Forget gift cards or store-bought knickknacks that will just get regifted. The best presents come with something money can't buy.+ READ ARTICLE
If you want to really wow someone over the holidays with a token of your affection, chances are it’ll take more than a trip to the mall (or Amazon.com): A survey shows nearly three-quarters of Americans will be unhappy with their gifts this year.
Distinguish yourself from ordinary gift-givers by using your skills to make a present that packs an emotional punch. Artistic? One MONEY staffer’s illustrator boyfriend once gave her a hand-drawn picture book in which she was the main character. Good on Google? Another staffer did some Internet sleuthing and tracked down her father’s long-lost war buddy and was able to give her dad a letter from the friend as a gift.
If these ideas sound too intimidating or time-consuming, there are shortcuts to memorable gifts. Consider ordering a wall calendar from a site like collage.com with your funniest family photos, organized by season. Or a shirt with an inside joke for your closest group of friends from customink.com.
If you’re short on inspiration, your best resource is the vast digital footprint we all leave behind these days (for better or worse): Comb through old texts, emails, and chats for clues as to what your intended gift recipient might really love. And—for even more creative ideas—check out the video above.
Reports show industry-wide declines in the longtime breakfast staple.+ READ ARTICLE
Nothing comes to life in this rote, trite finale to the kid-friendly fantasy franchise+ READ ARTICLE
M.C. Escher’s “Relativity,” the 1953 lithograph that plays with gravity and perspective, receives a delightful tweak in Night at the Museum: Secret of the Tomb. Larry the night watchman (Ben Stiller) and his antique colleagues Teddy Roosevelt (Robin Williams) and Sir Lancelot (Dan Stevens) tumble into and scramble through the sideways stairways of Escher’s surreal courtyard. The scene is a compact epiphany of physical, borderline-metaphysical comedy — nearly as funny and impressive as Andrew Lipson and Daniel Shiu’s LEGO version of “Relativity.” Pushing the trope further, the producers commissioned a clever elaboration that’s used as a poster for the movie. Congratulations to all involved!
Sorry, but this concludes any warm comments about the third episode in the Night at the Museum series, a kid-aimed fantasy franchise that imagines the stuffed or wax figures at New York’s American Museum of Natural History coming to life and cavorting each night. Director Shawn Levy extended the 2006 original with a 2009 sequel set in Washington’s Smithsonian Institution. Because the two films earned almost $1 billion at the global box office, simple corporate math demanded a third installment, this time with a trip to the British Museum. The world tour might have extend to the Louvre or the Hermitage in future sequels, but apparently this is it.
A good thing too, since Secret of the Tomb gives every evidence of franchise exhaustion. In the screenplay by David Guion and Michael Handelman, Larry and the gang travel to London to find out why the ancient Egyptian tablet that is the source of the museum figures’ revived lives has gone on the fritz. At the British Museum they encounter Lancelot, who has hard time adjusting to the 21st century and comes close to bolloxing Larry’s mission to save his old, old friends. The movie is content to reprise bits from the first two entries, and the few innovations — such as giving Larry a caveman double (also played by Stiller) — are rote, trite and feeble.
Did anyone have a good time making this movie? The actors seem to be reading their lines at gunpoint, in an enterprise whose mood is less summer camp than internment camp. Such exemplary comic spirits as Ricky Gervais (the AMNH’s director), Steve Coogan (the Roman soldier Octavius) and Owen Wilson (the antique cowboy Jedediah) have the look of abandonment, as if hoping that some prompter from the sides will whisper a line more deliverable than what the script has told them to say. “Get me a rewrite!” say these faces, frozen in a rictus of embarrassment.
Mickey Rooney, who died in April at 93, makes a brief appearance here in a wheelchair. Williams, in the last on-screen role he completed before his death this Aug., seems unusually muted, but he simply could have been interpreting the character as written. (The movie is dedicated to these two comedy immortals.) The only performers who suggest they’re enjoying themselves are Dick Van Dyke, in a spry cameo as a Natural History night watchman emeritus, and Crystal the Monkey, a scene-swiping Capuchin whose capers include peeing on the tiny figures of Octavius and Jedediah, during a Pompeii lava scene, and planting big smooches on every human in sight.
I could go on, but making jokes about failed movies is not my favorite part of this job. Besides, you already get the idea. Some day soon, the “Relativity” scene will be on YouTube. See that part of Night at the Museum: Secret of the Tomb and skip the rest.
A labor dispute leads to a spud shortage in Japan.+ READ ARTICLE
Jerry's new name is Terry, for instance+ READ ARTICLE
Parks and Recreation‘s final season (sad face) will air on Jan. 13 and will take place in 2017. (You know, since at the end of the previous season they jumped ahead three years. Continuity.) Now, thanks to this new, science fiction-tinged trailer, we get a glimpse into what life is like the near future. (Spoiler: there will be drones.)
All your favorite Pawneeans are back, but they’ve definitely changed. Andy, for example, now has his own TV show. Jerry now goes by Terry (against his will, obviously). Tom’s now a mogul (or so he claims).
Otherwise, we’re all just going to have to tune in on Jan. 13 to figure out what else is going on. Our only major hope is that there’s a Li’l Sebastian statue somewhere by 2017.
Specifically, how to resist delicious cookies+ READ ARTICLE
Back in October, we were lucky enough to see Ice Cube perform magic tricks on Sesame Street. Now, we get to see another, older, more British celeb make an appearance on the show. This time, it’s Sir Ian McKellen.
The Lord of the Rings actor has graciously arrived at Sesame Street to teach Cookie Monster a new word: “resist.” He starts with a simple definition: “The word resist means to control yourself and stop yourself from doing something you really want to do.”
McKellen uses a few examples that Cookie Monster does not relate to — until, of course, the actor busts out a cookie and forces Cookie Monster to resist it. Or at least, try to resist it.
"A nearly three-hour movie with the plot of one-third of a children's novel "+ READ ARTICLE
The YouTube channel behind the viral, snarky commentary for Love Actually and Guardians of the Galaxy is out with an equally cynical take on The Hobbit: The Desolation of Smaug (2013), the second film in the Hobbit trilogy directed by Peter Jackson, who directed the Lord of the Rings trilogy based on J.R.R. Tolkien’s books.
In a fake trailer for the movie, the comedians, known as “Screen Junkies,” argue the film is too long, describing it as “a nearly three-hour movie with the plot of one-third of a children’s novel that will have audiences everywhere saying, ‘oh my god, it’s STILL going,'” while saying “tiny sections of the book” are “stretched into hours.”
The video is pegged to the release of the last installment of The Hobbit trilogy, The Hobbit: The Battle of the Five Armies this week.
Schadenfreude+ READ ARTICLE
A contestant on the Australian quiz show Millionaire Hot Seat is going viral because she had trouble answering one of the easiest game show questions one could possibly get.
The question: “Which of these is not a piece of jewelry commonly worn to symbolize a relationship between two people?”
Possible answers included engagement ring, anniversary ring, wedding ring, and burger ring (a snack food) and she chose “anniversary ring.”
She seemed to have overlooked the “not a piece of jewelry” part of the question because when the show’s host Eddie McGuire slowly repeated that key clause, she immediately realized that she should have said burger ring.
It used to be that national politicians of both parties would diligently travel to Florida during every election cycle and compete, in speeches and town hall meetings, over who could be more in favor of the embargo on Cuba.
It was, after all, common political sense: Cuban-Americans were, for decades, a fairly monolithic voting bloc and their feelings toward the embargo were unequivocal. They were for it. No ifs, ands, or maybes.
But in the last decade, all that has changed. The reason is shifting demographics—the same trend that rocketed President Obama to the White House in 2008 and 2012 and that will do more to influence the outcome of 2016 than perhaps anything else.
Younger Cuban-Americans are less into the embargo than their parents’ generation, and much more in favor of relaxing laws to make it easier to travel and trade with the island.
This shifting dynamic is going to play out in 2016, too. In fact, it already has. Jeb Bush, who announced yesterday that he is considering a run for the White House, takes the old-school hardline position. He’s in favor of the embargo, full stop.
Meanwhile, Hillary Clinton’s position has evolved over the years. In 2000, when she was running for Senate, and in 2008, when she was running for the Democratic nomination, she too took the old-school stance. In December 2007, she said rather clearly that the embargo was the law of the land, and it wasn’t going anywhere anytime soon.
“Until there is some recognition on the part of whoever is in charge of the Cuban government that they have to move toward democracy and freedom for the Cuban people, it will be very difficult for us to change our policy,” she said.
But then, as Secretary of State, her position began to crack, and then soften, and then flip entirely. She called on Obama to take a second look at the embargo, which she argued was actually helping Fidel and Raul Castro, not Americans. “It is my personal belief that the Castros do not want to see an end to the embargo and do not want to see normalization with the United States, because they would lose all of their excuses for what hasn’t happened in Cuba in the last 50 years,” she said in a 2010 speech in Kentucky.
And in her 2014 book, Hard Choices, she backs up that view: “I recommended to President Obama that he take another look at our embargo. It wasn’t achieving its goals, and it was holding back our broader agenda across Latin America.” In July this year, in an interview, she came right out and called the embargo “a failure.”
Jeb Bush’s hardline position and Hillary Clinton’s evolving one is a reflection of the larger demographic shifts happening the U.S. today.
Bush, if he runs, will no doubt lock down the older, more conservative Cuban-American vote, while Clinton, if she runs, will be in a position to lock down the younger, hipper, more liberal Cuban-American contingent.
So who wins? Right now, it’s a toss up. According to a 2014 poll by the Cuban Research Institute, 53 percent of Cuban-American registered voters said they would be more likely to vote for a candidate who backed the normalization of diplomatic relations. But if you bore down a bit on the issues, it seems to lean heavily toward the Democrats: 90% of young Cuban-Americans are in favor of reestablishing diplomatic ties with Cuba; 68% of older Cuban-Americans share that view too.
But it doesn’t have to be a huge majority for it to make sense to Democrats to change positions. It just has to be more competitive than it used to be, and it now is.