December 31, 2014

2014- A Brief Look Back

It's been one hell of a year!

Stuff that happened to me:
  • Wrote and presented my senior thesis! Made me fall in love with Buffy all over again and also exposed me to the worlds of Women's and Gender Studies, Whedon studies, pop culture studies, and more feminism!
  • Graduated high school! Whew! What a rush! Had a kickass high school career I think, and I'm still in close contact with many of my friends. Love you all because you're awesome and have had such an impact on my life.
  • I was introduced to the wonderful band Halestorm which kinda kicked off my rock music taste/obsession! Still a favorite of mine to this day!
  • Played in Carnegie Hall! For all that AYS was complete ass garbage, tour was absolutely amazing! Just getting to be in such a marvelous hall and on stage where so many greats had stood was so awesome, and we kicked ass up there! Super happy 'bout that; that memory's sticking with me!
  • I got into and now attend college! What a rocky first semester, but as I look back, it was actually pretty nice. Homesickness did indeed encapsulate a good portion of my time in the beginning, but that faded pretty quickly once classes started and really kicked into high gear. Made a few friends, and had some sick classes! Can't wait for next semester!
  • I'm all caught up on A Song of ice and Fire!!! GRRM, give us Winds of Winter now, dammit! Best fantasy series I've read in a good long while; Dance with Dragons has become one of my favorite books of all time, so that's awesome.
  • I also read some other amazing books this year. Nervous Conditions and its sequel, The Book of Not, were both outstanding (the former is my fifth favorite book of all time)! Gone Girl was simply amazing and is another one of my favorites. My Whedon Studies obsession has made me read some amazing essays and books on the subject of Joss Whedon's tv shows (in particular is the awesome collection of essays called Reading Joss Whedon, which also made me rewatch Dollhouse), so that's really cool to me too.
  • I've begun work on a book! Not sure when (if ever) this thing's gonna get finished or if I'll even ever have a complete chapter out, but I've got some ideas down and a few pages at least. The writers conference I went to this summer really springboarded this project, and I learned so much up there; the people in the class were some of the most intelligent and kind and inspirational people I've ever met! So thankful for that opportunity! Going back next summer; can't wait.
  • Movies!!! I had some great cinematic experiences this year, from Captain America: The Winter Soldier, which I would consider one of the best Marvel movies ever done, all the way to Whiplash, which was one of the most thrilling experiences I've had in a non-action movie to date! I also had to sit through some unfortunate cinematic disasters (*cough*-Age of Extinction-*cough*), but overall, this year in film was pretty hoss!
This year was awesome for me! It was tough, there were sad moments in there; we lost people, we gained people, a lot of shit happened; a lot of amazing stuff happened too. On the whole, this year was one that I won't soon forget, as much because of what's going on in the wider world right now as because of what's happened in my personal life this year. Here's to a solid 2014 and here's hoping for an even better 2015!

December 28, 2014

Top 7 Best Movies of 2014 (with 3 Honorable Mentions)

As with any top 10 worst list, there's always a top 10 best list alongside it, though this year's list is going to be kinda different for a few reasons. First, I didn't see nearly as many movies as I saw last year and of those movies that I did see, I really only could think of about six or so that really stood out to me. Also, this list will feature three "honorable mentions", because I did happen to see films this year that weren't from this year that I had not seen before. So those will be included here because they are awesome (though mostly they're here to get this list up to ten slots). Anyway, without further ado, let's get to it!

December 27, 2014

Shadowcon Overviews: Lindsey Stirling

Shadowcon presents
An opinionated analysis of
Lindsey Stirling's career from 2010-2014

I have been a fan of Lindsey Stirling for the past four years or so now, and there are few people besides her who I consider to be personal heroes of mine. Her story of succeeding even when everyone said she couldn’t make it on her own is one of inspiration and, if not talent, then determination to see one’s goals accomplished. She is someone for whom I have had deep admiration because of her independence and her success in the face of resistance. She has influenced my love of the violin, broadened my tastes in music, and Lindsey was, for all intents and purposes, my first personal hero- I discovered her on my own, met her in person on my own, and was personally invested in her and in what she was doing. And yet, my views on her have changed drastically since I discovered her four years ago. I no longer find myself overcharged with energy after a new music video comes out, no longer head-in-the-clouds excited when she posts a photo to Instagram, and no longer impatiently waiting to get to the next new song because it can’t come fast enough. Instead, I’m rather irritated when a new video comes out, I generally pay no attention to her Instagram exploits, and I am far from holding my breath hoping that a new song will come out at all. So what changed? What happened to her? What happened to her music? What happened to me and my feelings towards her as an artist and as an inspiration?

With this Overview, I intend to take a look at how Lindsey Stirling has changed both in terms of her style and music, but also how she’s changed as an inspiration to me, how she’s developed over time and the effect that that’s had on me. None of this is to say that I don’t think that she’s not influential or unimportant; on the contrary: she’s helped me through a lot of personal trials and hard times and that’s great. But maybe that’s enough. Maybe that’s all she needs to do, and maybe she’s done that to the best of her ability, and I can move on. So take this for what it is: just another Overview per my Christmas/New Years tradition. It just happens to be of a different kind of genre and subject matter.

December 18, 2014

Top 5 Worst Movies of 2014

Okay, so I haven't done a list of Top 5 Worst Movies since like 2011! Y'know how long ago that was??? That was like three years ago holy shit does time fly!

I didn't do Worst Movies for '12 or '13 because honestly, I didn't see a lot of bad movies those years (though I will say that it could also be that I just forgot about all the shit that I saw during that time). But with this year, I saw a lot of crap, and it all stuck with me unfortunately. I feel bad too, 'cause like three of these movies I saw with friends and I'm like "I'm so sorry I dragged you to this; please forgive me!" But anyway, let's get started!

December 11, 2014

A Rant Regarding Feminism (kind of)

Alright, so I really don't like to talk about politics or social justice on this site because it has fuck all to do with the content I'm covering and what this space is for, but, being a WGS and English double major, I write and read (mostly read) a lot about this stuff on Facebook and I had this little rant that turned into a big rant that then became too big to put into a single Facebook post... anyway, I thought I'd share my feelings on this issue (or I guess this is multiple issues??? I'm not as well aware of the language of this genre of blogging as I should be) and see what everyone thinks (because god knows the internet is a great place for discussing these types of things).

December 8, 2014

I Have A Soundcloud (plus some related news)

So, just yesterday I got myself a Soundcloud account which I'd thought about doing for a while, but I didn't really know what Soundcloud was. Oh, I still don't really have any idea what I'm doing up there besides just uploading my music for the world to hear, but this does at least give me an outlet to share some of my compositions and arrangements!

For the past week or so, I've been working on a new medley, this one of the Marvel Cinematic Universe music! This is by far the longest piece that I've created, arrangement or otherwise, and it's one that I'm super proud of because for all my problems with Marvel Studios and their films, the music is definitely not one of them! I wanted to pay homage to the awesome superhero tracks used in the films for phases one and two (barring Age of Ultron which isn't out yet, but I know I'll have to add it in once the film comes out!) This is something that I've worked hard on, and it's I think some of my best work, for whatever that's worth. So, I present to you A Maddening Marvel Music Medley, which you can check out here! It's kinda long, clocking in at a good 9:50, so just letting you know that.

So that's all for now. Just wanted to share that with you guys. I hope you check it out and like what I have to share with you all!

November 30, 2014

Shadowcon Mini-Views- Birdman

Just got back from seeing Birdman, a film that I hadn't planned on seeing at all, but then I heard the reviews talking about how great it was, and then because my mom was in town, I got a ride to the theatre and there ya go! So I had heard that this was like some cinematic crazy thing because of the camera work, and I was like "yeah, sure". But no, this thing really is just an amazing and immersive experience just in the camera work alone! It is filmed to seem like one long take and it does a pretty solid job of it; cuts are there (obviously), but they're done unobtrusively and not abruptly. Because the movie feels like it's one shot, you feel more invested in it! You feel like you're really there, and that's really cool to me. I love seeing what filmmakers and directors are able to do with the camera and Birdman really impressed the hell out of me on that front.

The plot here uses the idea of having a play reflect what's actually going on in the main character's life in that Michael Keaton's character used to be the superhero Birdman, but he quit to focus on acting and on trying to be a better more personal actor. And so he's trying to put on this play and it's having a million problems, and basically everyone is saying to him that he's not relevant anymore, that Birdman had his day and now Keaton's character is just some old dude trying to feel relevant again. And the play that he puts on is a reflection of that, and in that this movie just really soars! The characters are in-depth as all hell, and the movie has some great commentary about what's going on in Hollywood today.

The inflation of the superhero genre has been something of a mixed bag for me personally, and Birdman really makes you think about art versus entertainment and how the two subjects intermix. As an art film itself, this movie does a good job of not being totally biased; you don't feel like it's bashing superhero films just for spite, at least I didn't feel that way. It's a nice balance of the two. Keaton's character also has one of the greatest "fuck you" monologues to a critic that I've ever seen! It's great! Like, that's the speech I just want to hurl at some snobby, self-absorbed dick-biscuit bastard and be like "this", because most of the stuff Keaton says is just spot on! It's great!

Basically, see Birdman. It's got a great atmosphere, engaging characters, gorgeous cinematography and camerawork, and above all, fantastic commentary on the modern blockbuster and its relation to art! This is an art film, but it's a grounded art film, and those are the best kind for me personally. I like films with messages that are relevant to today's culture, and this one delivers on that front in spades. Great movie, just excellent!

November 27, 2014

Ten Things For Which I Am Thankful

#10- Halestorm- As much as Lindsey Stirling threw me into the world of not-classical music, Halestorm was the first hard rock band that I ever discovered, and it’s still a favorite of mine to this day. I love their sound, and Lzzy Hale is just such a great powerhouse of a vocalist! Their music has really propelled me through some otherwise crappy days, and the energy that they bring to all their songs is just inspiring. My introduction to Halestorm got me hooked on the rock genre in general, and now I’m a huge rock fan!

#9- A Song of Ice and Fire- Okay, so it’s mid-2011 or thereabouts, and my cousin and I are just chilling in the guest room of our grandparents because I’m up there visiting and that’s pretty much what we do, and somehow we get on the subject of this book series that my cousin has started and he’s really into it. And I’m like “that’s cool. I picked up the first book and wasn’t really into it”. And he was like “yeah, but later on there’s this huge battle!” And that peaked my interest because I love reading in detail about giant battles, so I said “whoa! With like giant armies in a huge field? Is it like a multi-pronged attack on this army on land?” And my cousin’s eyes got all smiley and he just said very calmly but smugly “it’s actually a naval battle.” And right there, I was hooked! Like, I didn’t even care about anything else that the books might be about; I had to read about this naval battle. So I picked up the first book about half a year later, and from there began my long, long, reading journey through this fantasy world. And it turns out that the naval battle was every bit as glorious as I had thought it would be, better even, because I cared about so many other things by that point! This series is probably the best example world-building I’ve ever read, and just talking about the many many theories and characters and story structures with people has been as much a part of the fun I’ve had with this series as reading the books has. Just a fantastic series so far! Oh, and GRRM, please give us a release date for Winds of Winter! Please!

#8- Buffy the Vampire Slayer- Mom, you’re a great mother! My love for this show is, for those of you who know me well, obvious, but I really must thank my mom, because after sitting me down and being like “okay, we’re watching Firefly,” I was like, “okay.” So we finish that, and I’m just sitting there in awe at the masterpiece of television that has just graced my screen, and I just said, “so did Joss Whedon do more stuff?” And she just got this great gleam in her eye and said, “Let’s watch Buffy!” …Okay, so maybe it didn’t happen exactly like that, but Firefly did come first and that led me to watching Buffy with my mom which got me through ninth grade. And yeah, I did a whole paper on this show for my thesis, but even before that, I loved this show! Certainly not to the degree I do now, but even on first viewing, the humor and the story and the universe was just so engaging! And this show gets better upon each rewatch of it; new insights, new thematic strings,! It truly is a masterpiece of a show, and I’m so thankful for having this in my life and to my mom who introduced me to it!

#7- Transformers- I’m not gonna point out specifics with this one; I’m not talking about Transformers Prime, or the IDW comics (both of which are fantastic, and yes, are my favorite representations of the Transformers universe), or any other specific portion of the franchise. I’m talking about the brand, from the toys to the fiction and everything in between. This brand is just so important to me; it’s a part of my childhood, and it’s given me such emotional stability during tough times- plus the concept is just fuckin’ cool- big larger-than-life-robots that transform into cars or jets or… well, okay, there was that disco ball, but you get the point! High in testosterone and (usually) low on common sense? Absolutely! But it’s a concept and a franchise that I still admire for many many reasons to this day and was a big influence on me as a kid, and that’s the kind of stuff that sticks with you!

#6- Writing- Right now I’m reading Gone Girl, and it’s super awesome, but one of the things I’m really loving about it is the style of writing Gillian uses to just fully engage the reader. It’s making me think a lot about my work-in-progress novel and how I want to sound in there and what the characters want to sound like. These are the kinds of things I love to have keep me up at night. When you’re just staring at the ceiling and you’re thinking about just WRITING and you’re brain keeps churning out ideas! And then of course you fall asleep, wake up the next day and forget everything… except on those rare occasions that you don’t, and you wake up, get out of bed, sit down and just fucking write your heart out because dammit there’s no stopping you! It’s a great feeling and it’s awesome when it happens! I love to write; I love to play around with words and language and all the other cliché writerly things, but most of all I love to just create a world and do stuff in it with some colorful characters! That’s just amazing to me, being able to whip up a fully-realized universe and deep characters, like how is that not awesome! And the people who have helped me in my writing endeavors are numerous and contribute so much to my material that they might as well be given a writing credit on everything I do! You all are super fantastic people who deserve such creative adjectives to describe you!

#5- Lindsey Stirling- While she doesn’t play nearly as big a part in my life now as she did back in 2011-2012 when I first discovered her and then met her, what she meant to me then has stuck with me and probably will continue to stick with me for a good time to come. She helped me get reinvested in the violin, in music, in composition, and in just being happy about the world, and that’s a powerful thing to be able to do to a person. And being able to meet her and shake her hand and say thank you and stupidly stand there grinning as she looked at me expectantly, I mean, God! Just incredible! It’s so awesome to be able to meet one of your idols face to face, and I’m so thankful that I was able to see her. She is such a powerful figure to me, and while her playing and dancing may not jive with everyone (and yeah, I too am thrown by it more often than not now), her story of success is just so meaningful and personal to me.
#4- Violin- Obviously this is going on here, because while my relationship with the violin and especially orchestra has been kinda all over the place, I do still love the instrument. I love playing it, I love composing for it, and it provides me with something to do when I have to think or just work through anger or whatever. It’s a great outlet for me. Also, I have to thank everyone who has contributed to my continued learning regarding this instrument. My violin teacher and orchestra teacher are chief among those who taught me and nurtured my growth as a musician, and of course my mom for being a total badass and buying me an amp and a pickup so I can totally rock out!

#3- Star Trek- I can remember a time when I was very little, almost as a kind of a dream memory, when I was so unwilling to watch Star Trek with my father. I mean, I was like legit not gonna sit down and watch this; I must have thought this was some kind of trap, that if I gave in and watched an episode with him that he would win and I would lose something. Well, I finally gave in and we watched several episodes of DS9 and then TNG, and after that, I was hooked! This franchise and what it represents is just fascinating to me! I will always have fond memories of me and my dad just plunking ourselves down in the living room and watching an episode (this was back when the concept of watching an entire show in a week was foreign to me). And I know my dad really loved it, and I know I loved spending that time with him because he was just so happy about this show, and those are some great memories to have!

#2- Bosque School- So, I’m one of those people who had a pretty kick-ass high school career. Maybe not in grades (sorry, Latin; I still love the subject!), but just in the community and the friends I made there. This place and the people in it really helped make me into the person I am today. The classes I took were outstanding (for the most part), and both the students and the teachers there were engaged and caring and awesome. I have such fond memories of just hanging out with friends and laughing about something that happened like a month ago and oh my god why won’t we just drop it already. Except we can’t, because whatever it is is special to us, and Bosque’s special to me and basically if you decide to fail a plant quiz, make up for it by doing your extra credit project the night before it’s due and turning it in and getting an A+! It works, trust me! ;)

#1- Willamette University- It’s been a hella rocky first semester. Homesickness, loneliness, briefly thinking about dropping out because I was so sad at one point. But something would always make me wake up the next day, haul myself out of bed and get some (really excellent) breakfast… or more recently, lunch, because I’ve been waking up later. The classes I’ve taken thus far have been great and I’ve made a good couple of close friends here who are super great. I’ve been able to write two papers about Lindsey Stirling, give a powerpoint presentation on Brian Tyler’s amazing music to Transformers Prime, and I even got to write about Buffy in my Women in the Arts class! Next semester is looking to be pretty fun, and I do so love the rain!

November 23, 2014

Blog Post- What's Going On

As I said in my Age of Ultron Initial Thoughts post, I'm really just trying to get through this semester. At this point though, things have settled down a bit; classes are pretty much done in terms of heavy work load, so that's good. If you follow my personal account on Facebook, starting today and going all the way to Thanksgiving will be my Top Ten Things For Which I Am Thankful posts (two per day; the first two are already posted, so that's cool). And for this site, I'll be rounding all those posts up and putting them in a single post here just to get something out; I really hate saying that, because it makes it seem like this is becoming a chore when I assure you it's not. I love doing this! But things have been kinda crazy busy here in the real world, so that's eaten up much of my time of late.

For December, I have a few ideas kicking around about what I want my end-of-the-year post to be. As with the last three years, I've generally ended the year or have begun the next year with an Overview. Not really sure if I'm gonna do that this year or not; since Prime is done for that category, I'd need to move to something else, but I don't have anything solid in my mind right now, and I don't want Overviews to read like Mini-Views where it's just thoughts off the top of my head; I like having the Overviews structured and like little papers if that makes sense. I do have a post in the works regarding Lindsey Stirling; that might be the thing to go up to finish off the year, I don't know. And of course there's the annual Top Ten Movies of [Insert Year Here] post that I've done, and this year should be quite good for that!

So yeah, things are kinda in limbo right now. I just wanted to let you all know what's going on with me and what the supposed plan is for December and such. To say that I have a grand plan would be a lie; I have ideas in my head that coalesce into something of a mushy soup of a blueprint for the beginnings of a plan. Anyway, there that is. Hopefully I'll get to post something soon after Thanksgiving!

October 31, 2014

Avengers Age of Ultron Trailer Initial Thoughts

I know I haven't put up a review since last month, and I'm sorry about that. I'm planning to just power through this semester of classes and then hopefully I'll be able to crank out a few reviews in December and January. But I'd thought I'd pass the time by reflecting on the by now nearly two-week old trailer for the upcoming Age of Ultron film, because hell, if I didn't talk about this, well that would be the equivalent of being an astrophysicist and not talking about the discovery of new life on Mars or something.

Anyway, this trailer is pretty good, though quite honestly, not a whole lot in here surprised me. And really, it's a teaser trailer; it's supposed to get you interested and engaged and show off the action, and this one does so very well. We've got the Hulkbuster armor, Cap's broken shield, Thor dropping his hammer- in fact if this film actually is about the heroes losing hope and representing that by having their weapons taken away or smashed or whatever, that will be awesome, because we've never seen that before really in this franchise. And hell, this can even extend to Tony's Iron Man armor being used to make the villain, so I'm hoping that that's the tone that this film decides to go with.

As I've said in the past, my relationship with the Marvel Cinematic Universe has been kinda rocky; I'm not head-over-heals in love with it like a lot of Marvel people; my feelings towards this are often teetering between mixed and positive. But this trailer really makes me curious about what they're going to do with this. Like Iron Man 3 and Winter Soldier, this one feels like it's taking elements from the comics but also doing its own thing instead of constantly referencing itself and the comics just to get a reaction out of the fans- the tone of this one is darker, the stakes feel more personal, and the villain Ultron seems like a far better antagonist than Loki.

And I'm reminded of what Joss Whedon said about this whole project at the very beginning. He said that their aim with this film was "not to go bigger, but deeper", and I'm getting hints of that with what is shown here. It seems like the Avengers are actually at odds with each other instead of having witty banter battles like in the first one; there seems like there could be an actual moral or ethical debate going on about Ultron, about who he is, about why Tony has done, etc. I don't know, this trailer made this movie feel so much more substantive than most Marvel films have in past, and I really hope it is, because Joss Whedon is such a capable writer and the sequel is really where you can explore stuff and shake things up, and I have a feeling that we're going to be seeing a lot of that come next year.

And no, I"m not going to go into all the comic-specific easter-eggs that are sprinkled throughout the trailer, because I'm not familiar enough with the comics to do so, and quite frankly, speculating about setup for future films or characters is of little interest to me; I'll let the film make a case for why these characters and set pieces and objects are in here.

So yeah, I'm excited for the film, I'm hoping that it'll have a deeper character-driven narrative than its predecessor, and I have a feeling that it is just based on what we've been presented with here. So what did all of you people think? You probably had a much stronger reaction to it than I did, so let me know what it was in the comments below!

October 20, 2014

5 Scenes I Love in Movies and Shows I Hate

So, with every positive there is a negative, and what better way to contrast my last post than with this little thing? This one will likely be a more positive post, though I did enjoy writing the last one, so strap in, because I'm gonna take us through five scenes I love in movies and shows that I hate.

October 18, 2014

5 Scenes I Hate in Movies and Shows I Love

It's no secret that I love film and television, and my love for the medium and the content that it produces runs deep. So please keep that in mind as I point out some flaws that have always bugged me ever since I saw them. Also, while these faults are present, they by no means diminish the greatness or the experience of any of these shows and movies in any fundamental way; they're all still amazing, I still love them all, but there are just these little things that get me every time. So here are my top five scenes I hate in movies and shows I love.

October 8, 2014

Robots in Disguise Trailer Initial Thoughts

Alright, so as some of you may have been able to tell by the content on this site, I'm a bit of a Transformers Prime fan, so when I heard that they were making a follow-up series, I of course had a reaction, and then I didn't really hear anything about the show for a while. But now we have our very first trailer (besides the sneak preview shown at some convention), and I have to say, this looks pretty good.

Right off the bat, we get things going with Bumblebee speaking to... I guess it's Optimus' ghost. I don't know; I really hope they bring this Optimus back. I know he was a bit bland of a character (granted, most of what I see in him is stuff based solely on conjecture and from like three episodes), but he has the potential to be something consistently complex and interesting. And this Bumblebee, man! I love him! One of the few good things I can say about Predacons Rising is that Will Friedle did a great job as the voice of Bumblebee in that! He really turned that character into so much more of a badass and I think him as the voice of the new Autobot leader in this show will really make this Bumblebee something special.

We also get snippets of other characters. Accompanying 'Bee on Earth is Strongarm, another (I think original) female Transformer like Arcee, which I'm always happy to see! It's also nice that she's not a bike robot; we get a female who is just as muscular as the dudes on the team, and she even transforms into an armored truck, which really sets her apart from female Transformers in past, and I'm all for it! We've also got Sideswipe, who looks kind of interesting. I like his transformation and he's got all them awesome Tron Prime light lines running all over his body!

I'm also intrigued by the inclusion of the beast-bots. We see a pretty cool rendition of Grimlock and a few others and that's kinda neat. I'm thrilled that at least some of these dudes have the beast form as their "robot" form and turn into vehicles! That's just such a compromise that I'm actually surprised that it took this long to figure it out. It's a neat concept and I'm glad that it's there (though if they turn out to have actual robot forms and be triple-changers, that'll be even more awesome). It seems that much of the plot will revolve around an episodic manhunt for a bunch of loose Decepticons, which I'm alright with. That's at least better than Prime's relic hunt thing they had going on back in Season Two.

And that leads into a pretty good climax for this thing with just awesome action shots (plus a good cast screencap I can use for the header image to this post!) and, for me, lovely transformations (even if they do have the stupid "motion lines" thing that's so prevalent in 2D animation)! They even retain the Prime transformation sound effects, which I'm super happy about because that really cements this as being in the same continuity! So yeah, I'm pretty excited about this. The animation looks pretty good; I am in love with the Prime animation and still think it's some of the best animation put to television on a TV budget, but this hybrid of Prime and Animated does seem to be working for me at the moment. It's also nice to see Transformers return to 2D animation, because as much as I loved Prime's animation style, 2D is where the franchise started off and I think returning to that after three years of CGI stuff is a good breath of fresh air.

So that's my look at the trailer (I guess it kinda went all over the place)! I'm looking forward to this new series. You can watch the full trailer here!

October 5, 2014

Shadowcon Mini-Views- The Lego Movie

I haven't laughed so much or smiled so much in a movie like this in a long time. Even Frozen didn't make me this happy or this filled with joy. The Lego Movie is fucking awesome! It's funny, it's engaging, and it has heart that really speaks as much if not more to adults as it does to children. I'm super glad I saw this and kinda disappointed I missed it in the theater. The reason I didn't see this in the theater was because of how terrible the trailers made this look. All the jokes in the trailers seemed waaay too much like they were catering to children under six, and it just didn't look appealing to me.

Also, the amount of hype that this movie got really set me on edge; critics were claiming that this was awesome, and so I was both kind of excited for it and wary because that happened with Frozen, and while that movie was amazing, it was overhyped and I did get tired of it after a while. I haven't been this wrong or surprised about a movie since Frozen actually, and much for the same reasons: the trailers looked bad, the press was all over that film, etc. The Lego Movie was one of the funnest films I've seen all year, and just loved it!

First of all, the plot of this film is very simple: we have an ordinary Lego man who finds an object of great importance and thus gets swept up in a situation involving good vs. evil, prophecy, finding out who you really are, etc. What makes this better this time around is how The Lego Movie uses the formula as a means for injecting all this awesome pop-culture references, Lego references, and having a twist at the end that was both unexpected and so heartwarming/breaking that it just tugged at the heart strings. The movie has an ending that makes you cry; I related to this so much because it totally captured that adults-don't-play-with-toys mentality that I think is so common in our society now. And the way the message of being your own kind of person is conveyed constantly in the movie was cool because it made the point that different generations of people see Legos, and more broadly toys and toy-collecting, differently, and that was super fun to see. We don't often get a film that shows us both perspectives of that.

The animation too was super fun and engaging. We've all played with Legos, we know what we can do with them. So going into this movie I was like "okay, I want to see some awesome shit built with these Legos" and that's exactly what I got! Just the innovation of everyone here, the way things move and interact with their environment all Lego-like and whatnot was thrilling and always put a smile on my face. I loved how even the environment was Lego-lized, like the water and the explosions and fire and clouds were all made out of Legos; it really gave the impression that this was more of a stop-motion type of film than a CGI one, and I really appreciated that.

The pop-culture references are abundant and might get a little grating for some (I didn't really like the Space Man), but most of it is all well and good, and I loved when they were explaining the different worlds and it showed everything like an instructions catalogue with all the worlds laid out page by page. It really had me chuckling at that point. And when everyone was working together to build their ship to escape, that was so funny because it captured what it's like to work in a group building Legos when you're like five or six, and that was just so fun!

The Lego Movie has an exceptional level of sophistication and at its core a heart that really speaks to the child in all of us adults (man it feels weird to write that). I honestly really can't think of a film besides Toy Story that really made me care about this kind of subject matter as much as this one did. Its animation is innovative and engaging, its story is straightforward but works, and its characters are funny and lovable. Definitely check this one out if you haven't already; it's such a surprising movie and I had just a ball with it!

September 24, 2014

Stuff That I Like- 9/24/14

Okay, so I know I've been rather lax about the blog (it seems tumblr has taken over my life when I'm not in class... which is quite often because I have only three classes going on right now), and I apologize for that. But in keeping with my always being the last one to notice anything, I thought I'd bring to your attention this lovely interview with Transformers More than Meets the Eye writer James Roberts. This interview is rather lengthy, but it's quite good; in fact, much like the book that Roberts writes, there is more to this interview than one might think, given that this is about a comic book, and that that comic book is yet another marketing platform to sell toys. Anyway, I thought I'd recommend this now (and hey, it was written in June, so that's not too bad of a turnaround right?) You can read the full interview here (it's in two parts).

This also might as well be as good a time as any to totally recommend the More than Meets the Eye book to all of you as well if for some reason you're not reading it already as a Transformers fan. Admittedly I've only read the first seven or so issues, but even just going on that I recognize the genius behind this storytelling and the care and craft really being put into this book. So, get with it if you're not already way ahead of me and all caught up!

September 13, 2014

Shadowcon Reviews- Thirst

Shadowcon Reviews: Transformers Prime season 3, episode 8: “Thirst”

This review is dedicated to Audrey!

Okay, so I originally had this whole plan to go through and review all the Prime episodes that involved MECH, and trace their progression as a secondary villain in the show and it was going to be really cool because I was going to get to review things like “Operation Bumblebee”, and “The Human Factor” and stuff like that. But then a friend of mine and I got to talking about “Thirst” and she was like, “you should review that one,” and I was taken with the idea, so I’m kinda messing up my MECH plan and just starting from the end of their incredibly loose multi-season arc. It’s also kind of okay because my first Transformers Prime review was “Convoy” which introduced us to MECH as villains… and then I never got back to their story after that, so this is sort of along those same lines: I’m shooting all the way to the end!

August 31, 2014

Shadowcon Reviews- Loose Cannons

     Shadowcon Reviews: Transformers Prime season 2, episode 6: “Loose Cannons”

     I think this episode could be summed up as the “reintroduction” episode fro Wheeljack. As I pointed out last time, “Con Job” didn’t have much Wheeljack in it, and its premise made character introduction pretty much non-existent. But with “Loose Cannons”, a full season later, or thereabouts, we get a proper actual Wheeljack-centric episode, complete with interactions and conversations with Bulkhead that really work well to develop a cold, battle-hardened Wheeljack in contrast to a team-player and alive Bulkhead, as well as the debut of Wheeljack’s Earth vehicle mode, something that is usually a staple in any introductory episode of a character. So yeah, this is very much a second go at introducing ‘Jackie to the lineup and I think it works a heck of a lot better than “Con Job”.

August 29, 2014

No, I'm Not Dead

Hey all.

So, I know I've been absent from the blog of late, and I know I made the blog private there for some time. The reason I did this was because I revamped it. I'm now officially done using the numbering scheme for Reviews, Overviews, Mini-Views because it just got too ridiculous and complicated, especially with things overlapping in tags, getting re-written, all of that. And I also removed (almost) all the Buffy/Angel related posts here because frankly what I wrote up to serve as reviews for those shows was an insult to them and to the other review sites out there who do far better work critiquing those shows. So things are a little different, there was much pruning on my part, and so here's the new site.

I've started college! Woot! So exciting! Just got done with my first week of classes, and it's been a little rough. Not gonna lie, there were several crying sessions, mostly in the beginning of the week where I was just completely disoriented and alienated by WU, but now it's gotten better. I'm taking three classes: Women in the Arts (my favorite), Western Classical Music in Modern America (it's a Freshman course, one of several choices that all Freshmen are required to take), and Intro to Creative Writing. All of them are super awesome, and college life is pretty chill.

I've been watching Buffy Season Four and it's so relatable now! I've also started in on this show Friday Night Lights, which is pretty good from the two episodes I've seen of it. Both shows are getting me through some tough transitions that I still have to contend with. Oh, and I also finished A Dance with Dragons, and yes, it is my favorite book of the five that are out right now. I do want to do a blog post about it at some point, though I'll see if homework and studying and socializing will give me time to do so!

Anyway, I'm sorry that the blog's been gone and inactive for so long! More posts to come I'm sure; as to whether they'll be Reviews, Mini-Views, updates on my life (which I know all of you are just dying to know about), I'm not sure yet. It's good to be back!

July 30, 2014

Stuff That I Like- 7/30/14

I really hope I get to do another one of these before I begin college, but if not, I'll definitely be doing one or two while at college, because that's an experience in and of itself! Anyway, there are two fantastic pieces of internet buzz I came across, both of which relate to storytelling and one of which relates to the god-awful "strong female character" label!

The first is a TED Talk by one Andrew Stanton (Wall-E, Finding Nemo, Toy Story), and in it he talks about the ingredients for a good story. All of what he says is what I've believed in since I first started recognizing my tastes in stories and in fiction, and I think he does a marvelous job of summing this up. He focusses on theme, character, and making the audience engage their brains and care about what's going on in the story. And that's exactly what I look for in stories as well: a strong theme, an engaging and relatable character, and above all, I hope the story is engaging and draws me in not just in terms of interest and entertainment, but also in terms of intellectual stimulation. Check out the video below:

The second bit of news I came across was on, and they did an interview with Zoe Saldana on her work in the upcoming Guardians of the Galaxy movie and Star Trek, and in there they ask her very plainly what she thinks of the "strong female character" label, and I for one think that her answer hits the nail on the head!

"It bothers me that I'm always told that I do strong female characters. When in reality, I look at my characters and I feel like they were all broken. They all came from a very devastating past. They were trying to achieve something, they had hope, and they wanted to get someplace, like everything other character that has a meaningful and relevant arc in the story.

"It's because we don't really know women. We don't write women accurately. We don't see women the way that we should see women as a society, as a human race. When you see a real woman, you shouldn't be saying she's strong, you should be saying she's real."

The full article can be found here.

So, those were two things that really got me thinking and made me pretty happy about the world and I just wanted to share that.

July 24, 2014

Shadowcon Reviews- Con Job

Shadowcon Reviews: Transformers Prime season 1, episode 8: “Con Job”

I’m going to be taking a different approach to this one than I normally do. Probably has something to do with the fact that I’m on vacation and that laziness is just infecting. So, sorry if you enjoy your blow-by-blow review, because this one is just going to be me and my thoughts on the matter.

July 20, 2014

Shadowcon Mini-Views- Dawn of the Planet of the Apes

Okay, just got back from seeing Dawn of the Planet of the Apes, which is the sequel to Rise of the Planet of the Apes, which is itself a reboot of the Apes franchise. A quick note before I talk about this one: I loved the first one of these. The way this all comes about in the first film is pretty plausible and it had character depth and the best of the Apes franchise's themes, that being prejudice, moral ambiguity, looking at the human condition, etc. It was a good reboot that established a more realistic world and a realistic people.

This one follows a similar path, though the arc of the film is a little tougher to follow. Not a bad thing, as this has plenty to get you through it. The effects in this thing are absolutely stunning; just the way the apes move and interact with their environment is masterful, and I love how Caesar and the rest of the apes are distinguishable from one another. It gives them an identity all their own and helps to flesh out this civilization and give it character. Caesar, the leader of the apes, is an emotional character and really gets you invested in the questions that the film is raising about prejudice and complacency by making his and Malcolm's relationship bloom steadily and naturally.

Caesar's character is given good foils/antagonists in the forms of Koba and the human leader Dreyfus. Both are good characters as well because they represent extremes of leadership and lawfulness. Koba fits quite comfortably as an antagonist through and through, but Dreyfus, however villainous the screenplay may want to make his character, is not actually a villain; his motivations and actions are very clearly built upon the idea that what he's doing is for the betterment of mankind's survival, and you really get the sense that he's a good guy with in an impossible situation. His character was quite good.

The tone of this piece is much darker, and the lighting, score, cinematography, and pace all make sure that we know it. One moment that stuck out to me was when Malcolm's kid was bonding with an ape and getting across rudimentary reading, and then the scene cuts immediately to two humans shooting guns at targets. It just had this great visual and audio starkness to it that really grabbed me. I also like this because Apes is not an action flick; it's a slow buildup of suspension and tenseness that leaves you just as engross two hours in as you were at the movie's start, and what action is in here fuels the tone and tension and is in itself riveting and fascinating to watch. Once again, the apes are remarkably unique in their movements and fighting styles, being more about containment and human targeting than about all-out destruction. I also liked that there was friction even as Koba took command. This wasn't just Caesar against the whole pack; this was the pack going along with Koba because of manipulation and anger and when Caesar returns, the apes aren't really which side they should choose. It made for a better story and once again fleshed out the simian cast remarkably.

This is science fiction at its best, tackling real-world issues and fusing that with the emotional weight needed to carry you through to the end. It has wonderful effects, superb cinematography and directing, and it builds on its predecessor in a great way! Everything is here to make a solid sequel and it does so and manages to come out as a fantastic piece of science fiction film! Good job, Apes!

July 19, 2014

Stuff That I Like- 7/19/14

Just got back from the Taos Writers Conference, and I have to say, this was the best thing for me in terms of finally getting my novel off the ground. I wrote up the outline a couple months ago and hadn't done anything with it since, but once I got up there, the creative juices started flowing. I was in a week-long class of novel structure with Laura Brodie as our teacher, and it was really cool because the age ranged from 19 (which was me; I was the youngest in there) to 78! That's crazy! And everyone was just so positive and outgoing and gave excellent feedback, and the homework we had made me write some pages for my novel that quickly turned into very light chapters. It was a great experience with such creative people, all of whom had superb ideas and stories and drafts! Such a fun time.

I'm currently reading A Dance with Dragons, and I'm tempted to call this my favorite book out of the whole series that's been released so far! I haven't finished it, but when I do I intend to do something on here regarding my thoughts about this one, because my reasons for liking this one so much are pretty skewed, and I recognize that this one is not liked by many, so I'm coming at this with some things to say! Nevertheless, this story is awesome, and I love that we've returned to the fan-favorite characters after a book of not having them there (though I'll talk about that when I eventually do finish this and have the time to write a post about it... so yeah, expect the series to be finished when I do that!)

Going to see the new Planet of the Apes tomorrow (I know, a week late again, but there was a schedule change). Pretty excited! Only three weeks before I leave my home to finish off the summer with family up in the Northwest and head off to college! Pretty exciting. In those three weeks, I do hope to get some reviews of Prime episodes up, and we'll see what else gets tossed up here for your reading pleasure!

July 12, 2014

Shadowcon Mini-Views- Transformers: Dark of the Moon

One of the things that has always annoyed me about these movies (and indeed many film adaptations of franchises) is their continued failure to capture what the Transformers franchise is really about. And that's kind of a tricky thing to pinpoint: what is Transformers even about? What's the draw? On the one hand, and in the broad sense, it's about a war between two factions of robots both of which come to Earth and continue their fight here with the humans stuck in the middle. Now, that's the premise, and from there the fiction has diverged and run with any number of things, the most successful (in my mind) being the stories that focus on the Transformers as characters, as people, or the stories that actually tackle the horrors and moral conflicts of war and barbarism.

July 11, 2014

Shadowcon Mini-Views- Transformers: Revenge of the Fallen

Up until recently (sadly), Revenge of the Fallen was the worst of the three Transformers films, and the primary reason for that is because it didn't have a script. Literally; Michael Bay began shooting before an actual script was handed in, and so he had absolutely no fucking idea how to work a film that hand't been written yet.

In fairness to the film, however, there was a reason behind this (unlike with Dark of the Moon, which had kind of a script, or this years' Age of Extinction, which didn't have a script because EXPLOSIONS!), and the reason for that is because of the writers' strike and the need to hit that summer blockbuster deadline. But that only tells you the why of this movie's failures. It's an excuse, and quite a bad one at that. The first film had an overabundance of material that made it a messy film. Revenge has a thin strip of plot that is carrying bloated action scenes. Unlike Age of Extinction though, this film manages to keep itself together just enough to be a shitty popcorn flick, at least to me. That opinion will differ from person to person (and certainly if you're a Transformers fan or not), but I think Revenge has enough in here to make it not be a complete and totally bloated piece of garbage like Extinction. Oh sure, it's rotten, but it's not completely inedible.

July 9, 2014

Shadowcon Mini-Views- Transformers (2007)

Alright, so I'd said I'd do this and here we are! Quickest turn-around time for this site I think, and I'm pretty happy to be back on here after a week of absence (seriously, that's like a whole year in Internet world).

I feel the need to clarify a few things before we begin our brief look at the film Transformers, because many of you might be going into this review with your own opinions on the film, or if not that, then you probably have preconceived notions of what I'm going to say about the film given that I am a Transformers fan. Let me be clear: these are not good movies. There is very little humanity in any of these, the plots of all three of the films are at best tepid (and become worse as you progress through the series), and the humor is some of the worst I've ever had to sit through. So no, these films are not good films. But that's okay from time to time. There's a reason that the title Summer Blockbuster exists: because a stereotypical summer blockbuster isn't going to have much of a plot or deep intricate characters. And these are very much stereotypical blockbusters (hell, some would say that these are parodies of summer blockbusters for how much ludicrousness is in them). Yet these movies (at least the first and third ones) do at least lend themselves very well to that audience; there's a distinct difference between a dumb popcorn action flick and a movie that actively tries to kill all brain function in its audience. Thankfully, the first Transformers is the former of these two types of films. So let's dive right in.

July 1, 2014

Shadowcon Mini-Views- Transformers: Age of Extinction, AKA Not A Film

It's a three-hour explosion. That's literally the best way I can describe this albatross of a film. It's like sitting through noise. Like visual and auditory noise. I'm not even going to explain the plot because there isn't one. What this movie is doing to the brand is just atrocious, and if you can believe it, what it's doing to the film franchise that it's in is atrocious. That's right: this thing manages to make the film universe even worse than what it had been back in Revenge of the Fallen and Dark of the Moon. Because say what you will about those things (and by God there is much to say about those things), at least those had slivers of storyline connected to them. This latest one doesn't even have that. It has faded bullet points and a blank check and some of the most gratuitous action scenes I've ever seen... and not the good kind either; these action scenes make you long for the days when Neo would face down thousands of Agent Smiths in the Matrix sequels. That's how irrelevant and monotonous these action scenes are.

Now, I never go into these kinds of films expecting greatness. We know Transformers is crap, but we go anyway. Why? Because we do enjoy seeing giant robots fight, and that's okay from time to time. I'm of the opinion that this type of film isn't ruining cinema; we've had well done action in action films in the past like Die Hard and we've had brilliant films with a high dosage of action in them like Terminator 2, The Dark Knight, The Edge of Tomorrow. So I don't say this as a fan of the old Transformers cartoon who doesn't like anything that comes after it, but as someone who recognizes how ridiculous the films are and who admittedly enjoys that sort of thing: THIS MOVIE HAS THE MOST ANEMIC ACTION... EVER PUT TO FILM!!!!

Seriously! How hard is this? How hard is it to make a compelling gripping action film with giant robots? Apparently it's damn near impossible, because the closest we've gotten to a good one of those in this Transformers franchise has been the third one in the series and that was utter awfulness! And that's my problem with this movie: even the things that are supposed to be ridiculous and over the top are pushed to such a degree as to not effecting us in either thrill or emotion. The action is so overblown and absurd that it loses any and all chances to be enjoyable.

The characters in this one are even more boring than Sam was in the last three films. The actress who plays Mark Wahlberg's daughter makes Megan Fox feel like Oscar material. Mark Wahlberg himself sucks in this movie; Stanley Tucci sucks in this movie (and you know it's bad when his performance sucks; he's usually any movie's safety net); poor Kelsey Grammer has literally sacrificed higher brain function to be in this movie; it feels like the script... oh I'm sorry, did I say "script"? Yeah, sorry. I meant the unravelling one thread of yarn that attempts to hold all the explosions together was made specifically to make every actor in this movie want to die. Grammer, I love you, but that was the most stoic performance ever... no fault of yours, sir; I blame the one-page outline draft that serves as the movie's script.

I'll touch on the robots a little bit here as well, because after all that's what we all go into these films wanting to see. The Autobots were weird in this one. Like more weird than they've ever been in one of these... and not in a good way. You have Optimus and Bumblebee returning, and then alongside them you have this gun-toting cigar-smoking bearded guy Hound who isn't Hound (or Bulkhead) in any incarnation at all from any other continuity; you have Crosshairs who barely does anything; and then you have possibly the least effective Autobot both in terms of "character" and in terms of action, Drift. Optimus himself is the best thing in the movie... damning praise if I've ever written it. He's over the top as normal, but this time the charm of homicidal Optimus is lost since it's now rendered normal because of how many other crazy things are going on around him.

EDIT: Oh! I totally forgot to talk about the Dinobots... kinda like how the movie forgot to talk about the Dinobots... moving on.

The new "Decepticons" are also weird. Like in the previous films, the 'Cons don't have any personality at all. Galvatron is even more unthreatening as Megatron was, all the other human-made Decepticons are just mindless drones, and you're left with the impression that these things could just be anything and it wouldn't matter because they'd blow up anyway. And then you have Lockdown... yeah, fuck that guy. He's about as effective a villain as Zod was in Man of Steel. Actually, no. Scratch that. This makes Zod look like Darth Vadar, because at least Zod had a shit reason for doing what he was doing. This guy has literally zero motivation! Oh sure, there's a line in there about the Transformers Creators (don't even get me started on that), but beyond that there's nothing.

And the runtime. Holy fuckballs. The runtime is just insane. This has the length of two hours and forty-three minutes; it felt like five hours had gone by by the time this shit was over! Non-stop explosions? You got it! And it's the most boring ride I've ever been on. This has anemic action held together by some duct tape characters and silly strings of outlined plot material. I'm pissed off at this movie for wasting my time. I'm pissed off at this movie for bringing the quality of the film franchise down to a whole new low (a feat I never thought possible given that Revenge of the Fallen exists). And most of all, I'm pissed off that this movie now represents the Transformers franchise... and the world is getting the worst of it. This has surpassed Revenge of the Fallen in my shit movie scale. This has reached a level of pissed-off-ifity that I haven't reached with a film like this ever. This is going in my Transformers tag, but it's being done as the more human part of my soul weeps for all the actual Transformers-related material in that tag... yeah, I think that about covers it.

Oh, PS: in case it isn't clear, I don't recommend this movie.

June 30, 2014

Shadowcon Mini-Views- How to Train Your Dragon 2

Alright, so a week late, but I finally saw How to Train Your Dragon 2 and I saw it with my cousin, Daniel, because he's staying here this week too, so that's pretty awesome. We'll be doing a joint one of these, which'll be interesting considering that I haven't done a co-written Mini-View before, so we'll see how this goes. I guess I'll talk about it first and then Dan will talk about it.

A quick note on how I felt about the first one: I loved that movie. That was the best movie Dreamworks has ever done, and it was so good that I actually didn't realize it was a Dreamworks film; it felt so much stronger than what they normally churn out, and it was such a welcome surprise and a breath of fresh air. The characters, the story, and the care put into the movie drew me in and held my attention, and I thought it was really good.

This one is a bit different. It's less of a character movie to me and more of an exploration of the world that these characters are in, which I found a little startling given that the first one was so character- and theme-focused. Certainly not a bad thing, and this one delivers a very good dosage of character development in the middle, and it builds on the world that the first one set up. Hiccup's journey this film is a little less prevalent or dramatic as the last one; here, he has to learn to become a leader in the face of adversity, but the interesting thing here is that his conflict with most of the other characters is internal. His dad wants to take the fight to Drogo, the main villain of the piece, believing that there is no other option, and his mom, whom we discover is alive and has been rescuing and harboring dragons, wants to fight Drogo to protect the dragons, thinking that all men are like Drogo as she has seen no evidence to the contrary.

Both of these characters want war, but they want it for different reasons, and I found that very interesting, and even more so because Hiccup must now convince both of them to settle for peace, but he must do so in two different ways. With his dad, he wants to convince him that Drogo can be reasoned with, and with his mom, he assures her that not all people are like Drogo and that Hiccup's people are just as good as his mom is. It was an interesting dynamic for the first half.

Sadly though, things quickly spiral away from that as we get a very weird villain introduction in that we finally meet Drogo and find out his plan to rule the world by taking control of the Alpha dragon, and then the whole movie almost completely drops the former character stuff in favor of action. It was certainly an interesting move; this wasn't really bad so much as startling.

The action in this one is very good; the dragons are colorful and lovable, and the antics that the human characters go through are fun and charming. The energy and pace of the movie are both engaging and effective, and I liked how animated and alive everything was here.

Drogo proves to be a rather one-dimensional villain, which I felt detracted from the overall story. Personally, I think it would have made the film stronger had the focus been on Hiccup convincing both his parents that dragons and humans could live in peace, and while they kind of did that between Hiccup and Drogo, things never really paid off. There was a great climactic moment when Hiccup is trying to pry Toothless away from the Alpha's hypnotic control, but the theme of bringing people together had been so lost by this point that the scene just didn't deliver the punch I thought it was supposed to give.

That aside, the first half of this thing was very strong. I loved the middle section of this when Hiccup finds his mom, and I did like the dynamic between his mom and dad; these two characters clearly love each other, and the writers worked with that brilliantly. I did think the relationship between the mom character and Hiccup could have been made stronger; instead of her just telling him over and over that he was just like her, I feel they could have had a scene with them bonding over something other than dragons, give them something to talk about as a family.

Overall, I liked this one. I don't think it's a successor to the original, but I do think it a good sequel despite some roads taken that I think detracted from the setup of the film in the first act or so. The dynamics between the characters work, the comedy works, and the action is ramped up to eleven for this one. It feels like more care was put into the first one, but this is still a very fun ride.

Here's Daniel's review of it:

I remember enjoying the first How to Train Your Dragon film quite a bit. I found it to be a lot of fun and enjoyed the fact that it didn't talk down to the audience...I am somewhat older than the intended audience of these films, but felt that the studio was working to keep my interest. A moment that really stood out to me was the scene were Hiccup discovers that he lost a foot during the climax. It was the sort of move that you don't see a lot of in films for a young audience. It wasn't there for shock value or anything of the sort; rather, it expressed that the actions which the characters take do have consequences, and more importantly, that those consequences can be dealt with.

Did the sequel manage the same trick? I would have to say that it did. Once again, the film takes risks that pay off. The climax of this film could be argued to be the fight at the end, but in my opinion it is a bit before that. I really enjoyed the scene between Hiccup and Toothless, but again, I don't feel that that was the climax. Rather, the movie seemed to hinge around the eulogy that Hiccup gives for his father.

Backing up a bit, this is probably one of the best families in a children's movie. (Don't worry, Incredibles. I still love you.) The scene where Hiccup's parents reunite and then bond over a was fantastic. It simultaneously felt like something out of an old fairy tale and like something you could see between couples in the real world. Excellent acting, Blanchett and Butler.

Naturally, this meant that the father had to die. Familial bliss never lasts in these films. But before that, we got to see them working together. I got very nervous when Hiccup's mother ran out and saw the ships. Would she think that Hiccup had betrayed her? Would this ruin the reunion between the family members? Fortunately, it did not. With one line, "We're a team now," the unit was held strong. And then, even more surprisingly, the headstrong chief turns to his wife and asks her what she wants to do. There is no arguing over who knows what is better, or whether anyone is capable of handling any particular battle. All three know each other's abilities and trust each this case, Valka knows the world better, so Stoick follows her lead. It was refreshing to see a lack of drama in the proceedings. It isn't that I don't love dysfunction, because I do...I just like seeing a family film that really celebrates the power of the family when they stand together. In fact, I think that this show of unity is what really made the death of Stoick so tragic.

Returning to the eulogy, it was a surprisingly powerful moment. This movie saw a clash between Hiccup and Stoick, as well as a bond between Hiccup and Valka. It was easy to understand; Valka is really, really cool, and basically was embracing Hiccup's life decades before he discovered it, while Stoick had to be brought around to a peaceful way of thought and is still struggling to trust his son's judgement. Hiccup spends the entire film running from his father, while he gets to show off his inventions and skills to his mother. The first is giving him a destiny he doesn't want while the second is embracing the life he currently loves. But there is more to it than that. As Hiccup says, he was so afraid of following in his father's footsteps because he never thought he could be him. It was clear that he could follow in his mother's footsteps...he was doing that before he met her. His father, on the other hand, has been present throughout his life, constantly better than him. The first film was really about his embracing a life different than his father's, and that attitude has carried over to this one. Even traits he shares with both his parents, like a sense of the dramatic, he attributes solely to his mother. It is only after Stoick's death that he is able to accept that he doesn't reject his father's life so much as he fears failing at it. He doesn't want to try doing what his father does because he might fail, and then he will have failed his father. Entirely rejecting that way of life seems safer, and so he does. Now that his father is dead, however, he has to take it on, because there is nobody else to do it. He accepts his father's credo, that a chief protects his own, and runs with it. He still uses the skills he got from his mother, but he merges them with his father's way of life as well. He has managed to embrace both his legacies, the one that came naturally and the one he struggled with, and is the stronger for it.

Another surprising aspect of the film was the emphasis on failure. I was bothered at first that Drogo was just a typical movie villain. After all, the whole film had seen Hiccup espousing his peaceful beliefs. Both his parents assured him that it wouldn't work, that Drogo could not be turned. And in the end, he couldn't. I am used to seeing heroes in these films be right, succeed in what they attempt. Hiccup does not. He has to realize at the funeral that, as many people as he has turned, even in this film, not everyone can be reasoned with. And, like it or not, he has to be proactive. Hiccup himself is not a fighter, and never will be, but he accepts that that way of life is, at times, necessary. He frees Toothless to fight the battle, and thus secures the safety of his village. This isn't exactly an optimistic message, but it isn't a pessimistic one either. It is simply realistic, like this film, and not something I was expecting out of children's entertainment.

All in all, the film had both strengths and weaknesses, things that bothered me and things that delighted me, and I could spend more time talking about them if I wanted. Instead, I'd just like to leave with stating again that this movie escapes the pigeonhole so often attributed to children's films. I think I enjoyed this more as a twenty-year-old than I would have as a child. (Though the kids in front of me sure clapped hard at the end, so who knows.) It isn't the only children's movie that I enjoyed, but I felt that this one really goes the extra mile in ambition. It felt like a story I might see in the mythology of ancient cultures, stories intended to be heard by everyone, without thought to age. It is a mature story, in the best of ways, one which presents both escapism and realism without diluting either. To call it a perfect movie would be absurd; my favourite movie isn't flawless either. But I enjoyed it, would recommend it to others, and hope to see other movies follow its lead. All in all, that's enough for me.

A fine review, Daniel (this is Luke, by the way). Well, I think it's fair to say we both liked it. I guess Daniel liked it a little more than I did, which is cool.

Tomorrow we're seeing Transformers: Age of Extinction. A very.... very different film than this one.

June 25, 2014

Transformers Robots in Disguise Eartly Thoughts

This is kind of old news to most, but there's been an article about the new Transformers series that sheds some light as to the setup and cast, and I figured I'd share my thoughts on that, the project as a whole, and maybe bitch about Predacons Rising for a bit too.

So, basically, Hasbro is gearing up to bring us a new Transformers series in the Spring of 2015, which is awesome. They also said it's going to be a sequel to Transformers Prime, which is pretty awesome too! And then I remembered that the Predacons Rising movie thing happened and I was like "damn, that means Optimus is dead, Bumblebee is in charge, and Knock Out of all people is an Autobot (spoilers)". Now, to be fair to that ending of the series, this did leave us with the distinct impression that things were changing, which I was happy about if only because Prime by that point had become known as that show that kinda played it too safe (one need only look at the end of "Rebellion" to know what I'm talking about). With Megatron going off on his own and effectively disbanding the Decepticons, Optimus sacrificing himself, Cybertron restored, and Unicron gone, things seemed ripe for a sequel of sorts, a chance to explore the ramifications of Megatron's decision to no longer be a part of the Decepticons and the Autobots now having to rebuild and reestablish Cybertron as a planet.

The problem was the way the movie got to its ending. Things felt very rushed, storylines and plot threads were introduced and done away with in five minutes, we didn't need any more world-building for the Transformers so getting the All Spark in there was a pretty stupid idea in my opinion, characterizations were all over the place; everything just felt like it was undermining the great finale that had come before it. So I'm sitting here reading this article about the new Transformers series, and as I read, I began to suspect that perhaps this might be the sequel to Prime that could clean up some of the mistakes of Rising, because the outline for this looks pretty good.

Basically, there's a new faction of Decepticons on Earth and Bumblebee must step into the position of commander and round up a rag-tag group of Autobots (and a Mini Con) to take them down. The final statement on the plot was what really caught my eye:

"Each new bot is a fully capable action hero but inexperienced in working together in a team, forcing Bumblebee to become both squad leader and coach, Hasbro said."

See, this feels like kind of a mix between Transformers Animated and Firefly to me. I get the Animated vibe because of Bumblebee's position being not too dissimilar to Animated's Optimus in that he must work these people into becoming a team. I get the Firefly vibe because of the "fully capable" bit there in the beginning. I get the sense that each of these characters is going to have a secret buried in their past to add dimension to their character, and if that's the case, then this could prove to be as character driven a show as Prime or Animated ever were, and that would be awesome.

The animation studio that helmed Prime, Polygon Pictures, is doing this one as well. I loved the animation style of Prime, and while 2D animation isn't really my thing, I do like the mix of Animated and Prime styles going into these characters. Also, while we haven't gotten any word on who will be writing the show (though like Prime, I do hope they have their own in-house writing staff), we have gotten word on the story editor, Steven Melching: he wrote for Star Wars: The Clone Wars, and several episodes of both Beast Wars and Prime, so he should be right at home with this. Jeff Kline and Adam Beechen will be producers too, so this looks like a home-grown project that is sure to breathe more life into the universe of Prime.

While I've pretty much regurgitated the article for you already given how short the article is, here's the link if you want to read it. Robots in Disguise looks to be a neat sequel idea to Prime, and while I'm firmly behind Prime's more adult attitude, I welcome this shift in tone that the new series is taking; a more kid-friendly show might be just what this universe needs to keep flourishing, and hey, it did wonders for Animated, so I'm very hopeful for this series!

June 21, 2014

Stuff That I Like- 6/21/14

Alright, so I've been a little inactive on the blog lately, and part of that is because of tour (which I'll talk about, don't worry), but also because I haven't really had much to write about for the blog, and I haven't decided what my next review is going to be. But some things have been happening, so I figured I'd just write up this short thing if only to produce new content for you to read.

First, let's talk AYS tour! Okay, so this... this came so close, so close, to making up for all the BS of the last year. It didn't, but tour was obviously the highlight of my AYS experience, and what a highlight it was! First, I have to say that seeing the New York Philharmonic live was just mind-bogglingly insanely awesome! They performed two Beethoven piano concertos and a premier piece that was very modern and stuff; I didn't like that one, but the Beethoven stuff was superb!

Second, we all got to see different plays on Broadway after eating at a really awesome restaurant, and my play of choice was Phantom of the Opera! Holy hell, was that an experience! This was my first time seeing the play (I'd of course seen the film), and it did not disappoint! The acting, the singing, the effects... nothing was out of place here. And the man playing the Phantom was actually the guy who played Phantom for the Broadway premier all those years ago, and that was really cool. Just wonderful voices, and very good effects; that chandelier was just remarkable!

Finally, and most importantly, we played in Carnegie Hall. I'll just say this (and then go on to elaborate because I'm not a succinct person): I haven't smiled more broadly when playing the violin than I did during that whole thing. This was a magical experience for me, something that I know I'll only have the fortune of doing once in my life, but God damn, was that worth all the shit heaped onto the program for the last year! We rehearsed in the hall before concert, obviously, and when we got all set up and struck that first D Major chord of the Tchaikovsky, it was like the heavens opened up and sang! The acoustics were that good! And our balance was pretty good too (though the hall was so echoey that for the violins, it sounded like the percussion was a full beat off), and the trumpets just nailed the opening of the 2nd movement of the New World Symphony! That made all of us smile even more! And what energy we had! Just this feeling that we were here in an historically significant music hall and that we had made it! We made it, and we were here, and we were all smiles! The natural high you got from being up there was remarkable; everything fell into place during our concert, and we were all just so excited to be up there that that kind of fueled our playing ability to churn out the best rendition of this concert that I think we could have! What a superb experience, and one that I won't soon forget!

While on tour, I had the chance to read the bulk of a new book I got recently called Reading Joss Whedon, a collection of academic essays analyzing and critiquing the works of Whedon from Buffy to The Avengers. It's so great! Two essays stuck out to me in particular, both relating Joss shows to Ovid. The first looks at the Buffy character through the lens of the Orpheus and Eurydice myth, and this was really fascinating! The second looked at Dollhouse and related the show to the myth of Echo and Narcissus! That was the more interesting of the two because not much has been written about Dollhouse, and this was a unique look at a show that has often come under fire from feminists and scholars for being somewhat antithetical to what Joss Whedon is trying to do with his shows. But this essay addresses that and then supplements that with interpretations of the show that really lend themselves well to the Ovid relation, and the stuff that the writer draws between the two stories is just awesome and very eye-opening. The rest of these essays in here are all good (I think this is the first book to really have an academic essay about The Avengers), and the uniqueness of the subject matter and what the authors do with it is a wonder to read. If you're into this corner of academia, no doubt you'll have already read this (and more that I have not because I'm just beginning to take the dive into this realm), but read this especially if you're a Whedon fan! It's damn good.

So, I've been cleaning out my room of all the Transformers crap I've had lying around for like thirteen years, throwing away about 70% of my "collection", most of that being broken, worn out, exploded pieces of plastic that can't really be sold nor restored, so they've hit the scrapyard. I did manage to reassemble and refurbish a good fifty or so 'Bots and 'Cons, so that was very good! I also now have a whole assortment of weapons that has essentially turned my room into a little armory! Anyway, this whole endeavor has been very good because I now have more space in my room because I don't have these huge bins with plastic crap in them getting in the way! And I have essentially fifty new Transformers in my collection now, so that's a bonus!

I've just started in on watching Falling Skies! I'm on the fourth episode now, and I have to say that it's already pretty good. I can see this becoming much like The Walking Dead, with this being a character piece with an alien invasion backdrop, but right now it's really about the aliens. Still, character development does happen, I like the diversity in the groups of people (race, ethnicity, gender, etc), and I like also that this has a very "real" understanding of what a post-apocalyptic scenario would be like: you have actual civilians, the civilians outnumber the soldiers, the people have some working cars, guns, food, they don't live in caves. In essence, unlike most PA stories, humanity hasn't lost all sense of who we used to be, either in materials or in social functions. I particularly like that at the end of the first episode, this kid gets a skateboard and rides around before letting others take a turn while the rest watch. It's a small victory in the wake of a devastating invasion, and it brings this back around to the human side of things. This show is starting out to be very good, and I'm hoping that this gets more character-focussed and interesting as it goes on (and from what I've read, it does).

So, that's all I wanted to talk about. My cousin is coming over in a week, so we might do some joint thing on here, who knows. For now, that's it. Hoping to see How to Train Your Dragon 2 this weekend and do a Mini-View on it!

June 7, 2014

Shadowcon Mini-Views- Edge of Tomorrow

I'll say this to start: this is a damn good movie! Far smarter than it needs to be to be in the company of summer blockbuster popcorn flicks, Edge of Tomorrow delivers a solid sci-fi action piece with more heart than I would have ever expected from this. The trailers made this look to be a typical one-note action ride, and while it certainly is that, it's a little deeper than that as well.

The plot here is that an alien race known as "Mimics" have invaded Earth and are essentially in control of Europe and want to take over the rest of the world. We've been fighting a five-year war with these things with no hope of victory. But recently we've been making a little headway, and are making our final push to see this through, launching a full D-Day-like assault on Normandy to finish these things off with everything we have. It's essentially the Battle of Normandy with aliens. The main character Cage is stripped of his command as Colonel and put in with a bunch of Privates to be sent in with the first wave, but upon landing on the beach, he's attacked by a Mimic Alpha and the blood of the alien gets into Cage's body and he now possesses the unique ability to relive the same day over and over again, changing outcomes and becoming more badass as he does so. Every time he dies, the loop starts over. It's similar to Source Code and Groundhog Day, but this is not all about the time-travel stuff. The plot thickens from here, but what I really liked about this is that the time loop stuff was played both as comedy and then later as a means for us to get to connect with the Cage character better.

During this, Cage meets up with Rita Vretaski, another person like Cage who used to have the Mimic Alpha's blood in her allowing her to relive the same day over and over, but after a fight she lost a large amount of blood and that made her lose the Mimc's blood as well, thus making her lose her time-looping abilities. The two characters play very well off each other; Cage has the power but is inexperienced and untrained, while Vretaski is trained and badass but lacks the time-traveling power. What makes this more interesting is that Vretaski also knows what Cage is going through, and seeing the two plan and work with each other in combat and working around the constraints of time is very nice. I like that from Vrateski's point of view, she's only known Cage for like a few hours, but for Cage, he's known Vrateski for far longer, and this makes their relationship dynamic and interesting because both know the catch of time-looping, of getting attached to people who don't really know you. It's a neat dynamic that I think was explored very well, especially in the last third of the movie.

This movie is very good at balancing the time-travel elements with a story about love and loss, as well as blending all of that with satisfying action. The mech suits are cool to look at and the many times we see the assault on the beach are always a treat. I particularly like in the beginning how all the soldiers are making fun of Cage's suit and then saying that "there's a dead guy in it". This was said for laughs, but then after Cage has gone through the loop of dying several times, seeing Vrateski die and several of his soldier buddies die around him, this line is given more weight and meaning, and I really liked that. The time-travel stuff allows for character introspection and meaning, something that is oft forgotten in normal time-travel/action films. I also like that the climax of the film comes about in such a way to where Cage can't time loop anymore, meaning that the stakes now really do matter; the stakes aren't higher just because the script gods say so, but because Cage can really now die and be dead. The climax was pretty good and there's been some debate about the ending of whether or not it's a paradox (and it kinda is, but in a respectable way).

Overall, Edge of Tomorrow is very good. The time-travel stuff is second to character dynamics and interactions, which is of course why I like this film so much. It puts me into the action, but never leaves me there being bored after five minutes. The pace is good with heart and themes being at the forefront of the film's agenda rather than just being another sci-fi action flick, and Tom Cruise delivers a fine performance. This is a testament to good science fiction: this provides commentary on the human condition while delivering a solid time-travel action story along the way. A very good outing indeed.

June 3, 2014

Shadowcon Reviews- Rebellion

         Shadowcon Reviews: Transformers Prime season 3, episode 4: “Rebellion”

So, here we are again looking at the final part of the Season Three premier. This episode actually aired about a month after the first three because who the hell knows; Prime would normally take breaks between episodes occurring in the same season, probably for rendering of all that fancy animation. Anyway, it’s interesting that they took a break after the penultimate part of the first arc of the story; I’d think it would make more sense to just have all the parts come out and then take a break after that, especially because the new title sequence doesn’t appear until the next episode, and so it feels weird the way they decided to do it… but then I’m not a scheduling person, I’m just a Transformers fan with a blog.

June 1, 2014

Shadowcon Reviews- Prey

         Shadowcon Reviews: Transformers Prime season 3, episode 3: “Prey”

While last episode was a rather sluggish affair, I can safely say that this episode makes up for everything wrong with that one. The pace is quick, the action well planned and thought out, and everything moves in this one. There’s far less attention spent on the Decepticons, which means that the Autobots finally get to have their share of the spotlight, and in all honesty, this episode is where everything starts to pick up for me. What’s more, there are no plot holes here (at least none that are not carried over from previous ones), so that’s awesome! Let’s jump right in!