Posts Tagged ‘S’

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.

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Spanish

April 21, 2018

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Sailor Earth

April 22, 2017

In 1998, I was sixteen years old and I had fully embraced being a huge geek. Part of that was learning to love things that I had previously dismissed, something that drives me crazy these days. I grew up watching Saturday morning cartoons but anime eluded me largely because I found it hard to connect to something in a different language. That is not to say that I do not enjoy watching things in their original language with subtitles, but when I was younger I needed anime dubbed in English to emotionally connect. One of my friends was a superfan of Dragonball Z and I made fun of him for it because it is fun to bust your friend’s chops. Then the show debuted on Cartoon Network and I fell in love with the art style and the drama of the early episodes. However, of all things shown on Cartoon Network’s Toonami, it was Sailor Moon that captivated my attention.

Sure, the animation on Sailor Moon was a little repetitive but I loved the characters and the light humor and dramatic touches resonated with me somehow. As a child of the eighties, I was exposed to the usual toxic masculinity that would have forbidden me from falling in love with a show like Sailor Moon. However, I always loved the characters on the show and I excitedly taped and watched every episode Toonami showed. I also liked the repetition of the show. Hearing phrases like “In the Name of the Moon, I will punish you!” over and over sounded badass. I loved watching the Sailor Scouts become more and more confident as they fought bigger and badder monsters each episode. The themes of friendship, teamwork, and love conquering hate were good to hear for a kid who had few but strong friendships. Those themes are even more important now.

I had a separate post on the backburner of my mind for ages now about something that is kind of specific to anime. Well, I guess it’s also used on shows like Power Rangers too. I am talking about calling out your attacks and magic spells as they are used. I have yet to come up with an explanation of why I love this trope of fiction. Maybe it is the familiar cadence of their voices accompanied by the satisfying destruction of a monster. Maybe it was the voice actors doing such a good job at showing the confidence that those attacks would solve everything. As an awkward teen, I was drawn to confidence.

I started to write what I now know is fanfiction. I loved the show but I started tweaking it on paper and in my head to have the same heart and soul but better animation. I started specializing the scouts just a little more to show off their individual strengths a bit. I think a lot of us who love fictional worlds so much find ourselves wanting to improve them not out of hate but out of pure love. Of course, a few seasons in and I became fascinated with the one male ally of the protagonists, Tuxedo Mask. As much as I liked the Tuxedo Mask imagery, I wanted him to eventually evolve a bit (he did but not in the way I expected). I wanted Darian to be granted his own symbol. The scouts (inner and outer) had the planets, Darian was basically Sailor Earth.

Out of tape and a Halloween safety light, I created a transformation charm with the Earth symbol that Tuxedo Mask might have used. I carried it around all the time but secretly in my pocket or in my backpack. I hid it at the time but it really was not unlike cosplay prop products that makers around the country work on these days. I imagined using that charm to transform to fight crime much like a lot of the heroes of shows like Sailor Moon, Power Rangers, Digimon, Megaman.EXE and Ronin Warriors. I have been thinking about it lately and I know I daydreamed of being Tuxedo Mask at the time. Not because I wanted to date Sailor Moon but because I wanted to fight alongside the Sailor Scouts while still being a guy.

The Sword Pt. 6

April 22, 2016

The shotgun blast sounded through the field and everyone flinched and froze at the sound. On the other hand, Katya was blasted off of her feet as she took a full load of shot to her chest. She tumbled into the corn and rolled face down and she was not moving. I moved first and ran toward her, ignoring conventional wisdom and rolling her onto her back. Her shirt was torn open and there was blood everywhere and all at once everybody started to shout. It sounded so distant to me as my fingers fumbled toward her neck to try and check her pulse. I had the experience of one Health class under my belt but I thought I could feel a faint tremor in her neck.

“I didn’t mean to hit her!” Farmer McCutcheon was yelling. “It was a warning shot! I slipped!” The gang started to close in around him as I held on tight to Katya.

“Lay off of him! He’s an asshole, not a murderer now one of you morons better call 911.” I yelled. He held Katya’s hand as she writhed a little and mumbled a completely incoherent mess of words. None of it was close to English and that worried me deeply.

“Oh shit!” Helen yelled as Ricky struggled to dial his cell phone. “She doesn’t look good, Ewan. What do we do?”

“We need to get her to the road. They’re not going to be able to do crap out here.” Jase said. He had scared away Farmer McCutcheon and was currently in possession of the farmer’s shotgun.

“I really don’t think we should move her, Jase. Get rid of the stupid gun too. It’s gonna scare the ambulance away.” I said, all but growling. I knew I was glaring at Jase as I said it. Katya was in my arms and I knew she must be slipping away toward death.

“Who’s in charge of this gang? Me or you? I’m not so sure lately with that sword on your back!” Jase had fully revealed the chip on his shoulder at the worst possible moment.

“You want to call the shots? You want the sword? Come get it!” I yelled and I grabbed the sword and plunged it tip first into the ground next to Katya.

The sword started to glow and I reached for the handle to pull it away. Before I could, that light started to leach from the sword and floated through the air toward Katya. I started to panic but as the light touched her she did not react like it hurt. In fact, she seemed calmed by the energy and then I watched as the wound in her chest started to knit itself back together. The sword must be healing her. Her eyes fluttered open and she struggled to her hands and knees, grabbing her tiara from the ground before she stood up. I stood up and after a few seconds, she started to glare at me. It was at this point that I realized that her shirt and bra had been destroyed.

“Stop staring, you jerk. Give me your shirt.” She said.

“Right,” I said. I did not have to think about it. I gave her the shirt off of my back before I grabbed the sword and pulled it out of the ground. I sheathed it on my back again.

“What the hell was that?” Jase asked. In the heat of the moment, I had completely forgotten he was there. I had also briefly forgotten having lost my cool which felt a little awkward and silly now. I wanted to apologize. We had known each other too long to hold grudges. Of course, Katya had other ideas.

“Shut up, you little pissant. He obviously saved my life,” She grumbled.

At that point, we started to hear the sirens coming closer. It sounded like the Sheriff and an ambulance and I looked around at all of us trespassing and Katya’s bloody clothes.

“Scatter?” I said and I looked at Jase for confirmation. “Right?”

He nodded. “Scatter!” He called out.
We all took off running through the corn. Jase tossed the shotgun into the dirt behind him as he ran. Everybody took a different direction through the field as long as that direction was not toward the sirens. Before we could separate, Katya grabbed me and pulled me toward her direction. The two of us ran high speed through the corn, leaves and stalks slapping me in the face as we ran. It stung but no good could come from sitting in the back of a cop car just so we could end up back with our parents. They had no solution for the problem at hand. My friends and I could be dead if we were split up for too long. This was the only alternative.


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