Saturday, December 19, 2015

Friday, December 18, 2015

This Week in Neat-O

I've been neglecting this feature of late--I didn't even realize I'd been doing it for over a year!--and I'll probably neglect it some more, but I checked with my editor and he said whatever, dude, it's the holidays, so let's not get rigid about schedules. Here are a couple of things...

:: The $500 Million Battle Over Disney’s Princesses. Really interesting (to me, anyway) Bloomberg article about how Hasbro got Mattel's Disney Princess license and what they plan on doing it--starting with redesigns, a new marketing plan, and emphasizing diversity and empowerment over prettiness.

Change happens slowly, but it does happen, and Disney/Marvel/Lucasfilm are making a lot bigger strides than some.

:: 76 Viral Images From 2015 That Were Totally Fake

:: I get tired of the annual discussion over whether or not Love Actually is a creepy movie (the existence of such a discussion says a lot about how uncomfortable people are with sentiment in general), but I did enjoy this: Emma Freud, longtime partner of the film's writer-director Richard Curtis, live-tweeted a midnight showing of the film.

:: We Asked A Mass Shooter Why The Hell This Keeps Happening.

:: Why Wasn’t WILLOW A Bigger Hit? The article pretty much pegs it. That said, I love the movie, and it's got an especially good novelization. Recently, a podcast I listened to had a better description than I'd ever heard before for the despised term "guilty pleasure": something that you enjoy, but which you really can't defend. Willow is one of those movies for me. I love it, but most of the criticisms I've heard for it are pretty justified.

:: I've not yet seen the new Star Wars, but I want to say something here that I wrote on Tumblr last night: I’m seeing way too many posts (seven, at last count) from guys my age and older who are just terrified that they might have to relinquish their perceived “ownership” of Star Wars to a different generation of kids. Apparently the geek version of “get off my lawn” is “stay out of my toy box.”

I can understand why they’re annoyed. I remember being called a nerd and getting bullied over my interests, too. Hell, that’s what’s kept me far away from fandom. But another thing that’s kept me away from fandom is people who write stuff like that, because they’re so overly concerned that people don’t like things “the right way” or as “purely” as they do. It’s so bizarre and tragic; after years of being bitter about being alone in their interests, now they’re bitter about kids today encroaching on their interests. They want some acknowledgment that they’re the True, Original Fans and, I don’t know, some kind of a thank you for keeping it alive and, post-Prequels, bellyaching this new movie into existence.

It’s really starting to make me sick. The people who remember the trauma of being bullied seem to be so annoyed that kids today aren’t being bullied over going to see sci-fi movies… Like, guys, we created this world where sci-fi and other genres are so mainstream that kids don’t get their asses kicked for reading comic books in high school. That’s what we wanted. A better world for our kids where they could feel free to pursue their interests and like what they wanted to like. And now you’re in a bittersweet mood over how easy it is for kids to pick up these things just because you think you had it bad?

Get a life, guys. Let these kids celebrate the stuff that’s aimed at them. Stop getting hurt that new iterations of Star Wars and Star Trek and Jem and the Holograms aren’t catering exclusively to you. Grow up a little. Stop being condescending about what being a “real fan” means and be happy that the things that isolated you as a kid don’t isolate kids anymore.

This is the world we made. Mainstream acceptance. No one has to kiss our rings for being there first. When I was a kid in the eighties and first getting into Star Trek, the best Trekkies were the ones who welcomed me in and taught me all about it and delighted in sharing it with me; the worst were the ones who acted like they owned it simply because they were alive before I was and had experienced it firsthand. I didn’t care what those people thought, and if you’re going to be tetchy about it, new fans aren’t going to care what you think, either.

Kids have it easier today.

Yeah. That’s kind of the point.

This isn't meant to call out any specific person. It's just a sentiment I've been seeing too much this week on various social media.

:: I've said it before, and I'll say it again: You know who I really miss? John Candy.

Thursday, December 17, 2015

Xmas: "It Won't Seem Like Christmas"

SamuraiFrog's Essential Christmas Songs #31. I can't believe I haven't gotten any Elvis into this series. I remember seeing my Grandma Davis during the Christmas season a number of times, and she loved Elvis. One of the things she always used to play during the holidays was Elvis' Christmas Album, one of my all-time favorites. But, funnily enough, my favorite Elvis Christmas tune isn't on that album at all.

I like to hear this around the holidays because it reminds me so much of Grandma Davis. She used to make everyone--all seven of her children and all (at the time) fifteen of her grandchildren--Christmas cookies and fudge and send them out to all of us. I think that's one of the things I miss most about Christmas Past; getting those tins every December. She passed away in 2000, just after the first of the year. So I like to play Elvis Presley every year at Christmas in memory of my grandmother.

Film Week

A review of the films I saw two weeks ago but never posted about.

STRANGE MAGIC (2015)
The internet really ripped this one to shreds back in January... I found it totally charming and beautifully animated. The story itself isn't really surprising--you know where it's going the whole time, because you've seen movies before--but I really enjoyed the way the story was told. I particularly loved the aesthetic of the character design, which was sort of a combination of Brian Froud, Rien Poortvliet, and Tony DiTerlizzi, which is more or less my exact aesthetic. The kind of thing I think of when I think of creatures. (Basically, anything that looks like Gustaf Tenggren.) The story concerns a fairy princess who ventures into the Dark Forest to save her sister from a love potion and the Bog King, and bits of pop songs are woven through the stories various threads in that "jukebox musical" way. Honestly, it's a very George Lucas type of film, combining fantasy, the balance of good and evil, and pop hits. I guess it's not for everyone, but I found it completely adorable and very well-made. My kind of fantasy, I guess. ***1/2

FIFTY SHADES OF GREY (2015)
Kudos to director Sam Taylor-Johnson and screenwriter Kelly Marcel for what they've done with this. It's still not good, but the film is at least more palatable than the awful, awful, awful novel. Some of the scenes that came across as rapey and abusive seem more consensual in the film version because of the way the tone is handled. Dakota Johnson is perfectly cast, giving Anastasia Steele a bit of playfulness, making her more self-aware through the performance. Jamie Dornan is a block of dead-eyed wood, so they don't really have any chemistry, but the story is so boring, it doesn't matter. When it relaxes and just gives in to its style, it has life, but--and I can't believe I'm saying this--they needed to talk about Christian's contract a hell of a lot more. Because Christian's mental state isn't really explored with anything resembling depth, the contract and his obsession with control just come across as ridiculous and impenetrable, and Christian is silly and small. I couldn't really see what he's supposed to have made Ana feel about herself that she would find him so fascinating that she wouldn't just leave after the first night. He's just a rich guy with control issues--and control issues that are toned down from the novel, and just come across as... petulant. It's like halfway to a decent movie, but it doesn't come together. Still, Danny Elfman's score is a winner, and you never have to check in on what Ana's inner goddess is doing, and you never have to read what EL James thinks passes for decent prose. **1/2

Wednesday, December 16, 2015

Xmas: Peanuts, 1974

Tuesday, December 15, 2015

Saying Goodbye to Mary

We had the funeral for my mother-in-law last Wednesday. Mary was a Buddhist, and the Buddhist funeral apparently needs to happen after three days have passed, as they believe that the consciousness remains until those three days have gone by.

It still feels weird that she's gone... it's almost disruptive. I'm used to her ringtone, as she used to talk to Becca a few times every day. There's a void there, but it's not scary... sometimes it makes me cry, but it's not crippling. I'm processing my grief better than I usually do when someone important to me dies.

Part of it is just taking the time out to still be alive and take care of ourselves. Like they always tell me in therapy, self-care is an important part of healing. I've been making sure that we eat and that we don't try to do everything at once. I think it's created a sense of orderliness that helps. Becca's pretty on task when it comes to meeting with lawyers and financial advisers and getting the probate filed and what we're going to end up doing with Mary's house.

It's also yielded some nice moments. We went to a barbecue place in Hinckley, one town over from where the funeral was, just an hour before the funeral. I tried brisket for the first time ever; I wolfed down a brisket sandwich with hot sauce and some fries, and looked around at the place's decorations, which were all kinds of pop culture goodies: action figures, arcade cabinets, old lunchboxes, comic book pin-ups, old toys... and they were piping in Christmas music, which I've not heard much of this year. It was wonderful. It took us out of the situation for 30 minutes and let us recharge before going in and setting up for the viewing.

The funeral was very nice. Mary's family is Catholic, so most of the family members who came left during the viewing, before the ceremony, because they weren't comfortable attending a rite from a different religion. Seems close-minded to me, but whatever. I think there were only 10 other people who stayed for it besides Becca and I. That made it feel informal and intimate. We were invited to share if we wanted to, rather than following a formal order. There was something loose about it that grounded me.

The woman who performed the ceremony burned a picture of Mary over a bowl of sand, symbolizing her consciousness leaving the body. She talked about samsara, the cycle of life and death, and about Mary's journey in Buddhism. There was a chant, and it ended informally. It was very nice. I have to admit, no Christian funeral has ever felt comforting to me. They feel oppressive and hopeless. They leave me with the feeling that we have no control over our own wills, and I don't like that feeling at all. This Buddhist ceremony left me feeling comforted and hopeful, glad that I had Mary in my life rather than angry and betrayed that she was gone. Because of it, I'm actually handling my grief far better than I've ever handled the remaining grief and survivor's guilt from my sister's death nearly a decade ago. It felt spiritual without feeling doctrinal.

(I don't say this to offend Christians; I'm not judging your religion, just saying that it doesn't work for me personally. I was raised Lutheran, so a lot of this comes from experience.)

So here it is, nearly a week on, and I still have moments of sadness, like we all do. And you know, I think this being the holiday season actually helps, because there are so many things about the holiday season that make me happy. Even though her death was sudden, it still feels natural, and I have this weird--well, weird for me--sense that we're going to be okay through this. That's a strange sensation for me, because I'm always the first to fall apart.

I think I also can't discount that the holiday season means a break from my regular routine, so I don't feel that emotional guilt about dropping out a little bit while I go through this. But it's nice to feel like I'm handling a situation for once, especially a big one, like this.

So far, so good.

So far.

Monday, December 14, 2015

Muppet Monday

Some more holiday selections from the 1976 Sesame Street Postcard Book.

A couple of other Muppet links that have come up:

:: How Elmo Ruined Sesame Street. I've heard similar arguments, but I do think there's a valid point to be made about challenging a child's viewpoints.

Xmas: Calvin and Hobbes, 1990

Sunday, December 13, 2015

Song of the Week: "Ríu Ríu Chíu"

I just sort of randomly came across this song on Tumblr a day or two ago. This performance of this Spanish Christmas carol appears at the end of the Christmas episode of The Monkees that I end up catching a lot of years. This is always my favorite part; I remember first encountering it when I was 9 or 10 years old (I used to love this show in reruns, and one of the first cassettes I ever bought with my own money was Then and Now: The Best of the Monkees) and being stunned by its quiet beauty. I grew up with my Mom's old folk records, and so I was already predisposed to love this kind of song, and seeing the Monkees pull this out was something else. Now I know that their producer, Chip Douglas, had already performed this traditional song with his former band The Modern Folk Quartet and brought them this one for "The Monkees' Christmas Show."