Thursday, May 5, 2016

The Next Step - Graduate School

I guess technically I'm still at the graduation step, but I figured now was as good a time as any to talk about grad school. Since I'm planning to be a teacher, I have to go to extra schooling to get the teaching license. I was originally planning to go to University of Alaska-Fairbanks, but I applied to a bunch of places, and somewhat to my surprise, I got into Seattle Pacific University. They've been around for a while, and they're pretty famous for turning out good teachers who can get jobs pretty quickly. So - in the fall, I'll be going back to Seattle for grad school.

It honestly didn't feel real until I heard my name and grad school program announced at the Honors Convocation this afternoon. When I was in high school, and someone asked me what schools I knew about, were not forbidden, but I would never consider going to, I think SPU would have been at the top of the list. I've known about SPU longer than WLC - the first time I visited the campus, I was in fifth grade and there for Musicale with the Seattle Christian elementary school band - but I would never have considered going there. For one thing, I wanted to go somewhere pretty far away. Somewhere knew, exciting, and preferably off the beaten path.

But, long story short, things changed. Now I'm heading back home. I don't know if that's where I'll end up teaching, and once I graduate from there, I'll still have to take some extra classes if I want to teach in a school affiliated with my church synod, but really anything could happen at this point.

I'm excited. I'll miss WLC really badly, and all the friends I've made here, but SPU could be a really exciting place to be.

Thursday, April 28, 2016

Semester Updates

I know it's been a while since I posted anything related to the final Darkwoods book, and part of the reason for that is that it's been a while (though not quite as long) since I did any work on that. I've had two extremely stressful semesters, and my creative writing has been cut to a minimum. That's an important plan for this summer - write more on Arashna. I have no idea when it'll be finished, or when you can read it. I will try to make it closer to Graystone than Graystone was to Pasadagavra, but don't hold your breath. The real world loves to intrude on my plans.

Anyway, like I said, my last two semesters were pretty stressful. Fall semester was my first semester overloading, an experience I am relieved I never have to repeat. As much as I enjoyed my classes, I have never been so busy or had so much stuff all due at once.

Spring semester was stressful because the stuff I've been working on is really difficult. I don't have quite as many assignments, but the assignments I do have feel like they're specifically meant to be as frustratingly nitpicking as possible. The subjects are pretty tough, even though I've had some background in most of them. Then there's my Honors class, which studies modern literature. I think the point of most modern literature is that it is not supposed to make sense. Things aren't supposed to add up, the reader's supposed to think the people in the story are weird. Ugh. I don't mind a book or two like that, but unfortunately, it seems to be a trend. Not a good trend. That's something I like about fantasy literature, actually - the world they're in makes no sense (talking trees, dragons, etc.) but the story and the characters actually end up making sense.

Sunday, April 17, 2016

My Review of the Live-Action Jungle Book

Remember when I said this?
The Jungle Book - Rudyard Kipling's most famous work (which, incidentally, includes "Rikki-Tikki-Tavi") directed by the guy who did Iron Man, produced by the studio that trainwrecked the Pirates of the Caribbean movies, and apparently starring Black Widow as Kaa - who thought that was a good idea? What was wrong with the original?
I still stand by that. The casting was ridiculous, there was absolutely no new music that didn't sound like Pirates of the Caribbean, and there was so much pandering to not just the cartoon Jungle Book but also to other Disney animated movies that it would embarrass the Hobbit movies.

And yet...

I was favorably impressed. The movie managed to do something that I honestly did not expect it could do: it justified its existence.

What I mean by that, is that it was not just simply a retelling of the already-perfectly-fine animated movie, now live-action with exactly one thing that's different from the original,just to be re-released and make more money. (That would be especially stupid to do with this movie, since most of it has to be CGI anyway. Seriously, the difference between a live-action Jungle Book and an animated Jungle Book is one actor on screen, if you don't change up the story.) No, this movie actually tried to tell the same story but in a very different way, and I think, for the most part, it succeeded.

When I asked "What was wrong with the original," what I mostly meant is, "What is a live-action remake by that crew going to improve upon?" And, in my defense, I think it was a justified skepticism. The original animated movie was a goofy, lighthearted movie, with passable animation, funny characters, and a few moments that were serious but what I would hardly call deep. I think, for a goofy movie, it was a very good goofy movie. Part of that means that it does sort of lack depth, though. For example, they never really do explain why Shere Khan hates fire in the animated movie. There's also a lack of jungle mythology and lore in the animated movie, and no mention of the Law of the Jungle that was a really big deal in the book. That's fine for the animation, because it wasn't the type of movie to deal with hatred, lore, and law - it was a goofy movie, and hatred, lore, and law are pretty heavy stuff. Imagine seeing those in Tom and Jerry - it would be totally out of place

I think I was perfectly justified in being skeptical of the guy who directed Iron Man being able to make a movie that somehow improved on any of those things, but, to my utter amazement, he did. The law of the jungle gets recited by characters a few times, and when it did, it sent chills up my arms. There's also a sort-of myth about how elephants made the jungle, which I thought was a nice addition. And, I think very cleverly, they give a reason why Shere Khan despises Man and fire.

The problem with this movie is that I cannot, for the life of me, give it an overall rating. Parts of it were amazing, and parts of it were shockingly terrible. So, I'm just going to talk about stuff individually.

Shere Khan and Bagheera were amazing. Bagheera was a stick in the mud in the animated, and he was meant to be laughed at, but in this version, he was the personification (pantherification? sure, why not) of tough love. You could just see there were points when his heart was absolutely breaking. Shere Khan was threatening and hardcore, and every time the two of them fought, I was really excited because it was cool.

On the flip side, Baloo. Was. TERRIBLE!

In the animated movie, he was a bit of an idiot, but he was also kindhearted, compassionate, and true to the end. In this movie, he starts out as a con artist who gets Mowgli hurt a lot and keeps trying to take advantage of him. My blood boiled with nearly every line Baloo said.

The other characters included Mowgli's wolf mother, who was cool but didn't have a ton of depth, and King Louie (who wasn't an orangutan because those aren't indigenous to India, but for some reason had a Chicago accent as strong as Al Capone), Akela the Alpha wolf (who I don't think was in the original animation) and of course Kaa. Kaa was every bit as terrible as I expected but only present for one scene, and Akela was okay. King Louie was almost the polar opposite of his character in the animated movie; he was terrifying, power-hungry, and absolutely ruthless. I kind of liked it, but my friend with me said she really hates it.

Voice acting in general went from Bill Murray as Baloo and Lupita Ngola as Rakshaa, at passable, to Scarlet Johansen as Kaa, at downright terrible. The two exceptions were Idris Elba and Ben Kingsley as Shere Khan and Bagheera, respectively - they were great. (But what's with the Marvel actors again?!)

The one actor on screen, Neel Sethi, was ... actually, pretty darn good. I mean, for a child actor who's never been in a movie before, he turned in a pretty good hand. Way to go, kid. You have a future ahead of you.

The cinematography was gorgeous, and the angles were great. The camerawork looked highly ambitious, and sometimes it was hard to follow. The editing wasn't very spectacular - there were some cuts that made no sense, like from place to place in the middle of a sentence, and from day to night with really no explanation of the passage of time, but it wasn't so bad that I couldn't keep up. There were parts where I couldn't figure out what was going on, but I wasn't left confused by the end of the scene.

The dialogue was okay, but kind of awkward at times. But it got a lot, lot better towards the end.

As I said before, the songs and most of the music were rehashed from the animated movie. That bothered me.

The CGI was consistently terrible and horrible (but, to be fair, the animation in the original wasn't that great either).

Possibly my favorite part is that there was no one "twist", like all the other live-action movies so far. Actually, within the movie itself, I thought there weren't really any twists, per se. (It wasn't the prince who had to kiss Snow White, it was the Huntsman! It wasn't the prince who had to kiss Sleeping Beauty, it was Maleficent! Ha! Psych! First of all, not really. Secondly, those were the only differences worth mentioning.) I don't think I'm giving anything away when I say that this movie has a different ending than the animated movie, but it didn't feel like the ending was supposed to be that one pivot-point from the original. It just felt like the story they were telling would come to that conclusion anyway, logically and emotionally. This story really felt like its own story. Well done. (And there was a much heftier plot than the animated movie, by the way.)

Unlike the goofiness of the original, there was a sense of wonder and awe in this one that I was not at all expecting. I wouldn't go so far as to call it magical, like I guess some critics have, but it was serious in a beautiful and creative way.

If I had to give it a rating, I'd have to split it into two parts. The first two-thirds to three-quarters were anywhere between mediocre and terrible. The last part was easily between four and five stars. That was the best cinematography, acting, voice acting, characters, and action, no doubt. I have no clue why Rotten Tomatoes is giving it such a good rating, because I don't think it's that good - but parts of it are.

Honestly, I was so surprised to see a live-action remake that so thoroughly justified its own existence. I'm not sure I liked it. It definitely wasn't so good that it challenged in any way my overall skepticism of live-action remakes. But I don't know that it was bad, either. Either way, it's definitely worth watching at least once.

Wednesday, February 17, 2016

Go Home, Hollywood. You're Out of Ideas.

Remember my post a while back about the live-action Disney movies?

I just saw this tonight:
Do I need to say anything?

Snow White is the Brothers Grimm; Snow Queen is Hans Christian Andersen.

Also, the Huntsman was married at some point before Snow White and the Huntsman; are they going to reference that anywhere?

Also, those ice effects are terrible.

Also, if the mirror is so powerful, why did the Evil Queen have to marry Snow White's dad to get power over that kingdom?

Also, didn't the Evil Queen have a brother?

Also, is it even possible for them to rip of Frozen any more?

Also - and most important of all - why does this exist?

Fairy tales aren't meant to be fantasy epics; they're meant to be simple stories that teach lessons. The Snow Queen is probably the best fairy tale to turn into an epic (if you get the chance, read the story or watch one of the faithful movie adaptations - it's a great story), but that's not even remotely what they did here. Instead they... did... something. I'm not sure what.

By the way - that line, "You are my only weakness" - show, don't tell. Animated movies get that better.

Monday, January 25, 2016

Celtic Woman - Tir na nOg Music Video

This is one of Celtic Woman's new songs from their newest album, Destiny. I like Celtic Woman a lot, and I'm really glad they're using Irish more in their lyrics from this album. (I suspect it has something to do with Meav acting as an adviser/consultant/something.)

Anyway, this is probably my favorite song from the album, and they made a music video for it:

Cool song.

Here's my one thought: I'm not musically inclined in any way, and I know pretty much nothing about making music videos, but from the music videos I've seen, I always thought the point was to show things you can't do on a stage. In this video, they kind of act like they're on a stage the whole time. There's a few special effects, but otherwise I thought it was nearly pointless.

BUT... they show a castle in the middle of the video! Do you recognize it from my Travel Blog?

Tuesday, January 19, 2016

J-Term Done

Well, I finished my last J-Term class today - History of Christianity. One of the things I liked about it was that our textbook had a few hymns and the backstory to when they were written. To my amazement, some of them were written while the writer was in prison, and still praising God even though they were in truly terrible circumstances. I don't know how their music survived, but I will try to remember the writers' amazing faith the next time I sing one of those hymns in church.

Wednesday, January 6, 2016

The New Star Wars -- ***SPOILERS SPOILERS SPOILERS*** - I Think It's Worth Seeing

My family saw the new Star Wars movie a few days after Christmas, and to be honest, I have been trying to figure out if I liked it or not. It wasn't bad, and I thought a lot of it was pretty clever. I'm just going to list the points that I thought were most important to the movie, in the order of the stuff that I thought was terrible to the stuff that I thought was clever. Warning: SPOILERS!*

Here's what I'm going to do: in the first section, I'm going to talk about the overall theme, feel, etc., of the movie; in the second section, the specific details that either impressed or disgusted me, again in order of how little I liked them to how much I liked them.

Here goes!

The "Spoilers"

*I think this contains spoilers. Prior to seeing the movie, I kept hearing about this one huge twist in the plot, and after watching the movie, I have no idea what that might have been, because nothing felt like a huge spoiler.

I guess it was Ren Kylo's (Kylo Ren's? Whatever) family. But - and I knew pretty much nothing about the Extended Universe, which the movie is supposed to be loosely based on - I was expecting that. I mean, come on. Of course. What else were they going to do? Literally nobody spoiled it for me, I didn't read it anywhere, and I barely touched the Extended Universe (except for the Darth Bane trilogy - my favorite SciFi books!) and I still knew what that was going to be. 

There was another possible spoiler, that also had to do with Kylo's family - it's pretty much at the end of the movie. Maybe that was it, since that one actually was a spoiler, but... I guess my point is, there really aren't that many *spoilers* in the movie. At least, I didn't think so.

They Got the Most Important Element of the First Trilogy, But They Put Themselves in a Position to Go Completely Off the Rails

My mom is very fond of telling my brother and me that when the original trilogy came out, it came out in the age of the anti-hero. According to her, there weren't many other actual, real, good heroes. For movies, it was the age of moral relativity, and the only thing that separated the "hero" from the "villain" was that the "hero" was the main character. Enter Star Wars, which is obviously nothing like that. Not that the heroes only do good (Han Solo? Leia? Even Luke?) but they're still different from the villains. There is still a right, and a wrong, beyond any doubt. I don't know much about the movies that came out when Star Wars did, so I mostly have my mom's authority for this, but even in an age of comic book and Inkling heroes, Star Wars clearly shows that in order to be a true hero, you can't be a villain. None of the characters are perfect, but you can still tell who's good and who's bad.

The new one nailed that. Not only are the heroes good, and people worth looking up to, but even the villain sort of acknowledges that there's a difference between right and wrong. When the main girl comes across the main guy and a droid who need help, even though she is in every position to say, "Why should I help you at all?" she does the right thing and helps them. The main guy is completely a demonstration not just in avoiding doing really bad things (like murder) but in the less bad things too (like desertion). There is virtually no moral relativity - and by that, I don't mean that they always do what's right, or that they always know what's right, but that they're mostly trying for what's right. 

The problem - and it could be a huge problem - is what they did with the villain. I think the backstory is fabulous, and if they don't screw it up, it could be a great story. Kylo was learning how to use the Force to become a Jedi when he decided he wanted to be like Darth Vader. Literally - he wants to follow in Vader's specific footsteps. He even wears a mask that disguises his voice. What bugs me is that the move left in a position to do all kinds of justification for Vader being not really that bad, to make all kinds of excuses for his switching to the Dark Side (not reasons, but excuses) and to blame everybody else for what Kylo did, is doing, and wants to do. No. I'm sorry, no. I know Obi-Wan kind of blamed himself for Anakin Skywalker's transition to the Dark Side, but they still made it clear Vader was evil. If they decide to start making excuses for the villain, like a lot of other Disney movies have started doing, it could derail a pretty important aspect of Star Wars. I find it kind of ironic - the original trilogy came out at a time when there were no heroes; the newest one comes out at a time when there are no villains. 

The problem with this is that Darth Vader is entirely and completely the absolute worst villain you could make excuses for - because he changed. He left the Dark Side at the very end, and gave his life to save his son's. No excuses necessary - he died a hero. If they detract from that by trying to excuse Vader, they're going to ruin the character even worse than the prequels did. 

There Was a Lot More Referencing the Past Than Any of the Other Star Wars Movies I've Seen

Let me explain: in the original trilogy, there wasn't a lot of history, per se, and most of it was recent history. Of the prequels, I only saw the Phantom Menace, and that only twice, so I can't speak for the other two, but what I remember of the Phantom Menace had very little references to anything that happened at a time before the movie. You don't hear much about the history of the Jedi, or the Republic, or even really the Sith. (Okay, how are Jedi and Darth Vader in blogspot's dictionary but Sith and Skywalker aren't?) Anyway, in the new movie, the main girl (Rey?) asks Han, "Are the stories all true?" and there's a scene with "the first Jedi Temple" (which I'm pretty sure was filmed on Skellig Michael.) There's even a scene where Kylo is looking at Darth Vader's helmet, and as I said, his whole purpose is to follow in Vader's footsteps. You can just feel more of a world with this movie, and I kind of liked that. Instead of adding to the galaxy just by making new aliens and new alien cultures (although they did that too, believe me) they also added to the galaxy by giving it a little depth.

I'm Not Sure It Felt Like a Normal Sci-Fi Movie

I honestly cannot believe J. J. Abrams directed this movie, because it felt nothing like his other ones. He did the Star Trek reboots, which were totally Sci-Fi, to the core. He also did Fringe, which again, was totally Sci-Fi. This movie almost felt more like a fantasy. Not just because of the Force - there were other things, too, that just ... wow. There's a whole lot more mysticism about things other than the Force - things like legends, places, and the sets. Definitely the sets. The main guy's backstory (I think his name's Finn) is that he was kidnapped from his parents and raised to be a Stormtrooper. Boy, does that sound like a certain fantasy that also has dragons? Kylo Ren, when he takes off that mask, looks like he stepped out of that fantasy, too.

There was also a ton of symbolism, some of which was actually really clever. There's one scene when a character is wobbling between the Light and the Dark, and in that scene, a sun acts almost like a channel for Light, and what choice that character makes seems to be influenced by sunlight. I find this interesting because a sun is really important to science in space; solar systems need it for gravity, it can be used for navigation, etc. But it also plays the part of a symbol. 

I wouldn't go so far as to say it felt like a fantasy, because it really didn't. It kind of felt like either a failure at the Sci-Fi element in particular (which, given his track record, I have a hard time believing of J. J. Abrams) or kind of a new spin on Sci-Fi. Either way, I liked it. 

They Definitely Work on the Elements That Are Native to Star Wars

Space battles, and Lightsaber fights. Star Wars owned them both, and this new movie just ruled at making them. The space battles are amazing. There is also a lightsaber fight at the end, and it's freaking fantastic. I think I was holding my breath while watching it. My brother despises it, because one of the participants should have no reason being so good, but whatever. I loved watching it. I really don't know what else to say.

Anyway, below are my thoughts on specific events or points in the movie. You have to scroll down to see them, because these are probably spoilers, and again, rated from my least favorite to my most favorite.

Han Goes Back to Smuggling

This was possibly the worst part of this movie, because it just about completely undid all the hard work and character development dedicated to the original's most questionable hero (more on why that's so important later). In the first movie, Han was a dishonest, selfish, cheating, selfish, careless, and selfish character who ran from absolutely everything and cared only about his pay. By the second movie, he hung around, more or less, and endured torture for the sake of the Rebels; by the third movie, there wasn't even a question of him running away. The Rebels trusted him to lead a sneak attack on Endor, and they knew he wouldn't run away. But - years after being with Leia, after working to build a better world with her and his friends, he runs away. The reason they give isn't a bad one, but I really don't think any reason could be good enough to completely undo his entire character arc in the original trilogy. At least it didn't feel like they were doing it just for nostalgic thrills - with one or two exceptions, but I guess they're allowed that - but even in its best light, this is just stupid writing

Han and Leia Broke Up?

Again - undoing a ton of character development. The reason is the same reason Han goes back to smuggling, but again, I doubt there's a reason strong enough to outweigh the character buildup in the original trilogy. Han went from being a runner, and Leia toned down her arrogance. 

This particularly irritates me, because in today's books, movies, etc., there are so, so, so few romances that actually serve to propel the plot or build character. Most of them just serve to be romances. And it's annoying. And it's distracting. Han and Leia's romance actually developed their characters and propelled the plot (more the former than the latter, but still) and this movie totally screwed it up and set them back to pretty much the beginning. Nice going. 

However, I'm still rating this as only second worst because, when their relationship is explored, it does actually serve to rebuild their characters and propel the plot (more the latter than the former this time, actually) and it's not just there to be a romance. Notice the first infinitive verb, though - rebuild. It shouldn't have needed to be done again. I will say that it did not fell like a repeat of their previous character development; it did feel like a continuation. Just a bad continuation.

The Buildup/Payoff For Small Scenes Was Weird

There were two incidents I can think of that were just strange. First, Han is about to introduce the main leads to a new alien, and he says, "She's kind of an acquired taste." It's an implication that she's scary - but she's not. She's nothing short of helpful and caring the entire time. Sure, she says some things the main characters don't want to hear, mostly "Don't run away," but that's it. She was sweet, kind, and almost motherly.

Then, while talking to that alien, and at a few other points, Han says, "Leia doesn't want to see me." There's this buildup that there's going to be fireworks and problems (and I was thinking, no, please no, no more romantic couples fighting, I can't stand that) but none of that came. They were perfectly nice to each other the whole time, There was no finger pointing, and no yelling.

Han and Leia Don't Fight!!!!

Yes, I'm giving this its own point, because it's awesome! When I reviewed the second Kiera Cass book (here) I commented how much it annoys me when main romantic leads have to fight each other. It drives me up the wall. But Han and Leia don't do that! So, if you were scared there was going to be a bunch of melodrama, there isn't. There's pretty much none. And it's beautiful. 

By the way, the main characters, who I suspect will be romantic at some point, start off not liking each other, but they get over it nice and quickly. They actually quit fighting faster than Han and Leia did in the original trilogy. I think there's only one scene where they bicker. Beautiful, wonderful surprise.

I Really Don't Think They Could Have Done the Villain Any Better

It's late, so I'll just summarize here and probably expound on a later blog post or an update. His backstory makes sense, his struggles make sense, and his goals make sense. I know I complained about how they could really easily screw the story up, but if they don't, then they nailed the villain. He's a product of previous generations (obviously) and also of the previous stories, and - yeah, they pretty much got him down. I bet they could have cast him better (he seriously looks like he stepped out of a fantasy story) but the actor was still good. His struggles connect to how he connects to the previous generation. Nicely. Done.

All in all, I think it's worth seeing, and I'll probably see it again.