Archive for the ‘Blogs’ Category

High Anxiety

July 14, 2018

I have started to examine my anxiety more and more. In the past, my anxiety was something that I accepted as gospel and I tried not to think too much about it so I did not trigger anything. Thinking about being in crowds, public speaking, or meeting new people made me almost as scared as actually doing those things. Now that I am on my new medication, I have started to have random thoughts about how I dealt before. More specifically, I have thought about how I did not deal with it. I have been diagnosed with generalized anxiety and also specific social anxiety which was something I kind of knew about growing up but never really got around to dealing with. Like most undiagnosed or unmedicated individuals, I developed coping mechanisms to get me through my life. I got really good at coping mechanisms. The key coping mechanism became my philosophy of “Just Do It” in where I sucked it up and just went into those situations that made me uncomfortable.

I was reminded of this philosophy when I recently discovered a song by Icon for Hire called Theatre. The lyric that has caught in my head over and over is. “I’m gonna burn this theater down and pray to God for the strength to face the crowd.” Sometimes that was what it felt like to walk into a party or step into a mall. I felt like I had left all of my defenses behind and I was out there on my own. Every bad social situation like this was like a ride on a rollercoaster and I hate rollercoasters. Obviously, the more intense rides were things like speaking in public or being at a party. This was the philosophy behind my ill-fated flirtation with being an actor. I auditioned the one time and I shook so hard that the director thankfully did not pick me. However, at the time I also joined the drama club. In it, I joined several other people in reading plays. This was fine. However, then we started to rehearse them in order to perform them in front of little kids. They were really good plays, kind of fascinating. However, I vividly remember stepping out on stage, blacking out, and then stepping off stage and wondering what happened. While I have talked to other actors who have had the same experience, it was not fun to me. It was not something I remotely enjoyed doing.

However, I realized that one of the big triggers of my anger problem was this social anxiety. When I was out in public, it drained me. It made me more prone to being irritable. About two years ago, my mother agreed to have her house used for a big fundraiser for cancer awareness in West Virginia called Identity Crisis. Every year they have a themed party where people show up in costume. At the time, I was staying there while I was taking summer classes at community college. The thought of the upcoming party rattled me. When I stepped into the party, my fear turned to anger. I snapped at people for being overly familiar and using the house as their own. It was wrong. After a confrontation or two, I retreated to my room and hid for the remainder of the party. I just could not handle it. I have had a similar experience in airports and in malls. As I get tired, I am more susceptible to my more primal emotions. Combine that with getting hungry and my hangriness can get downright terrible. It is an issue that I am working on. The medication has helped immensely with that and so has exercise and my more positive outlook.

There was also a situation that I just remembered in the past week that kind of scared me. On another occasion while I was visiting my mother, she and my stepfather were having guests over. The thought of having to deal with these unknown quantities got me nervous. In addition,we were eating dinner outside which is something I absolutely hate doing in the summer because I hate the heat. I generally do not drink because I am always either working the next day or driving later that night. That night, neither were true so I said yes to wine. I almost never say yes to wine. I am a total lightweight and two glasses later and I was totally drunk which scared me. I can count on one hand the number of times I have been drunk. I slipped away to do dishes so I could get away from the table while people talked. Except, there I was trying to do dishes while dizzy and lightheaded. It turned out fine but looking back I was absolutely self-medicating. I never attempted that method again, thankfully.

So the point of this is what? Basically, I want to tell everybody who is reading this that help is out there. You can only help yourself for so long. Coping mechanisms only get you so far and these coping mechanisms are also really tiring to deal with. You do not have to do this alone. Tell your friends and family what is going on. Talk to a professional and get to the root of what might be wrong. It is very possible that your brain chemistry may be irregular and there may be a medication that can help you feel more normal. I am only on one part of the road to being normal as I start to unlearn the habits of a semi-hermit. I will keep trying to help myself but also I will continue getting help. Hang in there. You can do this.

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Media Update 7/12/18

July 12, 2018


Antman and the Wasp

I was a big fan of the first Antman movie as it was a great example of an adaptation taking parts of the source material and making something that felt new. They made Hank Pym and Scott Lang feel fresh again. Besides that, performances by Paul Rudd, Michael Douglas, Evangeline Lilly, and Michael Pena gave the movie a lot of heart. The formula for later Marvel movies is to take a superhero movie and mix a different genre into it to create a new subgenre. The first movie mixed in a heist movie to create a fun superhero romp. This movie mixes in a sort of “criminals on the run” thing and also a rescue mission. In addition to the first movie’s stars, we get a bigger performance from Abby Ryder Fortson as Cassie Lang. We also see a great relationship between Laurence Fishburne and Hannah John-Kamen. Randall Park gets to be part of the comedy relief squad and is really great it. Finally, there is a small part for Michelle Pfeiffer but a promise of more to come. The movie felt like a natural extension of the first movie and brought back a lot of what was really good about it. At the same time, the movie allowed its characters to evolve and grow toward new places. In particular, Evangeline Lilly got a bigger part and finally got to be the hero she deserved to be in the first film. She was one of my favorite parts of both movies so it is great to see her flourish and hopefully that continues in the MCU. The other part I really liked was the three sort of Father-Daughter relationships that each have different dynamics but also how they reflect each other. I definitely recommend this one.


Kiki’s Delivery Service

I simply have not seen enough Hayao Miyazaki films. I first saw Princess Mononoke when it was released in theaters in the US and I fell in love with Miyazaki’s style instantly. I have since watched a few of his movies but I still need to watch more. This one came especially highly recommended and I was happy to finally get my hands on the newer dub. This came out the same year as The Little Mermaid so it was part of an animation revolution in both art and storytelling. The movie is about a thirteen-year-old witch who strikes out on her own and clashes with the modern culture of a city. It deals heavily with growing up, finding your place, depression, and how we deal with people among other things. Though it has supernatural elements, the movie focuses mostly on relationships between people and dialogue. It is a fairly simple movie but it involves very complex teenage emotions. It is one of the best representations that I have seen on what it feels like to move away from home and also what it feels like to be a teenager. The artwork is beautiful and especially the faces are so expressive and cute. The American voice work was really fun and special shout-outs to Tress MacNeille, Phil Hartman, Debbie Reynolds, Janeane Garofolo, and Kirsten Dunst. It really is a feel-good movie and it left me feeling a little lighter. I definitely recommend it.


Pacific Rim: Uprising

I was a big fan of the first Pacific Rim, as it was exactly what I expected it to be and exactly what I wanted it to be. It was basically the best live action anime that has ever been created and one of the jewels in Guillermo Del Toro’s crown as a king of digital effects. The movie was very Del Toro and was both thrilling and funny. Del Toro passed on directing the sequel so he could win an Academy Award with The Shape of Water. I expected more of the same but I was pleasantly surprised that they advanced time and did more world-building. The movie takes place at Jaeger pilot school filled with a ragtag band of international students. The stars of this one are John Boyega and Cailee Spaeny. Boyega once again proved that he is a great actor with tons of charisma and gravitas. Cailee Spaeny is really fun and it was really fun to see a fresh new face as a prodigy pilot, sort of a combo of Charlie Hunnam and Charlie Day in the original. Speaking of Charlie Day, he and Burn Gorman return as the goofy scientists, except less goofy and more fleshed-out characters. We also get the return of the stoic yet playful Rinko Kikuchi as Mako Mori. The visuals are just as fun and, if anything, there is even more action than the first film. There were also more unexpected twists and interesting moments than the first one as they built off the world that had already been created. I recommend this one as well.

Music of the Week:
Adam And The Ants – Ants Invasion

Dreamcatcher – Lucky Strike

The Ting Tings – That’s Not My Name

Belly – Man Listen

Code Orange – Forever

Weekly Update:
– This week’s theme is “The Next Generation”
– I watched more Glow Season 2
– I watched more Arrow Season 6
– I watched more Flash Season 4
– I watched more Agents of Shield Season 5
– I watched more Luke Cage Season 2
– I watched more Barry Kramer on YouTube

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

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

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

March Madness 4: The Disney Quarterfinals Pt. 2

June 23, 2018

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.

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.


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