Archive for the ‘Blogs’ Category

Tales of Hoffmann (2008)

April 23, 2018

In 2005, I was on my way to graduating from college. The last thing I had to do was complete an internship somewhere in the field of Stage Management. I returned to my hometown of Baltimore and luckily got an internship at the now-defunct Baltimore Opera Company as a production assistant. It was an eye-opening experience because I had never really worked in opera. Everything was bigger than anything I had done before. The second of two shows I ended up working on was a show called Tales of Hoffmann. It is a French opera about a German poet. In pre-production, I was given the task of researching the show. This is called dramaturgy and it is something often done by big enough companies so they can know the ins and outs of a show before mounting their own version. Basically, I was providing as much information as possible so that the director could connect with the source material. That may have been one of my favorite weeks as it was actually my job to read German fantasy and write down my thoughts on it. I am not sure that my research came to anything but I will likely never forget it.

Spoiler Warning: Since I am going to be reviewing an opera for the first time, I have decided that I am not going light on spoilers. In opera, you often know the story before you attend. Knowing the end of the journey does not detract from the joy of it with opera. At least, that’s my opinion. The beautiful music and the staging are the main points of actually watching an opera.

As a side note, I was going to watch the 1951 film version of this show but I could not obtain it in time because I pussyfooted around. So instead, I picked the first professional-looking production I could find on YouTube with English subtitles. That means instead of two hours, I was up against a show that was closer to three hours. That’s perfectly fine with me. The music of the opera was made by Jacques Offenbach who was terrified because he had a vision of his own death. He felt that he would die before its completion and he was correct as he died with the manuscript in his hand four months before it opened. This matched the dark subject matter of the opera itself but he did not write it. Instead, the opera’s libretto (or lyrics and story) were written by Jules Barbier based on three tales by ETA Hoffmann. Barbier had already written the opera version of Hamlet so he was a great pick to adapt a non-musical author into a more epic artform. His dark prose and poetry mixed well with Offenbach’s dark yet lively music.

For the overarching story of the opera follows.  Hoffmann is a writer and the Muse wants to get her claws fully into him so she can get him to focus solely on writing and so she poses as his best friend. In the meantime, Hoffmann is to get together with Stella, a prima donna and is waiting for her at a tavern. The villain, Lindorf, convinces Hoffmann to tell stories while he waits. After telling the story of a dwarf named Kleinzach, Lindorf coaxes him to tell stories of past loves. He first tells the story of how he fell in love with a girl named Olympia, not realizing that she was a mechanical doll. Second, he tells the story of how he fell in love with Antonia, the daughter of an opera singer who has a condition where she will die if she sings. Third, he tells the story of how he fell in love with Giulietta, a courtesan who is planning to try to steal Hoffmann’s reflection. In the end, a now drunk Hoffmann forswears all women, realizing how love has done him wrong over and over. The Muse reveals herself and swears her love for Hoffmann and he gives himself to her service. Stella leaves the tavern with Lindorf.

As you can see from my quick rundown, the story is beautifully weird and dark. One of the ideas of the show is that the villain of each story and Lindorf are all incarnations of the same nemesis. In all of his incarnations, this nemesis seeks to take Hoffmann’s love away from him. The other idea is that all three women (Olympia, Antonia, Giulietta) are all aspects of Stella.  Since Stella is a prima donna (opera superstar) she is a courtesan, singer, and a prop all in one. What I find interesting about all of this is that Hoffmann does not really win. He loses three loves and forgoes his chance at the fourth. He never sees that he lost previously because he was sabotaged.  Also, the man who sabotages him always completely gets away with it. While Hoffmann decides to quit in order to break the cycle, finding a way to truly defeat Nemesis would be the traditional approach to the story. Speaking of the nemesis, he is a pure villain who never gets his comeuppance. I find that absolutely amazing and kind of refreshing. Even when the hero is a bit of a dope, you still expect him or her to win but not in this case. Well, he does decide to focus on his writing so he does not exactly lose either.

As for the production I watched, the orchestra did a fantastic job and really captured the craziness Offenbach composed.  While the subject matter can be dark and weird, there is also a lot of sweetness to the music. The performers clearly put everything they had into this production. Marc Laho is lovably goofy as Hoffmann and I found myself alternately really rooting for him and pitying him. Stella Doufexis has such a beautifully sweet voice as The Muse posing as Hoffmann’s friend Nicklausse and she has such expressive eyes. The baritone of Nicolas Cavallier is perfect for the many incarnations of Nemesis as he makes it clear that he is a villain. He also does a really good job of showing how much he enjoys being a villain and his evil laugh was especially good. The three women who play the past loves are each fun in their own way. The set is rather minimalist but I loved the way it shifted around to fit the needs of the scene.  It made everything flow a little better between each of the five acts.  I was also thankful for the nude bodysuits rather than actual nudity (it can be surprisingly cold on stage). I definitely would recommend this particular production but I would encourage you to go out and find a production to see live if you can.

 

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Spanish

April 21, 2018

Yo pensé que yo escribiría este introducción totalmente en Español porque yo estudió Español por siete años. Yo quiero el idioma Español. Es una idioma muy romántico y musical. Soy familiarizado con la cultura del Mexico porque esta cultura es muy excitante. En particular, estoy fascinado por El Dia de los Muertos. Adicionalmente, yo amo leer las leyendas de los Aztecas y los Mayas. Los dioses de estas culturas antiguo son interesante pero son contaminado por prejuicio. Yo espero disfrutó este pequeño fragmento de mal Español. Lo siento si ofendí. Yo soy un gringo de Baltimore, Maryland.

Whew! Well, I hope that any Spanish speakers enjoyed that and are not too mad that I messed up any of the grammar. It has been years since I spoke or wrote Spanish with any regularity. Allow me to translate for my fellow gringos. “I thought that I would write this introduction completely in Spanish because I studied Spanish for seven years. I love the Spanish language. It is a language that is very romantic and musical. I am familiar with the culture of Mexico because it is very exciting. In particular, I am fascinated by The Day of the Dead. Additionally, I love to read the legends of the Aztecs and the Mayans. The gods of these cultures are interesting but are contaminated by prejudice. I hope you enjoyed this small bit of bad Spanish. I’m sorry if it offended. I am a gringo (slang for a white boy) from Baltimore, Maryland.

I really do love the Spanish language. While most of my teachers were from the United States (and probably from here or the midwest) there was one exception. I am blanking on her name but I swear that her first name was Dora. Though, I could be confusing my history with a young girl who taught millions of young kids Spanish. Anyway, she not only taught us the language in sixth grade, she also tried to instill a love of the culture in us. I do not remember where she was from but she taught us a lot of songs native to South America and Central America. It is also the first I heard of the Day of the Dead festival and that is a tradition that I have loved ever since.

For those of you have not seen Coco yet, the Day of the Dead is a (mostly) Mexican holiday that happens to coincide with my favorite holiday Halloween (celebrated in Japan and the USA). The timing is fairly coincidental because the festival was moved to coincide with Western Christianity’s All Saint’s Eve, All Saint’s Day, and All Soul’s Day. That Western tradition gave birth to Halloween but has lost almost all of its religious significance. The Day of the Dead is instead a joyous and reverent occasion. Its purpose is to honor the dead ancestors of the people who celebrate it. It is believed that those ancestors are allowed to visit on those three days out of the year. Because they are visiting, offerings of food, candy, and other gifts are left for them at altars that bear their image. In the 21st Century, this festival was made even more popular when it became a Mexican National holiday as an effort to unify the northern and southern regions.

Later teachers tried to continue that tradition even though Señor Binford and other Spanish teachers were super white. At least Señor Castro was fairly Hispanic (I think?). Anyway, there was so much they had to teach us. I learned more about the contemporary culture of Mexico through Almodovar movies like Mujeres al Borde de un Ataque de “Nervios” (Women on the Verge of a Nervous Breakdown). I learned a new respect for Mexican pop culture that I would never have experienced otherwise. We read many plays written by Spanish-speaking (or just Spanish) playwrights. I read the entirety of Cien Años de Soledad (100 Years of Solitude) in Spanish. It is a Colombian novel about multiple generations that has a few fantasy elements to it which are the parts that really kept me reading.

In fact, every time that I walk by a Catholic church that is distributing ashes for Ash Wednesday, I think of Marquez’ book. This is a small spoiler for a book you may never read but it fascinated me. Basically, the book covers a family that is somewhat cursed. Three of their sons go to get ashes smudged on their foreheads like everybody else. However, when they go to wipe the ashes off later, the ashes will not come off. The book talks about how those seemingly permanent marks on their foreheads are like perfect targets for the government gunmen who later kill them. It is insinuated that the ashes clung to their foreheads and singled them out in a crowd because of the family curse. That sort of thing is a story element that almost always gets my attention.

I really do like the myths and legends of the Aztecs in particular. These were not really offered in the lesson plan for the various Spanish classes that I took. If I could have spoken about the pantheons of other cultures in Spanish class then I would have had way more fun. Of course, some of this was covered in various History classes but usually as a footnote to the discussion about the Greek and Roman pantheons. The first time I really learned about the Aztec gods was when I saw the preview website for Final Fantasy 8 where there was a summoning spell for “Quetzalcoatl”. Since I already knew that many of the summons were gods or mythical creatures, I decided to look up this new one. Quetzalcoatl is a winged snaked (which is basically a dragon) and a fixture in the Aztec pantheon of Gods. This is about the point where I usually got lost in Encyclopedia Mythica for entire lunch periods.

Anyway, it was fun to type some Spanish and then talk about my love for the various Spanish cultures (mostly Mexico). I really do hope that I did not mangle the language too badly. I mean, if I did it would feel like a bit of a waste of a private school education. I also really do respect other cultures and I do not want to insult anyone. I was going to write a whole post in Spanish but the thought of a one thousand word post in a foreign language was a little too daunting in a month like this. I hope you enjoyed this rambling post anyway.

Media Update 4/19/18

April 19, 2018


Attack the Gas Station

This was a movie that I found in the 1001 Movies to See Before You Die list and I was intrigued. I had no idea what to expect as the premise is very simple. A bunch of thugs rob, terrorize and vandalize a gas station. Then a few days later they get bored and try to rob it again. This time, they decide to stick around to get all of the money from all of the cars filling up. This is a very goofy movie but it was entertaining. It is a movie about a bunch of slackers who all have reasons for being slackers. They spend the night at a gas station and get into all sorts of hijinks with innocent and not so innocent characters. There are plenty of fight scenes but it is all pretty much rough brawling with an Asian martial arts flair. The four leads are funny guys and I was reminded of the Three Stooges, Benny Chan movies and a lot of other comedy greats. The comedy is offbeat and often unexpected but definitely welcome. I recommend this one as something off the beaten path.


Lady Bloodfight

This one was a movie I watched on a whim on Netflix. It is about a white American girl who travels to Hong Kong to fight in a deadly martial arts tournament. While it is disappointing to see yet another story about an American coming in and being the hero in an Asian land, they at least did a good job of it. In fact, I was surprised at how good this was. It kind of felt like Street Fighter mixed with Mortal Kombat. It is really fun to see a lot of different martial arts styles represented in the fights. The fights themselves are very visceral and bloody and they did a good job of presenting the characters in a way that I cared about each fight. The center of the movie is a rivalry between a privileged white girl and a Chinese street girl. While the optics on that are not great, they do a good enough job of making both sympathetic instead of painting in only black and white.  The lead (Amy Johnston) was sufficiently badass and she had a neat character arc that made me want her to win.  I recommend this one as well but I will warn you that it can be brutally bloody.


The Man with the Iron Fists

There was a lot of buzz when this first came out but I missed it on first release. It was supported by Quentin Tarantino, I remember clearly. The movie is made by the RZA of Wu Tang Clan fame and he wrote the movie and he stars in it. It feels like a martial arts take on old Westerns sort of. I will tell you that although this one was interesting, I really was not feeling it. I blame Eli Roth, of course. The movie has some interesting characters but it felt too muddled. There was too much going on and no clear, exciting story. That being said, RZA does a fine job kind of acting as the Clint Eastwood-like character. It is also always nice to see Batista working. Also, as expected, the soundtrack is a lot of fun as there is plenty of rap music underlying some of the fight scenes. However, I did not even finish the movie because I accidentally turned it off and then realized that I did not want to turn it back on. I do not recommend it.

Music of the Week:
G-Dragon – One of a Kind

Bruno Mars – Runaway Baby

Kendrick Lamar – HUMBLE

Kodaline – Ready

Sunflower Bean – I Was a Fool

Weekly Update:
– This week’s theme is “Modern Martial Arts”
– I watched more A Series of Unfortunate Events Season 2
– I started watching Legends of Tomorrow Season 3
– I watched more Santa Clarita Diet Season 2
– I watched more FairyTail Season 1
– I watched more Joel McHale Show
– I watched more Late Night With Stephen Colbert
– I watched more The Pinkertons
– I watched more Gurren Lagann

Poetry

April 18, 2018

I used to write a lot of poetry. Part of that was that I thought I was really deep and literary and poetry sounded like somebody smart would do. For the record it actually is but I was a teenager who was definitely trying too hard. The other reason I wrote poetry was because of my school’s literary publication called the Mock Turtle. The Mock Turtle was, of course, named after the character in Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland. It was also a class where our English teacher (Helen  Underwood, I think) taught us how to write poetry. We also read a lot of some of the best poems in history. For the record, my poems were never celebrated (except the bad poetry slam I once won).

However, a lot of the friends I hang out with most are scientists. They either studied science or work in the field in some way. I was never a scientist. While I respect science immensely, my two careers have been mostly dealing with the power of words. The word that my friends use is ‘poet’ and so I sometimes refer to myself as a poet. It actually reminds me of Patton Oswalt describing a college course he once took called Physics for Poets which was an easy Physics 101 course designed for humanities and art students. That is what I am. I study the law and I write, those are the two main things that I do. I am a poet, I guess.

None of this is to denigrate scientists. I love science and my scientist friends even when they are overthinking water filtration or child development in a tabletop gaming session. Science is how we track and examine our world on a physical level. “Poetry” is how we examine and govern the world based on its meaning to us. Both are important for different reasons and neither make life worth living alone. This is why it is so important to not only push STEM when it comes to education. We also have to push the humanities. Art and the various other ‘poet’ pursuits are so important to how we run our daily lives. Of course, communication between the two is integral to running a fair and beneficial society. But I digress.

Here are a few types of poems:

Haiku:

I hate the summer
The heat is too oppressive
I love the fall best

Cold wind like a sword
Driving deep into my chest
I huddle for warmth

This month is crazy
I am writing many words
Please enjoy it all

Pastoral:

I listen as the train’s wheels clack on the track below
I feel every bump as the train travels downtown
Every turn threatens to toss me to and fro
I try to keep my head up, try not to let myself frown
I am used to this kind of treatment every day
The other choice is enduring traffic on city streets
So I shake it off and just let my music play
I listen closely and nod my head to the beats
I know it is what I must do to get to work
So I just smile and try not to be a jerk

Limerick:

There once was a young writer
A “poet” since he was an ankle biter
He scribbled some rhyme
Most of the time
But he was nothing more than a blighter

There once was a woman in B More
As a mayor she thought she could be more
In the end she was wrong
She just sang the same song
And as a politician she was mostly a bore

Freeverse:

I am writing this after going to the gym for over an hour
Why do I punish myself by pushing my body so hard?
Because the future is a place I want to live
What use is fighting for the future if I keel over?
I also feel so invincible afterward
A little sore but I feel like I just killed a dragon
It is so rewarding and my shirts fit a little better lately
That is so great
As I lay on the couch and write
I feel like I am conquering the world
Just don’t ask me to move

Ninja Sex Party

April 16, 2018

Over two years ago, I started to fool around with YouTube. The platform is really great for people to self-publish. With less time and money to actually play a lot of video games, I discovered that I could watch others play them on YouTube via Let’s Play videos. Among the content creators I found, I still watch the Game Grumps (Arin Hanson and Danny Avidan). When I found out that Danny was also in a band, I had to check it out. At the time, he was the singer and one half of a band called Ninja Sex Party. All of their music videos were on YouTube so I could easily see what they were all about. I was an instant fan. Part of that was who the members of the band were.

Leigh Daniel Avidan was always a weird, fun-loving guy. At least, that is what I take away from all of the stories I have heard from him. He loved music from an early age and it shows. While he never had that much formal training, he grew up wanting to do something with music. His parents nurtured that creativity and joyous spirit and Danny first joined The Northern Hues and then later Skyhill as a singer. Both were serious music acts. After he left Skyhill, he searched for a new band to sing for. In the meantime, he started to take classes from Upright Citizen’s Brigade Theatre in New York. While he was there, he met Brian (more on him later) and realized that comedy and music could be his path forward. While Danny seems like a kind soul, the character he portrays is definitely not while still being a fun-loving guy. While in NSP, he dubbed himself “Danny Sexbang”. He is a character who is at once arrogant and pathetic. He brags of how awesome he is but the reality quickly reveals how wrong he is. His character practically begs for sex, gets in trouble for his big mouth, and just ends up being comically bad at everything (except singing, of course). His stage outfit was originally based on Owen Hart’s Blue Blazer persona.

The other half of Ninja Sex Party is Brian Wecht. Brian was a geeky and brilliant guy as he grew up. He was a constant valedictorian who had a wicked sense of humor. He had formal training in music in college but he also really got into quantum physics and eventually got a PhD in particle physics. It was around this time that he met Danny while doing some comedy music gigs and working as a postdoc. While he started NSP with Danny, he was also starting a family and searching for teaching positions. He eventually became a professor in England, a position he eventually quit so he could do NSP full-time. His comedy comes from a sarcastic, dry place as he is well known for playing pranks and taking the piss out of his friends. He is NSP’s keyboardist and chief composer. The character he created is “Ninja Brian”, a silent ninja who covers his face and tends to enjoy murdering people as much as he likes playing music. His silent act is a great contrast to Danny’s loud and boisterous nature kind of like famous acts like Penn and Teller or The Marx Brothers.

The duo started as a comedy music act and they took gigs wherever they could. Eventually, they started writing songs to release on an album. Being friends with a lot of people on YouTube, they made a lot of connections and started to put out music videos. At the beginning, it was just the two of them. Brian was on keyboard and a lot of his sound was similar to stuff being done in Chiptune genre. The music was bouncy and fun. Danny’s vocals are great because he has a really rich voice and at some point he developed a process of doubling his voice by recording multiple tracks. In a time when everybody was being autotuned, he came up with a different method to stand out a bit. Their songs were written together, often with them spitballing song titles or lyrics at each other to see what made them laugh the most. Their songs were full of purposefully juvenile humor, songs about sex from characters who have never had it and were also full of cartoon violence. Their music videos are colorful and often as nonsensical and weird as their songs.


Take on Me

In late 2015, they were really growing their brand. They had three albums out and their style was really evolving and they were gaining legions of fans. I went and saw them in their first official concert at Magfest where they had their biggest crowd yet. At the time, they were just releasing an album of covers of music from the seventies and eighties. In order to do so, they decided to team up with another band named Tupperware Remix Party to provide more to their sound. This added drums, guitar, bass guitar, and a second keyboard to their sound along with background vocals. This added so many new layers to their sound and having a few non-comedy songs to sing at gigs did not hurt either. Their relationship with TWRP only grew and the two bands became intertwined with Danny providing vocals on some of TWRP’s songs. For the first time, the two groups were regularly touring together and that grew their audience even more.


Cool Patrol

Some might look at a band like Ninja Sex Party and roll their eyes and dismiss the band as juvenile. I see them as two guys who love to have fun and put out a kind of humor that is highly accessible. I look at their chief inspirations, Weird Al Yankovich and Tenacious D. While Weird Al wrote clean lyrics, both bands have silly and crazy lyrics. Also, both bands have developed larger than life characters that they play instead of being exaggerated versions of themselves. Their lyrics are clever and the humor behind them is a great example of self-deprecation. Both Danny and Brian are inspired by bands like Lonely Island, Flight of the Conchords, Weird Al, Tenacious D, but also non-comedy bands like Rush. The band continues to work toward getting better and better and it shows with each new release. They have further integrated TWRP as their touring band and they have really stepped up their songwriting. It is clear that Brian and Danny are both ambitious. They recently released a new cover album and are set to release their fourth album of original songs. So go out and check them out. If they are not your jam, then at least let me thank you for allowing me to gush about them a bit.

March Madness: Disney Pt. 1

April 14, 2018

Bracket

So March has come and gone but March Madness lives in people’s hearts forever, right? The thing about that is that I am not a basketball fan. While I played pickup games in middle school, I was never a fan because Baltimore does not have a team. If Baltimore does not have a team, I quickly lose interest in those sports. What I am a big fan of is Disney animated films and Pixar (before and after acquisition by Disney). I heard about this bracket and how it was driving everyone crazy and I thought it would be fun to fill it out and then explain my choices. Art is subjective and ranking things is absolutely just an exercise in examining your personal tastes. In other words, don’t get mad at me for my choices.

 

Lion King vs. Tarzan

This was an easy one to start of with. Tarzan has an interesting story about discovering one’s place in the world and also the evils of poaching. Lion King tells the story of a son’s love for his father and is basically Hamlet but with lions. While both are adaptations of established stories, Lion King has a lot more to say. Lion King also talks about duty vs. enjoyment and overcoming your fear to do what is right. It is a much more inspiring story. Lion King also has better music as Elton John and Tim Rice beat Phil Collins any day of the week, at least in my opinion. The Lion King also is funnier when it tries to be funny and more touching when it needs to be touching.

The Princess and the Frog vs. Lilo and Stitch

This one was a little harder. I like that Lilo and Stitch does not have a romantic subplot and it depicts Hawaii more as it actually is. It is a movie about sisters and misfits finding a family. It is honestly a really great movie. The Princess and the Frog is a movie about working hard for what you want but also trying to find the fun in life. The work/life balance message is something that is important to me. Also, The Princess and the Frog is a musical which uses great jazz tunes including a song actually sung by Dr. John. That definitely edges it ahead. It also does not hurt that Tiana is the first African American Disney Princess.

Tangled vs. Big Hero 6

It got difficult again. Big Hero 6 was a comic book series I read when it first came out. It was a charming and fun series with a lot of brand new heroes, Silver Samurai, and Sunfire. The movie version was really fun and had a different take on the character Baymax that knocked my socks off. It also did a great job with the theme of dealing with death. I also love superhero movies a lot. However, Tangled is an underrated movie that kind of paved the way for a new wave of Disney Princess. This new take on the Rapunzel story is really strengthened by the undeniable, bouncy energy of Rapunzel and the offbeat, goofy humor of the movie. This movie was a go to for a while when I was depressed to try and get me out of it.

Frozen vs. Moana

This was a totally unfair first round matchup. When I first saw Frozen, it blew me away. It was a total game changer when it came to Disney Princess animated movies. Setting aside that it had Kristen Bell in it, it also was the first of those movies that did not have a real romantic subplot. It was more about the love between sisters than the love between two people who had just met. Moana has even less of a romantic subplot and it is about being true to yourself and following your passion while staying true to your roots. It is a truly beautiful movie both visually and figuratively. It also has songs by Lin-Manuel Miranda who does so well that he ended up defeating the unstoppable catchiness of the songs of Frozen. That alone is saying something.

Aladdin vs. Hercules

Like most people, I love Hercules. It has a lot of snappy humor and is a great adaptation of various Greek myths with a slick modern style to it. The animation style is fun and it has an interestingly complex love story that comes second to a story about believing in yourself and becoming a hero. However, I have a big history with Aladdin. Back then I was a superfan of Robin Williams but the event that really cemented my love for the movie is when I watched it on drugs. To be fair, I watched it as I lay in the ICU after heart surgery in fifth grade. The movie has absolutely beautiful art and awesome voice talents. The story is also about believing in yourself but it is also about seeing people as they are and the power of friendship. The songs by Alan Menken are leagues above most Disney movies as well.

The Little Mermaid vs. Pocahontas

This one was easy. I really dislike Pocahontas. It is the only major release Disney Animated Movie that I dislike and that’s saying something. It is a historically inaccurate portrayal of a woman who was mistreated as a Native American by European colonists. The art style is also kind of off-putting to me for some reason. Also, I never liked the music very much. The Little Mermaid, on the other hand, is a really fun movie and a happier take on the Hans Christian Andersen tale. The music is all so fun to sing along to and the humor is cute and enjoyable. I love the theme of feeling like you are in the wrong place and yearning for a place that just feels right to you. It also has some interesting magic spells and supernatural powers go along way with me.

Mulan vs. Zootopia

This is a weird matchup. Zootopia is a really interesting movie that has a lot to say about racism and affirmative action. It disguises that message behind really well-animated animals living in a big city together. I love the world building involved in that and the story is a great roller coaster that has a lot of ups, downs, twists, and turns. Mulan is a great tale about the clash between following tradition and being who you feel you need to be. It also has the first Disney Princess who could fight. The animation is also really pretty with its own style that clearly illustrates that we are in China. What edges Mulan ahead as the clear winner is the music. Mulan has a lot of great, singable songs. Mostly I am thinking about I’ll Make a Man Out of You which was written by Donny Osmond of all people.

Beauty and the Beast vs. Nightmare Before Christmas

This one is not even fair. Beauty and the Beast is a beautiful movie. The art is a shining example of what 2D animation can be and the art style was so unique. It also introduced us to a heroine who was smart, brave, and who would not back down. It also introduced a romantic couple who believably wanted nothing to do with each other who were also both questionable individuals. The story does a good job of showing two parallel character arcs with a satisfying conclusion. The songs are also among the best in Disney. Nightmare Before Christmas is a movie that I watch every year at some point between Halloween and Christmas. It is yet another movie that I have used to battle depression because the movie itself is about battling depression. It is also the only movie on this list that uses stop-motion animation which is done so well I sometimes thought of it as live action. On top of all of that, it has music from Danny Elfman at the peak of his abilities. Every song is awesome and portrays so much emotion that I cannot ever let this movie go.

Alright, this one is getting a bit too long so I will have to continue it at another time. Of course, part 2 will have to wait until sometime after April but I am excited to get back to it! In the meantime, feel free to offer your own opinions. As I said, art is subjective and I am not “right” and you are not “wrong”.

Legally Infernal: Mayo v. Satan and His Staff

April 13, 2018

Just about a full year ago, I wrote a post called Legally Haunted which combined my love for the law (which is my day job) and the supernatural. Now, I do not really believe in the supernatural but I have found it fun to pretend ever since I was a kid. One of my favorite things in fiction is when stuff from our real world intersects with the fantasy world. The idea that a court would have to seriously contemplate matters usually relegated to myths and folktales is absolutely hilarious to me. While there are moments where it probably causes stress headaches to those involved, there are probably a lot of fun moments too. Last year I discussed a case where somebody was sued for not disclosing that the house they sold was haunted. This year, I want to talk about a man who wanted to sue Satan.


Would you really want this guy intimidating your jury?

Yes, you read that right. Satan aka Lucifer aka The Morning Star aka the Lord of Lies aka a lot of other impressive epithets was temporarily in real danger of being summoned to a court of law in the United States. Did this happen a long time ago when people were more superstitious? No, the event in question actually happened in 1971 which was well before Satan made his brief reunion tour during the ridiculous Satanic Panic of the eighties. What caused it? The short answer is misery. If a person suffers enough, they can often start to lose their grip on sanity as they reach or go past their limit. Though, perhaps he knew exactly what he was doing and was just making a grand statement so everybody could hear and see it. Maybe he was just intentionally wasting everybody’s time.


Would a jury be able to vote against this guy?

Whatever the case was, I am getting a little ahead of myself. The story goes as follows: Gerald Mayo was a 22-year-old citizen of the United States of America who had had a bad time of it. At the time of the lawsuit, he was an inmate serving time at the recently closed Western Penitentiary in Pittsburgh. Unfortunately, I cannot find what alleged crimes caused Mayo’s imprisonment. Whatever his circumstances were, he was not only in prison but he was flat broke as well. It was for this reason that he decided to file a complaint against “Satan and His Staff” in the United States District Court in Western Pennsylvania. I assume since he was broke, that he wrote the complaint himself. I imagine him taking great pains in the prison library, researching and writing everything out.

The complaint, which was unfortunately never recorded, alleged that Satan (with the support of his staff) had violated Mr. Mayo’s constitutional rights. Under Title 18 Chapter 241 of the US Constitution, if two or more people injure, oppress, threaten, or intimidate any person while they are exercising their constitutional rights, they will be fined, imprisoned, or sentenced to death. Under Title 28 Chapter 1343, the US District Court has jurisdiction over civil cases having to do with a citizen being deprived of their constitutional rights. Title 42 Chapter 1983 makes anybody responsible for depriving somebody of their rights liable for any damages to the plaintiff. Legalese aside, if Mayo could prove that Satan was responsible for his troubles, he might actually have a case against Lucifer and all of his demons. In fact, in the response, the judge stated that there was nothing wrong with the above laws that Mayo cites in his complaint.

On a side note: I was very interested in another part of Mayo’s complaint that had very little to do with infernal forces. He filed the complaint “in forma pauperis” which is a Latin term. The legal system in the United States loves to Latin terms mostly because they come from a dead language which acts as a barrier against the terms being contaminated by the differences in English dialects. In this case, In Forma Pauperis means what you might imagine. It is a statement that the person filing the complaint (or the defendant in a criminal case) are poor and cannot afford court costs. It is a request asking for those costs to be waived. The purpose is obvious as it allows the poor to get justice too and the judge usually decides to grant or deny the request without a hearing. I was familiar with the concept previously but it was interesting to see it spelled out.

The Conclusion

Anyway, the law is clear. If *anybody* is found to have harassed somebody in a way that deprives them of their constitutional rights, the law has the power to remedy it. People file these sorts of complaints every day in an attempt to get money to heal the damage to their lives in an effort to move on. It is a totally legitimate thing to do. However, the problem is with the chosen defendant. The judge had a real problem with whether or not the United States Courts have jurisdiction over Satan. He is not a citizen of the United States of America or its territories. He is not a resident of the district of Western Pennsylvania. The judge then got a little sassy and made a sly reference to The Devil and Daniel Webster’s argument that the Devil is a foreign prince and therefore has no standing in an American court. The judge quickly dismisses this as an “unofficial account”, though.

Finally, the judge denied Mayo’s in forma pauperis request. While the judge acknowledged that Mayo was indeed poor, there was another technical issue involved. Normally, when you file a complaint against somebody, you have to “serve” that person. In legal terms, serving means that you have to provide a copy of the complaint to the courts and the defendant. In normal circumstances, you have to pay for service, either by doing it yourself or by hiring a third party company to do it. When an in forma pauperis request is granted, the court agrees to perform service through the US Marshals office. The judge denied the request because Mayo failed to provide instructions on how the US Marshals could serve Satan with the complaint. I mean, does Satan even get mail? Does he show up predictably on Earth so he could be handed the documents? The judge had a point there.

While the end result is kind of silly, this case is a decent primer on two different legal concepts. The first is jurisdiction. Establishing jurisdiction is crucial when filing a case against somebody. It helps you decide whether you are filing in the correct court and whether or not that court has authority over the person being charged or filed against. The other concept is in forma pauperis which I have already explained above. It is an important tool that affords justice to those who might otherwise be powerless. It is a rule that seeks to counter the usual way of things which is “Money Buys Justice”. Of course, it is not to be used for frivolous lawsuits against defendants that do not exist.

Media Update 4/12/18

April 12, 2018


Isle of Dogs

I love Wes Anderson movies but I also hate them. Maybe hate is too strong a term. I will always run and out and watch his movies but Wes Anderson movies hurt a little. There is a stark sadness somewhere near their heart. However, there is a lot of humor even though some of it is dark. The dialogue and the pacing are especially clever. That being said, Wes Anderson should only make animated movies from now on. If he finished out his career making stuff like Fantastic Mr. Fox and Isle of Dogs, I would be very happy. This movie is very silly but also very touching. The movie mostly follows the dog characters who speak perfect English while the human characters mostly speak Japanese. The Japanese is only partially translated to further shift attention to the point of view of the dogs. The star of the movie is played by Bryan Cranston and he once again knocks it out of the park with comedy and drama. He is backed up by Bill Murray, Jeff Goldblum, Edward Norton, Bob Balaban, and Scarlet Johannson. Humans are played by Greta Gerwig, Francis McDormand, and Yoko Ono (yes, that Yoko Ono). I definitely recommend this one.

 


Death of Stalin

When it comes to zany political satire, two movies immediately spring to my mind.  Dr. Strangelove and In the Loop are two films of a similar breed.  Both cover a time when horrible and/or lazy people were in charge of our armies and the horror that could/did come from that.  When I saw the trailer for this movie it grabbed me by comparing itself to In the Loop.  The trailer also reminded me of madcap stuff like The Imposters or The Marx Brothers.  Except, all of the main characters are murdering, backstabbing bureaucrats.  The movie follows the tumultuous political maneuvering that happened directly after the death of Joseph Stalin.  The power vacuum was huge and it was unclear who was going to succeed this horrible man in controlling Russia.  The main characters are played by American and British actors in order to jar the viewer a bit and add some comedy to the proceedings.  I ended up laughing at things I knew were absolutely horrible and deplorable.  The Russian government was involved in the summary execution, torture, and rape of people who displeased them.  The movie should be absolutely unpleasant but it ends up being darkly comical.  I would not suggest it for everyone but if you are willing to go on a dark ride, it is a great movie for you.

 


Moonwalkers

The moon landing was a pivotal moment in US and World history but it was so amazing that some people just could never accept it as real. It is my favorite conspiracy theory because nobody gets hurt by it and it is patently ridiculous and it has been debunked so many times. In this movie, the CIA attempts to hire Stanley Kubrick to fake the moon landing just in case the USA can’t pull it off. They plan to launch the rocket and attempt the moon landing but if it does not happen, they have a backup. They send a Vietnam War vet played by Ron Perlman to England to dump a truckload of money on Kubrick to play along. Instead, wacky hijinks ensue when he instead hires a character played by Rupert Grint. Things get even more complicated when gangsters get involved. Basically, this movie is like a low energy version of the movies that Guy Pearce makes. There are likable but horrible people who romp around and everything goes wrong but it all works out in the end somehow. It is supposed to be a comedy but I personally did not find it very funny.  However, the plot, although predictable, was pretty fun. Ron Perlman is always awesome. It is really cool to see Rupert Grint continue to grow up and beef up his acting chops a bit. I would recommend it but don’t expect a brilliant movie.

Music of the Week:
Bikini Kill – Rebel Girl

Ruby Ibarra – Game Up

San Cisco – Awkward

The Beau Brummels- Laugh Laugh

Seether – Betray and Degrade

Weekly Update:
– This week’s theme is “Horrible People”
– I started watching A Series of Unfortunate Events Season 2
– I watched more The Pinkertons Season 1
– Wrestlemania and NXT Takeover were both awesome
– I watched more Fairy Tail
– I watched more Santa Clarita Diet Season 2
– I am one episode away from finishing Freaks and Geeks
– I watched more Glitter Force Doki Doki Season 2
– I watched more Beauty and the Beast Season 1
– I watched more Barry Kramer, Critical Role, and Game Grumps on YouTube

Kevin Owens

April 12, 2018

WILPW

On a sweltering June 22 in 2013, I drove down to the Canton area of Baltimore, an area I never hang out in even though it is close to Fells Point (an area I used to hang in). I got out of my car and headed into the DuBurns Arena which was an indoor soccer venue but is now a roller derby spot. I was happy to get in out of the heat but I was super excited to see my very first in-person pro-wrestling show. I had been a fan of World Wrestling Entertainment for over a decade but I was there for a tiny company called Ring of Honor. At the time, I had branched out to watch ROH’s television show because they had recently made a deal with Sinclair Broadcasting. (Yes, sinister right-wing organizations seem to back sports entertainment for some reason) The new product reinvigorated my love for sports entertainment and one of the reasons I was there was SCUM.

The company’s big storyline at the time was that the core of the company was being attacked from within by a group called SCUM (Suffering, Chaos, Ugliness, and Mayhem). For the start of that storyline, the leader of the group was a guy named Kevin Steen. That day, I had the joy of seeing him live as he went up against not yet broken Matt Hardy. I had already become a fairly big fan of Steen at the time. I knew he was relatively new on the scene but he had already been through a lot of rough matches. At the time, the independent scene of pro-wrestling was way into over the top hardcore matches and Steen was able to do that as well as have actual technical matches. He had also mastered being the bad guy who has a point. His main gripe with ROH at the time was that they did not like him and were gunning for him instead of honoring him as a champion.

The real bread and butter to Steen’s career with independent companies were his experiences with a performer by the name of El Generico. El Generico was a masked wrestler played by Syrian-Canadian Rami Sebei. The two formed a tag team at some point and competed in both Ring of Honor and Pro-Wrestling Guerilla (and other places). The classic image of a skinny guy and a husky guy teaming up and their obvious skill and chemistry made them a memorable team. They won championships together before Steen betrayed Generico which led to a number of brutal matches against each other. They had matches where I could have sworn they killed each other. Steen and Generico, who were still friends in real life, were able to be absolutely brutal to each other and Steen carried that brutality forward into his career.

Flash forward to 2014 and I was overjoyed to find out that Steen was joining the WWE’s “farm team” NXT. While many performers are repackaged (get new characters) when they enter the WWE system, all they really did for Steen was to change his last name to Owens. At first they wanted him to ditch the t-shirts and shorts look and wear a singlet or tights but they quickly changed their minds when he forced the issue. They allowed him to wear black shorts with a black shirt and, at the last minute, he wrote out his initials on his shirt with athletic tape. And thus, his new persona of KO was born. When his old friend Generico (now renamed and unmasked as Sami Zayn) became champion, they picked up where they left off but for a new audience. When Owens forced his way onto the main roster by obliterating the uber-popular John Cena, I was super excited all over again.

Within the confines of the story, I always hated Steen but strictly from a fan perspective, I immediately liked him. He has a build that is very different from traditional pro-wrestlers. He is a pretty husky dude but it just makes his strength and speed all the more amazing. Plus I can only watch so many oiled-up, musclebound guys in tights. The more things in pop culture that are opened up for different body types, the better. Kevin is the first person to admit that he is not your typical pro-wrestler but I see that as a strength. In a world where everybody else looks the same, your best bet is to stand out. For a while it seemed like there were only three types in mainstream WWE. That was Big Guy, Little Guy, and Woman but now all of that is changing.

Owens is also a really good when it comes to getting on the microphone. This is somewhat surprising considering that Owens comes from Quebec in Canada where English was his second language. As a young, French-speaking kid he actually learned to speak English by watching WWE broadcasts. He fell in love with sports entertainment and that passion as a fan encouraged him to learn a whole language in order to connect to it. Now, you would never know that English was not his first language. He is at once arrogant, cowardly, rude, and more importantly, he can be funny when he needs to be. He is really good at being a jerk while also being enormously entertaining. He is also very manipulative as he has now twice created a strategic alliance for his own selfish gains.

It has been a week since Wrestlemania, the biggest show that WWE has to offer. Leading up to the event, Kevin Owens and Sami Zayn brutally attacked their boss, Shane McMahon, who also happens to be the son of the owner of the company they work for. After getting fired for that, they beat up their other boss, Daniel Bryan.  It has been a week since Wrestlemania, the biggest show that WWE has to offer. Leading up to the event, Kevin Owens and Sami Zayn brutally attacked their boss, Shane McMahon, who also happens to be the son of the owner of the company they work for. After getting fired from Smackdown for that, they beat up their other boss, Daniel Bryan. They failed to win their jobs back at Wrestlemania last week and then the two of them were forced to face each other for a job on Monday Night Raw. (The two brands Raw and Smackdown are separate brands). After killing each other in that match, neither of them got a job. Who knows where Owens’ story will go next as he is now still fired (in storyline). I’m looking forward to where he ends up next because he has never disappointed.

Journey to the West 2 (2017)

April 11, 2018

In 2015, I watched a little known (in this country) called Journey to the West: Conquering the Demons. The movie is an adaptation of the book version originally published in the 16th century in China. The story follows a Buddhist monk who is journeying to retrieve Buddhist sutras (religious writings). On the way, he tussles with several demons. In the movie, it follows a Buddhist monk who also must contend with various monsters and demons. Many of China’s most enduring mythological characters are present in the story but especially the legendary Monkey King. The movie was absolutely wild and crazy but it was also touching in various ways. It had adventure, comedy, pathos, and so much weirdness. Although, I am not sure if the weirdness sprang from me being a westerner although I am not completely unfamiliar with Asian pop culture. The movie ended with the young monk with three new allies, walking off toward new adventures together. I had heard there was a sequel but I just have not gotten around to watching it.

As a point of order here, I should probably quickly explain what the word ‘demons’ means in Chinese culture as compared to how people in my culture talk about demons. In the West, we think of demons as related to Satan/Lucifer. Lucifer and his kin were fallen angels and dwell in Hell where they torture those who have sinned against God. While there is a whole Christian mythology that tells of the origins of demons, that is usually ignored in favor of fearmongering about Hell to keep people in line. So, this mythology is centered on Hell and the theme of punishing sins. In China, demons are known as Yaoguai and are kind of different from how we view demons. From what I understand, yaoguai are either ascended animal spirits or fallen celestial beings (which admittedly is similar to Lucifer). These creatures come in all sorts of shapes and sizes but the main goal of most yaoguai is to achieve immortality and thus become a deity. They also seem to like consuming people for various reasons. For example, a pig demon who starts consuming people because humans consume pigs all the time. The fastest ticket to immortality for a demon is to consume the flesh of a holy man. So, holy men really must be on their guard when it comes to demons.

This movie picks up almost right where it left off, with Tang and his three demon assistants traveling towards India for the sutras that are Tang’s goal. (A quick note, they changed the character’s name to Tang to match the book instead of the actual historical figure). He is played here by Kris Wu and he does a great job approaching is the role similarly to the previous actor. Even though he has officially achieved monk status, he is still the same goof that he was but he also still has that huge heart that helped him win the day previously. As one would expect, he has trouble dealing with the demons he had previously defeated. The Monkey King is played by Kenny Ling and he is a hot-tempered demon who fears his master’s power but ultimately wants to do good. He is such a jerk but it is done in such an endearing and comic way that I could not help but like him. The Pig and the Fish are their companions and they are both loveably pathetic.

This one is a little bit more action/comedy instead of an action/comedy/romance like the first film. Also, the main characters are much more powerful this time around which is to be expected. All of this means that the action setpieces and fights are way more involved but not much crazier. Both films have crazy fun action. The CGI, practical effects and makeup do a great job at bringing this otherworldly adventure to life. The creature designs of the principles and the various enemies are really inventive. They lead to a lot of unexpected moments where I thought I knew how things worked and then things abruptly changed. Some of it is very natural-looking and some of it is reminiscent of live-action Looney Tunes. The latter is par for the course when Stephen Chow is involved in a production. The costumes and set design are all very pretty and feel very much like what mythical and ancient China should feel like. The stunts and fights are a lot of fun with plenty of fluid motion that reminds me of combat in anime.

Overall, I loved this sequel a lot more than I expected to. I was initially disappointed that Stephen Chow was not directing and was only producing but Tsui Hark did a great job in his place. Also, the movie is still written by Chow. The movie is very funny and exciting. I would best describe it as a combination of Mel Brooks, Jackie Chan, and FLCL. Things just happen in the fights because the filmmakers thought they would be cool and if they do not make sense then who cares? In between these awesome fights are comedy set pieces with ridiculous characters. The movie is basically a series of stories bound together by the ongoing arc of the journey and the conflict between Tang and Monkey. Amongst all of the ridiculous fun, there is real emotion and we get to know the characters even more. I definitely recommend this and the first film.


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