November, 2011

Weekend Showers (& Fred Meijer, RIP)

November 26th, 2011 at 12:01 am by under Bill's Blog, Weather

Local   First, if you had not heard, Fred Meijer passed away Friday evening after suffering a stroke earlier in the day.   My personal and family sympathies to Lena and the Meijer family.  Fred lived modestly for someone of means.  The most striking feature of his house were the beautiful flowers that Lena planted.   He gave much back to the community…from the Meijer Gardens to the Fred and Lena Meijer Heart Center to the Meijer bicycle trails.  When I started at WZZM, the station produced Meijer commercials once a week, with Frank Jay as the man who said “Why Pay More”.  The studio crew would wait to see if there was any food items left when the commercials were done.  Once I almost ran Fred over as I raced to the booth to read a severe weather warning.  We were at dozens of events together, often fundraisers for the community.  Here’s Fred and Lena decorating a tree at the Meijer Gardens last year.  West Michigan will benefit from his generosity for many decades to come.

Saturday night:  I’m off this week (heading to Tennessee to see my mother and sister), so posts will be few and far between.  Gas is as cheap as $2.94 in Ohio along I-75.  It’s still in the upper 50s here in Dry Ridge, KY. at midnight Sat. night.  Showers are likely across the entire area as a cold front comes through this Sunday morning.  Behind the front, it’ll be a chilly day on Sunday with a few light rain showers (not impossible that some wet snow will mix in).  Temperatures late Sunday PM will likely only be in the mid-upper 30s.  There is a chance of snow with the system Tuesday night/early Weds. (though I’d like it a couple degrees colder at 850mb – the current GFS takes us to -3 – borderline for snow…but it is later in the season).  and a chance of snow showers on Thurs. PM/Night.  It’s also showing what could be significant snow about 12/5.     Here’s radar and links: current Grand Rapids NWS radar, Regional Radar, GRR Zone Forecasts, lightning for our area and national lightning data. Here’s the latest visible satellite loop, current U.S. severe t-storm and tornado watches, current meso-discussions, and today’s storm reports from SPC. Here’s Storm total rainfall, Milwaukee radar, Chicago radar, current Michigan conditions, and the National warning/watch/advisory map. You can checkout the latest Grand Rapids NWS discussion, the Northern Indiana NWS discussion (includes the Michigan Counties that border Indiana), the discussion for Northern Lower Michigan, and Eastern Lower Michigan. Here’s a surface weather map, infrared satellite loop (day or nighttime). To report hail, strong winds or other severe weather to Storm Team 8, call 1-800-8WOODTV. Side note – last year (also a La Nina year) we had half our season snowfall between February 1-26.

Review: “Arthur Christmas” is cute, fun, better than expected

November 25th, 2011 at 11:59 pm by under Entertainment

 ”Arthur Christmas” is a high-tech tellling of what happens on Christmas Eve… it looks like a Santa Claus video game come to life.  It was cute and fun, and better than I expected, but with so many good family-friendly choices, you could wait on this one.

"Arthur Christmas" poster courtesy Sony Pictures

 (My spoiler-free review)

Its the age old question – how does Santa Claus deliver ALL those presents to ALL those kids in one night?   “Arthur Christmas” explains it in a new way – advanced technology and an army of helpers using military precision to get all the gifts where they need to go.

The Arthur in “Arthur Christmas” is Santa’s second oldest son, he’s got a job reading all those letters to the North Pole.  His brother Steve has a much more important role: running the Christmas Eve operation.   The father, Santa Claus the 20th (the man in the red suit since the 1940′s) and GrandSanta (Santa Claus’ father) are trying to adapt to the new technology needed to get more toys to more kids these days.

Arthur makes it his mission to save Christmas when one child’s shiny new toy gets left behind.  He faces ridicule and roadblocks from his brother and his father, but gets a little help from those who know how to deliver presents the old fashioned way.

The movie is what it is – an animated movie aimed mostly at kids telling a new version of how Santa’s Christmas operation works.  There are jokes for adults, it was fun and entertaining, and wasn’t a waste of time… but I was overly impressed either.  It was also neat to see how these filmmakers put their spin on a story we’ve seen so many times before.   There’s a lot of clever ideas like the army of elves and the high-tech gadgets for the Christmas Eve mission, including a cloaking device to hide Santa’s new sleigh, the environmentally friendly idea of converting cookies to biofuel, and elves who are VERY good at giftwrap.

Unfortunately, this main character is not as lovable and inspiring to root for as other main characters in a Christmas movie, so its hard to completely care for the character.  I think we care more about seeing the mission completed than what happens to the main character.   There’s some awkwardness and clumsiness that they’re trying to relate to kids about “fitting in”… but I don’t think its overly effective.

“Arthur Christmas” is a lot of running and flying and jumping and crashing around that is often loud and obnoxious.  It also feels like a one-hour cartoon stretched to the 90-minute feature length - some of the material is thin and some of the jokes are flat.

There’s good voicework from James McAvoy as “Arthur”, Hugh Laurie as old brother “Steve”, Jim Broadbent as “Santa”, and Bill Nighy as “GrandSanta”.  While the animation looks good, the 3D was good but typical and sometimes hokey uses (including the Justin Bieber music video that ran before the movie in our screening).


Michigan/Ohio State 1950 – Blizzard Bowl

November 25th, 2011 at 11:17 pm by under Bill's Blog, Weather

  On Nov. 25, 1950 Michigan and Ohio State met for what has been called the “Blizzard Bowl” or the “Snow Bowl“. Check out the film of the storm here and here. Michigan won the game 9-3 despite gaining only 27 yards of offense in 46 plays. They had no first downs, didn’t complete a pass and punted 24 times. In fact, there were 45 punts in the game. Both teams mostly tried two runs then punted on 3rd down, so in case the punted slipped, they could try again on fourth down. Only 2 of the 45 punts were returned (for a total of 8 yards).  That was mostly because the return man couldn’t find the ball.  Most just hit the snow and stopped without bouncing. There were only 10 fumbles in the game. The temperature at the start of the game was +10° and the wind was howling out of the north-northeast. One Ohio St. player remarked that he was supposed to go down and block a linebacker, but when he ran downfield he could find him! All the points were scored after blocked kicks in the first half. Several hundred Boy Scouts were on the sidelines helping to sweep snow off the field so the officials and players could find the yard markers. Most of the state of Ohio got 10″ or more of snow, with reports up to 33″ and drifts up to 25 feet! The temperature in Grand Rapids that morning reached -10°F, the coldest temperature ever recorded here in the month of November. (photo – OSU library)

Weekend Showers

November 25th, 2011 at 11:13 pm by under Bill's Blog, Weather

Local Showers will develop from west to east today during the midday and afternoon.  Keep coming back to the blog thread here for radar and links.   Here’s radar and links: current Grand Rapids NWS radar, Regional Radar, GRR Zone Forecasts, lightning for our area and national lightning data. Here’s the latest visible satellite loop, current U.S. severe t-storm and tornado watches, current meso-discussions, and today’s storm reports from SPC. Here’s Storm total rainfall, Milwaukee radar, Chicago radar, current Michigan conditions, and the National warning/watch/advisory map. You can checkout the latest Grand Rapids NWS discussion, the Northern Indiana NWS discussion (includes the Michigan Counties that border Indiana), the discussion for Northern Lower Michigan, and Eastern Lower Michigan. Here’s a surface weather map, infrared satellite loop (day or nighttime). To report hail, strong winds or other severe weather to Storm Team 8, call 1-800-8WOODTV. Side note – last year (also a La Nina year) we had half our season snowfall between February 1-26. My mother-in-law is still in the hospital. We’re hoping she can get out this Wednesday and possibly even get to our house for the big Thanksgiving dinner.

Black Friday

November 25th, 2011 at 2:10 pm by under Bill's Blog, Weather

Quick note…enjoy the relatively warm day…dry and pleasant for shoppers (and golfers).  Rain moves in from west to east during the midday/afternoon on Saturday….colder air pushes in starting Saturday night with a chance of rain turning to wet snow Sunday PM.  The GFS model is the colder this morning, with perhaps 1/2-1″ of snow showers  Sunday midday-night and more snow showers possible between Tues. and Saturday.  The European model has 0.89″ of rain Saturday PM to Sunday PM and dry weather after that through the midweek.   We’ve got guests so I’m not paying much attention to the models right now.  Hopefully, I can update later today.  Thursday the high temperature in Omaha (73) was 15 degrees warmer than it was in Dallas (58).  Redwood Falls MN (65) was 12 degrees warmer than Little Rock AR (53).  Phoenix AZ never got past 68.   Look at the snow totals and snow depths up in Alaska!  Haines has 56″ on the ground, 48″ at Eaglecrest, 44″ at Yakutat and 17″ at Juneau.  From the NWS at Fairbanks AK:  THIS WAS…BY MOST MEASURES…THE COLDEST EXTENDED PERIOD BEFORE THANKSGIVING IN MORE THAN A CENTURY OF WEATHER OBSERVATIONS. THE AVERAGE TEMPERATURE AT THE FAIRBANKS AIRPORT FOR THE WEEK ENDING NOVEMBER 21ST WAS MINUS 30.1 DEGREES. THIS IS THE COLDEST EARLY WINTER WEEK OF RECORD.  Thanksgiving sunset picture from “jackfromtitanic” on POSTED.

Thanksgiving Day PM

November 24th, 2011 at 3:58 am by under Bill's Blog, Weather

  Lions game underway…in a few minutes, the rest of the family will arrive.  Clouds are thick over the area right now (stratus).  Clouds are a little harder to see on the IR Satellite loop.  The cloud line is moving through Wisconsin and eroding a bit in N. Lower.  Here’s current conditions.    Today, the dilemma is the fog and stratus that has formed.  The sun is low in the sky now and it’s harder to mix the air and evaporate the stratus.  So, we could be variably cloudy at times or even most of the time.  No rain today or tomorrow.  The models still have light rain developing Saturday midday to afternoon from west to east across the area.  Colder air may change the light rain or a mix or even a period of wet snow  Sunday PM/Night before it ends.  It’ll be cooler next week.   We had the Gobble Wobble in East G.R. and the Turkey Trot out at Cornerstone Univ.   Next we need a “Drumstick Dash” or a “Wishbone Walk”.  Four of our family did the “Turkey Trot” this AM.  How’d you like a wind chill temperature of -71Fairbanks AK climbed above zero for the first time in 10 days!  Up to 13″ of snow has fallen in Maine.  Here’s more Maine snow totals.   Up to 14″ of snow in Vermont and 11.5″ in NE NY.  They’ve had wind gusts to 75 mph in the Pacific NW, along with nearly 6″ of rain.   We’ve got LOTS to be grateful for.   (I’m sure grateful for those of you who come to read my blog).   We’ve got the family at our house today…and we have planned to set the food out and let people grab what they like when they like.  I’m sure many will be watching the Lions/Packers game.   Hope your holiday is spectacular!

Sports Thread

November 23rd, 2011 at 7:00 pm by under Bill's Blog, Sports, Weather

  We’ have the big Lions/Packers match up on Thanksgiving Day (12:30 PM on FOX).  Unlike the last match-up in Detroit, this should be a high scoring game.  Greg Jennings has a bruised knee, but should be ready to play in his home state.   The 4:15 game on Thursday is Miami at Dallas.  There are 14 college games on Friday (you can watch live football for 14 consecutive hours), including Akron at Western Michigan at 1 PM.  If you’ve got some time off Fri. afternoon, think about going to the game.  The weather should be excellent.  Western has an exciting, explosive offense and one of the best ends in college football in Jordan White (14 touchdowns, 1389 yards this season so far – tops in the nation!).   On Friday you can see Iowa at Nebraska on WOTV4 at Noon, followed by Boston College at Miami.  The BIG game Friday is Arkansas at LSU at 2:30 PM.    Saturday is the big Ohio State-Michigan game in Ann Arbor (I think the rain holds off and it’ll be a relatively warm afternoon).  That game is at Noon on WOTV4.   Michigan State heads to Northwestern for a Noon match-up (Big Ten Network).  I can’t rule out a shower sneaking into Evanston, but the early start means they should get most of the game in before the rain, the way it looks now.   Penn St. comes to Madison for a showdown with my Badgers (who desperately want another shot at Michigan State).  Notre Dame at Stanford at 8 PM could be a great game, too.  That’s also on WOTV4.  Good luck to our area high school football teams in the state playoffs:  Lowell, Zeeland West, Constantine and Mendon.  Here’s the schedule for Friday’s games, which are being carried on Fox Sports-Detroit.

November – Warm in the East, Cool in the West

November 23rd, 2011 at 12:20 am by under Bill's Blog, Weather

  This map shows high temperatures Tuesday across the U.P. and S. Canada (click the image to enlarge or click here).  In general, the western half of the U.S. (inc. Alaska and Hawaii, where 5 of 7 major stations are slightly cooler than average for the month) has been cooler than average this month, and the eastern half has been warmer than average.   Grand Rapids is +2.4° for the month, and we’ll add to that in the next 4-5 days.   Here’s some cities out west and their departures from normal for the month so far:  San Diego -2.1° (and 3.12″ of rain, more than 3 times average for the month), Los Angeles -3.4° (only 4 of 22 days have hit 70 and they have already had 152% of average monthly rainfall), Death Valley -3.4°, Palm Springs -5.7° (they have not made 80 since 11/1 and have had only 1 day warmer than average in the last 3 weeks), Sacramento -2.5°, Las Vegas -3.9° (have not been above 70 since 11/1), Tucson -2.9°, Phoenix -2.1°, Santa Fe -1.6°, Denver -1.9°, Cheyenne -3.8°, Salt Lake City -2.7° (they’ve had 5.5″ of snow this month), Portland OR -3.0°, Seattle -3.5°, Boise -2.5°, Great Falls -3.0° (and 5.5″ of snow), Williston ND -2.1°, Pierre SD -1.2° (plus 10″ of snow), Grand Island NE -1.1°,  Hilo HI -1.0°, Lahaina HI -3.3° (and nearly 3 times average rainfall),  Chihuahua, Mexico -1.7°, Juneau AK -4.7°, Nome AK -4.6°, Fairbanks AK -7.2°, Anchorage AK -7.4°.

Review: “Hugo” is a magical movie for the young at heart

November 23rd, 2011 at 12:18 am by under Entertainment

  Director Martin Scorsese’s “Hugo” is a magical piece of filmmaking that’s less for the young and more for the young at heart.

Its a fantasy and mystery set in a moment of time that embraces and explores 3-D… both in new ways and typical worn-out ways.  “Hugo” is a different entry for the lengendary career of its director, but it just misses on being a great movie.  One of the best of the year, but not enough to be considered one of Scorsese’s best ever.

"Hugo" poster courtesy Paramount Pictures

 (My spoiler-free review)

“Hugo” is a wonderful, well-made movie and I feel like I should like it more, but there’s too many issues for me to completely love it.

This is a storybook adventure that comes to life… with its colors and characters popping off the screen with contrasts and lighting that should have any students of film taking note.  The world is filled with intriguing and memorable characters that have personalities and depth that are developed with ease and precision.  This is a magical tale in the 1930′s of an orphaned boy who is always trying to fix things, no matter what the obstacles.

Asa Butterfield (from 2008′s heartbreaking “The Boy in the Striped Pajamas”) is “Hugo” – a young actor with such great promise with his emotions and expressions and a boyish sense of wonder that takes us through this story.

His counterpart is the equally talented Chloë Moretz, whose accent is so good, you might think she was British if it weren’t for her successful supporting roles in “Kick-Ass” (2010) and “500 Days of Summer” (2009).

The two join forces to try to solve the mystery of an old mechanical humanoid robot, called the automaton.  His father found it, and she has some connection to it.

Its important to notice that this movie, like the clocks that “Hugo” works with, has many detailed and intricate parts, they are all important to the overall story that you may not fully appreciate until you see everything in motion.

We get the back story of his father and why “Hugo” lives in the train station in Paris, and one by one we are introduced to the important characters in the story and we’re taken through this world through many different versions of 3-D.  Some uses are very effective, some are the traditional (and getting old fast) things pointed at the camera or moving into the camera and thus, coming at your face.

And that’s where I expected more from Scorsese. 

The modern 3-D device that is now so prevalent in movies – mostly to make extra money at the box office – is used better than almost every other 3-D movie I’ve seen in the last two years, but it also falls into the trap of almost every other 3-D movie: “gimmicks”.   Like props pointing into the camera and into the face of the audience… a 3-D fly-through during the opening scene … items moving from background to foreground and far side of screen to near side of screen.   Would most of those elements been used if it wasn’t in 3-D?   Scorsese does pave some new intellectual ground by using the 3-D for giving scenes depth…. or moving characters to and from the camera… or to focus the audience’s attention to something important… or to accentuate what a character is looking at… all things clearly planned out in advance of using 3-D. 

While it adds to the visuals of the movie, I ultimately don’t think this movie needs to be seen in 3-D…. or had to be shot in 3-D… its such a good movie, I find the 3-D to be a bit distracting from all the good things that Scorsese is doing.  Modern 3-D should give us the feeling that we’re in the movie with “Hugo”, Scorsese does this, but we also get a few too many elements that are 3-D, just for the sake of being 3-D.

There’s also a tale of two stories… which is hard to go into much depth about without spoiling the movie, which I don’t want to do, so I won’t.   The first is where the movie takes you in the first half: a mystery and adventure to introduce characters and figure out one thing, then the movie takes a turn and goes in a different direction into a different mystery and adventure.  The second part also feels like its being crafted with Academy voters in mind… even if unintended, I felt cheapened by it.

I also was bothered that, in a movie supposed to be set in 1930′s France, everyone is speaking English.  And at times, the movie felt every bit of two hours long… maybe fewer 3-D tracking shots and zooms and a little less about the supporting characters… and we could have been at a more comfortable 1 hour, 45 minute running time.


Review: “The Muppets” is fun for the whole family

November 23rd, 2011 at 12:00 am by under Entertainment

 If there was a plan to re-launch a Muppets show, series of specials, or return to movies – this would be the launching pad.  This *Muppets: The Next Generation* successfully introduces the characters to younger audiences while honoring the traditions of the past for the older audience members, like me, who grew up watching “The Muppet Show”.   

Hearing the theme song for “The Muppet Show” played out during the movie brought back fond childhood memories: “Its Time to Play the Music… Its Time to Light the Lights…”

"The Muppets" poster courtesy Walt Disney Pictures

(My spoiler-free review)

“… Its time to get things started….”

“The Muppets” might be the first Muppets theatrical release in 12 years, but it embraces the classic wholesome entertainment for kids, now for a whole new generation.

Fans will like that it has all the pillars of a Muppets show/movie – the musical numbers, the celebrity guest host and cameos, the wholesome entertainment, the road trip, and positive messages for kids (like finding your talent and believing in yourself).

Writer/actor Jason Segel “Gary” and his girlfriend “Mary” (Amy Adams) get us back into the world of the Muppets, then graciously and appropriately take a backseat to the main Muppet characters once the old gang is getting back together.

Gary’s brother is Walter, a Muppet, and self-proclaimed biggest fan of “The Muppet Show”.   The Muppets however, have been split up for years, and where they are living and what they’re doing now makes perfect sense (except for Gonzo)… but I’m not going to give any of that away.

For that part of the story we get a classic Muppets road trip and montage as they try to bring the Muppets back together, even a funny in-joke of “traveling by map”.  We also get some small roles and cameos from old characters – some who haven’t been seen for 20-30 years.  It was also nice that all the Muppet characters were used for just the right amount of time – no characters became annoying, like we’ve seen in past Muppet movies or at times on the original show.

Its obvious that Walter isn’t the only Muppets fan – its clear that Segel is as well –  his script and story combined with  James Bobin’s direction pay homage to original Muppets – both the show and movies (including “The Muppet Movie” (1979) and “Mupppets Take Manhattan” (1984)- the last Jim Henson Muppets movie).  The filmmakers understand that they’re trying to bridge a huge 13 to 25 year gap (depending on the last time you thought the Muppets were relevant).  So, in addition to dusty old worn out photos and a dilapidated Muppet Theater, there are numerous references to the 1980′s (especially a hilarious “80′s Robot” who acts as Kermit’s butler and chauffer).

This movie has a lot of smart, goofy, cute jokes to enjoy – clever, but clean humor for kids and adults in the audience.

And of course, there’s the musical numbers, both from Segel and Adams (two with a little ”Flight of the Conchords” influence – Bobin helped create the short-lived series and directed half of the episodes).   All the musical numbers were inspired but the best were “Man or Muppet?” and “Everything is Grand”… but its hard to beat classics like “The Rainbow Connection” and “Mah Na Mah Na”… both appear in this new Muppets movie.

If you can get past some of the new cast of voices, you’ll be okay, but for some Muppet purists, it might be harder to accept.  Of course, the cast of voices isn’t all that new, because some of the voice actors have been doing these characters in television and movies since 1992 (after creator Jim Henson passed away).

Steve Whitmire has been the voice of Kermit since 1992 (Henson died in 1990), and while his Kermit the Frog is not distracting, and Miss Piggy is a little different without Frank Oz, other voices were a little harder to accept.  Fozzie the Bear is not voiced by Oz (who did that unmistakable voice from 1977 to 1997) and is a much more noticeable absence.    But since this movie’s target audience really is kids – kids who weren’t even born yet when the last original voice cast movie was released in 1984 (“The Muppets Take Manhattan”) – are the new voices really worth criticising?  The spirit and the character is there – its just sounds a little different for the moms, dads, grandparents, aunts, and uncles who are familiar with the original cast.

The “wink-wink” filmmaking joke was good the first time, okay the second time, but then too much the third time.  Some scenes and plot points were also a bit rushed – which is odd for a 2 hour movie.  Despite its 2 hour runtime, which is long for a “family movie”, the movie does move along well.  But many of the kids in the audience at the screening I attended had trouble sitting through the whole thing.