Archive for July, 2018

The Shield of Tau Pt. 1

July 7, 2018

Jace tossed his dice down into the little patch of an alley that the kids had cleaned out. He watched as they clattered to a stop and cursed. Then he looked around to make sure that his parents or grandparents were not anywhere around. If they heard him curse he would have a lot more to worry about than losing a game of Dragon’s Teeth. Still, when he looked up into the grinning face of Sachi, the anger rose and he could feel his face get red. He hated to lose and he had not yet figured out that he was kind of bad at Dragon’s Teeth. Now came the part that he dreaded. The part where he had to part with the money he had earned from doing his chores. This was the last of it, too. He suddenly felt very foolish and emotional but he put on a brave face, trying not to lose his cool.

“Pay up, Jacey,” Sachi bellowed, tilting his head back like a crowing rooster. “Time to pay up!” Jace clenched his fist and gritted his teeth.

“It’s only fair,” Karn said. Karn was always the peacemaker. “You owe him.”

“I know I owe him,” Jace said, accentuating each syllable. “That’s not the issue.”

“Then what’s the problem, Jacey?” Sachi asked with that horrible grin on his face.

Jace stood from kneeling one knee and got into Sachi’s face. He was a few inches shorter but he still stood so that their noses were almost touching. He glared into Sachi’s face and found himself breathing hard. Both fists were clenched and he felt like the dam, holding the waters of his anger at bay.

“What is the problem?” Jace said. “The problem is that my name is not ‘Jacey’. My name is Jace, Son of Tusa and Cole, Shield of Tau!” He glared up at Sachi and practically snorted with anger.

Sachi did not take the bait and instead just burst out laughing. “Shield of Tau? You? You’re in your tenth year, pintsize. You could hardly shield a sick dog.”

“I may be small,” Jace said. “but I have sworn to defend this city just as my father’s father swore.”

Sachi’s eyebrows went up. “You are too young for the pledge,” he said.

Jace shrugged. “My pledge was somewhat unofficial,” he said. “I swore in front of Karn and my sister.” Karn nodded at that, confirming the story.

“Your tiny sister, eh?” Sachi asked, musing over this new information.

“Watch what you say about my sister,” Jace warned.

“Calm down, little one,” Sachi said with a smile. “I would not badmouth your little sister and I respect your pledge.”

“We all do,” Karn said with a solemn nod.

“Thank you,” Jace said and he backed up but puffed out his chest a bit. He was proud of his aspirations of being a fighter like his grandfather. Not just a fighter but a defender, a true Shield of Tau.

“But that doesn’t stop me from collecting what you owe me,” Sachi said. “Pay up, Shield.”

Jace grumbled and reached behind his back. For a moment, both Sachi and Karn tensed as Jace could have been reaching for the stick he had tucked into his belt. Instead, Jace pulled out his money pouch and made a show of dumping out its meager contents and holding it out to Sachi. “I am a man of my word.”

Sachi smiled. “A boy of your word, at least,” he said with a chuckle. He reached out slowly and took the coins from Jace’s hands. He smiled and turned and left without another word.

Jace sighed and breathed again as he calmed down. Karn stood by shaking his head.

“You need to calm down, Jace,” Karn said. “That almost became a fight.”

“I will continue to prove myself,” Jace said.

“Picking unnecessary fights over legitimate winnings in Dragon’s Dice is proving nothing,” Karn said. “We’re still little, there is no need for anybody to fear you.”

“Perhaps you’re right,” Jace said. His shoulders sagged a bit as he thought about that.

“You don’t want to get in trouble, right?” Karn asked.

“You are definitely right about that,” Jace said. “My mother swings a wooden spoon harder than most warriors swing a sword.”

Karn laughed at that. “Mine too,” he said. “Speaking of, we should go home. See you tomorrow?”

“Yes,” Jace said. The two shook hands and each headed towards their own home.

That is when the screaming happened. It was not the screaming of somebody chasing after a cutpurse or the screaming of a parent whose child took a tumble. This was screaming from all over the city. For a moment, Jace was caught in the middle of that screaming, not knowing which way to go. Then he pulled the stick from his belt and charged toward what he judged to be the nearest screams. As he rounded a corner, he saw little Lita and Miza running with tears in their eyes. Lita was in Jace’s year and he knew she wished to study the magic arts in the future. He could not see what threat they were obviously running from but they were definitely running from somebody or something.

“What is it?” Jace called out to them and they looked behind themselves and then slowed. There was nothing behind them so they looked around with wild eyes.

“A blink dog,” Lita said. “I don’t know where it went.” She and Miza were definitely out of breath.

Suddenly, the blink dog appeared out of thin air and its teeth caught the edge of Miza’s dress and she barely got away. Jace charged at the thing, swinging his stick hard as he got between it and the girls. The thing vanished just before he made contact and he stumbled a bit as he lost his balance on the swing. He spotted the dog running a few feet away and then it vanished again. He heard Lita cry out behind him and he whirled around just in time for the thing to reappear, lunging for Jace this time. He barely had time to wind up his swing but when he let loose he put everything he had into it. This time he heard the impact and then he felt and heard the stick break against the dog’s face. However, the force sent the stunned dog sprawling. Lita uttered some words and gestured toward the dog and a candle-sized flame arced out and lit the dog on fire. The dog panicked and lunged again at Lita but Jace moved fast and tackled her out of its path. As he did, two crossbow bolts hit the thing in its side and its neck and then it slumped to the ground, still burning. Jace looked and saw two Shields of Tau approaching.

“You saved us!” Lita cried out and then both she and Miza were hugging Jace and he was grinning from ear to ear.

Of course, that smile faded when Jace looked at the two Shields who still looked worried. “I’m not so sure.”

Media Update 7/5/18

July 5, 2018


The World Cup 2018

So I have been spending time at my mom’s house which is one of the few occasions that I watch sports. My jet-setting mother recently got back from a trip to Colombia where she saw Colombia take on Japan in the first round of the World Cup. She went alone to a bar at six in the morning and enjoyed it so much that she decided to cheer on Colombia for as long as they could stay in the tournament. So I have ended up watching a few of their games and a few others besides that. It is a hard game not to get excited by. The game rarely stops and it is thrilling to watch them try to score goal after goal. I watched two games that went into double overtime and both ended on thrilling shootouts. I did root for Colombia like my mother but I am also pulling for England and I rooted for Mexico before their elimination as well. The games I have watched so far have been pretty crazy and as of writing this, the tournament is starting to wind down. I am not much of a sports fan, I am a Baltimore fan and Baltimore has no professional football team. I have a lot of friends who are fans of the sport and I can see why. The sport is really exciting. I am looking forward to the rest of the tournament and hopefully Russia losing in the next round (go Croatia!). It is also fascinating to watch the fans as they seem to treat the sport like a religion, openly cheering and weeping in the stands. I definitely recommend watching it at least as a cultural experience.


Bend it Like Beckham

I had heard of this movie back in 2002 but I was kind of busy in college. Also, I was virulently opposed to sportsball at that time and I have since mellowed out a bit. I only have a passing knowledge of British culture but I have talked to people about things like assimilation and being a second-generation immigrant. Although, I have never experienced that world myself. The main character is a young woman raised by Orthodox Sikh parents who are very much in touch with their Indian heritage. She is played well by Parminder Nagra who was a relative newcomer but does a great job of showing hope, frustration, and desire for a better future. She is joined by a young Keira Knightley and both young women have a desire to play football professionally. Nagra’s character idolizes David Beckham who is probably more popular in the US for being handsome than he is for playing football. Both are working with their coach played by Jonathan Rhys Meyers with a big grumpy yet lovable streak in him. The extras are all professional football players so the action is pretty hot and heavy and accurate to the sport while the acting is both good and fun. I really felt the frustration in different ways from both female leads as they not only struggled in their chosen sport but they also struggled to live their lives on their own terms while still under their parents’ roofs. I definitely recommend it as a fun, insightful (if somewhat dated) movie.


Forever Pure

It is not a big deal in the United States but in much of the rest of the world, football is a cornerstone of life and an important part of a country’s cultural identity. Many watch the games and cry and scream for their team, for their nation or for their hometown. The point is, it is a very emotional sport that it is easy to get swept up by. This documentary is about Beitar Jerusalem Football Club. Their owner made a bid to be mayor of Jerusalem but that campaign failed and because of that and failed business deals, he was running short on money. Meanwhile, the team was not doing so great. In order to help out the team and to drum up publicity, the owner added two Muslim players from Chechnya to the team. There was a problem with that because Beitar fans were well known to be virulently nationalistic and racist. The worst group was a group of fans called La Familia who protested practices and games and made violent threats. In this world, we often rightfully call out anti-semitism but there are those in Israel (and our own nation) who are unfairly racist against those of Arab descent. It is definitely a tough documentary to watch, akin to watching stuff about apartheid or the American slave trade. The documentary is entirely in Hebrew (but English subtitles are available). I recommend it because it was eye-opening.

Music of the Week:
IU – Palette

Tres Coronas – Envidias

England – Three-Piece Suite

X – Kurenai

Leuz Diwane G – Early in the morning

Weekly Update:
– This week’s theme is “World Cup 2018”
– I finished watching Legends of Tomorrow Season 3
– I watched more Arrow Season 6
– I watched more Supergirl Season 3
– I watched more The Flash Season 4
– I watched more Agents of Shield Season 5
– I watched more Sleepy Hollow Season 2
– I started watching GLOW Season 2

March Madness 5: The Pixar Quarterfinals Pt. 1

July 2, 2018

Bracket

Up vs. Toy Story

Up is the story of an old man who tries to go on one last adventure to honor his wife and unexpectedly and reluctantly teams up with a small boy. He gets more adventure than he could have possibly expected. The first couple of minutes of Up are done largely with very little dialogue and it is one of the most touching scenes in cinema history. In the future, the opening sequence of Up will be used by Blade Runners to root out replicants. That portion sets the scene for the rest of the movie and it ended up being a very emotional movie for me. It also had some real genuine laughs. Ed Asner plays the lead character, Carl, and his weary, grumpy demeanor hides a depth and heart that gradually is revealed. He is joined by a small kid, Russel, who is a very accurate portrayal of a kid. Unknown Jordan Nagai plays the role naive, energetic, kind of dumb, but it is hard not to like him. Finally, we have Dug, the talking dog who is played by director Pete Docter similar to a kindergartener who unconditionally loves everybody. The combination of all three bring a lot of laughs but they also bring a lot of heart. The movie has a mix of nostalgia for the pulp adventure films of the first half of the 20th century but also some new ground.

Toy Story is the tale of a bunch of sentient toys led by a cowboy toy named Woody. He is threatened by the arrival of a brand new spaceman toy. This is Pixar’s first feature film and it had a monumental effect on the animation industry as it revolutionized both animation technology and storytelling in family films. Pixar took a fresh new approach to things and that rising tide caused the ships in the harbor to rise or sink. Woody was voiced by the always likable Tom Hanks who for once got to be less likable. He is joined by Tim Allen who is a perfectly reasonable straight man and also very likable. The rest of the cast is played by brilliant character actors such as Jim Varney, Jon Ratzenberger, Wallace Shawn, Don Rickles, R. Lee Ermey, and Annie Potts. Their dialogue always immediately shows instead of tells of the long history the toys have had with each other and creates an imaginative backstory without hitting us over the head with it. Woody and Buzz’ tale is familiar in so many ways. As an older brother, I experienced the fear that my younger brothers would usurp me. As a friend, I was worried that my friend’s girlfriends would push me away and cause me to be forgotten. Everybody has experienced that moment of being hot and then fearing they are suddenly not.

Main Character: Carl Fredrickson is a much more rounded and flawed character than Woody’s jealous panic.

Supporting Characters: Russell was an absolute gem of a character and the offbeat comedy of Dug was amazing. Still, they just barely beat Buzz and a cast of some of the best character actors as toys.

Villain: Arguably, Woody is also the villain of the movie and he is a far better villain than Charles Muntz.

Music: Randy Newman’s “You’ve Got a Friend in Me” is probably the best thing he ever wrote but the score of Up beats the score of Toy Story.

Story: The story of laying your wife rest while learning to continue on with life beats the tale of learning that friendship is more important than fame.

Animation: This is not really fair as Toy Story was so early in CGI animation but it blew me away at the time but Up is years in the future and obviously better.

Winner: Up

Coco vs. Toy Story 3

Coco is the tale of a young boy in Mexico who finds himself as a living person stuck in the afterlife during the Day of the Dead festival. Instead of worrying, he decides to use this false death as an opportunity to connect with his ancestors and explore his family history. It is also the tale of musicians and how they connect with music and history. Pixar always does its research and they did a great job exploring the traditions and lore of the Day of the Dead and used that to create an impressive world beyond the veil. They also did a lot of research with actual musicians and they were able to animated fingers on guitar strings in a way that it is clear that the characters are actually playing music. The movie also does a lot to talk about memory and legacy and how important that is and the different ways that it is important to people. Young Anthony Gonzalez plays the lead role, Miguel, and he plays him with both rebelliousness and heart. He is joined by both Benjamin Bratt and Gael Garcia Bernal as his guides through the afterlife. They both do a great job and contrast each other in the best ways, each teaching important lessons. It would be a crime not to mention a beautiful performance from Alanna Ubach as the deceased matriarch of Miguel’s family. She has such power to her personality when she is on screen and she is mirrored by Renee Victor in the living world.

Toy Story 3 is the story of a bunch of toys worrying about the loss of their owner who is about to leave for college, finally officially outgrowing his old friends. Yearning to be played with again by actual kids, they go on an adventure to find their new place in the world. This was the movie that Pixar was not originally going to make but Disney forced their hand when they were prepared to continue the franchise alone. The Pixar crew dug deep and tried to figure out where they could take the story next after two outings. To their credit, they figured out a beautiful way to end a trilogy but also how to open up the story for future opportunities. They made the story fresh again by tweaking the previous formula once again and adding bigger stakes. They also added a real villain with a full backstory for the first time in the franchise and that added a new dimension of conflict into the movie. Tom Hanks and Tim Allen returned to once again portray Woody and Buzz Lightyear, now old friends instead of rivals. They are once again joined by great character actors Don Rickles, Wallace Shawn, John Ratzenberger, and Estelle Harris. Joan Cusack returns from Toy Story 2 and helps to breathe new life into an old franchise. Helping with that, we have a villain in Ned Beatty and there are also newcomers Kristen Schaal, Timothy Dalton, and Jodi Benson. This makes it possibly the most star-studded movie in Pixar (and possibly Disney) history.

Main Character: While it is a bit unfair to have Woody and Buzz gang up on Miguel, the young boy has so much more going on than the two old friends.

Supporting Characters: Although Toy Story 3 has an all-star cast full of likable and fun characters, Coco wins with relative unknowns who have a lot of more subtle charm.

Villain: Ernesto is insidious and spineless and he is a much better villain than Lotso who is probably the franchise’s first real villain.

Music: Hands down the beautiful sounds of the Mexican guitar top a traditional score with the usual contribution from Randy Newman.

Story: A story of family, love, and redemption definitely beats what is basically the same themes being explored as the previous two movies (albeit with new twists).

Animation: Although the two movies are not far removed when it comes to release dates, the art direction of Coco is absolutely stunning and leagues ahead of the more mundane world of Toy Story.

Winner: Coco


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