Unusual Skills

You can know someone for decades, and still be surprised when they throw out seemingly random facts about themselves. Obscure little tidbits that don’t quite make it into “About Me” sections and convos because there is little opportunity to slide them in organically without sounding like you’re bragging. Well, I’m definitely not rife with such skills, but an example would be…

I have a history of turning bowling pins into art pieces for a competitive charity event. I have made a Jawa from Star Wars, and Groot from Guardians of the Galaxy. Here are a couple of pics. I also made a parrot once, but I can’t find any pictures of it.

1106140845~2

img_20170504_154529_6002274578488699006918.jpg

I’m proud of these, but I also don’t have much opportunity to mention it – though I can’t say I ever really look for a time to slip it into casual conversation. Sometimes, I even forget about it myself until I stumble across an old picture.

I also used to be on the global leaderboard for a facebook game called Night Balloons. I was obsessed with it for ages – now, I probably couldn’t play to save my life.

So, does anyone else have an unusual skill they’d like to brag about? Because I’d love to hear it!

Also, there will be a bonus post tomorrow!

Film Review: Detective Pikachu (2019)

Dir: Rob Letterman
Starring: Ryan Reynolds, Justice Smith, Kathryn Newton, Ken Watanabe, Bill Nighy, and more.
Runtime: 1hr 44min
Spoiler Level: Light!

As someone who was around back in the late nineties, when the Pokemon sensation swept the globe, I remember the craze when it was at full glory. Not only that, but I actively participated in it. I had a poster of the original 151 Pokemon over my bed, so I could look at them all every night before I went to sleep. I wore my favorite shirt, emblazoned with a Pikachu, until it was too ratty to wear. I’ve played every game since the Blue and Red era, and I forced my poor mother (love you, Mom!) to take me to see Pokemon: Mewtwo Strikes Back! back in 1999. Needless to say, she did not take me to see Pokemon The Movie 2000 – which I still contend is a great movie, but that’s beside the point…

Pokémon_Detective_Pikachu_teaser_poster.jpgDetective Pikachu follows 21-year-old Tim Goodman (Smith) as he attempts to solve the circumstances behind his father’s disappearance with assistance from a caffeine-addicted, wisecracking, deerstalker-hat-wearing Pikachu. But the search for clues leads the unlikely duo into a mystery more intricate than either could have anticipated, and finding answers could save or condemn all of Ryme City.

Honestly, the biggest surprise in this film is that it’s good. And I don’t mean that it’s just a good Pokemon movie – it is a legitimately good movie overall. It works on a level that many other video-game or anime or cartoon adaptations have failed to achieve… because it doesn’t rely solely on nostalgia or fan-service to make a quick buck, nor does it neglect the source material so not to alienate new viewers. Instead, Detective Pikachu balances well-placed nods to the fans (both old and new) while presenting a film with believable characters and motivations, a story that is intriguing to follow, and it takes great care in bringing everyone’s favorite pocket monsters to life onscreen in a way that fans have been yearning for since 1999, or even earlier.

Despite the fact that Pikachu himself is CGI, the chemistry between the leads is superb, especially their banter and the evolution of their relationship as the story develops. Justice Smith is easy to root for, Pikachu/Reynolds offers steady doses of both heart and humor, Kathryn Newton (and her Psyduck) is a charming reporter eager for the truth, and both Ken Watanabe and Bill Nighy, known for their decidedly more “serious” work, give solid performances.

I haven’t played the Detective Pikachu game – I’ve stuck to the main games – so I knew basically nothing about the plot going into the film. The story flows well, and there are parts of it that are predictable and familiar – it is a “kids” movie, after all – but I was genuinely surprised and impressed by a couple of twists. As in, my jaw dropped and I said, “Oh my GOD” to my friend at one point. It’s not Sherlockian-level sleuthing taking place, but it’s also not Blue’s Clues level, if you catch my drift. The dialogue isn’t dumbed down, it’s sharp and won’t give adults a headache. And it feels like the people who made this film actually know Pokemon. As a longtime fan, it is awesome to see Charizard’s flamethrower come to life, Pidgeotto soaring in the air, Loudred beat-boxing in a club, and Magikarp flapping uselessly on the ground. The Pokemon aren’t crammed into the film to try and appease fans, thrown in wherever for throwback or nostalgia reasons; they have purpose, are immersed in the world, the effects are impressive, and their design does true justice to the originals. No, that’s not a dig at Sonic… or maybe it is

Now, does this mean this film will be able to lure non-Pokemon fans into seats? Maybe not – though a few might make the venture based on the adorable titular character, voiced expertly and hilariously by Reynolds. However, it’s definitely the sort of film that won’t bore parents being dragged to the theater by their Poke-crazed kids. If this had come out when I was ten, my mom would have taken me to see the sequel. It has a cohesive narrative, a snappy script, and doesn’t delve so deeply into fan-service that the uninitiated can’t follow what’s going on. It’s one of the first films of this nature that feels like it can make the cross-medium jump without crashing and burning. It’s a solid mystery film for Pokefans young, old, and new, and though it hits familiar beats, it doesn’t feel tired or overdone, and might even generate interest for a new era of fans. 

Sure, non-fans might not be able to pick out their favorite Pokemon puttering about in the background – I got treated to Gengar and Blastoise, two of my favorites, though I missed my beloved Alakazam – but that doesn’t diminish the quality of the film. References may fly over the heads of Poke-novices, but will warm the hearts of wannabe champions from Kanto to Unova. Let’s face it folks – we all live in a Pokemon world. And it terms of video-game film adaptations, Detective Pikachu might just be the greatest master of them all.

Overall rating: 8/10

Film Review: Avengers: Endgame (2019)

Dir: Russo Bros
Starring: Everyone, really.
Runtime: 3hr1min
Rating: PG-13
Spoiler level: Light (ANY MAJOR SPOILERS WILL BE BELOW A CUT)

20190425_172726_HDR.jpgAt last, the moment Marvel fans have been waiting for is finally upon us – the hotly-anticipated sequel to 2018’s Avengers: Infinity War and the culmination of a 22-film saga that began with 2008’s Iron Man has been released for eager audiences to devour. Avengers: Endgame is an epic three-hour adventure that offers an explosive, entertaining, and emotional ending to  the first major chapter of a steadily expanding film universe.

Avengers: Endgame follows the remaining non-dusty Avengers in the post-Snap world as they come to terms with Thanos’s actions and seek to inject hope into their seemingly-dismal circumstances.

There were several things that Endgame needed to accomplish on the heels of the dramatic Infinity War, and hundreds of dangling threads to tie together from multiple movies in the franchise. I don’t know how the Russo brothers, the writers, and everyone who works on these films does it, but somehow, some way, they managed to balance out fan-service, humor, heart, action, a balanced narrative, and a multitude of characters and their interactions in a huge film universe to create a thrilling and satisfying conclusion. Sure, some folks can probably nitpick and find a stone or two left un-turned, but of all the factors fans expected this film the deliver, the most important is probably closure. And though certain fans may disagree with how certain events played out, this film felt complete when the credits began to roll.

Of course, the core of the Avengers are the original squad, with RDJ as Iron Man / Tony Stark, Chris Evans as Captain America / Steve Rogers, Chris Hemsworth as Thor, Mark Ruffalo as Hulk / Bruce Banner, Scarlett Johansson as Black Widow / Natasha Romanoff, and Jeremy Renner as Hawkeye / Clint Barton. They’ve been with us the longest, have fought the most battles, and have established themselves as characters who are important to fans, and have had a lasting impact on audiences. Appropriately, much of the spotlight centers on them this time around – not entirely on them, because there are a lot of characters to give screen-time to, but primarily on them – and it gives each a chance to show how far their characters have come since their initial appearances. And by the end, each of their journeys feels finished, their arcs complete, their characters fully-developed.

Endgame delivers the usual Marvel staples – witty banter and memorable quotes, bombastic fight scenes and action sequences, stunning visuals, and throwbacks to prior films and other Marvel lore. It’s all too easy for MCU films to rely on hallmarks and a successful formula – I mean, if it works, it works – but even 22 films deep, this installment offers up twists and surprises. Some familiar, but perhaps unexpected faces show up. Some plot points seem predictable, but take jarring detours. Even the expected events are engrossing. It didn’t feel like I was sitting in a movie theater seat for three hours, and not once did I think, “Is it over yet?” I laughed, I sat in open-mouthed shock, and yes… there were tears. And when it was over, the fan in me was so happy to have been along for the entire ride, and I’m excited to see where the MCU goes next.

For a film series that has been churning out successful film after successful film, barreling forward and building momentum since 2008, Endgame offers a finale that is sure to keep audiences engaged from start to finish. The MCU has experienced some bumps in the road and has battled through fatigue in order to keep viewers in their seats, but they have also proven the merit of superhero films time and time again, and when it matters most, they deliver the closure that the Infinity Saga needs.

Overall rating: 10/10

***********UNDER THIS ARE THE SPOILERS, BEWARE, STOP READING IF YOU DON’T WANT SPOILERS!!!!! THERE IS A READ MORE THING UNDER THIS BUT I KNOW IT SOMETIMES DOESN’T WORK, SO HERE IS YOUR WARNING!!!!!*************

Continue reading →

Five Favorite Avengers from the MCU!

(To celebrate the coming of Avengers: Endgame this Friday, I thought I would list my five favorite Avengers thus far. I am on vacation atm, so I apologize if this post is not as fleshed out as it could be!)

198336-004-0F77A0005.) Black Panther / T’Challa 
In the MCU, T’Challa’s rise to prominence has been one of the most unique – and one of the best to witness. After getting a taste of Black Panther’s abilities in Captain America: Civil War (2016), his following 2018 eponymous solo-film solidified his place as one of the coolest, and most well-developed characters in the entire MCU, despite being one of the newest. He is not just the King of Wakanda – he is a hero who has faced doubt and uncertainty head on, and strives to do what is best for the people he is sworn to protect. His suit is awesome, his character and personality are balanced, and I look forward to seeing him (and Okoye and Shuri, of course) grace the silver screen in future installments. If the others can bring him back from “The Snappening”, of course.

Brie-Larson-as-Carol-Danvers-in-Captain-Marvel4.) Captain Marvel / Carol Danvers
Another brand-new face in a sea of super greats, Captain Marvel’s 2019 solo outing was out first official look at the character, other than a tiny teaser at the end of 2018’s Infinity War. Honestly, I didn’t expect to like Carol as much as I did, but, despite being so new, I already find her to be one of the most endearing heroes in the whole MCU. She displays a compelling balance of humanity, vulnerability, humor, and badassery, which combines to make her journey thrilling to watch. As someone who was once a little girl who loved superheroes, it warms my heart to see little girls buying Captain Marvel merchandise and wearing shirts or bags with her likeness on it. However, Captain Marvel is not just a great female superhero – she is an amazing hero who anyone can look to and find a bit of themselves in. If she truly is meant to be the new face of the MCU, then I have the utmost faith in whatever is to come next. 

236ebe085b15fa7af27b80a63c6240053.) Doctor Strange / Steven Strange
What can I say? I am drawn to sarcastic assholes. I knew little about the character when I sat down to watch 2016’s Doctor Strange, but emerged from the theater totally spellbound. His abilities are the coolest to see onscreen, bar none – but his magic is not only visually striking, it’s capable of incredible, unorthodox feats that standard butt-kicking isn’t able to convey. But his hero persona is only half of it – he’s also a compelling character because Steven Strange isn’t completely likable, despite his quick wit and serious nature. He starts out sarcastic and pompous and downright arrogant, and though he changes and admits to his faults and embraces his new role as a master of the mystic arts by the end of his solo film, he never quite sheds those prickly bits of his personality. He doesn’t have the charm of Tony Stark to dampen those traits, but really, that just makes him more relatable – heroes aren’t always perfect role models, after all. Plus, he’s got the best sidekick in the entire MCU – his cape.

images.jpg2.) Ant-Man / Scott Lang
I’ve said it before, and I will say it again (and again, if I have to) – Ant-Man and his epic size-changing adventures are the kind of breather fans of the MCU need to break up the do-or-die, lives-at-stake nature of most films in the series. Both 2015’s Ant-Man and 2018’s Ant-Man and the Wasp came on the heels of significantly more “dramatic films” in Age of Ultron and Infinity War, and were welcome doses of heart and humor after such high-stakes installments. Scott Lang is – arguably – the most “human” of the Avengers; he’s a family guy with a complicated criminal history and he just wants to do right by his daughter and those he cares about – and maybe save the world, if he gets included in events like 2016’s Civil War. Ant-Man is the perfect example of what happens when a truly average person gets bestowed with great responsibility, which makes him easy to watch and connect with. He makes mistakes, but also does his best to right them no matter how difficult it can be. Besides… his size-changing hi-jinks will never not be funny to me. Heroes do come in all sizes – and Ant-Man is the literal embodiment of that sentiment.

captain-america.jpg1.) Captain America / Steve Rogers 
Of the original crew of major Avengers, I have found Captain America’s journey to be the most compelling. From 2011’s Captain America: The First Avenger, where a scrawny boy finds not only incredible physical power, but the strength within himself to become a hero, to 2014’s Captain America: The Winter Soldier, where Cap’s unwavering sense of honor drives him to walk away from, and uncover the conspiracy within S.H.I.E.L.D, to 2016’s Captain America: Civil War, where Steve refuses to comply with restrictions and stands up for what he believes is right, even if it means splintering the Avengers at their core… his trilogy has felt the most complete. His character arc has experienced the most ups and downs across all of his appearances, but they have all contributed in making him a multi-layered, believable, and interesting character to watch, and he has always felt genuine in all of his actions. Captain America went from the poster boy for S.H.I.E.L.D. to a defiant rebel who will stand by his choices, but maintains the heart and the loyalty that have defined him from the start. Cap’s remarkable journey may soon be coming to an end following Endgame, but if it does… I can proudly say that he is my favorite, and will likely continue to be, no matter how many new characters are introduced.

Never Forget

Everyone has things that they will never forget. And I mean never. They become so ingrained they can be conjured from the depths of your brain at any moment. For me, it’s mostly music/songs that I listened to so frequently I will never forget the lyrics, no matter how much time passes.

For example, I remember almost all of the songs from the original Pokemon series. The theme song is forever emblazoned in my memory, as are such hit tracks as Double Trouble, Together 4ever, Pokemon World, and Viridian City. I used to be able to fully recite the Pokerap as well, but I no longer remember the order of the segments. I can still do most of the parts, though. I also remember the entirety of Lugia’s song from the tragically underrated Pokemon the Movie 2000. That movie is fire, though I’m more of a Ho-oh girl myself…

The Spongebob Squarepants theme is forever branded in my memory, as I’m sure it is for many folks in my generation. However, I also know several of the insert songs by heart because I had the CD and it used to be on repeat. I was obsessed with Spongebob and continue to watch the occasional episode, and I still find the jokes hilarious. As such, I can quote many, many lines from the show, and often do. “Who you callin’ pinhead?” is a favorite, which confuses many people when I drop it into casual conversation, and I’m also partial to “The inner machinations of my mind are an enigma,” and “The walls will ooze green slime?!?!?! Oh wait, they always do that…” and, “But don’t geniuses live in a lamp?” Patrick Star is a quote goldmine, y’all.

Veggie Tales theme song? I’ve got it in the brain bank. That, and Barbara Manatee, Where is My Hairbrush, The Pirates Who Don’t Do Anything, and the Water Buffalo Song. This is because in my youth, I helped babysit at church every Thursday night during choir practice, and the only VHS tapes we had in the nursery area were Veggie Tales. So I have seen them many, many, many times. Too many, one might say. And though I haven’t watched Veggie Tales in over a decade, most of the songs shall remain in my memory forever… Oh, Barabara Manatee… you are the one for me!!!! Ugh. If you don’t know what Veggie Tales is, I highly recommend you google it.

I used to know all the words to every opening and ending theme of the anime Inuyasha, which are in Japanese. I used to listen to the CD’s over and over and over, though I haven’t listened to them in years – they were the first CD’s I imported from Japan, way back in 7th grade, when my anime obsession really took root. If pressed, I probably can still do a couple of them in a very off-key manner – at least the ones by Do As Infinity, who I still listen to, or Every Little Thing. I used to put in the DVD’s of the movies just to listen to the opening and ending themes. I can’t speak much Japanese, but I can sing it!

All the songs to Phantom of the Opera, Cats, and Les Mis? I’ve got em. You don’t want to hear me sing them, though. Cats might actually be a bit rusty, so I should probably put the soundtrack on repeat…

So, anyone else experience this? A song or a poem that, even as years go by, you will never, ever forget?

Film Review: Dumbo (2019)

Dir: Tim Burton
Starring: Colin Farrell, Michael Keaton, Danny DeVito, Eva Green, Alan Arkin, etc.
Runtime: 1hr52min
Rating: PG
Spoiler level: Light

When I first heard that Disney planned to put out a live-action version of the 1941 animated film Dumbo, I – and many others – had reservations. The original Dumbo is a classic, revered for the emotional impact it had on audiences, even though it tells a simple story. However, the addition of Tim Burton as director boosted my hopes, and when I saw the first trailer, featuring Aurora’s haunting rendition of “Baby Mine,” I knew I was going to see it.

In the 2019 remake of Disney’s classic, visionary director Tim Burton re-imagines the beloved big-eared flying pachyderm in his distinct, signature style while retaining the charm of the original and expanding upon powerful themes, though an occasionally wooden screenplay does diminish the film’s “mystique.”

Dumbo_(2019_film)Per usual for Burton’s work, a major strength of the film is the visuals. Brilliant color schemes and gorgeous, intricate sets help create an atmosphere of magic and awe for the circus scenes, and Dumbo himself – though he shares the spotlight with a variety of new characters created for the film – is adorable, with his massive ears and happy squeaks. Though he never speaks, his emotions are clear in his eyes and his expressions and he carries the heart of the film as he soars to the furthest reaches of a star-speckled tent. Frequent Burton collaborator Danny Elfman also offers up an incredible score that helps generate a sense of wonder and play homage to themes from the original.

If you’ve never seen the original Dumbo, you were spared the trauma of particularly heartbreaking scenes – which are recreated in this film, and are similarly wrenching. The inclusion of the classic “Baby Mine,” sung by Miss Atlantis (Sharon Rooney,) certainly tugs on the ol’ heartstrings, and Dumbo’s sorrow radiates off the screen in a way that will probably scar a whole new generation of children.

The cast is spectacular – Farrell as veteran Holt Farrier, a widowed, one-armed father of two bright children and Green’s acrobatic Colette, “Goddess of the Heavens”, are standouts, as are the supporting circus acts and DeVito’s Max Medici, owner of the circus. Keaton is excellent as the smarmy, deviously debonair villain, V.A. Vandemere, and the kids, Milly (Nico Parker) and Joe (Finley Hobbins) shine as they support Dumbo, teaching him that his ears can be a blessing rather than a hindrance.

The narrative strives to expand upon the simplicity of the original by introducing new ideas into a basic and straightforward story – and, at times, it shines. Messages about being true to yourself, not letting fear stop you from flying after your dreams, accepting your flaws, etc, are conveyed in a meaningful manner that will hopefully resonate with young audiences. Milly is a logically-minded young heroine who provides a scientific approach to Dumbo’s abilities, and the supporting circus characters all band together to create a compelling idea of a family that is “made,” two ideas that were not present in the original. But, at the core, it’s still a film about an elephant that can fly, which doesn’t get lost in the flurry of new plot-lines. In fact, in the original, Dumbo doesn’t fly until near the end of the film – but viewers don’t have to wait that long this time around.

Also – for those wondering – Burton’s version (obviously) omits the controversial crow characters, “Song of the Roustabouts,” and takes a firmer stance on the treatment of circus animals – all elements of the original film that are, in retrospect, uncomfortable to watch. So, if nothing else, 2019’s Dumbo does offer some much-needed, modern updates.

Obviously, the original Dumbo, with a paltry run-time of 64 minutes, told a story without frills and superfluity. But the 2019 version manages to maintain the core message while introducing new characters and ideas, and Burton achieves a balance that, for the most part, is solid. It doesn’t try to outshine the original, and distances itself enough to avoid unflattering comparisons about which version did what better. However, the dialogue is occasionally clunky, with unnecessary explanations that bog down the film. Many obvious lines could have easily been removed, as they were inferred by a previous thought, or expressed clearly in the character’s visible emotions. With a cleaner, sharper script, the film would have run much smoother – but regardless, it’s still a charming and whimsical ride, and a pleasure to watch.

Of all the Disney films Tim Burton could have re-imagined, the tale of Dumbo, the flying elephant, was a perfect fit for his skills and his vision. It might not have the same simple magic of the 1941 classic, but instead creates it’s own spectacle, with a patchwork crew of misfit characters that all band together around an adorable, beloved, big-eared hero.

 

 Overall rating: 8/10

One Shot #4: Babe (1995)

There is nothing like a good, wholesome film; the kind you can pop in and watch at anytime, but are perhaps best on a rainy afternoon, when you can curl up on the couch with a warm blanket and a cup of coffee, or tea, or hot cocoa. A film that warms the heart and touches the soul. And one such film is a 1995 Best Picture nominee, Babe – the wonderful tale of a sheep-herding pig who defies the incredible odds stacked against him.

The single shot that encompasses the film happens in the final sequence, shortly before the iconic “That’ll do, Pig. That’ll do,” line:

babe

As much as this film is about a sweet-natured pig who just wants to belong, it’s also about his owner – a taciturn man named Arthur Hoggett, played by James Cromwell. The relationship between the two evolves over the course of the narrative, from a standard man/pig dynamic of “owner” and “owned” to an unlikely team working together for a common goal. This shot is the epitome of their bond – after a rousing success at a competition, silencing their naysayers, man and pig stand side by side, basking in the applause. But who garners the most credit? Babe, of course; which is why the shot is centered mainly on him, and only Hoggett’s legs are shown. Babe is our unlikely, curly-tailed hero, the one who deserves the focus. Yet, the framing of the shot still gives the impression that they are a steadfast team.

I mean… just look at that face. Babe is iconic. An absolute legend. If he were a morning, he’d be golden and new. This is one of the few movies I can watch over, and over, and over again and still get emotional. It is just a classic, well-done, and well-made movie, and if you haven’t seen it, you absolutely should.