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maura @ 10:13 am
It’s been a late winter of lots of movies (kinda like last year?), which has been a lovely distraction in a somewhat unexpectedly overwhelmingly busy time at work. We saw Black Panther which was amazing — among many other things I loved (Shuri! <3), the Wakanda city scenes were FANTASTIC, I can’t wait to see it at home so I can pause and really look to take in all the details. Next weekend is Pacific Rim #2 which we might not see right away but definitely want to see in the theater, even though it’ll likely make me cry because we saw the first one with a dear friend who’s since died. I miss her very much.
Last weekend we saw Wrinkle in Time. I know the reviews have been up and down, some of which I think is because it truly is a kids movie (which some reviews do acknowledge). But I adored it, flat out.
Wrinkle in Time was One of Those Books for me as a kid — I read and reread it multiple times, still have my childhood copy, etc. I decided to reread it before seeing the movie because it had been a while and I wanted to refresh my memory. Yep, still amazing, still loved it. I can’t remember when I first read it as a child but it definitely spoke to me as a nerdy sort of weird girl kid — I was shy and didn’t always have lots of friends, I was smart and not always interested in traditionally girly things, I was intermittently angry at various (what I now recognize as both actual and perceived) injustices. The book spoke to all of that for me and ended with Meg, the weird smart angry girl, saving everyone and everything. It was a powerful feeling to read that.
Rereading it before the movie I now can see what a very white book it is, not unusual for a children’s book written by a white woman in 1962, and not something that occurred to me as a white kid reading the book in the ’70s + ’80s. I was interested to read the essay about the book and movie by Salamishah Tillet in the NYT which spoke directly to race and the book/movie. Tillet’s terrific essay also points out something I thought when the movie was first announced (and haven’t really seen discussed elsewhere): the lack of any kind of controversy over the casting of Storm Reid as Meg and the Murrys as a multiracial family, as compared to the outcry over the casting of Amandla Stenberg as Rue in the Hunger Games movie even as Rue was clearly written in the book as a Black character. (I may still be angry about that outcry.)
I think my reread also reminded me what a difficult book it is to adapt for the screen. The plot is linear but very internal, with lots of conversation and talking between characters, and there’s lots of exposition that’s tricky to represent visually. You’re plopped in at the beginning with everything already happening and ramped up very quickly, which isn’t as much of a challenge in a book since you can always go back and refer to earlier chapters. There’s tween/family angst but also physics plus supernatural/higher powers. The ending is abrupt (though satisfying). It’s super duper detailed and could easily be a film of much more than 2 hrs.
And I think Ava DuVernay did an incredible job of adapting that difficult source material for the screen. The details she chose to drop — Meg and Charles Wallace’s twin brothers, the lead up to meeting the IT, and some complexity near the end with wresting Charles Wallace from the IT, to name a few — didn’t detract from the film at all (and I love the way she nodded to the Aunt Beast chapter by zipping us through their planet during the search for Meg’s father). The ways she enhanced the source material were also wonderful: their California neighborhood and Mrs. Who’s Outkast quote (to name just two examples) were delightful. And new material was all in service of the main goal: while there was no Meg and Calvin running from an evil forest and tornado in the book, that scene both reminded us that Meg is smart and resourceful and that Calvin was following/helping Meg, not the other way around. Which matters.
It’s been a long time since a kid’s movie has stuck with me the way this has, I keep turning it over in my head, more convinced every day that it not only did the book justice but also made it better, more relevant. Definitely worth seeing again.
maura @ 1:32 pm
SPOILER ALERT! I can’t talk about Get Out the way I want to without spoilers!! Do not read beyond paragraph 4 if you do not want spoilers!!!
It’s not necessarily related to my sabbatical, but we’ve seen a bunch of movies lately. We’d pulled back from movies in the theater when the kid was a baby, then started easing back in but focused mostly on movies we could take him to, too. Babysitting is expensive when combined with tickets + snacks (which are sort of expensive just by themselves), and for a long time it seemed easier to just wait for the DVD. But as he’s gotten older it’s been easier for us to bring him to see movies we want to see that aren’t overtly kid or superhero movies. So far this calendar year we’ve seen 3 movies in the theater, which feels like a record.
First up was Hidden Figures. I’d been waiting for this for a while because science + women of color is totally my jam, Janelle Monae is one of my favorite artists, and I’ve loved Taraji Henson ever since she was on Person of Interest. I’ve not read the book that this is based on so I can’t comment on how they’re different, though I did read a review that noted that the Kevin Costner role was elevated in the movie (the better to make him the white savior, sigh), which is a drag. Other than that, though, the movie was terrific. The leads were incredible. Octavia Spencer’s scene in the library especially resonated with me (obvs), a reminder — unfortunately — that libraries have been complicit and have a responsibility to resist. We need more movies like this, please: telling the stories of women and people of color who have been overlooked by mainstream history education and publications, especially for us white people who really need to make sure we and our kids learn about the history of everyone in our nation. I’m definitely going to recommend this for the next time we’re visiting my siblings and need something for all of the niblings to watch.
One of the previews during Hidden Figures was for I am Not Your Negro, the film adaptation of an unfinished script that James Baldwin was writing when he died. I’ve not read any James Baldwin* and have read that folks who have read lots of his work may not find much new here. The movie shared Baldwin’s perspective on the Civil Rights movement, and also focused on the work of Martin Luther King Jr, Malcom X, and Medgar Evers. For me the movie was an education, and a disturbing reminder of our country’s brutally racist past that has evolved into our still pretty brutally racist present. We brought the kid with us to this, too, and while his schools have done a much better job of telling the true story of American history than did mine when I was a kid, I don’t know that he’s seen the kind of documentary footage that the movie included (I hadn’t, either). I am so glad we saw this — I can’t exactly say that it was enjoyable, but it feels like it was necessary.
* I know, I’m working on it — there’s a lot to read, and while I’m glad to be doing the work of learning about white supremacy, intersectional feminism, and American oppression of marginalized populations, I remain angry about my lack of exposure to this during my formal schooling. I’m working on it.
Then yesterday (okay, this one was enabled by sabbatical, because weekday matinee what?!) Jonathan and I saw Get Out. Again we’d seen previews at the prior two movies. After the first preview we wondered, is this a real horror movie or a funny horror movie? I mean, Jordan Peele, he’s funny, and the preview made it look like it could go either way. After the 2nd time we saw the preview I thought, whoa, this is too creepy, I do *not* want to see that movie. But then I started reading more about it and just couldn’t get it out of my head, so off we went.
And wow. Wow. Mind. Blown. The basic plot outlines are familiar to anyone who’s seen the preview: black guy dating a white girl who live in the city go home to the rich white suburbs to meet her parents where things are…weird. But are they microaggressions weird? Or bloodthirsty evil weird? Or…?
(ONE MORE SPOILER WARNING!)
The answer is both and, plus it *is* funny, because Jordan Peele. Yes there’s lots of racism, but also the whole family turns out to be the leaders of a sort of weird cult that transfer the brains of white people who are old or disabled into black people stolen for the purpose, because of their “genetic makeup” and strength. The black guy’s buddy is the hero, providing the laughs when he confirms the black guy’s weird feelings about the increasing creepiness of the situation, and ultimately saving him in the end because he’s the only person who believes that the black guy was ever in any danger. Because white people are racist but not actually evil, right? Except these white people are both.
Honestly I can’t do the film justice at all — I’ve been thinking about it for 24 hours and it just gets better and better. What’s stuck with me most is that I feel like the movie manipulated me in the best way to get me to confront my own biases. For most of the movie it seems like the girlfriend is okay, she’s not evil, just the rest of her family. She lives in the city, she’s dating a black guy, “I have a black friend!” And that goes so deep that during a couple of scenes leading up to the revelation that actually, she’s fully on board with her family’s evil agenda, I found myself trying to give her a pass, thinking things like “wow, she was totally brainwashed by her family!” And then she’s revealed, and damn, there’s me as a white woman realizing that I was trying to give the white woman a pass, after all of the history of violence wrought on black men in the name of white women. D A M N.
That is some fine filmmaking. I am beyond thrilled to have read that Jordan Peele is planning for several more horror films.
maura @ 6:30 pm
I’ve long been convinced that my age cohort was born at the absolute best time to experience the Star Wars movies and fandom. I’d just turned 8 when the first movie was released. My dad took me and my sister (she was just over 3) to see it in what I remember being a big deal — I think we went to a biggish theater in Center City Philadelphia, and there were definitely long lines. It was amazing, of course, unlike anything I’d seen before (partially because many of the other space movies of the 1970s were too much for kids). I was 11 when Empire Strikes Back was released (and we were just about to move halfway across the country for my dad’s new job), arguably the best of the first 3 films (fight me). And I’d just turned 14 when Return of the Jedi came out (just as my family was getting ready to move back east).
I’d wager that’s pretty much the perfect age range for those movies — starting when I was old enough to understand (most of) what was going on and ending before the teen spirit fully took me over. It’s hard to overestimate how pervasive Star Wars was (and is) to nerds in my age group. I remember it being one of the first movies we rented when we first got a VCR in 1980, so my brother could finally see it (he’d been a toddler when it was in the theater). In college the campus movie theater showed all three and the theater was packed, all of us nerds reciting the best lines in unison.
When news of the 3 prequels broke we were grown-up nerds living in NYC, and like our other grown-up nerd friends we were pretty psyched. With a bunch of our pals we lined up to see the original (though enhanced/altered, sigh) trilogy at the amazing Ziegfeld Theater in Midtown Manhattan on its incredibly huge screen. Then Phantom Menace was released and, well, Jar Jar (sigh). By the time Attack of the Clones came out we had a little baby who was adorable yet not fond of sleeping, making it a challenge to see movies. Ditto for Revenge of the Sith (though by that time he was a nonsleeping preschooler). When he was old enough we showed him all 6 films, of course, and like other parents our age experienced the intense disappointment of his strong interest in Episodes 1-3 and repeated complaints about Episodes 4-6 (“this is so boring!”). Jar Jar and the fast cuts, that’s what the kids like (have we failed as parents?).
And that was about it for me, for a long time. I don’t think I saw Episodes 2-3 more than once; they were confusing and dull, Anakin was a whiny stalker, and I just couldn’t get into it. The kid watched the animated Clone Wars series for a while which I admit did seem better, especially since there was a female main character in the Jedi trainee Ahsoka. But I still found it confusing and didn’t watch much.
I belabor all of this history as context. When it was announced that Disney bought the Star Wars franchise and JJ Abrams would direct a new movie, I thought “meh.” I’d see stuff on Twitter occasionally and yeah, it was cool to see that photo of the cast beginning readings — I was pleased to see a person of color *and* another woman (also: Carrie Fisher 4eva). But the movie just wasn’t on my radar, for the most part, not something I was planning to see as soon as it was released. And then, out of nowhere, the kid up and got obsessed. I blame the internet (obvs). He started watching Clone Wars again and insisted that he really really really wanted to see the movie and, moreover, could we please watch Episodes 1-6 before the new one? After some Netflix scrambling we did, though I admit I mostly tuned out of the early ones (again).
And so it was on December 25, 2015, that we took the train into Manhattan for a dinner of Chinese food (yum, dumplings) followed by a trip to the Ziegfeld Theater to see The Force Awakens. I still hadn’t done much reading about it and was still a bit “meh,” even as we stood on line and took our seats.
It’s corny beyond belief, but I was completely, utterly blown away. Daisy Ridley as Rey and John Boyega (who was terrific in Attack the Block) as Finn were uh-may-zing; the fan service of General (yessss!) Leia Organa and Han Solo was sweet; the details — most especially the early scenes with Rey scavenging and living on Jakku, and of course with Rey and Finn on the Millennium Falcon — impeccable. I bought my 10 yr old niece the Lego Rey’s speeder set for her birthday and almost, almost had to keep it for myself; I’m considering buying the DVD of Force Awakens, too (something I pretty much never ever do).
I was also relieved beyond belief that the movie was so good (and the dumplings, too). Last xmas was the first anniversary of my mother-in-law’s death, and the month before that, the first anniversary of our good friend’s death. We saw many, many nerd movies at the Ziegfeld with our friend in the 23 years we’d been friends, and most certainly would have geeked out on Force Awakens with her. We almost always visited (or traveled with) my mother-in-law at xmas. We didn’t have any travel plans or visitors for xmas last year, and as the date approached I was pretty nervous about how we’d all feel on that day, whether we could push back on the weight of it all even if only for just a few hours. And then Poe sent BB-8 off with the plans and Finn stole a TIE fighter and Rey ate that magical puffy bread and it was awesome.
maura @ 4:20 pm
When the kid is away, the parents will play. Or eat food that the kid doesn’t like, anyway, and watch old person movies and go shopping for new glasses and other boring, grownup stuff.
In this case the kid was away for a full week, and the adults saw Snowpiercer,* and bought glasses and fancy shoes, and picniced at the gardens, and watched the original Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory** on a humongous outdoor screen.
* Which was good, though perhaps we should have seen it sooner and/or not read so many extremely positive reviews, because it didn’t quite live up to the hype.***
** Okay, the kid would have liked that last one, I’ll admit.
*** Though I was proud of us that we held firm on not letting the kid see it, because yes, very violent!
We also ate food, so much amazing food. Handpulled Chinese noodles with spicy sour pork in the East Village; tuna, caper, and tapenade sandwiches at the gardens; Indian food in Murray Hill including lemon rice, this amazing cubed pumpkin and garlic dish, curried goat, and lentil donut with various saucy accompaniments; and finally an avocado, black bean, and queso fresco torta with cafe con leche at Cafe Habana, just down the block from our very first apartment ever in NYC.
It was delicious, all of it. But also strangely tiring being out and about doing leisurish things three evenings and one daytime within a seven-day timespan.
SO glad the kid’s back now and we can hide behind him as a reason to stay in and eat sparely and go to bed by 11.
maura @ 10:37 pm
Not too long ago for family movie night we watched Wreck-It Ralph again (we’d seen it in the theater last xmas). It’s a surprisingly good movie for a Disney not Pixar outing: contemporary enough for today’s videogame kids to find it fun and funny, with lots of nice touches for us old people who actually used to play games in arcades, too. Plus the extended meditation on homonyms duty and doody — what 11 year old (and his parents) wouldn’t find that hilarious?
Ever since then I’ve been thinking about one of the central features of the movie, in which the heroine, Vanellope van Schweetz, spends most of the movie as a “glitch” — a character who is literally unhooked from the main codebase of the game and hops around in the gamespace every time she glitches. Not to give too much away (spoiler alert!), but in the end she triumphs and regains her status as a fully-enmeshed game character (in fact she turns out to be the main character of her game, Sugar Rush). But she also decides to retain her glitch, pointing out that her glitch gives her power that the other characters don’t have, power she can use to her advantage as she races in the game.
I’m sure there are
millions dozens of academic papers being written on Wreck-It Ralph as we speak — it really was a fascinating movie on lots of levels, plus fun to watch. What I’ve found myself chewing over since we watched it again is this idea of the existence of a “glitch” in videogames. I hear Gus and his friends talk about glitches and glitching all the time, and the fact that Disney included the concept of glitch so prominently in a major movie suggests that videogame enthusiasts likely all know and understand the term.
What does a glitch mean to gamers? Usually when I hear Gus and pals discuss glitches they’re annoyed or even angry: something in the game hasn’t gone as they expected so they exclaim “ah, the game glitched!” In my observation the “glitch” is used to characterize both unexpected game behavior and the occasional player mistake — sometimes “it glitched!” really translates to “I didn’t mean to do that!” I’ve come to wonder whether the existence of glitches in videogames isn’t a bit like saying you didn’t get the email. It’s 2013 — really, most of the time the email goes through, I’d wager only a very small number of emails truly get lost in the ether.
The temptation to blame player error on glitching is strong, I know. Jonathan, my brother and I play Carcassonne on our phones, and of course you sometimes make a move you didn’t plan to, or forget to put a meeple on your tile before ending your turn. It’s easy to get distracted with a turn-based internet game played on a phone in the odd moments of the day, easy for a finger to slip or for the best place for a tile to elude you until it’s too late. Sometimes I too curse “glitch, glitch!”
I’ve been wondering whether the existence (and prominence) of glitch is a way for players to reconcile themselves with the distance between the player and the gamespace required of videogames. With a board, card, or other analog game it’s not only obvious to the other players when there’s a player error, it’s also recoverable: if all players agree to it, the error can be erased and the player can have a do-over. In turn-based multiplayer videogames a do-over is usually not possible, and it’s sometimes not possible in single-player games either (though you could consider the opportunity to play the game repeatedly as a do-over of sorts). The only do-over in a multiplayer videogame is a complete restart, which the other player(s) might not be willing to agree to. The barrier for do-overs is much lower in meatspace — there’s (potentially) not as much impact on the other players.
So maybe that’s the ultimate role of the glitch: a way for players to save face when they make a mistake in a game that they cannot correct or undo, to give themselves agency in the face of aspects of the game they can’t control?
maura @ 8:00 pm
After a morning that included not only a metric ton of laundry but also me watching the Hunger Games trailer a couple of times (and unsuccessfully looking around online to see if another trailer had been released yet, which it hasn’t), it’s only fitting that we should go to the movies this afternoon.
The movies! We don’t see many movies in the theater these days though suddenly there are tons to see, many of them kid-friendly: the Muppets and there’s a Studio Ghibli retrospective coming up at the IFC soon, to name a few. The possibility of seeing so many Miyazaki movies on the big screen makes me giddy, though I think we’ll restrict ourselves to 2 or 3.
Today, however, we saw Hugo, the movie based on the the Caldecott-winning book from a few years ago called The Invention of Hugo Cabret. It was fantastic — beautifully filmed and fairly true to the story. Which is good cos it’s a great story: a mystery about an orphaned boy, an automaton, and the (real) history of filmmaker Georges Méliès. The book caused a bit of a stir when it won the Caldecott because that’s an award for picture books, and while it is a story told in words and drawings it clocks (ha!) in at 500+ pages. But I think the award was well-deserved.
The movie had lots of snow which made us feel cold, and steam and secret passageways which made us feel warm. Hugo is a clockworker and machines, gears, clocks, and mechanical things figure prominently. There were lovely fantastic touches, too — it had the feel of a Stephen Millhauser children’s movie, in many ways, which I guess it sort of is: magical realism for kids. Go see it if you can — I highly recommend it.
maura @ 11:44 am
I don’t know how we made it this far without Gus seeing Pinocchio, but last night when the video went on he was rapt. It’s been ages since I’ve seen that movie and I’d forgotten how weird it is. IMDB tells me that the movie came out in 1940 which seems about right. The blue fairy has that old-fashioned animated look the way the earlier Disney movies all do.
The plot is just, well, bizarre to today’s kids. I’ve not read the fairy tale in ages so not sure how much of the movie is artistic license. But Pleasure Island? So random! All were aghast at the kids smoking cigars. But Gus wondered what was bad, exactly, about playing pool? He’s been to a few birthday parties at a videogames + billiards place in our neighborhood. And the peals, absolute peals of laughter when the boys get turned into jackasses, and on hearing the word jackass repeated several times. Hilarity for the 9 year old set, for sure (though the 3 1/2 yr old was a bit confused).
Gus was adamant that he would never go to Pleasure Island, no matter how much free root beer was promised. But I wonder whether the moral of the story is even understandable to kids today under all of last century’s trappings. If you skip school you’ll have to sing and dance at the theater and then sleep in a cage? If you get on the boat with the creepy old men and go to the island where you can act naughty all day you’ll turn into a donkey and go work in the salt mines? “Don’t they get salt from the ocean?” asks Gus.
But I guess it *is* handy to know that you can light a fire to escape from a whale’s belly.
maura @ 10:54 pm
Not too long ago we started to wonder whether Gus is old enough to see Raiders of the Lost Ark. I have to say that even though I loved it, the ending of the movie scared the crap out of me when I saw it in the theater lo those many summers ago. I was 12 and Gus is 9 1/2, but everything’s scarier in movie theaters at night, right? And it’s only rated PG, for goodness sake! (Though I bet it would be PG-13 now, easy.)
The other thing is that he’s apparently already seen at least part of Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull. Which I think is perfectly appropriate even with its PG-13 rating, though I was somewhat dismayed to hear that he’d seen it at school. Sometimes they show movies during recess when it’s raining too hard to go outside, and I’m not sure that’s such a great flick for littler kids. I didn’t believe Gus at first when he told us he’d seen it, but then he said: “Yes I have! There was a huge explosion and a man inside a refrigerator.” So there you have it.
In the midst of thinking about all of this we thought, say, what about Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom? Neither of us remembered much about the movie other than it was vastly inferior to #1 and #3 (and #4, too, frankly). But there’s no melty face ending, and since we have the DVDs of 1-3 we decided to fire it up one night and take a look.
O. M. G. You know, I think this is actually the worst movie ever made. For complete serious! It’s both racist (the Chinese! the Indians!) AND sexist (you just want to smack the whiny Kate Capshaw pretty much constantly). The plot jumps around and is ridiculously stupid. And, here’s the kicker: it’s not actually about archaeology at all. There’s no archaeology in it! At the beginning Indy’s in China delivering some relic to a gangster, and then he ends up in India saving people from some sort of ritual death. No. Archaeology. Anywhere.
We still haven’t decided whether to show Gus Raiders, but suffice it to say we will be skipping right over Temple of Doom. The worst case scenario, of course, is that he would actually *like* it. Just ask any 40-ish yr old Star Wars fan with young kids about Jar-Jar and watch for the sad face.
maura @ 8:53 am
We finally (finally!) saw Tron Legacy last weekend. Xmas prep, Disneyworld, and illness had delayed it for so long I was worried that it wouldn’t be in the theater anymore by the time we had time. But it was, yay! Plus, coffee truck outside of the theater = coffee during the movie, which is totally the way to do a matinee, word.
The movie’s gotten such bad reviews (including this hilarious one from game scholar Ian Bogost’s 8 yr old daughter) that I went in with pretty low expectations. So I’m a bit surprised to report that I sincerely and megadorkily enjoyed the whole dang thing.
First the easy stuff: yes, it was beautiful. And the soundtrack by Daft Punk is fantastic — it took about 48 hrs from the time we exited the movie theater for us to buy it. Good thing, too, as I was in dire need of some new electronica for background noise while I write.
And the easy stuff on the other side: it was definitely too long. The plot was so thin at points as to be transparent, and sometimes the dialogue was beyond cheesy. The nod to open source software at the beginning was HI-larious given Disney’s particular stance on copyright. Gus went through a phase of loving the first Tron* when he was maybe 5 or 6, but he was frankly bored by much of the new movie. Which was kind of a drag.
* Which we actually own, on VHS, because one of the other perks when working for the Mouse was the opportunity to buy Disney stuff at a discount. I immediately bought Tron and the original Freaky Friday, with Jodie Foster, which ROCKS. Though I do love the remake too.
But I still really, really liked it. I’ve been trying to pull it apart in my head ever since. J said “there were the bones of a good story in there,” and I agree. Though if I’m honest it’s probably less the story than the whole package — I am squarely in the demographic of people programmed (ha!) to like the movie. I had just turned 13 when the first Tron movie was released along with its companion videogame. The movie was visually stunning (for the time), and the game, while kind of lame, was fun enough that I fed it many quarters. I don’t remember much from junior high other than being the typical miserable early teen, but I have vivid memories of the videogame arcade: the layout of the machines, the noise, even the smell. To this day I can tell you that the Tron game (not Deadly Discs, the other one) was in the second room against the wall on the right.
So yes, I fell into the giant nostalgia trap set by Tron Legacy. Really once Sam walked into his dad’s old arcade and turned on all of the machines (ack! Journey!) there was no hope for me. Save yourselves!
P.S. Also the stick that turns into a light cycle or jet was awesome.
maura @ 8:32 pm
Well hello internets! Yes, I crapped out on 2 days of blagging. Once you fall off that wagon, it’s so easy to do it again. I meant to blag, really I did, but we’ve been busy and also spent the past 2 nights watching Shutter Island. Which was decent, but not amazing. And really *really* long. Boy howdy, whose idea was it to make a 2.5 hr long movie? So not necessary. I don’t know, Leonardo DiCaprio kind of bugs me lately. Though I did love Inception. On the other hand, Michelle Williams was awesome. So crazy!
Boy, I gots nothing tonight, either. Still haven’t taken any photos of the new art near work. Maybe I will do that tomorrow. The bathroom renovation is completely finished and the associated mess cleaned up. I continue to be stressed out by Xmas music/decorations before it’s even Thanksgiving. Thanks to the giving it’s a meeting-light week at work so I’ve been possessed by the completely unrealistic notion that tomorrow I will finish a whole slew of tasks that have been hanging out on my to do list for way too long. Maybe I’ll even bring the rest of my stuff over from the old cubicle to the new office. Big Wednesday plans, indeed.