Archive for March, 2015

A to Z Blog Challenge

March 31, 2015

The A to Z Blog

For the month of April I will be participating in something called the A to Z Blogging Challenge. This means that for the month of April I will be posting once per day with a different letter of the alphabet (in order naturally). Of course, if you clicked the link in the first sentence you would have already had all of this explained to you. The month will include several of my regular features, movie reviews, personal blogs, creative writing and whatever else I can think of. What it will not include is This Week in Steves which will probably go on hiatus until May. At least I will be missing the April 1st posting.

Here’s what you can look forward to for the first few days:

April 1st – Adaptations: A look at how I view adapting fiction for different media
April 2nd – Baseball: A few notes about my connection to the sport
April 3rd – City Under Siege: A movie review
April 4th – Derek Porter: A heel turn pro-wrestling promo I wrote
April 6th – Easter: A few thoughts on my family’s traditions
April 7th – Flag Waving Bull: Thoughts on being a patriot vs. being a loyalist
April 8th – Grease: A movie review of Grease which I have never seen before

That’s pretty much what’s set in stone so far. I’ll post more schedules later on because I get new ideas everyday. So enjoy the ride whether you’re new here or have been here before.

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This Week in Steves 7

March 25, 2015

TWS


Steven Segal

During the late eighties and early nineties, there was a glut of action movies that were cranked out at an enormous rate. With the advent of better technology for stunts and practical special effects, action movies got bigger and badder. These action movies and their stars were a little campy and very cheesy while simultaneously being pretty awesome. We got stuff like Die Hard, Total Recall, Universal Soldier, Escape from New York and Demolition Man and plenty of other loud popcorn movies. A lot of them weren’t masterpieces but a lot of us loved them for what they were anyway.

Along came Steven Segal, a truly prolific action star who operated for decades whether anybody wanted him to or not. To be fair, his movies always sold well even though a large percentage of them were released straight to home video. I was never really impressed with Steven Segal which I always assumed was a pretty widespread opinion. Segal is interesting because he is an authentic martial artist but his acting is wooden and the movies he starred in were never well written or directed. After that he got fatter and slower and never cut off that ridiculous looking ponytail. I hope that whatever I’m passionate about, I won’t be ok with coasting and putting out bad or mediocre work.


Steve Trevor

I have to be honest and say that I was not the biggest Wonder Woman reader growing up and even now I haven’t read much of any of her solo runs. I did like the character in several Justice League incarnations that I read through the years but when it came to Wonder Woman, I subscribed to strict gender roles. Wonder Woman was the heroine for girls and I was way more into Batman, The Flash and Green Lantern (at least on the DC side). I do have two Wonder Woman collections now and I loved her on Justice League Unlimted. I was excited about the potential Joss Whedon movie but now I’m cautiously optimistic about the potential new movie in the works. I’m a little wary because of how poorly they portrayed Lois Lane in Man of Steel.

Wonder Woman has been around for a long time since she was created by a psychologist with a few issues in the 40’s. Pretty early in her history, she was joined by Steve Trevor, a military liason to Diana since she was technically a foreign diplomat fighting crime or nazis alongside American forces. I’ve always been impressed by normal human characters who can legitimately hang with the superpowered characters. From what I saw, Steve always seemed to be impressed with Wonder Woman but was always there to do his duty, fighting right alongside her. Later they became romantically linked while still working together which is impressive in itself. Like Steve Trevor I’m definitely a fan of strong women and getting things done even if you’re working through disadvantages.


Steve Austin, the 6 million dollar man

Television was kind of tough when I was a little kid and I say that with full awareness that my generation had it pretty good when it came to television. However, like any generation, we were stuck between the new and shiny and the television our parents watched. The new and shiny was not always the best entertainment and while it was hard to connect to our parent’s shows, they weren’t always bad. Also, you tended to watch what everybody else wanted to watch especially if you have two brothers. I was lucky in that there was a lot of synchronization when it came to my brothers and I and our parents could be pretty agreeable as well. Our heroes were largely confined to Saturday Mornings while more mundane heroes like Andy Griffith or Lucille Ball took up primetime.

I don’t know who made the decision to watch The 6 Million Dollar Man but I remember being pretty fascinated with it. I was seeing a lot of things that I saw in comic books and cartoons being done by a live action hero. I got into the show and also The Bionic Woman in a way that I could never really get into The Incredible Hulk. The idea of two government agents being able to do all sorts of superhuman things in live action stunts was amazing. It wasn’t unprecedented but it was the most interesting at the time in my memory. (Although Green Hornet comes to mind now that I think about it) Steve Austin was a guy who didn’t quit and used bravery and bionics to save the day. I can’t really remember the plot since there was a lot of talking and that bored the hell out of me but I remember the stunt sequences and the combat.

I’m Proud of My Brothers

March 23, 2015

My mind is truly blown by how amazing my family is pretty much all the time. This past weekend my brothers impressed me even more than usual and I have to share.


Doctor Caligari

My brother Alex (aka Lex) is a founding member of a theater company called Pointless Theater which specializes in puppetry and innovative storytelling. Most of the shows they’ve put out have been funny or at least somewhat lighthearted. Some of their repetoire has been for kids, some for adults and some of it was in between. They were a fixture at the Capital Fringe festival until they outgrew it and they continue to grow. They are usually running performances out of the Flashpoint Theater near Chinatown in DC. I hate DC but Pointless always makes it worth travelling to our nation’s capital.
This time around they have put together a show called Doctor Caligari and it is based on a 1920 German silent film called the Cabinet of Doctor Caligari. This time around they went for pure existential horror instead of laughter. It would be an understatement to say that this play scared me. After the curtain call I felt shaken and it took me a little while to truly collect myself. My brother plays the title character and is truly horrifying as are many other things in the show. I don’t want to reveal too much of the show since I am urging you to go see it in the next two weeks.
TED Talk
My youngest brother Abe is brilliant. He may be the only real genius that I’ve met and his intellect at once humbles and impresses me. He works a lot with computers and cameras which is a crude summary of what he does. He has studied at three different prestigious schools: Johns Hopkins, Stanford and currently MIT. He will also be the first PHD that I’ve known personally which completely blows my mind. Unfortunately that means that when he describes his work, there is a point where my understanding becomes Wile E. Coyote and falls off a cliff instead of following his train of thought.
There is now a solution to that dilemma. My brother was invited to do a TED Talk and I got to see an early screening of it before it is released to the public. It’s entertaining and intensely educational and I think you’ll enjoy it if you give it a chance. I have known that my brother is smart for a long while now but it’s always cool that other people get to see that. So check that out as well.

This Week in Steves 6

March 18, 2015

TWS


Steve Buscemi

Strangely enough, the first movie I saw Steve Buscemi in was probably Airheads which was not the best movie to be his first impression. Not long after that, I saw him in the beginning of Desperado which was a movie that really captured my imagination as a kid. Unfortunately, a lot of his early movies were a little too adult than I was allowed. That actually worked out fine because I was able to catch up later on in life and really enjoy his career. I adore Reservoir Dogs for the simple, cool movie that it is. Buscemi as Mr. Pink is an interesting, believable villain who you kind of like even though he’s an asshole. After that I finally saw Fargo which is a similar role but a lot funnier in a twisted way.

He reunited with Robert Rodriguez to do the Spy Kids movies which I’m not embarassed to say I liked (until the fourth one). This started a trend where he did some kids movies including Pixar’s Monster’s Inc and Monster House which I thought were both good. Unfortunately, he hooked up with Adam Sandler at some point and has been in a lot of piss poor movies. Hopefully, those movies probably paid really well. I don’t really see myself too much in the roles of Steve Buscemi or in the man himself. Buscemi has done quite a few movies he has admitted to doing only for the money. I hope that it never comes to that for me, though if it does I hope I have enough dignity to get through it.

Steve Carell

The Daily Show has been one of my favorite shows for a very long time and I have been watching it since before John Stewart took over hosting duties. The show strikes just the right balance between insight and comedy that sometimes makes me laugh and sometimes makes me want to tear out my hair in frustration at the human race. This is strangely a good mix and I am an avid fan of the show. It’s true my viewership has ebbed and flowed in recent years but this is more due to not having a DVR or time than it is lack of love for the show. The point I’m coming around to is that Steve Carrell was awesome as a correspondent on the Daily Show especially paired with a certain Colbert.

Of course, eventually correspondents leave the Daily Show and try to strike out on their own. I’m not gonna lie, I haven’t really liked a lot of the stuff he’s done since. Not all of them can be Stephen Colbert or Jon Oliver who are two former correspondents I still love. He unfortunately made a lot of movies that I didn’t really like and a very popular sitcom that I didn’t really get into. I did really like Despicable Me and (for some reason) Get Smart and I also got a kick out of Anchorman. Yet another successful person who does the kind of work that he wants. I wish I could see myself in him.

Steven Moffat

I freely admit that I am a late comer to the Doctor Who fandom which easily happens when you are born nearly 20 years after the first episode premieres. The show is a British science fiction staple and therefore was not really popular among my friends growing up. What did we need with the Doctor when we had Star Trek? Every so often I would see Tom Baker’s face splashed on a magazine cover and I wondered who this man with the long scarf was. I had no idea what I was missing and I had absolutely nobody to tell me about it. Back in the day, if it wasn’t on cable then it often wasn’t on our radar. The show went away when I was seven and it became a semi-obscure reference in pop culture. 2005 came and went and I didn’t jump on the revival.

Honestly, I don’t remember when I finally started to watch Doctor Who. By the time I started to watch, Doctor Who had become more of a household name (among geeks). I thought “What the hell?” and I watched the 10th Doctor romp around in Shakespearean times. I was pretty much hooked from there. I went back and watched the revival from the beginning and I loved it even more. By far my favorite writer from the Tennant era was Steven Moffat who wrote Girl in the Fireplace among other good episodes. Later he took over as showrunner for the Matt Smith and the Capaldi eras. He gets a lot of criticism but I’ve loved every step of the revival. Obviously I’m happy to share my name with somebody so passionate about Doctor Who and good sci-fi television that has made me laugh, cry and think.

A Few More Words on Feminism

March 17, 2015

So let’s talk about some stuff surrounding the term “social justice warrior” for a bit. My last post on feminism was written with a lot of emotion and not a whole lot of thought behind it. I look up to my feminist heroes who may or may not be your feminist heroes. Let’s see if I can get my thoughts ordered a little better this time. These are my views on feminism but I’m pretty sure there’s a lot of similar vibes out there.

The Term Social Justice Warrior

I’m actually kind of surprised that this is used as a derogatory term. It actually sounds kind of like He-Man and She-ra running around and righting wrongs to me. It’s also actually embarassingly pretty accurate to the feminist movement. However, the goal is not so much “justice” as it is “justice for all”. In my mind, the end goal is equality and not really about punishing or rewarding anybody. Feminism is about educating people about the way things are and trying to navigate a clear path out of the mess we got ourselves into.

Non-Feminists

Declaring myself a feminist made a lot of sense to me as soon as it was defined as simply “Anyone who wants equality for everyone.” Previously, I had hesitated over the label because A) I am not a female and B) I didn’t want to appropriate their fight as my own. Later, I learned that there were male feminists and that fighting together doesn’t mean putting anyone down. There are still plenty of people out there who are not feminists for some of the reasons that I wasn’t. Some people decline to join the cause either because the definitions look muddled to them or they just don’t join causes. The first can be corrected by further education but the second is unfortunate but easily forgiveable.

The people who are “anti-feminist” confused me for a long while. I really believed that they were humongous assholes who hate women. While this is true of a fair percentage of this group, there are a lot of people who actually aren’t evil. A lot of it comes down to confusion. There are people who honestly don’t believe in the existence of inequality between the sexes. They think we shouldn’t fix what is not broken. A little more world experience and research would show them plenty of evidence to the contrary. Some people believe that feminism is not about equality and instead about putting males down. As feminism becomes more and more mainstream, they believe they have become persecuted and must fight for their rights. They miss the whole equality message. Education could fix this but only if these people can shake the weird conspiracy theory they have accepted.

Disney Princesses and the Depiction of Females in Art and Pop Culture

I posted on here before that I had become upset at myself for following established tropes by making a female character with anti-feminist leanings. I further began to examine a lot of the pop culture I was consuming and had consumed to judge whether it depicted women fairly.

I am a huge Disney nerd and I have seen just about every Disney animated film (and several of them multiple times). I began to judge earlier Disney animated features for being sexist and attempting to define women’s roles in society. Suddenly, I realized that Snow White and Cinderella weren’t sexist because the female protagonists decide how they want to live their life and follow through. If that means being “just a wife” or “just a mother” then that’s just as empowering as having a career or fighting the good fight or anything else. The jury is still kind of out on Aurora from Sleeping Beauty but that’s ok, the fae in that story are pretty strong women and so is Maleficent. The point is that my views on feminism are constantly evolving as I try to educate myself and absorb new viewpoints.

My Feminist Heroes

Kate Leth – A comic book writer, webcomic artist and all around fun and smart lady. She taught me the term “Patriarchy” and why it was a bad thing. She helped guide me by putting the info out there on her tumblr and in her comics. She also introduced me to the Carol Corps and the Valkyries, both organizations I support.

Angelina LB – A friend of Kate’s, she also showered me with a lot information through her tumblr. Funny enough she’s a lot more “traditionally girly” in her appearance than Kate is. It shows a little about the diversity of the female, feminist population. I like that.

Lewis Lovhaug (aka Linkara) – Linkara is a very outspoken feminist guy who never lets a negative opinion shut him up about equality for women. He usually does his work by pointing out horrible, blatant sexism in the comics industry. He calls out bad artists and poor writing and inspires me to try harder in my own writing.

David Willis – Willis is the creator of several webcomics, through which he has explored aspects of his own learned behavior and also the sexism inherent in society. He has also explored sexism and feminism and everything in between in a thoughtful yet funny way.

Well, that’s not everything but it’s a little more on where my head is at.  More as I think of it, I’m sure.

This Week in Steves 5

March 11, 2015

TWS


Steve, the Eddie Izzard Extra

I love Eddie Izzard as a comedian and an actor. He has a lackadaisical delivery that almost sounds like he’s making it up as he goes along. The thing is, I know he plans his act to minute detail because he has translated it into other languages and performed it in front of non-english crowds. One moment he’s casual about things and then the next he’s really excited but always there’s an improv kind of feeling, like he’s experiencing it for the first time with us. He tends to cover a lot from the bible and history more than stories from his own life. He wore a dress and make up on stage and it was cool. It was no big deal.

I noticed a while ago that whenever Izzard needed a name of a character he leapt on the name Steve. I had listened to and watched plenty of his stand up routines to come to this conclusion but I thought I might be hearing things since it is my name and I might be blowing it out of proportion. After a little research, I found that I was correct. He more often uses the names Steve and Jeff when he needs to name a character or extra in his stories. Not much to say about that but I like that my name is constantly honored or shamed by one of my favorite comedians.

Steve Borden aka the Man Called Sting

As I’ve said before, I was not as big a fan of WCW when I was growing up because DVR didn’t exist yet and brand loyalty kept me from changing channels. What I did see was because of the US Open or the Westminster Dog Show and it was interesting but I was kind of lost except for the ex-WWF guys. Some stuff started to filter to me about the real WCW guys by reading wrestling magazines a little so I started to learn more about Flair, the Steiners and a few others but really I was totally in the dark. It wasn’t until after WCW fell apart that I got introduced to some of their talent. The rise of the internet and specifically Youtube did a lot to educate me about how the other half lived.

This brings us to a guy who was one of the crown jewels of WCW, the man they call Sting. He first caught people’s eye as the more skilled and more succesful partner of the Ultimate Warrior. He went on to be a hero to the people, borrowing from and learning a lot from Ric Flair while remaining a good guy. He spent quite a while as a guy who beat the odds and killed monster heels dead. His matches with Ric Flair are legendary and definitely elevated Steve to star status. Eventually, he took a cue from the nineties fascination with The Crow and changed his look and never looked back. He stuck with WCW until the end and then vanished. He reappeared in TNA and arguably became even better on the mic and gained superior acting skills. I would have to sell my soul to Satan to get his physique at his prime but I’m glad to share his creativity.

Steve Martin

I have also talked before about my love of Steve Martin as a stand up comedian. Of course, as a performer he was actually one of the most guarded about his personal life that I remember seeing. While other stand up comedians were going into great detail about their lives, he was basically a cartoon character being silly on stage. I loved the guy but I really knew nothing about him for most of my life because his work only reflected so little of the real him. I was pleased when I saw his play Picasso at the Lapin Agile because it showed a more subtle, less silly side to him. Likewise, his serious music pursuits showed a passion for a form of music I had kind of dismissed. His further writing showed a sensitivity that wasn’t visible before.

Recently, I read his autobiography and I was completely blown away. It shows how the wild and crazy guy has been in show business most of his life. From working at Disney into his teens and then working at Knotsberry Farms and then hitting the club scene as a young magician/comedian. There was so much I did not know and so much that had been kept hidden from me. I learned a lot more about his anxieties and his humanity that I ever thought was possible. I’m proud to be a complex onion just like Steve Martin and I hope that I have even a fifth of his comedic talent.

The Sword Pt 2

March 9, 2015

The Sword

The sword’s edge cut through three of the tin cans on the fence but it didn’t erupt into flame again like it had at the fairgrounds. I was disappointed but I looked around and everybody actually looked impressed though most were trying to hide it. Jealousy is a hell of a thing and it was part of why I had hid the sword since I found it. We had not talked much since the fair the night before but we had spent the night in the clubhouse to be safe. I know I felt safer with the Kings than with my family. I easily used the point of the blade to carve my initials into the fence post.

“Whoa, you’ll dull the blade, Ewan.” Ricky nearly yelled. He was short, bald and looked kind of like a bull mixed with a bulldog if that makes any sense. He was tough and usually our heavy but not last night.

“Yeah, you have to be careful with something that nice.” Jase said calmly. He was tall and thin and was almost always hungry. Though the Kings had no real leader, we usually followed him because his dad was in jail and he had the most street cred. Of course, it was only for stealing a car but this was Landon County.

“Relax guys. That thing looks pretty sharp. It’s probably not getting dull anytime soon.” Helen said. With a huge knife collection, Helen was our resident blade expert. She had shocking red hair out of a bottle and I knew for a fact that she could out arm wrestle most of our crew. She was the opposite of Katya, our more courtly member.

I turned and leaned on the fencepost and looked out at all of them and then I zeroed in on Helen. “What kind of sword is it anyway?”

“I’d say it was a arming sword which is from medieval times. Except it also has a wave in the blade like a Flamberge but that doesn’t make sense. It might be a transitional weapon between the two swords but those two styles are centuries apart so that doesn’t make much sense either.” Helen said casually, her eyes glued to the blade as it bobbed a little in my hand.

“And yet you get C’s and D’s in school.” Jase said with a smirk that earned him quite a mean look from Helen. “So what does that mean, exactly?”

“I don’t know. All I know is that it carves up shadow demons pretty well or aliens or dream eaters or whatever those things were.” Katya said, finally breaking her silence. She was still clutching the machine gun from the fair which made it stolen property. It was arguably the biggest item our little gang had stolen but it hadn’t been so hard. Between the chaos and the dark of night there had been perfect cover to get away from the fairgrounds and off to our little clubhouse in the very back of the dump. Katya had changed into a brilliant scarlet dress, probably to win back some of her good humor. It did not seem to be working yet.

“What were those things?” Ricky said, clenching his fists in a mix of emotions that definitely included fear and anger but also fleeting bits of more complicated things. I know how he felt, I still hadn’t settled on just one emotion myself but I wish I could. I knew that Ricky especially liked things simple but we all hated not know what was going on.

“The hell if I know.” I answered with a shrug. “I don’t know where the sword is from either. All I know is that it hurts them bad and they want it. It’s god damned magic or something and we have to hold onto it in case they come back. I don’t know if Katya and I took them all out or not.” Which was true. It had been dark and they were basically shadows so one of them could have slipped away to rat us out. That is, assuming there was somebody to rat us out to.

“Four people died at the fair.” Katya said in an uncharacteristically soft voice.

“We couldn’t have done anything about that.” I said. “Where was everybody else during the chaos?”

“We boarded up in the haunted house with a couple of other people. We jammed the doors shut with some spare parts we found. Sorry we weren’t there to back you up.” Jase said.

I sighed. “I was kind of mad at first but I really can’t blame you. If we weren’t so heavily armed, we probably would have hid too. At least, I would have.” I smirked and shot Katya a look which actually made her smile.

“I would have thought about hiding too. Those things were nasty.” She said with her usual regal flair.

“So bullets and flaming swords hurt these things. What else?” Ricky asked.

“I don’t know if you want to lay fists on these things, Ricky. Other than that, I hope we never have to find out.” I answered.

“So what’s the plan? We can’t hide out forever. Afterall, we’re the Kings of Landon and we’ve got shit to do.” Jase said.

“Let’s go search McCutcheon’s field for more magic stuff?” Helen suggested.

“That’s the first thing I’ve heard that makes sense today.” Jase said. “I say we gear up and make our way over there.”

“Yeah, I’m not as afraid of Farmer McCutcheon’s shotgun anymore.” Ricky said with a laugh

This Week in Steves 4

March 4, 2015

TWS


Steve Ditko

I love comic books and have since I discovered the Avengers, the X-Men, Batman, The Flash and Spider-Man at a pretty young age. Wait, what was that last one? Oh right it’s Spider-Man and I’m talking about his co-creator, Steve Ditko. He was the artist to Stan Lee’s writer although he has proven to be a pretty good writer as well. I loved Spider-Man comics for a long time until Quesada decided to torch the whole thing. I liked the silver age and I liked the comics into the late nineties. I even liked parts of Maximum Clonage. However, Ditko created more than just that. He also created or helped to create awesome characters like Doctor Strange, The Creeper, Hawk, Dove, Captain Atom and The Question. For some reason I always liked the Question even though I still haven’t read all of the back issues. He’s a hardline hero who has a cool look.

I would kill to be as good at drawing as Ditko is as I could work on putting my own comics out right here on the internet. I am not a horrible artist but it would take me a long time to get to the level that Ditko was when he broke into the business. His art style helped form the basis for new worlds and the images I see in my mind are as vivid as the ones he drew. However, I will always keep writing as long as I have the ability to do so and I hope to hone my craft so that others enjoy it. On the other hand, I enjoy what I’m writing right now and I will enjoy it even if nobody ever reads it. The clear way that I’m not like Steve Ditko is that he is an adherent of objectivism. I agree somewhat with some of the tenets of objectivism but only somewhat.


Steven Universe

I was skeptical of Steven Universe before it came out because it looked kind of goofy and annoying and I wasn’t sure what to make of it. However, that describes pretty much everything on Cartoon Network that I liked in the past 7 years. Cartoon Network is currently putting out a lot of quality stuff under the guise that it’s all zany and silly and weird. However, a lot of it actually has some intelligence and emotion under the surface. I watched the Marvelous Misadventures of Flapjack because behind the silliness there was a surrealness that was sometimes weird and sometimes frightening and often both. That led me to Adventure Time which, while being often silly, is also one of the deepest cartoons I’ve ever watched and has fantastic world building.

Which brings us back to Steven Universe because it was created by a lady who was a writer and storyboard artist on Adventure Time. Her name is Rebecca Sugar. When I first saw the teaser trailer for Steven Universe, I was still kind of wary even though they did hint at character work and world building to rival Adventure Time. I was captivated by the phrase “Believe in Steven” that they flashed up on screen. It was such a simple little phrase but it actually made me feel good about myself so I had to see the show now. I haven’t seen a lot of the show but I have seen a couple episodes and I like it and will probably binge watch it at some point. I wish I had Steven’s energy and ability to make fast friendships but anxiety gets in the way sometimes.

Steve Irwin
(The below is from someone who was not a fan and is largely specualting)

Steve Irwin was often treated like a joke or a cartoon when ever I heard about him when I was younger. People would give a hearty “By Crikey!” or something similar and move on with their lives, confident that they had pegged the guy as a lunatic who handled reptiles. However, he was a lunatic handling reptiles and other animals. He constantly put himself in danger for the sake of a television nature show. He often sounded stupid and somehow unaware or uncaring of the danger he was putting himself in. That was probably why so many people made fun of him. It’s strange behavior and I can’t exactly disapprove of people being shocked and amused by a human being throwing themselves into such situations. The edges of him and all of the parodies of him seemed to bleed together. In a way, it was easy to believe that he would eventually die at the hand of an animal and he eventually did.

However, maybe he was not as stupid as people took him to be. He had a thick Australian accent and I know from my mother’s experiences that people tend to look down on people with strong, colorful accents. The Australian accent often sounds jokey and silly and far too casual to our ears. So maybe there was more intelligence to the man than there seemed to be on the surface. He still put himself in danger but a lot of people have dangerous professions because they feel that they need the money or they are helping a cause. From what I can tell, he felt he was helping the cause of conservation and environmentalism by showcasing some amazing creatures. I can definitely respect someone so dedicated to a worthy cause.

LAIKA Studios Box Set

March 2, 2015

Animation is a brilliant art form. I have been fascinated by it from a very young age which evolved from Looney Tunes and Tom and Jerry to watching Saturday morning cartoons to Nicktoons and beyond. For a long time, Pixar was my God of Animation starting with the premiere of Toy Story. I saw Toy Story five times in theater and, at the age of 13, I seriously considered studying animation so I could get into the business. I got lessons on how to use the program Raydream Design Studio so I could develop my own CGI. I went so far as to take a class on Saturdays at the Maryland Institute College of Art where I learned stop-motion animation. I never really cared about stop-motion too much since I didn’t know at the time that it was used for stuff like Star Wars. I just saw it as the artform that brought us kind of lame things like Gumby and Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer. That would soon change.

First I discovered Aardman studios and fell in love with Wallace and Grommit and I was impressed (and depressed) by Creature Comforts. Then a movie was released that blew my mind and changed my life forever and that’s no exaggeration. Of course, I’m talking about The Nightmare Before Christmas which was a brilliant film. It is often attributed to Tim Burton but it was directed and developed by Henry Selick. It felt like they took a slice of my life and transplanted it into a very spooky yet playful garden. It’s my go to movie when I’m depressed around the holidays.

I recently got a collection of all of the Laika Studios films and I decided to watch two of them over again and check out the newest selection.


Coraline

I am a huge fan of Neil Gaiman but I got on the fandom boat a little later than a lot of people. I actually started reading Gaiman with the introduction of The Graveyard Book and I am working on steadily consuming his work. One of the more recent things I got was Coraline because the movie was wildly popular and I wanted to read the book and watch the movie. I eventually broke down and watched the movie first and I was captivated by the glorious return of Henry Selick’s direction and the simple, relateable story. While the movie is different from the book, everyone involved took great pains to capture the spirit of the story and hit all of the key points. Coraline is a tale told about being careful what you wish for, not being so critical of what you have and appreciating those around you even though they’re not perfect. It’s also about monsters and interdimensional travel. It’s a really excellent movie that I’m glad to have in my collection to watch over again.


Paranorman

I will be honest here, I went into this movie with near zero expectations and I didn’t even realize it was from the same studio as Coraline until I looked it up afterward. It was a positively reviewed movie on Netflix and, as previously covered, I like spooky stuff. I remembered the trailer had zombies and ghosts and not much else. What I got was actually a pretty touching story about finding your place in the world and acceptance of who you are and the mistakes others make. At least, that’s what I took away from it. Also, the movie’s pretty funny even if it has a kind of mournful undertone through a lot of it. The trailers made this one look silly and fun and full of action but there is also a lot of emotion here. I definitely recommend it even though I probably just raised your expectations. It should meet them.


The Boxtrolls

Finally, I got to see the Boxtrolls and I soaked in the experience on full, glorious DVD on a spectacular 32″ television. Exquisite. All joking aside, I always want to go see animated films in theaters but pretty much nobody else I know wants to go see them. Also going to the movie theater is a crapshoot on the kind of crowd you’re going to get. Animated movies tend to be populated by families which can mean children who don’t understand the etiquette of a movie theater yet. I’d rather use Netflix or buy a DVD than attend the theater with that risk present. Though, I usually have a rule that I don’t buy DVDs of movies I haven’t seen yet so I don’t end up with a clunker taking up space. However, I make exceptions for movies that got enough good buzz or whose creators have good track records. So I took a chance on LAIKA studios because of Coraline and Paranorman being so good.

I didn’t really know what to expect because strangely enough, I never saw a trailer like I had for the previous two films. I knew a little bit because I had seen fleeting images on the internet and because I’m a fan of Kate Leth. So I had mixed expecations due to so many unknown unknowns. The first thing I noticed was that the studio really stepped up their game on the animation and the movie was even more beautiful than the previous two films. You know, as beautiful as the industrial age/steampunk world could be with all of the really grimy details. I can not say enough about the brilliant art direction since, because of the textures and detail, I often forgot the sets were models. The characters were all just as well-crafted and extremely expressive. It’s an amazing thing when animators or puppeteers can imbue an inanimate object with a soul.

The souls they put in were great too. I was really impressed with a great cast of performers who helped to breathe life into their characters. The characters were weird when they should be weird and touching when they should be touching. I was genuinely happy to meet the good guys and hated the bad guys with a passion. Except that it wasn’t always so black and white (a point that is brought up by some side characters throughout). Elle Fanning and a relatively unknown Isaac Hempstead Wright are brilliant as two children out of their element in a childish adult world. Among the adults are Nick Frost, Ben Kingsley, Simon Pegg, Dee Bradely Baker and plenty of other great actors.

The movie is about a lot of things but there are several themes that pop into my mind. I like how the movie points out how ridiculous normal society looks from the outside and that goes for both societies in the story. There was a definite focus on family and how important those closest to you are even if you don’t always like them. Social status is only as important as you make it and don’t try to be something you’re not. Good and evil are sometimes a matter of perspective and you can’t let yourself get blinded by the lies other people tell.

I whole-heartedly endorse watching this movie as I really had a good time watching it. I laughed, I felt and I had a lot of thought-provoking, philosophical moments. So the next time you think all animated movies are “just for kids”, think again.


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