Archive for June, 2018

When It All Ended Pt. 13

June 30, 2018

One by one, Morgan’s Raiders stepped out of Percival’s mystical mansion. They were prepared for battle and as geared up as they were going to get. As always, Morgan Moonglow took the lead and came out first, her eyes darting to and fro, always checking for threats. She was wearing hide armor that had been crafted and enchanted by her formerly estranged mother, Irina. It had been made of the skin of the great Questing Beast which Morgan had hunted and felled all by herself. It meant more to her than the pressed leather she had worn in the service and through much of their early adventures. She carried two swords from the crypt of Alander the Great in crossed scabbards on her back. She rarely got in close but it was good to have the option. Lastly, she had the same longbow she had graduated school with. However, the thing had been fundamentally changed when it was exposed to the blood of the Questing Beast. It was more powerful now and a comfort for Morgan to hold.

When she stepped out of the mansion, she saw Amien standing with his equally scruffy pack. He was smiling at her in the sunlight with those crystal blue eyes and for the briefest moment her heart fluttered but she shook it off. There was a moment in time, maybe several moments, when she would have ended up with Amien. He was a werewolf who lived in the woods, she was a ranger who often did the same. There were a lot of similarities between their wild hearts and Morgan knew that Amien had seen that too. She could see in his eyes the arrogance of an alpha wolf who thought it was only a matter of time. However, he did not know the stubborn streak of a Moonglow. Instead of running to the wolf, she turned and smiled as she looked behind her.

Percival Stardane stepped through the door next with a big smile and a flourish. He was dressed to the nines as usual which was hardly practical for battle. Percy never seemed to care as old habits died hard. Besides that, Percy claimed that dressing up created confidence in bystanders and that showmanship could tilt the battle in their favor. He was not one for weapons but Morgan had forced him to carry a short sword on his back, partly obscured by a half cape. On the scabbard of that sword, Percy had painted the opening notes of his father’s signature song. He never followed in his father’s footsteps with a singing career but instead, he had embraced knowledge and created a new path for himself. He also had a bunch of trinkets and daggers hidden on his person which Garth had helped him arrange and design. Close at his hip was his favorite book, a book of Elorian folktales. On his feet, he wore blink boots which enabled easy escapes.

William Havelock stepped through the door next in full plate armor. He currently had his helmet off so that he could make a good impression as Percy had insisted. Cassandra had enchanted the whole set of armor to be collapsible at a moment’s notice. It was an intricate enchantment but it allowed William to be ready for battle at a moment’s notice. It was imprinted with the sign of the lion, like back home in Shura. However, he had altered it to fit him personally by removing any other reference to Shura. He often longed for his homeland but he no longer truly needed to return. He had found a new family in Eloria and they always had his back. He had several javelins in a sling on his back but his prize possession was the great sword on his back. It was constantly cold and its blade froze whatever it slashed at. He was not a great magician but he was grateful to have a little magic in his hand.

Cassandra Oakspring stepped out of the mansion next and her ginger red hair was tied up close to her head. When you dealt with magic, it was smart to not have anything dangling that could catch fire while spells were being thrown around. Her robes were finely crafted with magical runes embroidered into it with silvered thread. There was a barely visible purple aura which was her mage armor spell which kept her safer. She held her book of spells in her hands knowing full well that she had no time to reference it during a battle but, like Percy, she prized knowledge and carried it with her as a totem. She also carried a magical bag of components for her spells. She had a few ings on one hand which periodically glinted with magic power. Since she was planning to be in a fight on the roof, she had worn some boots of levitation. She also had the jar that held their djinn inside of it.

Garth Whispernight came out next like a walking shadow. He had black leather armor on and that armor had a chameleon enchantment on it to allow it to easily change colors. When he turned it black that meant it was time for business. He had the same enchantment on his displacer cloak which often made Garth look fuzzy or out of focus to their enemies. He had the hood on that cloak up and he had taken pitch and smeared it across his eyes which he had explained was a Kofrani style that just happened to compliment his sneaky profession. If one were to search him, they would never find the daggers he had secreted all over his person. Each dagger was enchanted and balanced for throwing. Each dagger had its purpose and he could pull off some amazing tricks by combining their attacks together. To complete his gear, he had dusted off his old boots of haste which felt like constantly having lightning run through him.

Lastly, Galath Wyndham stepped through the door and the door vanished behind him. Galath was wearing brand new armor, imprinted with the symbols of both Pelor and Lathander. He had finally replaced his somewhat ancient armor after it had been damaged in their previous adventure. He has been stubborn about keeping the armor that had been turned to stone so long ago. Galath had been very sentimental about all of his gear since it was one of the only connections he still had to the era of his birth. In fact, he had carried the same mace until they had adventured with Carania Galdon again and she gifted him with a new one. He had spent a lot of time blessing that new weapon in the proper ways. He had also tied a few raven feathers to the handle and he carried it proudly in her honor. Galath was not one for much else in the way of gear, relying on his faith instead.

As soon as the whole team was out of the mansion, Morgan quickly took stock of what they had and saw that everybody was ready. There was just one more part of the plan to set in motion. She turned to Cassandra.

“Contact the princess.”

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Media Update 6/28/18

June 28, 2018


American Animals

The grind can be boring. Everybody knows this but we do it because the grind makes the rest of our lives work. If you are not into college while you are there, then things can be really boring. On top of that, people can become obsessed with ideas and then the lines between fantasy and reality blur. This movie is about a quartet of college kids in Kentucky who watch too many movies and get it into their head that they can pull off an actual heist. The movie covers the power of ideas and how once they get going and combine with peer pressure, it can be hard to stop them. It also is about the thresholds in our society and how once we pass through them, we can never go back to where we were. According to the movie, this is a true story and while we watch the story unfold, we also hear from the actual people involved. The setup reminded me a bit of I, Tonya in that they show you the story from multiple points of view and correct the story as they go. I was expecting kind of a happy-go-lucky comedy/action movie but this was a dark drama movie with some dark comedy elements. Evan Peters is definitely the star of the movie as the pot-smoking, slacker character who drives the group on. Everybody else is great, though. There was so much emotion in the movie that I had to pause after watching this. I definitely recommend this one.


Won’t You Be My Neighbor?

I did not watch a lot of Mister Roger’s Neighborhood but what I did watch, I really do remember. I remember watching Mister Rogers walk in through the door singing that iconic song and putting on his sweater and changing to his casual shoes. I remember his kind, calm voice as he spoke directly to me. I remember the trolley going off to the Neighborhood of Make-Believe and watching King Friday, Daniel the Tiger, and others teach lessons. I remember the sights and sounds more than I remember the stories which is weird for somebody who worships at the altar of story. I did not know how deep the show actually was. When Fred Rogers was a young man, he had planned to be a minister. When he left the seminary, instead of heading up a church, he decided to make his television show his ministry. He wanted a show that would be educational mentally and emotionally. He tackled difficult subjects like divorce, mental health, racism, and even death. He had a diverse cast long before that was even a thing. This documentary follows Fred Rogers’ career from beginning to end. It also explores his motivations and the probable psychological reasons he did things. It does this mostly through Fred Rogers’ own words as he recorded himself explaining a lot about his show. They also interviewed his children, his wife, his friends, and coworkers. I definitely recommend this one as well.


RBG

When I was a younger and awakening to the ways to the world, Ruth Bader Ginsburg was a name I heard often. As I got older and learned more about law and politics, I learned more about Justice Ginsberg. I even read some of her opinions in my recent law classes. As a liberal, she was always an inspiration. This documentary taught me even more about her. The movie takes us from her beginnings as part of the first class with female law students at Harvard Law. She then became an attorney, crusading for equal rights on the basis of gender which in the fifties was strangely a novel concept. She subscribed to the philosophy of “step by step” and so she won case after case and slowly inched closer to true equality for women. She helped the ACLU work lots of cases where people were discriminated against. Her hard work earned her a spot as a federal judge in Washington, DC. Her hard work on the bench earned her a nomination from President Clinton to the Supreme Court. During her time there, she gained popularity for her dissenting opinions during the Bush Jr. years. Even now she remains a voice of sanity on the Supreme Court in an increasingly unstable time. The documentary also covers how the Notorious RBG movement started and Justice Bader Ginsberg has become an inspiration for young people everywhere. This is something I definitely recommend as the Justice is one of my heroes.

Music of the Week:
Gang Starr – Full Clip

Wolf Alice – Beautifully Unconventional

Sunflower Bean – I Was a Fool

Cold Crush Brothers – The Weekend

ZZ Ward – The Deep

Weekly Update:
– This week’s theme is “True and Powerful Stories”
– I started watching Luke Cage Season 2
– I started watching Supergirl Season 3
– I watched more Wynonna Earp Season 2
– I finished Riverdale Season 2
– I watched more Agents of Shield Season 5
– I watched more Barry Kramer on YouTube

Darden’s Future

June 25, 2018

“Where do you go every day, Darden?” Errol asked. Darden’s father was tough but fair but even Darden hesitated to respond.

“Out in the woods,” Darden said. He continued packing a meal for midday and grabbed his cloak in case it got cold again. Autumn was slowly rolling in like the world’s fever was breaking. Carrying the cloak in a bag was not too much of a burden. It was better than having to come back to the house early.

“What do you do out there then?” Errol asked. Darden had hoped, with very little conviction, that his father would drop it.

“I just walk around and look at the trees,” Darden said and left it at that. He shoved everything in his pack, all jumbled up.

“Leave the boy alone, Errol,” Mara said. Darden’s mother frequently came to his rescue which often made things worse. He really wished she would have kept silent here. It was embarrassing to have your mother always trying to protect you.

“He is going to have to stay and help with the shop soon,” Errol said with a grunt. “You need to grow up at some point, Darden.”

“Not today, though, Errol,” Mara said. “Let him grow up later. He’s just a boy.”

“Mother,” Darden said. “I can fend for myself. If Father wants me to stay and learn the shop then I will stay and learn.” The look on his face was fierce and his father was taken aback for a moment.

“No,” his father said, softening a bit. “Your mother is right. You’re not ready yet. You will know when you’re ready and only then will I teach you.”

Darden was surprised by that. “Thank you, Father.”

“But,” Errol said. “Keep in mind that it is not far off. It cannot be far off.”

Darden nodded. He knew well that childhood was slipping away and responsibility was coming. “I know,” he said.

“Then take a bow and some arrows,” Errol said. “As long as you’re out there anyway, there might be a chance you could bring some meat home. Be constructive.”

“I guess you’re right, father,” Darden said. “I’ll see what I see.”

Darden reached up and took down his father’s longbow from above the mantle. He grabbed a few arrows from a bucket by the fireplace and shoved them into a quiver and then left without another word, fearful that his father would speak again. As soon as he was out of the door, he felt as if a weight was lifted off of him. He smiled again as he headed towards the forest.

The path to the forest did not go far from the little village of Darden’s birth but it was still a significant distance on foot. They used horse-drawn wagons to bring lumber back to the village. It was for that reason that Darden felt completely alone on his walk. Once he had achieved a good distance from the village, he started to sing. He had a beautiful voice but he did not know this. He had only ever sung on his own, never where anybody could hear. So there was nobody to offer him praise. He sang because he enjoyed singing. It helped pass the time. Out in the nothing, Darden felt comfortable with himself and with his voice.

He kept singing as he made his way through the roots and the brambles, weaving between trees. He was not wandering as he had told his parents, he definitely had a specific destination in mind. Of course, he stopped singing as he got to the clearing. The clearing deserved reverence and reverence meant silence at least at first. He walked into the clearing once again and felt the sunlight on his face. He tilted his head up towards it for a moment, feeling the warmth and love of it. Then he lowered his gaze and looked ahead at the object of his mission. As soon as he had found him, he had wanted to visit every day. He walked forward slowly, barely even feeling his footsteps anymore.

At first glance, he looked like a statue. Almost perfect white alabaster stone, he was obviously a warrior of some kind. He had been wearing some sort of armor although the insignias on it were somewhat foreign to Darden. He had long flowing hair that was partially covering his face. That face was flawless, absolutely perfect and beautiful though Darden wished that it was wearing a smile instead of a grimace. He also wished he knew what color the young man’s eyes were although when he looked into those eyes, his own eyes were drawn to the man’s lips and then his thoughts would wander. He shook himself from his reverie and sighed for the last in what must have been dozens of times.

The man had been turned to stone at some point. Darden did not know the particulars but it looked like it had been a monster of some kind. Darden knew that years ago the Guard had slain a basilisk and Darden had heard the tales of how their gaze could turn people to stone. Darden wished that he had slain that Basilisk himself. He would have stabbed it himself a million times. Thinking about it made Darden see red and he felt himself turn away. Instead of violence, he started to sing to the young man. He wished he could help the young man so much. The problem was that the young man was missing an arm. If he was restored to flesh, he would bleed out almost immediately. It was tragic. And so he kept singing and when his song was over he did something he never did before.

“I don’t know if you can hear me,” Darden said. “I’m not even sure who you are but I love you. It’s true that I don’t know your name or what your preference was. It may seem silly but I do love you and it kills me that you cannot love me back.” He paced back and forth in front of the stone man in front of him. He ran hands through his hair and sang again for a bit.

“I don’t know what to do,” he said. “My father wants me to work at the shop and maybe take it over down the line. If I do that, I will be stuck where I am forever and I will never see the world like you did. I will never be an adventurer like you. No more singing. I don’t know if I can handle that. I’m not sure what I want to do with my life but I will keep coming back here for as long as I can.”

Darden sat down on a log with another sigh and laid his father’s bow in the grass at his feet and just looked up at the mystery man.

March Madness 4: The Disney Quarterfinals Pt. 2

June 23, 2018

Bracket

Aladdin vs. The Little Mermaid

Aladdin is a streamlined and musical take on a classic tale from the 1001 Arabian Nights which is, of course, some of the most well-known folklore from that region. An invention of that region, genies (or ‘djinn’) have permeated popular culture and this is one of the most famous mainstream takes on the myths. This is a tale about class differences, the artificial barriers we place between each other, trusting your own self-worth, being honest, and true friendship. The lead character of the movie is Aladdin who is played by Scott Weinger who has made a good living playing the character in a lot of material. He gives such a fun but vulnerable performance especially when he is singing. It is not a stretch to say the star of the movie is Robin Williams as Genie. This was my first exposure to Robin Williams and I was instantly a fan. I cannot stress enough how much the character of Genie makes this movie special. Linda Larkin plays Princess Jasmine and does a great job of playing a confident, independent woman. She was kind of the first example of a woman like that in fiction for me. The villain, Jafar is played by Jonathan Freeman and he has to be in the top 10 of Disney villains (which is another post I could write hmm). The animation is very fluid and felt like a new era of a marriage between CGI and traditional drawn animation. The movie is entertaining from start to finish.

The Little Mermaid is adapted from an original Hans Christian Andersen fairytale but the story was given a much happier resolution. It uses a different mythical creature, this time the mermaid often spoken of by sailors. This is the last fully drawn Disney animated movie and while earlier movies were rotoscoped from live models, this one was drawn freehand. Of course, they still used the live models. In this movie, the princess of Atlantica has become curious and obsessed with the world of the surface and makes a devil’s deal to try and achieve her dream of walking on land. Princess Ariel is played by Jodi Benson, a young relative unknown who really embodied a young woman pushing against literal and figurative boundaries of her world. Her voice is so pure that it is a shame that she only gets to sing one great song. Samuel Wright plays Sebastian, a crab who advises the King and is tasked with watching over the headstrong princess. He sings two very memorable songs in a very musical Jamaican accent. Finally, the villain is Ursula who was apparently patterned after Baltimore’s Divine (a local drag queen). She is great as the scheming witch who easily engages in mind games. In fact, she sings her villain song directly to the protagonist without scaring her away. One of the main things keeping this movie from winning this particular matchup is that Ariel does not really have any internal conflict. She has conflict with Ursula and her father but never really learns anything new about herself.

Lead Character: Aladdin is a fun, lower class individual who learns lessons about honesty and friendship which beats the fact that Ariel does not really learn anything but things work out for her anyway.

Supporting Characters: Genie, Jasmine, Abu, and the Sultan beat Sebastian, Flounder, Eric, and King Triton.

Villain: This one is close but Jafar is far more twisted and his almost pathetic, weaselly nature beats Ursula’s admittedly complicated, witchy villainy.

Music: Legendary musical writer, Alan Menken, wrote some great, fun songs and even wrote two songs that built off of Robin Williams’ legendary motor mouth. Unfortunately, there is no villain song (it was cut out) but the rest of the soundtrack more than makes up for it. Menken also wrote the music for Little Mermaid but it makes sense that the music he wrote three years later would be better. For me, it comes down to better instrumentation and Robin Williams putting it over the edge.

Story: I still feel like a tale of a diamond in the rough realizing his worth is better than the tale of a young woman achieving her dream.

Animation: While Little Mermaid has some beautiful drawings but Aladdin wins with absolutely fluid animation mixed with early but smooth CGI.

Winner: Aladdin

 

Mulan vs. The Nightmare Before Christmas

Mulan is the story of a young woman in feudal China who poses as a man to enlist in the army to both cover for her family and to find herself. This was another in a long line of Disney animated films trying to explore other cultures. This was probably to make up for the first eleven or so animated films (with humans in them) being about white Europeans. However, the first two were Pocahontas which was an insult and Aladdin which unfortunately cast only white people as Middle Eastern people. This was also part of a movement to make more proactive female characters which would get better in small increments through Disney’s history. It also based on the tales of Hua Mulan, which are not talked about much in the US. The power behind the movie lies mostly in how well-crafted the character Mulan is and that has a lot to do with the animation and the vocal performance by Ming-Na Wen and the singing performance of Lea Salonga. They show both Mulan’s weaknesses and strengths to create a more interesting character. She is unsure of who she is or what she wants but is also strong and smart. BD Wong does a great job as Captain Shang, the superior officer that falls in love with Mulan (and possibly the first bisexual Disney character). Eddie Murphy is also part of the cast at the absolute height of his powers and you could definitely do much worse casting a Disney sidekick (although casting somebody actually Chinese would have helped). As I mentioned in the first round, the movie has beautiful music including one of Disney’s catchiest songs which was sung by Donnie Osmond.

The Nightmare Before Christmas is a story about a man who is suffering from depression and ennui but nobody understands and worst of all he does not understand. By embracing something new he starts to come out of his depression. This movie is the awesome combination of musician Danny Elfman and animation director Henry Selick. Selick is a genius director when it comes to animation and, when he has a good script, he always knocks it out of the park (see Coraline). Danny Elfman is known both as the frontman for the band Oingo Boingo and the composer for most Tim Burton movies. The heart of the movie is Jack Skellington as played by Chris Sarandon with his singing done by Danny Elfman himself. Every single time I watch the movie, I feel everything Jack feels as he talks and sings. He is joined by Catherine O’Hara as Sally, the ragdoll-like Frankenstein-esque monster woman who is experiencing a similar sadness and longing. The two are opposed by Ken Page as Oogie Boogie, the actual boogie man who wants to stomp all over everything. This is the only stop motion film in any of the brackets which makes it stand out. In fact, it is one of only three stop-motion films that Disney has done period since the process costs a lot of money and time. However, here it is done so well as each model is artfully crafted to breathe life into every frame. It is an astonishingly good movie.

Lead Character: Jack’s journey to find what is missing from his life beats Mulan’s similar but less emotional journey.

Supporting Characters: Mulan has Captain Shang, Mushu and a few soldiers who get a few lines which is beaten by a whole town full of characters who feel very fleshed out. Lock, Shock, and Barrel alone beat Mulan’s entire cast.

Villian: Shan Yu is more of an elemental force and we do not learn much about him beyond the conflict he starts. In contrast, Oogie Boogie is charismatic, has motivations, and depth.

Music: The power of Donnie Osmond pales in comparison to the magic of Danny Elfman at full power.

Story: Both movies have interesting stories about self-discovery and both movies have a character posing as something they aren’t to try and fix their life. However, Jack’s story resonates with me more.

Animation: The stop-motion technology of Henry Selick blows traditional drawn animation out of the water.

Winner: The Nightmare Before Christmas

I have a couple of notes here as I realized two interesting things since I wrote the previous post in this series. First, I realized that three out of four of the Disney Quarterfinalists were written and directed by the same two guys. Ron Clements and John Musker wrote and directed Aladdin, The Princess and the Frog, and Moana. They also wrote and directed The Little Mermaid which unfortunately had to lose its match in this post. That really says something that these two guys were able to have such great success. The other thing that I remembered is that two of the quarterfinalists were movies that I watched on heavy drugs. I watched Aladdin in the Intensive Care Unit of Johns Hopkins after heart surgery in fifth grade. More recently, I watched Moana while recovering from getting my wisdom teeth removed. Neither of these viewings was the first viewing but they were memorable.

Media Update 6/21/18

June 21, 2018


Hearts Beat Loud

I have been a big fan of Nick Offerman since I first saw him on Parks and Recreation. I subsequently became a bigger fan watching his stand up and his appearances on talk shows. He is a highly intelligent performer and very charismatic. When I found out that he was starring in a feel-good independent movie, I was excited. I heard right away that it was getting good buzz but I stopped checking up on it because I did not want to spoil myself. The movie is about a single father who is on the cusp of changes in his life just as his daughter is about to go off to college. During that last summer, they write a song together. Offerman is great in the movie. There were parts where he did so much with his face and his eyes without even saying a word that made me laugh or made me feel for him. He played a less grumpy character than on Parks and Rec and he was really sweet. The other star of the movie is played by Kiersey Clemons, who plays the daughter. She is so amazing and fun and the soul of the movie is her interactions with her father. Also, her singing (and it really was her singing) is really great. I had not really known about her before this movie but I will be on the lookout now. She reminded me a little of Tessa Thompson in Creed. There were also great supporting roles from Toni Colette, Sasha Lane, and Ted Danson. The movie was really sweet and funny and the soundtrack is one of the best I have ever heard. A lot of the original songs were a mix of electronica and live instruments and the rest is an eclectic mix of more obscure artists. I definitely recommend it as I could not stop smiling all the way through.


Queen of Katwe

This movie is based on a real story of a young woman from a slum in Kampala, Uganda who tried to escape poverty by playing chess in tournaments. Her name was Phiona Mutesi and she was apparently a brilliant mind in chess. That is one of the things that I have always loved about chess is that as long as you dedicate yourself to it, it is a game that poor and rich people alike can succeed at. That is the main message of this movie. Phiona is an inspiration and a great role model for kids. The movie is also about what happens when you find the greater world beyond what you have known. Those in poverty and those in wealth live in entirely different worlds and, although my life has never been of great wealth, I have not wanted like Phiona must have wanted. When you move between two worlds, all sorts of identity problems start cropping up as you wonder where your worldview may take you and how it might change. The kids in the movie have great performances and Phiona herself is played unknown Madina Nalwanga. David Oyelowo is so amazing and warm as their coach who sees something in Phiona and the other children and does his best to shepherd them educationally and emotionally. The always great Lupita Nyong’o plays Phiona’s mother with both warmth and ferocity. I definitely recommend this one as well.


Paddington

I vaguely remember reading a Paddington Bear book when I was little but I realized that I have it confused with another famous British bear, Winnie the Pooh. I thought Paddington was a teddy bear as well but I was mistaken. He is an actual bear from Darkest Peru and speaks proper Queen’s English. I was a little worried about this one despite the good reviews because live-action adaptations of older properties have not been so kind lately. I worried that it would end up like bad adaptations like the recent Peter Rabbit. This was not the case. This movie was absolutely charming and the acting was top notch. Every joke came from a place of plot and character and there are no random, non-sensical gags that do not fit the source material. And yet, the movie updated the story to fit modern London instead of the fifties when the first book was written. The heart of the movie is in Ben Whishaw’s performance of Paddington but also Hugh Bonneville’s performance as the father of the Brown family. Their relationship felt so natural. Paddington was so warm and his fish-out-of-water story felt so genuine and heartfelt. Nicole Kidman was great as the villain. She was so over the top but oddly charming while doing it. There were also great character actor performances from Jim Broadbent, Michael Gambon, Peter Capaldi, Julie Walters, and Sally Hawkins. Apparently, a good deal of credit should also be given to Emma Thompson who gave the script an uncredited polish. Also, of course, Director Paul King who was also the director of the brilliant The Mighty Boosh. I definitely recommend this.

Music of the Week:
Ash – Annabel

Dilated Peoples – Worst Comes To Worst

Dua Lipa – IDGAF

Ratatat – Breaking Away

We’re Not a Band – Hearts Beat Loud

Weekly Update:
– This week’s theme is “The Start of Something New”
– I watched more Wynonna Earp Season 2
– I finished Supernatural Season 13
– I watched more Riverdale Season 2
– I watched more Gurren Lagann
– I watched more Hemlock Grove Season 1
– I started Agents of Shield Season 5
– I watched more Barry Kramer on YouTube
– I am psyched for some other movies this weekend

Getting the Temple in Order

June 18, 2018

I have never been and probably will never be an athlete. This probably surprises nobody I knew growing up. I was a boy who would rather read a book, doodle on a piece of paper, pretend my lunch box was a sentient being, write, or run around pretending I was a superhero. Now, although I regularly go to the gym, I have no drive to go out and get physical with other people. It is not a lack of team spirit, as I am an avid D&D player and I play trivia when I have time to go out on Wednesday nights. I just never had that athletic drive. As I have previously mentioned, I played little league baseball and soccer at different points in my childhood. I never bought into the hometown obsession with lacrosse even though I did have a stick at one point but that was more about fitting in. I tend to shy away from being athletic in a way that depends on other people. Maybe because I am afraid of somehow hindering their competition or their good time. That was why I briefly enjoyed wrestling in middle school, a sport I was actually good at for a bit.

As soon as I got out of high school, I no longer had an athletic requirement. In college, I walked everywhere and I was constantly hauling equipment to set up some show. However, when I was not in class or working, I was sitting on my bed on my computer. When I moved to Sussex County, I was once again working my butt off hauling equipment and building sets. However, as soon as a show was up, I was sitting on my butt working on a sound or lighting board or surfing around on my computer. I did not have many friends up in Jersey as I lived in a small town and I have never been really great about finding new friends outside of the workplace or school. The friends I did make were online and they helped keep me sane out there in the sticks, mostly alone. However, this is not about my previous hermit lifestyle. This is about a new direction in my life.

When I quit theater and started taking office jobs, I became more sedentary both at work and at home. To combat this, I started to go on long walks. This started when Pokemon Go was released. Off and on, I would go to the gym but my heart was never in it. My social anxiety was always triggered by working out in the gym. It felt performative. I felt like I was inviting people to watch me and that feeling of being watched was troubling me. After a while, some excuse would drive me from the gym and I would once again go on long walks to try and stay healthy but I was mostly driven by a mobile game. It kind of stopped being fun at some point.

This year, I decided to make a change around Christmas. I vowed to be healthier. I went back to the gym with a vengeance and I found that I had less of a problem doing cardio at the gym. Instead of a sedate walk, I was doing the stationary bike and actually jogging on the treadmill. I still felt weird and creeped out in the middle of the gym floor and I dreaded having to sign in at the front desk every visit. So, I made another change. I went to a psychiatric nurse and she listened to my description of my life and told me that I was suffering from generalized anxiety and social anxiety, something I readily agreed with. I have talked about my stage fright on this blog but that also extends to crowds as well. She put me on Zoloft and I nodded and started to take it with new hope. After several weeks on the drug, I feel braver. I feel like the anxiety has ebbed away. It is not completely gone but I feel so much better.

My brother took an interest in my gym visits. He is a bit of a gym rat himself and does races like the Spartan and the Tough Mudder. He is a fight choreographer and a guy who works with his hands. He has been on his own journey towards health. He asked to come to the gym with me and I nervously agreed, not yet on Zoloft. We went together and he spent an hour teaching me how to use various equipment. He also taught me about reps and about how to have confidence in the gym. All those people I thought might be watching me? They felt the same way I did, probably. And if they didn’t? Fuck ’em. They don’t know me.

So, I started to really work out for the first time in my life. I currently average four visits a week to the gym. I gladly hop on the elliptical and I run for up to thirty minutes although it is usually about 25 minutes (the length of an anime episode). I do watch anime or movies while on the elliptical but not while I am in the weight room. I do exercises with hand weights and I do plenty of crunches. The most shocking thing to me is that every visit, I head directly to the weight room and I benchpress weights. I am currently benching with 50 pounds on the bar. I never thought I would be benching. Guys who benched back in high school were the actual athletes. Guys who benched in college were the assholes in the frats. Now, I bench and I run and I work out and I feel like a superhero when I am doing it. I feel healthier each day and I am losing weight and slowly (very slowly) gaining muscle. I will continue to work my butt off in the gym so that I can feel accomplished when I relax on my couch later.

The Faith of the Raven Pt. 5

June 16, 2018

As they reached the woods, Carania climbed down from Rhiannon’s back. She tied the horse’s reins to a nearby sturdy tree branch. It would discourage her from wandering off when she got bored but it would surely break if real danger appeared. The other two followed suit, tying their horse and pony up to different trees. Arne leaned in and pressed his forehead to his horse’s forehead and spoke quietly for a moment. Galath started to rummage through the pack on the back of the pony and pulled out a small, two-handed hammer which he slung across his back. Arne turned toward Carania instead of going into his pack immediately. Carania smiled to herself and prepared for sarcasm.

“So,” he said. “I assume we are continuing on foot?”

Galath laughed at that. “You’re the smart one, huh?”

“I am,” Arne said sweetly. “So nice of you to notice. I’m stating the obvious because I wanted an explanation, not confirmation.”

Carania laughed. “No need to fight, boys. I don’t want to endanger the horses or have them slow us down with all of the brush and roots.”

“Fair enough,” Arne said and shrugged. Carania had expected a little more pushback from the opinionated wizard who definitely had a high opinion of himself and a chip on his shoulder. Arne pulled a pouch out of his pack and tied it to his belt. Carania could only assume it was full of components for spells as she had observed as much from her former charge. He then pulled a parasol out of a side pocket, sliding it slowly out of what must have been a magic pocket on the horse’s saddle.

“That’s a curious tool,” Carania said. “I’ve rarely seen one of those outside of cities and even rarer out of the hands of nobility.”

“You like that, eh?” Arne asked with a smile. “Sadly I won’t be taking the bait and using that opening to pour my heart out about my past. My past is my own and I prefer it to remain mysterious.”

“Very mysterious,” Carania agreed. “I was only complimenting your parasol. I had never heard of one being brought into battle before. That is the only reason I commented.”

Arne relaxed, his shoulders visibly releasing tension. “I made it and enchanted it myself for a woman who never claimed it. So I did not want it to go to waste.”

“It’s very pretty,” Galath said in an obvious attempt to tease Arne and maybe further diffuse the tension of the situation.

“Thank you,” Arne said. “I do excellent work.” He leaned the parasol against his shoulder and Graymalkin flapped down from a branch and perched on the gem at the top of the parasol. He started off into the woods whistling.

Carania and Galath followed and then Carania got ahead of the two of them as they headed into those woods. Carania pulled her sword out and held it out at her side. While training at Battle Arts she had heard many stories about patrols that had tripped and fallen on their swords by holding them in front. Galath had his hammer out in one hand but he was clutching his holy symbol. He did not look scared, he looked intense. Carania had no idea how many they would be facing but she felt the Raven Queen like a wind at her back, pushing her onward. It made her feel powerful and that feeling made her feel braver but she was no fool. She would not rush into danger blindly.

After a long walk, the forest started to feel darker. It was clearly actually getting darker as the branches grew closer together in the unforested parts. However, it was also feeling dark and, for lack of a better word, spooky. It felt like it was harder to breathe and each step was more difficult than the last. Carania looked over at Galath and knew that he could feel something like what she felt. She could sense the undead in the woods and she started to lead them in that direction. She gripped her sword tighter and they moved confidently toward their targets. They pushed through a copse of trees and there were a group of men with black feathers attached to their leather armor. Their eyes widened when they saw the three adventurers appear.

“But we killed you!” one of them shouted out.

“It didn’t take,” Carania said. “The Raven Queen sends her regards.” Something in her voice must have scared the men.

“Release the cages!” Another man shouted. The men rushed to two big cages and threw open the doors and out poured a crowd of zombies. The men pointed toward the adventurers and the small zombie horde started toward them.

“I guess talking is out of the question,” Arne said and pointed the parasol at the oncoming menace.

Galath stepped forward and gripped his holy symbol and called out in his dwarvish language and the symbol glowed. The zombies hesitated and then some of them exploded where they stood and then the rest started to flee from that holy light. Carania took the cue to leap forward into the fray. Her swordplay was a fearsome sight as she slashed away at the fleeing horde and the bewildered human men. She was a primal force, revenge and righteous fury flowing through her. True Purpose is one of the most powerful forces in all of the universes and it was fully on display here. She was slowly covered in blood and rotting viscera as she carved a path through their enemies. Meanwhile, magic missiles streaked from the end of Arne’s parasol as he managed to hit those that Carania had not yet reached.

As the last thug fell to the ground in a heap, the two men looked over at Carania as she stood in the middle of what could only be described as a circle of death. The first thing the two of them noticed was that her eyes were obsidian black and she had a big smile on her face. It should have felt creepy, but for some reason, the image just felt right. These men and woman who had been raised from death without their consent had been laid to rest again. The men who had shepherded those zombies had obviously tried to kill their new leader, Carania and she had gotten her justified revenge. As Carania walked toward them, flicking the blood from her sword, both of them would swear later that they saw a pair of black wings spread out from her shoulders and then fade away like mist.

“Come on, men,” Carania said. “We have more work to do.”

Media Update 6/14/18

June 14, 2018


The Adventures of Priscilla, Queen of the Desert

Last year, for Pride, I watched Too Wong Foo, Thanks for Everything, Julie Newmar and noted that I could not get a hold of a copy of Priscilla at the time. I also noted that most people say that the movies are somewhat similar. In Too Wong Foo, three drag queens travel across the US and break down in a small town and cultures clash. In Priscilla, two drag queens and a transgender woman travel across Australia and they break down and cultures class. The thing is, in Too Wong Foo there is a moment where they win over small-town America but that is not what Priscilla is about. The strength of the movie comes from the interplay between the characters played by Terence Stamp, Hugo Weaving, and Guy Pearce. The three of them are constantly joking with each other, sniping at each other, and sharing deep, heartfelt moments together. The three of them are each struggling with different parts of gay culture and the way it clashes with more conservative parts of the world. They are a transgender woman, a bisexual man, and a gay man respectively and they clash with the world and with each other but ultimately hanging together. The movie is fun, sad, and even dark in places but it shows that there is hope at least on a personal level. I definitely recommend it and I would actually suggest watching both movies as they are kind of two sides of the same coin.


Milk

In the late seventies, Harvey Milk was elected to a seat on the San Francisco Board of Supervisors and when that happened he was the first openly gay person to be elected to office in the state of California. He was the third openly gay person elected to public office in the United States. At the time, San Francisco was already becoming a bastion of gay civil rights and gay culture and Harvey decided to harness that and fight for gay rights. The movie follows his several failed campaigns until his rise to office and his crusade to oppose an anti-gay referendum. Along the way, he is opposed by Anita Bryant, Senator John Briggs, and fellow Supervisor Dan White. Milk is portrayed as a brilliant strategist who never wanted to be a candidate but instead insists “the movement” is the candidate. Sean Penn is magnetic as Milk and his successes are something I wanted to cheer on. Bryant is portrayed in actual archival footage as the misguided, brainwashed evangelical Christian she was. John Briggs is portrayed in much the same way. Dan White (played by Josh Brolin) is a more sympathetic character as he is a flawed man who clings to his Christian values and falls farther and farther behind the times and into the wrong side of history with the rest. The rise of Milk is a great inspiration and his tragedy is such a dark moment in civil rights history. I definitely recommend this one too.


But I’m a Cheerleader

I wanted something a little lighter for the final film of the week (I watched all three in one day) so I started searching lists of movies aired at pride festivals. I saw this movie and looked it up and saw that it had a horrible Rotten Tomatoes score and then I saw that the movie was compared to John Waters films. That sealed it. The critics never “got” John Waters but he was always one of my hometown heroes. So a campy take on gay and gender issues sounded like exactly what I wanted to watch. I was not disappointed. Immediately, the movie is over the top and funny and too true. The movie is indeed campy but in the way that John Waters and early Tim Burton was to really drive home a point. The art direction has very bright colors and high contrast to also prove a point (much like Crybaby or Edward Scissorhands). The movie (correctly) treats homophobia in a kind of horror movie creepy behavior. The characters treat a “gay rehab” as normal but it hilariously comes off as scary and paranoid. Natasha Lyonne stars as the titular cheerleader who is sent to a camp to get straight. She is joined by a lot of perfectly normal misfits who are also told they are wrong. One of the counselors is played by RuPaul, a big name in the gay community. However, the main villain is played brilliantly by Cathy Moriarty. The movie takes heteronormative and “normal” gender roles and makes them seem weird while making gay culture seem more natural. I definitely recommend it as it was both funny and strangely scary.

Music of the Week:
Gorillaz – Humility

Jen Ledger – Warrior

Janelle Monae – PYNK

Mykki Blanco – I´m In A Mood

Brother Ali – Tight Rope

Weekly Updates:
– This week’s theme is “Pride 2018”
– I watched more Supernatural Season 13
– I started watching Wynonna Earp Season 2
– I finished Glitter Force Doki Doki Season 1
– I watched more Flash Season 4
– I watched more Arrow Season 6
– I finished Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt Season 4
– I watched more Barry Kramer and GTLive on YouTube
– I watched more PBG Hardcore

Scoobynatural

June 11, 2018

(So I am just going for it here so this is your SPOILER WARNING for all 13 seasons of Supernatural but especially the newest one. These are my thoughts on one of the most recent episodes.)

So, recently the lucky 13th season of Supernatural was released on Netflix (#NotSponsored) and I have been greedily eating it up over the past week. Seriously, I am almost done all 24 already because even after 13 years, the show is still really good. In fact, I might even like it better the last few seasons. Everybody involved knows exactly what the show is and everybody seems to still be having fun. They also have a deep well of lore to drink from and they are constantly inventing new things to play with. Quickly for those who might not know and skipped my spoiler warning from above, I will sum up what Supernatural is. Supernatural is a show about two brothers who travel the USA, fighting and killing monsters and often have a huge crisis to try and prevent. They have saved the world several times over, often by beating mythical creatures such as demons, angels, leviathans, Death, and God’s sister. Along the way, they were joined by a fallen angel and a whole bunch of other allies. Sam and Dean Winchester (and Castiel their angel friend) have become iconic figures over time.

Over most of the seasons, the show would occasionally drop very meta episodes often thanks to the character The Trickster (aka the Archangel Gabriel). This past season’s meta episode is one where the Winchesters and Castiel are zapped into an episode of Scooby Doo. The specific episode they enter is “A Night of Fright Is No Delight” which is one I really do remember seeing. I love that they used an actual episode of Scooby Doo Where Are You? so that fans of the original show could have an extra good time. The normal plot of the episode is that Mystery Inc. is summoned to a mansion for a will reading. Scooby saved the life of a man and they stayed friends over the years. The will is read and everybody in attendance (which includes some unsavory relatives) is told that if they stay the night in the haunted mansion, they get a million dollars but if anybody leaves their share goes to whoever remains. As the episode progresses, relatives start disappearing until the gang solves the mystery. Of course, all of that changes when the Winchesters arrive on the scene.

The first thing I loved about this episode is that they picked an episode where the lawyer ends up being the villain. In the original episode, he and his partner dress up as the Green Ghosts. Also, the lawyer is named Cosgood Creeps (and his partner is Mr. Crawls). Tell us how you really feel about lawyers Warner Brothers. Obviously, if the lawyer can scare all of the heirs out of the house before dawn, he can keep the inheritance for himself. This carries on the Scooby Doo tradition of the villains committing bafflingly complicated white collar crimes. The plan here involves holograms, secret tunnels, dummies filled with corn syrup, and running around in costumes. I am a child of two lawyers and I recently became a paralegal myself so I always take notice when lawyers are cast as heroes or villains. Here, Cosgood Creeps, Esq. commits plenty of ethics violations along with various crimes chief of among them are probably assault and terroristic threats.

Most stories where “non-fictional” characters interact with fictional characters, the show deconstructs the original fiction. So, the episode has a lot of fun tearing apart Scooby Doo in a very loving way. The gang (later named Mystery Inc.) are five iconic characters who have become strongly rooted in popular culture for decades. The show has a lot of fun with these characters. First, as characters are murdered for real, the gang remains unflappable and chipper as they work toward solving the mystery. In the original show, there is no such thing as real monsters but even so, there are costumed psychos chasing them around and yet none of them dissolve into a gibbering, insane mess. Here, I feel like their fictional natures work hard against reality seeping in so they become parodies of caricatures. However, one joke is showing yet another elaborate trap constructed by Fred which at first looks like it is over the top as a form of parody. The only thing is, that is the actual trap from the episode which highlights how weird and dumb the traps always were.

There are some other interesting moments that play with Scooby canon. In this episode, the gang encounters their first actual supernatural event which completely unravels them. This will not happen again until Scooby-Doo on Zombie Island because The 13 Ghosts of Scooby Doo and Scooby Doo and the Reluctant Werewolf do not seem to be canon. The gang also gets injured for the first time which astonishes them. I was very interested in one short conversation between Velma and Daphne because it insinuated they had talked about boys together previously. This was never really shown on the original show as romantic subplots were not the focus. Scooby and Shaggy are shown as cowardly as usual, but interestingly Shaggy falls out of a window and breaks his arm. He mentions leaping from great heights previously and surviving unscathed. This is interesting because I realized the dangerous things that Shaggy and Scooby have done while running away from monsters. They are often seen as chickens but fear motivates them to do some incredible things. When it is revealed that ghosts are real, the gang are all shocked except for Shaggy who finally gets his “I told you so” moment.

The episode is set into motion by Dean’s love of television. This had been alluded to several times throughout the series. He was previously their guide when they were zapped into multiple other television shows. Sam and Dean both had messed up childhoods due to always being on the road with their monster hunter father so Dean often escaped into television. His brother Sam mostly retreated into books instead. The most important part of that for me is that Sam is usually the loremaster and this is one of the rare moments that Dean knows exactly what is going on. What is also interesting is that Castiel is very confused when he shows up later in the episode. In Season 9, the normally out of touch angel is blessed with great pop culture knowledge but he still does not remember Scooby Doo. A lot has happened to Castiel in the time since that episode so he may have lost some of that knowledge or he does not always connect with it the same way we might. Dean seems to have the same memory for characters and episodes that I do. I often remember plots and characters very well which is another reason why I do not rewatch a lot of things. Dean also claims that he idolized Scooby because the gang solved mysteries the same way the Winchesters do which I thought was actually kind of touching.

I also wanted to mention Dean’s crush on Daphne. In the episode, Dean constantly hits on Daphne while Sam is eventually hit on by Velma. This kind of references the pop culture question where guys are often asked which of the two they were attracted to. Dean is shameless when pursuing Daphne until he finally gets the hint that she is legitimately attracted to Fred. Sam is constantly rolling his eyes and reminding Dean both that Daphne is taken and a cartoon character. However, I can really only blame Dean for one of those things. I cannot count on only two hands the number of people who I have talked to who had a crush on a cartoon character when they were younger. It is a safe crush because you can revel in it without being able to go through with it. It is perfectly normal. The other barrier is that she likes Fred but Dean is convinced that she is “settling” because he hates Fred. My theory is that he hates Fred because he reminds him of the popular jock kids that may have picked on Dean when he was in school. Also, Fred is the stable, well-adjusted guy who often gets the girl. Once Dean realizes that Daphne is not just a mindless fictional character and actually has desires and a mind of her own he backs off.

The episode ended up being a lot of fun and way better than the one-note joke that I thought it might be. It played with tropes from both series while being funny, touching, and a great adventure. The animation was very good as it blended animation from the old Scooby Doo with something closer to the various newer Scooby Doo series. The animation style changed throughout the episode as things got more and more “real”. While many might have seen it as a silly one-off diversion, the episode really made me think a little deeper about both series. But I am a pop culture geek so that makes sense.

The Night of the Fire

June 9, 2018

Panther had seen the fire firsthand, standing there for a moment and looking into the hypnotic movements of the flames. The heir had shaken him from that brief moment and then they had returned to warn the tribe. They had time but not much before the fire would spread and burn the tribe’s land. It still struck Panther as odd that the lost child they had found in the shuffle was still asleep in a tree by the water. Things in the tribe had never worked so well but things were still strange. Magic was awake and, although they had seen similar forest fires for a long time, Panther could not help wondering if the magic caused the fire. The presence of magic had him jumping at shadows and doubting everything. The interference of the spirits may have reassured others in the tribe but Panther was nervous. Still, he had a job to do and a tribe and family to protect. The fire was at their backs now and they would soon cross the river.

Panther walked along with the tribe. He and his family walked on the outside in case there was trouble and within shouting distance of Blaze or Ro. Ro’s radius was arguably much larger. That thought made Panther smile a little to himself. Keeva gave him a questioning look but he shrugged and shook his head, it would take too much to explain. Little Kyri clung to his back, still sleeping. It should have bothered him since she was pressed against the fresh wounds from his midnight fight with the sabertooth tiger. Instead, he soldiered on and accepted the pain so that Kyri could sleep. Like her siblings, she would be strong but she was not there yet. She still had time. Panther remembered how small and weak he had been as a child and how that had all changed. Besides, he would be around for a long time before his children needed to stand in his place.

“You still have its blood all over you,” Keeva said. “Although, I am used to seeing you covered in blood by now.”

“I’ll wash it off when we get to where we’re going,” Panther said.

“I’ll tend to your wounds then as well,” Keeva said and Panther smiled at her. “What? We don’t need the snake in the grass medicine woman for this. I can tend to cuts. It’s easy enough.”

“Yes you can,” Panther said. “You’ve had enough experience.”

“Ah yes,” Keeva said with a smirk. “The bravest warrior in the tribe always charging into battle. Limping back to his wife for help.”

Panther laughed. “You are just jealous that you did not get to be in the fight.”

Keeva shook her head. “No. I’m jealous that you got the killing stroke.”

Panther laughed again. “Yes, there it is. The claws come out.”

“Cease laughing,” Keeva said with a smile. “Or I will steal your tongue.”

“I would like to see you try,” Panther said.

“When you least expect it,” Keeva said.

“Daddy always expects everything,” Kyri said sleepily.

“Go back to sleep, child,” Keeva said. “And who do you think taught your sister to move so stealthily? Nobody sees me coming.”

“Speaking of awareness,” Panther said, tossing a small pebble at the back of his son’s head. Rock looked back annoyed. “How is the new man doing? Sobering up?”

“I’m fine,” Rock said sullenly. He was carrying a spear over his shoulder but Panther was not sure if his son was up to a fight at the moment.

“Are you sure?” Panther asked. He smirked, enjoying lightly teasing his son. “We didn’t interrupt anything with our emergency?”

Rock turned and walked backward for a bit so he could look at his parents. “As a matter of fact, I was interrupted. Well, almost.” He turned back around to face forward.

Panther and Keeva shared an amused look. It was not every day that a coming of age afterparty was interrupted by a forest fire. “Well, I hope you treated her well,” Panther said.

Rock huffed. “I treated both of them well, mother.”

Keeva laughed. “Slow down, little one. Who were you entertaining?”

“Taya and Spider,” Rock said.

“A dangerous combination,” Panther said. “How did you manage that?”

“At the same time,” Rock said matter of factly and walked further down the line to get away from his parents for the time being.

Panther smiled a little to himself. His family was thriving. His youngest, Kyri, was on her way to being just as strong as her siblings. Yuna would have her own coming of age ceremony in a year or so. Until then, she was the leader of a squad of stealthy spy children. Rock had come of age and was well on his way to becoming his own man. Soon, he would be going on his own hunts and Panther would be taking Yuna instead. Keeva was a deadly force herself.  Panther was proud to have her as a wife. As for himself, Panther had somehow become a trusted lieutenant to the leadership of the tribe. It probably had to do with the Stone Group being particularly touched by magic.

“Thinking too hard again?” Keeva asked.

“Just thinking about what path this tribe is on,” Panther said. “The future.”

“We survived the end of the world, didn’t we?” Keeva asked.

“We did,” Panther agreed.

“We have survived the awakening and the arrival of the spirits,” Keeva said.

“So far,” Panther said. Even after ten years, the situation still seemed like it was in flux and there were things even the experts did not know yet. The motivations of the spirits were still a bit mysterious, especially the spirits who had not made themselves known yet. Panther had a feeling that the events of ten years prior would come back to haunt the tribe.

“We have weathered the storm and escaped the fire,” Keeva said.

“And yet there is still the water,” Panther said. “If we are not careful, we might drown.”

“Not us,” Keeva said.

“I hope you’re right,” Panther said.


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Damyanti Biswas is an author, blogger, animal-lover, spiritualist. Her work is represented by Ed Wilson from the Johnson & Alcock agency. When not pottering about with her plants or her aquariums, you can find her nose deep in a book, or baking up a storm.

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