Thursday, May 31, 2012

Real Steel

Since I talked about one movie I watched on a plane, I thought I'd do another. The first film I actually watched when I settled in for my first eleven hour flight was Real Steel because I'm a sucker for Hugh Jackman.

I think everybody thought that Real Steel was just a movie version of Rock'em Sock'em Robots. Even I made that joke, and I had no idea that it was actually based on a Richard Matheson story. Richard Matheson is a bit like Philip K. Dick, you probably have no idea how influential he's been over genre film and television. His stories are everywhere, including The Twilight Zone (where Steel was originally adapted).

With that surprisingly pedigree for the story, it's becomes unsurprising that the movie itself is so much better than expected. Yes, there is robot boxing. That is totally a thing, and sometimes it is as ridiculous as it sounds. But at it's heart, it's a sports movie and a father/son bonding movie. It's more about family than it is about robots.

In fact, the biggest fault with the film is that it follows the tropes of the underdog sports movie a little too closely. Sure, having the underdog be a robot was different but it wasn't different enough to forgive how predictable the plot can be. Everything moves forward exactly as expected, and they're not even brave enough to go for the one plot twist I expected.*

Which makes it sound like I didn't like the movie. I actually did, I thought it was a good action story. It seemed like a good movie for kids to watch with their parents (not sure what age is appropriate for robotic carnage, but whatever). I thought the acting was well done, for the most part. The visuals were fantastic, and the special effects were a relief. I was expecting really wretched CG robots that didn't look real, but they had the sense to make everything a little grimy so that it would be realistic.

I don't know that it's a movie I'll go out and buy, but it's definitely one that I'll end up stopping on and watching every time it comes on TV.


The twist I expected: that Atom was actually designed by Mashido and that he was an early design that was scrapped because he couldn't make it work quite right but the kid had figured out the way to make it perfect. Or maybe he was forced to scrap it by his sponsors at the time because it wasn't what they wanted, and he always wished he had kept this robot and wanted him back. Actually, the fact that Atom's origins weren't delved into or explored and yet he was a one of a kind robot that could learn? HUGE misstep, and the biggest glaring problem with the whole film.

Once Upon a Time: Part 1

Since I've been having so much trouble having enough things to review, I'm going to stop doing this whole "review an entire season at once" thing I've been doing.

But at least in this instance, I watched too much of the show at once for me to just do one episode. So we're going to talk about the first part of the first season of Once Upon a Time. We'll go through each episode really quickly and then do a quick overview. Sound good? I hope so because that's what I'm doing.

I think it should be obvious, but while I'll try to avoid spoilers a few might end up in there. Spoiler free overview: The first half of this season is slow and takes a LOT of time to get going, but there are at least a couple characters I cared about enough to give it more time.

Pilot: There was JUST enough in the Pilot to keep me watching and not really a lot more. I was instantly a fan of Snow White/Mary Margaret and I wanted to know more about Prince Charming. The thing is that the episode made so little impact on me that I can't even think of things that I can write here about it. It just was a pilot, it set things up. Including the sheer amount of bad wigs we're going to be treated to in the Enchanted Forest.

The Thing You Love Most: As far as I'm concerned, this episode is the only one where I cared about Regina at all. This episode gave me so much hope for her character, because for her to do what she does here then I really want to know more about her back story (at least at this point I did). This episode also really started to set up Gold/Rumpelstiltskin as a character I desperately wanted to know more about. In general, it was because this follow-up episode was so strong that I kept watching the show in general. Especially finding out the link between Mr. Gold and Henry.

Snow Falls: Every bit of interest I had in Regina was pretty much used up in this episode. I was excited to see Snow and Charming in the real world, thinking that perhaps this was going to be a story of him rediscovering himself and they slowly fall back in love with each other. Instead it's Regina again with the "no wait, there's a secret wife so we can have a love triangle" play. Boring. The Enchanted Forest story was really fun and interesting though, and made me like Snow even more.

The Price of Gold: The one thing I noticed right off the bat about this show was that I found Mr. Gold to be a much more fascinating villain than Regina. Regina just kept giving speeches about "responsibility" and how Emma gave up Henry and blah blah. I really didn't care, at all. Though this episode is one that brings out a lot of the plot holes that the show has with their whole "time doesn't move here" piece. Has Ashley been pregnant for 28 years? Was Cinderella still pregnant in the Enchanted Forest when they moved over and that's why? The thing about this show is that the less you're asked to think about the actual system of magic, the easier it is to enjoy.

Anyway, the point of this is that Mr. Gold is still amazing. Rumpelstiltskin's appearance in this episode was so classic and perfect. Emma goes back and forth in this one, but in general she did well and I liked her. And I loved the fact that they're setting up this favor she owes Mr. Gold, they better pay that off well.

That Still Small Voice: The bulk of the Storybrook parts of this episode were so boring and terrible. Regina is back to stomping around and yelling about responsibility and "I'm in charge of this town" while still not being able to think more than a step or two ahead of anything. She can't even out think a ten year old. If I hear her say "Emma, I just want what's best for HENRY" one more time I might scream.

But the Enchanted Forest story about the origins of Jiminy Cricket? WOW. Impressive acting, a dark story, everything about it was really great. Well, except for the Blue Fairy's costume but seriously, that is just something I cannot get over and cannot forgive. How wretched is that thing? But this was another episode that made me keep watching just on the strength of the other characters outside of Regina.

Part One Overview: At this point in the season, I desperately wanted to know more about Snow, Charming, Jiminy, and Rumpelstiltskin. I could take or leave Emma and Henry, I see their importance and I find their relationship interesting but it's already starting to fall into repetitive cycles instead of growing and changing. Snow and Charming are fun and interesting in the Enchanted Forest, but I hate what's going on in Storybrook.

But in the end, as long as there's more Rumpelstiltskin then I'll keep watching the show. Because there's also still a chance that he'll kill Regina and take over so I'll watch for that.

Wednesday, May 30, 2012

I like spoilers more than River Song does

Recently, some literary critic caused a big internet kerfluffle when he said that people who get made about spoilers are doing it wrong.

I'm obviously paraphrasing because I don't speak "literary critic" but that was the gist of it. He basically pointed out that if you could only feel tension or excitement or care about a story once, then you wouldn't enjoy re-reading or re-watching things. And science has proven that untrue, we do feel tension and get excited even about things we've seen a million times.

None of these statements are wrong. In an article about it, people pointed out that the problem wasn't the spoilers, but when people take away your own decision if you want to be spoiled or not by intentionally spoiling things.

This is also true. See, I very much abhor the people who love to spoil things for others. You know the type, the ones who flipped to the last page of Harry Potter to yell "Snape kills Dumbledore" at the people waiting in line for their copy.

But you notice something about that last paragraph? I didn't post a spoiler alert in that paragraph. Because I also believe that after seven years, there's a limit to how much a person can ask the rest of the world to censor themselves. It's all about reasonable expectations.

I also don't believe that spoilers actually spoil anything in most circumstances. I think people who say their experience is completely ruined by knowing the end of the story are not enjoy the story to the depths that they could be enjoying it. And I don't think anybody should be punished or yelled at or screamed at for saying it.

One person that was commenting on an article got extremely angry with everyone saying this and "how DARE they say how I should enjoy things?"

Well, for one, the guy is a literary critic who has probably spent a very large chunk of his life studying how people read and enjoy stories. So he's not just talking out his ear. But the other thing is, when you get so defensive you miss the overall point: imagine a world you could be opening up for yourself if you stop being so concerned and angry? Imagine how great things can be if you stop thinking "Oh, well, that's ruined" and just enjoy what you want to enjoy.

For example, a lot of my friends watch Once Upon a Time, which I'll be reviewing tomorrow. Because of that and my personal addiction to reading io9 all the time, I know a fair number of things that happened throughout the show. Including pretty much every single possible plot point from the episode Skin Deep.

On io9 I commented that because I tend to read the end of books/learn the ends of movies and if I think it sounds really stupid then I'd just not waste my time with it. Somebody took great offense to it, and railed against me saying that I am cheating myself of what could be the very best story I'd ever come across. First of all, if the ending is so bad I'd put it away, then there's no way that I would ever consider it the best story I'd ever come across.

But the other thing is, knowing the end brings me to things I might never experience otherwise. I was lukewarm about watching Once Upon a Time. I couldn't decide if it looked like something I cared to watch. Until my friend Cristi started talking about Skin Deep. The story she talked about was exactly up my ally and I knew that no matter what else the show was about, I'd love Rumplestiltskin. I watched the show last night, and it was by far the best episode of the show so far. I knew everything that happened in it. I knew all the plot twists, the end, everything and I still loved it. I still thought it was amazing and I was still thrilled to watch it and wanted to watch it again right afterwards.

I understand that my way of enjoying things is not the same as everybody else's. And I totally understand that if you prefer not to know, then you don't seek out spoilers. That's cool, we can all coexist. But there's a statue of limitations on spoilers, and maybe instead of saying your enjoyment is "spoiled" you can just say that it's changed. You'll get something different out of it. That can be cool too.

Monday, May 28, 2012

How To Train Your Dragon

I was very late to the party when it came to this movie. I knew that I wanted to watch it because so many people had such good things to say about it. But at the same time, other things seemed more important to rent and it never made it to the top of my Netflix queue.

I ended up watching it on a very long international flight. I wasn't in the mood for anything too depressing or dramatic, and wanted something that I felt was almost guaranteed to have a happy ending. I'm very glad I picked How to Train Your dragon.

I knew of the book that the film was (loosely) based on, and I wasn't sure how in the world they could manage to make a film out of it. But they did an amazing job, and the characters they created were so multi-dimensional.

The world was well realized, and the different types of dragons were fun and well done. And of course, Toothless was quite possibly the most ridiculously cute dragon ever animated. The story seemed perfect for any age, even the more frightening bits didn't seem too frightening for smaller children (though I'm not always the best judge of that). I think even adults will identify with Hiccup's struggles to fit into a world where he knows that he can't be what's expected of him.

I was especially impressed with the fact that this was a hero who struggles and wins through intelligence, curiosity, and learning. Hiccup doesn't just read up on dragons from the texts he's given, he tests the knowledge, finds what is and isn't true, and writes down his findings accordingly. He's a behavioral scientist, and it's awesome. He doesn't figure out that he really needs to summon his courage and hit things in order to win against the people who don't believe in him (the typical male coming of age story) but he has to get more intelligent and learn to be more strategic.

Overall, I highly suggest everybody watch it. But especially parents should watch it with their kids. These are the kinds of lessons our media should be teaching them, but it's done in a way that's not just fun and entertaining, but very well written and animated as well.


I have to spend some time talking about the end of the film, because I think it's also extremely powerful and deserves praise. Hiccup is able to tame and ride Toothless because he accidentally injures the dragon's tail, rendering him unable to fly. Hiccup designs a prosthetic tail fin that he can control to help the two fly together.

After the final battle of the film, you know that something bad has befallen Hiccup, but when he wakes up you see that he has lost a leg. One of the trainers for the kids is missing an arm, so this isn't unusual in the world they live in. But I think it's a very powerful moment that will teach kids amazing things without even trying. When Hiccup gets out of bed, walks on his new leg, and then discovers that it is designed to help him better control Toothless as they fly, kids will internalize a lot of great information. That you don't need a whole body to be a whole person, that you can and will do that things that you love even after an accident or injury. That Hiccup and Toothless are the same people after becoming disabled. The movie doesn't make any heavy handed statements about this, it doesn't try to teach a lesson, it doesn't become a "very special episode." Hiccup and Toothless just are. I don't know that I've ever seen a depiction of disability in children's media that was done as well.

Friday, May 25, 2012

Flash Game Review: Chuck the Sheep

I haven't really watched any tv shows this week that I haven't reviewed and I'm behind on my schedule so I'm going to give you something different: a flash game review!

I'm a big fan of casual games and simple games that you can waste a bit of time playing in between projects. Or while you should be doing projects, but we'll pretend that doesn't happen.

I happened across Chuck The Sheep a few days ago, and I sat and played for two hours when I was just going to check it out for a few minutes and bookmark it if I liked it. It's got everything I'd want in a casual game, and I've definitely been going back to it since the first day which is pretty rare for me.

The basic premise is that Chuck The Sheep doesn't want to lose his wool, so he decides to make a break for it in a homemade airplane. It's a pretty simple game that uses launch mechanics and only a few keys to play. You try to get a good launch by hitting space at the right time as a dial spins, you hit the up and down buttons to (kind of) steer. Shift gives you a boost, and space gives you extra shields if you've upgraded. Collecting resources means you can upgrade your ship and get further on the map with each launch.

I actually didn't realize at first that there is a physical goal (even though there's a progress bar at the bottom of the screen, I somehow missed it) so you actually can finish and win the game. But even after you get to the end, you can keep playing to finish your upgrades, level up, and complete more quests. The quests are fun and silly, and even the more difficult ones aren't impossible. Like I said, I finished the game in a few hours but it's enjoyable enough to have continual replay value so it has the best of both worlds for me. I hate games that don't actually end.

The graphics are great, they're adorable and fun. The game doesn't take a long time to load and I haven't found any glitches with it. The keyboard shortcuts make sense and are easy for you to keep your hand in one place and not be reaching randomly for the key you need. All in all, it's absolutely a game you should play through at least once if you like flash games at all, if only just for the adorable graphics.

Thursday, May 24, 2012

RuPaul's Drag Race Season 4

A few months ago, I watched all of seasons two and three of RuPaul's Drag Race in about two days on Netflix. I'm still trying to figure out why I can't watch Season One on Netflix or Logo. People say they're there, but they're not there when I look.

But that's beside the point. I recently sat down to watch all of season 4 over the course of a couple days. I learned a few things doing it this way: first, that Logo's web player is terrible. It is one of the most wretched I have ever come across. It frequently glitched out, it would play commercials on repeat for ten minutes sometimes because it got stuck in a loop, and if I muted things half the time they wouldn't unmute. Which became a big problem because I was muting those horrible anti-smoking ads they played EVERY SINGLE BREAK. I really wish there was a button for "I'm not a smoker and never have been, stop trying to scare me straight."

Anyway. All of that is still beside the point. The thing I really picked up from watching the show so quickly though was that more than 2/3 of the people on it make absolutely no impression on me. When I first started reviewing Project Runway episodes, I noted that in the first two or three episodes of the season I have no idea who anybody is, and I rarely remember the people who were eliminated first. I always have to look up their names a million times to write a recap.

Drag Race has that, but it persists through at least half of the season. When Ru said that the judges could bring back one Queen that had already been eliminated, they went through the list and I couldn't for the life of me remember more than two or three of them. Those I could remember, it wasn't very fondly. Which just makes me wonder about who is making the casting decisions for the show.

Listen, I'm the first to admit I don't really know that much about the drag scene. Being a cisgender hetero woman, I enjoy watching drag shows but it's not a culture I'm really ever going to be IN. But it baffles me sometimes who gets chosen to go on the show, especially when they make it to the final five and I have no clue what anybody sees in them because their personality flops like a dead fish. Maybe it's different in person, that's definitely a thing. One major lesson I learned when I was casting one of my short films was that an audition can feel one way in person and it's ENTIRELY different when you watch it on camera. If you're in the room, you're not really seeing what the camera sees unless you're watching on a monitor.

I was pretty happy with this season's winner, but as usual I loved a lot of the runners up more than the winner. I won't spoil it for people by talking about details, but I will point out again that this particular crop wasn't really resonating with me. When Pandora Boxx was eliminated in season two, I was mad. I had several favorites that season, and season three was just as strong (though Pandora Boxx is still my favorite of all of them). But I can only think of one elimination this season that made me grumpy, and even I could see it was fair.

I think the show itself is darn near perfect. There is no better host than RuPaul, who somehow manages to capture that Tim Gunn mentor-quality AND the no-nonsense judge mentality. The mini-challenges are fun, and the winners usually get something that is useful bot not over the top advantage. The design of the set, the wardrobe for the regulars, Snatch Game, everything is honed to perfection. Even the fabulous product placement is perfect. So why they aren't populating this perfect reality competition world with the perfect contestants too, I don't know.

Of course this season also had the "controversy" with Willam. One thing that I hate in reality tv is being vague, it's nobody's friend. Not being vague and being clear cut is one of the reasons Top Chef is a success. When a contestant was sent home for breaking the rules in season two, they showed the offense, they explained it, and Tom said specifically what rule was broken. When Project Runway sent a contestant home, they explained in great detail what exactly they did wrong and why it was wrong.

But in the last year both America's Next Top Model (which I don't watch but read blogs that talk about it) and RuPaul's Drag Race have mysteriously eliminated a contestant without explanation. Sure, they had the reunion where Willam said he was eliminated because his boyfriend was visiting him at their hotel. But first of all, they should have just put that out there in the episode itself and second, did anybody else think that rang so completely false and made up? And then they've signed Willam to be a professor on Drag U, so I have no idea what's going on but by being coy about it everything seems sketchy.

I'll keep watching the show anyway, I love RuPaul and I love Santino now (which is hilarious if you go back to my original posts about him on ProjRun). If nothing else, maybe I can learn some makeup tips because goodness knows these guys make better women than me.

In The Grip of Evil

This is movie is yet another one where I didn't even remember putting it on my Netflix queue or why until I started watching it. I had added it after watching the first ten minutes in a class four years ago. It's an exploration of a case of alleged demonic possession that inspired the book The Exorcist.

I'm frequently intrigued by the real life stories behind famous works of fiction, so the idea of a documentary about the real case that inspired a movie was already intriguing. To be honest, I wish I had just read about it on Wikipedia instead.

It's not that In The Grip of Evil is terrible, it's that it's not any more interesting or evocative than an online article. There's nothing that makes you say "that right there, that's why this is a documentary and not a book." Which I know is a sentence that doesn't make sense to a lot of people, but it's the best way to summarize my reaction.

The film relies a lot on old standbys of "true" tv shows like Unsolved Mysteries. There's the gravely older male voice telling you how spooky and terrible things were. There's the often repeated still shots of the places involved where they zoom in and out of the picture of the church while it fades from color to black and white (sometimes with a flash of lightening effect). Some of the experts they interview are great, like a priest who was actually present for the exorcisms, but some of them you have no idea why that person is still talking. They interview a psychiatrist who seems to waffle back and forth about the idea of exorcism and the supernatural. She offers explanations for some things, and then makes a statement that sounds like she believes the boy really was possessed. Nothing about the way she is shot or framed sets her up as authoritative so I ended up discounting almost everything she said.

All of the interviews are done in this weird style that is clearly meant to make you feel like things are spooky and strange. I'm not sure, but my suspicion is that they shot everything with the camera on a tripod and then added motion effects in post-production so that the shots would slowly go back and forth from a dutch (crooked) angle and back. Or slowly zoom in and out. I think it was done in post because the motions were too perfectly timed to the clips they were using and if you did that during production you'd usually end up with partial moves and bad timing. Plus, can you imagine being interviewed while the camera man was weaving the camera all over the place? It'd drive me insane.

Anyway, if you love The Exorcist and you want to know more about what inspired it, I'd suggest just reading the many articles online about it or reading the original newspaper articles themselves. But if you like the show Unsolved Mysteries or you're a completionist that must know everything, then In The Grip of Evil isn't going to be a waste of your time.

"Real" Friends

I got my first email account when I was 13. That's really not a surprising age anymore, but when you consider that this was 1993, it's a bit more rare.

The same day that I got internet access, I started posting on an old usenet newsgroup that became my favorite haunt for several years. I met a lot of people there, including getting to know people I went to school with but had never actually ended up speaking to for one reason or another.

One of the people I met in those early days was a guy that lived a few hours away. Five years later, we were still friends when we met in real life. We dated for a few months, and that didn't work out, but we stayed friends. To this day he is the person I have known the longest (outside of family) that I still keep in regular contact with. We never would have known each other at all if it wasn't for the internet, and I can easily say my life has been better because I have known him.

So when a friend of mine (another 10+ year friendship) posted today that someone had once again told her the common refrain, "online friends aren't real friends" I got mad again.

It's a stupid thing to say, and the only people who say it are those who are older than about 35 and haven't grown up with the internet in their world and so they still have a part of them that doesn't understand it.

I have friends both online and off, so I feel like I can compare those friendships pretty easily. I wouldn't call myself an extrovert by any stretch, but most people who know me would be surprised by that. I don't particularly think that I have a hard time meeting people either, because I like to talk and so I'll just find somebody to talk to in most situations where I don't already know somebody.

In the end it boils down to one question: how do you define a friend.

For me it's somebody that supports me when I need it, congratulates me when I do well, thinks of me when I'm not present, and will have my back when it's important. Somebody I can laugh with, cry to, and who will listen when I want to rant about how the world sucks.

For people who think online friends aren't real friends, the only thing I can surmise is that they define friends as somebody you can shake hands with. I mean, really, what about all of those things I described as friendship requires a physical presence or a nearby location?

Sure, you will have online friends that disappear and you don't speak to much. And they could go away at a moment's notice and you wouldn't know why. They could suddenly reveal themselves as racist idiots and you'll have to defriend them and yadda yadda. But that's all possible with real friends too, and it's even MORE likely in my opinion. I can't tell you the number of real life friends I've made that I haven't stayed friends with because we discovered the only thing we had in common was being in the same place at the same time.

With an online friend, you started talking because of something other than proximity. You both really love Sherlock, or Star Trek, or reading fanfiction, or playing a certain game. And if you have one thing like that in common, you probably have more. It builds together. It's the perfect way for you to meet people that are in completely different walks of life than you are. Different ages, races, ethnicities, people who live in countries that you can't even spell. Being online and talking to people can open your world up immeasurably. It's like all the great things you get from reading books, but with actual human being and first person stories to share.

I've also met a lot of my online friends in real life over the years. I've gone to their houses for parties or visited when I was traveling. Friends have come to see me, we've met up at conventions, etc. I do tend to try to make sure I meet new people in public places or with a group, because it's common sense. But I think that people who consider there to be a distinct difference between online and offline friends clearly have never had real online friends, and that's their fault. It makes me wonder if they have offline friends too, or just people who put up with them.

Tuesday, May 15, 2012

There is no sanctity in bigotry

I enjoy a lot of rights as a natural born, Caucasian, heterosexual, American citizen. These are all things I was born to, and then I have made choices that continue to build my rights-I am married, and Christian as well.

I have those rights and enjoy those benefits through almost no effort on my part.

Which is why I think it is ridiculous that people think that I somehow deserve these rights more than somebody else when the only thing I did was be born, which ultimately I'm not really responsible for either.

Every American citizen deserves equal rights and equal treatment under the law. We can't make exceptions, especially not based on something that is not a universally accepted interpretation of a religious text.

The thing that bothers me most is how often I am told that my heterosexual marriage is being threatened by gay marriage.

If you believe that your marriage is threatened by gay marriage, your marriage is broken and you need to fix yourself or go to counseling or something.

There are only two people in my marriage, and we are the only people who can threaten it. Because that is what a true marriage and a true partnership is.

I'm ashamed of my country right now for not seeing this. I'm ashamed that this bigotry is changing our laws. And I am ashamed that a state can amend their constitution when less than a quarter of their registered voters showed up at the polls.

I have heard all the arguments against gay marriage. I am Christian, and I know more about the Bible than most of the people quoting it. There is no argument or reason that is actually valid or that is rooted in anything other than homophobia.

I'm still waiting for anybody to even give me one bad reason that it is a threat to me.

Thursday, May 10, 2012


I already mentioned my movie-going experience for The Avengers earlier this week, when I was complaining about crowd behavior and saving spots in line.

But what I didn't go into was the movie itself. For some reason I'm not entirely sure what else to say other than I absolutely loved it and I want to go see it again already.

To be fair, I loved all of the lead-in movies with the exception of Edward Norton's turn as The Hulk since I haven't seen it. But I actually will defend the Eric Bana version from time to time because despite not loving it, I think it took a lot of risks and did a lot of things that we've started to do now. It just had a poorly conceived villain and some really lousy script problems. I also thought Iron Man 2 wasn't up to the standards of the first one. But in general, I've enjoyed them all on one level or another.

But what is genius has been the casting, at least since Robert Downey Jr. became Iron Man. Each of the main cast seems perfectly created for their roles. Chris Hemsworth is pretty much Thor and I can't imagine anyone else doing the Norse God justice. Chris Evans embodies Captain America so perfectly.

I don't know how much influence Joss Whedon had over the casting of anyone except Mark Ruffalo, so perhaps he inherited this cast but the fact is that they are what makes this film. Each one of them is so perfect, and Ruffalo? Let's hope nobody else ever tries to play The Hulk again (though thanks, Whedon, for getting Lou Ferrigno to do the Hulk's voice).

Perhaps that is Whedon's great strength as a director-working with ensemble casts and helping them to really bond and create great cinema. Because I can't think of many recent action OR comic book movies that I've loved more. Sure, there were some plot holes. But the battles were pretty strongly choreographed, the characters had much more depth than anyone could have expected them to...all in all, it was a ton of good fun.

Each character has a motivation for their character that comes from much deeper than anything on the surface or anything that we see. Because these actors brought that to the performance, and Whedon brought that to the script. Black Widow especially has an amazing amount of characterization often tossed into small lines that aren't focused on. I consider her a very powerful female character as well, because she is physically strong while still maintaining a sense of self. She uses her femininity to her advantage without taking advantage (except, perhaps, of villains). She's a character that could have been so different and instead was one of the strongest ones on the team.

In case you were wondering, Captain America was my clear favorite by the end of the film. But they all made me like them more with every scene they were in. And Whedon didn't forget to make us laugh every so often, which is the most overlooked and most vital piece of a successful action film.

Overall, I'd say if you were one of the twelve Americans who didn't go see it last week, you really should go this weekend.

Flashback: He-Man

It's hip right now for people to be nostalgic for things that were awesome when they were kids. I guess that was always the deal, but now that the "cool kids" have moved on to reminisce about the 90's, I'm left with the older generation reminiscing about the 80's.

When I was young, my favorite thing in the world was He-Man and the Masters of the Universe. I had all the toys in teh first run, I had books, episodes on VHS, the whole nine yards. I was obsessed. So when Netflix put most of the series in their streaming library, I was really excited but still kind of scared.

More than once, I've been bitten by my own nostalgia. My sister and I refer to it as "Eerie Indiana Syndrome" because we both independently rented Eerie, Indiana after remembering how amazing we thought it was when we were kids. Only, it really wasn't very good at all.

Part of me was really afraid that He-Man would be the same, and I wasn't sure if I was ready for something that was so important to little 4-year-old me to be ruined like that. So I hesitated. But I eventually caved when I was up late one night working on something and needed to put on a show for background noise.

I pretty quickly found myself ignoring my work to pay attention to the show. Now, I'm not going to start talking about how He-Man was better than anything we've got on TV today. It's clearly not, it is exactly what you think of it. It's cheesy, it's a glorified toy commercial, and it's every 80's cliche you can find.

But there's something there, underneath all that. There's a reason this show has endured and that it's been brought back at least once. There aren't massive fandoms for a lot of other cartoons from it's time, but it sticks around through something beyond nostalgia.

Basically because it was better than it had any right to be. For me, the draw became the female characters. Who would expect in a show like He-Man to find such strong role models? Maybe that's why they were able to make the women so awesome, who knows. But between The Sorceress, Teela, Evil-Lyn, and Queen Marlena, there are a lot of awesome women. Yes, I include Evil-Lyn because she's a pretty awesome villain.

Queen Marlena is especially amazing. Little girls watching the show didn't necessarily notice it outright, but they were presented with a queen who was not just a great mother and wife, but also an astronaut. Her episode would have aired around the same time that Sally Ride became the first American woman in space. Later in the show, she has opportunities to fight and even fly her old plane again and she proves she shouldn't be underestimated.

Teela is the Captain of the Royal Guard, and nobody ever makes any mention of her gender or of that being a weird job for her to have. She just is Captain of the Guard and Prince Adam's bodyguard. Even though they play with the love interest angle a little bit for her, because it was a show aimed at such young kids and because the toy company resisted any kind of continuity she was never shunted into a love story.

It doesn't surprise me at all that one of the writers on He-Man was J. Michael Stracyzinski who also wrote Babylon 5. He is a writer who just writes women well, but has never made a big deal out of it or even gotten a ton of praise or recognition for it. If you ever get a chance to listen to his commentary tracks on episodes from He-Man and She-Ra, you really should because it's eye opening and will give you a new appreciation of the show.

Listen, He-Man is still pure 80's at it's heart. The animation is dated and full of rotoscoping and reused footage. Most of the male characters look way too alike so they could use the same molds for the toys (and Teela and Evil-Lyn have the same outfit for the same reason). And yes, it doesn't make any sense at all that people don't realize that Adam is He-Man unless you throw in a little Grayskull magic. But if you're looking for something a little retro to show your kids or you think today's animation isn't up to snuff, then it wouldn't be a bad idea to see what they think of He-man.

And if you remember it fondly, don't worry, it's safe to watch again. Though you'll find yourself making a lot more off-color jokes than you probably did as a kid.

Tuesday, May 08, 2012

This Is My Spot

Like the rest of America, I went to see The Avengers last weekend. I'll review it Thursday, but I thought I would write about the actual experience at the theater for now.

Normally, I go to the movies at a nearby theater or not on opening weekend.  But we had passes for a bigger place at the mall, where they also had a 3D show and an IMAX screen.

We just wanted to see the normal version, but even so the showing we were aiming for was already sold out when we arrived. We got tickets to the next one and got food.

An hour before the movie, we saw a line wrapping around the food court. That wasn't for our show, but there was a designated spot for ours so we lined up.

Over the next half hour, about fifteen people came in to cut the entire line and join their friends who were already waiting. In one case, a single person saved a place at the front for five others.

I hate this. Call me old fashioned, but if you can't stand in line yet, then you don't get to. If you were already there and ducked out for the bathroom, you can come back. But your buddy can't save a spot while you all keep shopping.  That's just disrespectful to the people behind you that ARE willing to stand there instead of running around.

And don't even get me started on saving seats. One person can save one seat for something quick like going for popcorn or the bathroom. Otherwise you just don't need to sit together, get over it. You can be together by arriving together early, or you can do other things and take what you get. 

Thankfully, we still got great seats somehow. Check out Thursday's post for what I thought of the film!

Sugar Princess

Hana Kimi, a manga by the same author of Sugar Princess, is one of my favorite manga series of all time. I still have a tendency to reread the entire 23 volume series about once a year. So when I discovered that another series she had written was also available in English, I put it on my wish list immediately.

I was a little sad that it was only two volumes, but I was also glad because nearly every other manga I've collected has been 20+ so it was nice to be able to order two and be done. But I do think that in this case, the story really could have been a little longer.

It isn't that everything isn't wrapped up, or that it doesn't end on a good ending point. In fact it actually would be almost fine as a standalone story. But there are a few tiny plot threads that are planted that I desperately wanted to see explored and that weren't ever picked up again. I think it easily could have been expanded to 4 volumes and still been just as wonderful.

I should point out that it is very very rare for me to say I want more of something. I'm one of the only people that thinks that there shouldn't be a sequel to Dr. Horrible and that my favorite shows that have ended shouldn't be revived or revisited. But in this case, I think Hisaya Nakajo is just so talented and the story has so much promise that I'd love more.

It also would help my one problem with the story. The basic plot is that the main character, Maya, has never gone ice skating before, but she's a natural at it and does a difficult jump on her first trip to the rink (on a dare). A coach convinces her to train to skate in pairs with Shun, who actually wants to start skating singles instead of bringing in a new partner.

If you're reminded of The Cutting Edge, don't worry about it, the superficial similarities end there. But if you did love that movie as much as I did, then you'll probably really enjoy Sugar Princess. Additionally, the panels that illustrate the skating routines are downright gorgeous.

But here's the problem: in The Cutting Edge, the male lead is a hockey skater that has to learn figure skating. This is a bit of a leap but not too terrible. In Sugar Princess, she is below even a novice. I have more ice skating experience than she does at the start of the story. There are a few token problems that stand in her way, and Nakajo wisely makes the "finale" competition a very low level one. But no matter what happens, it's solved quickly and swept out of the way. With even just two more volumes, this could be avoided. The story really needed to be expanded so you could believe Maya's journey was even physically possible. It's easy to say she's a prodigy, but her ability is downright magical in the end (and not played as magical, even if it is manga).

Even with all that said, it's a beautiful manga and it's well worth it for anybody that enjoyed Hana Kimi or enjoys figure skating. I would actually encourage buying the two volumes for any little girls that are entranced with the sport or in training. It's exactly the kind of fun and innocent story that they would enjoy.

Thursday, May 03, 2012

Classic Movie: The Princess Bride

I've seen The Princess Bride a million times, it's one of my favorite movies. But a few weeks ago, a local theater was showing it on the big screen as part of a matinee program that they do. I was excited to get to go and watch it, because I haven't sat down to enjoy it in ages.

I expected to enjoy the movie, because I know it's a good movie. But I just gained this completely new level of appreciation for it. It's such a tightly woven script, featuring so much amazing talent. While parts of the film are a little bit dated (the top of the Cliffs of Insanity is clearly a styrofoam set and the ROUSs are more cute than menacing) for the most part it holds up to a more modern audience.

It's been 25 years since the film was released, but the themes are still relevant and the characters still enjoyable.

The real star of The Princess Bride in my opinion is writer William Goldman. He was already an established screenwriter when he published the original book, and it's no surprise that he adapted the screenplay himself. Normally, I'm not a big advocate for writers adapting their own works. I think it's a bad choice, because usually novelists are not screenwriters, and they're also too close to the material.

But Goldman knew what he was doing and he will always be the exception to my rule. He kept the heart and tone of his novel so perfectly that they're sometimes nearly indistinguishable. The screenplay is as much fun to read as the novel is. And he came up with a way to preserve the crazy plot device about it being a story that is read aloud.

Of course, director Rob Reiner deserves quite a lot of credit too. And every single actor who crosses the screen. I think this film will go down in history as one of the best ensemble casts of our age. I could go on about them for ages, because there isn't a single one who has any moment where I don't completely believe in their character and their performance. Even when I think about the process of filming the movie, I can't picture them out of character and hanging around on the set. They become their characters so well that I almost just picture that these people participated in a movie about themselves.

I don't know what type of print the theater was projecting, but it was so high quality. I spotted things in the background that I had never seen before, and even if the film doesn't have the slick cinematographer of modern movies, it is beautiful.

I can't imagine there are people who haven't seen The Princess Bride, but if you haven't you should. I don't even care if it's not typically your type of movie, there's something in it for nearly every type of audience. If you ahve seen it, you should watch it again sometime soon. It's just as good as you remember.

Cabin In The Woods

I meant to post this review last week but of course I got distracted by various things. Sorry for the delay, I know everybody has probably already seen this movie or moved on but still! I went to see it on opening night, Friday the 13th. It's been a long time since my best friend and I have gone to a horror film on Friday the 13th because I had largely lost my patience with them. There weren't any I cared for anymore and I realized I don't really enjoy being scared.

But I was more than happy to give Cabin in the Woods a try because I am one of the many people who have spent years hearing about this film and wondering what the heck it was about. Of course there's the Joss Whedon connection, which is good and all. I know it's blasphemy, but I'm not on board the Joss can do no wrong train. I prefer the much less crowded "he's a really good writer and has a great creative mind but sometimes he gets carried away and a few of his works aren't really that great if I'm being honest" train.

I only watched one trailer and it made me a lot more interested in the film because I could tell that it wasn't going to be a traditional slasher film at all, but I couldn't tell just from the trailer WHAT it was. I decided that for once I was going to entirely avoid spoilers and didn't watch any more trailers or read any more articles until I went to see the film. The only thing I did was ask a friend who saw it at South by Southwest to tell me if he liked it. He gave a glowing recommendation.

Of course this entire plan was partially ruined by the theater staff and the guy waiting in line in front of us. I'm not going to get into what happened because it actually changed my perception of the film and made my viewing experience different and I don't want to do that to others. Despite the fact that you've probably heard about it by now.

I was very thankful that the film wasn't trying in any way to hide what it was about. You don't even get really a teaser and then a reveal, you just jump straight into the reveal, really. Thank goodness, anything else would have been tedious. I appreciate movies that understand you've already seen the trailer so they can't hide their main plot.

One thing that the film did well was subtle character reveals, and I really appreciated it. Characters didn't stand around talking about who they were and what stereotype they fit, they did things that told you who they were and what they were like. Chris Hemsworth's character was especially interesting to me in the beginning. The acting is great, and I was amazed to read that it was director Drew Goddard's first directing gig. He did a fantastic job.

The thing that is enjoyable about Cabin in the Woods is that it's a movie that's made for people who don't passively watch movies. It's a film that is in it's own way actively engaging the audience. Roger Ebert pondered if the film itself was an act of film criticism and it absolutely is. It's a movie for people who have read Men, Women, and Chain Saws
. For people who think about the larger cultural impact of our popular entertainment. And just for people who love slasher films on a higher level than just entertainment.

I was talking with a cinematographer friend of mine months ago about a different film, and he said he was sick of filmmakers making movies that were about making movies. I agree with him, it's getting pretty tired. But Cabin in the Woods came along as an exception. In it's own way, it's a movie about making movies. But it isn't, at all. And because it operates on multiple levels, it becomes really fascinating.


The thing I mentioned earlier that screwed up my enjoyment of the film was that everybody in the lobby was talking about the ending. Not in specific terms, but as people left the screening before the one I was going to, the theater staff and the guy in front of me kept asking people what they thought of the ending. They talked about how everybody either "loved or hated it." One woman was really mad and said the entire movie was ruined by the last five minutes.

Nobody said what this problematic scene was, but it colored everything for me as I went in because I was prepped for a controversial ending. And I think it changed a lot of how I saw the film, one of the few cases where I would actually say I wish I hadn't been spoiled.

To address the ending and the last five minutes, it's my opinion that they don't even matter. I sat for a long time coming up with alternate ways for the movie to end and I can't think of anything that would have felt any different. My emotions would have been the same no matter what they did (with one exception) because of a fact of screenwriting structure.

You see, about five minutes before the movie is over the stakes get raised so high there's nowhere else to go. Absolutely nothing can top the stress and emotion of that, there is no more up to go to. Once the tension of that specific moment is gone, the climax is over and the movie has nowhere to go but down. No matter what happens, it's less than the moment before and it's not as interesting. You're not as caught up or as invested.

I didn't hate the ending, but I didn't find it as satisfying and awesome as many people did. I just thought it was a decent way to end the film, but so would any number of other options. There are some ideas I've read about what different parts of the film symbolize that makes me like it more, but those are things people have interpreted from the film and not at all explicitly stated by the film. And in the end, the work has to stand on it's own.

Wednesday, May 02, 2012

Avatar: The Legend of Korra

I resisted Avatar: The Last Airbender for a very long time. But eventually a friend of mine said "No, you have to watch it and it's streaming on Netflix" so I sat down and started watching it.

I loved it, almost immediately. It was a really well crafted show, but the primary draw was the characters (and the animation but mostly the characters). Aang, Katara, Sokka, Zuko, Toph...they were all so well developed. None of them were one dimensional. So often writers think "my character needs a flaw, let me give them a token flaw like they are clumsy and that'll do it!" but Airbender didn't fall into that at all.

The world was well realized, and fascinating. Nearly everything about it was the perfect example of what American television can be like if we'd let creators be creative.

When I read there was going to be a sequel, I was happy but worried. Few things are improved upon with a sequel. But the new Avatar was an amazing female character. She looked strong, and interesting. If they only did half the job they did on the female characters in Airbender, Korra would be better than most of the women on TV.

The quotes I read as it ramped up to the show's premiere warmed my heart. The creators said they didn't believe the idea that a woman can't be the lead on an action series. Demographics showed that little boys were loving the show and didn't care if Korra was a girl or what, she was cool. I was holding my breath: was somebody going to get it right?

There are a lot of attempts at "strong female characters" (a phrase I hate but can't seem to replace with anything). Sometimes there is success, like Col. Carter in Stargate SG-1 or Donna Noble in Doctor Who. But all too often the character either may as well be a guy because the narrative pays no attention to their gender (which I am not in favor of) or the entire plot of the show is actually the character's journey towards traditional gender roles.

The first episode of Korra was pretty cool. I was on the fence. The second was awesome, and the third even better. But if you're following the show, you know what happened in the fourth: the fandom exploded because there was ROMANCE.

There was plenty of romance and romantic feelings in the original show. But it wasn't really too over done, for the most part. There were a few gag-worthy moments but it was alright.

So far, there is little to make me believe Korra will manage to follow in those footsteps. Everything points to "stupid teenage love story stupidness." That's the technical term. I won't get into details, but I'm holding out hope that it's not going that direction and it's just a fandom overreaction.

When the show isn't doing stupid romantic subplots, the plot is actually fascinating. It's the kind of thing that is reflecting our real world through the fictional one and might make a few people think a little more about their lives. It's doing what all good television (especially fantasy stories) SHOULD do. And to their credit, I have no idea where they're going with this.

The animation is stunning, and most of the side characters are as wonderful as the original show (Tenzin is my hero, much like Iroh was). If they can keep themselves from the quagmire that is the promised love triangle then it'll be another entry in the top ten American cartoons of all time. But if it becomes another teenage love triangle where the girl gets distracted by the boy and gets all insecure because she's not girly enough, then it'll be one of the worst because it will have squandered so vast a potential.

CSI- Season 10

I've been slowly but surely making my way through CSI for a few years now. I can go months between discs while I rent other things (especially now that I'm down to only one disc at a time on Netflix) so it's taking a long time. Last week my husband asked if I'm ever going to finish the show because I've been renting it for so long. It would go a lot faster if it was available for legal streaming somewhere for free/subscription. But there's nowhere that actually has the old show or the episodes I'm on. Which is just stupid. CBS, why are you so dumb?

I'm up to season ten, which means I might actually catch up sometime next year. It also means I'm in the second season of Dr. Langston's run on the show. I thought I would miss Grissam, but by the time he left I was okay with his depature. I wasn't particularly happy about Catherine's beefed up role since I haven't liked her for ages. But I could let Grissam go.

Plus I really like Lawrence Fishburn and I thought his character sounded pretty cool. I was a bit excited for the changing of the guard.

Oh well. I'm so bored by this show right now. I was pretty happy that the show rarely had a "big bad" that carried over throughout episodes. Sometimes a murderer would have a multi-episode arc or somebody would come back. But there was none of this "a serial killer is taunting the team, they'll catch him in the season finale when he almost kills one of them" stuff that is so popular. Not until the Miniature Killer, but that had enough interest and originality that I was okay with it.

Dr. Jekyll is boring. And Langston is boring. I don't know if it's a director thing or something Fishburn chose to do, but he plays everything so mellow that I can't help but think he's nearly emotionless. I know they are hinting that he has some sort of genetic predisposition to murderous rages or something, but that's really not set up well enough for me to even be looking for it to come out.

Besides, they already did the "I have a parent who was crazy and killed somebody" thing with Sarah. Only one genetic murderer per show, please.

I'll keep watching the show, if only because I still love all of the side characters so much. Doc Robbins is really fantastic, and Greg will always be awesome. Plus I'm eager to get to where Catherine leaves to see if it changes things. But overall, I'm generally tired of the show and I'm amazed it's still on the air at this point.


I've been collecting postcards for years. I don't remember when it started, but it became the one souvenir I wanted from each place I went. I also wanted people to send me postcards from their trips.

For a little while in college, I belonged to a postcard community on Livejournal. I loved it, and it was a ton of fun, but I went a bit too gung-ho and spent so much money on postage that I had to stop. Plus, finals rolled around and time got away from me.

But I still asked people to send me stuff, and still picked them up myself.

A few months ago, while I was at an event for my most recent film, I was sitting around and talking to one of the journalists that I had gotten to know. She said that she decided to start sending postcards as a hobby, and that she had set up a webpage for it to get random addresses and try to send a certain number over the course of a year.

Talking to Jacqueline got me excited about postcards again. But for a few months I still only sent them to her, which was great. We started sending cards back and forth from our travels, and I loved stopping at airport gift shops to pick out a card for her every time I went somewhere.

Then she posted about this website called Postcrossing. The idea of it is just that you sign up to send a card to somebody (usually in another country) and when they say that they received it, the site gives your address to a random person to get a card.

In the midst of this, I was cleaning up my house and sorted through this giant box of stationary that I have. I realized I still had silly girly stationary from when I was a kid, stuff I'd never send for anything official now, and probably wouldn't even send to most people.

So a few weeks ago, I signed up for Postcrossing to clear out my inventory of old postcards and I started sending my friends letters on cheesy Lisa Frank paper. It's been a ton of fun, I've gotten a few cards back but getting mail in return wasn't my primary goal, just a nice reward. I've gotten several really awesome cards from all over the world already.

I went through my old box where I store all my mail I've gotten over the years, and I found stacks of letters from pen pals that I met at summer camps, random people from high school that I mailed letters to during the was just this nice feeling, having these letters in my hand. So I decided I was just going to send some more mail.

There's a challenge every year called "A Month of Letters" that I just missed this year. I plan to do it next year, but in the meantime I'm just making a bigger effort to send more mail.

The problem with Facebook games

Who am I kidding, there are a million problems with Facebook games.

But despite the fact that I get annoyed by many aspects of them, there were a couple I actually kind of enjoyed. I really like casual games. I'm especially fond of time management games or simple puzzles like Plants Vs. Zombies. Incidentally, the first time I beat PvZ it was all in one sitting during a bout of insomnia. Good times.

Anyway, here's the biggest stumbling block I have with Facebook games and why I'm pretty much done with them: because the developers can just turn them off if they feel like it.

I realize that this is something that MMORPGers also deal with, and I'm not sure how I'll feel the day that WoW finally gives up the ghost. I think part of me hopes that Blizzard always has a server running somewhere that I can be on.

But the basic thing for me is this: I've been playing some of my games for years now. There's one in particular that I really enjoyed called Restaurant City by Playfish.

The goal of the game was simple, you collected ingredients and combined them to learn recipes. You wanted to get the recipe to level 10. At first, I loved it. I wanted to master all the recipes. You see, I've got this thing where if there's a collecting aspect to a game I will PLAY IT TO DEATH. I'm not allowed to play Pokemon.

Then they started adding new ingredients. Then they made ingredients available for real world money, so they made them all more rare and hard to find. Then they started adding 7-10 new recipes EVERY WEEK. It got to the point where I had an excel spreadsheet that I would update to help me manage my quest to get a meaningless achievement in a casual game. For months I've kind of wanted to break free of it, but felt that I was *SO* close to getting all the recipes! I was at 94% for the longest time, then they added 10 more that all took the rarest ingredient plus 10 that took a new ingredient and well, I was back to 90% in no time. But still, 90%! That's so close!

Well, Playfish solved this problem for me yesterday when they announced that they weren't making enough money off of RC anymore and they were shutting it down. To "celebrate" they were adding eight new recipes, most of which take one of the rarest ingredients.

Last year, they shut down another one of their games called Country Story, right around when I finally started playing it again because they'd fixed some bugs with it and it was fun again. I uninstalled the game the day they announced it because I realized there was absolutely no point to continuing to play and build something that somebody else had the power to just switch off.

For years I've been playing RC, almost daily. It didn't take up a ton of my time, and I enjoyed it so I'm not complaining on that front. But now I realize that it was entirely wasted time because they can just decide that it's not working for them and turn it off. All my progress, all those recipes I did max out, all gone because it was never really real or mine to begin with. Nothing has driven that point home more perfectly.

I'm still debating if I'll do one last push to master all the recipes, but since I think I need 200 flour I don't know what I'll bother. I do know that I've taken all my other Playfish games and I'm prepping to uninstall them. I'm giving stuff away to people who still play and just giving up. Why bother making a character? Why build a "house" or do anything in Sims Social if it will just stop being popular in a year and they'll turn it off to do something else?

I'm just going to go back to playing Plants vs. Zombies, because the stuff I unlock in that will never go away.