RIP Stan Lee

November 17, 2018

I was rocked when I heard that Stan Lee died four days ago on November 12, 2018. I had to spend a bit of time getting my thoughts together so that I could do this right. I could not let a great man pass without saying a little something. So here are the thoughts that have passed through my head in the past few days.

I was a huge fan of comic books growing up. I loved them so much that I walked three miles to a comic book store and blew my allowance on a small stack of them. I bought both Marvel and DC (while some of my friends preferred Image). However, when I read them, I did not often think about who was making them. All I thought about was who was selling them and how I could get them. So I really did not know who Stan Lee was. I would have been impressed had I known his name because he created a lot of the characters I liked and was one of the godfathers of the modern age of comics that I enjoyed so much. Little did I know but he was a fixture on the letters page at the back of most comics but I usually skipped that while I grabbed another story to absorb. When I got a bit older, I started to read those pages and learned about Stan’s infamous No-Prize. It was the prize he (and the Marvel editors) gave out to fans who spotted continuity errors in Marvel comic book fans. A little fun smartassery pointed toward the nitpickier side of fandom. It was also a reminder that comics are just supposed to be fun and not taken so seriously.

However, the first time I really started to become aware of Stan Lee was watching a little VHS called Pryde of the X-Men. It was an animated television pilot released in 1989 (a magic year for me) for an X-Men cartoon show that never materialized. I thought it was awesome but it only spawned the one double episode pilot and the famous X-Men arcade game. (Fun Fact: Wolverine was given an Australian accent in the pilot which is a bit eerie now). I remember well how Stan narrated that first episode. That was the first time that I heard him use the phrase “true believer” and it really resonated with me. As somebody with a vivid imagination and a strong suspension of disbelief, that was a great description of what I am. He brought me right into the story and his voice could barely contain the excitement he had for the story that was about to unfold. Of course, 1989 Stan Lee probably had no idea how many shows and movies would feature he and his friends’ creations. He had to have been excited to see the X-Men clash with the Brotherhood of Evil Mutants in animated form.

So, years after Pryde of the X-Men, in the 1990s, I started to become more aware of authorship as I started to create my own worlds in my head and on the page. I became more curious about behind the scenes of comic books. I bought books to try and learn how to draw them but I just never took to visual art as much as the written word. I ended up collaborating with my friends on comic books since one of my best friends could draw and loved to do so. As I said, I started to look at the letters page. I also started to look at who was drawing the comics I liked and who was writing them. I started to look for them at the stores like I looked for directors and movie stars at the Blockbuster Video. As I got older, I became better at picking comics that I really liked, not just what was hot at the moment. As a result, I became a bigger fan of comics creators. When I saw interviews with a lot of these creators, they mentioned Stan Lee as their inspiration. He was the grandfather. He was one of the sources on high. He and Jack Kirby practically created Marvel with their own blood, sweat, and tears.

Now, the first time I saw Stan Lee was when I watched the movie Mallrats made by Kevin Smith. In the movie, he has his first live-action cameo, giving advice to a lovelorn and desperate comic book fan. In that cameo, he describes the characters he created being a reflection of what he felt inside at the time, a mirror to his emotions. Of course, later he did cameos in live action movies of his properties. One of the first cameos was actually my favorite since it was so pure. He appeared in Spider-Man (2002) as a man in the crowd. In a scene where Spider-Man is fighting against Green Goblin, he saves a little girl from being crushed by debris. The man who became famous for writing heroes finally got to act out being a hero. It was such a great moment to see a writer get to actually be in his own work. This sparked a chain of cameos in live-action movies leading more casual fans to lean over in theaters and ask “who is that?” which allowed fans to explain and spread his legend.

Of course, getting to be a hero in the movie was probably a thrill but Stan did not just write heroes, he was a hero. It is obvious from the outpouring of grief and respect following his death that he touched so many lives. He was one of many who inspired me at a young age to not only read but to write as well. His affable nature made comic books more accessible and fun, knowing that the people who made them did not take themselves too seriously. His legacy will continue and it is as unlikely that he will be forgotten as Shakespeare, Stephen King, or Jim Henson will be forgotten. He left an indelible mark on history and fiction that will stand as a monument to him. He also left marks on the psyches of those who consumed his stories and carried them in their hearts. Count me among them. He lived to the ripe old age of 95 so I will not see Stan Lee cameos and feel sad. I will smile and remember what he gave me and what he gave the world.

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Media Update 11/15/2018

November 15, 2018


The Breakfast Club

Yes, I have never actually seen this movie (or I saw it when I was really young and cannot remember). However, I figured it was time to finally watch it after watching a D&D one-shot mixing Breakfast Club with Harry Potter. I am more of a John Waters fan than a John Hughes fan but I recognize that they tackle similar themes from different directions. The movie is about teens starting to discover themselves and be comfortable in their own skin. It is also about them recognizing that they are not all that different. The movie plays with the standard school stereotypes that were even around when I went to school. Emilio Estevez plays the jock, Anthony Michael Hall plays the nerd, Judd Nelson plays the burnout/class clown, Ally Sheedy plays the weird girl, and Molly Ringwald plays the perfect girl. The movie is basically full of conversations between the five of them, allowing very different people to mingle during Saturday detention. When I was in school, I remember times like these where we were forced together with people we would never talk to. It was awful but it was also interesting and I remember those people well. I recommend this classic if I am not the last person to watch it.


In Bruges

This was yet another movie that I had on my list for forever and never got around to watching. I even have the DVD but never watched it just because there is so much to watch. And yet again, this is a movie that I wish that I had watched earlier. This movie is very much in the tradition of movies like The Imposters, Hot Fuzz, and Snatch. The movie is about two Irish hitmen who are sent to the sleepy little town of Bruges in Belgium to hide out. It is a movie about hitmen but very little of that is actually done. The movie is more about people and relationships and a whole lot of dialogue. That dialogue is offbeat and very funny but some of it is also pretty deep. The movie rests on the backs of Colin Farrell and Brendan Gleeson who are such a good duo together, a hitman odd couple who banter incessantly. The female lead is played by Elizabeth Berrington who plays off Farrell beautifully, ending up playing a more dominant character than Colin. Ralph Fiennes plays their boss, a man of principle and no-nonsense in a nonsense world. There is also a small part from Jordan Prentice who gets to play a dickhead Hollywood actor partying it up in Europe. The movie is funny but it also has a heart and the craziness is matched by some deep moments (some of which end up being funny too). I definitely recommend this one.


Designated Survivor

I had watched a few minutes of this show months ago and thought it seemed good enough to follow up on. People who follow this feature know that I have watched a bunch of these types of shows before. I have never really been a fan of Keifer Sutherland, mostly because I disliked the writing on 24. So, the only real experience I had with him was in Metal Gear Solid 5 which is not saying much. Watching this, I realized that he is a pretty good actor. He plays the part of the Secretary of Housing and Urban Development. When the President, the Vice President, The Cabinet, and Congress are all killed during the State of the Union, he becomes the new acting President of the United States. It is fun to see the bottom member of the highest rung of government suddenly thrust into the spotlight. Sutherland plays it human, making sure we feel everything along with him. I would compare it to West Wing if it was mashed up with Blacklist. There is the struggle to rebuild the Federal government after a tragedy and there is also the mystery of who was behind the attack. So it is one part political drama and one part police procedural. They do a lot to make those two parts work together. There is also a strong supporting cast who I am interested to get to know. I recommend this one too.

Music of the Week:
Indigenous – You Turn My World Around

Wherewolf Therewolf – Praise the Sun

Devastate Me – She Makes War

Chali 2na – Change The World

The Murder Capital – SOMA x O’Hara’s Sessions

Weekly Update:
– This week’s theme is “Turning Point”
– I watched more of The Chilling Tales of Sabrina Season 1
– I finished Daredevil Season 3
– I watched more Once Upon a Time Season 7
– I watched more Hilda Season 1
– I watched more American Vandal Season 1

Elorian Campaign Pantheon Pt. 1

November 12, 2018

Alright, I have rethought my campaign setting’s pantheon a bit to be more inclusive of creation. Of course, I have once again almost completely disregarded lore that I have not seen or experienced myself. My goal was to make this world my own with DnD’s 5e mechanics. Below are the corrections and elaborations needed to worship in my setting. We will start with the ‘good’ gods.

The Three Brothers of the Sun and The Sister of the Moon
Light Domain

Lathander (God of the Morning Sun)

Known as the Morning Lord, Lathander is the most positive of the Brothers of the Sun and that is reflected in his followers. His followers are very enthusiastic and often evangelical about their religion and often spread their Lord’s gospel to and fro. Their main message is one of hope as each day dawns after even the longest night. His followers seek to pull others from the darkness and use their faith to rekindle hope in others. Although the siblings of light are technically all the same age, Lathander is often depicted as acting and looking like the youngest brother. He is depicted as having shining golden skin and shining yellow hair. He was the one who urged his siblings to bring light to the multiverse, allowing the creation of the material plane. He spent a lot of his time delivering sermons of hope and fellowship to the earliest denizens of the world. However, when the final conflict came, he eagerly picked up his sword and fought as hard as the rest of the gods. Like other gods, he retired to Avalon taking up the east wing of the Shining Palace. His symbol is the rising sun, beams of light stretching forth.

Pelor (God of the Midday Sun)

Known as the Shining Soldier, Pelor is most interested in fighting the good fight among his brothers. His followers often hold justice and the vanquishing of monsters in the highest regard and make such ideals their goal. This is the church of the sun which is most likely to spawn adventurers, traveling the world in order to right wrongs and vanquish evil. When the sun is high, shadows run in fear. He encourages clerics and paladins to go forth under his banner in order to make the world a better place, eschewing personal glory for the glory of all. In urban settings, his followers might be involved in law enforcement. His temples sometimes double as law enforcement or military headquarters. Pelor appeared to many like he was the middle brother, putting himself out in front only to shield his siblings. He was reportedly hard to look directly at as he often shone like the sun as he walked the material plane. This was fine as he really only showed up to trounce evil and then departed again. In the final conflict, he led the charge against the evil gods with his grand mace lit up like a beacon. Like other gods, he retired to Avalon where he decided to live in the tower of the Shining Palace. His symbol is the full sun, fire on its rim.

Arrah (God of the Setting Sun)

Known as The Twilight Scholar, Arrah set himself up to be the border between the light and the dark. His followers are constantly vigilant for whatever darkness might threaten the world. They tend to be more strategic people, thinking through their problems more like a chess game than an all-out brawl. His temples are often partnered with temples to Ioun and Azrea. His followers know better than many that all good things must end but all hardship will end one way or another as well. He was always the quieter, more thoughtful brother and is often depicted as being the oldest and wisest of the brothers. He is often depicted as being more bronze colored and less shiny than his siblings. He often walked alone on the material plane, examining what his brothers had missed or studying their wake. He sometimes had long discussions with Lona, Ioun, and/or Azrea. In the final battle, he, Ioun, Lucia, and Oghma drew up the battle plan. When it was time to leave, he chose to retire to Avalon where he took up residence in the west wing of the Shining Palace. His symbol is the setting sun.

Lona (Goddess of the Moon)

The quieter sister of the three brothers of the sun she is known as the Watcher in the
Night. She watched peacefully over the night but would spring into action while her brothers slept if need be. Her ways are more subtle, akin to a classic rogue archetype. While not as forceful as her siblings, she has a quiet, subtle magic of her own. She is depicted as a pale woman with shining pupil-less eyes. She often had long talks with Ioun and often spoke with Sylvanus’ followers as well. She often spent her nights drinking tea either alone or with whoever happened upon her. Sometimes, she would preside over the Court of the Gods at night in place of her brothers. When it was time to leave, she chose to live with Ioun and her retinue in the Eternal Library but she does visit her brothers on occasion. Her symbol is the crescent moon but some worshipers use other phases.

 

Ioun (Goddess of Knowledge)
Knowledge Domain

Known sometimes as the Knowing Mistress, Ioun is tapped into the collective knowledge of all things on the Material Plane. She delights in keeping tabs on all of creation and waits in anticipation for creation to surprise her. She is rarely disappointed. She especially became interested in magic as it poured into the world before she departed it. She is interested in wizards and witches in particular as they are just as studious as she is. Her followers are often curious, studious, and observant. In ancient days she would travel the world interviewing people and observing events. In the great conflict, she wielded awesome and terrifying magicks and designed the spells that sealed all of the gods away. Her temples are often schools or libraries. She lives in the Eternal Library in Avalon, rarely leaving as she reads and stays in her observatory. Her symbol is an open eye.

Lucia (Goddess of Memory)

One of the librarians of the world, she is known as the Memory of the World. She spent much of her time cataloging the world to make sure that the absolute truth was written in stone. In the final battle, she used her encyclopedic memory to help plan for the final battle. When it was time to leave, she leaped at a posting in the Eternal Library and her home and office is in the Non-Fiction section. She spends her time meeting with Ioun and Oghma where she struggles not to correct Oghma’s stories. She loves them both with all of her heart. She appears as a studious, serious looking woman. Her symbol is a book.

Oghma (God of Imagination)

The other librarian of the world, he is known as the Story of the World. He spends much of his time writing wild stories and listening to the stories invented by the storytellers of the world. This is not all that different from what he did before the Final Conflict. In that conflict, he used his vast imagination to inspire the plans for the final battles. He spends his time regaling Ioun, Lucia, and Lona with stories and trying not to add embellishments to Lucia’s histories. He appears as a wild-haired man with a goofy grin. His symbol is a pen.

The Shield of Tau Pt. 3

November 10, 2018

Jace arrived at the central city square before his time and so he was waiting when the Shields of Tau emerged to set up the trial. The others who would be trying out arrived around the same time. The Shields wordlessly unlocked and opened a trapdoor and everybody walked down a set of stairs. Right before Jace was about to descend below the level of the square, he looked around for a friendly face but he saw neither Lita nor <A>. The trapdoor clanged back into place behind them as they descended toward the Pit of Trials. They were brought into what looked like an ancient armory.

“My name is Captain Cahrn,” a man in armor yelled, his voice echoing in the small stone space. “Choose your weapon wisely.”

Jace looked over his options. There was just about everything a fighter might want, really. There were several different flavors of swords, spears, halberds, shields, daggers, axes, hammers, and everything you could conceive of to slash, pierce or bludgeon a foe. Even though all of those weapons were relatively cheaply made, Jace was definitely wowed. He had grown up loving weapons and here was a room full to the brim. He started walking through the room, putting his hands on all of them and feeling their heft.

“Would you hurry up?” Cahrn said to nobody in particular.

Jace hurriedly picked up a shield and a sword and moved to line up near the door. The shield and sword was not the most exciting choice but it was a classic. More than that, it was the iconic pairing that Jace had fallen in love with when he and Lita had been rescued from the blink dogs. Whenever he thought about protecting the people of the Empire, he imagined himself using a shining shield and a wickedly sharp sword. He had no idea how that imagined reality would match up with his true future but he was definitely ready to give it a shot. Or at least, he was as ready as he was going to get.

They shuffled through a door into the next area. Jace counted five others who were trying their hand at this. There were two women and three men. Jace did not recognize any of them but in a city the size of Tau that was not so strange. They were led to a caged-in area and beyond was a bigger cage, a huge circle. It was the trial pit itself and at the top of it, Jace could see the sun filtering down and he could hear people gathering to watch outside. The Festival to Kord was a big yearly holiday in Tau and the Shield Placement was the biggest event so the crowd was very boisterous. It was a completely different atmosphere from the tension down in the pit as the fighters waited their turn. One by one Jace and his fellow applicants drew lots to see who went first. Jace drew second and started to prepare himself as he watched a young blond man enter the pit.

As the man stood there, a door opened on the other side of the cage and a crag cat leaped out, white and furry. The blond immediately dodged that first attack and tried to maneuver to a place to sink their spear into the cat. The two opponents began combat in earnest, both of them moving fast around the cage as the crowd gasped or clapped above. The crag cat would lunge with tooth and claw and the young blond man would try and dodge and counter. The crag cat was too nimble to be caught by such a simple plan. Fear started to sink in as Jace realized that the cat was toying with its prey. Unless something changed, the cat would win. A few moments later and his suspicions were confirmed as he watched the blond accidentally roll his ankle and succumbed to the claws of the crag cat. Shields rushed into the cage and tried to clear the cat from the body but the cat dragged the body back through the door while the Shields pursued it.

After a beat, Jace got the signal that it was his turn. He took a deep breath and walked into the cage. He saluted the crowd above and he tried to look for Lita. He could not spot her but knew that she would be somewhere in the crowd. He trained his eyes on the opposite door and tried not to look down at the bloodstains. It was time for his future to begin and he would let nothing get in his way. He swung the sword, trying it out again, and made sure the shield was securely strapped to his forearm. He listened to the countdown and then the door began to open but instead of one beast, there were two small ones. He knew these beasts all too well. It was a pair of blink dogs.

For a moment, Jace flashed back to the day one of his friends was killed by blink dogs. It was the first day that he had swung a weapon at another living thing. The horrible moment that had solidified his dream to forge himself into becoming a protector, a true Shield of Tau instead of just a kid pretending to be one. The memory of that promise pushed through the trauma and he felt his resolve become as iron as he gripped his sword tight. He did not wait for the blink dogs to get their bearings, he lunged forward. They both lunged at him but he fended off one with the shield and grazed the other with the sword. The one that was cut suddenly blinked away and Jace worked hard to calm himself. The dog suddenly reappeared in the air above Jace, trying to dive down onto him. He swatted it hard out of the air with the shield.

It was at this point that the other dog lunged at his feet, forcing him to step aside and plunge his sword into the thing’s back. The dog yelped and struggled but was unable to free itself and passed out, bleeding profusely. Meanwhile, the first dog had teleported to the other side of the cage. It growled defiantly at Jace and Jace glared back at it in return. He flicked the blood from the sword which caused the dog to charge in a rage. Jace charged the dog and he saw as the dog failed to teleport again and instead tried to bank right to circle around. Jace spun and struck at the beast, injuring its paw and causing it to stumble but keep moving. As the dog lunged one last time, Jace stabbed it in its throat, putting it out of its misery. The crowd cheered and the door opened and Jace was summoned to leave.

Media Update 11/8/18

November 8, 2018


Hilda

I was raring to tackle this show as soon as Halloween was over as I had heard a lot of good things about it. It looked like Gravity Falls meets Adventure Time and that is a good starting point in explaining what the series is. It is an offbeat British fantasy series set in a world where fantasy creatures are everywhere and are known to the public. The show stars Hilda, a little girl who has spent a lot of time growing up alone with her mother in the wilderness with only fantasy creatures to befriend, many of which do not talk. Her pet is a deer fox (a fox with antlers) that does not talk but has a lot of character. The regular cast also includes her mother who supports and believes in her daughter a hundred percent which is refreshing for a television parent. There is also a tiny bureaucratic elf named Alfor who is there to study the ways of humans. The show covers Hilda and her mum having to move into the big city to start a new life. The fantasy stuff is really great but the bits about Hilda’s relationship to her mother and to her surroundings is very grounded. The humor is very cute, sometimes sarcastic, sometimes surreal, and sometimes just straightforward. However, there is also a touch of sadness to the show as Hilda talks to creatures and people whose lives are not perfect and learns life lessons through her new friends. I definitely recommend it as it is a very imaginative show.


A Wrinkle in Time

I never read this book when I was younger, unlike friends who are a bit older than me. I have always heard it mentioned as a top book in the fantasy/science fiction genre. When the trailers came out, I was definitely reeled in by the all-star cast. The big names are Oprah, Mindy Kaling, Reese Witherspoon, Chris Pine, Gugu Mbatha_Raw, Zach Galifianakis, and Michael Pena. The adults are mostly there as guideposts for the three kids to work off of. The absolute star of the movie is Storm Reid who is just an absolute joy to watch. She is so complex for a child actress and she absolutely nailed the part of an older teenager starting to figure out who she is. She has been in movies like Sleight and Twelve Years a Slave before but this is her first major role. The movie was kind of confusing at first as I thought it was science fiction but there is very little of that in the movie. The movie is more a touch of science fantasy (which I prefer) with a lot of philosophy and existentialism. Once I let go and stopped trying to overthink things, the movie was good food visually, mentally, and emotionally. The movie tackles a lot of big concepts like good/evil but it also tackles more relatable issues like adoption, abandonment, bullying, and mental health. It is ultimately a very uplifting film and every piece of the movie worked well together. I definitely recommend it but let the movie wash over you and just enjoy yourself.


Mary and the Witch’s Flower

This is the first Studio Ghibli film that I have seen that was not directed by the legendary Hayao Miyazaki. Well, actually it is from a lot of the old production staff from Ghibli in a new company called Studio Ponoc but it obviously has the same beautiful style. Earlier this year I finally watched Kiki’s Delivery Service, a brilliant film about a young witch coming of age. This movie definitely felt like a spiritual spinoff to that movie even though it is an adaptation of a 1970’s fantasy novel. The movie follows Mary, a young girl who hates her red hair and feels absolutely alone and useless. I think most of us have felt that at some point in our lives. By chance, she stumbles upon the world of magic and is suddenly involved with witches. The movie also reminded me a bit of Little Witch Academia (and by extension Harry Potter), both tales of a modern young person unexpectedly stumbling into the world of magic. Like the two animated examples above, the movie is beautifully animated with Mary herself feeling like such a real character. Once again, these people do such a good job with building the world although they obviously picked great source material as a foundation. Studio Ponoc is just as good as Studio Ghibli was at mixing comedy, drama, horror, and action into something wonderful. I definitely recommend this movie as it lives up to its heritage wonderfully.

Music of the Week:
Jim Wilson – Centre Core Never More

Jon Benjamin – I Can’t Play Piano Pt. 1

Coven – Wicked Woman

Avatar – Paint Me Red

The Clouds Will Clear – In Cycles

 

Weekly Update:
– This week’s theme is “Trippy Rites of Passage”
– I watched more Fate/Apocrypha Season 2
– I watched more American Vandal Season 1
– I watched more Daredevil Season 3
– I watched more Once Upon a Time Season 7
– I watched more The Haunting of Hill House
– I finished watching the Curious Creations of Christine McConnell

In the Shanti Desert Pt. 3

November 5, 2018

A thin, spindly man slowly climbed out of the box. He had pale white skin and hair and he looked like somebody had wrapped a bundle of sticks in skin and hair. His striking appearance was the first thing that hit her but the man’s impossibly big smile surprised her. He looked sweaty and sore as he shifted on his feet after climbing out of the box but he still had a big smile on his face. His gaze scanned the room and when they fell on Saara, she saw that his eyes were a dark shade of pink. When he met her gaze, he winked playfully. It was then that the full realization that these people had been transporting a living creature in a box hit her.

Before Saara could object, Arana blurted out. “What are you?” Her eyes were wide and the words came out sounding awestruck.

“My lady,” The man said as he turned to her and bowed. The action made Sabri flinch slightly. “They call me Ba’as. As for what I am, I suppose you might call me one of a kind.”

“You’re Ba’as?” Saara asked. Her voice rose in pitch a bit in her excitement.

“Unless I’m lying,” Ba’as said. “Do I detect a fan?”

Saara nodded. “We didn’t think you were real, though,” she said.

“Sometimes I wonder myself,” Ba’as said. “Who is we?”

Saara pulled up her sleeve and showed off a stylized tattoo of a rat high up on her forearm. “The <>. Small crew. We heard stories from fences about you, though.”

Ba’as shrugged. “People do like to talk,” he said. “but I don’t like to brag in mixed company.” He gestured toward Arana, Adira, and Sabri. “It’s all true, though.”

Saara noticed a tattoo of a key and a question mark on Ba’as’ bare chest and she made a mental note to ask him about them if they were ever alone together. “Wow,” she said with a beaming smile.

Horseface Horu came in through the door and immediately reacted to Ba’as, a mix of startled fear and curiosity. When Sabri snapped his fingers, Horu was brought back into the moment. “Boss, we found the flag,” he said. “I can bring you there.”

“Are we to swing into action, ‘boss’?” Ba’as asked, turning toward Sabri with that unsettlingly broad smile. “Buckle some swashes? Locate some treasure?”

Sabri looked away and over at Saara and shook his head. “Not until daybreak when our sorceress should be healed up,” he said. ” Until then, I trust you not to try to escape.”

“It’s far too hot and dry out there, I’m sure,” Ba’as said. “Besides, I am curious about the job for now.” Ba’as then bowed low and gracefully for Sabri.

“Good enough, I suppose,” Sabri said. “Horu, get the man his clothes and then gather the rest inside.” He settled into a chair with one last glance at Ba’as and closed his eyes. He was either meditating or taking a nap. It was really hard to tell.

Horu started searching through chests until he found Ba’as’ gear. Saara watched Ba’as start to pull on black leather armor. “Ah, I felt so naked without my second skin,” he said. He chuckled a little to himself as if he had told a joke. When nobody laughed, he glanced around and raised an eyebrow. Saara could see that the armor had an attached half-cape with a heavily tattered edge. He went back into the box and pulled out a necklace, some rings, and a bracelet and slipped them on one at a time. He pulled out a white porcelain-looking mask with black braids dangling from it. He slipped the mask on and he looked somehow more ordinary, at least for a Kofrani city. He reached for two wicked looking daggers but Horu shoved him aside and picked them up instead.

“I don’t think we’re going to trust you with those yet,” Horu said. “If you need them, you’ll have them. Until then, I’d rather not have them sticking out of my back.”

“I’d love to disappoint you,” Ba’as said. “but it appears I have no choice but to wait.”

“What?” Horu shouted, outraged.

“Kidding,” Ba’as said.

Horu grunted and looked over at Arana. “I suppose I’m relying on you to help the boss keep things under control in here,” he said. “I wouldn’t put that burden on the healer.”

“I have my eye on all of them,” Arana said. “This is literally my house. I think we’ll all get along, right?” Ba’as simply smiled and Saara shrugged. Horu stepped back outside without another word.

“What is your name, witch?” Ba’as asked, moving slowly toward Saara, Arana, and Adir.

“I’m not a witch, I’m a wizard,” Arana said in a matter-of-fact tone with no anger but a tinge of nervousness. “My name is Arana.”

“It’s nice to meet you, Arana,” he said. “I promise I don’t want to hurt you.”

“You won’t or you don’t want to?” Arana asked.

Ba’as merely winked. Saara laughed. Arana frowned but then managed a fake laugh.

“And who is this young lad?” Ba’as asked. He gestured to Adir who was watching Ba’as with big eyes.

“This is Adir,” Saara said. “He’s a healer but he doesn’t talk.”

Adir gestured toward his throat, glancing at Arana.

“He can’t talk,” Arana said. “He was born that way so it doesn’t respond to healing magic.”

“Curious,” Ba’as said. “and also unfortunate. I’m sorry, Adir.” Adir shrugged and nodded and stuck his hand out. Ba’as was taken aback for a beat but shook Adir’s hand. “Trusting. I like that, sir.” Adir smiled and took his hand back.

Sabri opened one of his eyes. “I would suggest you rest your mouths and your bodies,” he said. “We will be working hard tomorrow and I do not want my investments failing on me.”

“Aye aye, boss,” Ba’as said with a mock salute. Saara giggled and mock saluted as well. Ba’as leaned over and ruffled her hair with his hand.

“Gross,” Arana said and she grabbed her spellbook and moved over to settle in a chair.

Adir slowly laid down on his back and closed his eyes.

Top 11 Favorite Disney Villains Pt. 2

November 3, 2018

We now return you to regularly scheduled programming.

Top 11


5 Ursula (The Little Mermaid 1989)

Ursula was a sea witch who lived near the kingdom of Atlantica somewhere under the sea. From the looks of it, she lived on the outskirts of the kingdom where few people dared to go. She lived among the bottom feeders and decay of the ocean. She lived there because she had been banished by King Triton, the ruler of Atlantica. Her crimes are unexplained but, based on her actions during the plot of the film, she probably deserved her banishment. Even so, she has plotted her revenge against Triton for a long time. She is a practicer of magic and, like Dr. Faciler above, has great power to make magical bargains with merfolk. She is akin to a crossroads demon. Through the power of the bargain, she has been able to punish merfolk who were foolish enough to leave Atlantica to visit her. She makes magical bargains with these poor unfortunate souls and when they cannot hold up their end of the bargain, she is able to transform them into helpless sea polyps. Eventually, she targets Triton’s youngest daughter Ariel who wishes to connect with the human world. She agrees to transform Ariel into a human in order to pursue Prince Eric but she stacks the deck in her favor by taking Ariel’s voice in the bargain. Without the gift of speech, Ariel finds it more difficult to make a true connection with the object of her affection. When Ariel comes close to beating the odds, Ursula uses her magic to hypnotize Eric to win the wager. She then uses Ariel as a bargaining chip in order to take Triton’s power. Now having succeeded in her revenge, she remains petty and tries to kill Eric and Ariel and that leads to her getting killed in the tussle. If she had simply gone back to the sea and consolidated her power, she could have easily killed Ariel, Eric, and the rest of both royal families.


4 Jafar (Aladdin 1992)

Jafar was the Royal Vizier of Agrabah, a Middle Eastern-flavored land ruled over by a Sultan. In many Muslim countries, the Vizier is a high-ranking political advisor and Jafar had somehow made sure to ascend to this position. He was the Sultan’s most important adviser and he wielded great political power acting often as the Sultan’s voice. Based on what we know of the Sultan from the film, Jafar may have been the most direct cause of the disparity between economic classes in Agrabah. While it is not completely his fault, he has an obvious disdain for the working class and the poor and probably never did anything to help. He uses the country’s rules to help him manipulate the Sultan into making decisions favorable to Jafar’s plans of domination and power. His magic seems to be derived mostly from researching and obtaining enchanted objects. Eventually, his goal becomes to find the legendary Cave of Wonders where he will find a genie who will grant his wishes for the power to achieve his goals of domination. When that plan initially fails, he becomes desperate and tries to force marriage on the Sultan’s daughter, Jasmine, in order to inherit the power he wants. He uses mind control and manipulation to try to achieve that. Eventually, he successfully obtains his wishes and becomes a powerful sorcerer and seems to have more ready access to magic. He uses that to punish those he felt wronged him, damage the city, and even tries to enslave the mind of Jasmine. He tries to kill her when that does not work but he is felled at the last minute by his own hubris. Jafar always desired power and used the rules to manipulate those around him but, in the end, he was captured by somebody else’s rules.


3 Hans Westergaard (Frozen 2013)

Hans was born as the thirteenth son of the king of the Southern Isles. His family would often mistreat him and he always felt that he got lost in the shuffle when it came to the royal family. As one would expect, he was bullied by his older brothers and he felt neglected by his parents. As a result, he grew bitter and desperate for some sort of path to power so he could finally be above his brothers. The problem was that he was so low in the line of succession that he would never become king of the Southern Isles. He decided to try and marry the newly crowned queen of Arendelle, Elsa, in order to escape his position. When Elsa proved to be inaccessible, he targeted her naive younger sister Anna. He used her desperation for human contact and her storybook outlook of love to manipulate her into agreeing to marry him the first day they met. He planned to use this love as an open door to become the heir to the throne of Arendelle. His marriage proposal caused friction between the sisters and caused the Queen to curse the land into eternal winter. He used that crisis to further ingratiate himself to the citizens of Arendelle by leading relief efforts. He allowed the Duke of Weselton to drum up anti-Elsa sentiment which led to an assassination attempt on the fugitive Queen. He later decided to let Anna die, blame it on Elsa, and then execute Elsa for the crime and also to bring back summer. That plan ultimately fails as the sisters are able to reunite and refute his claims of marrying Anna and he is defeated and captured. He is sent back to his former life to be punished by his father and his brothers. In the end, he tried to escape a bad situation the wrong way and he made it worse.


2 Mother Gothel (Tangled 2010)

Gothel was a witch living alone in the wilderness when she observed a single drop of sunlight fall to the Earth. She tracked the point of impact and found a flower infused with its magic and she found that being near the flower had healing properties and stopped the aging process. She hid the flower’s existence and used its magic for hundreds of years to stay young and healthy. Eventually, the kingdom of Corona came into existence nearby and she avoided it. When the Queen of that kingdom grew deathly ill, Gothel was powerless when guards found the legendary flower and it was used to heal the Queen. The flower’s magic passed on to the Queen’s daughter, Rapunzel, and her hair gained the healing properties. Gothel decided to kidnap the baby and raise her in her tower in the wilderness in order to maintain that healing magic for herself. So, first she kept the flower a secret so that only she had access and then she kidnapped a child for the same reason. She positioned herself as Rapunzel’s mother in order to control her but never loved the child. She constantly ground Rapunzel down with passive-aggressive and sarcastic behavior and kept her isolated and ignorant. When Rapunzel convinced Flynn Rider to guide her away from the tower, Gothel was furious and desperate. She hired mercenaries to track the pair down, perfectly willing to let them harm Rapunzel and kill Flynn. Even at the end, she tried to manipulate her false daughter who was also her kidnapping victim into choosing to be re-imprisoned in exchange for Flynn’s life. She dies when Flynn does what she could never do and sacrifices the magic for somebody else’s happiness.


1 Oogie Boogie (The Nightmare Before Christmas 1993)

Obviously, the world of Halloween Town is different from ours and morality plays out a little differently. However, when it comes to Oogie Boogie, he is clearly on one side while the rest of the town is on the other side. The citizens of Halloween Town like to scare and disgust the humans of our world but none of them seem to actually want to harm anybody. Obviously, our world responds well to being scared on Halloween but not the rest of the year. However, Oogie has a different idea about Halloween and his kind of fear and desire for harm are not fun for anyone. Because of this, Oogie seems to have been banished and ostracized by the rest of Halloween Town except for his minions. He is constantly scheming to take over Halloween and he would probably make it a much darker holiday. It is obvious that he has taught his minions to be more violent than the other citizens as demonstrated in their song. If he was successful in his plans, it is sure that the world at large would suffer and humans might die. He is constantly kept in check by the presence of Jack Skellington, the only thing he seems to actually be afraid of himself. When Jack gets distracted by depression and Christmas, Oogie sees his opening and convinces his minions to give him Santa Claus. He tries to consume Santa Claus. Although it is unclear what this would have achieved, at the very least it would have at least magically damaged Christmas if not outright killing it. In the end, he was defeated (but not killed) because fear made him run from Jack and he was defeated by his carelessness.

Media Update 11/1/18

November 1, 2018


The Babysitter (2018)

I have had this one on my list for over a year and part of the reason I relaxed the theme this week is to make sure I had a place for it. I especially was interested after seeing that the script previously made the 2014 Blacklist and the 2015 Bloodlist. Both are yearly lists of well-reviewed but unproduced scripts. The movie is about a young boy who is curious about what his babysitter does after he goes to sleep. He witnesses her holding a meeting for a satanic cult. That is not even a spoiler, that is the plot blurb on IMDB. What happens next is wild and a lot of fun. This is a horror/comedy movie that leans more into dark comedy. Samara Weaving is in the title role and she is so much fun that it is hard not to like her. Judah Lewis plays the boy who is a little too old for a babysitter but incredibly smart. Bella Thorne has a more minor role as one of the cult members and she is hilarious. Robbie Amell is a legend in this movie and just comes off as hilarious. Andrew Bachelor and Hana Mae Lee round out the cast with minor but memorable roles as more cult members. This movie definitely felt innovative while also clearly being an homage to the horror genre in general. It also felt like it paid tribute to various coming of age movies as well. I definitely recommend it as I was pleasantly surprised at how good this was.


The Chilling Adventures of Sabrina (2018)

So, I was a huge fan of Melissa Joan Hart back in the day and, because of that, I watched most of Sabrina the Teenage Witch. I also saw the character in Archie Digest. When I found out they were making another series based on the character, I was interested. I knew that there had been a more serious take on the franchise in comic book form and I had a feeling it was going to be like that. Also, at the last moment before it was released, the original cast of Sabrina the Teenage Witch endorsed it. Also also, it is created by the same people who created the Riverdale show. Anyway, the show is great. A lot of the core concepts are kept intact with the show set in Riverdale’s neighboring town Greendale. Kiernan Shipka is really likable and easy to empathize with as Sabrina Spellman, a half-witch reaching her 16th birthday. Michelle Gomez plays a teacher with a hidden agenda concerning Sabrina and she is wonderfully sinister. Chance Perdomo is funny and sarcastic as Sabrina’s cousin Ambrose. Lucy Davis and Miranda Otto play her aunts who add a lot of the comic relief. The show has a more apparent “Smash the Patriarchy” feel to it which I can definitely get behind. The show has a few scary and/or gross scenes but it is mild compared to other stuff I have watched in the past. Mostly, I find the world they are creating interesting and I am soaking up the lore. I definitely recommend it.

 


Critters (1986)

This is part of the movies that are classified as Gremlins ripoffs even though the script was written long before Gremlins was released. It is written by Domonic Muir who later wrote Evil Bong and Gingerdead Man (understandably under a pseudonym) so we know he can mix horror and comedy. It is directed by Stephen Herek who later directed Bill & Ted’s Excellent Adventure and Don’t Tell Mom the Babysitter’s Dead. Scott Grimes plays the young boy hero and he did a great job for his young age. His mother was played excellently by horror veteran Dee Wallace who I mentioned earlier this month in The Hills Have Eyes. The movie is about creatures that escape an alien prison and come to a rural part of the USA and terrorize a family. It is funny because I saw parallels between this movie and movies like Gremlins, TerrorVision, and the remake of Invaders from Mars. The movie has some comedy but I found it more tense than funny. Part of that is colored by the air of urgency through the whole film. The titular Critters are relentless and nigh unstoppable and things look pretty grim through the whole movie. Also, there was way more blood than I would have expected from a movie classed with Gremlins. Still, the movie ends up being pretty light and fun as we watch a hapless family struggle to survive. It definitely fits in with a lot of the comedic horror films of the time and I think it holds it own in that category. I definitely recommend this one and I wish I had seen it a lot earlier.

 

Music of the Week:
Paramore – Misery Business

Peggy Suave – Posin’

The Gore Gore Girls – Hard Enough

The Weeknd – In The Night

Arcade Fire – Everything Now

Weekly Update:
– This week’s theme is “Halloween Hangover” as a recovery from October
– This is also this blog’s 800th post. Wow!
– I finished watching Gotham Season 4
– I watched more of The Haunting of Hill House
– I watched more Daredevil Season 3
– I watched more Once Upon a Time Season 7
– I watched more Curious Creations of Christine McConnell
– I watched more Barry Kramer on YouTube

Under the Shadow (2016)

October 31, 2018

I had two best friends throughout my tenure at Friends School of Baltimore (12 whole years). One was a goofy yet deep artist who taught me about comic books and the other one was a more serious guy who was the first to teach me about cars and pro-wrestling. That second one was also a child of divorce who had been raised Muslim and Christian. When I was in elementary school (my school called it ‘Lower School’), we would spend lunch and recess running around a vast playground. I distinctly remember that one day, my friend began to tell me about the djinn. He told me that they were not anything like genies, granting wishes, they were evil spirits created by Satan and not to be trusted. He seemed absolutely certain that these spirits were real and that we could see one in America. Later, we were reading comic books in his room during a sleepover and his mother called up to look out the window at the Police helicopter flying by. I moved to comply and he blocked my path. He told me that it could be a trick and that Satan could be mimicking his mother’s voice in order to trick us into looking. It frightened me deeply.

I live in Baltimore, Maryland in the United States of America. Things might feel bad right now (as of 2018) but they are nowhere near the experience of areas in the Middle East. For most of my life, I have lived in a big city with a notoriously high crime rate. Almost every day I see reports of people getting shot or shot at in the Baltimore area. People jokingly call the place I live ‘Bodymore, Murderland” which is probably one of the greatest examples of dark humor I know of. However, only once in recent US history have we actually been attacked by a foreign power. In countries like Iran, Iraq, Afghanistan, Israel, and others, things are very different. We do not get bombs dropped on us in this country. The idea of sitting in my apartment in Baltimore on the east coast of the USA and worrying about a military accidentally dropping a bomb on me is unthinkable. Yet, that is a valid fear in other countries. The idea that you could be obliterated because of political differences between your nation and another is something politicians use as a political tool in the US but has not really been a strong possibility for decades. The concept itself is scary.

Once again, we have a horror movie with fabulous acting. It is a pattern that horror movies with a more psychological bent have good acting while gorefests usually have bad acting. Of course, there are exceptions but that is the general rule that I have observed. Narges Rashidi plays the lead character, a mother tired of being oppressed by the Iranian government especially considering she was attending medical school before the war. She is joined by her daughter played by Avin Manshadi who is a good little girl in the middle of a war. Most of the movie deals with the interactions between the mother, her daughter, and the supernatural. This is why this movie is often called ‘The Persian Babadook’. Like in that movie, the interactions between mother accentuate the experiences with the supernatural, making things tenser. The movie also does show a lot of slice of life scenarios in a war-torn Iran which is something we do not often see here in the US.

The camera work is great in this movie. There is a lot of it that reminds me of Veronica, The Haunting of Hill House, and The Shining. Great shots help make a great movie and this movie definitely captures that ‘every frame is a painting’ quality. Every shot really means something in this movie which feels rare these days. The movie does a lot with camera tricks, editing, and practical effects to make things scary. I have to admire a movie that does not have to rely on elaborate CGI, monster makeup, or puppets to make things scary. Like comedy, horror is all in the timing and a big part of that is editing which is on point in this movie. The movie draws on maternal fears for a child’s safety and self-doubt to create a horror story almost entirely in the mind. The pacing is great, starting slow but speeding up almost exponentially as the movie goes on.

Overall, I loved the movie. When it started, it was set on English which sounded really weird because the voice over sounded a bit dispassionate. I quickly switched it over to the original Persian so I could get the full breadth of emotions. Your mileage may vary, of course. The movie is very gripping and really made me feel for both the mother and daughter. The emotional tension got me good and keyed up for the supernatural bits. I love this direction in horror just as much as the cheesy Freddy stuff I crow about in this blog. However, I feel movies like this will have a more lasting emotional impact.

The Outing (aka The Lamp) (1987)

October 31, 2018

My first impulse is to think of museums as great, comforting places. I prize knowledge so much that I find it hard to separate that love from the actual locations where it is stored. I spent a lot of time in the Metropolitan Museum of Art in Manhattan when I lived in New York City. I loved seeing the artwork up close. When I went to England and France with my mother in my teens, we went to the Louvre, the Tate, and the Musee d’Orsay and I loved seeing the artwork so close. However, I also think of being in those museums and them triggering my social anxiety. Anytime I was looking at an exhibit and people would walk up, my inner anxiety would speak up. “Am I in their way? Do they want to be alone? Do I look like a weirdo?” I also remember going to a dinosaur museum down in South Carolina as a kid. I remember being terrified because they had the dinosaurs moving and making sounds. I have a vivid imagination and as a kid that made certain places scary or intimidating. A T. Rex skeleton became daunting, a stuffed rattlesnake worried me, and wax figures were especially terrifying. When you are younger, the line between fact and fiction are emotionally blurry even if it is intellectually solid. Even when you are an adult, that line can unexpectedly blur at the most inopportune moments.

I have been in locations after they have closed. It is pretty creepy. I used to work in a regional theater in New Jersey, doing lights, sound, and props. It was a small staff so I often was left to my own devices to work alone in the building. This building was an ancient theater that had been converted to a senior center and then back into a theater. Being alone in the dark in one of those places is very different from being alone in the dark at home. At home, there are windows so you are never truly in the dark. In that old theater, when the lights are out, it was completely and utterly dark to the point where I could not see my hand in front of my face. A lot of commercial spaces have very little natural light and are isolated from the noise and atmosphere of the outside world. I can imagine a museum being totally creepy in the dark after closing. Unlike a theater, there are humanoid figures waiting in that darkness to spook you. I remember the theater had an old cardboard cutout of James Dean which would scare the hell out of me in the low light. I always thought it was somebody waiting for me in the darkness. Like I said above, that line between reality and fiction can unexpectedly blur at the worst times.

The first thing I noticed is the excellent lighting in the movie. Maybe it comes from being a low budget eighties horror movie but there are a ton of shadows everywhere like a haunted house. It makes for a good atmosphere right from the start. The gore effects are pretty good. They use that good old-fashioned Karo syrup blood that looks gunky and goopy and creepy. The digital effects are almost laughable but sometimes I like a good horror movie with cheesy effects. The practical effects are way better and pretty exciting. There are plenty of explosions, smoke, and fire to make things exciting when they need to be exciting. This really is not a creature feature so we get to see a lot of props moving on their own and they did a great job with that. They also have a lot of creepy things to work within a museum that are all really fun.

The acting is not the best but I did not put on this movie expecting much. The main character is played by Andra St. Ivanyi in her only film role. Nothing is subtle about her character and she is over the top long before anything supernatural happens. Her father, a curator, is played by James Huston and is a somewhat bumbling but solid single father. She has a lot of instantly annoying friends who are just the types that cheap horror movies are filled with so you do not feel as bad when the deaths start. Also, they went hard on one of the villains to make him unlikable (including freely using the N-word while white). Deborah Winters plays one of the few likable members of the cast, a teacher who cares dearly for her students. She is also probably the best actor in the movie. Giving her a run for her money is the museum archaeologist played by Danny Daniels with a lot of gravity but also a lot of jovial charm.

Overall, I liked this movie well enough. My only problem with it is that the build is so long that the actual horror movie part feels a bit rushed nearer the end. Of course, it really is a heck of a set up so it is hard to complain too much. This movie is not very psychological like the other selections this year but it has a classic horror movie formula of setting up a bunch of victims and then knocking them down. Kicking back with a classically bad horror movie can be just as good as enjoying a finely crafted one so I do not regret this at all, especially since I have had a copy of it for over a year.  Also, I have no idea why this is called “The Outing”.


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