Thursday, December 20, 2012

DVD Review: Dreamgirls

I don't know why it took me so long to finally watch Dreamgirls. Possibly because I'm not really the biggest fan of musicals. I don't hate them. I wouldn't even say I dislike them, they're just not typically my thing.

But what is my thing is girl groups from the 50's and 60's. So I really wanted to see this movie when they first started advertising it, but somewhere along the line when I realized what the plot was, I just got a little disenchanted and set it aside until it made it to the top of my Netflix queue last week. Even then, I let it sit on my desk for a week after it came in. I wanted to hear the music and see the awesome vintage outfits, but I just wasn't sold on the story.

Really, that's pretty much the only problem I can find with Dreamgirls, and it's something that you have to really understand the history to get why you can't let that get in your way. If you look to this as only a film, as only a musical, the story is a bit cliche and the characters are well worn stereotypes. The music is amazing, but the arc everyone goes through is predictable.

But that's the problem, is that you can't look at this as just a movie. It's practically a historical film, but with songs. The reason we know these characters and this story so well is because we already know it really happened. Maybe not exactly like this, maybe Curtis Taylor Jr. (Jamie Foxx) is a much more sleezy character than Brrry Gordy ever was. But at the end of the day, the interpersonal relationships are ones that you see play out in the music business year after year after year.

So how do you settle that as a viewer? The costumes, the acting, the songs, they're all amazing. Granted I wasn't alive during the time period the movie shows, but it seems very accurate and represents the era(s) well. A musical is above all about the music, and not only are the songs themselves top notch but the singing and performances are as well.

But there isn't a single new revelation in the movie. It's very, very good but it isn't fresh or new. Plus many people have pointed out that because it's not at all shy about the fact that it's a fictionalization of the history of Motown Records that the film actually could be considered insulting to it's source material.

So where do you go with that as a viewer? My opinion, you buy the soundtrack and get a hold of as many of the songs as you can, and then read up on the history of Motown on your own. Unless you really love one of the actors, or musicals in general. In which case, there are much worse ways to spend a couple hours.

Wednesday, December 19, 2012

Face Off on SyFy

I pretend that I can say "I don't watch a lot of reality tv" but the truth is I do. It's just mostly I watch the shows where it's talent or art based, where there's an elimination after a challenge each week. Project Runway, Top Chef, that kind of thing.

Since I'm a filmmaker, and a sci-fi fan, the show Face Off seems tailor made for me. Because this format of reality show has been around so long, there are a lot of them that are getting to a point where they're just silly and almost nonsense. Mostly that's because of the contestants and the challenges. The contestants aren't artisans, they're reality wannabes, and the challenges aren't artistic they're just crazy. Look to the quickfire challenges on Top Chef. Last week they made everybody make a dish with a product placement item AND they all had to share one knife AND the dish had to be something that related to their heritage. Television Without Pity rightfully called that out as a bit overwrought.

Face Off doesn't really replicate exactly the experience of a professional makeup artist. There's not really a way to do that in a competition, that would be more of a documentary. But they do manage to come close, and while I don't really understand the judge's tastes half the time the show does show actual talented artists being talented.

Special effects makeup is no joke, and it's much harder than most people think it is. Last month I had to make a short film in a limited amount of time, and the story required the lead to have her knees skinned and bleeding. I had to do the effect myself and I'd say I probably spent more time on that than I did writing the script.

The show also doesn't spend a lot of time focusing on silly drama and setting up stupid moments for people to get angry at each other. Sometimes these moments happen, but if you've ever had a job you know working together is tough. The challenges themselves are usually pretty good, though there were a few this season that didn't really let the makeup artists shine, like the Dr. Seuss challenge. While it might seem like the dancing challenges, or the underwater stuff is a stretch the fact is the makeups that these people will be doing will have to go through a really difficult process to actually get on film.

The only thing I would change, if I was in charge, would be to actually have a few challenges where the makeups have to be actually shot in film lighting. Frequently something looks too cheesy to really work. Obviously the judges are experienced enough to understand the way something would look under proper film lighting. But the audience doesn't have that skill, and I think it would really help to see the difference. Also, because I love anything that helps a regular audience understand more about the skills it takes to make a good film. It's hard for people to really get lighting and gaffing but this would be cool.

In this last season, there was a bit of a controversy where they eliminated a contestant and then had a small competition to bring someone back. When that contestant started doing well, sometimes staying instead of beloved fan favorites, a lot of people started saying she was out and it was unfair for her to come back. I think that's pretty ridiculous, since bringing back an eliminated contestant is an old trope in the reality tv world. Almost every show I watch has done it, and Top Chef has made an entire extra show about it called Last Chance Kitchen. This season, the winner of that will actually be put back in the competition during the finals.

So at the end of the day, when that contestant was brought back, she earned her spot and she earned her wins after that as well. But I guess nothing makes people complain more when their favorites get eliminated, I know I still haven't forgiven Project Runway for a few things.

Long story short - this is a great show and even if you're only tangentially interested in how movies are made, make-up, or sci-fi you should absolutely be watching when it comes back in January.

Random side note, writing a review like this without giving away spoilers is way too hard.

Tuesday, December 18, 2012

The last time the world ended

Everybody is getting ready for the world to end on Friday. I've already lived through about a half dozen predictions of the end of the world, but only one that reached the same worldwide fervor the way this 2012 thing has was of course, Y2K.

The thing that was such a big deal about Y2K was that it actually was JUST believable enough. We all had computers, we all had deal with the way they would just crash and act weird for no reason we could figure out. Anybody who had written anything for the internet at that point had seen a website's code break down completely because you misplaced a semicolon.

It seemed crazy, but there was that little seed of wonder, isn't it feasible? If we could get a blue screen of death for something we've been doing for weeks, then couldn't most computers crash because of a coding error? And wasn't our whole life already starting to be completely run by computers?

So for New Year's of Y2K, I decided I needed a good vantage point for the end of the world. So my sister, my best friend, and I all drove to an overlook on Mill Mountain in Roanoke, Virginia to stand in front of the Roanoke Star just in case everything went dark. Then we could see everything without the light pollution, and be isolated in case the whole world went crazy.

We weren't the only people who had the idea, there were probably a dozen people hanging out. Of course, as the clock counted down to 0 and we entered the year 2000, nothing happened.

Of course, the 2012 scare doesn't have that slim air of legitimacy or believability. It only has the feeling that something gets when so many people believe in it. The Mayans didn't even have a concept of the end of the world at the time that they made their calendar, everything about it is ridiculous.

And yet, it's that little doubt that hits your brain. The world has to end sometime, doesn't it? One day actually will be our last, even if it's not the end of Earth as we know it.

That's the problem with apocalypse predictions, is that it reminds everyone of how ridiculous the world we live in really is sometimes. It's the idea that we could slip in the bathtub tomorrow, or come down with something and not get to a doctor in time. Because we have to live with that every day, and tamp it down all the time, when somebody predicts the end of the world it's a place to put all those fears and those doubts. So even people who are normally very rational think "well, what if?"

Of course that leads to all kinds of problems, people getting scammed, getting violent, acting irrationally, and on and on. Thankfully most people I know are going back to the same kind of idea I had during Y2K - getting together to celebrate and act silly and be with the people we care about.

I'll probably be at a party myself. But if this does turn out to be my last week of writing for my blog because the world is ending, I do want to leave this as my last big opinion statement - our world is crazy, and difficult, and painful but I have found my life to be worth the problems and the pain. I've been loved and cared for, and I've had the things I needed, and I couldn't ask for more than that, and so I simply want to say thank you.

If this is not my last blog entry ever, of course I'll go back to complaining about things next week.

Good luck with the apocalypse!

Thursday, December 13, 2012


I'm not entirely sure where to start on a review of Looper. As somebody who is a big fan of Doctor Who, you would think that I really enjoy time travel stories but they actually make me cranky. I tend to avoid them, it's only because Doctor Who is that good that I even bother. Otherwise I spend too much time trying to make them work and let's be honest, they rarely do. My time travel exceptions also include Connie Willis novels, because she's such a good novelist that she actually has sensible rules that make sense to me.

But I'm off on a tangent, which is what time travel stories are usually about, tangents. Which is the problem. Which is why I actually really liked Looper, because it decided to just drop all the pretenses and just be a STORY.

I can't tell you how happy I am with that. Too often, time travel stories are just a bunch of people standing around talking about things they all are perfectly aware of, usually the rules of time travel in this particular universe. It always takes the form of the "Well, as you know" lecture and it's not just boring, it's tired, and it opens up all the plot holes and problems for display. Listen, Looper has it's share of plot holes that you end up thinking of in the car on the way home, trust me. But they don't spend so much time trying to make the rules work in the movie that you're thinking about it while you're watching. Heck, at one point when somebody tries to ask a question they dismiss it by saying that it's all too confusing anyway.

Because it is. Listen, in every aspect of filmmaking right now you can see a battle for artists to retain the art of storytelling and other people trying to shunt the story to the side for whatever else they think will make things more successful. The answer to what makes a good movie is easy, it always has been, it's storytelling. It's not setting, it's not name actors, it's not special effects. All of those need to serve good storytelling and without it, then it might be an enjoyable movie but it will never be a GOOD one.

Looper cares about story and storytelling, and that made me enjoy it. It's about relationships, not fight scenes. The setting, the time travel, it's all secondary to the way these characters are interacting and how their interactions steer their choices and their futures. That's what makes it work, and why it doesn't matter that nowhere in the actual film do they state outright that the time travel only works one specific way.

It can only go exactly 30 years into the past, that's it, no finite control. That's never stated in the film, it's just something the writers and director knew as they made the movie and that the director has said in multiple interviews that you can easily find if it matters to you when you're driving home. But that information is known to all the characters, they don't need to talk about it and they don't need to question it except to make people in the back of the theater shut up.

I realize I've said almost nothing about the actual plot of Looper, but you get everything you could need to know from the trailer, and then it actually goes to some unexpected places and I enjoyed it more because I didn't know too much about it going in, so I thought I'd let other people be similarly unenlightened. What you really need to know is that Bruce Willis is amazing as always, and the acting is good all around. The visuals are thought out and serve the story and in general everything that the filmmakers did just served to make the story better, which is as it should be.

But a quick tip - don't go to the IMDB message boards after you watch it. The people there were not at all paying attention during the actual film and make a lot of very stupid assumptions. If you're going to see Looper, and you should, pay attention. It's a movie that deserves for you to actually pay attention for once.

Wednesday, December 12, 2012

Collection Intervention

One of my not-so-secret indulgences used to be shows about getting rid of stuff. It's a weird genre of "reality" tv, or at least "unscripted," I'm not sure if it qualifies as reality. A lot of them end up being makeover shows in the end, like Clean House, which used to be one of my favorites.

It ended up being a good thing for me, because watching those shows so much started helping me clear up a lot of the brain fog involved in keeping too much stuff. There's a lot of sentimentality involved, plus I think everybody has some specific defense mechanisms involved that start us down the road to just being cluttered, and sometimes straight on down the line to hoarding.

The problem I had though, was that I started seeing a distinct break in the types of people involved in the shows. The "hoarders" had some pretty distinct problems, sure. But at the same time, they saw a value in some things that was irreplaceable and that's not always a bad thing. In fact, a certain amount of it is probably healthy. For them, the clutter wasn't all useless. Sometimes things other people wouldn't care about were things they still used. Sometimes an item was all they had left to remind them of a loved one who was gone.

The problem is the "authorities" on most of these types of shows have a zero tolerance policy regarding "things." They like to trot out the "so and so lives on in your memory and your heart, even if you don't have this thing to remind you" line. But you know what? That isn't always good enough, and it doesn't always matter. I don't care that I will never have decor that goes with the crocheted crafts that I have that my great grandmother made, ever time I see them they make me smile and I will always keep them, because it's not the "when I want to think of Granny Memaw I need these to remind me" kind of thing. It's that unexpected moment when you see something physical, that actual tactile memory. It means something, and pretending otherwise is stupid.

One of the other kickers for me was also how much these "authorities" tend to insult people who have things they considered childish. Video game systems were frequently forced out into yard sales because "it's time to grow up" and because "you're an adult now." Action figures, collectible dolls, all kinds of collections were toss out like they were nothing because the people in charge thought they were silly and refused to acknowledge that the owners might have another viewpoint that is valid.

This long rant is my way of explaining why I stopped watching those kinds of shows and why I actually avoided Collection Intervention for almost it's entire season. I really didn't want to see a show that was completely focused on telling geeks that they weren't mature enough if they had a bunch of action figures. I didn't need to see people telling someone to throw out their original Super Nintendo one more time. And yes, for the record, I do have a Super Nintendo. It's sitting in my living room, hooked up to my tv. Because I'm a gamer and I find happiness from playing games and I don't care what stupid "grownups" think about it.

One night, after another show I was watching finished, I didn't change the channel and got sucked into an episode of Collection Intervention.

It was kind of amazing.

The host, Elyse Luray, does not have a problem with collections. In fact, her mission on the show is actually to help these geeks and nerds to be BETTER collectors. She convinces them to properly store and display their items so that they will last longer, to inventory them properly in case of a fire or other disaster, and if they're valuable enough she talks about getting insurance. She tries to help them understand the true value of their collectible pieces, which is something that most collectors have an issue with.

Listen, we all wish that the random limited edition action figure we got at a convention is actually worth a lot and is in high demand because it's "hard to find." But at the end of the day, your stuff is only worth what somebody is willing to pay for it, and if you're not willing to sell it then technically it's not really worth anything except what joy and satisfaction you get from owning it. I collect E.T. memorabilia so really, I get how awesome it is to have something that really, nobody else wants.

At the end of the episode, I actually had useful information and some tips for how to deal with my own collections. I'd heard many times that something is only a collection if you're displaying it in a way it deserves, something I really believe. If you have it shoved in a box in a closet, then you should get it out and display it or let it go because it's not bringing you happiness. Luray takes that point of view and expands on it, helping people understand that it's really okay to own something just because you think it's cool, but that you should really OWN it. Take care of it, value it, and be proud of it.

I'm hoping there will be a second season, because I will tune in every week for it.

Tuesday, December 11, 2012

Is the internet exhausting anybody else?

I've just spent a half hour writing up two different rants, only to delete them both.

The first one, because I knew it would be too difficult for me to really get across what I was trying to say, and I saw how it could be interpreted the wrong way and could be considered hurtful. Which not only would hurt people, which I don't want to do, but also could possibly bring down a bunch of angry people that I don't feel like dealing with. I'm too tired.

The second rant was about how tiring it was to deal with angry people, and some ideas about how I try to do things in order to not be an angry internet person. But then I realized that once again, it would take too many words for me to be completely clear about what I wanted to say, and I came across sounding a lot more responsible and clear headed than I think I really am. I'm also too tired to be that responsible.

Needing a subject for this blog post, I think clicked over to Facebook to see what people were saying, if anything sparked my creativity.

-One friend frequently posts things related to animal activism. Which I fully support, and I thought about writing about adopting shelter pets and supporting no-kill shelters, etc. But then I remembered an argument I saw in the comments of a mostly unrelated post on another blog today where it devolved into a pro-shelter person and a pro-breeder person insulting each other and I yawned because the argument is so old and nobody is budging.

-Another friend posted a link about how Facebook seems to be making people "like" companies and pages even when they don't want to. Facebook insists it's all the people accidentally liking things or maybe the company tricking them into liking things. Other people are showing evidence that people who have died are still clicking "like" and that's probably a red flag. I ended up spending a half hour going through my likes to make sure there wasn't anything weird (there wasn't) and that was tiring too.

-Everybody everywhere is posting about Christmas. Which has two effects: 1-Christmas is exhausting and 2-Facebook is grouping posts again and I hate that and wish it would stop, but the only thing I seem to be able to tell it is that it's an "inappropriate grouping" but it isn't, so what then? There's got to be a setting somewhere but I'm tired of trying to find a setting somewhere.

-I went over to tumblr, where I saw a ton of posts that could inspire me to write, but there were also tons and tons of posts all at once from a few people. I still don't understand how people can find the time to post that much, reblog that much, and generally create that much content. Plus, I don't understand why they don't use the queue feature to spread things out a little more evenly. Now I'm once again trying to figure out how much seeing a person post is worth it when 90% of what they post is of no interest to me, but 10% is cool. If it was spread out, I wouldn't care, but scrolling through three pages of boring is...boring.

-I went over to a favorite blog and I keep making the mistake of reading the comments. I like the idea of comments, I frequently want to know what other people think about things. But everybody seems to be jumping to extremes these days, with no room for in between or even discussion about topics. Especially if it involves parenting. And blogs seem to be eager to publish things that get them more angry comments and fights because that actually gets them more pageviews, which means more money. I don't fault them for that, I just wish we had a system that rewarded people for posting good things or something.

-And in the world of "first world problems" there's too much good stuff out there too. I read a couple dozen different webcomics, and that's after I've cut down and several of my favorites ended. Blogs, review sites, financial tips, consumer awareness, there's so much good information out there and I want to know as much as I can. But there's just SO MUCH and while they all often will just repeat each other, you never know which awesome blog will originate the good story next. How does anybody keep up, or do they just give up?

So yeah, the internet is making me tired today. Which is why I just wrote a thousand words about it...because that's what the internet is for, right?

Friday, December 07, 2012

DVD Review: Murderball

Murderball is an older documentary, I almost labeled this with "classics" but then decided it wasn't quite that old. It came out in 2005, and I have been meaning to watch it every since it was nominated for Best Documentary Feature at the Academy Awards.

One thing about watching older documentaries is that there is no better way to really understand how far and how fast the technology has changed. Murderball is only seven years old, but it has that very distinctive video feel of the time. Since I've been making a documentary, I know what micro-budget docs are filming with these days and how they look, and we've definitely moved on to a slicker look.

But at the end of the day, that grainy look is part of what helps Murderball work. It's definitely a film that holds up years later because the topic is more or less timeless. It's an easy film to sum up: it's a film about the stars of wheelchair rugby and the rivalry between the US and Canadian teams.

It has all the hallmarks of a good sports film, fiction or non. The rivalry has a long history, there's a coach with a history of playing on the U.S. team who left to coach Canada after he didn't make it on the team one year. You've got the expected personalities, and even a "new kid" who is interested in the sport and wants to play. There are even groupies.

From the look of things, the filmmakers were probably filming for a little over a year on the project. So many things happen over that span, and that helps it to follow more narrative ideas as the "characters" grow and change. They reconcile with people from their past, one faces a health crisis, another deals with recovering from the accident that paralyzed him and learns about the sport for the first time.

The trick that makes this all work is that they must have had an amazing editor. The film could have been very scattered, or even very boring. But they don't spend a lot of time on the things that bog down a typical sports documentary and instead focus on the actual people, which is the part everybody cares about anyway. You get the gist of the rules, you learn a bit about the chairs themselves. But anything that you could easily learn with an internet search is left to the wayside unless it's needed to understand the people.

Overall, it was an excellent film and I think any sports fans would enjoy it. Those who like documentary will like it as well, and I think the pace and storytelling skills are good enough that even those who don't like documentaries as much should give it a try.

Thursday, December 06, 2012

Just sleep more, it's easy!

So, for the last three or four days, I've had this really annoying twitch in my right eye. It comes and goes, nothing too bad, just annoying.

I was trying to figure out if there was something I could do about it. Can a warm or cold compress help, would any kind of OTC medication do any good, that kind of thing. Because I can tell it isn't anything problematic, and I'm almost certain it's just from looking at the computer too much because I've been working a lot.

I know that looking up medical advice online is a dangerous thing anyway. But you can usually separate a lot of the junk from the real knowledge relatively easily.

In this case, there were basically only two pieces of advice on every single site I checked: reduce stress and sleep more.

I had another medical issue earlier in the month, and the three different doctors during the course of the day told me I should try to reduce my stress (they didn't mention sleep, I don't think they heard me when I said I'd only slept a couple hours, there were other things on their minds).

It's made me start thinking about it, and how often in my life I've had doctors just tell me to be less stressed out and to sleep more. How often we're told that, repeatedly.

Sure, it's sound advice. We probably all need less stress and more sleep.

But it's nonsensical in a lot of ways, because at the end of the day stress and sleep schedules are widely outside of our control. There are some things we can do, but it only is so much.

Stress often comes from jobs or money, things that we can't just cut out or change or fix easily. At the moment a lot of mine comes from health care and health insurance. But all of the issues with that are pretty much out of my control. Literally an Act of Congress can't manage to take care of most of it.

In the past few months, a significant number of my friends have had problems with their living situations and had to move on short notice. Who knows how many people are currently fighting to deal with their underwater mortgages and foreclosures.

All of this unavoidable stress that so many people are under is of course causing them to have insomnia. Or they're working long hours at multiple jobs so that they can pay for things and don't have time to sleep. Not to mention that Americans all have this cult of exhaustion going on. Have you ever heard two people at a job trying to one up each other with how little sleep they've gotten or how many coffees they've had to drink to be awake. Heck, even the show I'm watching just had a joke about how "we can sleep when we're dead."

Not to mention, how many of us have had bosses that expect long hours and even extra work once you come home? We live in a society that wants us to sacrifice everything, including sleep, to get ahead. And if you don't want to make that sacrifice then you're not just punished, you're shamed and insulted. I once had a job where I had to argue with them repeatedly that it didn't matter if they offered me extra hours or overtime pay, I had other things I was doing (I was a grad student at the time, and I'm married) and that no amount of money was worth my little spare time.

If we're supposed to reduce our stress and sleep better to help our health, then maybe we need to start looking at larger problems in our society and how they're affecting us in both large and small ways.

Castle: Season One

I had put off watching Castle for a long time, for a lot of reasons. I worried that it was only popular because of Nathan Fillion, because sometimes super fans don't always have the best record and are very forgiving of things if their favorite actor is involved (I'm guilty of this too). Also, because I watch way too many murder mysteries. It's one of my favorite genres, but I've felt a little burnt out on them.

I started watching a different police procedural type show recently, and I only got a few episodes in before I just gave up because it felt like more of the same. There was nothing to draw me in, I was just bored with how predictable they've all gotten. And none of the characters really interested me either. I was really afraid that was going to happen with Castle too.
It only took ten minutes of the first episode to change my mind. All I needed was to meet the main characters and I was sold and ready to give this more time.

The thing about mysteries, both novels and shows, is that they are a well worn genre. There are certain character archetypes, relationships, red herrings. The problem is, that for mystery fans, you can't leave these things out. It's a danger with any kind of genre work, you have to be part of the genre but you don't want to be the exact same as everything that came before.

The problem is, that a lot of shows try to circumvent this by doing the whole "but that's in books/on tv/in movies, this is real life!" argument. Don't get me wrong, Castle goes into this too, but they do it in a way that I love. Instead of the skeptical character going "this is real life!" you have Castle spinning his crazy stories and Beckett saying that this is police work, not a novel, and they need evidence. And on top of that: Castle's theories are usually wrong.

The show is just so creative. They're able to give the characters so much backstory, without it feeling forced or inconsistent. Even if the writers don't have the entire long story mapped out, they're very good at staying on track with their characters. Normally the first season of a show is where the characters are figuring out who they are, and the actors are trying to find themselves in the role. But Castle didn't feel that way.

Every single actor on the show is pulling their weight, and they're all amazing. Every character that could be a cardboard stereotype, especially Castle's family, isn't. There isn't a single recurring character that isn't layered, interesting, and awesome in some way.

Even the "Moonlighting" style relationship between Castle and Beckett doesn't feel tiresome and played out, but like two people genuinely getting to know each other and having a relationship build from begrudging co-workers to friends to possibly more.

I haven't really gotten into the specifics of season one, I know. But that's because the specific episodes almost aren't even the point of the show. Yes, the murders are all a little weird but the resolution of them is actually my kind of mystery. They keep me guessing, and with one notable exception, I almost always am following the same dead end trail as the detectives until they prove it wrong. It's the first time in a very long time that I've been excited to not know what's happening, and to have no desire to look up spoilers and know things ahead of time.

Also, unlike some shows on television (some of which Castle calls out without naming and those jokes are hilarious) they actually follow police procedure that seems realistic. Plus, so far I haven't seen them break any laws or violate anybody's civil rights to get the bad guy like some other shows I could name. Beckett actually delegates responsibilities to other departments and members of her team in a realistic way, rather than having some lab tech question suspects or a showing a beat cop running forensic tests or something.

The first season of Castle is only ten episodes, and I can see how it might have been a hard sell to the network in the first place so they only ordered a short season. But it finds it's groove so quickly that I'm still terrified it can't stay this good for that long. But then the season finale ends not on a physical cliffhanger (somebody held at gunpoint, somebody kidnapped, whatever) but on a very strong emotional one. You have to watch the next episode, not to find out what happens (though that's part of it) but to find out how they FEEL about what happened.

And that, my friends, is the mark of good television.

Book Review - Battle Royale

I reviewed the film Battle Royale a while back, and after I watched it I really wanted to read the original novel. I had an eBook version, so a lot of my criticisms I had to pull back because I don't know if the formatting was messed up. I don't know what it is about eBooks but even ones I've bought recently have had some really screwed up formatting going on.

There's also a challenge in reading a book that was originally written in another language. You can never tell if the problem you have is actually in the text or in the translation. Now, this is far from the first time I've read a translated book. The Ring cycle by Koji Suzuki are some of my favorite books. But it doesn't seem like Viz really spent a lot of time on the translation of Battle Royale.

There are plenty of pros to the book version over the manga or the film. There's a lot more story so that it's easier to actually believe the character development and the time frame for everything. Some of the characters are better established and more interesting. Especially when it comes to the main three characters.

The problem is that the characterizations of the villains and their motivations are very, very weak. Both of those villains were better fleshed out or treated in more interesting ways through other iterations of the story.

But the problem was that the writing style was very pulp, which is what lead me to wonder about the translation. It just felt unrefined and a little weak. I know that the original novel wasn't really fancy literature, but this felt even a little more unrefined than I expected. The reading level was just a little low, and that made it less fun to read. Not that it's a particularly fun to read a story about the brutal murder of teenagers by their classmates, but you get my point.

The other problem was that the story was very basic when it came to talking about the characters, or their motivations, or even feelings. But whenever there was a gun involved, it suddenly got very detailed and started sounding like a manual. It's one thing to be concerned about getting the details right but this is over the top.

Overall, I've already talked about the story itself and what I think of it, and it still holds up in the novel. But of the three versions of the story, I'm not sure it's the strongest. Despite the excessive gore and disturbing nature of it, I'd say the manga is probably the strongest version, but the movie and book would be up to personal opinion.

Thursday, November 29, 2012

Pink Ribbons, Inc.

Pink Ribbons, Inc.

As a filmmaker, one of the things you end up asking yourself all the time is "how long is this movie?" And it's also one of the questions other people ask YOU all the time. I've been working on a documentary for a while now, and it's probably in the top five of questions I get asked. Number one, incidentally, is "when will the movie be finished."

The answer to both is similar. It'll be done when it's done. And it'll be as long as it should be.

Stories have a length, and a rhythm. And almost always, films are too long. Especially documentaries. There are a lot of reasons, and I've fallen victim to them all. I'm probably still doing some of these things, so I'm not saying this out of some sort of "I'm better than this" impulse. I'm saying it as somebody who struggles with the exact same things.

Pink Ribbons, Inc. is too long. Which is a hard thing to say, because there's nothing in it that isn't important. The pacing isn't even all that slow, though it is a nice leisurely pace. The problem is that at 98 minutes, absolutely no one is going to see this movie that doesn't already know the contents of it. The message they are trying to get across and who they seem to be trying to speak to aren't the audience for the film.

The audience for a feature length documentary on this subject are people who are already upset about pinkwashing, who already understand the hypocrisy in most Breast Cancer foundations and marketing. And that's the heart of the problem here. I'm not even that involved in the subject or that invested, and there wasn't a single piece of new information in the film for me.

It was packaged well, shot well, and edited well. The graphics were consistent and done nicely. The film used a great device to divide up the different topics covered, by repeatedly going back to visit various charity "walks" and fundraisers and talk with participants about why they were walking and what challenges they were facing.

But I couldn't figure out what it's purpose was. I had a bit of the same problem with the book, which I had thought I would enjoy reading. But it was obviously a thesis paper that was expanded into a book, and the writing was a little dry and a bit hard to crack into for me. And for this kind of topic, that's just not going to make the impact. The reason breast cancer charities can do so many immoral things is because they're so very, very good at speaking in a simple, common language that encourages people of all ages and education levels to get involved and support them. If you want to expose their problems, you have to speak to the same audience just as well, or better, than the charity themselves. The book didn't accomplish that.

I feel like the movie was an attempt to do it, and like I said, there's no one place where they fail. They actually do manage to explore the difficult topics in ways that are accessible. But who is going to watch it, in the end? People who walk in the fundraisers aren't going to seek this film out, and if they come across it the first thing they'll think is "why would I spend 90 minutes of my life being told I'm wrong and part of the problem?"

The trailer for the film actually was extremely well done. It touched on the various topics quickly, and was this great little snippet to really make people think and possible make them want to research the topic more. If you pulled out any one segment of the finished documentary, I think it could do the same thing. There were several graphic moments about the marketing of breast cancer themed products that I think should be made into PSAs immediately.

In the end, the film is fine. It's even good. But since it offered nothing really new to people who are already even vaguely on their side, I can only assume the intended audience was people who don't know any of this information. And I don't think that those people are going to watch a feature length documentary, I don't think they'll even get through the first thirty minutes. If the filmmakers are planning an action campaign, or if this was intended as part of an action campaign, I think the best thing to do would be to start breaking out portions of the film and making shorter sections that are available online through YouTube or Vimeo, something embeddable. Then start encouraging different websites to blog about them, and at the end of each video you can say, "if you want to see everything, then watch the film."

Because it is all important, and it is well presented if you're wanting to reach a new audience with these facts. But how do you get that new audience? That's the question. I'm hoping the filmmakers have already thought about this and are working on it. Or that those who participated in the film are. Because in the end, we as filmmakers have to remember not to preach to the choir.

Wednesday, November 28, 2012

Supernatural "Rewatch" end of Season One!

I'm trying something a little new with my product ads. Not sure how much I'll like it or if I'll switch back to the Amazon Associates thing. Not that either is bringing in money for me. I would love it so much if I could get at least the money I spend on domain registration through ads, anybody got ideas for that?

Anyway, nobody cares about that, it's time for the SEASON ONE FINALE OF THE SUPERNATURAL REWATCH POSTS!

Salvation: Part One - So the big thing I have to say about this episode is "thank goodness, we're finally here!" And also "thank you for having some pay off for all of that set-up!" Finally, Meg has a larger purpose. Finally, Sam's visions mean something and matter to the plot more than just being a convenient device (though honestly they're still a bit of a convenient device here, but hey, progress!). Finally, the complicated relationship between the Winchesters is going somewhere! It might even be somewhere that makes a season of yo-yo emotions worth it somehow, but I was holding out judgement at this point.

Everything about this episode was well done, and when I was starting to feel a bit lukewarm about the whole show, it's a good thing this came around. I wasn't entirely sure I'd keep going after the end of season one, at the least I was going to call up people who had seen further and ask them if it was worth it or if I should just skip ahead or something. But thankfully it didn't come to that.

John Winchester's laying the groundwork for his meeting with Meg, I loved. The brother's and how they dealt with each other, their dad, and their own emotions. It was all good. It almost (almost) makes me forgive the show for not letting them grow a bit more, because this was a good emotional place for them to be for this story. I have my arguments on what they should have done instead, but whatever, I enjoyed it and I'll let it all go. Even my two favorite shows had uneven first seasons (though you can't accuse B5 of not having plot and character development).

Though I expected this episode to actually be the cliffhanger season finale. Though I had an idea what I was in for in the next episode, this was where most people would have ended it. But instead Supernatural ups the stakes EVEN MORE.

Devil's Trap: Part Two - I maybe should have done this as just one long review of the two episodes together, because everything I have to say about this one I've kind of already said. But I love the fact that the show revealed aspects of John Winchester's character not by having him do something, but because of Dean and Sam knowing their father so well.

Plus, I have to say - Bobby instantly became my favorite character pretty much the second he stepped on screen. I like the idea of the show branching out into having a few more recurring characters, because having to have the emotional arc of every episode dependent on the brothers was getting worn. With another family-type figure in their life, they can start to really do something new or explore the same ideas from new angles. And plus, Bobby just seems really freakin' awesome.

The episode succeeds because it takes a physical confrontation and makes it an emotional one instead, which is what all good television should do. I really liked it, and though I think the last thirty seconds were a bit of a cop-out, it proved that the boys aren't safe and that their journey is just going to continue. And it was probably the best way in the world to make sure that I put in the next disc to start season two because there was no WAY I wasn't going to find out what happened next.

Now that I'm done with season one, I'm going to review a few other shows for a little bit before moving on to season two! But I am going to keep watching, I'm really getting into this show.

Tuesday, November 27, 2012

Letting little girls be little girls

I read several advice columns on a regular basis, and one of them today had a letter from a stepmother who was butting heads with the mother of her seven-year-old stepdaughter over clothing, makeup, and apparently hair dye.

I have to say, if I was writing the column, my advice would have been, "then stop fighting and relax."

I admit, part of this perspective comes from the fact that my mom very rarely fought with me on these topics. I started dying my hair when I was a teenager, though I can't remember exactly when. And I didn't go with normal colors, I mostly tried out purple, green, blue, and other unnatural shades. I didn't wear makeup because I just didn't really care, but I would spend hours every week painting my nails with colors and patterns. The kind of thing you find on Pinterest now, that's really popular among a lot of age groups, that's what I was doing then.

I can still remember once when I went to a church function with my hair dyed purple, and somebody asked my mom why she let me do that. Mom just shrugged it off, saying that hair dye fades out, or hair grows out, so it wasn't like it was a big deal. I don't think I even understood why this was a big deal for me until recently, when I read a this quote:

“This is a world where women, girls are constantly reminded that they don’t belong to themselves; that their bodies are not their own, nor their power or self determination. I made a promise to endow my little girl with the power to always know that her body, spirit and her mind are HER domain.

Willow cut her hair because her beauty, her value, her worth is not measured by the length of her hair. It’s also a statement that claims that even little girls have the RIGHT to own themselves and should not be a slave to even their mother’s deepest insecurities, hopes and desires. Even little girls should not be a slave to the preconceived ideas of what a culture believes a little girl should be."
-Jada Pinkett Smith (quoted from Refinery29)

This wasn't the first time I had heard this sentiment from Willow Smith's parents either, here's an older quote from Will Smith:
"We let Willow cut her hair. When you have a little girl, it's like how can you teach her that you're in control of her body? If I teach her that I'm in charge of whether or not she can touch her hair, she's going to replace me with some other man when she goes out in the world. She can't cut my hair but that's her hair. She has got to have command of her body. So when she goes out into the world, she's going out with a command that it is hers. She is used to making those decisions herself. We try to keep giving them those decisions until they can hold the full weight of their lives."

-Will Smith (quoted from ABC News)

And when I thought about it, I realized that by letting my dye my hair, and paint my nails, and letting me reflect my opinions and taste through how I presented myself, my mom was doing the same thing she'd done my whole life. She was letting me be independent and be myself. I was learning to make my own choices, I was learning that I was the ultimate authority on my own body. And sometimes, I lose that lesson in all the deluge of crap that women get faced with every day. Sometimes, I see a bunch of haters and trolls online insulting women for the sin of not being attractive enough and I forget.

I hope that the stepmother from the advice column takes a deep breath and thinks about WHY she cares so much. Why does she want her stepdaughter not to wear short shorts? Why does she want her not to wear lipstick? And then she should ask her stepdaughter why she wants to wear these things. Why, at seven, does she want to dye her hair? Is it to look like her mom? Is it because her favorite actress has a different hair color? Is she being teased at school? Quite a few girls start to want to alter their appearance and their bodies because they're being told they're ugly.

Or is this little girl being encouraged by her mom to do zany things because the mom is trying to get back at the stepmother? Or is the stepmother saying and doing things that the child is hearing as "I have to change to make myself pretty?"

At the end of the day, it's the why that matters, not the clothes. Not the haircut, not the makeup. Because if a seven year old looks at all the adult women in her life and sees that they wear makeup and hears women say that makeup makes them beautiful and that they aren't worth looking at until they've "put on their face" then she's going to internalize that to herself and want to follow. Adult women say these things themselves, this isn't just something little girls get from advertising.

It's only once she knows why that the stepmother can even approach the topic from a sensible angle that isn't just slapping down a little girl's control over her own body. And she'll lose that control to society pretty quickly if she isn't reminded that it's hers. This is a chance for the stepmother to help her daughter grow into a strong, confident, and intelligent young woman. And she wants to just say "no, there's a ban on shorts in my house."

Parenting is harder than any other job in this life, but I think we can do better than that.

Monday, November 26, 2012

Supernatural Season One "Rewatch"

Obviously I've had some more trouble keeping up with things. My health has been kind of up and down over the last few months, so I'm working on scheduling myself a bit better to keep up with this. I've got some ideas, we'll see if they work out.

But for now, back to the Supernatural Rewatch!

Hell House: This episode was a little weird for me. I really enjoyed a lot of the humor in it, but I felt like the "explanation" was a little weird. But I'll forgive it, because like I said, it was really funny.

I was especially amused by the fake ghost hunters and their website, since I've run across that kind of thing quite a lot before. Especially when I was researching amateur ghost hunting for a web series that I worked on. The series did a great job parodying ghost hunting in general.

Also, the monster in this one was actually pretty creepy to me for some reason. So good job all around, even if it was a one-off monster of the week episode.

Something Wicked: This episode generally exists so we can get more into Sam and Dean's backstory, and oddly enough they manage to delve into a dynamic that we hadn't really been getting into before. Usually the Sam vs. Dean fight is "I hate Dad vs We Owe Dad Obedience" fight. But instead this time it's about how Dean was expected to care for Sam even at too young an age. Which is a tried and true sibling dynamic, and much more interesting.

The monster in this was also very creepy, hit on a lot of my own childhood fears. I did think that the third act of the episode was a little rushed and less developed. They focused a bit too much on the character development and forgot the plot too long, so they had to wrap it up quickly. Which isn't the worst thing in the world.

Provenance: This episode was a little predictable, mostly because if you hire Jodelle Ferland to play a small child, said small child will be evil. Which is fine typecasting because at the end of the day she's so dang good at it. But it would be interesting to see somebody hire her as a red herring instead of being so cute she must be evil.

But I enjoyed a lot of things about this episode. Though I get tired of the common trope of "you have to move on and get back in the saddle" after your girlfriend/wife/lover/whatever dies, I thought they actually did a great job of establishing a love interest that was believable and likable, which is more than I can say for Dean's love interest in the Ghost Truck episode. I'm pretty positive she never comes back, and that really depresses me. They did too well establishing her, and I liked her. And that's the problem with this show for me so far, the biggest issue. I get that it's a show featuring two men, but I'm tired of the disposable women.

Dead Man's Blood: I'm really liking the show's take on vampires, and their strengths and weaknesses. It's a little traditional, in this era where everybody is wanting to play with the mythology and do new and different things. But it works really well in Supernatural. Plus, we're finally back to the main story with the demon that killed Mary Winchester, and adding in a new piece - the Colt. I knew that piece was coming, but I enjoyed the way it was introduced.

Though the one problem I had here was that we've spent an entire season hearing Sam and Dean run around and around the same arguments about their dad. So by the time we actually had John Winchester it the mix, it was old and tired. I wanted Sam to display even a tiny bit of growth and clarity on the subject, but instead he regressed even further and turned a bit whiny.

I know, I'm going to get yelled at for not liking Sam all the time, but I'm really a much bigger fan of Dean because he at least seems to be changing and growing when it comes to the subject of their Dad. He may fall back into just following orders, but he's not as blind about it as Sam seems to think.

On Thursday, I'll be finally posting about the end of this season and moving on to Season two!

Wednesday, October 17, 2012

Back to the Supernatural Rewatch!

Sorry that I've fallen out of updating! It's been a rough couple of months but I'm getting back into this and trying to finish season one of the rewatch reviews! I'm going to cover four episodes this time because let's face it, the only thing about season one is getting to the reveals at the end.

Route 666: Honestly, the less I say about this episode the better. Everything about it was pretty weak, from the love interest (hello, we're back to our pretty girls in peril who are never seen again theme) to the bad guy (a ghost monster truck that doesn't look anything but 80's) are just really, really dull. Even the character development is There's pretty much nothing about it that I cared for.

Nightmare: This episode revealed some character and some overall mythology and so that was good. But there were so many parts of it that felt like cheating. Like the reveal that Max was being beaten. The neighbor says that he saw clear evidence of child abuse, but doesn't even throw out a "I called the cops but they couldn't do anything" or something. So that's just great, you've got a guy with all kinds of knowledge that we need to solve the mystery but not enough character development to actually do anything about it himself. Sure, he's a bit part, but the only piece of good screenwriting advice I got from one of my first teachers was "every character thinks he's the main character." So really, it was like this guy knew about the abuse for the five minutes the Winchesters were there, and then he goes back into the bin where they keep exposition characters.

Sam's powers came off awfully convenient too, and while the show made an attempt to build them over time, this episode seemed to go too far, too fast for my taste. I liked the kid with the telekinetic powers getting his revenge, and the way that Sam's visions were worked in. But I just feel like there was too much all at once here.

The Benders: Geezey, this was a heck of an episode. It made me think of The X-Files again, but in a very good way. It worked in all the ways the previous two didn't. The character development and the relationship arcs were more subtle and believable. And the guest character, Deputy Hudak, was one of the best they'd had so far. She wasn't some love interest that the boys had to save, and she took charge. She was one of my favorite guests this whole season. I also really enjoyed that it took the brothers so long to figure out what was going on because their minds were jumping too quickly to demons and the paranormal when it was really just regular weirdo murderers.

Shadow: Two huge thumbs up for Sam not being stupid! I was fully expecting him to just be so excited to see Meg that he falls for whatever weirdness she's up to. But instead he goes straight to skeptical, thank goodness.

But who cares about that, it's the return of John Winchester! Perfect timing too, if there was one thing this season really handled well it was how they drew out and dealt with the mystery with Daddy Winchester. He appeared just often enough to stay interesting, he shows up for a little longer each time, and each time it shows a bit more of their relationships. The whole episode was really well done, it stands out for me as one of the best ones of the season.

Think ahead, in life and in politics

One thing that has started to bother me a bit in this election season is that I think people have lost a lot of the sense of what it is the best people in the world try to do, which is think more about the future than right now.

It's a hard thing to do, there's actually a lot of research out there where scientists are trying to figure out why we are so focused on instant gratification instead of our futures. We do it all the time when we charge a meal out on a credit card that we can't pay off by the end of the month, or buy a pair of shoes we don't really need and then never wear just because they're SO cute.

But it's never more important to think about the future than when we're facing an election, or when we're advocating for legislation.

The common thing that makes people finally think about the future is when they have children. They want to leave the country a better place for their kids. But it seems like these days, people either care less about their kid's future than their own comfort or they're really not understanding at all what the next generation needs or is going to need.

As someone who doesn't have kids, and doesn't plan to, I find it even MORE important for me to try to leave behind a world that is better than I found it because my legacy won't be left with children. My legacy is doing my part, by voting, by supporting specific legislation, and by promoting causes I believe in.

It's vital that right now those of us who are old enough to vote and to create change in our government actually think about what we're doing. No knee-jerk reactions, no quick assessments. We need to really look into the issues and think not about how something will serve us this instant, or tomorrow, or a year from now. How will it change things in ten years, in twenty, in a generation?

As a country, I don't feel we've done that for a long time, and now we're in the middle of the fallout from a lot of things that were good ideas at the time, that helped in the short run, but that ended up doing more long term harm than even that short term good. We think selfishly, we assume that other people have had the same opportunities that we have or better. We want everything to be for ME and for RIGHT NOW. And that's a poor way to run a government, a country, or a life.

One way we can start thinking about our future is promoting better education for all of America's youth. More teachers, more money for schools, more schools even. We need to make sure that no child in any public school leaves elementary school without being able to read. We need to make sure they graduate high school able to communicate, to think, and to do the things they need to survive in life.

We need to end the restrictive testing guidelines that are strangling our teachers and keeping them from actually helping children. We need to let schools and teachers have the time, money, and support they need to take the curriculum we've been teaching for so long and revolutionize it to something that will actually work in the modern era. What worked even when I was in high school won't work now and we need to stop making it so hard for teachers to keep up, to reach their students, and to be current.

And we need to stop the ridiculousness that is the higher education system right now. College should not be prohibitively expensive, and every child who wants to learn more and have a greater education should have that opportunity. It's very true that college isn't always the best path for every person, and that we should think about the benefits of community colleges and public schools before trying to make sure everybody can go to Harvard or Yale. But at the same time, if a child wants to go to college and learn more that child will benefit their community in the long run. And so the community can and should invest in that child's future because it is also an investment in the community itself.

If giving a child $1,000 in a grant today for tuition will help them earn a business degree, then they'll take that degree and form a small business. They could hire local workers, they would be paying taxes back to the local community. The service they provide will increase the quality of life for their town. Everybody wins when even one member of the community is more educated.

Even if you take something so simple as literacy, it's clear from all the statistics I have ever seen that there is a link between criminal behavior and illiteracy. Simply by making sure that every child in your community can read, you will be reducing the crime rate and everybody wins.

So while you're going to the polls, think for a minute. Don't think about what you had to go through to get your degree, it doesn't matter. Don't think about your own student loan debt (though I know it's hard to forget, trust me mine is crushing). Don't think about the past, or how things were. Don't think just about yourself.

Think about how to make the entire country a better place. Think about which amendments will do that, which proposals will help our nation's children become smarter. Vote for the people who support our future. Because I don't know about you, but I'm willing to sacrifice a little right now if it means I have a lot more than I would have later on.

And sometimes I'm willing to sacrifice so that somebody else will have more. Because that's what a good person does.

Tuesday, September 18, 2012

Living in the future: music storage edition

The other day I was trying to find something in my office, which is also the only place that I still have a stereo, so it's where I keep my CDs.

The course of going through things brought me to the decision to grab all these old burned mix CDs and rip the songs back off of them to my hard drive, so that I could get rid of them because I knew a lot of them were duplicates. Various mixes that had similar songs, that kind of thing. Or ones where I have since bought the whole CD, or never deleted the MP3 in the first place.

As I was doing this, I remembered that I made these CDs in the first place because my old hard drive was running out of space and mp3s were such huge files, I couldn't keep them digitally.

So the irony that I was now putting them back on the hard drive because CDs take up too much physical space wasn't lost on me.

Then I had one that was scratched to the point where it wouldn't play anymore. And it got me thinking about how silly CDs are going to look in another generation. They were so fragile. They couldn't take heat or cold, scratches were a constant issue. You couldn't bend them too much, or put too much weight on them. How silly were we to think it was a good idea?

Of course this started me on a conversation with my cousin about all the various media that humans have used for music, and in the end it seems like we still haven't figured out something that was crazy fragile in some way. Records melt in the heat and have the same scratching problem. Cassettes were vulnerable to magnets and getting eaten alive by your stereo.

Even hard drives are problematic in some ways, largely the fact that one day it could just fail to boot up for whatever wacky reason it feels like, and then you're stuck. So now we not only have music collections, we have backups of our music collections. I'm not sure if that's a step in the right direction.

But at the very least, we do finally have the space thing taken care of. While I do think shelves full of records look pretty cool, it is nice that my entire collection of music fits on something smaller than a hardcover book.

Monday, September 17, 2012

An American's Most Important Job

A lot of people have been grumping a lot about people talking too much about the election and making too many political posts.

Let's be honest, when most people post "I'm tired of political posts on Facebook" what they mean is "I'm tired of people posting things I disagree with on Facebook." Because if they agree, then by all means, it's open season to promote that side of things.

I promote some political things on my Facebook account, and I admit that I'm tired of finding out that people I used to like have beliefs I can't respect. So I'm not saying I'm blameless here.

But I'm going to try to be bipartisan for a second and ask that every single American Citizen that may come across this do me a huge favor:

Don't just vote.

Educate yourself. And then vote.

And when I say educate yourself, I don't mean watch the news. Because if there's anything this election has taught us it's that the news is no longer a valid source of credible information.

NONE of the news channels are anymore, okay? Not the liberal ones and not the conservative ones. PLEASE, I'm seriously begging, do not just get all your political information from one news source and make your decisions based on that.

We're all being lied to on multiple levels by the news media. Outright lies, lies of omission,'s rampant and it's disgusting.

So please, get online, and start looking around at some of the bipartisan efforts to inform voters.

Start by finding out where the candidates stand based on your OWN beliefs at "I Side With." Their website lets you mark each question with how important it is to you in order to help you find out which candidate is most like you and in what ways.

Once you've got an idea of the candidates and how they feel about the issues, then you also want to stay up to date on two different websites that have proven repeatedly and through multiple elections that they will present the most unbiased and factual information available: is run by Annenberg Public Policy Center at the University of Pennsylvania. This is probably one of the most quoted sites for other news outlets (the ones who bother to deal with fact checking) and it's for good reason. They're comprehensive, and they don't hesitate to call people out for lies, exaggerations, false impressions, and out of context quotes.

Politifact is a good stop if you want a quick graphic interpretation of what's true and what isn't. Their truth-o-meter has a variety of settings, but the most infamous is "pants on fire" which is getting thrown around a bit more in this election than last. They're also very good for checking on your local races, since those actually are almost more vital than the presidential race most years. I know I spent a few hours on it recently checking up on the various Virginia politicians up for election this time around.

And a final recommendation: if you read a story that seems outrageous and ridiculous, then do a quick check on Snopes to see if it's actually remotely true or not. This is especially vital for email forwards that you might get, EVEN if they're saying something terrible about the guy you hate. We all should be striving to be the kind of people that dislike somebody based on what they actually said and did, not some random rumor that somebody we barely knew in high school mass forwarded.

So please, be active, be involved. Care about our government, because we elected these people and we deserve to be represented by them. But don't base that vote on random things you're learning from the evening news or Facebook posts. Listen, learn, read, educate yourself, and vote responsibly.

Because let's face it, the mess we're in is because people don't vote with their brains, they vote with anger and misinformation.

And just in case, make sure that you're registered to vote! If you're over 18 and you fit the requirements, then it's vital that you turn up at the polls in November!

Wednesday, September 12, 2012

Book Review - Street Gang: The Complete History of Sesame Street

Is there anybody under the age of 35 in America that didn't grow up with Sesame Street? I guess there are those people who don't have televisions or allow their children to watch them. Like the Amish.

To be honest, I feel like even the Amish know Sesame Street.

I did watch a lot of Big Bird and Grover when I was little, but the draw that brought me to this book was actually a deep, lifelong love of Jim Henson. It's funny, while most of his most famous works were made when I was very young (and I was only ten when he died so suddenly) my respect and admiration for Henson has actually been something that's steadily grown as I've gotten older and more knowledgeable about him and the industry.

He was a man who had a lot of beliefs that he wanted to impart, but at the same time didn't feel a need to be serious or adult about it. He understood the need to be silly, to play, and to be irreverent. He mocked, but with a good heart. And he fostered creativity, mentored artists, and created a community of performers that made the most enduring media of my childhood. That deserves respect. The more I learn about him, the higher he climbs on my list of most admired filmmakers/media professionals.

So I'll give you a quick warning, if you want to pick up Street Gang to learn a lot of new and fascinating things about Henson then you should look elsewhere. This isn't a book about Jim Henson, it's a book about Joan Cooney.

Actually, to be fair there is a very large cast of characters, dozens of people are discussed in detail during the course of the book (and I'll talk more about that later) but while the book does discuss Henson more often than some, the person it comes back to time and time again is Joan Ganz Cooney, one of the founders of the Children's Television Workshop and the driving force behind the existence of Sesame Street.

This book shines when talking about Cooney, or maybe it's that she shines. She's fascinating, and before I picked up Street Gang I hadn't heard of her. Which made me feel a little ashamed because as a female media professional, she's an amazing role model and one of the women who really forged a path that I've been lucky enough to follow in my own small ways.

The author must have had an amazing interview with Cooney, because she gives wonderful sound bites, she has great stories to tell. I honestly would love to see a straight biography about her, or maybe a documentary.

Which brings me to the problem I had - Street Gang is fantastic when it has a focus. But it has the short attention span of the children who watch the show. There are so many characters, because it seems the author didn't want to leave anybody out. I would have needed to make a chart to keep up with them so I spent the later chapters usually having no idea which person I was reading about unless the author reminded us of something that happened to them.

The other major problem that caused me a lot of confusion was the chronology. Basically there wasn't one. It's fine that the book starts with Henson's funeral and then moves back to Cooney's upbringing, that's a narrative device I can get behind.

The problem is that the author wants to both follow narrative threads to their conclusion and also keep the book in chronological order. Which are two tasks that will always be difficult, if not impossible, to accomplish together. Frequently a section will go through three or four years of history and then the next section will suddenly be back to five years before the other started. I had a lot of trouble lining up the whens, whos, and wheres. Especially since everybody's name started with a J (I'm only half joking).

It took me a very long time to read Street Gang, which is a bit sad because the material is so fantastic. I'm not entirely sure how the author could have solved the problems I had with it, because there is just so much history and so many people, and there's nobody that I read about and thought "who cares, why are we talking about them?" They all had a valuable part to play.

If you're a big fan of Sesame Street, then this book is an absolute must. If you're interested in television or education, it's also probably right up your alley. And if you're a Henson fan, there are a lot of stories about him in there, he's just not really the focus at all. But that's good, because Cooney deserves the spotlight, so the book is worth reading just to learn more about her.

State of the Blog!

You may have noticed that it's been about a month since I posted anything.

Long story short, I've had a bit of a personal medical issue, among a lot of other craziness and stress, and I let the blog go to the back burner for a little bit.

I'll be trying to fix that now! I may not go back and post extra stuff to make up for the lost days, but I'll post all the stuff for this week and a book review since I missed that one for the first part of this month too. I'll try to throw in some extra posts to make up for the missing month but I'm not going to be too methodical about it like I was last time, I'm just going to try to go back on schedule now.

Thanks for waiting!

Saturday, August 18, 2012

Quick Break: Selling Comics!

So, a quick break from the normal reviews because I need a simple webpage to steer people to with this information.

I'm selling off a comic collection that I bought years ago. I've been trying (and failing) to sell off the comics for about six years now so I'm really ready for them to be gone. I'm making a big effort this time to get them out of the house! In addition, I racked up about $1,000 in medical bills last month because of an emergency room visit, so I really need to get some extra money to deal with that.

To that end, I'm making a Google Docs spreadsheet with everything that's available. It has ordering information, shipping fees and everything listed there. I'll update once a day to make sure that it stays accurate with what is still available.

They're all priced fairly, most of them are $1 or less.

Here's a list of the titles I have for sale, so that you know to go look!

2000 A.D. Showcase
2001: A Space Odyssey
Alpha Flight
Alpha Flight Annual
Amazing Spider-Man Annual
Amethyst Princess of Gemworld
Amy Papuda
Avengers Spotlight
Axel Press Button
Batman - Judge Dredd Judgement on Gotham
Batman (in Portguese)
Batman and other DC Classics
Beauty and the Beast
Berni Wrightson Master of the Macabre
Blade Runner
Blue Ribbon Comics
Buffy Season 8
Captain Harlock
Captain Justice
Captain Power and the Soldiers of the Future
Cardcaptor Sakura
Cat Claw
Code Name: Danger
Conan the Barbarian
Crimson Plague
D.P. 7 (New Universe)
Dakota North Investigations
Damage Control
Dare the Impossible
Darklon the Mystic
Deep Space Nine/Star Trek The Next Generation
Destroyer: The Adventures of Remo And Chiun
Dirty Pair
Dirty Pair Book Three: A Plague of Angels
Dirty Pair II
DNAgents (The New)
Doctor Strange
Doctor Strange Sorcerer Supreme
Donald Duck
Elektra Assassin
ElfQuest Kings of the Broken Wheel
Fafhrd and the Gray Mouser
Falcon (The)
Fallen Angels
Fantastic Four
Fantastic Four Annual
Fantastic Four Versus the X-Men
First (The)
Fred Hembeck Destroys the Marvel Universe
G.I. Joe
G.I. Joe Special Missions
Gargoyle (The)
Ghost Rider
Ghost Rider (1982)
Gunsmith Cats: Mister V
Havok & Wolverine Meltdown
Hercules: Prince of Power
Howard the Duck
Human Fly
Impossible Man Annual, The
Incredible Hulk
Indiana Jones (The Further Adventures of)
Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom
Iron Man
Judge Dredd
Justice (New Universe)
Kazar the Savage (1981)
Kickers Inc.
Kitty Pryde and Wolverine
Knights of Pendragon
Last One, The
Last Starfighter
Law of Dredd
Legion Lost
Legion Worlds
Lum (Urusei Yatsura)
Machine Man
Machine Man (1984)
Man-Thing, The
Marc Spector: Moon Knight
Mark Hazzard: Merc
Marvel Age
Marvel Comics Presents
Marvel Fanfare
Marvel Premiere Featuring Doctor Who
Marvel Saga
Marvel Super Action
Marvel Super-Heroes
Marvel Team-Up
Marvel Two-In-One
Master of Kung Fu
Masters of the Universe
Micronauts Annual
Micronauts The New Voyages
Mighty Thor, The
Moon Knight
Muppets Take Manhattan
Namor: The Sub-Mariner
Nemesis the Warlock
New Talent Showcase
New Warriors
Next Man
Nick Fury Agent of Shield
Nightmask (1986)
Ninja High School
No-Prize Book
Nth Man
Official Handbook of the Marvel Universe
Official Handbook of the Marvel Universe, Update '89
One, The
Power Man and Iron Fist
Power Pack
Prince Namor: The Sub-Mariner
Psi Force (1984)
Psi Force Annual
Psi Judge Anderson
Punisher War Journal
Punisher, The (1989)
Quasar (1989)
Questprobe (1985)
Record of Lodoss War: Chronicles of the Heroic Knight
Record of Lodoss War: Deedlit's Tale
Record of Lodoss War: The Grey Witch
Record of Lodoss War: The Lady of Pharis
Robotech Defenders (1985)
Rocket Raccoon
Rom Spaceknight
Savage She-Hulk
Secret Wars (Marvel Super-Heroes)
Secret Wars II
Sensational She-Hulk
Shadow Lady
Shadowmen, The
Silver Sufer Annual (1989)
Sisterhood of Steel
Six from Sirius (1984)
Solo Avengers starring Hawkeye (1987)
Spider-Man 2099
Spitfire and the Troubleshooters (1986)
Squadron Supreme (1985)
Star Brand (1986)
Star Brand Annual
Star Trek: Deep Space Nine
Star Wars
Star Wars: Return of the Jedi
Starjammers (X-Men Spotlight On)
Strange Tales (1987)
Strikeforce Morituri
Strikeforce Morituri Electric Undertow
Super-Villain Team-Up
Superboy (The New Adventures of)
Sword of Solomon Kane
Swords of the Swashbucklers
Tales of the Teen Titans
Team America
Terminator, The
The Saga of Crystar Crystal Warrior
Thing, The
Time Bandits
US 1
V: The Visitors Are Our Friends
Vision and the Scarlet Witch
Walt Disney's Comics and Stories
Warp Graphics Annual
Warriors of Plasm
Web of Spider-Man Annual
West Coast Avengers, The
What if...
What the...
Wild C.A.T.S.
Wild Cards
X-Factor Annual
X-Files Annual
X-Files Digest
X-Files, Special Edition
X-Files, The
X-Men (Classic)
X-Men and Alpha Flight
X-Men and the Micronauts
X-Men Annual
X-Men Vs. The Avengers

Thursday, August 16, 2012

Why I need you to think before you vote

So, I want you to do something with me. I'm going to take you back, not too far back, but back into some recent history.

2005 to be exact.

You don't need too many details to picture me, because I'm pretty typical. In fact, I fit nearly every majority in America. I'm white, I'm Christian, and I grew up middle class in a small town in the South. So really, white Christian girl, I'm sure you've got a frame of reference for that. We're everywhere.

When the year 2005 opens, I was a college educated woman living on my own, working full time for just enough money to pay my bills and cover my debts, but not enough to save any money.

I was doing okay, making ends meet somehow and all that. And then I got engaged! Shortly after announcing my engagement, right in the midst of planning the wedding and my move to the other end of the state, I was let go from my job.

Have you ever looked for a job when you know you'll be leaving town in less than six months? Nobody wants to hire you, and they certainly won't pay you enough to pay off student loans, credit card payments, rent, and grocery bills. Forget health care.

So for six months, I had to live off of the kindness of family and friends. My student loans were deferred, racking up interest while I couldn't pay them. My credit card bills were suddenly only getting paid at the bare minimum and their interest rates spiked up to almost 30% APR. My credit rating was taking a slow nose dive, but through the generosity of family and friends, along with my fiance, I survived.

I got married in September, and I moved to where I live now, in Northern Virginia. Because my work history was suddenly quite spotty, and I had no reference from my last job, I ended up taking a retail job with a company I had been working part time with for years.

I don't remember how long it was before my insurance kicked in. I don't even remember if I got insurance through my job or my husband's. I just know that for most of 2005, I was without health insurance because I either had no job, or I was waiting to be added to a new policy.

In the meantime, I was a newlywed. A newlywed with a difficult financial situation, and a job with little to no security and odd hours. This was not a time where we could have properly cared for children, even if we wanted to start a family. In addition to that, I have a very long family history of cancer, and thus I take whatever option I have available for early detection.

This may come as a shock to a lot of Americans today, but there was only one option available to me that would help with this situation: Planned Parenthood.

At the time, it wasn't even a difficult decision. I needed health care and cancer screenings. I needed to take control of my body and my fertility in order to make sure that we could recover from the bad situation I had created that year. There was only one place that offered those services in my area, and that was Planned Parenthood.

So, I'm going to remind you of what I said in the top of this entry: I am a white, Christian, straight, middle-class woman with a Bachelor's degree. At the time, both my husband and I were employed full time. And I needed the services of Planned Parenthood, because there was no other way for me to get what I needed to help make my future a more stable one.

The reason I bring this up to you is because both Mitt Romney and Paul Ryan have clearly stated that it is their mission to take that away from every American women. They can frame it however they want, you can make whatever excuses you want, but this is the reality: defunding Planned Parenthood, denying access to birth control, and not allowing women the rights to make their own personal choices is going to hurt women like me.

You can talk all you want about abortions (which is not what Planned Parenthood does, I tell you from personal experience and known FACT that this is not their mission) but you're not stopping abortions (which are legal) but hurting women and men who want to make sure that they're ready for children before they have them.

You can say you're limiting birth control from "whores" and "sluts" but you're also denying birth control to married couples who want to plan their children so they can give the next generation the brightest future possible.

You can say that people can pay for their own pills, that there are other options out there, but there aren't. In many places, places I have lived, places I have been, there are not other options.

If you're trying to imagine the type of woman who goes to Planned Parenthood, the type of woman who needs birth control, the type of woman who will be severely hurt by Romney and Ryan's proposals, then here you go, I'll give you that image again:

I am a white, Christian, married woman. I married a man I had been dating for five and a half years. I grew up with small town values and a middle class life. I might just look like you, or your daughter, or your cousin, or friend. Generally every choice I have made with my life is the choice that conservatives are saying I should make.

And I needed Planned Parenthood.

So when you vote for Mitt Romney, or you support those who wish to defund Planned Parenthood or limit access to birth control for ALL women, I want you to know what you are doing.

You are voting against me. You are walking into that booth and you are saying that you are okay with hurting the majority of American women in order to hurt the ones you don't like.

You are vocally stating that all of these other women are acceptable collateral damage to whatever it is you think is worth this. The media, the pundits, the politicians, they're trying to make this about something else. They're pretending that a certain type of woman goes to Planned Parenthood, that a certain type of woman uses birth control. I am standing here right now telling you that they are wrong. Every type of woman goes to Planned Parenthood. Many types of woman use birth control.

And those women are the ones who will suffer if Mitt Romney is elected.

Wednesday, August 08, 2012

Don't forget to check the "supernatural rewatch" tag to see all the posts in this series!

Scarecrow: On the one hand, the actual plot of Scarecrow sounds pretty lame on paper. But somehow this episode really works, and it delves into a lot of great aspects of the world. Plus it has a surprise visit from William B. Davis, which is always nice.

By the end of the episode we're back to a girl being in mortal danger and having to get saved by the brothers never to be seen again, but hey, we had a good break there, right?

The things this episode does best actually don't have to do with the main plot of the townspeople and the bad demon of the week. It's about Sam and Dean, and their relationship with their father. John Winchester's phone call at the beginning highlights the differences between Sam and Dean perfectly, and while I was trying to give him the benefit of the doubt that was the start of my intense dislike for John. Sam might be a little unrealistic with his wants sometimes, and yes sometimes you just have to listen to authority and they know what's best. But Sam very rarely, if ever, asks for anything out of line. He just wants to be informed, and given at least the semblance of a choice. And he wants revenge on a demon that killed his girlfriend and mother, who can blame him?

With this episode we also get the appearance of Meg, who is so obviously bad news from the moment you meet her that I'm hoping the creators weren't even bothering to try to pretend she was just a normal girl. Because if they thought the reveal at the end was a reveal, they're kind of naive.

But you can't sell the demon of the week short either. He's pretty terrifying, and I was especially impressed when it didn't go exactly as I expected either. I think the story was really built on the acting, and everybody in this episode did a good job. Stories about a small town that secretly sacrifices people for their own prosperity aren't really uncommon, but this one was a very well done version.

Faith: I absolutely loved this episode. I'm not even sure I can explain why, but it was amazing, even if it did have our token chick of the week. I forgive her because it was Julie Benz. And also because she never actually asked for the brother's to help her, she was beyond their help, really.

Dean goes through a lot in this episode, and while I partially was disappointing that the "Dean is going to die and that is traumatizing" emotional arc for Sam consisted of the first what, fifteen minutes of the episode? At the same time, the emotions that Dean was forced to deal with were much more interesting anyway. He can't figure out why he's still alive, and doesn't want to deal with the fact that he was chosen to live, or what the cost of that miracle was once he discovers it.

Then he also has to decide if it's okay to save the girl or not, and it's one of the first times we've seen him so conflicted, even if most of it wasn't expressed completely in the episode. You could tell that the emotion and the feeling was there. Hats off to Jensen Ackles.

There's a lot of seriously good storytelling and character building going on in this episode, not to mention the layering of the mythology of their world. Now that we know that death can be controlled, even at great price, who or what will go after that next? How long will it take before the brothers start to wonder if that's a power worth having if one of them is hurt? How will Papa Winchester react if he hears about it (since he doesn't really react to Sam's phone call about Dean at all, that also begs the question, where was he and what was going on?)

This episode is so very much like the best of the classic X-Files episodes, and I mean that as a high compliment.

Tuesday, August 07, 2012

Just do a quick double check

Warning: This post features a long discussion about suicide/suicidal thoughts/suicide attempts.

I'm kind of in love with Tumblr right now. It's a fun site, and I like that there's lots of silly pictures from things I love.

But it's also brought to the forefront my frustration with people repeating and proliferating lies, or stories without citations or any reason to believe they are true.

Sometimes, it's something ridiculous and silly. An image of Sigourney Weaver landing a nearly impossible basketball throw in an Alien movie is captioned that it wasn't a special effect, she really made the shot, on her first try.

A lot of things about that seem too good to be true, and in this case I knew that she actually made the shot but that it hadn't been on her first try. The kicker though? The actual cited source for the image, the video the image is actually TAKEN FROM, starts out with a slate. The slate clearly reads take four.

The evidence that the caption was wrong is RIGHT THERE. And yet tens of thousands of people have reblogged the image and caption, and probably now are convinced this is the gospel truth and will repeat it to others.

Oh well, another one for the heaps of fake on set information in the history books.

But sometimes, the errors are actually kind of dangerous. In another hugely popular post, a person posts that "a journalist" interviewed every person who had jumped off the Golden Gate Bridge and survived. The post continues that every single person, all of them, with no exceptions (they're very clear on this) realized after they jumped that all of their problems could be solved except for the fact that they just jumped.

Maybe the intention of this post is good. But there is almost nothing about it that's actually true.

A journalist did talk to a lot of people who attempted suicide and survived. Including several people who jumped from the Golden Gate Bridge. I'm having trouble finding the article again now, but I've read it. It's a very poignant and moving read. But the conclusions are not nearly so simple and uplifting as "everybody realized they could solve their problems."

At least one person who survived jumping returned to jump again. The quote about realizing everything was solvable is actually attributed to only one survivor. Others had different things to say, different experiences, and different reactions. You know, because they are human beings.

The conclusion that the article reaches is actually layered. First, they show that a suicide barrier on a bridge or popular suicide spot will drastically reduce suicides OVERALL. Opponents of suicide barriers on the Golden Gate frequently say that people will just "go somewhere else" or "do something else." But they won't, and there's a variety of ways that's been proven.

Second, they show that there are different types of suicide attempts and that the people who attempt different methods actually can be categorized, somewhat. Obviously there's nothing that's always 100% (part of what made the original post a red flag, the use of "every") but in general certain methods are favored by people who become suicidal on an impulse, rather than a long standing and deeply rooted issue.

That's vastly oversimplifying, but the theory is basically that some people (SOME) are actually suffering from an impulse control issue, and that by making it more difficult for them to satisfy that impulse (via a barrier for example) then you actually give them the time to think it over and get past the point of the impulse. Those people, when they survive, are rarely again faced with the same situation. They don't attempt multiple times.

Others have suicidal thoughts coming from a very different place, a place where it becomes a planned and premeditated act. Those people are much more difficult to save, and the article didn't really get into that because it wasn't what they were really talking about. But they did point out that basically no one who fits that category would say that the moment they felt they were going to die, their problems could be solved.

There's real harm that is perpetuated by repeating this false story. First, because it misrepresents the authors actual intent and their conclusions. Second, because it equates mental illness to a "problem" that you can just "solve" or "get over." Mental illness is a medical condition that needs medical treatment of some kind. It's not just a silly little problem, any more than cancer or diabetes or Parkinson's is just a "problem." You can't just solve it or get over it, any more than a person with MS can just think positively and be well again. The myth that mental illness is just a state of mind that can be controlled is literally killing people, and ruining lives in America every day. And even by trying to help them with this quote, you're contributing to that.

Lastly, imagine a person who has attempted suicide multiple times. Who has never felt this moment of epiphany that supposedly "everyone" has. What exactly is the message they're going to get from this quote? They won't find it uplifting or helpful or nice or kind or anything. They'll see it as another sign that they aren't doing something right, that if they were "normal" they wouldn't feel this way because "everybody" feels that way.

So really, the long and short of this is simple: check your source before you just start spreading information around. If something uses a generalization, LOOK IT UP. Anything that uses words like "always," "every," and "none" should be suspect. Over Independence Day, a picture circulated with a story that the real Statue of Liberty was meant to be black because it was supposed to be about slavery. That was completely false on every level, and yet people were latching onto it and saying "UGH! Americans and their RACISM." Listen, Americans can be pretty racist and our history is full of it, you really don't need to make something up, just look at Woodrow Wilson and get back to me.

Don't believe everything you read, be a smart media consumer. Learn how to look up corroborating articles and read the cited sources. Don't be lazy, learning and reading is fun anyway! And you'll learn even more new awesome things!