Thursday, July 26, 2012

A Note on My Review of "Brave"

I saw Brave almost a month ago and I loved it.  But I have had the hardest time writing up a review that accurately reflects what I thought of it.  I have probably started five different reviews of it and subsequently deleted them because I got sidetracked or I was being unnecessarily unfair to someone else.  Suffice it to say that I had a lot of ~*~FEELINGS~*~ about this movie - mostly reflected in my own past experiences with life and people in general.

I AM going to write this review.  Even if it kills me, Merida's story will get space on this blog and it will be a fair assessment of the movie and my experience with it.  Just, bear with me while I get it all out, 'kay?

Monday, July 23, 2012

Something to Live For - Review of "The Dark Knight Rises"

Went and saw The Dark Knight Rises, like I'd originally planned to.  And, oh boy, do I have things to say about it.  Spoilers ahead!

(Not kidding!  You don't want to read ahead if you haven't seen the movie yet!)

(I warned you!!!)




(Okay - on your own head be it)

This was a great cap to the whole trilogy.  It really felt like the entire story coming full circle, which I really didn't expect after seeing The Dark Knight. Actually, I had no idea how they would pull Bruce Wayne out of his absolute freefall at the end of TDK.  I knew he'd have to come out of it somehow - how do you have a Batman movie without Batman?  Would they pull Robin out of the audience?  Maybe get Alfred to suit up or something?

(Before anyone starts going all Nasally Pretentious Nerd on me - I called that whole Blake-is-Robin thing with the first trailer he showed up in.  I'll get to that in a second).

I want to talk about Gotham City for a bit.  This is a city that, at the beginning of Batman Begins, was awash with crime and corruption.  Bruce Wayne created Batman as a way to fight against what the police and rule of law almost couldn't handle.  Then, in The Dark Knight, the Joker surfaces as a representation of what happens when you have an opponent so evil and psychotic that Batman's usual tactics just don't work and he has to resort to things he'd rather not do (this ends badly for all involved).  At this point, Bruce has every right and reason to give up on Gotham City and just let everything go to hell.  Which, he pretty much does.  We're told at the start of The Dark Knight Rises, Bruce has been holed up in Wayne Manor and hasn't been seen by a soul in eight years.  By extension, neither has Batman.  Crime has been drastically reduced to almost nothing.  Gotham's police force has pretty much nothing to do except go after overdue library books (which garnered a chuckle from me.  We wouldn't send in police for something like that.  That's a job for SWAT).

Except - the League of Shadows is back (remember those guys? Headed up by Liam Neeson?)  And there's still the teensiest bit of corruption that's gone unnoticed because, hey, that's how the League of Shadows operates.  And there's a super-cool lady cat burglar of dubious moral conscience.  And Bruce Wayne starts thinking (ever so slowly, but he catches up - thank you Alfred) that maybe Gotham City is worth saving in spite of all its problems.

That right there is where this trilogy works.  It would be so easy for Bruce to give up and retire to Guam or wherever and say to hell with this stupid city that can't even stay saved from one cocktail party to another.  Even when Bane has him locked up in that pit in wherever-the-crap-that-was, he could have gotten out and high-tailed it somewhere nice and sunny.  But he goes straight back to Gotham City, hooks up with Selina Kyle and Commissioner Gordon and proceeds to save everyone.  All because he thought Gotham City - for all its faults and problems - was worth saving.

There was a TON of story to get through and I wasn't sure how they were going to pull it off without giving the short shrift to any key plot points.  But there was a nice balance between Selina's backstory, Bane's backstory, what Bruce has been up to since The Dark Knight (pretty much nothing), how Commissioner Gordon and the police department has been faring, the setup for Bane's Diabolical Plot, and so on.  Partway through, I wasn't sure what Miranda Tate was supposed to be doing - was she just a vague shadowy replacement for Rachel?  But then came the Big Reveal that she was really Ra's al-Ghul's daughter and the actual mastermind behind the whole Occupy Gotham thing (I knew there was a reason I didn't like her). Anyway - the story was well-balanced and everything blended well together.  It felt like all the key elements had just enough time to flourish that the audience could work with and accept what we got.  By the end of the movie, I was quite satisfied with how everything unfolded and all credit goes to the editing department.  Bravo, guys!  (if I had a clapping Joker gif to put here, I'd do it)

Can I talk about Blake for a second?  He was flat-out awesome.  From the first part where comes to the boys' home to confronting Bruce Wayne AT FREAKING WAYNE MANOR to helping Commissioner Gordon (and ignoring that one officer - old what's-his-face that wanted to arrest Batman) to getting the boys out of Gotham City - facing down the bomb squad that was going to blow up the bridge if he came anywhere close.  And then - you find out what his real name is??  Damn - I want a whole movie of Blake being amazing.  Which, you know, is slightly plausible now that Bruce left the Batcave to him (plausible, but unlikely).  Gave a whole Batman Beyond vibe to the ending, which I quite enjoyed.

I've always liked Catwoman.  You never quite know if she's really a villain or just a creature of opportunity.  And there's something to be said for the classy cat burglar tropes as well.  I quite like that, in this movie, Selina Kyle's just a regular person whose make mistakes and it trying to get her life back together even though she has to resort to stealing and petty thievery - culminating in being forced to help Bane in his conquest of Gotham.  But then she has her own Heel Face Turn and pretty much saves the day after that Miranda chick turned out to be the real villain of the story.  Not much else to say except it takes a real woman to kick ass in high heels.

Since the first time I saw The Dark Knight, I haven't been able to watch that movie very much just because of the absolute downer note it ends on.  But I think I can stand to watch the entire trilogy from start to finish knowing how this ends.  Batman saves the day - but Bruce Wayne gets his life back.  Gotham is safe (and watched over, if Blake has anything to say about it).  Compared to the pure despair this trilogy has been soaked in, I'm glad that it ends on a high note (seriously - you didn't think Batman was dead for dead when that bomb went off, did you?)

The Bottom Line - Fantastic movie, fantastic trilogy. I almost wish there was more to come, but I'm okay with this being the end.  I have this little policy - better to end while you're still on top than overstay your welcome and have people wish you were gone.  Christopher Nolan and company have done an excellent job with one of the most beloved comic book heroes (one that sorely needed revamping).  There's a great underlying message in these films - one that I hope people pick up on and not let the darkness of reality get in the way of a great story.

Friday, July 20, 2012

A Time for Heroes

I've always loved cartoons, fantasy novels, science-fiction movies (and fantasy movies and science-fiction novels).  Loved them when I was a kid, love them as an adult.  Even when I get funny looks and ignorant comments about "What do you do that stuff for? Grow up already! That's for kids!" (all the while I proudly proclaim I saw The Avengers three times).  My readership (all five of you) get it.  Because you do the same thing.  There's something about believing in the possibility of magic that allows us to hope.  To hope that in the face of senseless tragedy that there are still heroes.

You've all heard by now about the shootings in Aurora, Colorado at a movie theater during the midnight showing of The Dark Knight Rises.  I've been to plenty of midnight movies.  They've become a big part of fandom - there's something special about being one of the first people to see the movie that you've been excited to see.  Movie theaters make it a big party.  The people who come are the fans.  They get the hype behind the stories and the characters.  You feel like you've found your tribe.  It's a glorious thing.

But then, some nut decides they want to ruin the whole thing and he comes in with tear gas and guns like he's the Joker or whatever.  And now, instead of talking about movie reviews and record-breaking box office numbers, we're asking How Could This Happen?  Of course, you have the requisite idiots in the media pointing fingers at the completely wrong guy and ruining his life too. Not to mention all the politicians and their minions scrambling to score political points with calls to ban this or ban that (as if banning anything's going to do any good).  All the while, you've got victims, family members, friends and the movie theater employees dealing with the horror and loss that resulted of the actions of one completely insane lunatic.

And here is where I pause and think - Where is the real-life Batman?

Think about it - the Jokers and Banes of this world are a dime a dozen.  Crazed psychos who use any reason under the sun to instill fear into people.  You see them all the time on the evening news (I think news anchors love this kind of tragedy.  It gives them job security).  And it's times like this I have a little tiny wish that Batman was real.  Or Superman.  Spider-Man, the Avengers, the Doctor, Jack Bauer - hell, I'll even take the Power Rangers at this juncture.

I'm not saying there should be some guy dressed up as a bat enacting vigilante justice on the baddies of the world.  Certainly, we have excellent police officers and military who stand in harm's way all the time and they are most definitely heroes (even this morning, officers risked life and limb to get into this crazy guy's apartment that was apparently booby trapped).  It's just a stray thought that nevertheless gave me pause this morning (and eventually became a blog post).

I don't know about other people, but that's one big reason I'm into science fiction and fantasy.  There's always a superhero or a white knight or a Time Lord or a bunch of hobbits ready to charge out against the evil people of the world.  Even if the heroes don't have a clue what they're doing and all they've got is the fact they know they're right and the bad guys are wrong - somehow, they manage to come out on top.  All the while their fans, readers and audiences cheer them on and feel safe and happy that the good guys kicked butt.

I'll be honest - this whole thing has me shaken up.  I go to midnight showings and other fandom-related things.  Shootings are supposed to happen in schools and malls and public places - places where the general populace are involved.  Not where a bunch of nerds have gathered to celebrate their nerdery.  That sounds kind of callous and naive, but that was one of my first thoughts this morning.  I feel horrible for the victims and their loved ones and I feel bad for the theater employees.  I feel bad for the filmmakers and anyone else that's going to get fingers pointed at them in the next few days because that's what's going to happen.  I want there to be a superhero (or ten) to stop these things from happening.

While there's no guarantee of a caped crusader to swoop in and rescue people from danger (and it's almost certain something like this will happen again), there is comfort to be had in stories we love.  I'm still going to go to the movies and read books with stories of improbable heroes winning impossible fights against villains that (more or less) come from the headlines of the ten o'clock news.  Because if ever there was a time for heroes - real or fictional - this qualifies.

As always, my thoughts and prayers go to everyone who was affected by this.

ETA: RandomGuy of Marvel/DC parody video fame has this to say.  I don't think I'm overstepping when I say that all of the geek community feels like this right now -

Friday, July 13, 2012

The Preemptive Critic - Oz the Great and Powerful

Evidently, I need to brush up my knowledge of "Wizard of Oz" mythos because I'm not entirely sure who that lady in red is supposed to be. Beyond that - I think this looks promising.  Points go for designing the Wicked Witch's minions (not the flying monkeys, the other guys) similar to the ones in the 1939 MGM film.  Nice touch with the transition from black-and-white to color (and panning out into widescreen as well).  Though I will reserve judgment on whether or not the apparent use of 3D is justified (which is my policy on all 3D films.  I've yet to see one that makes use of the technology beyond "Ooh, look! Shiny object! Ain't we neat?")

I preemptively... like this movie.

Tuesday, July 10, 2012

I Have a Really Stupid Question

It's suddenly become The Thing for big-movie-franchises-spawned-from-books to split the final installment into two movies.  With Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows, it was justified.  Breaking Dawn, not so much.  Now we have news that Mockingjay, the third and final installment of The Hunger Games, will be split into two movies and released with a year between the two.

I'm not opposed to the idea - Mockingjay has a lot of material to cover (oh, shut the hell up.  Mockingjay was NOT that bad).  However, why just do it for Mockingjay? Catching Fire has probably just as much - if not more - material packed into it and it could certainly warrant a second movie as well.  Victory Tour?  Wedding planning?  Setup for the Quarter Quell?  The Quell itself?  Does this not ring a bell to anyone?  I'll be intrigued to see how well they get everything in Catching Fire stuffed into a 2 1/2 hour movie and I'm sure they'll pull it off (witness the wonderful handling of The Hunger Games) - but I'm not sure the stuffing is necessary.  And don't tell me that this idea to split movies just now occurred to the producers - they could have been planning this from the moment Deathly Hallows made bank.

(This is where I turn and shake my fist at the universe that Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire was not split into two movies.  Because there would be precedence for the middle part of a series to be split.  But no - we had to have a useless dragon chase scene and sacrifice any real plot the story had to offer, making my favorite HP book (to that point) a useless pile of horse manure as a movie.  Forever shall the name Mike Newell be cursed in my speech.  Actually, Alfonso Cuaron deserves some of that blame as well because he was the one who convinced Newell he could do GoF in one movie, even though Warner Bros was originally opened to doing two.  As if screwing up Prisoner of Azkaban wasn't enough.  Idiot).

Bottom Line - Mockingjay as two movies: Good Idea.  Catching Fire as two movies: Better Idea.  Someone should have thought of it before I blogged about it (and by "someone," I mean Lionsgate).

Monday, July 9, 2012

I'm Putting This on a Card and Handing It Out To People

I was at work searching for a few things when I came across this little gem - Revenge of the Introvert by Laurie Helgoe.  When I was in grad school, we all took the Myers-Briggs Type Indicator and I scored highly as an introvert (my type was ISFJ.  I was borderline on the last two, if I remember right.  I could have gone either way).  It was kind of a nice moment for me - I finally had someone tell me that it's okay to hate going to social functions and being around obnoxiously huge groups of obnoxious people.  I'm not weird for preferring to spend Friday night at home with a book than schmooze with a bunch of goobers that got thrown together from the local singles' wards (that last one highly applies to the Wasatch Front area.  Good night in heaven, do those people realize how completely ridiculous they can be?)

Then, I got looking into the subject - found articles and books to explain the whole thing to me.  I'm not going to go into a lot of detail about it, but I did like this list that came from the above article (it's on page 4, if you're interested.  The whole article is well-worth your time, especially if you have a friend that you keep giving grief for being "weird" and "anti-social."  Read the article and then tell your friend you're sorry.  They will be even more appreciative of your friendship, I promise).

What Not to Say to an Introvert

Introverts, those quiet creatures that walk among you, are not as mild-mannered as made out to be. They seethe and even will lash out at those who encroach upon or malign their personal comfort zones. Here are a few emotional buttons to avoid with your introverted companions:
- "'Why don't you like parties? Don't you like people?' is a common remark introverts hear," says Marti Laney, a psychologist and the author of The Introvert Advantage. "Usually we like people fine," she insists. "We just like them in small doses." Cocktail parties can be deadly. "We're social but it's a different type of socializing."

- "Surprise, we've decided to bring the family and stay with you for the weekend." Anyone anywhere on the -vert spectrum could find such a declaration objectionable, but it's more likely to bring an introvert to a boil, according to Nancy Ancowitz. Introverts count on their downtime to rejuvenate their resources; an extended presence in their homes robs them of that respite.

- Don't demand immediate feedback from an introvert. "Extraverts think we have answers but just aren't giving them," Laney says. "They don't understand we need time to formulate them" and often won't talk until a thought is suitably polished.

- Don't ask introverts why they're not contributing in meetings. If you're holding a brainstorming session, let the introvert prepare, or encourage him to follow up with his contributions afterward.

- Don't interrupt if an introvert does get to talking. Listen closely. "Being overlooked is a really big issue for introverts," Laney says. Introverts are unlikely to repeat themselves; they will not risk making the same mistake twice.

- Above all, "we hate people telling us how we can be more extraverted, as if that's the desired state," says Beth Buelow, a life and leadership coach for introverts. Many introverts are happy with the way they are. And if you're not, that's your problem.

Tuesday, July 3, 2012

4th of July Musical Extravaganza!

As is tradition, I'm decorating with the usual fare of patriotic music and videos. Do enjoy.

First - to get us all in a parade-day mood, here is "Seventy-Six Trombones" from the finale of the 1962 version of "The Music Man" (link to the vocal version - it wouldn't let me embed)


 I went searching for "Stars and Stripes Forever" and wound up with - of all things - the Muppets doing their own version. And I thought - why the heck not?


 (Here's the instrumental version)


Next, a staple of elementary school programs and one of my personal favorites - "God Bless the USA" by Lee Greenwood


And what 4th of July would be complete with what started it all - the Declaration of Independence (from the HBO miniseries "John Adams")


 Just to round things off - a mash-up of "The Patriot" and "John Adams" with the epic score to go with it -


 Happy Independence Day, everyone!! (and a BIG happy birthday to my niece, Jaylee, who turns 1 on the 4th)

Monday, July 2, 2012

How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Trust the Magic

What is this? A book review?? Well, with all the books I've been reading lately, figures that I would pick at least one to do a proper review of.  And, Dear Readers, this one's a treat!

Title: Magic Kingdom for Sale - Sold!
Author: Terry Brooks
Publisher: Random House (Omnibus)
Publication Date: 1986 (Omnibus published 2009)

Synopsis (from Goodreads) -

Landover was a genuine magic kingdom, complete with fairy folk and wizardry, just as the advertisement had promised. But after he purchased it for a million dollars, Ben Holiday discovered that there were a few details the ad had failed to mention. Such as the fact that the kingdom was falling into ruin. The barons refused to recognize a king and taxes hadn't been collected for years. The dragon, Strabo, was laying waste to the countryside, while the evil witch, Nightshade, was plotting to destroy no less than everything. And if that weren't enough for a prospective king to deal with, Ben soon learned that the Iron Mark, terrible lord of the demons, challenged all pretenders to the throne of Landover to a duel to the death - a duel no mere mortal could hope to win. But Ben Holiday had one human trait that even magic couldn't overcome. Ben Holiday was stubborn.

My Review:

Back In The Day (senior year of high school - the last time I really had time to read whatever I pleased), I read a good chunk of Terry Brooks' Shannara novels (good grief, my fingers cannot spell today) and I rather enjoyed them.  Our high school library also had Magic Kingdom for Sale - Sold!, and I always meant to pick it up and read it, but I never did.  Now, with my lovely library job and access to all kinds of great stuff to read, I finally picked it up.  Well, I picked up the audiobook, but that counts!

People who read fantasy, back me up on this one - Who doesn't sometimes thinks "Gosh, wouldn't it be cool if there was a magic wardrobe/hidden train platform/time-and-space machine that I could take and visit a world no one's ever seen before or even believes in?"  So, I get the premise of of Magic Kingdom for Sale and I buy into it wholeheartedly (no pun intended).  Ben Holiday is a tough-as-nails lawyer who's still dealing with the death of his wife two years previous.  He finds a department store catalog with an ad for the throne of a fairy-tale kingdom called Landover complete with dragons and fairies and witches and whoever has a million dollars and passes the screening process can have it.  In a moment of pure whimsy (that does nothing if not give me a little bit more faith in the legal community), Ben comes up with the money and buys Landover, thinking it's going to be a nice vacation and a chance to get clear of all the stress and inner turmoil in his life.

Well, if Ben was looking for a place free from stress, Landover ain't it.  The kingdom has been without a king for years and the land is dying because of it.  The people are distrustful of each other and demons have been chomping at the bit to take over Landover for themselves and - oh yeah, the guy who sold Landover to Ben has sold it before and always to some weenie who didn't care to step up and take responsibility, so the Landoverians who would have helped Ben don't trust him because (to them), he's just one in a long line of pretenders just out to have a good time and never mind who gets hurt.

And this, my friends, is where Ben Holiday becomes a hero.
Nightshade? Strabo? Iron Mark? Bickering lords? Puh-lease...
For the first little bit, Ben just rolls with whatever he's told he's supposed to do.  He's pretty much reacting to what gets thrown at him and there's very little character development on his part.  He leans a lot on Questor Thews (the court wizard of Landover, who's not a very good one) and Abernathy (court-scribe-turned-dog... don't ask) and while those two are great for quick information, neither of them know much about ruling a kingdom (to be fair, Ben doesn't know much either).  Most of the first half of the book sees Ben reacting to everything and nothing goes right for him - with the possible exception of meeting Willow, the sylph from the Lake Country who is also the River Master's daughter and who really ought to be annoying but somehow isn't (I admit - I cheered when she showed up to rescue Ben and the others from the trolls.  Cheered even more when Ben let her stay with him. They're too cute together).  It's when Ben finally knuckles down and decides he's going to be Landover's king that things get really entertaining.

First of all, Ben starts a "school" of sorts in order to learn everything he can about Landover - history, culture, geography, the whole nine yards.  Then he starts going to all the really scary characters to get them to pledge to him - much to the chagrin of everyone except Willow and (quite possibly) the G'Home Gnomes (who are about the funniest little guys on the planet).  This, of course, is where Ben faces down stuff much scarier than some old dragon or a witch... and if I told you what it was, that would spoil the ending so I'm going to leave it.

Okay, yeah, this story's pretty predictable in where it's going (there are five more Landover novels, so of course Ben's going to survive!), but it's the getting-there that's the fun of it.  Honestly, I didn't know how Brooks was going to have a character go from being a world-weary, cynical lawyer in the real world to becoming the sovereign ruler of a fairy-tale kingdom, but it works.  Even more fun that Ben accepts all the craziness going on around him and takes it in stride - more than just accept it, he embraces it and claims it as his own!

Bottom Line: Forget combing the train station for that hidden platform - where's the high-end items in the Sears Catalog??

PS - The cover image is actually the 2009 Omnibus re-release that also includes The Black Unicorn and Wizard At Large (there's a second Omnibus with The Tangle Box and Witches' Brew. The most recent offering, A Princess of Landover, is currently available on its own)  Considering what the covers originally were, I have to say this is a marked improvement (I'm glad fantasy cover artists are getting better at their work).