Friday, January 20, 2017

Audio Book Review, "The Sirens of Titan"

I have a subscription to Audible.  They do not sponsor this blog, I am not important enough for that, but I do use them and will probably review a book I get from them every so often.  I did it before with “Miss Peregrine’s Home…” and now I am doing it with the first ever book by Kurt Vonnegut that I have ever read, “The Sirens of Titan”.

The story starts out as a somewhat low key sort of science fiction, there are spaceships and humanity has done some activity in space, but have decided not to do anymore because there exists a special anomaly in our solar system that has a funny name.  The funny name is said often and it is a running gag.  The main characters are all deeply flawed, even the time traveling mind reading billionaire who sets the plot into motion.
The story is pretty grounded initially, as most of the action takes place on Earth but takes an abrupt turn into Crazy Town in the second act as the main character joins a militia on Mars that is hell bent on invading Earth.  The third act has a bigger twist about the underlying motivations of the plot, so much of a twist that it kind of makes the rest of the story feel a little like a cheat.  The story end on a real downer.  No other way to put it.



I like half of the underlying philosophy, as a big thrust of the story seems to be that you should not attribute to god that which is just luck.  That the universe is guided by chance and some people get advantages that they don’t deserve and they should not rub other people’s noses in it.  The other half of the thing seems to be about how free will is mostly a crock, that we are guided by impulses and machinations well beyond our perceptions and even if we could perceive them we would not be able to understand them.  I suppose there is some charm to that idea too.
Overall the story has some funny wordplay and solid characters, I could see this being adapted into a movie or mini-series and am surprised it hasn’t been, the main character at times resembles one of the most egotistical people in America and it would work to lampoon them.  I am also a little taken back by some of the fan art I have seen of the character of Salo, whom I pictured so differently from everyone else that I think I must have missed a big percentage of his physical description, or I just subconsciously ignored and chose to do something more interesting.
There are parts that will be a little slow and a little too out there for many people, the entire section on Mercury felt like a big waste of time.  It is a good story but hard to recommend.

I "read" this by listening to it as an audio book, and I think that might have elevated it a bit.  The narrator is best known as Dan Green, the voice of "Yu-Gi-Oh", and he has a range of voices that do a good job of differentiating the characters.  A good performance can do a lot.


Maybe I will get another Vonnegut title in the future but I am trying to get a few titles by classic science fiction authors and he was just the first.  I am currently listening to “Stranger in a Strange Land” and am so far liking it a great deal more.


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Tuesday, January 10, 2017

Various Thoughts on Donald Trump

I have been writing down lots of things about President-Elect Trump for the last few months.  A joke here.  A criticism there.  Mostly I just felt too depressed to write anything.  The secret reason I spent all of December writing about Disney movies.  And with the inauguration coming up I am going to put into one big lump my feelings.  Some of these were obviously supposed to follow certain events in the campaign.  Just roll with it.

I didn’t really want this to be the first thing I write about this year.

There is an episode of the old "Batman" live action TV show in which the Penguin runs for mayor of Gotham and so Batman runs against him. The chief argument the Penguin used against Batman was, "(Batman) is often seen in the company of criminals."
During the second Presidential Debate, Trump kept saying things about tax breaks and "locker-room talk" that struck me as similar.  That as bad as he is or was, he would retort with, “Hilary Clinton has friends and takes money from people who are just like me". Trump’s argument being, "don't vote for her, she has the low character of someone who could stand to be around someone LIKE ME".
 
But... her emails.
            Ever since President-Elect Trump first announced he was running for the office of the Presidency, I have been wondering with creeping suspicion if I am in “The Twilight Zone”.  That is not entirely true, at first I thought it was a joke like every other person in America.  That changed.
            He would mock a disabled person.  Say something racist.  Say something stupid.  Say something misogynistic.  Say something stupid.  Stand next to his son, Eric, who looks like a lizard person while saying something stupid.  All the while, more and more support was thrown his way.
            His awful record as a business man was shown to the public and the fact that he was hiding more failures was obvious.  “He’s a great business man,” could be heard as he got more support.  He was the same obnoxious person he had been for decades.  “He tells it like it is,” could be heard as he got more support.
Running in the party that claims family values as a core tenant… That alone is funnier than any joke I have ever made.
           
Family values.

            Let’s take a brief detour here.  The whole “Locker Room Talk” thing.  No one talks like that in a locker roomNo one.
What sort of closeted-gay or insecure-idiot walks into a room full of naked sweaty dudes and has to immediately start telling everyone how “straight” or “slutty” they are?  “Oh, yeah.  I have all of the sex.  Like, I… you know.  I grab’m by the pussy.  They let you do it... That is how that works right?”
Really think about the kind of mindset that goes into that.

            Trump won.  Not just the primary—The Party of “Traditional Family Values”—he won the whole shebang.  He did it with fewer votes due to the arcane and poorly thought out system from 200+ years prior, devised by wealthy slave owners to keep wealthy slave owners in power… But he still won.
So I sulked and made myself laugh as I could imagine him making his cabinet nominations and I would make up little funny sketches for my own amusement.

Trump: “Petraeus.”
Aide: “That might be a problem, sir”
Trump: “Why?”
Aide: “He was caught giving classified information to his mistress.”
Trump: “What’s the big deal?”
Aide: “You are not allowed to do that.”
Trump: “Eh, what could it hurt?  I tell Melania classified things from my briefings all the time.  Gets it her hot.  After a solid half dozen thrusts I roll off and she rushes to tell all her friends in Moscow how great I am at sex.”

You see the joke right?  That Melania is a Russian spy who pumps him for information and then relays it to Russia.  It is humorous.  Was humorous.  Seems like every day I am proven less a jester and more a Cassandra.
 
You know she isn't a real spy because they can probably pass information in a way that isn't immediately detected.
What about his daily security briefings that he skips because he is “smart”?  He’s might be right.  Maybe you don’t need a briefing everyday of the same material.  Unless you have no foreign policy experience and don’t know the people, places, and events by heart yet.  In which case repetition and even asking questions would be called for.  What do I know?  I have only been studying politics and government my entire adult life and I still can’t give you a blow by blow accounting of events in Syria and neighboring areas.

So I, as a white-male-liberal have to come to that inevitable conclusion that things really are as ambiently racist and sexist as all of my non-white and non-male liberal friends claim.  The people voting for Trump are as racist as he is, and deep down think that everyone is.  They think they are forced to be polite by a society that punishes what they think is perfectly rational thoughts about hating minorities.  They think that America is actually just a bunch of closeted racists hiding how they really believe because of some unseen Political Correctness gestapo.
The women who support him have been so brow beaten, so put in their place, and so degraded that they really do see Trump’s abusive and toxic behavior/words as, "What men are all really thinking."  That they think that all guys care about is sex and ego.  I pity them for not knowing anything else to the degree they can’t imagine it.
These supporters think that sexism and racism are normal.  It is sickening.  Both on that level and the fact that as a white male, I have to be associated with this sort of behavior.
To think, for all the mistakes I have made in my life I should have been acting worse and getting away with more.  My “privilege” has just not gotten the workout it could have been getting this whole time.  How many people are thinking that unironically I wonder?



            During this, the creeping feeling of unreality was constantly swirling around.  This can’t be real, right?  But it has to be.  Life is not a TV show.  Life is a stupid chaotic mess and it rewards stupid chaotic messes.
But, let’s just say this is an episode of “The Twilight Zone”, what would be the science fiction or supernatural twist?  I hadn’t made any bargains with Death or freed Satan from a locked room… At least not lately.  I was just watching a sociopath become leader of the largest atomic weapons cache in the world.  And it is not like “The Twilight Zone” ever dealt with Atomic weaponry


So here I am.  Hoping that there is some kind of twist ending that doesn’t involve the end of the world.  That it was all just a dream.  A virtual reality system testing how insane they could make it before I finally woke up.  That aliens finally come down and slap our hands away from the control panels and show us how to do things properly.  None of that will happen.

When I wake up tomorrow there will be a fresh set of tweets about all of his enemies, about how celebrities are overrated, and all of his handlers telling us not to listen to what he says, to ignore what he does, and to instead look into his heart.  Because sometimes 2 + 2 is 4, sometimes it is 5, sometimes it is 3, sometimes it is all of them all at the same time.  And I can’t seem to wake up.

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Saturday, December 31, 2016

My Top 10 Disney Movies

            I have not been posting nearly enough this year and I want to steer back from that.  To that end I have found a 30-day blog challenge and fluffed it out to 31 entries (since December has 31 days).  I have done a 30-day challenge before for movies, though that one was poorly executed (I started it in the middle of a month, at one point I posted 2 entries on one day, it is a mess).  I did another one just this year in August on Video Games, that one was better, go read it after this one, all of it.  Or don’t, no pressure.

            Today is day 31 and the topic is “Top 10”.
Before I start let me drop in a few more Honorable Mentions.

Honorable Mention: “Moana”
I only saw this last night and I am super impressed.  It has elements of other Disney movies I like but the new setting, great music, and fun performances set this one as a cut above pretty much instantly.  The only reason it is not on my list is because I have had less than 24 hours to ruminate on it and as such can’t give a substantive commentary on the thing.

The adorable piggy has far less impact on the narrative I was anticipating by his presence in the advertising.

It is not perfect and will not be unseating “Zootopia” from my top movie of the year spot, but I do think that if some kid were to recall “Moana” as their first Disney movie they are starting off on the right foot.

Honorable Mention: “Beauty and the Beast”
            It is fine, I have talked about it in context of it being a great romance and having a great villain, but overall it just doesn’t hit me too deeply.  I guess this is what happens when you talk subjective opinions, sometimes there is no distinct element or quantifiable reason to not like something as much as most other people.

Honorable Mention: “Brave”
            I consider this movie underrated, but not fantastic.  Much like “Mulan” from yesterday it is very GOOD, but does not stab deeply enough to be particularly great.

Honorable Mention: “The Rocketeer”
            This one is live action and is thus out of consideration, but I watched the hell out of it growing up.  The pacing is rock solid, the bad guy is razor sharp, and the hero and action are both daring and fun.  The only reason this movie is not considered a classic of the superhero genre is because modern Marvel productions have so outpaced it in production values.  But for its time it is amazing.  I would go so far as to say it influenced my current love of the noir/pulp style that I still see as an underappreciated and awesome aesthetic in movies.



Honorable Mention: “Captain America: The Winter Soldier”
            This is my favorite Marvel movie.  I have talked about it before.  Much like Star Wars, Marvel was taken off the table at the start of the month.  Still out.


Now on to the List.  These are in no particular order, I had a few movies I said, “Definitely, yes, yes, yes, okay, now let’s go over the list and pick a few more, and a couple more, and a couple more” just to fill it out to a full 20.  Then I just shuffled them up.

Number 10: “Tangled”
The Plot Goes Thusly:
            It is the story of Rapunzel, a young woman kept in a high tower with hair that is long, golden, and magical.  But this iteration has adventure, romance (substantive romance, not just, “he rescued me from the tower” obligatory romance), and a reason for why the girl with the hair is in the tower to begin with, that her hair is the receptacle of healing magic.


My Thoughts:
            This movie is great.  Fighting with frying pans, daring chases, and the most romantic moment in Disney according to me.  It is perhaps the most conventional of the picks I made for my Top 10, so there is not much to talk about beyond saying that the elements you would expect from a Disney princess story came together especially well in this one.


Number 9: “The Rescuers Down Under”
The Plot Goes Thusly:
            An international peace keeping force sends agents to Australia to stop a poacher from murdering a young boy and destroying a giant gold eagle that is both endangered and a fantastic set piece for the movie—it almost makes this movie an entry in the Classic Movie Genre of “Child and Big Thing” I identified earlier this year.
            Also, the international peace keeping force is made up of mice and this is ostensibly set in the real world.  Kind of like “Chip and Dale: Rescue Rangers” or “The Great Mouse Detective”.


My Thoughts:
            While I am sure the “How to Train Your Dragon” series is the first that comes to mind when picturing a child flying on a big magical animal—another entry for “Child and Big Thing”—but for me, that feeling of flying on the back of a wild animal that an instinctive connection has been formed with came from “The Rescuers Down Under”.
The strangest aspect of this movie is how out of place the titular Rescuers feel.  If they had just made a movie about a young boy and his animal companion trying to escape the clutches of a poacher in the Outback coupled with the natural hazards and predators of that environment the movie would still hold together, it would even be a marked improvement.
You could cut the mice and lose very little from the story, even though they have a substantial amount of screen time and a funny little sub-plot with good voice acting.
I actually didn’t know this was a sequel when I saw it as a kid and when I saw the original “The Rescuers” it was such a step down in quality I felt somehow betrayed.


Number 8: “The Great Mouse Detective”
The Plot Goes Thusly:
            After a little girl sees her father taken by a menacing figure with a peg leg she is taken by a kindly doctor to the home of a genius detective.  After displaying his penchant for being a dangerous and moody—but high functioning—psychopath, the detective is on the case.
            While chasing down clues and leads they are led to the menacing camp gay villain and arch-nemesis of the detective who is out to take over the nation thru the use of a steam punk doppelganger of the queen.  One death trap and a dramatic confrontation later the heroes return home to find the promise of future adventures—adventures Disney apparently will never deliver on.
            Also, the characters are all mice and this is ostensibly set in the real world.  Kind of like “Chip and Dale: Rescue Rangers” or “The Rescuers Down Under”.



My Thoughts:
            I already talked about why I like this movie extensively when I wrote the “My Favorite Male Protagonist” entry.  I actually spent more time explaining why I like the movie than I did why I like the character.  Because Basil is Sherlock Holmes, he appeals in all the same ways to me that he does to everyone—by being good enough at his chosen profession that he can get away with being a bastard to everyone he meets, something we all secretly aspire to.


Number 7: “Wreck it Ralph”
The Plot Goes Thusly:
            A man with an important job that gets no respect sets out to reinvent himself seeking accolades in other workplaces.  The unintended consequences of his actions create a crisis in multiple communities as the problems of one start to bleed out like a plague.  Ultimately he finds and confronts a lunatic who has been usurping a position of power and causing chaos and restoring a new found friend to her rightful place in the world.
            Also he is a video game character and this all takes place in a number of different game machines in an arcade.  There are a lot of cameos.



My Thoughts:
            The only thing that really holds this movie back would be the number of strange rules dictating the universe.  The way characters become refugees in other systems, the nature of extra lives in games, the villain’s motivation, and the big monstrous plague of space alien bad guys all seem to work via slight addendums to each other’s rules making a weird little book of cross references.  I can’t say it makes no sense, but it gets a tad too complicated.
            In general, the positives outweigh those issues.  The character and world designs vary wildly from one another allowing for huge variety of color, art style, and action.  Ralph and his supporting cast are fun not only in how they act individually but in contrast with one another, the best kind of ensemble cast.


Number 6: “Toy Story 3”
The Plot Goes Thusly:
            A community must leave their home behind and find a new place to live safely and comfortably.
            They are toys and they are being left behind by the now grown owner of them.



My Thoughts:
            I have talked enough about this one.  I am going to shove this off to those entries.


Number 5: “Aladdin”
The Plot Goes Thusly:
            A young man gains the ability to make all his dreams come true via the use of a magic lamp.  As his friendships grow and his future brightens his true nature as an impoverished thief threatens to undue all his wishing.  Meanwhile a sorcerer takes control of the lamp and causes havoc.



My Thoughts:
            I have talked a good bit about this one too, so read about that over here.


Number 4: “Up”
The Plot Goes Thusly:
            An old man morning his deceased wife and fearing the impending destruction of his home for the construction of some new urban development decides to embrace his childhood dreams and go on an adventure to honor his wife.



My Thoughts:
            This movie has a few strong elements but it also has iconic images, like a house flying thru the air pulled by numerous balloons, a giant crazy bird, and talking dogs flying biplanes.  This whole thing holds together as a stronger product than discussion of any individual part can illustrate.  Though there are a couple of parts that stand out amazingly well.


Number 3: “Zootopia”
The Plot Goes Thusly:
            A rookie cop works to unravel a series of mysterious instances of violence and the government conspiracy to cover it all up.  She is aided by a conman, and via their exploration of the city’s politics and their interactions with one another they learn to confront their prejudices and grow as people.
            The whole thing is talking animals.  That is to say non-human animals.  Cause humans are animals.



My Thoughts:
            I have talked about itRead about it all over the place.


Number 2: “The Incredibles”
The Plot Goes Thusly:
            Exceptional individuals who spent their lives saving and protecting the general population by way of their fantastic gifts have been forced into hiding by a bunch of bullshit lawsuits.  Isn’t it always the way of things?
            One of those individuals is trying to get back to the game of heroism via a mysterious organization that is building killer robots in a hidden island fortress—somehow this obvious red flag is allowed to slide.  The desire to use his gifts for what he thinks is good will imperil himself and his family, but they will all have to come together to save the world… from having lots of convenient gadgets?



My Thoughts:
            I love superheroes and this is one of the best superhero films ever made.  The action is fantastic and varied, with feats of strength, speed, infiltration, and a grand fight with a giant multi-limbed robot.  The humor, style, and underlying thesis all have appeal (though I do not agree with the thesis).  I consider this a damn near perfect movie, except for the bad guy’s bizarre plan.
            Let’s go a little deeper.
Yesterday I joked about Ayn Rand doing re-writes to “A Bug’s Life”, well… “The Incredibles” might have been penned by her ghost.  It is all about special people being held back by a system that looks down on exceptional people doing their best.
The bad guy, Syndrome has inventions that can allow normal people to do fantastic things.  So, instead of just selling them he wants to use them to mock and degrade people with naturally occurring super powers?  Why?  I know he is an asshole, but he does this just because he feels his superhuman intelligence wasn’t respected enough?
I don’t really get Syndrome’s deal when I give it a hard look.  Just let it go you dipshit.  You are so wealthy as to afford an island fortress, an army of goons, and a giant robot, while your arch rival lives in the suburbs and works a job he hates (and can I just ask why the government didn’t give Mr. Incredible a job in the police or other law enforcement?)  Syndrome, Buddy, you won at life.


Number 1: “Inside Out”
The Plot Goes Thusly:
            It is a road trip thru the mind and imagination of a young girl navigating a complex time in her life.  Along the way we all learn about the importance of being emotionally complex and nuanced individuals instead of just trying to be happy all the time.



My Thoughts:
Much like I pointed out with “Toy Story” yesterday, this is another story in which a big move to a new place is the backdrop to a transitional state of mind.
            I have talked about this several times.  It is a great movie and should be watched.

The End: Disney’s Legacy
            And with that my month long Disney blog-venture (wow, that is rubbish) comes to an end.  It did its job of helping me further push up the number of words I have written and has allowed me to flex my critical mental muscles on things that both do and do not get enough scrutiny.
            Disney is a company that I have complex feelings on.  On one hand they do their best to maintain a standard bearer position as definitive Americana and a moral guardian that emphasizes self-actualization and creativity.  On the other side their work is primarily one of modern interpretation of very old stories that they have access to via the public domain, a legal system and creative tool that they have done tremendous damage to via their work in protecting their corporate IP holdings.


            I see why they want to keep “Steam Boat Willie” in the vault.  But, Walt is dead, 50 years this month.  His creations have become iconic parts of American culture and by preventing those works from belonging to everyone, and by extension allowing a single company to have this much control over the world of animation and culture there is a danger of cultural stagnation taking place.
            People only have so much space in their minds and money in their wallets for entertainment.  If a company can hold onto a piece of media indefinitely and keep releasing its variations, they are eating up mental space and money that could go to an original work that might not be able to get its foot in the door.  New things get crowded out.  But then, many of the works I put on my list are original properties made in the last 20 years, with special commendation going to Pixar for this bevy of new ideas.
            What do you think?  Is Disney a force for good?  Or is it a force of corporate greed with good PR?  There is no wrong answer.  There probably is a wrong answer, but finding a right one would require a lot of research and several judgement calls that I a no interested in making.
            Share your own thoughts on this in the comments.
Conversely, what are some of your favorite Disney movies?  Do you have a top list?  Do you have a blog like mine talking about it?  If so, then post a link below.

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If you like or hate this please take the time to comment, +1, share on Twitter, Tumblr, or Facebook, and otherwise distribute my opinion to the world.  I would appreciate it.

Friday, December 30, 2016

My Top 20 Disney Films: 20-11

            I have not been posting nearly enough this year and I want to steer back from that.  To that end I have found a 30-day blog challenge and fluffed it out to 31 entries (since December has 31 days).  I have done a 30-day challenge before for movies, though that one was poorly executed (I started it in the middle of a month, at one point I posted 2 entries on one day, it is a mess).  I did another one just this year in August on Video Games, that one was better, go read it after this one, all of it.  Or don’t, no pressure.

            Today is day 30 and the topic is “Top 20: 20-11”.
            This was tiring to write.  I should have just picked two of the thinner entries earlier in the month and made four entries of 5 movies each, or even five parts if I gave the Honorable Mentions their own section.  Live and learn.
Before I start let me just drop in a few Honorable Mentions.

Honorable Mention: “Mulan”
            This has a song that stands out as one of the best workout montages ever.  It has some good action; good lessons about using intelligence to circumvent challenges and defeat enemies; interesting themes about gender roles in society; and it is well animated doing their best to replicate the armor and styles of historical China, but stylizing them to keep the animators from dying of exhaustion.
            So why is it not in the top 20.  Mostly it is the Eddie Murphy dragon, I did not care for him.  But beyond that everything is very GOOD.  Not great, not amazing, but very good.  Nothing hits me especially deep.


Honorable Mention: “The Hunchback of Notre Dame”
            Frollo is my favorite villain overall, and while I do like the movie there is one thing that drags it down greatly.  The Gargoyles.  They are just the worst.  It is not the fault of the actors or animators; these things just do not belong in this story.  Unlike “Mulan” in which everything was just good, this thing had the potential to be better but the tone was destroyed by those gargoyles.

Honorable Mention: “Princess Mononoke
            I like this movie and other Studio Ghibli productions more than most of the stuff on my list.  That being said their relationship to Disney is secondhand, as this was distributed via Miramax and is not tied into Disney studios directly.  They are most certainly a compatriot and ally of the Disney machine and animation culture, but they are not strictly in there. 



Honorable Mention: “The Force Awakens”
            I excluded the Lucas Film stuff at the start of the month, but this movie made me feel okay with the direction Disney would take the franchise.  I love it.  “Rouge One” not so much, but that will have to be a thing I talk about next year.


Now on to the List.  These are in no particular order, I had a few movies I said, “Definitely, yes, yes, yes, okay, now let’s go over the list and pick a few more, and a couple more, and a couple more” just to fill it out to a full 20.  Then I just shuffled them up.

Number 20: “The Lion King”
The Plot Goes Thusly:
            The Prince of an African nation goes into exile after the assassination of his father.  He is framed for causing the death of the king and his personal shame keeps him from returning home. His nefarious uncle allows a foreign military to invade the country as part of his scheme to keep control.  After a decade the nation is run into the ground and the exiled Prince is pulled back home to kill the usurping uncle, banish the foreign interlopers, and assume the throne as the divine right king.
            Also, they are all lions.


My Thoughts:
            I actually have some problems with this story because I am not a fan of Monarchies or the idea that there is some supreme order to the world that only functions properly if certain people sit on a throne.  Mostly because this sort of thinking has been used to justify a great deal of historically bad mismanagement of governments.  These people are on the throne not because they are competent or have merit, but because they were “born to it”.  That is not a healthy world view.
            That being said, I still like political machinations, betrayal, power struggles, and one’s own hesitance to take on power because of a fear of not measuring up to those who came before.  And it has all those things that I like.
            And as far as philosophy goes, the Circle of Life is a good one.

Number 19: “The Princess and the Frog”
The Plot Goes Thusly:
            A young woman who has bought into the idea that hard work eventually pays off (she is surprisingly na├»ve), dreams of one day owning her own restaurant.  This dream goes off the rails when (sub textually) racist bankers deny her loan.  After having her dreams dashed she is then transformed into a frog via Hoodoo curse and must make it home quickly in hopes of breaking the curse.


My Thoughts:
            This one is heavily weighted toward my enjoyment of the bad guy and the setting.  I feel that New Orleans is a crossroads of numerous cultural traditions that have permutated into something distinct, this has also lead to it being mystifying to outsiders and ripe with story juice waiting to be squeezed.
Shadow Man is voiced by one of my favorite voice/genre actors Keith David and as I expressed before, has both strong motivations and clever confrontation with the hero.  One that few other characters’ match.  Unlike “Hunchback” the goofy sidekicks do not break drastically with the tone of the film, instead complimenting the action and being entertaining.  Shadow Man kills one of them and it is a pretty brutal character establishing moment.  Overall I think the elements hang together well.

Number 18: “Alice in Wonderland”
The Plot Goes Thusly:
            A young woman of prose tries to make sense of a world of poetry.  Disney takes out a lot of the creepiest vibes from the book.  And then puts in some stuff that completely fits the lighter tone they were shooting for.  It still has some edge to it, but not likethe book does.

           
My Thoughts:
            I feel this is an adaptation true to the spirit of the book it is taken from.  I have talked about it enough really.

Number 17: “Finding Dory”
The Plot Goes Thusly:
            A lovable fish played by national treasure Ellen DeGeneres goes on an adventure to find her home.  Along the way she learns how she became who she is and the friends and family that helped her grow into such a wonderful person



My Thoughts:
            I didn’t watch its predecessor, “Finding Nemo”, and I still thought this movie was great.  It is a mystery story in which the clues are pieces of memory, skills, and pneumonic devices.  It is “Memento” for children.
I have not talked a lot about this one this month but it is a solid film that I would recommend to anybody really.  So long as they are not the sort of joyless dipshit who can’t watch a cartoon about talking animals without bitching about how, “Real fish can’t talk” as Aesop spins in his grave.

Number 16: “Duck Tales the Movie: Treasure of the Lost Lamp”
The Plot Goes Thusly:
            A billionaire who could already afford anything he could ever want is given a magic lamp to wish for whatever he wants.  Hashtag .1% Problems. 



My Thoughts:
            DuckTales is a quintessential adventure series and the movie takes them on as epic an adventure as it could.  The humor is a bit silly and overall the film skews closer to “kid’s movie” than “family movie” but the action moves at an excellent pace, the antagonist is a threat, and the treasure they are trying to find and protect is not just more money, but something that affects the plot in a meaningful way. 
Not all action movies have those elements working for them.  Too frequently the treasure/tchotchke driving the plot is just more money, and that is boring.
“Treasure of the Lost Lamp” is similar to another movie with a Genie in it, but not to a distracting level.

Number 15: “The Fox and the Hound”
The Plot Goes Thusly:
            Two childhood friends are driven apart by social forces as they grow into the roles society has set for them.
            Also, they are a dog and a fox.  This movie might be (sub textually) about segregation.



My Thoughts:
            Sad!
Screw society!  Their social conventions that break friendships!
Society should not set us at each other’s throats and tell us it is our way!

Number 14: “A Bug’s Life”
The Plot Goes Thusly:
            A community is under siege, as an ostensibly more powerful militant group is extorting them for crops.  The local eccentric inventor strikes out to search for help and employs a cadre of actors thinking that they are a group of mercenaries.  Ultimately the community is spurred to band together and confront the invaders as a united front and win their freedom.
            Also, they are all bugs.


My Thoughts:
            I haven’t mentioned this one at all this month.  Oversight!
            I generally like narratives that revolve around the community’s odd duck concocting a plan that allows them to save the day via the power of team work.  Cause that is basically me, and most of my life philosophy is about the power of collective action.  This movie hits that mark with air strike force and precision.
There are some things holding “A Bug’s Life” back a bit, like the community being a little too resistant to the oddball’s ideas.  As if Ayn Rand threw in some script edits with “Anthem” on her mind.  But overall a solid movie.
            I still remember seeing this in theaters with my dad and brother at the Hollywood 20 at the north end of the county when the first opened the new theater.
This movie came out the same time as the film “Antz” which I have never seen.

Number 13: “A Goofy Movie”
The Plot Goes Thusly:
            After a popularity stunt goes off like fireworks the high school doofus becomes a made-man on campus and is about to go on a date with his dream girl.  His father throws a wrench into the plan by wanting to take the boy on a road trip to reconnect.
A chain of funny, sad, and complicated father-son bonding commences and culminates with sneaking into the biggest concert on Earth cause Goofy is a ride or die fam who goes to great lengths for the sake of his son. 



My Thoughts:
            I already talked about this movie as the underrated comedic treasure that it is.  Go read about it there.

Number 12: “Toy Story”
The Plot Goes Thusly:
            A favored son and community leader is feeling himself be pushed out of the spotlight by a new favorite.  After getting lost far from home the favored son and newcomer become trapped by a demented and abusive monster.  Banding together with the tortured and malformed prisoners of the monster they must escape and reunite with their community before they relocate forever to parts unknown which would leave the favored son an newcomer lost forever.
            Also they are a toy cowboy and spaceman respectively.


My Thoughts:
            On paper the idea that toys are secretly alive with their own personalities is terrifying and sad.  Very much a, “I have no mouth and I must play” scenario coupled with a creepy sense of voyeurism.  Somehow this movie not only makes it work, but does so in an emotionally affecting way.
            The idea that Andy, the toy owner, is moving with his family is the perfect backdrop.  Childhood playthings being left behind as the child who plays with them moves thru life is a pretty literal metaphor and that the toys must work to stay in his life could be read as grappling with keeping one’s own sense of fun and adventure while growing.
            It might be seen as a complaint by many that moving is such a common backdrop for kids’ movies, just last year “Goosebumps” had it, and in the past others like “Karate Kid”, “Casper” … and “Twilight”.  Along with TV shows like “Gravity Falls”, “Eerie Indiana”, “Buffy the Vampire Slayer”, and “Spooksville”.  It is a common trope because it works.
Moving is a transitional period which pairs naturally with the concept of growing up.  It also allows the main character to start the story out of their element or familiar local, this means that making new friends and being drawn into a story has a sense of adventure and tension in it even without extra-normal elements.  It is also easy for the writer to work explanations into the script, when characters explain things to the protagonist it makes sense that they would, because the main character is the new person who doesn’t know things.

Number 11: “The Nightmare Before Christmas”
The Plot Goes Thusly:
            A local community leader is going thru a midlife crisis and after getting lost in another community while on a walk far afield, he decides to expand his horizons and try out a radically different career.  Ignoring that he has no idea what he is doing and that such attempts will endanger lives and property.


            Also, he isa ghoul and he orchestrates the kidnapping of Santa Claus and the usurping of Christmas into a horror show of monsters and demonic toys.
Have you noticed how I keep giving descriptions of the plot and then throw in the elements that set it apart from all the other times you have seen a similar story?  It is a joke, but it is also a comment on how Disney tells stories that should not be dismissed just because they have cartoon lions or talking toys in them.  Maybe similar considerations should be afforded animation in general so that stories with different levels of scale can be attempted with the freeing medium of animation rather than being compromised to fit into live action adaptations.  Or, WHATEVER!

My Thoughts:
            I already talked about the fantastic design work and originality in this movie.  Beyond that it has one of the best villain protagonists in any family film, and a great character arc/moral lesson.  You may get bored with your life sometimes, but don’t use that as an excuse to terrorize people, just try to remaster what you know and find joy in the world and friends around you.

            Tomorrow is my Top 10.
  
            Share your own thoughts on this in the comments.  I know I am not the only person out there who is nostalgic for Disney products, and I am sure many people disagree with my selection for today’s entry. 
I picked Disney stuff just because I knew there was so much of it to talk about and it lends itself to discussion in the comments.
What are some of your favorite Disney movies?
Do you have a top list?
Do you have a blog like mine talking about it?  If so, then post a link below.

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If you like or hate this please take the time to comment, +1, share on Twitter, Tumblr, or Facebook, and otherwise distribute my opinion to the world.  I would appreciate it.

Thursday, December 29, 2016

The 6 Best Endings in Disney

            I have not been posting nearly enough this year and I want to steer back from that.  To that end I have found a 30-day blog challenge and fluffed it out to 31 entries (since December has 31 days).  I have done a 30-day challenge before for movies, though that one was poorly executed (I started it in the middle of a month, at one point I posted 2 entries on one day, it is a mess).  I did another one just this year in August on Video Games, that one was better, go read it after this one, all of it.  Or don’t, no pressure.

            Today is day 29 and the topic is “Favorite Happy Ending”.
            I thought about making this the last entry for the month, but decided to instead go with the really long Top List spread over two days and mostly referencing earlier entries in the month.  I think it will all work out.
Spoilers for this entry.  Obviously.  It is about endings.  I mean, I guess a bunch of Disney stuff is drawn from Fairy Tales and you can generally accept that happily ever after will follow a triumphant defeat of the bad guys by the good guys, spoiling that is not gonna ruin anything.  Disney is not hiring Lars Van Trier to make his version of… anything.  So, let’s make this a top 6, because I don’t want to just point at one movie and then talk about its epilogue.  That is a little too easy.
Generally speaking, there are only two types of endings in Disney films.  The first type is the one everybody knows and expects, “And they lived Happily Ever After.”  Knowing that the rewards earned in this adventure defined the character’s lives till the end is a satisfying way to give the audience closure.
The second ending, which I feel is more common these days—for reasons I pointed out in the “Best Sequel” entry—is, “And The Adventure Continues…”  which in contrast to “Happily”, this ending indicates that this is only the first of many tales yet untold.  This sort of denouement fires the audience’s imagination, not just to hope for future movies, but to imagine their own adventures for the characters and world.  I generally prefer this type, as I think people need to be encouraged to think about doing more and going on their own adventures, instead of just waiting for their “ending” to come to them.

These are the two most common and the best ways to end a movie.  So before we talk about those, let’s talk about a shitty ending.

There is a third type that I think most people would agree with me is the worst.  The ending that just stops.  There are elements of the story left unanswered but no promise of future adventures to resolve them, Disney doesn’t run into this issue too often and off the top of my head I can only point to one strong example, “The Sword in the Stone”.

Generally speaking, if your movie's ending is someone having a fantastic destiny thrust upon them thru no will of their own,
Then you are writing the story backwards.
Think of how many stories start with some goober being told they are "The Special"?
Here is an example, "You're a wizard, Harry."
You cannot tell me that the most interesting time in King Arthur’s life was BEFORE he became king.  Why are we not looking at the more interesting part of his life?  It is not like the movie is too long, it is 79 minutes, you could easily integrate more of the legend in there.
Show some more adventures.  Make him a little older, have him face off against the Black Knight, throw in Guinevere as a love interest, hint at how important the holy Grail will one day be to Camelot.  The existing final resolution of the movie isn’t even good as an ending.  It is resolved entirely by accident.  If not for the knight he is squiring for needing a sword Arthur would have never even seen the sword.  He has no concept of the importance of the action and no real agency in assuming his destiny.  “BLEH!”  I say.  “BLEH!”

Note: There is a bunch of Pixar on this list.  There is a reason that company has had such an impact on family entertainment these last 20 years.



Top 3 for “Happily Ever After”

Up
Coming to the realization that your life was worth living and that the memories made are something to be treasured even if it was not the life you dreamed of is a good lesson.  There is also the lesson that you can make a go of adventuring at any point in your life and it still be a harrowing and worthwhile experience that will be enriching.  And there is also a lesson about how it is never too late to try and pass on what you have learned about life to the next generation and use what you know to serve as a mentor and fatherly figure to the young and that such things are valuable to both the young person and the mentor.
This movie is deep.


Wall-E
I love me some robots, but I am only lukewarm on this movie overall.  It is cute but it sure as hell is not subtle, I actually think that “Wall-E” has contributed to a modern Luddite type thinking, as stupid people resisting the advent of more automated systems in day to day life, “We can’t have self-driving cars, it will put too many drivers out of work.”  Completely ignoring that the ultimate end of the movie was not an abandonment of technology and automated systems, but using those systems as a means to free up time to better spend it appreciating life and the natural world.
The end of the movie is a call to action on the environment and to cast off the most comically over the top lampooning of consumerism ever put to film.  These are not bad morals.
I would also like to point out a good bit of narrative structure.  The conflict of the movie, that we not only care about getting back to Earth, but we also care about saving Wall-E from his mortal injuries, keeps the film exciting.  Contrast this with the “Lorax” CGI movie in which they are racing to plant a tree at the end of the movie, but no one’s life is at stake.  Weak ending.
Writing tip, to complicate and deepen the narrative in the third act, don’t just re-emphasize the initial goal, instead throw in an additional twist which will heighten the tension on an emotional level.  “Wall-E” is a good example of this in action, another good example?  “The Empire Strikes Back”, not enough to just defeat Vader, but since Vader is your dad, you now have to defeat your own potential to fall to the dark side.  That is meaningful.


I keep banging on about this movie, and its ending is why I keep doing so.  Almost the entire rest of the movie could be cut out except for the scene of Andy giving his toys away and it would still be the best happily (sadly) ever after out there.


Top 3 for “And the Adventures Continue!”


Aladdin
I really liked the sequel cartoon growing up.  Aladdin and crew were a medieval fantasy land Avengers in the 90’s that I watched each day after school, they had a colorful cast of villains and supporting characters with a range of motivations and methodology.  That being said, does the MOVIE set up the SERIES well by leaving the audience with the feeling that things will go on?  I think so.
Genie is set free and wants to see the world but remains a grateful friend of Aladdin, which promises a return.  The Sultan clearly has plans for Aladdin, and Al being aware of the poverty in the city will bring a fresh perspective to the palace about the state of the city and the value of its people.  Lastly, the world is still riff with potential for adventure, the original “Aladdin” story comes from a set of “1,001 Arabian Nights” which is name checked multiple times in the movie, that is a hint at a world that is rich with stories to tell.  (You might say, "A Whole New World").  This ending feels like the start of something more, and more came down the pipe.



The fact that this thing was not turned into a massive franchise is baffling to me.  IT ENDS WITH THE START OF ANOTHER ADVENTURE!  It’s a superhero story which talks about there being lots of bad guys and lots of history.  This should be more movies!


Inside Out
            The movie ends with a montage showing the complex and strange emotions of dozens of people.  “Inside Out” was one big event in the life of someone who has a whole life full of big events waiting for her to go thru them.  Not to mention all the people of the world going thru life changing events and the swirl of conflicting emotions that come with each.  We are all tiny little universes and each has stories to tell.

The Beg for Attention
            Share your own thoughts on this in the comments.  I know I am not the only person out there who is nostalgic for Disney products, and I am sure many people disagree with my selection for today’s entry.  
I picked Disney stuff just because I knew there was so much of it to talk about and it lends itself to discussion in the comments.
What is your favorite ending for a Disney movie?
Or family movie in general?
What is your favorite 3rd act twist?
Do you think I am giving “Up too much credit?
Share your thoughts below.

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If you like or hate this please take the time to comment, +1, share on Twitter, Tumblr, or Facebook, and otherwise distribute my opinion to the world.  I would appreciate it.