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Review: Captain America – Civil War

I had issues with Age of Ultron (a lot of people did), and while some of my issues are very specific to my love of Hawkeye, some just dealt with the lack of characterization, the lack of acknowledgement of the previous films, and some serious suffering of dialogue in very of snarky quips. Civil War was by nature set up to be the next big team-up movie in the MCU, and was the first chance for it to salvage its reputation.

And boy, did it deliver.

Set (sort of) at the same time as Ant-Man, Civil War details the signing of an agreement between over a hundred nations in the world to bring the Avengers in check, turning them from a private organization into something controlled by a UN panel. The problem? Not all of the Avengers agree with the decision. The ink isn’t even dry when the first conflict arises where the Avengers are needed, and a choice is made that draws the line between Captain America, Iron Man, and those who side with them. But nothing is black and white, not when personal motives are involved.

OMG, this movie. Where do I even start? Okay, characters, because they are why you go see this movie. We had a wonderful catch-up with where some of the characters are emotionally after films, such as Tony (and his relationships with his parents and with Pepper, his guilt, etc.) and Wanda (where she’s at with her powers, the loss of her brother and home, her feelings for the Vision), that went unaddressed for a while. The women finally weren’t shafted into the role of love interest and little else. I think my favorite line is one of Wanda’s (let’s be honest, she and another character I’m about to get into stole the show). “I can’t do anything about their fear. I can only control my own.” I’m paraphrasing, but that line, ugh, my heart. The women got to kick ass, take names, make their own decisions, and stayed true to their own characters, even with faint nods to Natasha’s botched attempt at a relationship with Banner.

Also, we have the best Spiderman now, we do not need another. I thought his costume was a little too bright in tone compared to the others, a little too simple in terms of just being cloth but supposedly Tony has had an eye on this kid for a while, but otherwise I was very impressed with him. I especially loved the touch of Tony using Steve’s words to get Peter to his side, that was brilliant. (According to my friend  Brandon, this was a symbol of Tony realizing he needed a Steve on his team, a point I agree with.) We didn’t get some long, drawn out explanation of his powers, which was great since God knows, we’ve had the origin of Spiderman shoved down our throats enough. And Aunt May looked like an actual aunt, not a grandmother. I loved how someone tried to shut him down as far as chattering in a fight. Meanwhile, Hawkeye is going, “Hi. We haven’t met yet. I’m Clint.” As to parallel that this kid is on the right track, ignore the crusty military types. Just…wow.

(Also, THANK YOU FOR GIVING ME REAL CLINT! I HAVE MISSED HIM SO!)

There was so much clever writing in this movie, I can’t even explain. Like, without giving away the big plot twists, let’s just focus on a few little things. That moment when Bucky struggles to get Steve to understand that yes, HYDRA was controlling him but he still did these horrible things, telling Tony that he remembers all the people he killed, I had the epiphany that he is meant to represent what these accords will do the Avengers over time. I mean, we all know that they would be blocked from doing many of the time sensitive things they need to do or would be severely hampered (since most of the MCU movies take place in about three days, give or take). But he represents the jobs where they were sent in and they didn’t need to be there, the political power-plays, and the damage that they would do to them psychologically and emotionally.

Tony also came to represent how personal investment ruined the ability to rationally approach a problem, something commonly explored in this movie where so many people have suffered over the years, both at the hands of HYDRA and other villains…and just by the efforts of the Avengers to stop them. His own festering guilt drives him to make one set of decisions, his desire to protect the people he considers family drives him to make another that contradict the first…and then in the end, when an attack hits him personally, all the rational reasons he had fly out the window. But I think Tony grew in this movie, more than he has in any of his solo movies outside of the first, and that excites me…even if I wish he wasn’t doing a fourth Iron Man film (sorry, those just haven’t jived well with me lately). Vision suffered from a similar problem, since his emotional investment with Wanda bit him in the butt in a way he wasn’t expecting, but I feel like Tony really had the big moments of it.

A throw-away brilliance is the return of Russo. For those who may have forgotten (I did), the Secretary of State in Civil War is the same dude who released Red Hulk on Manhattan back when Edward Norton was Bruce Banner. That should terrify you. In addition, Black  Panther did have a good story arc to help introduce him well leading up to his own film. This is coming from a person who hated this character going into the movie, wasn’t going to go see his film, was hoping he didn’t ruin the movie for me. I have never gotten a good opinion of him. But this movie helped change my mind considerably. I liked him, I’ll go see his movie. They did a good job.

If I had to nitpick something, it would have to be the camera work and one element of the story. The camera got better as the film went on (or I adjusted to it, not sure which), but shaky camera syndrome was bad early on, particularly in fights. It made it hard to track what was happening, though that could be because I know some stage combat myself and track out of habit where a blow is going in case a sword goes flying when it isn’t supposed to. The other is a massive SPOILER, so avert your eyes if you haven’t seen it yet. The death of the Wakonda king at the UN conference didn’t affect me like it was supposed to. I thought the man was a self-righteous ass, so  him dying, even with the obvious grief of his son, didn’t make me go, “Awww, poor babies,” it made me go, “Whelp.” But then, I have daddy issues, so you gotta actually work to get me invested in your character before you kill them.

Overall, this is a fantastic ride. While it’s getting to where its hard to follow the MCU without previously seeing any of the other movies, Civil War does enough recapping that you might be okay if you come in with some general knowledge rather than specific viewings in your memory. And I highly recommend it.

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Review: Crimson Peak

…Yes, you can pick your jaws up off the floor, I’m reviewing something that’s still in theaters. Mostly because I really wanted to talk about this movie, but didn’t want to see it again, so I needed to review it now. (Also, this means I dig less into my limited horror movie resources for next Halloween, yay!)

Edith Cushing wishes to become a writer, a difficult thing indeed in the days of Edwardian New York. The oddball of her social set, she never expected attention from men, and in fact seemed to scorn all things feminine and romantic, at least in terms of her writing. This all changes with the arrival of Sir Thomas Sharpe and his sister Lucille, who are seeking investment from Edith’s father and his company to save his family’s lands. In a whirlwind romance, Edith finds herself as the new Lady of a harsh land. Except the ghost of her mother delivered a warning, and there are secrets in the hall of the decrepit house. Deadly ones.

Ugh, where to attack this one… Okay, let’s start with characters. The Sharpes were great. Thomas was this perfect level of warmth and strength, but there was brittleness there, and it made him very endearing. On the other side, Lucille produces this image that is supposed to be similar to Thomas, warm and strong, but she is in fact cold and it shows sometimes. Her strength, however, is very real and terrifying. The actress managed it well, so that when Lucille did show emotion, it was done so powerfully that it made me jump in my seat. I also liked Edith’s father, for the bit we saw him in, and showing an actual capable father (if a slightly underhanded one, but I’ll give him a pass). I golf clapped when he confronted Thomas in the study.

Where the characters fell apart were Edith and the doctor/childhood friend character. I don’t know why they picked up this girl from Burton’s Alice in Wonderland, and I honestly tried to give her a second chance, but she is so flat! I mean, there would be an occasionally flash of something good, and then…flat. Which didn’t fit with how spunky Edith was supposed to be judging from dialogue and other character’s reactions to her and just… Ugh. Bad casting decision. As for the doctor character, he was set up to be Edith’s rescuer, and that sort of irks me. I mean, they tried to fix that in the end, but honestly, I wish he hadn’t been involved at all. He was just an added complication to an already clunky plot.

And yes, the plot was a little clunky. The romance was built up great, and had a great ending, but it fell apart in the middle. I think skipping the boat trip was a bad idea. I think we needed to see at least a little of it, to help transition. But a lot of the plot problems actually come to issues with the world building. I mean, we’re supposed to be scared of these ghosts. Except they were shock-scares and gore, not actual fear because they established with the first ghost that even creepy ghosts can have good intentions. If the mother ghost was just supposed to be a warning about the future (and how she knows the future is a plot hole that irks me), then she needed to be not creepy so we would see a difference in the ghosts at Crimson Peak…except they were good intentioned too, so really, the ghosts were shot in the foot early on. They were shown too much, instead of just showing them sort of influencing the world around them at first and hiding the monsters until the end. Another minor plot issue is the clay itself. Is England really that much wetter? I’ve fallen on red clay earth (yay, Oklahoma and horses), and let me tell you, it’s hard! That part really made no sense to me.

I did feel like the sheer amount of back story and mystery were handled well, to a point. I knew something was going on by the walk in the park, though I wasn’t sure of specifics until later. But it was hinted at beautifully and woven into the story well as random little snippets that the audience saw, but Edith didn’t. I did find the actual recordings to be overkill. By that point, the audience knew what was going on, it was pretty obvious what all else was going on that with her smarts, Edith should have figured it out without having someone tell her. I mean, fine, keep the trunk thing if it is that important, but can we just stick with the pictures and whatnot being in it? And I refuse to believe that Lucille would have missed the canisters for that long anyway…

Overall, it’s a good watch. It’s less paranormal scary and more gory (sort of like the Underworld movies, now that I think of it), and you definitely can’t poke at the plot too hard before it falls apart. But the acting of the Sharpes makes it worth going to see, so if you can grit your teeth past Mia, you’ll feel like you definitely got what you paid for.


Review: Sweeney Todd (Film: 2007)

…I felt like I had to qualify which version of this I was reviewing. For those who are still confused, yes, this is the version with Johnny Depp.

Fifteen years ago, Benjamin Barker was falsely accused and convicted of a crime by a corrupt Judge Turpin and sentenced to life in a penal colony. However, his ship capsizes at sea and he is rescued by Anthony Hope and brought aboard another ship that eventually returns to England. There, Barker takes on the alias of Sweeney Todd and discovers that the judge who condemned him also left his life in ruins to satisfy his own lust. With the help of Mrs. Lovett, his neighbor from before the conviction, he declares that he will have his revenge against not only the judge, but all the people of London. But things are not as they seem, and the greatest tragedy of all is set to take the stage…

I’m not going to pick on the plot too much on this one. It was actually really solid and historically grounded, and is also somewhat based on an urban legend, so… Free pass. I will offer a little interpretation I have, which is the true villain is not Turpin or Todd… But Mrs. Lovett. I feel like she is real the center of everything that goes wrong. I don’t have proof of her being behind what happens to Lucy Barker, but I have the feeling of it. She’s definitely why Todd ends up as twisted as he is, with her being the one to suggest cannibalism, plus the ending reveal (which I won’t spoil). And what happened to her husband? I don’t know, but it’s convenient that he isn’t around anymore.

Now to the actual actors. I gotta say, Todd was great. Johnny Depp had a certain croon when he was being, for lack of a better explanation, the man Benjamin Barker was, and then a deeply gravely growl when he was being Sweeney Todd. The counter balance was just amazing. Okay, I was making Harry Potter cracks over the casting discussions for Turpin and his croney, the Beadle, because… Snape and Pettigrew. I can’t help it. Toby also seemed to grow (too much, I mean) between his first scene as the barber’s apprentice to shop boy. The only one I really had issue with otherwise was Carter as Mrs. Lovett. Sometimes, her way of being slow and creepy was just fine. But others, I felt like she missed that Mrs. Lovett was being a used carsalesman, one that sometimes talks too much. This was particularly obvious in “Worst Pies in London,” where she’s supposed to be talking Todd up…except she’s so slow in her movements, it completely contradicts the pacing of the actual song. I mean, Pirelli annoyed me for similar reasons, since he really should have been hamming it up and instead he was so tight and small in his movements, but his part is minor. Lovett isn’t, and that was disappointing.

From the horror standpoint, despite Burton wanting it to be a gore fest, it just doesn’t get there. Now, depending on the director in a stage production, your gore factor will wildly vary, but I expected a film version to be outright gruesome. Instead, similar to Sleepy Hollow, Burton used a rather comically shade of red for the blood, one that was extremely unrealistic (this spoken as someone with a skin condition that’s led me to some rather gruesome moments). It’s also got the consistency of milk, which is nothing like what you actually look for. So yes, it turns the stomach, but not for the ick, it’s blood factor, just the ewww, that looks gross one.

Musicals are not what people usually associate with Halloween. But I think you should make an exception for Sweeney Todd. It won’t completely give you nightmares, and the story really is quite sad, so don’t spoil yourself with Wikipedia summaries until you see it! The movie cuts some sillier scenes from the musical, so your grim and dark Halloween mood won’t be broken up by them, and instead it just lets you focus on the horrible, tragic circumstances of these characters. (It also does miracles for Johanna’s character, but that’s my opinion.)


Review: Teen Witch

Hey look, I managed something after all. (By some miracle.) And in a fit of Halloween Nostalgia, I watched an old movie that at some point crossed my path when I was a child. While not your normal Halloween horror movie, I thought it would be a tame way to start the month off.

Teen Witch follows Louise Miller, a freshmen just starting in high school and struggling like we all did. But there is something special about Louise. On her sixteenth birthday, she comes into her powers as a reincarnation from the Salem witches. At first, she uses her powers for petty things–getting her little brother to behave and getting revenge on upperclassmen and teachers. But when she uses her powers to become the most popular girl in school, things start taking a turn for the worst, and Louise has to make a decision. Keep her powers, or earn things the hard way and have them mean so much more.

Okay, this is very much an 80’s movie. I make no apologies for that. But seriously, this used to air on ABC Family and Disney?! Excuse me, I’m going to go laugh hysterically in a corner for a while. It gets a bit racy for them nowadays, in somewhat mortifying ways. (There’s a poor home ec teacher trying to teach sex ed, it’s awful.) The plot is full of trope, but I don’t really expect much more from it. The pacing though was lacking, though, which was disappointing. You can have tropes and be fairly predictable, but you have to keep things constantly going. They tried, but overall the feeling of the movie dragged. Big time. It’s very much a movie you jump around according to what scene you want to watch next. There’s also some description issues since some of the films call Louise a descendant from a Salem witch, when she’s a reincarnation within the same family–what’s referred to as a throw-back.

Character wise, I did not buy into the main character very much. Poor little rich girl who isn’t popular in school. Um, I’m sorry, what? Like, this is who we are really giving amazing, basically mind-raping powers to? Really? Talk about misuse of power, man… And her adviser in all things magical, Selena, wasn’t much better. I guess they really needed to work on making these characters relateable. I mean, if the main character hadn’t been from what was very obviously an affluent family, it would have given her at least a little bit of depth. But as it was, she just came across as extremely shallow and self-centered. I guess this was some of the point and her needing to learn what really matters, but yeah, needs some help in the character department.

There was a lack of world building in general. I mean, they really relied on this idea of a) the Salem witches were actual witches, and b) a bunch of mystical components without actually explaining them. For example, how deeply is the amulet linked to Louise’s powers? Does she have powers without it, or does it have to find her before her sixteenth birthday? Why was Louise reincarnated within her family? Selena mentions the last of her powers being in this bag, so can they make their powers into tangible objects (which might answer the amulet question)? And then they just tossed random phrases around to serve as the magic words… I just wish they had done more to establish what was going on and how it worked.

I’ll be completely honest… It’s not the greatest of movies. I watch for the musical segments. And while it isn’t your traditional scary movie, it really is more of a Fridge Horror situation. I mean, she basically takes free will away from all those around her. But if you want something vaguely mystical to watch this Halloween because you are a horror wimp (and welcome to the club), see if you can get a copy of Teen Witch and enjoy the campiness.


Writing: Cliffhanger vs Hook and Responsibility

I had vague plans of talking about something else this week. And then Ginny went poking around and discovered that Sly Cooper 5 wasn’t even being worked on and…nerd rage happened, and this post suddenly became a whole lot more necessary for my sanity.

Most readers, movie and anime watchers, and video gamers know what the universal consensus of a cliffhanger is. It’s where there is a completely unresolved ending to a chapter/episode/game, usually a very obvious sequel plug. Readers/watchers/players hate them, because they are driven to move on to the next whatever it may be, even if they may not have the time to put down the book/watch another episode/play another hour. Fanfiction readers in particular hate them because, unless the fic is completed, you may be waiting months for the next chapter. And everyone hates them at the ending, because then you have to cross your fingers and pray the developers/writer get to do the sequel or else you have unresolved questions.

But there is actually a tool that writers use called a hook that is commonly misconstrued as being a cliffhanger. The difference is where exactly the two are placed. If it’s at the end of a chapter or an episode that is not the last one, it is actually a hook, meant to keep you reading or watching. This is an important tool, actually, because writers are dependent on getting you through the entire book/movie/TV series without growing bored. If you get bored, you won’t have anything better than “eh” feelings about it, and then you may not read/watch another. Game developers have less of this problem because most gamers are A-personalities who will want to get all of it anyway unless it’s a really bad game, but it’s still a factor.

Hooks are necessary. If you don’t have a hook after almost every chapter/episode, you aren’t going to keep your reader/watcher interested, and you are sunk. But cliffhangers, which are the unresolved endings, are another story. I had a professor who said she always ended her books with an unresolved question, which made me just cringe. It was sequel bait, she admitted to it being sequel bait, but unless I had the contract for the next book, I would not be doing it. It isn’t fair to those who love the book if you never think up enough ideas for a sequel or can’t get it to sell. There’s also the factor that at minimum, a new book in a series will come out once a year, sometimes more, especially if you weren’t contracted for it to begin with. That’s a hard wait on fans.

I’m not saying cliffhangers don’t have their places or uses. If you have the contract and you know the book will be out in a year, I say go for it. It will jack up your sales as fans are desperate to know what happened. This worked for Garth Nix and John Flanagan, who got me to rather hurriedly buy the next books in The Seventh Tower and Ranger’s Apprentice series (respectively) as soon as they came out. It makes churning up publicity for the next book bigger, which means more sales. Sadly, publishing houses have gotten savvy and actually check to see how your last book sold before they will buy your next book or decide how big of an advance to give you. The first month or so will be your biggest sales on a new release, and then they will go down fast, meaning you need to sell as many as possible that first month for the sake of future books. Also, you don’t make royalties until you pay back that advance (which, given the percentage you get of sales, can take a while).

This is a double-edged sword. It won’t take long for word to get out that the book/movie ends on a cliffhanger in this day and age (unless you are like me, I tend to pick up books and forget to fact check). However, if I do fact check and know there’s a cliffhanger, I will wait until the next book or until the series is finished before I will touch it, since I don’t want to waste my emotional investment in something that might not see completion. (Which is why I have not read or watched Game of Thrones, btw.) So you cut some of your sales off at the knee until the next book comes out and resolves the cliffhanger, when you’ll probably see a higher spike in sales of both books. It’s a long-term game rather than a short-term, which some publishers can’t see.

Now, why am I nerd-raging over the Sly Cooper games? Because they have become the perfect example of how not to do a cliffhanger ending. When Sucker Punch finished the first three, they were fairly resolved and self-contained. While there were openings that could be fun to play with, fans could also be fairly content with where it had left off, so if nothing else ever happened, we’d be okay. Then Sony and Sanzaru Games got a hold of the property. It took eight years (I think) for Sly Cooper 4: Thieves in Time to come out. And it seemed to be worth the wait. Cut scenes were now animated, there was a lot more depth to the 3-D renderings. Story-wise, it was sort of lacking and when it came to game play, a lot of old moves/gadgets had gotten left behind, but it was a good first start for a series.

(Okay, I was disappointed that all the ancestors were basically skins for Sly, and had all the same moves with a specialty one or two. Because chronologically, some of the characters shouldn’t have had access to moves that had been invented by other ancestors yet! Okay, and they can’t decide which eye Henrietta “One-Eye” Cooper lost. That’s annoying.)

The problem was, there was a “secret” ending that showed that Sly had gotten lost in Ancient Egypt when the time machine exploded. Which is where the original enemy of the series, Clockwerk, and the Cooper line’s rivalry started, and the Cooper line started period. One of the villains, Penelope, had escaped from prison in the epilogue. And even if you hadn’t unlocked the secret ending, Sly was lost in time and space! It’s a giant, giant sequel hook…and they aren’t going to do a thing with it, supposedly at this time, which means it might be another eight years and another developer switch before we see it. If we see it, since they are set on rehashing the first games in movies now (with awful character designs, don’t get me started).

If you use cliffhangers, please understand the responsibility that you are getting into with your readers/watchers/players. You are leaving them with huge unresolved questions and feelings. It can help your sales considerably…until you fail to follow through. And then it ruins your credibility with them, and you will never get that back. They will start waiting until something is completely finished before investing their time and energy, which means while you’ll see huge spikes at the end of a project, you’re early sales will be bad and this will make your publisher/developer be leery of giving you green lights on new projects in the future. So be careful with your evilness. It could be your career’s downfall.


Review: How to Train Your Dragon 2

Okay, I had a piece of strawberry shortcake to recover from the feels. I can write this review now.

How to Train Your Dragon 2 picks up a few years after the original film. The people of Berk have welcomed dragons into their lives, mostly with the help of Hiccup… who is now struggling to figure out who he is, especially as his father is in a big rush to shove him into the role of chieftain. He escapes by exploring the world around Berk, which is now much more open to them because of the dragons. In the process, he stumbles into a conflict between two opposing sides: Drago, who is attempting to conquer the world with an army of dragons and has past history with the people of Berk…and his mother, who has spent the last twenty years traveling the world, rescuing dragon species from Drago and giving them a safe place. The role of the peacemaker is familiar for Hiccup, but he’s about to discover that he has more growing to do to become who he is supposed to be.

As far as sequel movies go, this is how you do it. It expanded upon the world, yet didn’t contradict itself. We saw several of the dragon species that were mentioned in the first movie, but we didn’t get a chance to see, as well as ones that Berk had no knowledge of. We met the counterpart species for the Queen from the first movie (the Alphas), and considering their sizes and powers, it makes a lot of sense for them to be off on their own. The answer of why we’ve only seen Toothless for a Night Fury is answered, while at the same time the species itself sees some growth. My only concern with world building and even larger plot is I don’t know what else they can do, and I know there’s a third film in the works.

The plot was very typical coming of age story, just with dragons and a missing parent reunion and stuff I mentioned in world building. It still hits you right in the emotions (obviously), since I was laughing and then crying. I did like that our three primary female characters weren’t considered lesser to the men. In fact, Astrid is at almost equal levels with Hiccup in some ways, just more down to earth and steady to help counter balance his flightiness. (Okay, yes, we do the captured female-rescued-by-male thing. She reverses it first, so I forgive it.) And there is a moment where Valka says, word for word, something that Stoic had previously told Hiccup, showing how similar they are and of equal if just very different standing.

I had two nitpicky details. I didn’t like Ruffnut and the trio of male’s subplot. At first and in trailers, it was really funny. But it just weighed kinda heavy. I mean, it did turn funny when Ruff got rejected by all the males period after the royal brat she was. But her behavior just made me cringe once I had long enough to think about it. Because manipulating men to her advantage was okay? No, just no. I’d have been more comfortable if she kept up with her shoving them away and being like, “Dudes, NO!” rather than use them to win races and such.

My other nitpick was Valka herself. I mean, I love her. But she didn’t entirely jive with what we knew about her from the first movie. It was implied she was exactly like the other women around the village, who are female models of the males and the exact opposite of Hiccup and some of the scrawnier teenagers. Wider and taller. But instead, she is sort of the same build as Hiccup, Astrid, and the twins are growing into (which is the minority on Berk). I can’t decide if they just don’t think a heavy female protagonist won’t fly or if it was to explain why Hiccup is so scrawny. So consider me a little irked, speaking as someone who has pretty much always been tall and thick. I’m also not sure how I feel about her being this voice who tried to stop the Vikings back during the war with the dragons. It also wasn’t quite right with what we established in the first film–I feel like if this was some trait of his wife’s, Stoic would have reacted differently and at least mentioned her. And the helmet made of her breastplate (ew) wouldn’t be a thing, I don’t think.

But that’s me being extremely nitpicky. Overall, the film was full of laughs and tears, excitement and wonder. It’s also completely different from the books, but I can see flashes of the influence (I think the twins are meant as a tribute to the original series, honestly). It is definitely high on my recommended film list,and I hope Dreamworks does just as well with the third and ends this series on a high note.


Top 10 Favorite Movies

I know, not a review, but it’s something. I’ve discovered I don’t have the second Shadow saga book, and refuse to buy it just for consistency. (Maybe with Christmas money next year.) I have a movie sitting around, waiting for me to watch and return it to its owner, and the Ginny-donation-box needs gone through so I know what I have. But for this week, I thought I would do a list of my favorite movies, spurned on by a conversation happening on the drive home from a medieval fair.

So with that, I give you my top favorite movies (err, sort of). There were a few exceptions made in the case of series where you like all the movies in it equally, it could count as one. I suspect because the guy who asked the question wanted to make sure people like me just didn’t start listing MCU movies…

10. How to Train Your Dragon

There’s a lot to love about this movie. On one hand, I have to knock it a bit because it is apparently way different from its source material, and as a writer, that irks me. But they took the concept and ran with it, which I thought was impressive. I love the fact that Hiccup is this plucky, skinny little kid that doesn’t have the brawl and doesn’t need it, instead just needing his smarts. I also love the fact that Astrid is a bit of a tomboy, yes, and is very much the fighter and athletic type, but she is still considered beautiful and feminine. And then the dialogue is perfect, and I love how cat-like the dragons are… It’s really just an amazing film.

9. Pitch Black/Chronicles of Riddick/Riddick

…Someone is going, “Wait, Rebecca, you can’t do horror, why are these on your favorite list…?” I know I can’t do horror, which is why it’s all the way down here at number 9. 😛 Yes, some elements of these movies gives me nightmares. But I love the way the anti-hero was shaped, even if I think we took a weird tangent in the second movie. I’ve done some slightly more in-depth thoughts on this franchise, and I stand by them. But I love them, and I look forward to seeing where it goes in oncoming films. (Plus, I really, really like Vin Diesel, okay?)

8. Batman Beyond: Return of the Joker

I am a sucker for this TV series, despite some of the weird/stupid episodes. I thought that this movie was a great way of showing Terry stepping into the mantle of the Batman, and it also helps answer the question of what happened to at least one of the Robins. It makes some nods towards the series that are great in context of it as a whole. I have to knock it a little, since if you don’t know some of what happened in at least the first season, some of the emotional bombs don’t hit as hard, and it’s not as obvious that Terry is not a genius like Bruce without that further evidence, so the ending is less of a comeuppance. But there are still moments that even a newbie to the concept can love if they watch it just as a stand-alone, and most of the history is general Batman history and thus easy enough to grab on to (or is explained).

7. Beauty and the Beast

My very first review on this blog was about this movie, though it was over the 3-D rendition and had some problems. I know there are some people who have severe issues with the plot of this movie, shouting Stockholm Syndrome and verbal abuse. I’m not saying they’re wrong, but I am saying that I think that is a pretty quick leap. Is the situation weird, yes. But this is a fantasy movie, weird situations are the norm. But I won’t get into an argument on this list. I love this idea of a brainy girl who doesn’t fit in with her surroundings and wants more out of life, falling in love with someone who similarly doesn’t belong, of finding love with each other. I love the idea of love helping you become a better person. The side characters also have their moments of glory, and I’ll admit it, I have deep issues with trusting the popular, pretty boy, and Gaston being the jerky villain is awesome.

6. Marvel Cinematic Universe

Okay, this is the first of the cheater choices. I just can’t pick a favorite, and they are so inter connected, it’s hard to separate them out. It doesn’t help matters that my favorite hero hasn’t had a solo movie and doesn’t look to be getting one either… (I’m such a Hawkeye fan girl.) There are questionable choices at times in the writing, and I don’t always like which of the Marvel universes they pull from, but everything is working well together, and they are pacing themselves well. You can tell, for example, that Iron Man is pulling back to be a more supportive role and his solo character arc is resolved and now it’s him in the group. My working theory is that Captain America is going to wrap up with this third, and Thor with is. They aren’t letting one character become more than the series as a whole, and that I think is what makes Avengers so amazing.

(…Don’t ask me about Agents of SHIELD. Just don’t. I have all sorts of mixed feels, because they are writing a really weird Bobbi…)

5. The Last Unicorn

Yeah, you should have timed this one appearing on this list. God, I loved this movie growing up. I don’t remember how many times I rented it, but it was an insane number of times. And what’s not to love? Schmedrick and Molly Grue are amazing characters, with deep character flaws but even bigger hearts. Amalthia starts out not necessarily flat but very much lacking in certain levels of human empathy. And when that starts to change, it breaks your heart. And the ending isn’t completely happy but honest and true to its world, which in fact keeps with the original source material…like this movie does amazingly well at, just cutting stuff for time reasons in ways that make sense. It’s an under appreciated classic that really deserves more attention.

4. Lord of the Rings Trilogy

And here’s the second cheater. But honestly, these three again are so wound together, it’s really hard to separate them. And while I may get more frustrated with the first two, that’s only because TNT and other channels marathon the dickens out of them but rarely show the third. I own the super long, box-set versions, so I don’t watch them as much as I like because really, who has that kind of time? But I appreciate them because there are all those extra little moments. (Okay, and because the Faramir/Eowyn moments were a lot more blatant in those versions). As someone who read the books too young, if I’m honest to myself, and got bogged down in Two Towers, these movies were well-done and helped me feel the same excitement that I know the books inspire in other people

3. Three Musketeers

Specifically, I mean the version that Disney put out with Tim Curry as the cardinal. It sticks the closest to the original story as far as screenplay/stage adaptations go according to other people’s research, not mine. And honestly, the characters make this story and the way the actors portray them. The plot is ridiculously straight-forward, there aren’t any surprise twists coming. But the characters, man… I can’t even pick a favorite, that’s how awesome they all are. And there are lots of comedic moments, but some of serious drama that can just break your heart. And it flows very well between the comedy and the drama so it doesn’t jar you out of the story. And they are all so relatable and human, down to their silliest of flaws. (Like Pathos being a pathological liar, since there is no Queen of America.) I highly recommend this movie (except…maybe not for the kids. It gets a bit too serious and gory.)

2. Twelve Angry Men

What is this, a black and white film that is in no way fantasy or scifi? Shut your mouth! …Okay, in all seriousness, I love this movie. You’ve probably seen nods to it elsewhere, since I knew some shows that are episodic rather than overarching plot have done versions of it. (Hey Arnold! and the pulling of the fire alarm, for example.) It doesn’t have your traditional, physical conflict. Everything is done through words and differences in personality. The twelve characters are all different from each other, though some are pretty similar so it can get confusing trying to explain it rather than watch it. It doesn’t help that they are known by juror numbers only. You get to the point where you don’t care who is what number or who they are, you recognize the character and know their motivation, and that’s what matters. And it all builds on top of each into an absolutely amazing climax. Even if old black and white movies aren’t your thing, you should totally check this one out.

1. Cats Don’t Dance

Despite my education and supposed grown-up status, I will always be a girl obsessed with animated movies and musicals. This movie is the best of both and is always going to be the best in my heart. I love Sawyer’s sassiness and the fact that, let’s face it, she’s a better performer than our male lead, she just needs a push to try again. And because of the type of cat design they went with for her, she actually comes across as being plump and curvy rather than a stick, which is a big thumb’s up in my book. Darla is an absolutely amazing villain, especially when combined with Max, to create an almost Pinky and the Brain dynamic. And I think the idea of a animal actors trying to make it big like the humans is just awesome. The music is catchy and actually has a jazz feel to it rather than the Broadway musical feeling that most movies end up going with. The animation is good Warner Bro. animation, which is just as good if not better than Disney at times, and the way they use color is just a great touch. Overall, I think it’s just an under-appreciated animated classic, and definitely deserves recognition.


Review: Willow

…I wish I was reviewing something cool titled this. (I can think of a couple things that share this travesty’s title.) Instead, I have to delve into George Lucas’s insanity. Super. /sarcasm

Okay, so what exactly is this 80’s wonder movie about? A special baby is born, destined to bring about the end of a cruel queen’s reign. Obviously, the queen doesn’t want this to happen, so she sets out to kill the baby. A few shenanigans later, and she is put in the care of a humble farmer named Willow who has aspirations of being a great sorcerer…just struggles with the execution. He has to deal with a bumbling “great” swordsman, a warrior daughter of the queen, and a great sorceress who has been turned into an animal…which one tends to change throughout the film. They have to bring an end to this queen (despite it being the prophecy that the baby is supposed to do this), and… I don’t know. Live happily ever after?

Now, let’s get this out there. I have issues with George Lucas. I think he contradicts his own canon in everything he writes, which is one of my Cardinal Rules (Obey your own rules!), he tells stories about how things went in the story-planning process (or at least that’s the impression I’m under, I could be wrong), and he basically has no idea how to tell these great premises that he comes up with. And there is almost always a lot of potential in everything he touches. But then he just…throws it at us in this big blob and expects us to do half the work for him.

Where does that leave us for the plot of this movie? Well, in a quagmire from minute one and it just sort of gets worse from there. Seriously, it takes forever to find out who exactly Elora is, what impact she is supposed to have on this world, or even how we know that she’s the right baby just by looking at her. Characters go unnamed far too long so you’re left going, “That guy,” or “that girl,” rather than getting attached to them as characters. It takes most of the movie to get any proof that the evil queen is the one actually doing these horrid things, rather than just characters saying so (and seeing as they flip flop so much on what they are going to do, reasonable doubt can be given until that point). Most of the movie is Willow running around with the baby strapped to his chest or in his arms. And a young Van Kilmer running around in drag, half-naked, or in armor.

That helped make up for the rest. A wee bit.

Speaking of characters… Sigh. Not only were there severe portrayal issues that I’m not sure how to even describe without offending some ethnic or socio group. Not only could they not make up their darn mind what culture they were drawing from, either for armor or for culture. Not only did none of the characters show enough depth for me to really get attached. The one character who I almost started going, “Okay, I can work with this, there is potential here…” She was also his primary female protagonist. So she had to be involved in some romance. And since Lucas can’t write romance, he instead settles for ruining this strong, powerful character because she “falls in love” with Van Kilmer’s character and not only becomes an idiot, she becomes incompetent after a few lines of trite poetry. Just gag me. I like sap as much as the next person, if not actually more so, but it needs to make sense or at least have some build-up to it!

You may notice I’m not saying any of the character’s names. That’s because I have no idea how to spell them. I can guess. But this is what happens when you go with overly complicated fantasy names. People aren’t certain of the spellings, or in case of books, pronunciations.

The world was equally confusing. Again, no real cultural basis. Lucas did what Lucas always does and has to put “his” stamp on every single thing. So the humans aren’t humans, they are some clanky word. The magic chants are long, equally clanky, and even the characters couldn’t keep them straight. And while yes, I respect the facts of the technological limitations of the 80’s… The trolls were just sad. I got extremely grossed out by the way the magic transformations were done, since they were done just to be grotesquely as possible. I got frustrated with the swordsman juggling of his sword, trying to be fancy and show off that he was as great as he said. Every time he did it, I went, “Aaaand, you’re dead.” Weapon work as a whole though was far more realistic than usual, though some of the rest was comedic as all get out. There, there’s a minor pro to it.

So overall, I cringed and snorted my way through it. But Ginny has promised that the three books that follow the movie are love (okay, not the first one, but the other two!), so those are next on the list.


Writing: The Mary Sue (and Why I Hate That Term)

When I first started writing, I did what most young girls did. I created a new character (usually female), threw her into a show or book I liked, and either rewrote what had happened in the show or set it after the show was over. And I will be the first person to admit…those stories were awful. I had no concept of how to plot, and because my brain functions so highly on visual input rather than audio, there would be far too many details. I also had no concept of what made a good or balanced character. I just made what I thought sounded cool and what I wished I could be if magic was real.

Cue the many cries of the fandoms in question declaring my character a Mary Sue.

Eventually, I learned what that term meant. I tried to do better, to not go so far in my characters. But remember, I’m a fourteen year old girl. I just want to have characters that I think are cool and happen to be my own gender in shows I like, since many of the shows/movies/books in question at that time were focused on making the boys cool and the girls…pretty twirly love interests with no real substance. None of it worked, and I even left one fandom that I loved, no longer able to tolerate their views on anything that deviated from the blessed, misogynistic canon.

Thus started my hatred for the term Mary Sue, and honestly as an adult and trained writer? I still hate it.

Once upon a time, a Mary Sue was a character who could do nothing wrong, knew things she had no right to know, and clashed with whatever fandom she was put into so bad, it was jarring. I mean throwing a magical girl into Lord of the Rings, jarring. Obvious author inserts were also lumped into this category (never mind that people like Mercedes Lackey do this in their original work). It originated from a Star Trek fanfic, and it’s just grown in infamy.

Now? Now it simply means a character has traits that people may or may not like. Is your character attractive and ends up in a romantic relationship with a male in the show? Mary Sue. Can your character sing and/or dance? Mary Sue. Has anything happened in the backstory that could be considered tragic? Mary Sue. Since the wonders of Twilight, is your character a klutz? Mary Sue. If you’re dealing with a fantasy story dealing with nobility at all, is your character nobility or royalty (and maybe doesn’t know it)? Mary Sue. And if your character is perfectly ordinary and has nothing special about her except MAYBE ending up in a relationship with a male in the series? Not only is your character a Mary Sue, it’s a BORING one. Do you see how ridiculous this is?

What makes it worse is the term has made its way to describing original fiction characters, which really blows my mind. I understand the main character maybe being poorly balanced or written, but I don’t understand how they can clash with their setting as poorly as a Mary Sue is supposed to…unless it’s because again, we are using the word to simply describe a character we don’t like, rather than what it is supposed to mean.

Let me make it even worse. There isn’t a definite name for male Mary Sues. Some call them Gary Stus, Marty Stus, or just male Mary Sues. It is nearly impossible to write one, either. Why? Because male power-fantasy characters are easily accepted in our current society. Seriously. Batman, Indiana Jones, Anakin Skywalker, even friggin’ King Arthur himself. All of them if they were female? Would be labeled as Mary Sues. But as male characters, they are accepted and are even made to be some of the greatest characters ever.

But their female counterparts are turned into one of three things or a combination of them. Helpless damsels in distress who are constantly kidnapped (because sadly, Guinevere becomes this way too often, and Indy can’t KEEP a girl). They get trapped in being the girly love interest whose supposed moments of awesome are just annoying or make no sense (Padme, I love you, but you play pretty pretty princess and awkward love interest and that’s it). Or they get hypersexualized until girls no longer want to read the comic (…the entire comic industry, really, is this. And much like Indy, Batman can’t keep a girl).

And when there is a strong, feminine, powerful character for female power fantasy? Mary Sue.

As I said earlier, I still hate the term, just in general. I wish instead, we could say, “I don’t like the character for x reasons.” Because then we could have a healthy conversation about the reasoning behind it. And honestly, that’s my response to original work too. If someone tries to say my main character is too perfect or too tragic, I want to know what specifically bothers them, so this way we can have a discussion about it. Is there a possibility my character is out of whack? Yes. But there is also a chance that this is just the patriarchal structure of our upbringing talking.

And I don’t know about other writers (except Tamora Pierce, she’s all sorts of awesome about this), but I’m pretty determined to get some female power fantasy characters out there who aren’t dependent on romantic love.


Review: Pokemon 2000

Another nostalgic review, this one was nominated by my friend Josh. (Not surprised, we both love the cheesiness of the Pokemon movies.) If I had to pick between Pokemon: the First Movie, and Pokemon: 2000, I would go with this one, though that isn’t as high of a compliment as it appears. There are some cute moments, and I love the soundtrack like always, but plot and animation wise… There were some issues.

For those who missed this Y2K wonder, it tells the story of a collector named Lawrence III who is trying to capture three legendary birds (called Moltres–a phoenix like creature, Zapdos–an electric bird, and Articuno–their ice counterpart) in hopes of bringing forth another legendary creature known as the Beast of the Sea. However, capturing the birds throws their tentative peace out of whack, and the seasons go with them. Meanwhile, a Pokemon (a slang of Pocket Monsters) trainer named Ash Ketchum is called upon by a local island’s festival and prophecy to be the Chosen One to establish peace again once Lawrence throws everything off. At first, we are led to believe that a new legendary bird, Lugia is the Beast of the Sea, the force that is meant to smack the three birds into behaving and to quit screwing around with the weather, and to help Ash. But it turns out to be an underwater current that the Pokemon of the world are able to tap in, and Ash’s role as the Chosen One is the one way to get it involved.

So, what did I like about this movie? As I said, I’m a music nerd for this soundtrack. I thought they did a good job with it. (And yes, laugh all you people about the one song a certain Republican presidential hopeful kept quoting, I still like the song). And really, it was stealth things that I liked. In the English dub (the only version I’ve seen), I loved that moment when you find out that the line in the prophecy that goes, “And all the world shall turn to ash,” it is actually meant to be, “And all the world shall turn to Ash,” and the main character who it is referencing to goes, “Right now, I’m wishing my mom had named me Bob,” or something similar to that.

I also liked the subtler messages about balance, about respecting our world and nature, and how important our cultural traditions can be. The entire “big” plot of the movie is about the weather going all crazy, and why is that? Because a rich human went tinkering in matters where his big nose wasn’t needed or wanted. I’ll take “Still Culturally Relevant” for 500, Alex. I also like how it sort of alluded to a possible deus ex machina plot savior in the form of Lugia, but actually showed that he was mortal and he couldn’t stand up to the combined strength of the other three legendary birds. It really reinforced the balance theme that they were trying to hit on.

Now for the bad. Animation wise, at this point in the franchise the merge between CGI and traditional was still way rough. While it was several steps above the then-current animation level for the TV show, it still was very poor compared to other movies that were coming out at the time. When it came time for the dub, some of the voices were sort of stuck because of the choices for the TV show (again), but that doesn’t change how annoying Ash’s was. Whoever was responsible for cutting frames to make the animated character’s new dialogue match up with their mouth movements, at least slightly, also didn’t do that great of a job, creating a weird disconnect between what I was hearing and what I was seeing. And there was no central conflict! Like, Lawrence wasn’t active enough in the third act of the story to be considered the central antagonist. I guess the affects of human meddling could be considered the antagonist, but that doesn’t really work for adult films, much less something aimed at ten-year-olds.

Overall, I think the movie had a solid premise, and whoever initially started tinkering with the idea thought about how to explain the concepts of the games and show to people who hadn’t a clue what anything was. But they lost it in the basic storytelling and when whoever was leading the animation decided to play around with too many mediums. I also bet that the people who did the first of the dubbing thought that the series wouldn’t be that popular and thus didn’t give the time and consideration to who did the main character’s voice. But when worn with the nostalgia goggles (or the eyes of a ten year old child), it is a good film to watch, and hey look, no violence!