Monday, 29 August 2016

Entertainment Monday: Monday August 29, 2016 The Secret Life Of Pets (WITH SPOILERS)

Entertainment Monday: The Secret Life of Pets (WITH SPOILERS)

The Secret Life of Pets follows the antics of a New York City dog named Max, who revels in the attention of his owner until the day she adopts and brings home a rescue dog named Duke.  Max and Duke's relationship gets off to a shaky start when Max feels threatened by the new dog on the block.  Duke is a rather large dog relative to Max, who is a terrier. Duke begins to bully Max once he realizes that he is not welcome in Max's home, but Max uses blackmail against Duke to reassert his dominance of the household.

When the dog walker that Max's owner has hired comes to walk Max, Duke and the other neighborhood dogs, Max uses his power over Duke to manipulate him and demean him.  Duke is not one to take Max's orders laying down though, so he tricks Max into a situation that ultimately results in the two dogs being separated from the dog-walking party.

Once separated from their friends, Max and Duke face a variety of trials, tribulations and adventures in their attempts to return home to their owner.  Their primary adversary in their efforts to return home are the dog catchers who are constantly chasing them and an (literal) underground network of stray pets who's ring leader is a brash, take no prisoners, bunny rabbit named Snowball.

 Max and Duke are doing all they can to return home but somehow they keep ending up further and further away from home.  In the mean time a search and rescue party made up of a variety of the apartment buildings pets, led by Gidget a Pomeranian who holds a secret crush on Max, is formed to find the two missing dogs.

Duke who was saved from an Animal Shelter is in particular danger from the dog catchers because he fears if he is to be returned to the Animal Shelter that he will be put down.  Over the course of their efforts to get back to their owner Max and Duke form a bond and embark on a side journey to find Duke's former owner whom Duke loved very much and misses since he got lost and placed in the dog pound.

Sadly Duke and Max are not able to find Duke's former owner and ultimately they are tracked down by Snowball and Snowball's henchmen who were deceived into helping Max and Duke the first time they had met.  Max and Duke had lied about being stray pets to get out of a compromised situation with the dog catchers when they needed the assistance of Snowball and the stray pet organization he ran.

Snowball and his cronies, motivated by revenge for the deception, are able to track down Duke and Max just after the two dogs become prisoners inside the Dog Catcher's truck.  Just as Snowball was about to get his revenge against Max and Duke for their deception, Gidget and the band of Pets come to the rescue in an epic battle of Household Pets vs. Stray Pets.  During the battle Duke, who is trapped inside the dog catcher's truck is thrown from the Brooklyn Bridge and into the East River where he will drown unless he is saved.  Max does all he can to try and rescue Duke but he does not have the key he needs to unlock Duke's cage.  Snowball whose hard shell is cracked by the dire situation dives into the East River with the keys needed to help Max rescue Duke.

After the rescue Max, Duke and all the Pets are able to return to their apartment homes in Manhattan. Max now realizes just how much Gidget likes him and they end up together.  Duke and Max are reunited with their owner and have a new found respect for each other, even becoming good friends.  Snowball is spotted by a child who abducts him off the street, taking him away from his band of Stray Pets.  Even though Snowball is angered by the abduction, as soon as the little girl expresses how much she loves him, Snowball's cold heart melts and he is able to let go of his bitterness and jealousy.

There is a lot of good action in the Secret Life of Pets, as the story never drags.  Even most of the bad guys are likable characters who really just want to be loved by an owner. I think most kids and adults would really enjoy the movie.  Despite the fighting there is not too much violence in the movie, and it is not as suggestive to adult subjects/themes as some cartoons can be.

I loved The Secret Life of Pets.  I think it is one of the best cartoon movies I have seen, and rank it second only to Zootopia out of the cartoons I have seen in the last 5 years. It is absolutely worth going to see in the theaters and later buying on DVD to enjoy over and over again.

Thursday, 25 August 2016

My life in the Outback 5 months on

I’m now 5 months into my stay as a teacher of the Outback.  Not everything has gone according to plan but I’m making the best of it. I’ve recently changed my position in the school which wasn’t something that I wanted to do. However, it has given me new opportunities which will be good for my career. Instead of being a classroom teacher, I am now a learning support teacher. It means that I help students from various classes who are struggling with literacy and numeracy. It is a rewarding job to teach students who are falling behind. They don’t always want to be helped but I keep trying anyways.

Besides school, I have grown very comfortable in this town. It rained heavily a few months ago so the desert is a nice green. Well… as green as a desert can get. It will never be lush in the desert and while the plants are green, they are still rough sparse and pointy looking things. It’s almost spring and I look forward to anything that will bloom here.

Another thing I am looking forward to in spring is Spring Break! I’ve learnt my lesson when it comes to school holidays and that is to have all my work finished before I leave for vacation. The last time around, I decided to go on vacation in the first week and then finish my work on the second week. It was a mistake as I had unexpected delays.  I ended up doing all my work during the weekend before school would start. I nearly had a breakdown.

I will have my 30th birthday in the holidays. I am planning to go back to Brisbane and have a big night out with my girlfriends. I was thinking about doing a spa day.

Monday, 22 August 2016

Entertainment Monday: Grimsby (22 August 2016)

Grimsby is the latest Sacha Baron Cohen movie. He stars as Nobby Butcher who lives in Grimsby, an English seaport town. Nobby is a family man of eleven children with his wife Dawn (Rebel Wilson). The only thing missing in his life is his brother Sebastian ( Mark Strong ) who he was separated from as a child. Nobby learns that his brother will be attending at a humanitarian benefit and goes to meet him. 


Sebastian is a M16 agent to stop the assassination of a philanthropist Rhonda George (Penelope Cruz).  The reunion between Nobby and Sebastian results in Sebastian being mistaken for the assassin. The two brothers both go on the run while trying to clear Sebastian’s name.

This is my favourite Sacha Baron Cohen film. I think this film has a more solid plot than some of his other movies.  I love action comedies and my guilty pleasure is watching chav reality shows so this was a good mix for me. I’m astounded by Cohen’s dirty mind as his humour is both crude, shocking and hilarious. It’s not a film for everyone as it may offend some.

I thought all the actors in the film were great. They all have a talent for comedy and their timing is just right.  Rebel Wilson, Sacha Baron Cohen and Mark Strong were especially good with each other.

Harry Potter fans may delight in seeing an actor playing Daniel Radcliffe in this film. Perhaps the real Daniel Radcliffe was busy or he didn’t want to be in the film.  I don’t think the “Daniel Radcliffe” looks anything like the real Dan but he is used as a running gag in this film.

I hope there’s another Grimsby movie. It would be a good franchise. 

Sunday, 14 August 2016

Jon Bear's Visit to Houston, Texas Part I

This past week I finally went to Houston, Texas and visited my best friend Henda, his wife Kathy and their young sons, Eliot and Isaac.  I say finally because I have listed visiting them as one of my goals the last three years on our blog.  It was nice to be able to finally say that I achieved that goal this year, and nicer yet to be able to see my friends who I last saw around 3 and a half years ago.

I had a lot of fun on my visit even though Henda was a bit incapacitated with a mysterious ankle injury he did not know how he suffered a few days prior to my arrival.  The first day, which was a Saturday we kind of took things easy with Henda's leg injury and the fact that I had been traveling since 3 am in the morning, finally arriving in Texas at 12:30 pm or the equivalent of 1:30 pm East Coast time which is where I departed from.  My great friends Bobby and Jenna drove 3 hours from San Antonio Texas just to visit with us all for a few hours on Saturday too.  It was awesome to catch up with them and I am grateful for the long drive they made just to see us.

 I was a bit surprised to find that Houston looked very similar to Long Island, flat with a bunch of scrub pines.  I think Long Island probably has more diverse foliage though, Houston seemed to be dominated by the tall scrub pines and a medium sized tree, whose name I do not know, with these pretty violet flowers.  I only saw one of Texas' tiny little lizards or geckos which they supposedly have all over the place.  He was cute but I did not remember to take a picture of him.  I think the heat was too much for them or I may have seen more. The weather was H-O-T hot!  Nearly every day of my visit the thermometer touched 99 degrees F or 37.2 degrees centigrade for a good portion of the day.  I saw some poor (not monetarily necessarily) skinny guy running in the heat as we were going to get ice-cream one day and thought we should bring the guy an ice-cream cone (we didn't).

On Sunday morning Henda and Kathy took me to their church in Humble, TX.  I liked the church service and thought that the sermon was very similar to those I have experienced in the non denominational churches up here in the Watervliet, Albany, area of New York.  After church Henda's sister Michelle, her husband Brian and their children, Audrey, Noah and Bradley came over and we had an afternoon and evening of playing games and eating chicken wings.  The 5 kids were able to play with each other and keep each other busy as the adults played board games.

I played with the kids a lot too during the day and I think I suffered a bit of a 24 hour sickness as a result.  I was not careful about playing around with the kids and I had all sorts of dirty toys stuck near my face and mouth and wrestled around or play fought with the children.  Come Monday morning I was experiencing sickness and a 101.5 degree fever.  None the less we dropped Isaac and Eliot off at their baby-sitter's house and went out to the Movies at an Eat and Watch Movie theatre, where you can have lunch while you watch a movie.  All three of us ordered a salad, my decision based upon not wanting to upset my already agitated tummy.  The theatre did not have too many movie options but we all agreed upon and watched the movie The Secret Life of Pets.  Ironic I suppose that we would drop off the kids and then all choose to watch a kids movie at the theatre. I liked The Secret Life of Pets quite a bit and will give a more detailed review of it during one of our up coming Entertainment Mondays.

By Tuesday I was feeling much better and all Five of us went to the Houston Zoo.  Below are some of my pictures from our visit to the Zoo.  It was very hot day (as was every day of my visit) and Kathy and I were either pulling the kids in a wagon or pushing Henda around in a wheel chair with his sprained ankle so I think Kathy and I got quite the workout.  At least the Houston Zoo is relatively flat compared to the Pittsburgh Zoo, the last Zoo I had been to previously. It was also shaded fairly well by trees through much of the park.

Pictures from the Houston Zoo:

Parakeets eating yummers!
 Seal swimming and having fun!
 Hey it's Timon!
 Elephants enjoying the Summer Heat.
 Smart Elephant covering his/her back with hey in the shade.
 Some sort of cute/pretty birdies.
 Photogenic giraffe and her less photogenic zebra friend.
 Rhino who I had to take 10 pictures of from freakish angles just to catch a glimpse of something other than it's bum.
 Looking up at the Houston Sky through a hole in the rock.
 The cave/entry to the Monkey/Gorilla Sanctuary.
 Drinking some water before going for a swing in the cot.
 All the monkeys, chimps, apes were sitting in the shade and snacking on something cold.
 YAY WATERFALL!  Get close enough and we could cool off for a little bit!
 Can't have Timon without Pumbaa! =)
 I liked the look of the warthog watering hole.  If I were a zoo animal I'd like to live in that area.
 You can't go to Texas and NOT get a picture of a Texas Long Horn! Go U.T.!
 I forget what this little guy is called, but he was nice enough to walk up close to me for a picture.
 Jon Bear's less lucky cousin who is on the wrong side of the fence. >.< *cries a little bit*
 Jon the Lion.  Yes the Lion's name was Jonathan!  Hi namesake, you look tired and hungry!  *moves along quickly*
Red Panda, who actually isn't a Panda at all.  He was cute but tough to get a good picture of, always on the move.

I really enjoyed the Houston Zoo.  Some of the animals were hidden away in their environments because of the extreme heat. I think the highlight of the zoo visit for me was meeting Jon the Lion. I tried to roar, but Bears don't roar so good so it sounded more like a growl.

In Part II of my trip to Texas I will share my photos from The Johnson Space Center in Houston, Texas and a picture or two of the campus that my best friend Henda teaches at.

Friday, 12 August 2016

Entertainment Focus: 2016 Summer Olympics (Week of August 8 - August 14)

This past month has been a rather busy time for Carlyn and I with regards to work and travel.  In missing a couple of Entertainment Monday posts I wanted to share a mid-week post with some thoughts on this year's Summer Olympics in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil.

For most Americans the Summer Olympics come along with a great deal of excitement, anticipation and expectation.  Given the historical level of success that the United States has had in the Summer Olympics as fans we usually go into our Olympic viewership with the sense that we are going to get to see a number of memorable performances from our countrywomen and countrymen.  With that expectation probably comes a great deal of pressure felt by several U.S. athletes.  There is a different kind of pressure though that athletes who hail from small countries or less accomplished countries on the Olympic stage might feel.  On the whole I believe a lot of the pressure that U.S. athletes feel is either self-generated or generated relative to their sponsorships.  I think that athletes from some of the smaller or less accomplished countries might feel more pressure as a representative of their country as they shoulder the burden of hope for an entire nation.

These are generalizations but in either scenario my wish for the athletes I see competing is that they remain healthy and that they represent their countries with class and dignity regardless of whether or not they medal or even qualify to medal in their event(s).  I have a tremendous level of respect for any athlete who goes to the Olympics simply because of the amount of hard work they must have had to put in to get to the Olympics in the first place.  I've played a number of sports and I worked hard to get better at the sports I participated in, and while an obvious high level of talent is needed, I think that what sets many Olympic athletes apart from the rest of the amateur athletic community is their desire and work ethic. While I never quit a sport and I did put in a good deal of time and effort to improve, I never possessed that special level of desire or work ethic required of an elite athlete.  Athletics was fun for me and I worry that for some Olympic athletes the desire to win at some point supersedes the fun they experience in their sport.   The thing I enjoy most during the Olympics is when I see an athlete from the United States or another country who looks like they truly love their sport and have fun participating in it.  I watch a lot of events and I have seen people who have lost but gave it their all and walked away with a smile.  To me that is the essence of what the Olympics is about.  Not the medals, but the smiles and the love of competition.

Perhaps that is my view because I was never an elite athlete though? *shrugs*  To me the Summer and Winter Olympics are more entertaining then almost any other sporting event.  What I love so much about the Olympics is getting the chance to see such a diverse set of people compete in sports that I normally have limited exposure to.  It gives me a chance to appreciate the talents, the abilities and the personalities of people who excel at disciplines I am not always familiar with.  I love the sport of wrestling and I know how tough it is for the amateur wrestling community to get the financial support necessary to put on matches, tournaments and camps.  The Olympics provide a little window into a number of sports that need the support of small but dedicated fanbases to survive.  It is their small moment in the sun.  It provides an opportunity to the athletes, but also the sports themselves, to shine every 4 years.  So I hope that we all take a bit of time out of busy schedules to sit down, relax a bit and marvel at these people who compete in the Olympics.  They are old, young, small, large, different religions, different ethnicities, different colors, different sexes and yet virtually all incredibly inspirational roll models for young women and young men World Wide. I am so grateful for the Olympics.  What better way to celebrate our planet and the human race?

Monday, 25 July 2016

Entertainment Monday: Youth is Wasted on the Young Theme (Monday July 25, 2016)

Entertainment Monday: Youth Theme

For this weeks Entertainment Monday I wanted to explore the theme of Youth by sharing songs about youth and aging or by sharing a song from a band with Youth or Young in their name.  In some cases I double down and share a song that may have Youth or Aging as a theme AND also be sung by a performer or band with Youth or Young in their name.  As a 40 year old in human years, I'm not sure how old that makes me in bear years, I am at what some would consider the top of the hill, just before going over the proverbial hill.  Therefore I wanted to share some songs that celebrate the walk we all must take through life whether we choose to or not.  Perhaps someday soon, even a generation or two from now it will be feasible for people to live for up to 200 years or more.  There are some people who are invested in science who truly believe we are not far off from the ability to extend human life significantly.

The first song I wanted to kick things off with is a song I absolutely love called Mind Over Matter by the band YOUNG THE GIANT!

The song in part celebrates a young man's love and his desire to spend his life with the girl he loves.

Mind Over Matter by Young the Giant

The second song on my list is the classic song Old Man by Neil Young one of greatest song writers of the last several generations. 

Old Man by Neil Young

The next song I am sharing is a song about the fears surrounding the Nuclear Holocaust.  Fears  which were very real during the Cold War between the Soviet Union and the United States.  The Cold War of course ended not long after this early 1980s song by the band Alphaville.  This was something of a popular graduation song for many high schoolers in the 1990s. 

Forever Young by Alphaville

As a kid I was a big fan of Musicals.  My parents often brought my family to the Gateway Playhouse in Bellport, New York on Long Island, and later when the playhouse moved part time to Patchogue, New York, my mom and I would go to see musicals.  I actually never saw the classic musical South Pacific at Gateway Playhouse (at least not so far as I can remember).  I did however get to see it with my good friends Kathy and Henda at Procter's Theatre in Schenectady, NY around 4 or 5 years ago.

Younger Than Springtime is a song sung by Lt. Joseph Cable, an American Soldier serving in the South Pacific during WWII who despite having a girlfriend he is engaged to back home in the United States falls in love with a teenage Polynesian Girl, who is the daughter of Bloody Mary the local Madame.

Younger Than Spring Time as sung by John Kerr from the Rogers and Hammerstein Musical South Pacific 1958 Movie Version

I hope you enjoyed the Youth Themed Entertainment Monday.  If anyone has any suggestions for a music themed Entertainment Monday that they might like to hear, please share your suggestion in our comments section.  If I feel like I can come up with a few good tunes to share around the suggested theme I will be happy to take up the challenge. --- Jon Bear

Thursday, 21 July 2016

Winter holidays in Townsville

Australian schools generally have two weeks of vacation per term. This is my first year of full time teaching and I was glad of the winter break! I’m currently teaching in the outback and I decided to go to Townsville for vacation. Townsville is one of the major rural cities in northern Queensland. My brother Paul came up from Brisbane to spend some time with me too. I also had an impromptu trip home to Brisbane after some travel plans fell through.

I had been to the aquarium before when I had a brief stopover for work but it was so much fun being there with a company. The Reef HQ Great Barrier Reef Aquarium has the world’s largest living coral reef aquarium. It has a diverse range of tropical, fresh and salt water sea life including sharks, jelly fish and turtles.


As it was the school holidays, there were many shows on. We practically spent the whole day there..

We saw the main attraction in the museum which was the exhibit of the HMS Pandora. The Pandora was a British ship that sunk in the Great Barrier Reef in 1791. The boat was in Australia to arrest the mutinous crew of The Bounty. The Bounty had been on an expedition to get some breadfruit from the Pacific Islands to grow on British slave colonies.
Some of the Bounty crew had forced their superior, Captain William Bligh and his supporters into a dinghy so they could use the ship to sail back to Tahiti. They enjoyed the lifestyle and some had started families.

For years, there were accounts that Captain Bligh was a cruel tyrant but modern historians believe he was fairly tame for that period. He wanted a tight run ship but he wasn’t a people person which put him at odds with people.

We also saw a Lego exhibit called Towers of Tomorrow. There were huge sculptures out of Lego of  Singapore’s Marina Bay Sands, Taiwan’s Taipei 101, Japan’s Tokyo Skytree, Kuala Lumpur’s twin Petronas Towers  and Sydney Tower.

This museum has an extensive collection of Australian army artifacts. It was my favourite place that we visited during our stay in Townsville. The artifacts were arranged by the war that they came from. I found it humbling to be reminded of the sacrifices that people have made for this country.
On the last day of my holiday, I learnt the train I was supposed to be travelling on had derailed. So I decided to go home to Brisbane for a few days. It was great catching up with my family and friends. I didn’t end up going on the train again as they still had no fixed it so I took the bus back to my rural community.

I’ve come back to my job as teacher all refreshed. What I did learn was that I need to make more time for myself. Last term, most of my life was about work which I believe made teaching a harder experience. 
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