Posts Tagged ‘2019’

Movies I Enjoyed in 2019

January 6, 2020

I know that we are nearly a week into 2020 but I felt like doing a wrap up of the year in movies in 2019 since we are headed into awards season. These are only the movies that I saw that I really liked. I did not feel the need to make a top 11 list because, honestly, I would be compelled to write a lot for each entry and I have already written about pretty much everything I have seen in 2019 (and will continue to write about what I see in 2020). As such, these are in no particular order. I also highly recommend each and every one of these movies.

Star Wars: The Rise of Skywalker
I had a lot of fun watching this with friends. (more on Thursday) It wasn’t perfect but it was definitely enjoyable.

Child’s Play (2019)
A truly innovative remake done in an entirely different subgenre of horror. An added bonus was seeing Aubrey Plaza.

Us
Jordan Peele proved once again that he is truly a new master of horror. This movie was more of an adventure horror piece but it managed to sneak in a class warfare message.

Avengers Endgame
The perfect ending for the first era of the Marvel Cinematic Universe. It pushed things into a new direction that I am intrigued to keep following.,

John Wick 3
The John Wick franchise tends to pump out perfect action movies with interesting stories that don’t get in the way of the cool moments.

Spiderman Far From Home
The first step in a new decade for the MCU. The new Spiderman is so pure and I feel like it is still just getting started.

Captain Marvel
Finally, a female-led MCU movie! Brie Larson was perfect for the role and I can’t wait to see where she goes next in defiance of all the MRAs out there.

Rocketman
Elton John has led one hell of a life. This musical biopic had a lot of moments of unreality that really made me feel what was happening rather than just seeing it.

Detective Pikachu
A movie that could easily have been bad was a lot of fun with a lot of heart. It was also visually pleasing.

Aladdin (2019)
Forget the haters, this movie was a lot of fun for me. It put a new spin on a familiar favorite (my second favorite Disney movie of all time).

IT Chapter 2
I got to see this one in theaters and it was definitely worth it. Bill Hader alone made this movie so good but I liked the new take on a classic book.

Alita Battle Angel
A unique blend of CGI and live-action, this was actually one of the best anime film adaptations that I have ever seen. I want to see a sequel.

Hobbs and Shaw
A refreshing spinoff of the Fast and Furious franchise which managed to be its own thing. I love The Rock.

The Lego Movie 2
I did not think they could keep pace with the original but this franchise has defied my expectations from the start so I am a fool.

Shazam
Proof that DC movies can be good again. The movie had a lot of the goofy, fun energy that the original comics had with a modern sheen.

Fighting With My Family
As a pro-wrestling fan, I loved this walk through the fabulous Paige’s career (so far).

Velvet Buzzsaw
A criminally underrated horror movie that should be seen for its psychedelic visuals alone.

Happy Death Day 2U
I did not think the first movie could be topped but this franchise hit a new gear and somehow got weirder.

Extremely Wicked, Shockingly Evil and Vile
Unfairly shot down because it made a serial killer “hot” this was actually an interesting personal take on a familiar news story.

Dark Phoenix
I enjoyed this movie for what it was, a close to the Fox X-Men Franchise (more on Thursday)

Once Upon A Time In Hollywood
It was a meandering mess but I definitely enjoyed it for what it was.

I was able to watch only 5 out of 10 of the top 10 box office movies of 2019. Of the remaining movies that I really want to see are Frozen 2, Toy Story 4, and Jumanji 3. I have made my thoughts on Joker known. Lion King does not really interest me either.

Additionally, there are so many movies that I missed that I still want to see from 2019. Looking at the list really drove home what I did not get to see but reminds me that there is only so much time in each year. I have so much that I want to watch in this new year and it gives me joy that I will never catch up. I will never run out of good movies to see because there is still so much backlog and new movies come out every year.

Media Update 12/26/19

December 26, 2019


Anna and the Apocalypse

I had heard about this movie last year and I finally get a chance to watch it. It’s worth the wait. This movie is a Christmas horror musical which is a very rare combination (but I would love to see more). The movie is set in the senior year at a high school and the title character is heading toward leaving her small town in Scotland. The cast is full of characters from the high school and, although there are different settings, it does not stray far from the school. It is interesting to see high school drama and Christmas cheer devolve into absolute chaos. Ella Hunt plays the lead role and she is definitely somebody I wanted to see succeed. Malcolm Cumming, Marli Siu, and Christopher Leveaux are all great supporting characters with their own little stories and throughlines. Sarah Swire is a definite standout as a driven high schooler who wants to head places. Similarly, Ben Wiggins and Paul Kaye stand out as the movie’s villains and they are both engaging. The songs are definitely a lot of fun. I definitely recommend this movie.


A Christmas Carol (2019)

At this point, I have seen so many versions of a Christmas Carol but this one promised to lean into the horror aspects. I was not disappointed. The movie is a darker, expanded version of the familiar story. It spends more time with the Cratchits and Marley so that we really get a feel for the damage that Scrooge has caused. We also get even more backstory for Scrooge that makes things clearer and makes the inevitable redemption all the more impressive. Guy Pearce is such a dynamic, mischievous Scrooge. He is amazing at twisting his cruel knife over and over until you both hate and sympathize with him. Andy Serkis plays a perfectly gruff and frightening Ghost of Christmas Past, a right bastard who is out to break Scrooge down to rebuild him. I also really loved Stephen Graham as Marley, the repentant spirit who is now saddled with a mission from Purgatory. Joe Alywyn is so, so good as Bob Cratchit. Vinette Robinson was a real standout as Mary Cratchit, a character who is usually incredibly two dimensional. The movie/miniseries is a dive into dark, traditional horror with some brilliant effects. I definitely recommend it.


Rare Exports: A Christmas Tale

This movie is almost impossible to explain. It is a take on the Finnish folk tradition which is their version of Santa Claus. Santa is more of the stick than the carrot in those stories. The movie is entirely in Finnish and tells stories from the frozen North, up near the actual North Pole. The movie is almost like a mix between eldritch horror and alien horror. Everything is done with practical effects and, although the tone is often dismal, there is some strange offbeat humor. I have tried to explain the movie to others and it really does not translate. I definitely recommend it as it is so strange that it has to be seen.

Music of the Week:
Sabrina Carpenter – Almost Love

DEVILDRIVER – Copperhead Road

BODY COUNT – All Love Is Lost feat Max Cavalera

Lindsey Stirling – Underground

Beach Bunny – Prom Queen

Weekly Update:
– This week’s theme is “Christmas Horror 2019”
– I watched more Bob’s Burgers Season 7
– I watched more Runaways Season 1
– I watched more Elementary Season 1
– I watched more Prodigal Son Season 1
– I watched more Scream Season 1
– I watched more Penn and Teller’s Bullshit Season 3
– I watched more Brooklyn 99 Season 3

Media Update 12/19/19

December 19, 2019


A Christmas Prince: The Royal Baby

I was not going to let the Holiday season go by without checking out what has been an annual tradition for three Christmases now. I fell in love with Rose McIver through her role on iZombie which definitely showed her range. I fell in love with her again in the role of Amber (now Queen Amber) in The Christmas Prince. She plays such a nuanced, intelligent, and likable character. Ben Lamb returns as King Richard, who is charming and intelligent himself. Alice Krige and Honor Kneafsey return as Queen Helena and Princess Emily and continue to be delightful. Theo Devaney returns as Simon and gets to continue a rather interesting character arc which I was pleased to see continue. Tahirah Sharif was not a new addition to the series but in the past two movies, she only got a few minutes of screentime so it was interesting to see more of her story. Newcomer Momo Yeung (as Queen Ming) really made the movie for me as she was a welcome addition and was such a breath of fresh air. Kevin Shen (as King Tai) and Crystal Yu (Lin) were also very welcome. Other returning characters were pushed to the background but they got their moments to shine. I really enjoyed the influx of people of color into the franchise which led to a richer experience overall. I definitely recommend this whole franchise.


Let It Snow

Frankly, I was not going to watch this movie and was instead going to watch a different, more cheesy Christmas movie (which I may watch next year). However, two things changed my mind. One, the cast included two genre actresses which reminded me of what got me back into Christmas movies a few years ago (Dear Santa). The other was that the movie ended up on a list of LGBT holiday movies to watch since we all decided to boycott Hallmark (I have a lifetime boycott). The two actresses that I mentioned are Kiernan Shipka (from The Chilling Adventures of Sabrina) and Liv Hewson (from Santa Clarita Diet). What I didn’t realize was that there would be other favorites of mine. Shameik Moore was Miles Morales in Into the Spidervers and was in The Get Down and here he was surely fantastic. The always funny Jacob Batalon (Ned in the MCU Spidermovies). I was also shocked and very pleased to see Joan Cusack as the only adult in the movie. The rest of the cast was so great. The movie is a great ensemble piece as if somebody had watched Love, Actually and had said to themselves “I can do that but better”. It was a wonderful collection of stories that really did not have a lot to do with Christmas but that was a breath of fresh air too. I recommend this as well.


The Knight Before Christmas

Back to the cheesy Netflix Christmas movies! Vanessa Hudgens was a welcome addition to the Netflix Christmas family last year and it was good to see her return. This time, we get a particularly innovative Christmas movie about time travel. Basically, a knight from England is transported to a modern-day city (probably Canada). Vanessa Hudgens really ties the movie together well as her snarkiness and sweetness really guide most of the scenes. She is joined by Josh Whitehouse who is great as the somewhat naive but fun knight out of time. Most of the scenes are between the two of them but the rest of the cast is delightful. The movie was just different enough that I found it harder to predict each story beat so I was pleased and engaged by it. This movie also established a shared universe with the Christmas Prince universe so all of those post-apocalyptic theories have been disproved. I am interested to see if this is a new franchise for Netflix or just another valuable addition to their Christmas stable. I definitely recommend it.

Music of the Week:
Lizzo – Never Felt Like Christmas

Elton John – Step Into Christmas

My Chemical Romance – Every Snowflake is Different (just like you)

TLC – Sleigh Ride

Run DMC – Christmas in Hollis

Weekly Update:
– This week’s theme is “Netflix Christmas 2019” #NotSponsored
– I watched Max Headroom’s Giant Christmas Turkey
– I watched more Bob’s Burgers Season 7
– I watched more The Crown Season 3
– I watched more The Gifted Season 1
– I watched more Runaways Season 1
– I watched more Elementary Season 1
– I watched more Prodigal Son Season 1
– I watched more Scream Season 1
– Merry Christmas! Next week is Christmas Horror.

Media Update 12/12/19

December 12, 2019


Klaus

When I saw the first stills from Klaus, I knew I was going to watch it. I am a huge animation fan and any studio that is going back to 2D art is going to raise my eyebrows. Sergio Pablos and Aniventure took traditional 2D animation and applied newer computer-generated lighting effects which make for an entirely new look. The animation is so pretty but that is also because the art design is so good. The movie is an account of the origin of Santa Claus. It takes place in a beautiful but remote island in Denmark. The key lesson of the movie is “A true selfless act always sparks another.” I felt whiffs of Disney, early Tim Burton, but also so much more. The movie stars JK Simmons as the title character. He is gruff but with plenty of good drama and a little bit of awkward comedy. The character the movie actually follows is Jason Schwartzman who does a great job at keeping the energy going by constantly talking but being endearing even when he is an asshole. Rashida Jones is really good as the local schoolteacher, gruff and smarter than anybody else in the film. They also went out of their way to cast real Saami people to be included in the movie and their culture was treated with respect. I definitely recommend the movie.


Noelle

When I saw Anna Kendrick and Bill Hader together on a poster for the movie, I was sold. Bill Hader has quickly become one of my favorite actors/comedians. Anna Kendrick is somebody who I like but I am not as familiar with her work but she always seems fun to me. Besides, I just got Disney+ and it seemed like the perfect first Christmas movie to watch this year. Anna Kendrick and Bill Hader play Santa Claus’ kids who must deal with responsibility after his death. Kendrick is so good at the realistically naive but jolly title character. Hader is delightfully neurotic as Nick. Kingsley Ben-Adir is so likable as the down to Earth but still slightly clueless private detective. Maceo Smedley plays his incredibly insightful son. I was also really glad to see great supporting roles from Shirley MacLaine, Julie Hagerty, and Billy Eichner. The show is really sweet and funny and definitely not too much in any direction. I really enjoyed it and, true to Disney form, I cried near the end. It is a great story about finding your place in the world and growing up and into who you want to be and who you need to be. I definitely recommend it a lot.


Santa Girl

This was an interesting movie to pair with Noelle. It is about Santa’s daughter feeling restless and rebellious about having to take over the family business and an arranged marriage. She decides to go to college to experience life before she has to settle down. It is a fun movie with a lower budget that does not get in the way. The movie basically boils down to scenes between four characters. Jennifer Stone plays Cassie Claus, a somewhat spoiled and naive girl who just wants more substance in her life. Devon Werkheiser and Joshua Cody play the two guys she meets and becomes friendly with at school. Werkheiser is casual and funny with a big heart. Cody is stern but with a good heart. McKayla Witt plays Cassie’s personal elf and she is so cute and fun and she steals a lot of the scenes she is in. The movie started off slow but, like many Netflix Christmas offerings, really hit its stride and felt really good. A big part of it is the chemistry between the characters. I definitely recommend it as it seems like it went under the radar because it was released during August of this year.

 

Music of the Week:
Set It Off – This Christmas (I’ll Burn It To The Ground)

Kessiah and Maya ft. Kai – Donde Esta Santa Claus

Akim and Teddy Vann – Santa Claus Is a Black Man

Run The Jewels – A Christmas F*cking Miracle

The Killers – Don’t Shoot Me Santa

 

Weekly Update:
– This week’s theme is “Santa Claus’ Family”
– I finished Charmed Season 1
– I watched more Brooklyn 99 Season 3
– I watched more Bob’s Burgers Season 7
– I watched more Carmen Sandiego Season 2
– I watched more The Crown Season 3
– I watched more The Gifted Season 1
– I watched more Runaways Season 1
– I watched more Justice League Action Season 1
– I watched more Penn and Teller’s Bullshit Season 3
– I watched more Scream Season 1

2019 A to Z Blogging Challenge Reflections

May 6, 2019

Five days ago I finished another year of the Blogging from A to Z Challenge. Which means that I am a survivor once again. It was nice stretching those muscles again, forcing myself to type nearly 25,000 words in one month once again. However, it was not just me that made it through this month. In fact, we all survived. So give yourself a round of applause if you made it to the end of the month intact. If you did not make it, I definitely understand that too. I started a new job recently and that has taken up a lot of my time. I did not visit as many blogs and comment as much as I wanted to. So, I apologize to all of the writers out there who I did not visit. I will try better next year.

As for the content, I am more proud of it this year than I have been every other year of this challenge. I chose the loose theme of “Music”. I say loose theme because so many people choose tight themes like “D&D Monsters of the Day” or “Movie Review of the Day” or even “Documentary Review of the Day”. Those are admirable choices but I do not like getting pinned down. Instead, each of my posts roughly had something to do with music. As I said in the reveal, this was to honor a recently fallen friend and because I feel like music is important. I succeeded in thinking of enough topics related to music to get it done.

I think my favorite post that I wrote was actually the one about The Nightmare Before Christmas. Sure, I have written about that movie many times before but I am pleased that every time I tackle it, I think of something new to talk about. I actually feel like I could hit even more angles on the movie. Of course, I also loved writing a lot more material for my fantasy setting that I plan to use for a D&D campaign. Of course, at this point, I also feel like I am worldbuilding for the stories I want to write in that world. Maybe eventually I will write a book. I really do not know. I also got to write some stories outside of that world, some of them were not even fantasy stories. I also got to share my love for some of my favorite music. I also reviewed some fun musicals.

It’s weird because I did feel a bit out of place this year. Many of the blogs on the list felt a little hard to parse because they looked like billboards for the latest book coming out by the author. It was hard to find an actual blog post. The more of those I saw, I felt out of place. I am not really a professional writer, I just like to write. Some blogs were just a photo, no words. They had far more comments on their posts. Which is a really dumb thought to have. I don’t do this for the likes, the comments, or the views. I do this because I am a writer and I have to do it. I have to write or I will fill up with words and I will burst. It is an impulse that I have indulged in since I was a little kid and I am not going to stop. Each year I recommit to this blog and I am doing it once again. So get ready for another year of fun.

If you missed any of my posts, I have listed them all below. Movie and television reviews are in blue (and they are largely spoiler free). Short stories are in green. Fan ravings are in red (some spoilers).  Everything else is in black.

April 1 – The Aristocats
April 2 – The Boys: The Sherman Brothers’ Story
April 3 – Carousel
April 4 – The Dragonsong
April 5 – Empire Records
April 6 – The Fili Reborn

April 8 – The Gorillaz
April 9 – Halestorm
April 10 – Into the Woods
April 11 – Jamming
April 12 – King of Bards
April 13 – Legally Frisked

April 15 – WILPW: Musical Gimmicks
April 16 – The Nightmare Before Christmas
April 17 – An Ode Remembered
April 18 – Playlists
April 19 – Quality Control
April 20 – Repo: The Genetic Opera

April 22 – A Star is Born
April 23 – Tidelands
April 24 – Unsing the World
April 25 – Voice of an Angel
April 26 – Wolfsong
April 27 – Xanadu

April 29 – Yacht Rock
April 30 – Zombies

Zombies (2018)

April 30, 2019

(I just realized that I am starting and ending this month on a Disney musical)

Anyone who actually reads this blog regularly knows that I am a huge fan of Halloween and supernatural-themed fiction. Recently, I was thinking about a post I wrote on this day in 2015 as part of this event. I had talked then about how I did not really care for zombie movies as they were slow and plodding like the monsters that inhabit them. I guess I also felt that fiction about infection and loss of self were not quite my cup of tea. However, I have developed a policy of not dismissing categorizations of entertainment out of hand. I hate when people put down what I like so I owe it to all of the zombie fans out there to keep sampling things to see if I can find something I like. So far, I have actually been successful. Last Halloween I watched Train to Busan and I a couple Halloweens ago I fell in love with the Red Snow franchise and the television show iZombie. Just this year there are two zombie moves coming out that I actually really want to see. One is Little Monsters which is a movie about a kindergartner teacher who has to deal with zombies. The other is The Dead Don’t Die which has an all-star cast and is opening Cannes.

I am also a huge fan of Disney. I grew up reading Disney storybooks, watching Disney movies, and singing along to Disney soundtracks. I was just the right age for the dawn of Disney Channel Original Movies and I ended up watching a lot of them. At some point, I dropped off but when I worked up in New Jersey, I was often furloughed for two months in January and February. I spent a lot of time back in Baltimore and I helped around my mom’s house. This meant that I was alone in the house a lot during the day. I ended up watching a lot of Disney Channel because it was upbeat and it kept my depression at bay. So it was that I ended up watching a lot of musicals on Disney. Yes, I watched the High School Musical series and many others. It is when I discovered a love of pop music. More recently, I have watched the Descendants franchise which was basically made for somebody like me. I do not have cable television anymore but from time to time I do check on the big events to keep up with things. I missed this one but I guess it is time to remedy that.

I really liked the comic book-style opening which gives the exposition (speaking of iZombie). If I have to sit through exposition, I prefer for it to be pretty instead of a wall of text. Since it is Disney, the art direction has a particular look but it feels like this one went even further. Since this is a movie about culture clash, the movie takes the same tactic as Crybaby and makes the two cultures look radically different. Zombies are poor and punk while normal people are straight and clean. The movie actually did feel a bit like a John Waters musical. The acting is very on the nose and straightforward while also being pretty corny. This is not necessarily a bad thing. It is also Disney so while the zombies are stated as having eaten brains in the past, they have largely resolved that problem. Also, zombies are no longer rotting and are instead pale with bright green hair. This is good as otherwise there would be human/zombie interaction with zombies having body parts falling off.

The music is pretty good if you like Disney pop music. Modern pop groups and Disney musicals have set a precedent for signing and dancing because they inspire people to try it at home. This is a great thing as it allows fans to get involved. I watched a “Sing Along” version of the movie and it really helped to get into the songs. The movie stars Meg Donnelly as a pretty self-aware young human girl who aspires to be a cheerleader and fit in. It also stars Milo Manheim as a zombie who is kind of dumb but likable. Trevor Tordjman plays one of the villains, an egomaniac male cheerleader who is ruthless. Carla Jefferey plays Donnelly’s best friend and she plays the nerdy, excited best friend so well. Kylie Russell plays Manheim’s best friend and she is the perfect example of a student (zombie) activist. The rest of the cast is great at being funny character actors.

Overall, I thought it was a good movie. It was a lot of goofy fun with poppy, upbeat music, and upbeat acting. People complain about the Disney formula but why fix what is not broken. The movie gives a pretty good message of tolerance which is a good thing to show to young audiences. It also shows that no matter how far we go, there will always be prejudiced people. For a poppy teen movie, it also showed some subtlety in how the “other” are treated. It is a pleasant enough movie with some catchy tunes and some funny acting.

(Written on 4/29/19 – Cutting it Close, huh?)

Yacht Rock (2005 – 2008)

April 29, 2019

Yacht Rock is a sub-genre of soft rock also known as West Coast Sound and Adult-Oriented Rock. While I was previously unaware of the term, I was well aware of this sub-genre. It is characterized by soft, floaty music with a general smoothness to it. It draws from soul, jazz, R&B, funk, and disco but pretty much the softer portions of all of those. According to the Internet, the sub-genre focuses on melody rather than beat, light emotions even when singing about sad things, and a focus on catchiness. Musicians of the genre include Christopher Cross, Michael McDonald, Hall and Oates, and Kenny Loggins (especially during his partnership with Jim Messina). A lot of what is considered Yacht Rock is not really my scene because it is too slow and soft for me. However, many of the artists involved later made songs that I love. I especially love later Hall and Oates stuff like Maneater and Private Eyes which have a harder beat. Kenny Loggins also went on to create hard-driving soundtrack songs instead of smooth jams.

But I’m not here to talk about the actual sub-genre of Yacht Rock. At least, I’m not here to talk about it directly. Instead, I recently got clued into a comedy web series of the same name that first came out in 2005. Written, Directed, and Produced by J. D. Ryznar, the Yacht Rock series was part of something called Channel 101. When talking with friends and loved ones, I find that many do not know what Channel 101 is. Basically, Channel 101 is a web video collective, short film festival, and competition. The idea was that many people would submit web videos as a sort of pilot and people would vote for each video. If you got enough votes, you got your web video expanded into a series. Most submissions were edgy, surreal, or both but everything I have seen is strange and funny. The most famous thing to come out of Channel 101 is Rick and Morty created by Justin Roiland and Dan Harmon, two goofball friends who made a lot of weird stuff for Channel 101.

The series is a mockumentary video series done in an intentionally low budget style. The series within a series is introduced and researched by a complete weirdo whose introductions become increasingly problematic. Each episode concocts various scenes that explain how various songs of the genre (and later contributions from the artists) were put together. The main characters are Michael McDonald, Kenny Loggins, Hall and Oates, and a fictional music guru named Koko who leads the Yacht Rock movement. Other bands such as Toto, the Doobie Brothers, Steely Dan, and Captain and Tenille are also featured. Michael McDonald is cast as the hero of Yacht Rock, constantly championing the cause of smooth music. Kenny Loggins is his friend and they are constantly having fights based on Loggins’ ventures into harder rock and Hollywood. Hall and Oates are the local bullies, constantly bro-ing it up and getting in everyone’s faces. Koko is trippy and kind of a cult leader.

While it was produced throughout the 2000s, it looks like it was taped on VHS in the nineties. Props and costumes are purposefully slapped together to look pathetic and comical. It feels a lot like something one might film to attach to their application to film school or something a bunch of kids do in their garage. The acting is purposefully bad but a lot of these guys are the future comedy writers of today and it shows. They all have great comic timing and do a great job even when they are trying to do a bad one. Part of this is the writing which is very surreal but also very endearingly funny. It all clearly shows a love for the music business. While the stories in each episode are fantastical and completely inaccurate as to the songwriting process, they show how much the music is adored for its cheesiness. Also, it takes great care in making these artists into characters and correctly attributing their songs to them. Occasionally, the show does stray from Yacht Rock. My favorite part when they do that is when they talk about how Warren G’s “Regulate” samples Michael McDonald’s “I Keep Forgettin’).

(Written on 4/27/19)

 

Xanadu (1980)

April 27, 2019

Disco gets kind of a bad rap, I think. In its day, Disco was an unstoppable force of music. It was shiny and happy and was everywhere. It was born in 1970 and unofficially “died” in 1979 but its death throes obviously carried into the 1980s. It had many things going against it. First, Disco became a musical genre that was dominated by white people even though a lot of black people helped create it. Second, the culture of disco and disco clubs seemed to promote sexual promiscuity and heavy drug use. Disco also flooded the market with subjectively terrible music that drowned out the truly fun disco tunes. These distractions left Disco open for younger and hungrier emerging genres like Punk, Heavy Metal, Rap, and New Wave. Disco died even though it did not really need to but from its ashes, we got modern Pop and Techno music. Its death was not in vain but it is sad to me when any art form or genre dies.

I remember roller skating a lot from when I was a young boy. I was born in 1982, a year and a half after this movie was released. During my childhood, which stretched from the mid-eighties to the mid-nineties, it seemed like there were two main choices for kids birthday parties. While I had parties where we had a literal field day or played minigolf at the coolest arcade in town, others just wanted to have pizza at the roller rink named Skateland. Skateland was a Baltimore institution. The one I went to was closed a long time ago but I know the franchise still exists. As I remember it, it was a huge slick floor where people of various skill levels skated around and around in a huge oval. The really good people often went into the center and did tricks. I was never one of those people, nor did I want to be. I was there for the pizza and the least amount of skating I could get away with. This is where I first heard a lot of songs that I have rarely heard outside of a roller rink. Songs by Ace of Base, Blue Suede, C&C Dance Factory, and the Village People were often played as loud as possible. I would often skate for a while and then run around the carpeted area outside of the rink with my friends. Then I would try to sneak over and plunk down any quarters I had at the arcade.

So first off, this was a box office bomb but it has an eclectic cast some of whom are seasoned musical performers. Olivia Newton-John is the star of this movie. Frankly, I liked her much more in this than I did in her most notable musical role. She is allowed to be really weird, ethereal, and mysterious in this which is fun. Michael Beck plays the male lead. He had just been in cult classic The Warriors. He had never really been in a Hollywood musical before but he plays the artist who is somehow more stable and grounded than Newton-John. He is a little flat in places but he is a solid performer. He does not sing. There is also an odd but likable performance from the legend Gene Kelly in his last film role. We get his trademark fast tongue and high energy mostly but he also gets a chance to shine at what he is most known for: dancing. In a lot of scenes, he looks tired but when he starts to dance, he looks as happy and as light as he always did.

The music is actually really good. First, they made a smart move and hired the Electric Light Orchestra to do a lot of the music. If you are not familiar, they are the band who did Mr. Blue Sky, Evil Woman, and Don’t Bring Me Down. Their synthy sound and Jeff Lynne’s floaty vocals are perfect for how weird this movie is. Also, they are a fun upbeat band to have around. The other songs definitely feel disco-inspired which, again, is strange considering the decline of disco as a genre. The music of Jazz and traditional show tunes are briefly touched upon through Gene Kelly’s character, linking this movie with a lot of the older musicals. Somehow, the movie manages to blend these three disparate styles together without it being too jarring. The movie is filled to the brim with special effects but they are 1980s special effects. They are over the top lights and sparkles that make things magical before CGI was a thing. There is also a random Don Bluth animated music video in the movie. The art direction is all over the place which feels right for the eighties which was all about clashing styles and weirdness.

Overall, I actually I liked this movie more than I thought I would. At first, I was not a big fan of the movie. It is a really strange movie but it has an endearing earnestness to it that I could not ignore. While a lot of the music is not really my thing, it is not bad at all. The chemistry between Olivia Newton-John and Michael Beck is cute and honestly, some of the best scenes have no dialogue and just have them smiling at each other and dancing/rollerskating. The friendship between Beck and Gene Kelly represents the connection between the old and the new and also reinforces the main theme of chasing your dreams. I also got more interested when I found out that the plot is based on Greek mythology concerning muses. Still, the movie drags in a lot of places and the pacing is weird. I can see why the critics trashed this one but it is not as bad as they said if you like weirdness.

Wolfsong

April 26, 2019

Jenny held on tight as the sled rounded another bend in the trail. She checked her watch and saw that midnight was approaching. That checked out as it was very dark and she was pretty tired. The dogs looked like they could run forever and they probably could if Jenny let them. Still, Jenny thought that they should probably all get some rest even though none of the dogs looked like they wanted any. They pulled the sled along pretty fast considering the fresh snow on the trail. It had snowed that morning and it definitely showed. Eowyn, the lead dog, was probably finding the trail by smell alone and the other dogs and Jenny were just trusting that. She was so proud of the team for sticking together.

They crested a hill and Jenny caught sight of the cabin. She could tell that the dogs saw the cabin too because they sped up and ran harder toward it. Eowyn let out a little excited bark. Jenny reined in the team a little but really she was happy to let them expend that last bit of energy. They would probably be pretty antsy most of the night until they got going in the morning. As they got close, she threw on the sled brake and moved to unhitch the dogs so they could go about their business.

She went to the outhouse quickly to go about her own business and then came back to the cabin. She went to the back of the cabin and grabbed a bale of hay. She scattered it in front of the cabin so the dogs had something to sleep on. She pulled the rifle carefully from the sled and leaned it against the cabin. She went about starting a fire before feeding the dogs some frozen meat to gnaw on and grabbed herself an MRE. After she had eaten, she finally moved back to the sled to grab her guitar. She would never bring the guitar on an actual race but she was just going on a run to build team building.

She took a seat and started to play and sing. After a while. the dogs started to join in with the song. It was funny how the dogs would join in the song most of the time she played either out on the trail or back home. She originally thought they were complaining but over time, she felt they got the same thing out of it that Jenny did. It was good to sing together, relaxing after a hard day of travel.

She often wondered in moments like this at the trajectory her life had taken. She had originally gone to school for accounting years ago. Along the way, she had hit a wall and dropped out of college and then she had drifted. She had eventually ended up in Montana where she had volunteered at a kennel. From there she got a job as a handler for sled dogs and now she was a musher with a stake in the company. She could not have been happier if she planned it all. She especially enjoyed training the dogs but she lived for the races. The next race could never come soon enough.

In the middle of a verse, she thought that she had heard something out of place. She stopped singing and playing and the dogs stopped too with a little bit of confusion at the sudden stop. She saw their ears all prick up as she heard the baying and howling of wolves in the distance. She felt terror deep in her stomach and then felt its fingers creeping all over her body. She knew that she could not freeze so she forced herself to get up and grabbed the rifle. She had never fired it at a living thing but there was no time to think about that. She would protect her team and herself. This was the wild and normal rules were out the window.

There was a long silence as Jenny and the team watched the darkness for wolves. The wolves had gone silent as well which made Jenny even more nervous. It made it harder to track their movements. They could be anywhere. After a while of nothing happening, the dogs’ tension started to disappear. She watched them, knowing their senses were much better than hers and they would know danger earlier than she could. She trusted her team with all of her heart but she feared those wolves. Would they grow brave enough to charge in even with ten dogs and an open campfire? Anything was possible.

Finally, the silence was broken again by the wolves once again howling in the distance. It sounded like they had not moved after all. The dogs started to howl in response and Jenny found herself smiling at them. They were making friends while Jenny had been ready to face down enemies. She watched as the dogs howled at the wolves and then looked down as Eowyn drew closer. Eowyn nudged the fallen guitar and looked up at Jenny. Jenny slowly put the rifle down and picked the guitar up and started to play again. She started to sing with the wolves and the dogs and for a moment in time, they were all bonded together.

(This story is inspired by following Blair Braverman on twitter.  She is a musher for BraverMountain and she and her team competed in their first Iditarod this year.  She recently published a great essay for Outside Magazine which can be found here.)

(Written on 4/24/19)

Voice of an Angel

April 25, 2019

Corbin was laying face down in the mud. He had a feeling that he should be having trouble breathing but he was perfectly calm. Actually, as he thought about it, he should have been breathing period, right? He tried to take a deep breath and found that his heart was just not in it. He started to panic but found that he was perfectly alright. Still, he could not move. He could not see anything through the mud in his face. He tried to move and his muscles would not even tense. He was starting to wonder if something was seriously wrong. He tried to retrace his steps in his memory to see where things might have gone wrong.

He found that he could not remember much. He certainly remembered getting ready for a battle. But who was he fighting against? Had it been daytime? Had it been nighttime? He had remembered visiting his family just before going to the front lines. He had spent the morning eating breakfast with his little sisters. He remembered laughing with them and he remembered them begging him not to go. He remembered telling them that it would be alright. He remembered telling the same to his mother and there was no belief in her eyes. He remembered having an honest discussion with his father for the first time in his life. He remembered that his father was proud of him. He remembered seeing tears in his father’s eyes for the first time in his life. Then it was all blank.

Suddenly, he could hear something. It was really soft at first but he could tell that it was a woman’s voice. As it got closer, he could tell that it was beautiful singing. It was so beautiful, he could feel it touch his heart. He had heard all of his life about music’s ability to move you but now he knew what they meant. He felt the music in every part of his body and then he was able to stand up. He reached up to brush off the mud but there was no mud there. He opened his eyes and saw a woman with fiery red and gold hair walking toward him. Her eyes lit up when she saw Corbin. That was not just a figure of speech. They literally flared to life like two burning torches for a just a moment before she more purposefully strode toward him. He thought for a moment about running but something inside said that was a bad idea. Maybe it was the matching red and gold wings extending from her shoulders.

“Hail mortal!” She called out. “You’ve responded to my song. That makes you special.”

“Do you know what happened here?” Corbin asked. “I’m kind of out of it.”

“Understandable, Corbin Armstrong,” The woman said. “You have been through quite an ordeal.”

“What ordeal?” Corbin asked.

“Well, it has something to do with all of these bodies, don’t you think?” the woman asked. She gestured to the field around them and Corbin suddenly noticed all of the bodies in armor lying in the mood and pools of blood. He started to feel fear and anger rising up from within and that old battle instinct was starting to take hold. He looked up and his eyes caught the woman’s eyes and he instantly calmed down. “That’s better,” she said.

“Who are you?” Corbin asked. “What are you?”

“My name is Hertha,” the woman said. “I’m an angel. I’m sent after battles to help with special souls.”

“Special souls?” Corbin asked, running his hand through his hair. “Wait, you mean like dead people? Then why can I see you?”

“I think this should answer your question,” Hertha said. She reached down and rolled one of the bodies over and Corbin saw his own face, nearly obscured by mud. He staggered backward for a moment.

“I’m dead!?” Corbin shouted. “How?” He searched his mind and he could not find any memories of his death or the battle at all. It troubled him deeply.

“You don’t remember for a reason,” Hertha said. “You don’t need to be tethered to that moment. But I suppose a warrior deserves to know.” She bent down and tilted Corbin’s body’s head back and revealed a huge cut that was no longer bleeding.

“So I’m dead,” Corbin said. With the finality of seeing the wound, he began to calm down a bit. There was no going back now. “What happens now?” He felt rattled, barely keeping it together.

“Well,” Hertha said. “When I said that you are a special soul, I meant it. You were a valorous warrior for much of your life. You came alive in battle and itched to return to it in times of peace. In a natural life, you would have grown old and settled into a peaceful state. Now, you have an unquiet soul. You have a good soul but it is still wild.”

“So where do I go?” Corbin said. “Please don’t send me to the Abyss. I don’t belong there.”

“You don’t,” Hertha said with a soft laugh. “You would have been a true beast in life to deserve that place. You were fair in life and lived by an admirable code of honor. We have a special place in the Heavens for you. I think you might have heard of Ysgard?”

“The domain of Bahamut and Mala? The Eternal Battle?” Corbin asked.

“The very same,” Hertha said. “There are also regular hunts and great feasts. When you have tired of battle, you can travel freely throughout all of the Heavens. Can you accept those terms?”

“I suppose that’s the best deal I’m going to get,” Corbin said. “I accept.”

“So, will you join us in battle?” Hertha asked.

“I’m ready,” Corbin said. “Let’s fight.”

(Written on 4/22/19)


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