Wednesday, July 30, 2014

On Fantasy and Sci-Fi

I had this discussion last week on my MovieQuest 2014 Facebook group. I found it pretty fascinating and wanted to share it here. It began with my review of the 1988 film Willow but led pretty quickly into my issues with the fantasy genre as a whole and pondering what the genre was meant to be.

The Part of My Review That Triggered the Discussion

"It's hard for me to judge fantasy movies, because as a whole I feel like they're depressingly (and weirdly) unimaginative, falling back on the same tropes and mythical creatures over and over again. (If you have an opportunity to make up a world all your own, why wouldn't you take advantage of that more?) And this does have a lot of that. The characters are familiar, the plot is familiar, and while there are one or two new creatures, a lot of them are pretty standard."

The Discussion Begins

Jennie: I'd also argue that part of what fantasy is IS tropes. That's what fairy tales have always been. Three brothers, three wishes, talking animals, good vs evil, good guy always wins against all odds, etc. That's part of what is attractive about them, for me, at least, is they follow similar rules, and teach the same lessons.

MeIt's not necessarily just the plot tropes, though. More than anything, it's the creatures. Why on earth would you create your own world and then only use species that other people made up? I mean, that's partly why I like The Hobbit. Hobbits were new. Gollum was new. But most fantasy stories feature humans, dwarves, trolls, goblins, elves, The End.

JennieAnd now I'm curious -- out of all the fantasy movies you've seen, which might you say is your favorite?

MeI checked out my list of fantasy movies on Flickchart. Typically, I like fantasy/reality mixes -- stories clearly set mostly in our world or populated with characters from our world but with a couple fantastical elements (at the top of my list are Beauty and the Beast, Monsters Inc, Mary Poppins). I like ones that play around with the tropes a bit (Into the Woods is #4). The highest straight-fantasy one is The Princess Bride, but again, I grew up with that one so I love it for more nostalgic reasons. Ditto Ladyhawke, which is a bit further down.

The highest all-set-in-a-fantasy-world movie that I didn't watch a child is... The City of Lost Children, maybe? (#385 on Flickchart.) I can't remember how strictly fantasy that is. It's REALLY hard to find a movie high on my chart that most people would instantly think of as belonging in the fantasy genre. Oh, there we go. Stardust is #903. But that's almost halfway down my chart.

I'm not sure what to do with Studio Ghibli, though. Spirited Away and My Neighbor Totoro fall somewhere in between the fantasy/reality dichotomy, and they're both quite high on my list. But they're also wonderfully imaginative in the characters they create.

JennieOkay, I can concede that point. It is difficult to find a fantasy anything that uses the other-than-standard creature array.

Me: It's just WEIRD to me that so few of them do. You'd think SOMEONE would want to make up something new once in awhile.

Jennie: I think some prefer that their creatures be familiar to their audiences, or it's possibly a lazy choice. Some, however, perhaps play on a different IDEA of a creature, such as Tolkien did with his books. Elves have been in stories forever -- he turned them into ancient wise warriors for, I believe, the first significant time, choosing to imagine the "truth" behind all the "devolved" elves in the fairy tales and stories, the kind that would help a cobbler with his shoes or make toys for Santa. Willow's idea of trolls is different from Harry Potter's is different from Tolkien's, etc.

Perhaps they stick to the standards because that's what sells. Different is beautiful to create, but we both know the mass audience likes the accessible and doesn't always like to stretch their imaginative muscles to accept something so foreign to them as, say, garthim and skeksis, when they can have comfortable, familiar monsters such as werewolves and goblins. (btw, I'd nominate The Dark Crystal for an amazing new array of original creatures).

Me: I think it's nice when people play on creature ideas, it's just weird that the creativity so often stops there. I mean, compare it to sci-fi, which is superficially more grounded in reality. Sure, there are plenty of stereotypical aliens that we see all the time in movies, but there are also a LOT of new types of aliens that look different and seem different and relate to us differently. There's a moderate chance that if I watch a sci-fi alien invasion movie, I'll see something new I haven't seen before. That chance is nearly zero if I watch a fantasy flick.

I do need to see The Dark Crystal sometime. Jacob owns it, I've just never watched it.

Derek: You have to also consider that there's money and sometimes digital effects involved in creating different creatures. In 1988 when Willow came out, it was years before all these other movies made us sick of the same types of creatures. It's hard to see a movie from the perspective of the people who saw it when it first came out. This is why it's extremely difficult to watch black and white movies and see them as original, because you are only aware of all the people who have copied -- and often parodied -- these movies.

Me: I actually was thinking about that a bit, but I run into the same thing with pure fantasy books, which don't require effects. Granted, I haven't read as many fantasy books as I have seen fantasy movies (I got tired and stopped reading them when they all seemed the same) so I may be missing out on the ones that stretch the genre.

But the point about the same creatures not being overused at that point is a good one. I don't have a good sense of when specific incarnations of fantasy creatures became canon, so to speak.

Jennie: They've been canon for ages. Perhaps the reason is because those incarnations are so SET is because fantasy has been around so much longer than Sci-Fi. Those legends and myths go back centuries in our literature, some of them all the way back to ancient Greece. Fairies, goblins, elemental spirits, etc.

Also, in some ways, the creatures of fantasy depend upon the world we live in now, where science fiction has no such boundaries. It can choose life forms that never would develop on this planet and bring them here in spinning flying saucers or interdimensional portals or massive warships. Humans can also travel out to the stars and encounter all these for themselves, where in most stories humans aren't allowed in the realms from which the fairyfolk originate, so their origins are traditionally rooted in myth and mystery.

Derek: When they became canon and when they became canon AT THE MOVIES are two different things, though.

Jennie: Well, yes, I suppose I'm talking in general. AT THE MOVIES might have become canon with Disney, really, as that's when full-length features of fantasy became big. Evil witches, the fairies from Sleeping Beauty and Peter Pan, dragons and mermaids and wizards, oh my!

Me: "The creatures of fantasy depend upon the world we live in now" <-- That's an interesting thought, because I would definitely have thought of it the other way around. For example, sci fi still depends on, to some extent, adhering to the laws of physics and at least on-the-surface plausible scientific explanations. I think of fantasy stories as being an opportunity to create an entirely new world from scratch, including impossible things like magic. But maybe that's not the idea.

Jennie: I've personally always considered fantasy to be a vehicle, rather than it's own end. Think about the Brothers Grimm, fairy tales, myths, etc. They were told not only to entertain, but to teach the morality of the day. Good vs evil, as I said. Kindness pays back. Appearances can be deceiving. Be careful who you trust. One of the main points of fantasy was and is to explore humanity. That's why the stories have lasted, that's why the tropes endure, that's why everything repeats and it still has an audience, is perhaps because we see ourselves in it. (This is all my own theories and speculations, and are you guys enjoying this discussion as much as I am?)

Me: Huh. That's an interesting thought. *Especially* because I feel like that's what a lot of sci fi does now, if sometimes with less straightforward morals (but not always). A LOT of sci fi is very moralistic -- District 9 is about immigration, WALL-E is about about technology making us lazy, dystopian "government controls the world" movies are about the dangers of giving up freedom, post-apocalyptic movies are about war... the list can go on and on. Maybe fantasy has lost its edge a little bit in that department BECAUSE the characters and the world become comfortable for us? (Although obviously reality-based movies can present strong morals and lessons as well.)

I am really entertained and intrigued that everything you say about fantasy, I keep saying, "But sci fi does that!" Maybe we'll find out in the end that they're really the same genre. TWIST!

Jennie: Which is why you notice I didn't say that scifi DIDN'T do those things, because it totally does. In fact, you could argue that there is QUITE a large overlap because fantasy and SciFi. Superheroes, for instance. Fantasy or SciFi? Hulk is scifi -- or is he an iteration of The Beast from Beauty and the Beast? Thor is fantasy/myth -- or is he an alien from another dimension? Spiderman is sci-fi -- or is he a were-spider? Fantasy is magic, Sci-fi is science -- but isn't magic just science we haven't discovered yet? Fantasy leans more to the medieval and the earth-bound (or at least earth-connected) and sci-fi leans more to the futuristic and the other-planetary, but you are right in that they are both Stories and Vehicles in the manner I discussed above. Perhaps SciFi only seems more varied and new is because it is so young in it's own development. Perhaps after another millennia sci-fi will go the same way, and we'll be tired of starships and large-eyed aliens and blaster-ray-guns.

Or not. Perhaps as time goes on they will continue to merge until the differences are picky, or they are only differentiated by their origins.

Or maybe we are tilting back the other way, developing new fantasies. Slenderman is an excellent example of this, as is, I think Avatar. With the modern technologies we have that make literally anything possible onscreen, perhaps we're only a turn away from a new era of fantasy creation.

Me: I do agree there's a lot of overlap there. Perhaps for me, sci fi is (often) simply a fresher, more inventive way of telling the same stories. Except for Buffy the Vampire Slayer, which is clearly fantasy, rather than sci fi, and does EVERYTHING PERFECTLY.

Oh, Slenderman is an interesting example. That IS a fantasy character who is only about a decade old, and I love him. I would be a big fan of a new era of fantasy creation. When that happens I'll start paying attention again.

And the discussion ended there. What do you guys think? Chime in with your comments!

Monday, July 28, 2014

Top 5, Bottom 5: DreamWorks

This week, I watched my 20th movie from DreamWorks Animation, so I figured I'd celebrate with a Top 5, Bottom 5 list. DreamWorks really is ALL over the place with me, with my top 5 being dearly loved and my bottom 5 being... dearly hated. So here we go. All ratings are out of 2184 movies.

Top 5:
1. The Prince of Egypt (1998, #49). I think this is the best Bible-themed movie I've ever seen. The animation is lovely, the music is incredible, and it tells one of my favorite stories in a very powerful way.
2. Shrek (2001, #90). I do think this movie is fairly funny, but mostly it's in my top 5 because I absolutely adore the love story. It's so rare to see a movie where the girl gets the guy while being conventionally unattractive, and it's heartwarming and makes me very happy.
3. Chicken Run (2000, #140). There's just something fun and silly about this movie. The jokes all work, all the way through.
4. Wallace & Gromit: The Curse of the Were-Rabbit (2005, #205). While the Wallace and Gromit shorts are still my favorite, this is a pretty solid long-form version. It's great fun.
5. Rise of the Guardians (2012, #376). Possibly my favorite animated movie from 2012, I think this movie is severely underrated. The animation is astonishingly beautiful, the story is solid, the voice acting is engaging (Jude Law makes a GREAT villain), and it's just wonderfully creative. #376 is probably too low for this flick, because I really do love it a lot.

Bottom 5:
5. Spirit: Stallion of the Cimarron (2002, #1915). I found this a horrifically boring movie, even for a movie about horses.
4. Joseph: King of Dreams (2000, #1945). DreamWorks' second attempt at a Biblical story told via animation did not go as well as their first. It was dull, had no memorable music at all, and the voice acting was bland.
3. Antz (1998, #1979). I'm not the biggest fan of A Bug's Life, but it was certainly better than this, which is a cheesy, awkward, unfunny movie that goes in too many directions and doesn't do well with any of them.
2. Shark Tale (2004, #1992). This movie exemplifies everything that DreamWorks gets wrong when it does get it wrong. The animation is creepy, the characters are obnoxious, the jokes are all pop culture references that are instantly dated.
1. Shrek the Third (2007, #2047). But even Shark Tale is not as bad as Shrek the Third, which does all that times a thousand. As you can see, I love the first Shrek movie, and I'm OK with the second. This one is just... awful and stupid.

What are your favorite DreamWorks movies?

Friday, July 25, 2014

Della, Part 1

(If you haven't read the introduction to know where this story comes from, you should do that. Otherwise you will be very confused. Well, I mean, you may be confused anyway because it's a confusing story.)

It was always darkest before the dawn, the computers said.
It's good to start a story out with a few random talking computers, dontcha know.
She for a fact knew this was true. In fact, she discovered this for a fact one day while she was out in the streets, walking in the streets, trying to find something to do to fill her boring hours before her parents came home from the shop to find her not in school. 
She looked out of the corner of her eye and saw a group of men carrying a TV out of a shop. It didn't strike her as odd, didn't strike her as even amusing. She just pulled her cloak around her closer and walked a little faster toward the end of the street, hoping to pass the ruffians before they would see her.  
She walked past them, her cloak huddled close about her, hoping her eye contact didn't make eye contact with them,
Yeah, I have to watch for that a lot too... my perverse eye contact insists on making eye contact. Geesh.
and she kept her head down, staring at the ground. They never looked up at her, as if she were a fixture in the concrete, 
If I saw a great hulking "fixture in concrete," I'm pretty sure I'd look up.
and continuing doing their work, grabbing the TVs and loading them into their old vans, which looked as if they had seen better days. No doubt they had tried to steal a better one but something had gone wrong and it hadn't worked out.
I was clearly going for a dark, dystopian future with rampant crime. However, I abandon this pretty quickly as the actual plot starts happening. Don't worry, that kicks in soon.
Della herself had only a tiny little van that wasn't much good for anything. Her parents had taken it during the last blackout. Della had hidden in a corner to hear the shouts of angry when the van was found missing, and as the neighbors spread out to find the missing vehicle, she hid in the corner with a smile on her face, because she knew where it was. It was with her family.
They drove it everywhere after that, to church, to school. It was a good thing they didn't really live anywhere near where those neighbors lived, or else they would have surely been recognized. 
Uh, yeah, it's fortunate for their crime habits that they don't live near their neighbors.
The street lights were dark, and Della pulled her cloak even closer about her.
I am interested in knowing how many more times that phrase will be used. Apparently, when in doubt, my characters should just pull in their cloaks.
She wondered why the street lamps weren't on, usually they were this time of night. Maybe there was some sort of technology malfunction. There often was. She only hoped they got it fixed before this evening. She had her big date this evening, and couldn't bear to have something as small as a lack of light mar it.
She had been praying for a date with Jeff ever since he first moved into her high school.
Well, that was... probably not the verb I meant.
All the girls wanted him, he was quite simply the perfect guy. Somehow out of all the girls he had selected her to have dinner with him on this particular night, and she had accepted.
This really sounds like he lined them all up and went down the row to select someone.
She let her mind drift to Jeff and what he might say to her that night - things like "You look beautiful tonight, Della" or even "You're very smart, Della".
"Smart" is not the adjective I would use to describe Della.
She smiled as she thought of these possibilities. 
Then she looked up. She was almost home. There was the big staircase made of metal leading up to the front porch that was hardly a front porch, it was so small. A small poster hung in the window, but Della hardly paid any attention to it. It was sometimes embarrassing, so she ignored it and opened the door and walked on into the house. 
I've never been very good at writing place description, but I promise I'm usually better than this paragraph makes it sound...
"Mom? Dad? I'm home!" she cried, her voice ringing through the house. But there was no response. She removed her coat and hung it up on the rack, then wandered through the house, calling aimlessly.
Mom and Dad didn't respond still. They must be ought, she told herself, and scrambled to make some eggs for herself. Then she sat down with a glass of orange juice to watch some TV. 
So she makes the eggs and then doesn't actually eat them. This is a recurring theme. My characters are pretty much always cooking. Also, note my brain's inadvertent pun about Della "scrambling to make some eggs."
This newest TV wasn't so good, you had to hit it three times to make it work, and even then it was only in black and white. But that's okay, none of the shows were any good anymore, either. Her mom and dad used to talk about how TV used to be, great and interesting, but Della could hardly believe it. She didn't even know why she still watched TV, it wasn't a baby thing to do anymore. She got back up with her glass of orange juice which she poured into the sink, 
She doesn't eat her eggs, she doesn't drink her orange juice... She wastes a lot of food.
and then decided to do homework.
She sat at the table and pulled out her homework, placing the flopping notebooks and textbooks on the table, where she proceeded to work very dutifully for the next several hours. When she looked up again, her parents still weren't home. 
Do a couple hours of homework and then look up from your desk. Nope, they are still not home. Continue homework.
I wonder where they are, she asked herself. She got up and looked aimlessly out the window, as if she could see her parents there. 
Poor Della does a lot aimlessly.
She did see smoke. Smoke! she thought to herself. 
Window! she thought next.
She grabbed her coat and stuffed one arm in the sleeve and then ran out the door, the rest of the sleeve still dangling over the ground. She managed to stuff the rest of it on as she ran seven blocks to the cause of the smoke, an overturned car. 
The police officers there crowded around the scene, and she pushed past to try and get a better look. It was their van, overturned, with smoke pouring out of it and the bodies of her parents lying in it. "NOOOOOO!" she screamed. She collapsed onto the pavement. A police officer came up behind her and put his arms around her. 
She just sat there, shaking, unable to believe it. Well, maybe they weren't dead.
Erm, since when did that look like a possibility?
She looked up hopefully at the police officer, but he just shook his head and said there was no doubt, they were definitely dead. 
This made her so sad she thought she couldn't bear it, and she just put her head in her hands and began to weep. Her shoulders shook as she did. The police officers looked as if they didn't know what to do, so they just stood back and watched until she was done. 
Then she stood up, squared her shoulders, looked them square in the face and said, "What do I do now?"
My brain has no time to write realistic or tactful death scenes.
They took her down to the station and explained that her parents had been driving home when a stray bullet hit the car tire and caused it to spin around in circles and then turn over.
Yup. Yup, that makes sense. This might be the most coherent explanation of anything in the entire story, by the way.
They asked if her parents had any enemies. Della thought hard, but all she could think to say was, "No."
That's all she could think of to say?
"I see," said the police sergeant, as he turned over a piece of paper on his desk. "You may go now."
Maybe that paper was the "enemies application" form. If she could think of any enemies he'd have sent them the forms.

Della stood up slowly, icily, as if frozen, and calmly turned to walk out the door of the office. As she left, several of the police officers gave her sympathetic looks to say they understood. She couldn't look at any of them. She didn't know what she would do now. 
She walked back to her lonely apartment, where she climbed the stairs again, one hand perched on the metal railing with the ball at the end. When she walked in, her key clicking in the lock, she was struck by how silent the room was and how much Mom and Dad weren't there. 
It hit her suddenly that they weren't there 
It's not that Della is slow... it's just that she makes the same observations. Again, and again and again.
and were never going to be there again, and she threw herself down on the bed and sobbed until her eyes hurt.
She got back up, dryed her eyed, and then went into the kitchen to make some coffee. 
Of course, she's not going to drink it. It'd be easy to paint this as a grief response, except for the fact that she did this before as well.
As she waited for the coffee to boil, she leaned back against the counter and tried to imagine the incident. Mom and Dad would be in the car, talking to each other, chatting happily, when suddenly there was a PING! and the rear tire went out. Mom gripped Dad's shoulder but he could do nothing as they spun around and around in circles, and then finally it was too much and the car turned over, leaving them trapped underneath. There was fire and smoke and they couldn't get out, so slowly they burned to death.


Tragedy is definitely not something that lends itself well to subconscious storytelling...
When the firemen and policemen got there, it was too late, and they were already dead. 
Della decided she would do everything in her power to find out who had killed her parents, even if it took her a whole lifetime to do it. It was more important than ice cream. 
At least Della has her priorities solidly in order.
The coffee began to whistle at her, so she picked it up and poured it into her cup. She drank it slowly and then began to wonder how she would find out who had killed her parents. The first step would be to find the bullet that had hit the car. 
She put her coat on and went down to the police station to find some more information.
"Sorry, but we don't give that information out," the clerk at the desk told her when she got there.
She put one hand on her hip. "I came all the way down here to find out about my dead parents!" she screamed. "I can't believe you can't tell me what kind of bullet it was!"
*cracks up* Now I remember why we don't have dialogue too much in this story.
The clerk looked shameful and rifled through a few papers on his desk. "Well, maybe if you talk to the sergeant in there," he said, nodding toward a small door in the side of the wall. 
Della didn't wait to be invited, but ran and opened the door, finding the sergeant in conference with another official- looking man. They both looked startled that a random girl had just flung open the door and now stood looking maddening and furious. 
The official-looking man stood, said, "Well, I'll talk to you later, Jim," and picked up his leather briefcase and walked quickly out of the office, giving Della a quick, uneasy look.
Yup. This high school girl, maddening and furious as she is, terrifies authorities everywhere.
The sergeant gestured toward the chair. "Sit down, please," he said politely. 
Della didn't sit down. She had to be tough if she was going to get the information she needed.
...You know, I'd laugh harder at this if this wasn't a tactic used by both Morgan and Marcus in the Skye book. Apparently sitting in someone else's chair = weakness.
"I need to find out what kind of bullet it was that killed my parents," she said matter-of-factly. "The desk clerk told me to talk to you."
The sergeant began to stammer a bit. "W-w-w-w-well," he said, "we don't give that information out."
*cracks up* That really threw him, didn't it? She didn't even need to be tough about it, all she needed to do was state what she wanted matter-of-factly and he goes completely to pieces.
Della slammed her fist down on the desk. "I want that, and I want it NOW!"  
The sergeant blinked at her and said, "Well, then, if it's so important to you."
I have a feeling this guy shouldn't have this job...
He took out a key, unlocked his desk drawer, and pulled out a piece of paper which he handed to her. "Here you go." She took it out of his hands and began reading through it, skimming through pages, pulling them apart as she tried to find the relevant information. 
Sheesh, he didn't say she could rip them up, though frankly if she yelled at him a bit more he would probably let her. Also, why does he have this information locked up in his desk?
Finally she looked up and said, "There's nothing here that will help me."
And thus ends part one. Next time, Della takes further steps to solve the mystery and they are just as well-thought-out as these ones are. Don't worry, she does eventually figure out who killed her parents with the "stray bullet" that hit their car.

We're also introduced to a very important character in the next section. Della makes a friend!

Wednesday, July 23, 2014

MovieQuest 2014: January-June

As probably most of you reading my blog are aware, this year I'm doing a crazy movie adventure where, each week of the year, one of my friends chooses 5 movies I've never seen before for me to watch. They can choose personal favorites, movies they think I'll love, movies they think I'll hate (my husband and my mother both threatened to do this), or movies that they just think I should have seen by now. For the most part, I've been keeping up with this fairly well, so I figured I'd do a quick rundown of what I've watched so far for anyone who hasn't been following this on Facebook.

For each week, I'll list the movies in order from my favorite to my least favorite and make any interesting notes about the week. I also ended up ranking each week by averaging out the Flickchart scores of all the movies, so I'll post where they land in the first 24 weeks.

Week 1 (January 13-17)
Assignee: Abbie
Movies: The Great Gatsby (2013), Crazy Heart, Dakota Skye, The Librarian: Quest for the Spear, The Cowboys
Thoughts: I warned people early on that westerns would be a hard sell for me. :-) And, indeed, The Cowboys with John Wayne ended up being one of my least favorites of the year thus far. On the other hand, though, Gatsby ended up being one of my favorites. So that evens out nicely!
Rank: #14

Week 2 (January 20-24)
Assignee: Emil
Movies: Repulsion, He Loves Me... He Loves Me Not, Do the Right Thing, Show Me Love, Crank
Thoughts: This was a really awesome week, with only Crank landing below the middle of my Flickchart, and three landing in the top 25%. Repulsion is easily my favorite thing I've ever seen by Polanski.
Rank: #2

Week 3 (January 27-31)
Assignee: Carolyn
Movies: Silent Movie, True Grit (1969), All Dogs Go to Heaven, Courageous, The Gridiron Gang
Thoughts: This was... not such an easy week. Carolyn and I have joked ever since this week that everything she loves I hate, since my favorite movie of her week was actually the only Mel Brooks movie she didn't like -- she just assigned it to me to see what I thought. She unintentionally chose three of my all-time least favorite genres (western, sports movie, and Christian movie), so it's not that surprising that I wasn't crazy about any of hers. I did like Silent Movie pretty well, though.
Rank: #23

Week 4: February 3-7
Assignee: John
Movies: Eat Pray Love, Memoirs of a Geisha, August: Osage County, Running With Scissors, Burlesque
Thoughts: I would never have predicted Eat Pray Love to jump to the top of my list, but it really was a delightful surprise. The next two flicks were okay, while the last two didn't really make an impression. But falling in love with a movie I didn't expect to like is always a wonderful experience. Totally worth it.
Rank: #13

Week 5: February 10-14
Assignee: Derek
Movies: Perfume: The Story of a Murderer, Forgetting Sarah Marshall, Agora, What Maisie Knew, Bound
Thoughts: Another really solid week, with only Bound getting a below-average ranking. Three of them were almost entirely unknown to me, and Perfume ended up getting a 4.5-star rating from me, which I typically only give out fewer than 10 times a year. Good, good stuff.
Rank: #3

Week 6: February 17-21
Assignee: Stephen
Movies: Waking Ned Devine, V for Vendetta, The Fall, Mr. Hulot's Holiday, The Passion of Joan of Arc
Thoughts: This week was taken by the brother of a good friend. I didn't know him very well, but he was very passionate about his movie choices. Unfortunately, the one he was most excited about ended up being my least favorite. I don't deny The Passion of Joan of Arc is an incredibly-made movie, but I had a viscerally negative reaction to seeing her tortured emotional state, and couldn't get into it at all. Waking Ned Devine was definitely the week's winner, a delightfully morbid little comedy. Liked it a lot.
Rank: #16

Week 7: February 24-28
Assignee: Lisa
Movies: Junebug, Silent Hill, Live In Maid, Lust for Love, 10 Items or Less
Thoughts: Although the ordering I gave there was the order in which I ranked the movies then, the one that has stuck with me most since this week is actually Silent Hill, and I would happily move it up above Junebug now. It built SUCH a vivid atmosphere, and I still find myself thinking about it from time to time. (Unhelpfully, it sometimes happens on nights when I'm alone in the house. Meep.)
Rank: #15

Week 8: March 3-7
Assignee: Matt
Movies: Watchmen, Muppet Treasure Island, Gandhi, Black Snake Moan, JFK
Thoughts: This was the first Muppet movie I've ever seen. Seriously. Also, Matt picked long movies, with the majority of them at or approaching three hours. They were pretty much all on my watchlist, though, and overall I ended up really liking them. Gandhi was the surprise choice this week, as I hadn't thought I'd like that much at all.
Rank: #6

Week 9: March 10-14
Assignee: Henry
Movies: Reefer Madness: The Musical, Shaolin Soccer, Jesus Christ Superstar (2000), Hedwig and the Angry Inch, Whisper of the Heart
Thoughts: You can't go too wrong giving me three out of five musicals :-) Shaolin Soccer was an unexpected favorite, a goofy but occasionally laugh-out-loud funny flick. Whisper of the Heart ended up being my least favorite Studio Ghibli movie to date, but overall a really good week.
Rank: #4

Week 10: March 17-21
Assignee: LaToya
Movies: Imitation of Life (1959), Hush, Premonition, The Lodger, The Good Son
Thoughts: It's almost as fun for me when I dislike most of the movies I'm assigned. I'm fascinated by why people choose the flicks they do. That was the case here, as LaToya and I definitely have very different tastes. Imitation of Life was a solid flick, but even it only landed just barely above the halfway point. Everything else landed well below.
Rank: #22

Week 11: March 24-28
Assignee: Megan
Movies: Om Shanti Om, Miss Pettigrew Lives For a Day, Now You See Me, Kiki's Delivery Service, The Fantastic Mr. Fox
Thoughts: My first Bollywood movie! And I loved it. It was a pretty solid week overall, with a LOT of movies I'd been meaning to see for a long time.
Rank: #5

Week 12: March 31-April 4
Assignee: Jennie
Movies: Mr. Nice Guy, The War of the Buttons, 17 Miracles, Enough, Watcher in the Woods
Thoughts: I dearly love my friend Jennie, but our taste in movies is most definitely not the same. Still, it was somewhat shocking to me when she ended up at the bottom of my list when I averaged out her scores, since I didn't hate any of her movies. I'm really interested in seeing how she does when I check for adjusted Flickchart scores at the end of the year.
Rank: #24

Week 13: April 7-11
Assignee: Bethany
Movies: The Blind Side, Camp Rock 2, Born Yesterday, Ben-Hur, Camp Rock
Thoughts: My sister Bethany took this week and assigned me... only movies beginning with B and C. I'd been meaning to see The Blind Side and Ben-Hur for AGES, so it was nice to finally knock those off the list -- and I was much more impressed by both than I expected, especially Blind Side.
Rank: #8

Week 14: April 14-18
Assignee: Sarah
Movies: Flight of the Navigator, The Color Purple, Moonstruck, Beaches, The Searchers
Thoughts: A very 80s-centered list, it was pulled together as a list of movies Sarah felt I should have seen already. And I am glad I finally saw them. Flight of the Navigator was a cute and delightful movie, but I wasn't really crazy about any of the rest.
Rank: #21

Week 15: April 21-25
Assignee: Hayley
Movies: Take This Waltz, Ender's Game, How to Deal, Double Jeopardy, Keith
Thoughts: Take This Waltz reeeeeeally stuck with me, and the more I mulled over it, the more I liked it, even though it was heartbreaking. I liked hearing Hayley's explanations of why she liked each of these movies, especially since most of them I didn't particularly care for -- it gave me better insight into them hearing her talk about what she liked.
Rank: #17

Week 16: April 28-May 2
Assignee: Randy
Movies: The Boondock Saints, Smoking Aces, Legend, Swingers, The Assassination of Jesse James by the Coward Robert Ford
Thoughts: Gotta admit, I didn't know if I would like any of these movies. To my surprise, I ended up enjoying The Boondock Saints a ridiculous amount. The rest were... not my favorites, although I found Legend to be entertainingly wacky.
Rank: #20

Week 17: May 5-9
Assignee: Travis
Movies: Dick Tracy, 9, The Minus Man, The Matador, Lagaan: Once Upon a Time In India
Thoughts: Travis also assigned me the short film Acting for the Camera, but I didn't end up ranking it in Flickchart, although I though the film was interesting. This was a fun week because Travis wanted to specifically engineer the perfect week for me. And it certainly paid off. Every single one of these movies landed well above the average ranking, and Dick Tracy is, thus far, my favorite friend-suggested movie of the year.
Rank: #1

Week 18: May 12-16
Assignee: Elizabeth M.
Movies: Suspicion, Knight and Day, How Do You Know, The Switch, My Girlfriend's Boyfriend
Thoughts: My sister Elizabeth assigned me one Hitchcock movie and four romantic comedies from 2010. The middle three movies here all ended up within 25 places of each other on Flickchart, while I liked Suspicion significantly more and My Girlfriend's Boyfriend significantly less.
Rank: #7

Week 19: May 19-23
Assignee: Rita
Movies: Eve's Bayou, The Crying Game, Vantage Point, Inkheart, Art of War
Thoughts: I'm glad I've finally seen The Crying Game. It was the only one of these that I'd really planned on seeing. Eve's Bayou was mostly unknown to me but I was really impressed with it. The last three didn't fare so well, however.
Rank: #19

Week 20: May 26-30
Assignee: Aaron
Movies: My Name Is Bruce, Cannibal! The Musical, Revengers Tragedy, Love's Labour's Lost, About Last Night... (1986)
Thoughts: A really, really interesting lineup, with several being musicals or based on stage plays, though my favorite of the week was actually neither. The only one I actively didn't like was the last one listed here, and I really enjoyed the top two, with the third and fourth being very ambivalent -- parts I loved and parts I hated.
Rank: #11

Week 21: June 2-6
Assignee: Naomi
Movies: Waitress, Spanglish, To Be or Not to Be, The Barkleys of Broadway, Mega Shark vs. Giant Octopus
Thoughts: Somehow, four out of these five movies all dealt with infidelity or suspected infidelity. (Naomi confirms this was an accidental pattern.) Waitress was clearly the runaway hit here, though Spanglish could have been higher if anyone but Adam Sandler had played the lead guy. To Be or Not to Be and the Barkleys of Broadway landed 6 spots apart on Flickchart.
Rank: #9

Week 22: June 9-13
Assignee: Elizabeth S.
Movies: The Joy Luck Club, Oscar, Cool Runnings, Paint Your Wagon, Quigley Down Under
Thoughts: Unsurprisingly, the two lowest were both westerns, even though one was a musical. The Joy Luck Club was easily one of my favorites of the year, and I was pleasantly surprised by how much fun Oscar was.
Rank: #10

Week 23: June 16-20
Assignee: Erika
Movies: Away We Go, I'm a Cyborg But That's OK, Adam, Swing Kids, Albert Nobbs
Thoughts: This was a very in-between selection of movies, with none I was crazy about but none that I hated. I'm a Cyborg was the most interesting of the bunch, although I was so dissatisfied with the ending that it lowered its ranking for me quite a bit.
Rank: #12

Week 24: June 23-27
Assignee: Josh
Movies: Lucky Number Slevin, V/H/S/2, Star Wars Uncut, Cropsey, V/H/S
Thoughts: Watching both V/H/S movies was a bit of a challenge, but the second one far outranks the first. Lucky Number Slevin was another awesome surprised -- I'd never have expected to like that one as much as I did. Star Wars Uncut is a great idea that was... a bit long and clumsy to actually watch. I like the idea much more than the execution.
Rank: #18

I'm already a couple weeks into the second half of the year, and I'll post a recap of that probably next January.

Movies coming up soon include Princess Mononoke, the original Dawn of the Dead, the original Planet of the Apes AND Rise of the Planet of the Apes (in two different weeks), Titanic, an entire week of kung fu movies, an entire week of Tom Hanks movies, Viva Las Vegas, and some movie my mom watched when she was a kid called King of the Zombies. It's going to be a fun six months coming up.

Which of the movies I've watched so far this year do you love? Which ones do you hate? Which ones do you think I am absolutely wrong about? :-)

Monday, July 21, 2014

Music I Grew Up With

Today's post is a short one, as I just got a new working computer cord and am rushing to write this in just a few minutes. :-) I just thought I'd post a few songs and artists that are extremely familiar to me from when I was growing up.

What are some of the songs you remember most vividly from your childhood?

Friday, July 18, 2014

Della: The Speed Story That Started It All

For almost a year, I snarked through The Quest for Skye. It was horrific and awful and sometimes hilarious and sometimes a lot of work. :-) I do want to get around to more snarking in the near future. I have four possible snark options in front of me, and ultimately I'm going to let you decide which one I snark next. But for now I still need to take a bit of a break.

In the meantime, though, I thought I'd present this short series for, um... Snarky Fridays, I guess we'll call it. Today you get the introduction, with the first true installment happening next week.

Once upon a time, I was having trouble getting fiction written. I was playing around with various writing exercises to get the flow going, and I discovered one that worked magic for me. At the beginning of every writing session, I took 10-15 minutes or so and just typed whatever came to mind. I dubbed this "speed writing." I generally started off with a story idea, and then just wrote. The deal was that I wasn't allowed to stop typing for any reason. Even when my conscious brain was lagging way behind and the words being formed on the screen were ridiculous.

I found that this got me into the right frame of mind to continue writing, but at the same time it was producing wildly entertaining results. When I wasn't actually thinking about what I was writing, my subconscious took over in truly bizarre ways. They were nearly always coherent sentences, but the stories made absolutely no sense. Character motivations changed by the minute, the dialogue was horrendous, and I found that I had a weird fascination with making my characters perform random actions while speaking.

I shared what I'd written in my writing exercise with a friend, along with my snarky comments and explanations of what I think might have meant, and she enjoyed it a ton. Then I ended up sharing it with more friends, and then I made a blog entirely dedicated to my speedwritten stories, and for awhile I had a small group of people who were always reading the results of these exercises.

Then that sort of dropped off, but I thought this might be a good place to store it.

This was the very first story I ever wrote through speedwriting, and it has yielded an incredible amount of weird inside jokes and quotes for my siblings and me. It was initially known just as "the Della story." Della was our main character, who I think remained a high schooler through most of the story. The story is mostly a murder mystery, and you do get an answer at the end, but in the meantime there are all sorts of tangents, run-ins with bizarre exotic animals, and interrogation scenes that... really shouldn't have yielded any information at all.

Keep in mind as you read these... They are very, very, very silly. Not because I intended for them to be. But because when my brain tries to create narrative without me letting it actually think of words or logic, things get odd. I am fascinated and amused by the results, and I hope you are too.

To give you a taste of what I'll be posting the next few weeks, I present the opening line:

It was always darkest before the dawn, the computers said.

What computers? Unfortunately, you will never know, because the story never mentions them again.

On with the snarking!

Wednesday, July 16, 2014

The New Words H.P. Lovecraft Taught Me

One of the nice things about the Kindle is that you can look up definitions for words you don't know. I have a pretty wide vocabulary, so I don't do this very often, but I did that all the time when I was reading through my collection of The Complete Works of H.P. Lovecraft. Man, did that guy use a lot of words nobody uses anymore.

My Kindle keeps a list of the words I've looked up, so I thought it might be fun to share the new words I learned while reading Lovecraft, along with my condensed definition of it. Education for all!

abeyance - Temporary disuse. Lovecraft used "kept in abeyance" to mean basically "put on hold for now."

adumbrate - To report in outline form. It can also be used to mean other similar things like "to foreshadow," "to symbolize," or "to indicate faintly."

aedile - A Roman magistrate that was responsible for 1) public buildings, 2) public games, and 3) grain supply. Combine them all together for a race to get as much grain into the public buildings as you can, and you've done your job for the year in one day.

anent - Concerning/about. Lovecraft's usage: "He had had black suspicions of his own anent Joseph Curwen." So you can basically use this all the time to sound fancy and nobody will know what you're talking about.

appurtenance - An item associated with a specific living style or activity. I was going to use the original book's usage as an example of how to use it, but the original book said, "Others claimed they had seen it as a monstrous insect with astonishing supernumerary appurtenances," and even knowing what "appurtenances" means, that is not an easy sentence to understand.

charnel - An adjective, meaning "associated with death," which is weird because it sounds like a very pretty word. I mean, if I said, "Your dress is charnel," it sounds like it would mean something complimentary, not, "Your dress reminds me of death."

colloquy - A conversation. I knew "colloquial," but not "colloquy." More formally, a colloquy can also be a gathering for discussion of theological questions.

coruscating - Sparkly.

cyclopean - While it can mean "like a cyclops," it also refers to a specific masonry style where they used enormous irregular blocks, which to me just sounds like the walls would fall down, but whatever.

desiderate - An archaic verb meaning to keenly desire something that is missing. Lovecraft uses it as an adjective though, referring to "the desiderate ship," which I assume means the keenly desired missing ship.

diabolist - A devil worshiper. I maybe could have figured this one out on my own.

extirpate - To root out and completely destroy.

foetor - The British spelling of "fetor," which is a strong yucky smell.

homologous - Exact dictionary definition: "Having the same relation, relative position, or structure." Lovecraft referred to a monster moving an arm or some homologous limb. I like this one and think I am going to try to use it in every conversation I have now.

inchoate - Not fully formed. In the legal sense, it's used to refer to an offense that anticipates a further criminal act, like incitement or conspiracy.

irrupt - To enter forcibly or suddenly. I like this word because it sounds like "erupt" and it makes me mentally imagine a volcano bursting down a door and pouring lava into the room.

matutinal - Of or occurring in the morning. I like this one too. I want to start referring to everything I do in the morning as matutinal.

natheless - Nevertheless. It's like people just got lazy saying the word.

palimpsest - I shared this one on Facebook because I liked it so much. It means a manuscript where the original writing has been erased to make room for new writing but you can still kinda see the old writing beneath it. It can also be used metaphorically to describe something where you can see traces of what it used to be. Adjective form is "palimpsestic."

periwig - An old-timey wig worn as a fancy headdress.

phthisical - Related to phthisis, which is ome tuberculosis-esque disease. I just like the "phth" sound, though apparently the "ph" is silent, which takes all the fun out of the word.

presage - As a noun, it means "omen." As a verb, it means "to be an omen."

quiescent - Inactive or dormant.

redoubtable - I hoped this meant "able to be doubted again," but turns out it means formidable, but used in a mostly humorous way. So if I ever say someone is redoubtable, I expect you all to laugh.

refulgent - Shining brightly. I'm trying to figure out how to fit it into "Twinkle, Twinkle, Little Star," but I'm not quite sure how yet.

skyey - This one gave me the definition of "sky." I just really enjoy the use of the word "skyey" to describe something that's like a sky. It must be real because a real writer did it.

susurrus - Used poetically to mean whispering/murmuring/rustling... basically all the nature sounds poets gush about.

swain - A country youth, but poetically it means a lover.

untrammeled - Unrestricted.

Monday, July 14, 2014

Top 5, Bottom 5: Sea Adventure

Well, hello again, everyone! I know it's been about a month since I posted here, but it's been a busy one. We moved from a house to an apartment much closer to my husband's workplace, and so it's been a month of packing and cleaning and unpacking and cleaning and while not everything is unpacked yet, things are getting done slowly. Hopefully now I can get back into the routine of blogging again.

But to start things off, here's a quick top 5, bottom 5 post, since I watched my 20th "sea adventure" movie last week with Deep Blue Sea. All Flickchart rankings are out of a total chart of 2176, as of this writing.

Top 5:
1. Pirates of the Caribbean: The Curse of the Black Pearl (2003, #42). One of my very favorite action/adventure movies, Pirates is still super fun to me. I didn't like any of the sequels, but I enjoy this one a lot.
2. Jaws (1975, #419). It's been awhile since I saw Jaws, but I thought it was solid and interesting the last (and first) time I watched it.
3. The Pirates of Penzance (1983, #437). A good, very funny film adaptation of what is probably my favorite Gilbert & Sullivan show of the three or four I know.
4. The Pirates! Band of Misfits (2012, #494). This movie didn't get anywhere near the attention I thought it deserved. An animated flick by Peter Lord, I thought it was funny and creative and entertaining.
5. Crimson Tide (1995, #655). A good serious sea adventure that I really need to get around to rewatching.

Bottom 5:
5. Atlantis: The Lost Empire (2001, #1805). For such an exciting and interesting premise, this movie is surprisingly boring.
4. Prince Caspian and the Voyage of the Dawn Treader (1989, #1817). This is the old BBC version of the story, and to be far, most of my downvoting here is for Prince Caspian, which I find the least interesting of all the Narnia stories. But Voyage isn't that fun either.
3. Rich and Strange (1931, #1848). I can remember very little about this movie except that I found it awkward and weird, so I can't really say whether it's justified being this far down the list.
2. Shark Tale (2004, #1983). Ugh, I hate this one so much. It's creepy and not funny at all and just bizarre.
1. 20,000 Leagues Under the Sea (1954, #2079). OK, Shark Tale should definitely be further down the list with this one, because I don't hate it as much as I just find it blah.

Top 5 Sea Adventure Movies I Haven't Seen:
1. Das Boot (1981, #553 on global rankings)
2. The Abyss (1989, #593)
3. Lifeboat (1944, #600)
4. Titanic (1997, #741)
5. The Poseidon Adventure (1972, #1133)

What are your favorite movies set at sea? What do you think of these choices? Which of the top 5 unseen ones do you most think I should watch?