Posts Tagged ‘A to Z’

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

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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)

Unsing the World

April 24, 2019

Erica was leading Joseph down into the old cave outside of town. Everybody in town knew about the cave but as kids, they had heard that bears often made their home there. As adults, most of the town forgot about the cave and went about their lives. For some reason, Erica had knocked on Joe’s door in the middle of the night and begged him to come to the cave. He had been so sleepy and she had been so insistent that he had agreed without really thinking about it. Was there a kid trapped in the cave? What was going on? Now that they had arrived at the cave, Erica was much calmer and was even smiling again. She was smiling a lot, actually.

“Are you going to tell me what we’re doing here, Erica?” Joe asked. He tried to use his flashlight to find his footing as they walked into the cave.

“You’ll see,” Erica said. “I can tell you that it’s nothing you’d guess.”

“That does not make me feel any better,” Joe said. “So we’re here. What do we do now?”

“We’re here,” Erica said. “but we’re not there yet. Come on.” Then she slipped through the back wall of the cave.

Joe blinked and then ran up to the wall. It looked solid but then he took two steps to the right and he could see the thin gap in the wall. He slipped through and caught up to Erica.

“How come I never knew that this went deeper?” Joe asked. “We used to come here as kids and peek in. I thought it was just a few feet deep.”

“It’s an optical illusion,” Erica said. “We never got close enough to see it. Of course, we might not have seen it because a magical spell makes us ignore it or something.” She kept walking and Joe followed her.

“Magic spell?” Joe asked. “This is really weird and now you’re talking like we did when we played pretend in the woods.”

“Except it’s not pretend anymore,” Erica said. “We’ve discovered how real it actually is.”

“What is that supposed to mean?” Joe asked. “What’s real?”

“Exactly,” Erica said. “What is real? That’s the question we started to ask ourselves and each other.”

“Um,” Joe said. “You’re only getting weirder.” He stopped walking, not sure he wanted to be following Erica anymore.

She sighed and turned toward him. She pointed the beam of her flashlight down. “Alright, that’s fair. Just look down.”

Joe pointed his own beam down and blinked in surprise again. The cave floor below them was made up of interlocking hexagonal rocks as if this had all been built. It looked almost like stone tile. “What the hell?” Was all he could think to say.

Erica laughed softly with what sounded like sympathy in her voice. “This shouldn’t be here, Joe. The world wasn’t supposed to let this be here.”

“But what does that mean?” Joe asked.

“If you follow me, I’ll explain,” Erica said. “Don’t you still trust me?”

Joe hesitated and looked up to see the hurt on Erica’s face. “Yeah,” he said. “I trust you.”

Erica nodded and turned and started walking further down into the cave again. “Many cultures have argued over how the world was created. Science has been at odds with religion for a long time. Religion has been at war with itself since we can remember. There are too many theories to count but we’ve discovered that they are all wrong.”

“We?” Joe asked. “Who’s we?”

“The people brave enough to go into the cave, Joe,” Erica said. “Keep up.”

“Alright,” Joe said. “So what’s the correct theory?”

“It’s not a theory,” Erica said. “It’s reality. Well, it’s unreality. We’re not supposed to be here. Let me start from the beginning. In the beginning, there was darkness. Then some beings started to sing. Then came light and life and everything we know. Our world started with a song. Our universe started with a song. That song is still going.”

“Alright,” Joe said. “Like some cosmic song.”

“Exactly,” Erica said. “Except they got it wrong. Have you ever wondered why we’re all so unsatisfied with the way the world has turned out?”

“I mean, I guess,” Joe said. “It’s easy to get frustrated.”

“That’s their fault, Joe,” Erica said.

“Whose fault?” Joe asked.

“For lack of a better word,” Erica said. “We call them the gods.”

“And they sang the world into existence but they hit too many high notes or something?” Joe asked.

“An oversimplification,” Erica said. “They sang the wrong song and we ended up unhappy.”

“How do you know all of this?” Joe asked.

“We read the texts,” Erica said. “That’s where I’m taking you.”

“How do you know that the texts are right and everything else is wrong?” Joe asked.

“When you read them, you just know,” Erica said. “You just have to trust me. When you see it, you’ll understand.”

“I’m trusting you,” Joe said. “Look how much I’m trusting you. I’m deep underground with you while you’re talking about some very strange stuff. I’m still here.”

Erica smiled. “Yeah, you haven’t turned back. When we reach the bottom, you’ll be glad you didn’t.”

“Will I?” Joe asked. “It seems pretty hopeless to be sure that the world is wrong and there is nothing I can do about it.”

“Knowledge is power, Joe,” Erica said. “We can use it to our advantage.”

“How much further is it?” Joe asked. His feet were starting to hurt.

“We’re here,” Erica said.

As she said it, the cave opened up into a large chamber which looked like it had been carefully carved out of the surrounding stone. On the walls of the chamber, there were all sorts of pictograms. Joe peered at them and tried to make sense of them but their meaning was not immediately clear. In the middle of the chamber, there was a huge stone tablet sticking out of the floor. Erica stepped to the side and pointed at the tablet, beckoning Joe toward it. He stepped closer and shone his light on it. There was some sort of language chiseled into the tablet. It was a language that he did not recognize but as soon as he looked at it, he could still understand it.

His eyes were hungry for the words and he found himself reading the tablet feverishly. He could hear a melody running through his head. He could not place the tune but it was maddeningly familiar. He kept reading and all of what Erica had said was true. He could feel in his gut that the words were true. Not only that but the tablet spoke of how the world really should be. It sounded beautiful. When he was finished he rubbed his eyes, blinked, and looked over at Erica.

“What are we supposed to do about this?” He asked her.

“I think we’re supposed to unsing the world,” she said.

(Written on 4/21/19)

Tidelands (2018)

April 23, 2019

I remember when we studied the Odyssey in middle school. It was 1997 and I was in an English class where we read a lot of books that completely and utterly left me spellbound. Part of it was that we spent a lot of time in class actually reading the books in a cozy little classroom and stopping to analyze things every so often. Our teacher made sure we understood the books completely and did so in a fun, accessible way. It was the kind of class that increased people’s joy of reading which is just as important as teaching reading comprehension. When it came to the Odyssey, I was incredibly interested. Myths and legends have always been a thing for me (see my Into the Woods review) and there is just something iconic about the Greek mythology on display in Homer’s texts. While the Iliad is a story about heroes and villains and warfare, the Odyssey is basically a primer on what nasty creatures lingered out in the wide world as the Greeks knew it. Odysseus confronts and uses his might and his mind to counter or avoid many horrible monsters and crafty dangers on his way home.

Among those nasties, were the sirens. A lot of people who do not remember much from that book still remember the sirens. People remember the sirens because they are used as an allegory or a literary allusion so many times in pop culture or as commentary on real life. Sirens are often depicted as beautiful, ethereal women who have such good voices that they draw people in. The truth of the matter is that the sirens are actually ugly creatures who use their beautiful voices to lure sailing ships, making them crash into unseen rocks that surround their island. I am sure you have heard people “um actually” about these women’s ugliness. I never really thought that they should have been depicted as ugly. If they really were beautiful but evil, that would fit with the ‘all that glitters is not gold’ message that people need to hear. For me, it was the same thing as people talking about Satan’s ‘true face’. If he is beautiful and evil, it teaches people not to automatically trust physical beauty. Take that even further and maybe the sirens do not need to be evil. Maybe they cannot help themselves or they are just being pragmatic. Food for thought.

This is an Australian produced show so I had never seen any of the actors before. I will say that the acting is pretty good. It reminded me of the Shannara Chronicles or Riverdale a bit which is not an insult. The production is very slick. I really loved the lighting in particular. They did some excellent subtle modeling with light that can be rare in television. I really liked the production and character design as well. They did a really good job of differentiating between humans and ‘tidelanders’ without it being too outlandish. It is more likely that non-human creatures would adapt to our world instead of continuing to be so flashy with their otherness. They would know that our society does not reward otherness. They also do it a lot with different accents which makes me think of Keel’s Men in Black descriptions. People are more willing to excuse weirdness if they can simply write it off as ‘being foreign’. Special effects are used sparingly which is good because CGI is expensive and risky in television.

The story is pretty neat. The show is ostensibly a crime drama with some supernatural elements. It reminds me of the early seasons of Haven. Similarly, it is set in a seaside fishing town where the community is tight and everybody knows everybody else. The whole town works like a well-oiled machine. I lived in a small town once and I remember that extreme interconnectedness. It was very foreign to a city-born guy like me. Still, just like anywhere else there are a lot of secrets and danger for those trying to uncover those secrets. Beyond the crime drama, there is a lot of personal drama and mystery as we explore those secrets. The supernatural elements are brought in bit by bit so that the show can still focus on more human character development and connections. I am three episodes in and I am pretty fascinated about where this goes next. There are only five episodes left in the only available season so far.

Overall, I liked the show. The air of mystery is great at enticing me to keep watching so that I get some more answers. The pacing is really good as I never felt like the show was dragging or lingering on anything too long but it was not going too fast either. I was also impressed with the casual depictions of LGBTQ+ in the show. There will be a day where I do not have to be surprised by it but it definitely pleased me that it was done in a casual matter-of-fact way. It is refreshing to see. As it is Netflix, there is quite a bit of casual nudity as well.

(Written on 4/20/19)

A Star Is Born (2018)

April 22, 2019

I used to really love to sing when I was much younger. Although, “used to” is not exactly an accurate term to use here. I still love to sing but mostly on my own in my car or in the shower just because the music I am listening to moves me. Sometimes I will sing from memory when I am nervous or high strung. But I used to sing in front of people. For years I was in the chorus at school and I only slightly let the fact that I was placed in with the sopranos bother me. I was the only guy in the soprano section but I just soldiered on. Nobody teased me but ingrained gender bias is a difficult psychological obstacle for a young boy. Later, I joined the church choir and I was tentatively put in with the baritones. In order to secure that position, I started purposefully singing an octave lower so I was not moved to sing with the girls. Finally, the director had it and told me if I was not going to sing correctly, I should not sing. She told me this at a performance at a senior center. During the performance, I just stood there with my mouth closed. That was my last day in the church choir.

Still, even if I had soured on singing in a group, I still sometimes toyed with the idea of public singing. Now, I have not really ever told anybody this before but at some point, I had fantasies of being a singer for a rock band. I really love the energy and rhythm of rock and roll and I often cannot help but sing along to it. Now, I entertained these fantasies knowing full well that I do not have an amazing voice or the inclination to practice that skill. I also had (have) crippling stage fright that would have made being the frontman of a band either impossible or incredibly unenjoyable. Even so, I would listen to my albums and close my eyes and sing along. The only thing encouraging me is the observation that went around my childhood home since I can remember. I believe it was my mother who pointed out that there were a lot of rock and roll singers who did not have the best voices or trained musical talent. What made them great was that they poured their entire heart into singing and succeeded from pure charm and energy. It was encouraging at the time but I am happy where I ended up.

A quick note here: I have not seen the other versions of this movie yet so I have nothing to compare this movie to. Of course, the point of this movie is the music. From the jump, I loved the bluesy rock and country that Bradley Cooper plays. I am a sucker for riffing guitars and chugging bass and he does a good job of that performance I was talking about above. He might not be the most polished but he is putting his whole heart into the performance. In other scenes, he gives more of a refined performance so that you really believe that he is a professional musician. Lady Gaga is, of course, a great singer. She is a proven commodity in the recording industry and her growth from her beginnings really shows here. She sings big musical show numbers and intimate ballads with the same talent. She also sings some songs in her usual pop style. Her rendition of La Vie En Rose (a personal favorite song of mine) was especially mindblowing. There is definitely a gap in their talent levels but it was not nearly as wide as I thought it would be. In addition, all of the music is sung live which definitely gives it more of a dynamic and energetic feel. The music is co-written by Willie Nelson’s son Lukas Nelson.

I was completely surprised at how good of an actress Lady Gaga was. I had seen a bit of her in American Horror Story: Hotel but she spent much of the time looking gorgeous and aloof. Granted, I did not see a whole lot but she did not get much of a chance to really act. She immediately impressed me in this. She definitely proved to me (and obviously audiences and professional critics) that she has what it takes to play in the big leagues of Hollywood. Bradley Cooper has grown as an actor and he continues to be able to transform himself in each role. In some of my favorite movies, he is a gay man, a space raccoon, and an FBI agent. In this movie, he plays a character that I am very familiar with. He is a troubled asshole who is super charismatic. Sam Elliott is, of course, a great actor as well. He is great at playing that gruff, grumpy guy you cannot help but like. There were also surprising performances from Greg Grunberg, Dave Chapelle, and Andrew Dice Clay of all people.

Overall, I thought this was a really good movie. These sorts of dramas are not really my cup of tea but everybody puts in endearing performances. While it is not a happy movie, it is a movie about seeking hope and redemption. When you are dealing with alcoholics and addicts, hope and redemption are rare. You do not always get a happy ending but they are definitely worth fighting for. This is not a happy movie but it is definitely a ride worth taking. There is also a fantastic soundtrack full of some great songs. The genres of country, rock, and pop are all well-represented. If nothing else, check out the soundtrack for a total of 19 songs.

Repo the Genetic Opera (2008)

April 20, 2019

I originally watched the first few minutes of this movie about eight years ago. I have since mostly forgotten it and I had put off watching the rest of it despite hearing that it was really good. I do vividly remember the moments when I was watching it. I was sitting in a parking lot behind the theater I worked at after driving from Baltimore to Sussex, New Jersey. I was tired and I was wondering when I would run into my boss. After being back home during the holidays and the offseason, I was anxious about getting back to work after six weeks. The dark edge to the musical mixed with that anxiety about my future. I now know that I had my very first anxiety attack. I could not continue with the movie and I could hardly sit still. I felt like crap. This was actually my second missed opportunity to see the movie after not going to the theater to see it with my little brother. This will be my third attempt and I will not lie that I have been a little anxious about it but it in a good way. My medication keeps most of my anxiety attacks at bay now.

I really wanted to watch a horror-themed musical to go with my theme of “Music” this month. Horror is one of my favorite genres and I grew up being exposed to musicals. My philosophy is that Halloween is less of a one day holiday and is more something that exists year round. Any time I am feeling down, the supernatural is always there to cheer me up or scare me out of my bad mood. As an added bonus, most horror musicals are lighter than the darker, more serious horror movies. While I watch plenty of dark horror, I really love the funnier, goofier side of Halloween better. When I first heard the premise of this one, I knew I could not really take it seriously. This is just another reason why I love the Horror genre. It often has the most out there, crazy ideas. If you are going to get your mind blown, it will not be drama or comedy that does it. Even fantasy does not usually hold a candle to the weirdest ideas horror generates.

The first awesome part of the movie is the aesthetic. The movie starts with a comic book prologue which just dumps all of the exposition quickly so the viewer can just dive into the world. That comic book exposition comes back a few times in the movie to quickly update us on what happened in the past. The reality and look of the world hits you right away as a post-apocalyptic world should. I would describe the costuming and character design as part goth, part raver, and part Blade Runner. The makeup and hair are absolutely wild and interesting. Everything is dirty and scummy like a Halloween theme park. The CGI looks cheap but it actually works for this movie as a B movie giving tribute to B movies (sort of a B+ movie, maybe). From the jump, there is a lot of gore but it is good, old-fashioned horror movie gore. The lighting also all looks like it is out of a haunted house or, more appropriately, like a theater. It is harsh in a lot of places but looks interesting.

I really liked the music in this one. It really is an opera and pretty much all of the dialogue is sung. This can be a risky proposition if the casting has not been done correctly. The first good choice they made was casting Anthony Stewart Head because any Buffy fan knows that he can sing and sing well. His solo song was when I really first got into the movie for real. Paul Sorvino plays one of the evilest corporate CEOs in history and sings operatically in a beautiful way. His children are played by Paris Hilton, Bill Moseley, and Kevin Ogilvie. They often sing horribly but I am sure they are meant to since they are all comic relief. A quick note here: Paris Hilton is not a bad singer when she is trying. Alexa PenaVega plays the movie’s protagonist, and she has a great young voice. The writer, Terrance Zdunich, plays a graverobber and it is easy to see why he was a fan favorite as he has such a beautiful voice. Sarah Brightman is probably the best singer (which probably makes sense as she is cast as a singer). Everything is backed by either electronica music or industrial guitars. The music is not very intrusive, making sure to give plenty of room to hear and understand the singing.

Overall, I loved this movie. It is really cheesy and goofy but I can see the appeal. A lot of the movie feels like the characters are in one big music video but that is an interesting aesthetic. Some of the music is not my jam but I feel like this was done on purpose for comic effect or to jar the listener. They proved that they can score the movie correctly and the good singers are really fun to listen to. The story is gruesome and dark but it has enough dark and dry comedy to keep it moving along without feeling too bad. It is definitely something worth seeing for horror and musical fans. At the same time, I can see why critics hated this movie. Also, do not be put off by the mention of Paris Hilton as she actually helped finance the movie because she believed in it and she is surprisingly talented.

(Written on 4/17/19)


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