One Shot #1: The Searchers

Movies are, on a base level, a collection of scenes woven together by a narrative. Like a sweater, comprised of many stitches. Or a sandwich, composed of many layers. And when you break it down even more, and strip more elements away, a film can be reduced solely to images – and some images can remain burned into the eye of the viewer forever.

Take this image, from the final scene of the acclaimed 1956 western The Searchers.

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As I’ve admitted before, I’m not a big fan of westerns, and I’m even less a fan of John Wayne movies – but The Searchers is one of the few exceptions. As in, it’s on my all-time “greats” list, thanks to being forced to watch it in film class. And a huge portion of my admiration for this film is rooted in this one image.

The film features more than one threshold/doorway shot, though the final one is the most poignant. By showing several scenes framed in a doorway or through some kind of entrance, the film is allowing the viewer an inside look to see something that might not normally be seen – something that is behind closed doors, or cut off from the world. It is also showing a separation of the “inside world” and the “outside world” and the distinctions between the two.

That makes Ethan’s final scene significant – he is framed in the doorway, but does not go in. He is a creature of the “outside world” and does not belong in the “inside,” which is why he is not shown entering the house after the conflict is over, and ultimately walks away. If The Searchers was a stereotypical western, he probably would have entered the house and they would have had a big ol’ family dinner, and Ethan’s position as a “savior” would be solidified. But Ethan is wild and unpredictable like the rambling western landscape, a restless wanderer, and by going inside, he would be chained down – and he does not belong in a place like that. The “open door” also illustrates the moral ambiguity of the film overall, as Ethan’s reluctance to settle, and his inability to join that “inside” world, is an example of his conflicted “hero” status.

This final shot is the spine of the film – at least for me. A beleaguered man walking away from door, rejecting a fresh start, left to reflect on what he has done. A “hero” who does not get a celebration, because perhaps his deeds are just as bad as the “villain’s.” And that’s how this single image is so powerful – I still reference it whenever I spy a good threshold shot in a movie.

Any other shots from different films come to mind? One that can define the entire film as a whole? Let me know!

~~~~~

If you’re in need of a new read, check out my YA novel, I’m With You! The ebook is only $1.99 or (£1.55) and paperback is $9.99 (£7.99) on Amazon Amazon UK.  Nook book is also $1.99 and paperback is $9.99 on BN.com.

 

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Film Review: Ant-Man and the Wasp (2018)

Dir: Peyton Reed
Starring: Paul Rudd, Evangeline Lilly, Michael Douglas, Michelle Pfeiffer, Michael Peña, Bobby Cannavale, Walton Goggins, Randall Park, Judy Greer, Laurence Fishburne, etc.
Runtime: 1hr58min
Rating: PG-13
Spoiler level: Light, some hints here and there. One tidbit beneath the read-more.

I am a big fan of 2015’s Ant-Man, to the point where it’s in my current Pantheon of great Marvel films, so I’ve been eager about the follow-up ever since the post-credits teaser of the original. Like its predecessor, Ant-Man and the Wasp is a departure from the typical superhero formula and the high-stakes, dire nature of most Marvel films, and the result is a humorous palate-cleanser and a much-needed dose of levity with just enough heart and conflict to connect it back to recent installments in the MCU.

Ant-Man_and_the_Wasp_posterAnd-Man and the Wasp follows our hero Scott Lang (Rudd) who seeks to repair his fractured relationship with Hope van Dyne (Lilly) and Hank Pym (Douglas) as they team up once again in order to save Hope’s mother and Hank’s wife Janet (Pfeiffer) from the Quantum Realm while also fending off a mysterious enemy named Ghost (John-Kamen) who wants their technology for herself.

Overall, this film is a wild ride from start to finish – a well-balanced comedic action film that is relatively self-contained while also tying into the MCU as a whole. Folks might be quick to write off this film as “disposable,” since it doesn’t feature any of the “big,” Avengers, but I’ll attest that it’d be a crime to miss out on this little adventure, especially if you find yourself needing a laugh or two after Infinity War.

The cast turns in great performances all around, from returning crew and newcomers alike. Rudd and Lilly, our titular heroes, play off one another even better than the first film, with Hope’s more straight-laced nature providing a superb contrast to Rudd’s humor and allowing for memorable banter between the two. Lilly’s first official outing as the Wasp is also totally badass as the first officially “titled” female hero in the MCU. The two of them truly carry the film as equals, but the remaining roster isn’t slouching. John-Kamen is intriguing as Ghost, though the character doesn’t quite reach Vulture or Killmonger or Thanos level of development. Douglas is delightfully grumpy and gruff as Pym, Pfeiffer charms in her role as the long-missed Janet, and Judy Greer, Bobby Cannavale, and Abby Ryder-Forston are wonderful as Scott’s family and loyal support squad. Walton Goggins also appears as the skeevy secondary villain, who is essentially a hammed up version of his role in Tomb Raider.

The appeal of Rudd as Ant-Man is not only his stellar comedic skills, but also his relatability – Scott Lang is the best example in the entire MCU of what would happen if an ordinary man was suddenly thrust into the role of a hero. He messes up, he has real-life issues to deal with, he has a daughter he loves and doesn’t want to disappoint, he’s trying to pick his post-convict career off the ground, he doesn’t know what he’s doing about 48% of the time, and he wants to help the people he cares about save the life of someone they love. Though he pitched in to help Cap in 2016’s Civil War, this film never reaches “save the world” level stakes, but the film still resonates, which is proof that the MCU needs characters like Ant-Man to ground it, and to allow audiences some breathing room after watching characters like Captain America, Iron Man, and Thor grapple with intergalactic threats who seek to bring doom upon the world.

Reed masterfully maintains a swift pace (when was the last time a Marvel movie was under 2 hours?) throughout this film without dropping the ball on either humor and action – in fact, the elements of both genres are seamlessly intertwined thanks to the performances of the actors and the nature of the size-changing hijinks that occur throughout the film. No matter the context, a giant Hello Kitty pez dispenser taking out a bad guy on a motorcycle is hysterical. And even though it relies a lot on comedy, there’s plenty of emotion to be found, especially in the way the film portrays familial relationships, such as the father/daughter bonds between both Hank/Hope and Scott/Cassie (and perhaps another similar bond between two others, though I won’t spoil that). Though the action and fight scenes are great, I will say that a significant portion of them are featured in the trailers, so that was a little disappointing. Maybe they should have saved the giant salt-shaker for the film instead of revealing it beforehand, but regardless, the stunts are just as brilliant as the epic Thomas the Tank Engine scene from the first film.

Arguably, this film feels more “comic-book”-y than lots of the other Marvel titles, due to a combination of a fitting score, jokes and silliness aplenty, unbelievable science, insane stunts, and larger than life characters. Neither Ant-Man nor the Wasp are trying to save the world – nothing as big as that – but the conflicts they face are that much more easy to relate to because of it. Scott doesn’t want to disappoint those he loves, Hope wants to rescue her mom – and even the villain motivations are not as lofty as other MCU baddies. And this film totally delivers on the comedic front, especially thanks to Rudd, Peña’s return as Scott’s best pal and quick-tongued, loose-lipped business partner Luis, and Park’s performance as FBI agent Jimmy Woo, who desperately wants to catch Scott violating the terms of his house-arrest.

Ant-Man might not be the most thrilling hero to grace the silver screen, and, in the wake of April’s Infinity War, Ant-Man and the Wasp seems downright unimportant in the grand scheme of the MCU. However, much like the MCU needs characters like Ant-Man, the MCU needs films like Ant-Man and the Wasp to provide audiences a break from such drastic peril and potentially world-ending battles. Sure, this film might be relatively small in scale, comparatively speaking… but that’s exactly why it packs such a big punch.

Overall Rating: 8.5/10

Continue reading

Were

I don’t think I will ever forget the day I ran the third leg of the 4×1 relay at a track meet in Harrisburg. I remember noticing that the anchor was a little too far ahead for me to hand her the baton. I was so sure we were going to miss the handoff – we were going to step out of bounds, she was going to have to stop, our coach was going to be pissed because this was the week before the next big invitational. At the last available second, I did a move that the cast of the Matrix would probably be proud of. The anchor grabbed the baton and took off for the finish line. My foot got caught in the track and I hit the ground, and as I lay there on the turf, the line judge asking “Are you okay?” I knew that no, I was not okay, because knees are not supposed to protrude out the side of your leg.

I mean, at least we won the race. That was my only consolation as the doctor at the emergency room snapped my knee back into place – in the waiting room. A woman waiting for her turn exclaimed, barely audible over my screams, “Oh my god they broke her leg!”

I remember having to put on the blue bonnet, and the surgical gown, and the bright lights of the operating room fading as I drifted out of consciousness, and then waking up to the blurry face of my extremely handsome doctor looking over me. The morphine in me decided to tell him “I love you” and thankfully he just laughed and said “That’s what they all say.” He explained that they found a few bone chips during the operation, as well as a mysterious ligament in my leg – apparently, the existence of this ligament was debated, and I had provided them with more proof. Yet they refused to name it after me, which, to this day, I consider a grave injustice.

The first night, when the nerve block wore off, it felt as though someone had repeatedly plunged fiery-knives into my leg. A week later I returned to school and developed a burning hatred for ramps, which are surprisingly difficult to traverse with crutches. And a month later, when physical therapy began, I learned just how hard it is to teach yourself to walk properly again when your brain refuses to tell your knee to bend. It was a long journey, and though I languished through so much of it, I had a lot of help from friends and family.

Eight months after that, I learned that former glory is not always able to be recaptured – just because you used to win gold medals, and have trophies decorating the shelves in your room, doesn’t mean you’ll always be able to do that. Coming in dead last in the 200m trials, a race I used to dominate, during track tryouts the next season proved that my ability had shattered with my knee. Now, I can’t forget the flashing ambulance lights, and the x-rays, and all the physical therapy, and how one leg of my pants will always be ill-fitting, and the unintentionally biting words of my former coach as I packed up and left after the first day of tryouts, “You were a real good sport.”

And the worst part about it is that word.

Were.

~~~~~

If you’re in need of a new read, check out my YA novel, I’m With You! The ebook is only $1.99 or (£1.55) and paperback is $9.99 (£7.99) on Amazon Amazon UK.  Nook book is also $1.99 and paperback is $9.99 on BN.com.

Me

This weekend, after attempting to take in a matinee of Hereditary only to have the projector fail so we had to settle for readmission tickets, my mom and I went shopping for some extra supplies for a bridal shower I’m throwing next weekend.

And, at a home decor/housewares store near the local Regal Cinemas, I found an item that made me stop dead in my tracks, turn to my mother, and say, “Holy shit, that’s me.”

So here I am, in a picture:

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There are multiple ways to interpret this quirky piece of Halloween decor.

Trying to project a sparkly optimism and remain calm while internally remaining at least partially dead inside. Trying to restore a glittery view of the world through calmness, introspection, and meditation. Trying to prove that you are placid and happy against expectations, but not totally convincing everyone.

Regardless, there’s a little bit of me in all of the above interpretations. I felt a kinship with this skeleton. A little bit of horror slathered in glitter – scary, but trying to be chill.

And then, after I posted a picture of this skeleton on my facebook, a friend asked where I had found it… and then she went out and bought him that same night. And there’s a lesson learned there, too.

Even when you’re a little dead inside, someone will still want to buy you. Or something like that, anyway.

~~~~~

If you’re in need of a new read, check out my YA novel, I’m With You! The ebook is only $1.99 or (£1.55) and paperback is $9.99 (£7.99) on Amazon Amazon UK.  Nook book is also $1.99 and paperback is $9.99 on BN.com.

Current Tunes #4

Judah and the LionSuit and Jacket
One of my local radio stations has recently gone from mainstream pop to alternative and indie rock, and this great song is one discovery I’ve made thus far. The whole theme of not “trading my youth for no suit and jacket” while still grappling with matters of identity and purpose is an evocative one, and this song also has a really great tune and strength behind it. It gets stuck in my head a lot recently, but I don’t even mind.

EchosGold
Echos has a subtle electric sound meshed with ethereal vocals, which offers an interesting listening experience. It makes me think of fantasy and fairy-tales – two of my favorite things! To me, it sounds like a song that’s about looking for answers, whether in someone else, in ourselves, or in a new home. And it’s super catchy!

Cold War KidsFirst
This song has an “anthem” sort of sound to it – it makes it feel like the sort of song you would sing before embarking on a long march, or engaging in battle, or resolving to accomplish some long sought-after goal. It also has visually-inspiring and poetic lyrics, such as “heavy as a feather when you hit the dirt,” which summons such a powerful mental image. I’m only upset that I didn’t discover this song sooner!

Luke Sital-SinghDark
This is a quieter, semi-depressing song with a beautiful sound, even though the lyrics lean in the direction of “sad.” Sometimes, though, it’s good to listen to music that isn’t necessarily “happy” in a traditonal sense. And if you’re going to listen to sad music, it should at least sound lovely and perhaps provide some sort of comfort, and this song absolutely does.

BastilleWorld Gone Mad
I’ve loved Bastille since the release of “Pompeii”, which I still listen to whenever it comes on the radio, and this song is one of my new faves. These days, it does feel like we live in a “world gone mad,” but music like this – so beautiful and packed with passion and meaning – gives me hope that creativity can still flourish in spite of sorrow or misfortune.

AuroraHalf The World Away
She has such a lovely and compelling sound, I’ve added a ton of her music to my current playlist and this track is a standout. Her lyrics are so evocative and she utilizes unique word choices, such as “I’m still scratching around in the same old hole, my body feels young but my mind is very old.” In a world of music that is inundated with generic pop (nothing wrong with mainstream pop, I’m just saying) Aurora presents a fresh voice that I’m eager to hear more of in the future.

Beth CrowleyEyes Wide Open
I just love, love, love her music. Literally every single song – it makes me want to read the books she writes her songs about if I haven’t already. She does a marvelous job of capturing what certain characters seem to be feeling, or how certain relationships and events are portrayed, and gives new layers to existing stories. Even if I haven’t read the books she’s singing about, I usually find a way to connect her songs to something I’ve read or experienced. This one has a nice edge to it and a great melody. If you love YA books, check out her Youtube channel and give her music a listen!

~~~~~

If you’re in need of a new read, check out my YA novel, I’m With You! The ebook is only $1.99 or (£1.55) and paperback is $9.99 (£7.99) on Amazon Amazon UK.  Nook book is also $1.99 and paperback is $9.99 on BN.com.

5 Favorite Marvel Cinematic Universe Films

In the lead up to Infinity War this Thursday night, I thought I’d list my favorite films in the MCU thus far! Though, bear in mind, this is a list of my favorites, not what I consider to be the best.

MV5BMjM2NTQ5Mzc2M15BMl5BanBnXkFtZTgwNTcxMDI2NTE@._V1_UX182_CR0,0,182,268_AL_5.) Ant-Man (2015)
I know this film doesn’t feature on many top Marvel film lists, but I thought this adventure, which feels like a fun side quest instead of a direct installment to the main, over-arcing narrative, was an absolute blast. Paul Rudd is the perfect choice for the role, combining humor and a sort of “every man” affability that made him both likable and relatable as a character (despite his prison record). It’s a superhero movie that doesn’t take itself too seriously, and sometimes, that’s exactly what’s needed in the midst of intergalactic wars or cities and planets in peril. I laugh every time I see the Thomas the Tank Engine scene, and for some reason, the size-changing hi-jinks don’t get old. I look forward to even more hilarity in the sequel, Ant-Man and the Wasp, dropping this summer.

MV5BMTg1MTY2MjYzNV5BMl5BanBnXkFtZTgwMTc4NTMwNDI@._V1_UX182_CR0,0,182,268_AL_4.) Black Panther (2018)
This film (coupled with the preceding Thor: Ragnarok) was the perfect installment in the MCU to set up Infinity War because it defies several of the common superhero tropes while still adhering to Marvel’s standards in quality and entertainment. Much like Ant-Man, this film is a palette cleanser, a nice break for those suffering from the “Marvel fatigue” as it helped rejuvenate a genre that sees more and more repetitive installments every year. T’Challa’s journey to assert himself as both an individual hero and a true leader to his people made me excited for superhero movies again, and it also has what is probably the most well-developed and exciting villain in the entire MCU. Plus, this film gave us Okoye and Shuri. Need I say more?

MV5BNjgwNzAzNjk1Nl5BMl5BanBnXkFtZTgwMzQ2NjI1OTE@._V1_UX182_CR0,0,182,268_AL_3.) Doctor Strange (2016)
Alright, alright…. maybe I just really enjoy Benedict Cumberbatch with a beard and a snarky attitude enough to see this film twice in IMAX 3D. But Doctor Strange is a unique character with a level of sarcasm and ego to rival Tony Stark, and his transition to the big screen was a refreshing trip into the world of illusion and different deimensions, as his story focuses more on the abilities of the mind and “magical” manipulation, which provide for absolutely stunning visual segments and complex, entertaining fight scenes. The final confrontation in this film also features a unique twist that is a nice change-up from the standard “hero must beat the big bad” recipe. And the cape is easily the best sidekick in the entire MCU (sorry, Falcon).

MV5BMTAwMjU5OTgxNjZeQTJeQWpwZ15BbWU4MDUxNDYxODEx._V1_UX182_CR0,0,182,268_AL_2.) Guardians of the Galaxy (2014)
I knew nothing about the titular characters going into this film, and came out of it blown away at how hilarious this motley crew of space adventurers could be. This film is a visual and auditory feast of bright colors, unique characters, and 80’s and 70’s jams coming together for one epic and laugh-out-loud romp across the galaxy. And while Groot is an absolute delight, and one scene in particular makes me tear up every single re-watch, Rocket Raccoon and his foul mouth will always be my favorite member of this ragtag squad. Plus, this film has the great distinction of being the only MCU film to feature a final confrontation that contains a dance-off. And that should be enough to convince any one to see it, if for some reason they live under a rock and haven’t watched this MCU gem yet.

download.jpg1.) Captain America: The Winter Soldier (2014)
From the moment I saw Chris Evans in Captain America: the First Avenger back in 2011, his position as my favorite Avenger was sealed… and that conviction only grew stronger with the sequel, which I still consider to be one of the best all-around films in the whole MCU. Winter Soldier is equal parts political/espionage-laced thriller and action-packed superhero movie that blurs the line between right and wrong and good and bad, with an impeccable focus on character development and a lot of build up to future movies in this series, especially Civil War, which only narrowly missed this list. The Captain America-based storyline is (arguably) the most integral in the entire MCU, as his actions and decisions bear so much weight on the Avengers/S.H.I.E.L.D as a whole. For me, Steve Rogers/Captain America is the easiest character to feel attached to, to be inspired by, and his journey and development as an individual and as a member of the Avengers is the one I am most invested in, and his portrayal in Winter Soldier is him at his finest and truly coming into his own, learning that his shield cannot only be used to defend, but it must be a weapon too. Plus, this movie gave us Bucky/The Winter Soldier. Enough said.

Forking Irrational

Lots of folks have irrational fears. I have a few myself. Jewelry, car washes (I have been making strides against this one, however), mascots, and things with holes in them (not as severe as most who share this fear, thankfully).

But what about irrational anger? Or hatred? I mean, at some point in life, I’m sure almost everyone is guilty of being irrationally angry about some scenario or comment or interaction, or someone feels irrational, inexplicable hatred toward some being or item.

Me? I have an irrational hatred toward forks. Three-pronged forks, to be exact.

Three prongs simply are not enough. I must have four prongs on my forks. I’m not so anal about it that I specifically request four-pronged forks when I go to restaurants, but if it is within my power to procure a fork with four prongs as opposed to one with three, I will do so.

If I could eliminate three-pronged forks from the universe, I absolutely would, no question. I do not care about any potential detriment to etiquette their extinction would cause, three-pronged forks are an abomination and deserve to be destroyed.

Where did this irrational hatred come from? No clue. But the sight of three-pronged forks fills me with intense, fiery hatred. They are the most inferior members of the fork family, of that I will never be dissuaded. In fact, they might even be the lowliest of all utensils… or perhaps that is reserved for the spork.

And, since it’s not causing harm to anyone, I have more or less accepted the fact that, although this particular hatred is 100% forking irrational, there’s nothing wrong with it, and so I shall continue my fork hating ways undeterred.

~~~~~

If you’re in need of a new read, check out my YA novel, I’m With You! The ebook is only $1.99 or (£1.55) and paperback is $9.99 (£7.99) on Amazon Amazon UK.  Nook book is also $1.99 and paperback is $9.99 on BN.com.