have done a million times before and since, painted with a shiny sci-fi veneer.

It includes my most hated trope, parents who don’t believe their children.

Score: 0

Characters

The parents are frustrating and made me yell at the TV, but I enjoyed Zenon herself. She was confident, smart, amazingly lucky, and competent. Despite the overuse, I do like the competent child trope.

Score: 0.5

Dialogue

The dialogue is both fascinating and cringe-worthy. The made up slang mixed with turn of the millenium slang just really interests me. I like that they made sure to have seperate styles of slang for earth vs the space station. A lot more thought went into this than I would have thought.

Score: 1

Visuals and Music

The special effects were okay for the time period despite some major misunderstandings of physics. The costuming was clever and the music was ok.

Score: 0.5

Fun

The parents and adults being about as smart as rocks took some of the fun out of it for me. I enjoyed the main character and the other kids.

Score: 0.5

Overall

The movie is a fascinating time capsule of retro sci-fi that has a wonderful main character. Unfortunately, the entire story is overly dependent on the aggressive stupidity of the adults and them not believing her.

Score: 2.5 Stars out of 5

My Kids are cute…

Hello My Imaginary Friends,

My kids are so freaking cute. Seriously look at this:

I’m not boasting, I’m trying to remind myself.

Pegasus is teething his second set of molars so that means more wake-ups and lots of screaming. Dragon is not dealing well with the lack of routine during March break… Basically the two of them have been screaming and being difficult.

I have a headache, Jen has a headache, the kids ache, and I think we’re all looking forward to getting back to a “regular” routine. Normally, I’d have taken them to the park or shopping or maybe even to a museum but *shrugs* Covid.

Next week, I turn back on my work computer, Dragon and Jen go back to doing school and Pegasus goes back to climbing me and trying to help with my work. It sounds soothing and exausting.

This will pass, every day Pegasus starts to talk more and by Christmas we’ll have mini sentences. Dragon is learning more and more words, letters, and sounds. I wouldn’t be surprised if by this time next year she’s reading. That’ll be nice.

My kids are loud, they are very touchy, and those are things I’ll miss, but sometimes it’s all a little too much. It’s important to remember that they are adorable and I love them lots and lots.

Stay safe and be kind,

Éric

The ULTIMATE Mac & Cheese Test

Hello Mac & Cheese lovers,

I few friends gave us 3 kinds of mac and cheese that they didn’t want, so we decided to make them and our favourite and see which was the BEST MAC & CHEESE.

We had Annie’s Shells and White Cheddar, PC White Cheddar, Annie’s Four Cheese, and Classic KD.

I followed the directions exactly as the boxes said and prepared the 4 different kinds. I found that following the instructions left the KD and PC really liquidy and I had to put them back on the stove to boil away the extra liquid. The Annie’s White Cheddar was slimy even after cooking a little longer and the Four Cheese was too dry.

Tasting

Keladry (4 years old and hates leftovers) loved all four of them equally, according to her.

Adrien (21 months old and eats anything) ate all of them, but said Om-nom-nom for the PC and spit out the last bits of the Four Cheese.

Jen (36 years old and a bit of a picky eater) liked the KD more than she thought she would, but found both of the Annie’s tasted bad. She loved the PC despite me not telling her that was what it was.

Éric (37 years old and self-declared Mac&Cheese lover) was brought back to his childhood with the KD. The PC was delicious as always and both the Annie’s were cloying. Tasted like fake cheese.

Thoughts

I don’t think I’ve prepared Mac & Cheese without stuff in it since the mid-aughts. (My go to are zucchini, mushrooms, bacon, and a little mozzarella, salt, pepper, and some hot sauce.)

I’m fairly certain I’ve never prepared KD or PC Mac & Cheese by following the instructions. It was really watery and needed to be put back on the stove to thicken, but once it was, it was pretty creamy.

I was excited about trying the Annie’s and honestly it was pretty bad. I wouldn’t try it again.

Winner?

Honestly, the best taste on it’s own was definitely the PC White Cheddar, but Kraft Dinner was pretty good and brought me back to my childhood. (I almost went to get the ketchup.) Makes me want to try the new versions of KD and see how they taste. (I did enter the contest for the Pumpkin Spice version but didn’t get any. What? It’s Nutmeg, Cinnamon, Ginger, and sometimes cloves.)

None of them of them come close to homemade, but they are fast and easy.

Conclusion

I’m too old to have Mac & Cheese without anything in it (it just doesn’t last me) and I won’t be trying the Annie’s again.


What’s your favourite Mac & Cheese?

Stay safe and be kind,

Éric

Monster Trucks – JenEric Movie Review

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Hello Cinephiles,

Today we’re talking about the 2016 film Monster Trucks.

Story

This felt like a trippy 80’s plotline, however it was much more coherent and actually had some good messages. It’s scientifically ridiculous, but a great parable. I appreciate that they didn’t go into wish fulfilment with the father storyline. I also liked the emotional twist with the stepdad.

Score: 0.5

Character

The main female lead is smart and capable, the male lead isn’t an idiot, the majority of the other characters feel pretty well fleshed out. They’re all a little cartoony, but acted in a believable way.

There’s a huge lack of diversity and I’m not very comfortable with the “Wise Mentor” trope being a black disabled person.

Score: 0.5

Dialogue

The movie is worth it just for the dialogue and the way the actors deliver it. Jane Levy and Lucas Till are brilliant as are the rest of the cast.

Score: 1

Visuals and Music

To balance off the heavy use of special effects, the film makers gave us beautiful nature shots and vistas. Every shot is thought out in advance and works really well.

The music is used perfectly, as a movie where the monster isn’t supposed to be scary, the use of music makes all the difference in the early scenes. Had they used more dramatic music it would have been terrifying, had they used lighter it would have been ridiculous.

Score: 1

Fun

This movie was designed to be fun and slip in some environmental and emotional messages. It succeeds and has more than one awesome moment. Both kids were glued to the screen and my wife and I laughed a lot.

Score: 1

Overall

This movie is much better than it has any right to be considering the premise. It’s an exciting and wholesome movie with great comedic moments and awesome action sequences. The moral and environmental questions are subtle, but present and the movie values intelligent characters. Plus the monsters are really cute.

Score: 4 Stars out of 5