Thursday, May 21, 2015

Analyzing the Disney Villains: Nobody (Brother Bear)

Brother Bear (2003)



Is anyone there?

No, there isn't. I guess that's why I wanted to mark this one out. I can't say this is anything but a joke entry -- non-canonical. But it's worth noting that this movie has no villain. That's difficult to write, especially for a high concept.

The conflict arises from the main character's own emotions and desires. Kenai wants to become a great warrior like his two older brothers, but when he tries to prove it, he accidentally gets his older brother killed by a bear. The later quest for vengeance results in him becoming a bear and having to take care of a cub. Thus a valuable lesson is learned.

This is an anti-villain. One that only becomes antagonistic as a result of the circumstances. Thus the audience sympathizes with them because they didn't want to be made this way, even though the goal is ultimately evil. He's an unwilling monster.

But I can't cast Kenai as both the villain and the hero. So, here we are. And I hardly think it matters. There's no Kenai character at Walt Disney World. My kids don't carry around stuffed Canadian grizzlies (Well, they do, but they're not Brother Bear licensed). So let's just skip this one and move on. 'Kay? 'Kay.

My Birthday List - 1992

As a bonus to my Christmas list, here are the items on my birthday list for 1992.

Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles III: The Manhattan Project [Nintendo game] ($39.00)

This is on my "most memorable/influential-on-my-life video games".  And I recall getting it from my paternal grandparents of all people.  These were the people who got me the Alf game for the Mac.  My dad must have to lead him step-by-step on how to buy it.

Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles Duelin' Dudes  

I eventually got this for Christmas (I think).  It's just Rock 'Em Sock 'Em robots.  The problem is that one guy's head always gets a little looser than the others, and then it becomes unfair.  And why they have Michelangelo vs. Shredder, I don't know.  Wouldn't Leo or Raph be more appropriate.  Splinter would be best, but no kid's gonna buy that game.

Mini-Typhoon ($69.99)

I thought a remote control hovercraft was so cool.  Much better than any car with those primitive "wheels".  Jeez, cavemen used those.  This thing can go on water!  It's got those sweet double turbines, a sleek black finish.  It's like something out of Star Wars.

Remember what I said about my grandparents?  Yeah, they went and got me a cheap knock-off version that had a cord.  A CORD!  I loved them, but they did not know how to buy presents for their grandchildren.

The Simpsons Game "Mystery of Life" ($15.99)

I have no idea if this game was good or not.  It just had the Simpsons on it.  I must have been an advertisers dream -- quality?  Who needs it?  It's got licensed characters.  I remember distinctly when I was nine, watching a Roger Rabbit Diet Coke commercial.  When it was over, I immediately turned to my dad and said "Dad, we should get some Diet Coke".  Not because I wanted any, but because Roger Rabbit supported the product.  Anything associated with things I liked, I liked.  I wanted to get Met Life insurance because Snoopy sold it and stay at an Embassy Suites because Garfield was in the commercials.

Garfield Quartz Watch ($11.00)

Speaking of Garfield... I can't remember anything specifically appealing about this watch.  I probably needed a new watch at the time -- I was not good at taking care of these things.  And you know... Garfield.

Boy's Huffy Street Rocker 20" Bike

Wow, I can't believe I asked for some sporting equipment.  I must have just wanted it cause it had a radio.

Monday, May 18, 2015

The Books I Read: March - April 2015

The Maze Runner by James Dashner

The book succeeds at being entertaining, but not at being satisfying. It's a "this is the way we've always done it" story. You know those? Some new guy comes into a group or society that lives in a closed circle. He throws a spanner in the works, breaks all the rules. The leaders try to punish him and his friends pressure him to stop, but he becomes the hero anyway. Like if White Man's Burden was a novel. Sword of Truth did it. And it's a plot that I'm not thrilled with. Too heavy-handed with the Jesus-savior-chosen one having to save everyone from the sins of humanity. But that's not all I don't like.

James Dashner went to the "Dan Brown School of Writing". Short chapters, each ending with some kind of shock cliffhanger. False thrills that are melodramatized. And it NEVER explains anything. The main character gets amnesia and everytime he asks a damn question, people say "you'll find out" or "we don't talk about that" or they just shake their head sadly as if too depressed to speak. It's aggravating, because there's no reason for them to be so obtuse. You'd think they'd want to bring him up to speed to get him helping everyone else out faster. But no, everyone subscribes to the "Antagonistic High School Jock" handbook.

And finally, this whole "stick kids with no memory in a maze" concept is the biggest, most ridiculous Xanatos Gambit I've ever heard or seen. It's all a plot to find children who will be smart enough to get rid of a plague that's affecting the world on the outside. Huh?! So what do the maze monsters have to do with that? How do they get built? Why are two of you telepathic? Why isn't anyone else? How were they able to create their amnesia? How does any of this help survive the plague?  And it's all through a company named "WICKED".  I mean, come on, how heavy-handed can you get?  How can I take a company seriously that names itself WICKED?  And to boot, the ending negates everything before it, turning the story into garbage.

 It feels like a cheap thriller that somehow gained popularity on little more than originality of concept. But the insides are as flimsy as a cracker.

Orange Is the New Black: My Year in a Women's Prison by Piper Kerman

It's comedic and entertaining. A must for any fan of the show. It's not as dramatic, but the plausibility makes up for it. It's fun to see where characters like Crazy Eyes and Red came from. Not to mention it one hundred percent works as what it was intended to be -- a look into women's federal prison.

I can see why others might not like it. In another world, I might have lambasted this book a la "Wild". But I feel the difference is this woman owns up to her mistakes. Cheryl Strayed ran away from them. True, Kerman does benefit from white privilege while in the system, but she also benefits from keeping her head down and doing her own time. There are no grand gestures. It's a series of anecdotes about time in prison, and surprisingly, there are a lot of them. I'm not sure why there are chapters because there doesn't seem to be much categorization.

It's far from flawless. There are a lot of characters and Kerman doesn't describe them distinctively enough to picture them. If you haven't seen the show, you could easily get lost. But I had no problem with her attitude or writing style, as some have. This is non-fiction -- don't go in expecting a soap opera.  But it has the same comedy-drama tone as the show, which is what I think you should come for.

Confessions of a Chalet Girl by Lorraine Wilson

The novella starts out with a gratuitous boob flashing contest and it goes down from there. Holly is working at a ski resort to run away take some needed time from the domestic problems back home. What problems there are, I don't know, because the book never tells us.

It also never tells us about the romantic male lead. He has no characterization. It just jumps right into doing naughty things. Holly has no sense of this guy or who he is before letting him explore interesting crevices. Just that he's her boss. She's physically attracted, but that's it.

The girl's characterization is all wrong too. I can't believe someone who likes control (as the author is fond of constantly reminding us) would tolerate all this "wildness". And I can't believe her boss would jeopardize his position by sleeping with one of his new employees (although maybe it's different in England/Switzerland/wherever this takes place).  It reeks of "Red Shoe Diaries".

It needs more characters and better explanations for the non-conflicts that arise. It hand-waves plot developments, like her Facebook "being hacked", without explanation or characterization of the enemy.  It's just there to provide a little more filler.

Stupefying Stories: March 2015 (Volume 14)

I'm in it! Not only that, but I'm the cover story. See that? That's my fifty foot girlfriend on the cover. Sweet.

The Unbecoming of Mara Dyer by Michelle Hodkin

Let me say it like this. I'd originally rated this two stars because the writing was competent. A day later, I was still suffering from the memory of the book, so I lowered the rating to one.

Why is this book so popular? It's just a romance. The writing is colorful, but unsophisticated.  And the beginning hooks you, but afterward, I felt betrayed.  The characters aren't working towards anything. They have no problem to face. The girl seems to have Death Note powers (maybe) but she doesn't have a clue they exist until 75% through. Until then, you're just waiting for something power-related to happen.  Meanwhile, you get mind games and insipid teen dating.

The heartthrob is straight out of TFIOS. He's a scruffy, charming guy who speaks like a thirty-five year-old hipster with a Masters.  And he has a cigarette thing too. But if that's not enough, he's British and rich. To manipulate the reader into liking him, he has the most blatant "save the dog" moment. Straight out of Carrie 2. He has no life interests in anything but the female lead.

And the female lead is the kind of simpering, do-nothing, damsel in distress that Twilight taught us to hate. She has no agency -- she's constantly being told what to do by the boy.  She makes a show of resisting, but eventually goes along with it.  Decisions are made for her. And when she does do something, she makes the worst possible decision to keep the plot going.  It's an "idiot ball" plot.

And nothing happens.  They tool around, arguing, going on dates, while I'm shouting at the book "do something!" The other events are full of cliches. There's the "I don't want to have sex" fight, the "Don't fight to prove your love... okay, fight" fight, bullies that are mean to the new kid for absolutely no reason. There's a little brother who has no presence whatsoever. Halfway in, he goes missing. No one knows why or who did it or why the heartthrob knows where he is or that he's been kidnapped. Uh, red flag?! Plus the kid's had only three lines up to this point, so who gives a fuck if he's gone. And she NEVER asks the boy how or why he knows where he is.  She's just "grateful" to have him back.  Idiot.

It's not poor writing, it's a poor story. With earmarks of Twilight bandwagon-jumping all over it.

Sunday, May 10, 2015

Analyzing the Disney Villains: Lady Tremaine (Cinderella)

Origin: Cinderella (1950)

Motivation: The stepmother is actually pretty damn sinister. She does nothing in her life except make Cinderella suffer. For most other villains, I'd be complaining how we don't know the motivation for this. But in this case, it kinda works. Vengeance? Jealousy? A bruised ego? Free slave labor? Something to do with her former husband? She has nothing to gain and nothing to lose. It's almost Joker-like in her actions.

Character Strengths: I love it when the light fades out on her after she gets some devious idea. Everything shrouds in darkness except her eyes. Unfortunately, being evil is not really a strength. The guy at Dunkin' Donuts doesn't want to serve you, you don't get headsies in line, that sort of thing. Lady Tremaine does little but act aristocratic. She's like an inverse princess, one who becomes corrupt with money and power and starts treading on the little people. Unfortunately, the only treading is on Cinderella. So... what else is she good for?

Evilness: Lady Tremaine manages to pull off an effective villainy without any powers whatsoever. She doesn't even necessarily need her wealth. I can think of few more evil beings in this world than an abusive parent. That's ninth circle of Hell level. She even uses the same manipulative bullshit on her own daughters when she gets them to tear Cindy's dress apart. It's just pure sociopath.

Why Cinderella stands for all this, I don't know. Maybe Tremaine's got some blackmail on her. They also didn't have women's shelters back then. Nevertheless, if she's that malevolent without powers, I'd hate to see her with.

Tools: I gotta ask a question: who had sex with her? Wait, correction... who had sex with her TWICE in order to produce those two foul little offspring. My only hope that is that he killed himself shortly after he realized what he had done. That or powerful drugs. Anyway, Drizella and Anastasia make effective henchmen, thanks to their blank heads.

She also has a cat named Lucifer who steals the show. It shouldn't BE stealing the show, mind you. He turns the whole movie into a Tom & Jerry cartoon. I can't tell whether it's actually evil or just being a cat, trying to chase and eat the mice. This is why I never liked cat cartoons -- they punish them for doing the thing it's supposed to.

Complement to the Hero: The message of Cinderella seems to be that if you are kind and loving, good things will come to you. I've never much cared for that moral, but this story tells it well. Cinderella's never been anything but nice, and Lady Tremaine goes out of her way to hurt her, in both the short term and long game. In the end, nothing breaks her. Without her toy, I imagine Lady Tremaine spent the rest of her days stewing in a dusty mansion like Miss Havisham, slightly crazy, surrounded by cats and old furniture.

Fatal Flaw: The funny thing is that Lady Tremaine does everything right. She makes all the moves to get one of her daughters in the prince's lap. But it ultimately fails because, well, any idiot can see that Anastasia and Drizella are spoiled, vapid, and selfish. And the prince is just above "idiot", so he finds Cinderella.

I guess stupidity, because how does Tremaine not recognize Cinderella at the ball? She has her hair done and wears a fancy dress, but jeez! At least Clark Kent has glasses. (You could say the same for any character in the movie, but Lady Tremaine has the most to lose).

Method of Defeat/Death: Lady Tremaine makes sure Cinderella is locked away while her daughters shove their tootsies into a foot-shaped jar. Then she gets free. Lady Tremaine manages to trip the Royal Shoe Carrier, but Cinderella pulls out the other slipper (giving the whole scenario dubious legality). She becomes a princess and Lady Tremaine... ends up no worse off than she was before. 

Sure, she didn't achieve her goal, but she's still got a sweet house, lots of money, and nothing bad's happened to her. I say pour yourself a cosmo and go to Vegas, sweetheart. You've earned it.

Final Rating: Five stars

Pinocchio's Villains (Pinocchio)
Sykes (Oliver and Company)
Alameda Slim (Home on the Range)
Rourke (Atlantis: The Lost Empire)
The Evil Queen (Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs)
Ursula (The Little Mermaid)
Dr. Facilier (The Princess and the Frog)
Gaston (Beauty and the Beast)
Willie the Giant (Mickey and the Beanstalk)
Hades (Hercules)
The Queen of Hearts (Alice in Wonderland)
Jafar (Aladdin)
Shan Yu (Mulan)
Man (Bambi)
Clayton (Tarzan)
The Horned King (The Black Cauldron)
Mother Gothel (Tangled)
Cobra Bubbles (Lilo and Stitch)
Cruella De Vil (101 Dalmatians)
Madame Medusa (The Rescuers)
Captain Hook (Peter Pan)
Amos Slade (The Fox and the Hound)
Madam Mim (The Sword in the Stone)
Claude Frollo (The Hunchback of Notre Dame)
Scar (The Lion King)
Prince John (Robin Hood)
Edgar (The Aristocats)
Ratigan (The Great Mouse Detective)
Maleficent (Sleeping Beauty)

Wednesday, May 06, 2015

The Red Land

I really need to make a blog to keep my consistency going, but I don't have anything to write about.  Making queries, writing my princess fan fiction.  Just hacking at it word by word, like a writer do.  So here's a ficlet you can enjoy, back when the site was up.

---No Survivors: The Red Land---

When she woke up, the world buzzed in front of her eyes like a staticky TV. Organic objects only appeared as black and white, fuzzed out, like the inside of a blanket. Other objects and buildings were colored almost like a negative, but not directly opposite. The dirt on the baseball field was as green as grass, but the grass was charcoal gray. Someone painted the sky purple, and the silo which had been a dull rusted brown was a bright neon vermilion. Gradients had faded, and all differentiations in texture or dimension were punctuated by sharp cut-offs.

She was in the Red Land.

Shelly rose up, her stiff back protesting, a side-effect of the virus. No people as far as she could see, and the electric colors were hurting her eyes. She wasn’t meant to view the world like this.

Fortunately, the silo gave a great view, easy to pick out a shelter. Zanek’s was north, about five miles, and he’d have what she needed. She climbed down the ladder.

Wednesday, April 29, 2015

My Fifth Grade Book Report on Black Beauty

Here's another classic from my archive -- a fifth grade book report on Black Beauty. I thought it'd be fun to take another look at this, given I just re-read it. Or, given my memory, read it for the first time.

Black Beauty is a auto-biography of a male horse. The horse's name is Black Beauty. The story tells about him from his breaking in to his home of the Earl of W---.

One chapter tells about Reuben Smith, Beauty's coachman at Earlshall. As the story explains Smith had one great fault: the love of drink (liquor). Reuben went a big party at a bar. He got so drunk that when they were going home he was wildly thrashing at Beauty. Black Beauty was forced to run across a rocky road. Along the way, one of Black beauty's shoes came off and he suffered terrible pain. At a point Beauty was forced to go no more. The sudden jerk hurled Smith to a patch of grass. He made one effort to get up and then let out a heavy groan.

Reading this book gave me a total different view of horses as I see them today. I suggest this book to anyone who owns a horse to help him/her understand the horse better.

I enjoyed this book very much even though it was kind oflong. It was a enjoyable experience.

Tuesday, April 21, 2015

I Cannot Finish This Short Story

I am in a world of shit now.  I am trying my damnedest to finish this story I've been writing, about the military using little demons to disarm bombs.  The problem is I have no fucking idea how to end it.  Everything is too cheesy, too easy, too consequential, too non-conclusive, too pro-war, too anti-war.  It's always something that doesn't make it feel right, no matter what I think of.  I sit here staring, hoping for some idea to germinate.  And if one does, it's just a weed and it gets knocked down.  I might say chuck it, but good artists finish things.  And I'm too determined not to finish it.  I feel like finishing it would be a cop out.  It's not a turd I'm polishing.  I know the beginning is fine.  But nothing seems to match the ending.  It's not like it becomes one of those trite knock-offs.

Maybe I could let it incubate more, but I've already given it enough time.  I don't want to give up.  I don't want to be a quitter.  But I'm afraid if I keep pounding my head against the wall on this, I'm going to start to bleed.  And it also counters my ideology of producing publishable material.  But then, so does staring into nothingness and getting no ideas.  Maybe I'm being too hard on myself?  Sometimes I try and tell myself "just write, don't worry if it's bad or good, just get words on the page".  But I'm an outliner, I start with my idea and flesh it.  If I don't have an idea I'm drawing in the air.  This is why I hate short stories.  I just can't fit so many logistics into a 5,000 word story.

I don't know enough of what I'm writing about.  I've never been in the military, I feel like the story is starting anti-war, but ending pro-war.  I don't about how secret plans are carried out or procedures or meetings.  I don't even know where you sleep.  I feel like I'll be offending everyone in the military if I write this.  This seems to be my problem all the time when it comes to short stories.  I write a crappy boxing story, even though I don't know anything about boxing.  I don't know about apple orchards, Roman times.  I keep writing about strippers even though I've never been in a strip club.

The beginning is great, it's fine, it's catchy, it's compelling.  But that's all I have, a beginning.  I don't have an end to go along with it.  Or at least the endings I think of don't match it.  I'm either not trying hard enough, or all the endings are blithe and trite, like all the Gremlins knock-offs of the eighties.  I have a beginning, but I don't have a character to go along with it.  That's the thing wherein the story is formed -- the character.  A plot drives the beginning, but a character drives the ending.  I need to think of a character.

I think I gotta put this one to bed, even though it kills me to do so.  It's just not the time for this story to come back from the dead.  I gotta think of some stories that are about shit I know, so I can actually finish them and complete them.  So they don't fester in limbo and development hell.  I hate to do that, but this is just not productive.  I don't know. AS a write, do you think it's better to bag your head against the wall, trying to get a piece right?  Or move on, so you can produce copy?

Anyway, here's a cat to pay my whining tax.