Blog

Unashamed FanGirling
  • MCU

    We've been re-watching the marvel movies in the lead up to Infinity War. There was this neat little graphic that laid out the plan to watch one a week from, I think December, until the release in May.

    Three things happened:

    1. The movie release got bumped up to April 27. 

    2. We are really bad at watching movies in a timely manner

    3. I forget what the third one was

    As I write this, we're watching Age of Ultron. All things said, it's one of my least favorite in the MCU. I think Iron Man 2 is below it, but that might be it. It has moments, and James Spader, but there are problems with it. (Hi Joss Whedon)

    I love how the movies have different 'voices'. The Thor movies, especially Ragnarok, fall on a far more 'lighthearted' side, even when dealing with dark topics. Guardians movies are also goofy in a way that Captain America and Iron Man aren't. 

    Though we've taken our time with it, it's been interesting to watch them in somewhat near succession. There's a lot more character development from movie to movie than you'd think for action flicks. Once you get to phase two and three, everyone from phase one looks wide eyed and naive. Worlds get more complex, plans backfire, friends and loved ones get lost along the way. 

    The MCU takes it's time, and it sees a bigger picture. It's not flawless, of course, but by the time you get to the first Avengers movie, you've spent at least one movie with each main character. That makes the payoff even better. Once they've all met, the movies start intermingling, and the world gets tighter. Characters start popping up in movies that aren't theirs, and it works. It makes the world feel fleshed out - the consequences of things that happen in Ultron are played out in Civil War. I see that Andy Serkis is in Ultron - and also in Black Panther. It's not only a universe in name, but in practice. 

    That's part of what makes these movies so engaging, that what happens in one carries on to the next. That's also why I'm so nervous about Ininity War. So many characters ... so much danger. I'm afraid that characters I've grown to know and love over the past decade won't make it through. 

    And that, right there, is how you know Marvel has done something right. 

  • This is Where I Leave You and storytelling

    Matt and I have a terrible backlog of movies. We'll buy a movie, or have a movie given to us, and I kid you not, there's a 50/50 chance that it will sit on our shelves for a year before we get around to watching it. I don't know why, exactly. It's not that we don't like movies. We're just really bad at watching movies. 

    Not that you care about that.

    Anyway, I finally got around to watching This is Where I Leave You a couple weeks ago. I wasn't expecting much, because I got the dvd from my parents, who were both very meh about it. 

    But much to my surprise, I actually really enjoyed it. Then again, I really like movies that are snapshots of a character's life over a short period of time. Movies that have comedic moments, but on the whole aren't slapstick comedies. So this fit the bill for me.

    What really impressed me about this movie though (and has made me really eager to read the book at some point) is how the characters were handled. See, a while back, I had an epiphany of sorts, that we think of ourselves as the main characters in our story, and everyone else is a side character. But everyone has their own stories, their own problems, that we are often completely unaware of. 

    While Judd (Jason Bateman) is certainly the focal point of the movie, and the character that everyone else revolves around, each character has a pretty well thought out story arc. No one is a throwaway character in the move - something is happening to everyone. They may be all brought together by their father/husband's death, but Judd just split up from his cheating wife, Paul and his wife are trying (and struggling) to have a baby, Wendy is not only raising two kids with a man she is kind of apathetic about, but she has to deal with the regret of leaving an early love. 

    There's a lot going on. The movie gives touchstones where the characters come together to deal with one crisis or another, but everyone has their own problems to deal with. I love when a movie (or book) does this. Even side characters need backstories and problems. Too often they get swept under the rug for the sole purpose of being a plot point or sidekick to the main character's story. When it's clear that even the side characters have their own lives, I am impressed. 

    Another thing to note, is that the characters' personal baggage also affects how they interact with each other. Philip, the youngest, may be a charming playboy, but when it comes to his siblings, he is almost begging for their approval. There's a scene where Philip tells Wendy that she, not either of their parents, is the voice he hears in his head, because he feels that she raised him. It's a moment of vulnerability that wouldn't have played out between him and another character. Judd's desire for privacy keeps him from telling his family about his martial issues, keeping him aloof from the family for a good part of the movie. 

    Characters that are well fleshed out and interact with each other in a way that reflects their own neuroses and baggage is great to see. This movie is a wonderful example of that, so if you're looking for an example for your own work (or just something to appreciate), I recommend checking it out. Bonus: It took me so long to see this movie that no doubt the dvd is cheaper than it would have been a year and a half ago. 

  • Lull me to sleep

    I love sleep, yet, I'm not very good at falling asleep. I try laying there and focusing on breathing, counting, things like that. But if my mind is set on wandering, those things don't work. And if my mind is set on wandering, there's a decent chance that this wandering is going to lead me to the land of anxiety, if I'm not there already.

    I've been working on a bedtime routine, and that helps. I go into my office shortly before bed and fill out that day on my five year journal, and try to jot down anything on my mind for the next day in my planner. Getting things out of my brain before they have time to sit there and poke at me seems like a good practice.

    But that's not what I want to tell you about. Not really. I love listening to podcasts when I fall asleep. I use my tablet and stick it under my pillow so that I can hear it pretty well, but it's muffled enough so that it won't bother Matt. But the problem is that either I fall asleep to a podcast I love, which makes me sad, because I want to listen to it, or I try to find a podcast that is mildly interesting - and then I end up enjoying that podcast too.

    So when I saw this podcast that claimed to help you fall asleep, I thought it was worth a shot.

    Sure enough, this podcast is sleep magic. I'm not kidding. This guy's voice knocks me out like a light. Most episodes run for around an hour - I'm not sure I've ever lasted more than fifteen minutes, if that. I don't think I make it past the announcements most of the time.

    It is my favorite podcast because it knocks me out so well. And nothing he talks about is so interesting that I feel like I'm missing out. He says that the podcast is designed to distract your brain so that you're listening to the podcast and not thinking so that you can fall asleep, and, well, it works. I can't stress this enough - it puts me out like a light.

    If you're interested in trying it out, here's a link.

    Sleep with me podcast

    He's launching a patreon later this month, and I plan on backing it, because it's one of the most useful things I've discovered in a long time.

  • Still Star Wars after all these years

    (NOTE: THIS POST DOES NOT CONTAIN ANY SPOILERS FOR THE FORCE AWAKENS)

    I think the first time I saw the original Star Wars trilogy was in the theater with my dad. Not the original run, mind you, but the re-release in 1997. It was a father-daughter bonding thing, for sure. He got to talk about how cool it was to see the movies in the theater for the first time, and how much they changed things, how revolutionary they were for their time period. When my dad is enthusiastic about something, I find it contageous.

    I fell in love with the movies. I remember being invited over to my friend Jasmine's house when the movies came out on vhs. We packed into their family room with this fairly small tv and an air mattress, and it was so much fun. Being a fan of something is always so much more fun when you have a cohort, and Jasmine was my Star Wars buddy. When our moms would go antiquing, Jasmine and I would wander around the shops pretending that we were Princess Leia and her handmaiden, trying to rendevous with Han Solo and Luke Skywalker, dodging stormtroopers, and helping out the rebel alliance.

    Unlike most people, I don't mind the prequels. I saw The Phantom Menace on my thirteeth birthday, and I found it so exciting that these movies were being made that I thought would never be made. I'm not big on debating, but my opinion is that all the Star Wars movies are campy. That doesn't mean I don't love them, but while they hold a big spot in my heart, they're a different kind of movie than, say, Gone With the Wind. So to me, the prequel trilogy isn't bad! I think that for a lot of people, especially those who had loved Star Wars for twenty years, anything Lucas could have come up with, especially when we knew how the story ended, could not have been good enough. Then again, I'm also a person who is more eager to like something than to pick it apart.

    I've never 'grown out' of Star Wars. It certainly helps that my sweetheart likes it as much as I do (and I consider this a great trait of his).

    We even had a little lightsaber duel at our wedding reception.

    (Sorry about the tiny picture. Facebook has failed me.)

    Now we've got this new trilogy of movies coming out, and I love it. I love that a new generation gets their Star Wars movies in the theater. Little boys and girls will have their own heroes to look up to, their own fights to imitate, and a whole bunch of new stories to come up with.

    It's a great time to be a Star Wars fan.

  • When I used to write for fun

    I don't even know how to start this. Matt and I have been talking about writing - but that's not exactly an uncommon thing. That's like saying, "Matt got up and made coffee this morning and I woke up to the sound of the bean grinder going WHRRRRRRRRRRZZZZZT."

    Anyway, this conversation prompted me to dig through my old story files on my desktop. I pulled up "the little star wars fanfic" I wrote at the end of 2004. I don't remember how long it took me to write it - in my mind, I wrote it in a whirlwind week or two, staying up late at night in my room with a laptop and music, clacking away on the keys to my heart's content. Whether that is accurate, I don't know.

    This star wars fanfic is one of the startlingly few finished first drafts I have. I never had any intention of editing it, and I still don't. Good grief, I barely dare read the thing, because I'm willing to bet (or I certainly hope) that my writing voice has gotten a lot better since then. But when I opened it up and waited for the pages to load, I was thinking ... 30? 50?

    147. Single space. 57,449 words.

    Now, this isn't that big of a deal. I write somewhere in that vicinity whenever I do NaNoWriMo. But I wrote this much with no one prompting me to. No one cheering me on, no imagined gold stars for writing it or finishing it.

    I just wanted to write it. Badly. And so I did it.

    I'm both proud and sad when I think about it. On the one hand, BOOYAH, of course I can pump out words when I want to. I don't describe myself as a writer for no reason. However, I could write all these words over the space of a couple weeks (we'll even say it took me a month, though I'm sure it was no more than that) - and now I can't write that many words on topic in much longer amounts of time.

    Gosh. I miss writing.

    What changed?

    I still ... I still love writing, when I do it. Working on a story is like some sort of adrenaline kick like I assume runners get. But I stopped writing for the love of writing, and started trying to be an author. I tried to plan stories that audiences would like, learned the ins and outs of the business so that I would be prepared, learned about the craft of writing ... And in the process, I talked myself out of writing things I love.

    “Come in.” Halae said groggily. The door opened, and Carth slowly poked his head in.

        “Is it safe?” He asked. Halae smiled and waved him in. Carth instinctively closed the door behind him.

        “What are you doing here?” Halae asked, pointing to a spot on the foot of her bed. Carth hesitantly looked around and then sat where she had pointed.

        “Haven’t you learned how to probe my mind yet?” He replied teasingly.

        “I could…If I wanted to.” Halae said seriously, “But…You’re my friend, and I don’t. Besides, it takes all the fun out of talking to someone, when you know everything about them.”
        “Well you must be telling the truth, because I shocked you pretty badly today, didn’t I?”

        Halae flushed and laughed. “Well soldier, you took me by surprise, that’s for sure.”

        “But that’s not what I’m here to talk about,” He said softly, “I’m here to talk about you.”

        Halae looked at him in surprise. “Me?”

        “Yeah gorgeous, you.”

        Halae smiled meekly, “Well, what about me?”

        “I’m worried about you.”

        “Don’t be,” She replied slyly, “I’ll be fine.”

        “I’m not joking, Halae.”

        “Neither am I.”

        “Yeah, and I suppose trusting Bastila’s wisdom over your own intuition is fine too, right? Almost forgetting what I know you know deep inside is the right thing for a bunch of principles that the Jedi are pounding into you?”

        “Carth – you don’t…”

        “Understand? No, I don’t. I don’t understand why you’re letting them zap all the life out of you. It’s one thing to train to be a Jedi, but it’s another thing to let them destroy your personality. In three short weeks you’ve turned from the most damned persistent woman I’ve ever met to the biggest damn pushover. The Halae Star I knew on Taris would never have let me walk away from her today. She would have chased me down and beat me with a stick until she got her answer.”

        Halae sat, stunned by Carth’s accusations. Yet, she knew every word that he was saying was absolutely true.

        “What do I do?” she mumbled.

        “Without your intuition – force – whatever they call it, we would still be sitting on Taris…We would have been sitting in that apartment twiddling out thumbs when the planet exploded. Use what you’ve got. Stop trying to be a carbon copy of Bastila and be what you are – Halae. Be Halae, the Jedi, if that’s what your heart tells you is right, but don’t just be the blonde Bastila. Or else…”

        “Or else what?”

        “Or else I really AM going to have to take you over my knee and teach you a lesson! That’s a promise.”

        Halae laughed. As Carth rose to leave, she called out after him, “Hey Carth!”

        He turned around with a grin, “What?”

        “Thanks.”
        He nodded and ran his fingers through his hair, “No problem.”

        “And Carth?”

        “Yeah?”

        “When do I get to hear about your wife??”

        Carth laughed, “Some other time.”

     

  • Bit by Bit

     Say what you will, but I really like the Dragon Ball GT opening.

    It's cheesy, but it's so ... cheery and optimistic. It gets stuck in my head very easily.

    Bit by bit
    I'm falling under your spell
    Your smile is all I need to see to know we'll
    Leave this endless darkness
    Say, come along with me
    Hold my hand

    Back when you first came into my life
    I recalled a place that I knew as a child
    A special place
    One that I held close to my heart
    Won't you lead me in a dance
    Down this winding road
    Where light and shadow entwine to take hold
    Of the thoughts of the one left far behind

    Know that sometimes I want to turn around and see the things that I've passed on the journey
    But know with love on my side
    With courage and pride
    I'll fight
    I will carry on

    Bit by bit
    I'm falling under your charm
    You'll keep me and all the world far from harm
    Bring hope to everyone
    Take in your hands eternity
    Even when it seems that I don't need you
    Just know
    That I am in love, can't wait to
    Leave this endless darkness
    Won't you come along with me?
    Hold my hand


  • The Wallflower: Sunako

    I'm taking a quick detour from my planned short series on Dragon Ball Z to talk about The Wallflower.

    Four incredibly good-looking boys live in a boarding school when the owner's niece is dropped off. The boys are given the challenge of turning the niece into a lady - if they succeed, they get free rent. Failure will result in their rent tripling.

    The challenge doesn't seem particularly difficult until Sunako shows up on their proverbial doorstep (in the bushes, actually) - hair hanging over her face and shunning all contact and things of light. The anime is hilarious and thought-provoking, a thrill that I highly recommend if you get the chance.

    All of the characters are decently well-written, but Sunako is exceptional. The series is up front about the reason for Sunako's strangeness - she was outright rejected by her first crush, saying that he "doesn't like ugly girls." Devastated, Sunako decides that simply never looking at herself is the answer.

    Throughout the series, she is coaxed out of her shell and ends up in meaningful relationships (friendships) with her "radiant" housemates. (Bonus points for the series: The men are up front about the stakes of turning Sunako into a lady. She is not particularly offended, and is therefore never a source of tension.) Oddly enough, it soon becomes apparent that not only is Sunako -not- ugly, but she is also talented and a really good fighter. However, these traits only come out when she is somehow motivated and aren't things that she recognizes about herself.

    Most of the time she is depicted, Sunako is drawn in "chibi" form - short, round, and usually faceless. Over time, I realized that while this is a 'default' appearance for her, it's the form of her low self-esteem. This is how she looks when she is feeling shy, upset, awkward, anti-social, and so on. When Sunako is feeling confident, that is when she appears in her full form. It's a fascinating and wonderfully executed choice - and the show never directly addresses it.

    I also appreciated how her character was handled. The Wallflower is primarily a comedy, though it deals with things often seen in dramas. While all of the characters have obvious flaws, hers are probably the most blatant. She has anxieties, she runs from her problems, in addition to her poor self-esteem. Though the guys have a vested interest in seeing her change, their attempts to force it on her are quickly tossed aside, and they develop genuine affection for each other. A main character who is obviously flawed in relatable ways, but is still portrayed as awesome? It's incredibly hard not to cheer for Sunako.

    I don't want to completely give away the series, but in the end, Sunako is changed - but not because her personality is altered. Many of her flaws and quirks remain in tact, but she appears to have gained a signficant amount of confidence.

    The Wallflower was an incredibly fun, quirky series. The character arcs and plots move along at a good pace, and I can't remember the last time we laughed so much at a series. I hope to find more flawed but exceptional characters like Sunako in more things we watch.

  • DragonballZ

    Before Matt, I never watched anime. But that's okay, before me, he never watched Bond movies. I'm not sure at what point he decided to foist DragonballZ on me, but it's probably a good thing that he waited a few years to do so. I vaguely remember him telling me about the show and presenting me with his high school drawings, and I didn't care.

    Maybe he sold me using Vegeta. I'm a sucker for complex characters, and bad guys who turn good but retain their attitude are a great selling tactic.

    A few years ago, Funimation got the rights to release the DragonballZ Dragon Boxes here in the US. They are a visually restored (but not altered), uncut, original japanese music version of the series, divided into 7 boxes in the states. Unfortunately, they're out of print now - some of the boxes can be picked up for around $30, but Dragon Box 2 is currently listed as low as $615 for a new copy.

    After watching the first Dragon Box, Matt decided that we should watch the original Dragon Ball series, which was five seasons itself. So we faithfully spent the next couple of years scraping up our pennies and picking up seasons of each here and there. A quick search told me that we ordered the first Dragon Box in December 2009, so this has been a real project for us.

    We finished the last episode of DragonballZ this week, which feels a lot more bittersweet than I expected. We've still got the various extra movies to watch and I suspect we'll pick up Dragonball GT in the near future for one more twirl around the universe with the gang.

    But I'd like to spend a post or two talking about the Dragon Ball and DragonballZ series, because I appreciated them both as a viewer and as a writer. The series famously drags out their battles to hilarious lengths - everyone who has seen the series knows about the "5 Minutes" before the planet Namek explodes that took roughly 15 episodes to happen. But there's some really good, and also some really interesting stuff to talk about. Yes, I know that it's a kids' show, and yes, I know the show can be cheesy.

    I'l start with a few things that really impressed me about the series.

    First and foremost, there is substantial character growth and lasting consequences over the series. As one of the primary characters in both series, Goku is a fascinating study. While many aspects of his carefree, lighthearted personality stay with him throughout the years, there are definite points at which he learns lessons that he carries with him for the rest of the series. During one arc in Dragon Ball, he learns that he can't rely on sight to know where an enemy is going to be, but to sense their energy through sounds and feel. Once that lesson was learned, the show never beat the point in again - it was just something that Goku did.

    This happens time and again, and even Vegeta learns, to some extent, not to flat out toy with his enemies after the Cell saga. In fact, Vegeta is another great character to look at for change. He has a lot of psychological baggage and even he manages to have (and love!) a family.

    But the show doesn't just cover character growth. At the beginning of Dragon Ball, Goku is a child - by the end of Z, he is a grandparent. The characters grow and change physically - Dragon Ball is particularly interesting, because for most of the series, Goku changes slowly, going almost unnoticed until you watch the opening and realize that his arms are a little longer, his torso a bit less doughy. It's not a revolutionary concept, but watching characters grow up before you and seeing how so much of their lives pan out makes for an interesting experience.

    The other thing that stood out to me is how much the show emphasized the importance of friendship and loyalty. There isn't much in the way of backstabbing, which is impressive for a group of fighters. The crew genuinely cares about each other, and even though (particularly after the Saiyan saga in Z) the Saiyans tend to steal the show power-wise, the other characters still support each other, still have their role to play. The "Z fighters" need these relationships to have something worth fighting for, and it shows.

    I look forward to going in depth on some of these things in future posts.