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Monday, February 20, 2017

A Disney Blog Survey

I'm pretty much done with the Disney Villains analysis. Unless I somehow catch "Bolt" or "Treasure Planet" in a moment of drunken weakness, the list is complete. So how about a little Disney survey I found on some blog.

Favorite villian?

Well, this is a hard one to choose. After scrutinizing them all, I've got so many that tickle my cookies.

I like Hades just because he's so funny and "out-there". Sure, lump me in with the fangirls if you must -- I like what I like. Plus he fits in neatly anywhere -- the "Hercules" TV series, Kingdom Hearts, House of Mouse -- he's good in any situation. Yzma's much the same. I bet they could make a solid duo.

I also have to give props to Prince Hans. People still talk about how this Prince Charming fooled them all, and I count myself among that group of fools. Kudos to you, Jennifer Lee, Chris Buck, and Shane Morris. It takes a strong story to pull me away from my super critic. And Ichabod gets the same credit. Seventy years later, who thought this lanky fool was the movie's bad guy?

Madame Medusa is an underrated villain because... damn, girl, she's just mean. Who kidnaps an orphan to shove into a well to mine for diamonds? At least Cruella just messed with puppies. And the Queen of Hearts is memorable for the same regard, though it's more for bark than bite. But what a bark!

But if you got to make me choose, I'll pick Ursula, for purely personal reasons. Not to say she's not a good villain. She's spot on for motivation, powers, henchmen, and personality.

Scene that always makes you cry?

I thought the part where Anna and Elsa's parents die in Frozen was a particularly good bit of filmmaking -- in that it made me feel an emotion. It's unexpected, it's early in the film, and it's done without words. I mean, yeah, Disney's known for killing off parents, but not usually after establishing character.

If I was younger, I probably would have said "Baby Mine" from Dumbo -- at that age, I couldn't think of anything worse than your mother behind bars, unable to be touched but for the trunk she can just barely stretch out the window. And this is "circus prison", not no comfy Orange is the New Black holding facility.

But my favorite is in Wreck-It Ralph. The whole movie speaks to me and not just because it's about video games. Ralph's whole life has been labeled as a villain. But he's not really a bad guy -- he's a necessary part of life. The other side of the coin. The yang to the yin. Without him, there's no game. Us cynics and analysts can sympathize -- no one wants to hear what we have to say because we're always right.

Throughout the story, he struggles to be "good", to "earn that medal", but ultimately fails when he has to return to his role as the heartless villain to save the girl he's bonded with. At the end, the only way to save everyone is to sacrifice himself by plunging into the volcano to set off a giant Diet Coke-Mentos explosion. And as he plummets with his meaty fist outstretched, he repeats the video game villain's mantra to himself for strength and resolve: "I'm bad, and that's good. I will never be good, and that's not bad. There's no one I'd rather be than me."

Best multi-movie series?

I'm lucky that all but the bad Disney movies have gotten direct-to-DVD sequels, so I can just pick my favorite, which is The Little Mermaid. The second one is awful and the third one is average, but no one said I had to sit through the others.

But if we're disqualifiing the home videos, I'd say Winnie-the-Pooh is my favorite of the theatricals. It's got the strongest characters and the most lovable story. I can't believe that my kids never got into it.

But if we are including the DVD sequels AND I've got to count all of them together, I'd say Aladdin has the strongest showing. Tarzan is a close second, with the excellent Tarzan II.

Movie you wish there was a sequel to?

Big Hero 6 and Zootopia come to mind immediately, but I have to make exception for them since they are so recent, so there may be plans already in the works. I'd love to see what happens next in Zootopia with Nick and Judy working as police partners in a true buddy cop film. Watching them together was the highlight of the movie. And Big Hero 6? It's a superhero movie -- it was MADE to have a sequel, even if you don't count the after-credits scene. I don't care how they got their powers, I want to see everyone use their powers. Also, more fluffy robot.

If we're talking entries in the past, I wouldn't mind seeing a follow-up to Pinocchio. There's a lot of material from the books that wasn't used (most for good reason, let's just say it), but there's still a lot of angles to take. Even if we aren't doing a midquel, and continue from when Pine-Eyes is a real boy, there's still plenty of human exploration to go. Star Trek milked it for decades, why can't Disney?

And personally, I want to see more of Merida from Brave. She's got the strongest personality of any Disney princess, including the most recent ones. It shouldn't have to suffer in obscurity because it had directorial problems as Disney and Pixar changed hands. Just look at Pocket Princesses and tell me you can't cobble a movie together out of that.

Favorite animal character?

Does Beast count? He's really kind of an amalgamation of animals. Or the bottom half of Ariel?

Well, I've always had a soft spot for the Cheshire Cat, with his shit-eating grin and devil-may-care attitude. And as long as we're talking retro, might as well mention Baloo. Also known as Little John. Also known as Thomas O'Malley. Also known as Humphrey. Also known as all the other schlumphy happy-go-lucky bears in Disney canon.

But I guess I like Maximus more than others -- a combination of horse and Javert. He's remarkably ethical, loyal, determined, and does it all without talking. I feel like Maximus is ushering in a new age for side-kicks, where they're not just the Greek chorus, like R2-D2/C-3P0 or Sebastian/Flounder. Where they have a more deuteragonisty role.

Side note: Pegasus doesn't get enough credit for his role. From when he's a cute little baby to when he blows out Hades's hair.

Last movie you watched?

Beauty & the Beast. With the kids. Probably inspired by the upcoming live-action film with creepy-looking Lumiere and Mrs. Potts with the wrong nose.

Rank your top 5 favorite princesses:

I'm planning this for a fuure blog entry, so stay tuned. Hopefully I'll remember to link back to it when it's done.

Which fictional Disney "land" would you like to live in?

Well, at first I thought "Lilo and Stitch" because they live in Hawaii. But then I saw "fictional" land. And besides I don't like warm weather. And there's too much fruit.

Wreck-It Ralph could be pretty fun. Heck, you get to live in all those video game lands. I do that anyway most of the time. I know the death rate is pretty high, but you're neighbors with Aliens, Willy Wonka's Chocolate Factory, and Tapper's bar.

But I've got to go with Lady and the Tramp for the same reasons Walt Disney had. It was designed to be THE idyllic, refined upper-middle class suburbia. Everyone's got a milkman, a white picket fence, and a licensed dog. The men are men, the women are women, and all the children are above average.

Disney loved it so much he based Main Street, U.S.A. off of its design (or the other way around, I'm not sure). Maybe it's because I'm a privileged straight white male (actually I'm certain it's because) but it seems like a good place to retire to. As long as we can upgrade the technology by about a hundred years.

Have you ever named a pet after a Disney character?

At first I thought no, I've only had the chance to participate in one naming of a pet in my life (my two dogs, I didn't get much say, given the kids). But then I realized -- yes! Dinah! Dinah was named after the little red kitten in Alice in Wonderland.

Now given, she was in the book before the movie, but she was truly named after Disney's bit player. I was surprised how quickly my sister agreed to this name (we were eight and six at the time). We never agreed on ANYTHING. Every little option was always a power struggle, because somehow we thought whoever's idea was taken got some kind of authority points.

But I suggested Dinah, thinking it was a good cat name, and she said yes. So then it was decided. Now Dinah (our cat) looked nothing like Dinah (Alice's cat). Ours was a black and white tabby with green eyes and no pink bow. I don't even think their personalities were the same. But we named her while she was still in the humane society cage, so that wasn't a factor.

If you were going to name your children with Disney character names, what would you choose? (First and middle, girl and boy.)

Alice Ariel and Taran Hercules

Make yourself a Disney family (e.g. mother, father, sister, brother)

Father - My first thought was Beast, because as funny as it was seeing him adjust to Belle, I think it would be thrice-so to see him do parenting stuff. But hilarity isn't a good reason for selecting a father figure, especially since I wouldn't be on the outside looking in -- it's not like this is a sitcom. So I choose Tarzan. Despite his loutish ways, he's actually a wise and just man. He doesn't eschew gentlemanly ways. He's a protector and provider, and great for wrasslin'.

Mother - Slim pickings in this category, since Disney loves nothing more than killing off mothers -- off-screen or on. Nonetheless, there are some ideal candidates here. It'd be easy for me to claim someone hot like Jasmine or Megara or Snow White (she's only fourteen!). I think Aurora has a lot of potential. There's no evidence, but having to deal with those fairies for sixteen years shows great patience. She's a little dreamy, but she's mature. However, I think Maid Marian would be a better mom. We see she has a strong rapport with kids, given the scene with bunny kids. She's playful, brave, friendly, and she's relatively safe from harm. Prince John doesn't imprison her or kidnap her for his bride. She doesn't even show up after the party until the marriage epilogue.

Sister - For a big sister, Moana. She's new on the scene, but I love her daring nature and strong will. She's the kind of girl who'll help you sneak out of your house at midnight to go cruising with all her cool older friends. For a little sister, Alice. She's so damn quirky you gotta love her. She's like the precocious five-year-old on all the TGIF sitcoms. Highly suggestible, but too polite to complain. Yes, Alice, tell me all about the invisible cat and the deck of cards that chased you. And when she makes a billion dollars off her book, you can auction off her crayon drawings.

Brother - There's only one choice here -- Kuzco. Big or small, emperor or llama, there's always a party where this guy's going. He'll throw you down a waterfall, but then feel bad and let you look inside his potions cabinet. And let's not forget he owns a sweet, sweet waterpark.

Tuesday, February 14, 2017

What's So Bad About Ghostbusters 2?

So what was so wrong about Ghostbusters 2? I don't get it. It's pretty surprising to have a fandom based on only two movies, but to have one of those movies actively disliked? That's an entire half of the canon you're leaving out.

If you can't already tell, I liked it. I was eight years old when it came out and the first thing I did when I got home was make a crayon/stapled book of the movie. Of course, I wasn't prone to deep critical analysis back then. And why should I be? No movie is without sin. And if you like something, no one should be able to tell you that you're dumb or stupid for liking it. No matter what it is. I like Disney Princesses more than my own daughters. I asked for Elsa, Anna, and Rapunzel figures for Disney Infinity for Christmas, because I wanted to watch them kick some ass on the screen.

Of course, I don't know when they became the Three Stooges, but...

But I digress. Sure, Ghostbusters 2 may be a little samey, but what of it? It's a formula that worked, so why not try and follow it again. And honestly, it's not like they hit the same notes beat for beat. That's what Ghostbusters 2016 did wrong. They didn't need to re-establish everything. They didn't need to rebuy the firehouse or rehash the Venkman/Dana awkward flirting. It's a "getting the band back together" story.

The effects are still great. The characters are still great -- not one of them phones in a performance and they still sing to the audience. There are new characters and those lead to new relationships. There's a baby we need to look out for now AND Dana is a single mother (which was a big deal in 1989 [see Murphy Brown]). The "slime" has gotten a bigger spotlight. The bad guy has more of a backstory/role than being some macguffin. And he has a henchman, not a weirdo Rick Moranis. Who by the way IS back, and has gotten a makeover, along with Janine.

And got BIZZ-ZAY

And the most important thing: it stays true to the spirit of the material without repeating the same thing over again. That's the problem with Superman movies, 1980's CG cartoon nostalgia cash-ins like "Alvin and the Chipmunks" and "The Smurfs". Even Goat-boy is retching by now. I can't wait until there's an Alf movie. And then there's Austin Powers, Scream, Saw, Grease, Jaws, Jurassic Park that saw their continuations met with diminishing returns. Why? Because they didn't change enough. But Ghostbusters 2 maintains the comedy + horror vibe that made the first one so great. Mixing genres is a surefire way to my heart, even if it is the same movie.

And do I think it's the same movie? Well, I might have nostalgia goggles on, but no. It follows the same rises and falls in action that the first one did (The Scoleri Brothers instead of Slimer, giant Statue of Liberty instead of Marshmallow Man), but the motivations and plot events are totally different. And that's all right in my book.

And this game was way way WAY too hard

Tuesday, January 31, 2017

My New Reading Policy

So after looking over my past logs for books (two years really), I realize there's a reason my yearly rate is on the decline. And it's not just because of new comics. It's because I'm reading too many bad books. For 2016 my scoring average was 2.93. That means I read more books that I scored below average than above. This scoring should be at four. It's not like I grade on a curve. There's no reason I couldn't have an entire year of five star books.

So to that end, I'm going to be a bit more picky about my selections. Too many times I've been fooled by classics that turn out to be antiquated and overwritten "post-modern literary" tripe. Most of the time I get my selections from my role models, whenever they happen to tweet about what they're reading. People like John Green, Rainbow Rowell, Mike Krahulik. Sometimes I hear about an interesting concept, like a robot detective. Sometimes it's a memoir from someone I like. Sometimes it's a book I feel like I should have read. But now we've got some more rules before anything makes it on the "to-read" list.

Books will get minus points for being:

  • More than five years old, with each subsequent year increasing the minus on a graduated scale. Anything written earlier than 2010 gets scrutiny -- I won't know how to write for today if I'm reading for twenty years ago.
  • Too long. Hard to tell because page count doesn't necessarily equal number of words. But my Kindle has a reading speed monitor and can tell me how long it'll take to finish something.
  • Less than a 3.9 rating on GoodReads, correlated with a graduated scale of "number of reviews". In other words, just because everyone else has read it doesn't mean I should.

Also, I must read a sample of the book before committing. Too many times I forget I can just quit a book and fall to "time-sunk fallacy". Maybe it's because if I don't finish it, I don't feel right in writing a review for it and can't add it to my tally. Or it's "I've gotten this far, I may as well finish it at this point". No! No! Stop that. Bad boy. Quit the bad books. Have a more discerning palate. If you want to stop in the middle of Wuthering Heights because it's boring, then do it! I don't care if people think less of me.

Maybe it's because I never hear of authors telling the truth about books they read. They always gush or say "I ate up everything written by him/her", like authors need to like everything. Like how actors never say so-and-so was hard to work with or whether the movie they're in is any good or not.

This means there'll be a new category in my "The Books I Read" feature -- sampled. This is like "unfinished" but in this case, I read the sample and decided based on it whether or not to put it on the "to-reads". I'll explain my perceptions of the book, but I won't be posting the review anywhere, since it's not fair to judge a book based on a sample IMHO. *

Finally, going to try and avoid non-fiction. Not because non-fiction is tending towards badness, but because it's not doing my fiction any favors when I'm reading exclusively on one subject. It's hard to think of ideas for a fantasy-monster story while my mindset is in military women. Also, I've just read so much of it this past year I can take a break.

Now, given the criteria above, please understand: I'm not saying there's anything WRONG with these kinds of books. This is for me and me only -- your experiences no doubt vary. But I keep falling into these kinds of books and they're starting to feel like "reading jails". No matter how many pages you read you never feel closer to finishing, whether it's because it's long or hard to parse or full of fantastic language that slows down the plot. I need to have a higher standard for myself -- or at least a fresh start -- or I'm going to start hating reading.

*I have no idea how book reviewers do it. I read as fast as I can, but it takes me eight hours to finish a best-seller.

Thursday, January 26, 2017

The Worst Books I Read in 2016

The Beast Within by Serena Valentino

A sloppy, emotionless, and most of all, non-canon telling of the Beast's life. I don't know who looked at this and said "print it!" They don't get key elements from the movie right, and all the new things, like the three witches, make no sense in the context of the original movie. Most harsh is that this will make you hate the beast more than sympathize with him. You don't need this in your life.

Friend by Diana Henstell

Yeesh. Eighties robots and school crushes and child geniuses and bringing the dead back to life. Sounds like a fascinating story or a Stephen King novel. But these are concepts in search of a plot... and characters... and setting... and a writer with the chops to bring them all together in a way that leaves you satisfied. Not one character in this book is likable. They're all egocentric bastards. There's so much time spent on whining and practically none on providing motivation or milieu to keep the story moving. Bah. I should have known better from viewing the 1980's b-grade horror movie it was based on.

The Third Book of Swords by Fred Saberhagen

Cream rises to the top, grounds settle on the bottom. There's a reason these books fell into obscurity and this one's the poster child. You can't end a trilogy on something so convoluted and messy that brings up more questions than it answers. It's a bad D&D campaign turned into an unreadable set of books. Learn from my mistakes and let the swords rest.

Now here's a thing to keep in mind -- I finished all these books. I don't have any rule that says "unfinished books can't appear on the list". It's just that these books were WORSE than ones I gave up on. I have no idea why I finished them. Maybe I was hopeful or had time-sunk fallacy or had nothing better to read. But I had way too many one stars and not enough five stars. Now granted, I am totally fine being critical. But if a book is one star, I probably shouldn't have finished it in the first place. I've got to change my reading habits around if I'm ever going to enjoy reading again.

Wednesday, January 25, 2017

The Best Books I Read in 2016

The Only Pirate at the Party by Lindsey Stirling & Brooke S. Passey

It's funny. It's light-hearted. It's not too long. It's poignant. It's like Felicia Day's book. And it's full of her voice both tragic and comic. Grim at times, cheery at most. This is not the Kim Kardashian, Tina Fey, or even the Mindy Kaling. This isn't the girl who made it (not yet, at least). This is the girl still hacking at that creativity mountain with a pick-axe.

Masters of Doom: How Two Guys Created an Empire and Transformed Pop Culture by David Kushner

A fascinating slice of nostalgia for anyone who played computer games during the rise of the FPS and years of shareware. Find out how it all happened, who the revolutionaries were, and what happened behind the scene to find the rise and fall of a watershed era.

Rejected Princesses: Tales of History's Boldest Heroines, Hellions, and Heretics by David Porath

Christ, are they all non-fiction this year? Either that means I picked out some crap books or I'm starting to appreciate history. My original review gushed about it for more than four hundred words. I can't think of what else needs to be said. If you want to read about heroes or women of diverse types, this is your go-to.

Thursday, January 19, 2017

Writing Exercise: Darkness

"You, a grown adult, are afraid of the dark. Explain why this is a legitimate concern, so friends won't laugh at you."

All right, so this is the reason I'm scared of the dark. Now obviously I don't tell anybody about this, because I'm a grown-ass man. I should know better, right? But you all have your childish fears too. Some of you are afraid of showers or tunnels. If you think about it, there's no reason to be scared of spiders. There are three thousand species of spiders in North America and only two are poisonous. Two! Only four people die from spider bites per year. When you take that into account, getting out from behind a mack truck makes sense.

But darkness. We've been fighting against it since the caveman days. And even while we've mostly conquered it with fire and electricity and wind-up flashlights, it's still there. It's always there, in a corner, in a closet, under the bed, through a window. And the thing is you never know what's in there. You don't, you just don't. It could be a millipede or a duck or a railroad spike or some coat hangers. But my point is no one ever knows what's hiding in the darkness.

Well, I do.

See, the darkness is angry. Angry that we've taken away it's power, that we can remove it any time you want. It's not just staying there, it's creeping back in. It wants to consume you.

Case in point. Okay, you know how when you go to bed, you shut off the lights. And it seems like it's pitch black. That's because your eyes haven't adjusted -- they haven't dilated to let in more light. But after a few minutes, they do and the light from the window or the smoke detector or your alarm clock. Now you can see all the dimensions of the room where once it was all black.

But here's what I've noticed. It doesn't do that anymore. It's taking longer and longer for the light to come back. I've timed it. Yeah, it could be my eyes. I'm going to get them checked. But that's not it. And I know because there are corners of my room where it's all black. And it stays all black through the night. And those spaces are getting larger each time. There used to be an outlet near one of the corners where my dresser is. One night, the darkness was so big it covered it up. Next day, there was no outlet. It looked like there never had been one. Not even when I busted open the wall.

It's going to come for you if you're not watching it. That's what it wants. To be noticed. Which is funny because you can't see in the darkness. That's why I make sure I sleep with the lights on. I never go anywhere where I think it might get pitch black. That's not many places. But if it happens, it could be me next.

Better to light a candle than to curse the darkness? Light a whole fucking barrel of them.

Tuesday, January 17, 2017

The Books I Read: November - December 2016

Rejected Princesses: Tales of History's Boldest Heroines, Hellions, and Heretics by David Porath

I fell in love with this book immediately, which has never happened to me before. I am not an early adopter, and it's the onus of every book to entice me. Of course, by the time I know that, I'm usually victim to time sink fallacy. But look at this cover. It looks like all the books in the old Disney movies. You know, like in Cinderella and Sleeping Beauty where a live-action book opens at the beginning and closes at "the end". Now I have a book like that. I can look like I'm reading an old timey volume of forgotten lore (quoth the raven). Look at me -- I'm gushing and I haven't even opened the book yet.

Inside is more than fifty stories of women who kicked ass and took names, folk tales you never heard of, tribal leaders, revolutionaries, women who outrode Paul Revere, outsmarted popes, outbattled kings, and outwitted empires. Each entry is about a page or two, so no princess outstays her welcome. They're like wikipedia entries, but don't duplicate the dry descriptions. Many include anecdotes and details that bring them to life as real people who existed. This is not a research/reference book. It's entertaining and informative like The Daily Show or CGPGrey or Extra Credits. The author adds a unique flavor/voice that gives away how much he loves this subject and how much he wants to share it.

Plus, each entry has a beautiful illustration of the lady therein, rendered as a kind of Dreamworks/Disney princess. Like each woman has her own movie poster. It even includes notes on how the art includes culture and tidbits not in the story.

Now this volume does have a fault: there are maturity ratings and content warnings for each story, ranging from one to five. But even the tamest wasn't appropriate for kids under ten (IMHO). In fact, just about all of them... well, this makes me sound like the most conservative of parents, but they acknowledge the existence of sex, use words like "plastered", and assume some historical knowledge. It's not that the content is vulgar or adult. It just brings up questions that I don't need to answers yet. Which makes it kind of strange that this book wants to highlight famous influential women, but the content is too old for when girls are their most influenced. Maybe they can release a PG version for the younglings? I want them to learn about these people too. The earlier the better.

Hollow City: The Second Novel of Miss Peregrine's Peculiar Children by Ransom Riggs

I dunno. It's a basic quest story. The Peculiars need to get from Point A to Point B and they come up against obstacles in-between. The bulk of those obstacles take place in WWII London during the firebombings. It's hard to get invested in the characters again because they never stay in one place for long. There are no "quiet moments" where they talk about what they're feeling or their reactions or how they feel about each other. The kids bicker among themselves about where to go and what to do, but never about their relationships. They don't use their powers much, except for invisible kid, so I have trouble telling any of them apart.

It's more like exploring the "expanded universe" of peculiars. And this time around, the events are even more aimless. Like the author pulled out a photograph at random and had to write about it. As a result, this seems like random stuff that happened. Because by the end, it seems like it was all forced filler. No one has a plot arc and no one feels changed at the end. The bulk of what they learned is that World War II sucks (which I already knew).

The View from the Cheap Seats: Selected Nonfiction by Neil Gaiman

These are all the speeches, articles, blog entries, and forewords Neil Gaiman has written over the years. A lot of them were about stuff I know nothing about -- old authors that he admired, music I don't listen to, stories from his youth I'm too young to appreciate. It's not a memoir, it's a series of essays. Most of them are gushes about someone. There's nothing about the writing process or creation in here, except the "Make Good Art" speech which everyone knows.

And it's long. His writing style is unchanged -- full of comfort and warmth, like when Luke Skywalker meets Obi-Wan Kenobi for the first time, and you know that this guy is one of the good ones. But I am not the kind of guy who has found solace in any of Gaiman's influencers -- Diana Wynne Jones, Terry Pratchett, Will Eisner, etc. There are a few memorable ones, but as a whole, this is only for the most diehard Gaiman fan.

Fuzzy by Tom Angleberger and Paul Dellinger

It's... all right. It's perfectly average. There are no groundbreaking ideas, no new techniques. It's aimed at a younger age group than YA (Percy Jackson, Underland Chronicles, et al). There's nothing controversial or gaspworthy inside. It's less about the robot and more about everything surrounding him. Like the AI that runs the school being super Big Brother. It's kind of like 1984 meets Double Dare.

There are some plot threads that taper off into nothingness, as if there were already sequels planned, which make me disgusted. I hate when marketers plan a series before anyone's seen it. The robot doesn't act much like a robot (I say that about every robot book, don't I?). There was a perfectly serviceable opportunity to present some interesting STEM topics here, like "what IS fuzzy logic?" "how does/could AI work?" WWW: Wake is a book that better explores these ideas, and I had no inclination to continue that series (too metaphysical).

I know I'm complaining more than praising, but the things that the book does right are basic and safe. Harmless. I could really only recommend this book if you've got nothing else that's flipping your cookie at the moment.