Star Wars: The Rise of Skywalker

I remember a story I once heard about a famous painter. He’d been in the business of making his art for a few decades, and had a number of his works hanging on the walls of his house. A guest of some sort visited, and asked about them, and the painter indicated that he regularly took them down and added to them a bit before hanging them back down. Decades on, and they still weren’t “finished.”

The difference here is that a movie must be finished in order to make money for the people who made it, so, however hectic making it might be, and whatever they end up finally doing with the finished product, there ultimately comes a point when it cannot be further edited. And yes, I realize very well that I say that in direct proximity to what is probably the most famous example of a director going back and tweaking his work later on. 😉

George Lucas began his most famous franchise over four decades ago. He clearly didn’t always know what direction it was going to go in, and when he did know… well, therein lies much of what went wrong with the prequel trilogy. Then it changed hands entirely, and the sequel trilogy changed hands in-house more than once, and quite obviously no one knew exactly where it was going to go. So, to wrap up such a long-running, disjointed saga, so loved (and sometimes hated) by so many people, in some sort of coherent way… yeah, that is a huge task.

It is small wonder there were so many purported reshooting sessions and reediting even in the eleventh hour. So many voices, with varying degrees of sway, trying to create a conclusion that can satisfy such a massive audience, and one which has already proven highly critical, can make for a pretty confusing mess. Add in how the studio which currently owns the franchise does not want to simply end the entire thing, while also ending this particular saga, and it gets even more hectic. It shows, quite a bit, that there was a lot of back and forth all over the place.

Still, for better or worse, we have what we have now. The film has been released, the saga is complete, it is finished (I say, with a wry smile), and what is done is done.

So… how did Star Wars Episode IX: The Rise of Skywalker finally turn out?

…all in all, not bad. It could have been a lot worse (it edged very close to such on a very fine line), and it was pretty good. I enjoyed it, and I liked it.

Still a Mary Sue millennial.

Oh, yes, of course there are issues with it. There are always issues, both professional and personal. That was pretty much unavoidable. Some characters repeat each other, some seem to die and then come back, some seem like they might live but then die, some scenes were obviously made but cut out later, some narrative inconsistencies appear all over the place, a few threads are left dangling, and so on and so forth. The “back and forth” may well have just been the argument over including moments of emotional impact, but then not wanting to stick with the consequences of those powerful moments.

And then, of course, there are the themes, which are all highly debatable and depend entirely on our own views to determine how much we enjoy them. For instance, I personally quite loved how Last Jedi challenged the idea of one’s bloodline being so important in the determining of one’s destiny, but Rise of Skywalker turned that on its head again, apparently in favor of an argument that family is something you choose more than what you inherit, and sometimes that family is defined by the cause it devotes itself to. I can appreciate that, even if it makes one’s bloodline a factor, albeit not the determining factor, of one’s life and one’s ability to use special skills like the Force.

Much more, however, where Last Jedi explored the choices one makes when one is standing alone, Rise of Skywalker demonstrates the power of standing together. There is a definite theme of evil winning by convincing its opponents that they are alone, and therefore powerless. However, there are always more people willing to stand up in a time of crisis. They just need a little leadership is all.

It is a very hopeful message, and very much needed now, I think, as we seem to be confronting all sorts of evils and issues in our society today.

Where the movie really goes wrong, I think, is when it moves the designated plot, haphazard thought it may be, forward at the cost of real character development. The characters are pretty much being told what to do the entire time and dragged to face various obstacles, which they then magically overcome somehow. It’s all a mighty confrontation between good and evil, epic and packed with danger. Yet, there isn’t that much personal development, not even when characters are facing everything from vast and powerful armies to old and despicable evils to their own dark sides.

Perhaps that’s simply because the movie never stops. It never slows down, just keeps darting from one crisis to another, delivering more plot, more exposition, more action, more, more, more. I know it’s a massive finale, but I think it could have done well to give us some slower, more tender moments. Maybe then the characters could have driven the plot instead of the other way around.

And, heck, maybe we could have actually heard what Finn was trying to get up the nerve to tell Rey!

“I know we were brave, clever, loyal, and inspiring… but did anything we did really matter?”

I suppose, in short, the movie, and the saga, and the entire franchise, is something of a mess, really. But, it’s a fun mess, an entertaining mess that has positive messages, and a mess with lovable characters, epic scenes, and an enjoyable, if also very rough, story. It has lots of flaws, yes, but it’s still pretty good.

Rating: 9 stars out of 10

Grade: A-Minus.

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Sunday’s Wisdom #268: Changing Attitude

“Change is always frightening. But as Saint Austin also said, ‘A little change from time to time is God’s way of reminding us we have not yet learned everything.”
– Reverend Julius Hanks, Flag in Exile
Honor Harrington series, by David Weber

Not a bad first quote of the year, eh?

When Reverend Hanks says this, he is speaking with the main protagonist, Honor Harrington. He is a religious leader of a people who have maintained their way of life with a will so stubborn as to put iron and mules both to shame. That is how they survived in a most inhospitable environment for nearly a thousand years. So, when the wheels of fate dictated that survival suddenly depended on changing those ways, it was only to be expected that there would be some recalcitrance to be found. As Honor is a major part, and a major symbol, of this change, she is also the primary target of a great deal of anger and hatred, resulting from fear and pride.

Thus, the context of Hanks’ words.

Many who have attained some level of authority have let it go to their heads, but not Hanks. He is a man of kindness, courage, and, especially, humility. Where others (the agitators) cling to the conviction that they are absolutely right, with no room for compromise, Hanks is always open to the possibility that he is mistaken. Having accepted this, he’s not afraid of it and, lacking that fear, has no need to try and make truth bend to suit him. In short, he admits that he does not know everything. He simply does his honest best, and leaves the rest to God, who does know everything.

There is a great deal about this which I admire.

For one, it makes for a solid personal foundation and a strong emotional, psychological, and spiritual structure atop it. Yet said structure can bend and adapt and guide others in doing likewise, without compromising its own integrity or damaging said foundation.

There is an admission that the way one has survived before may not be how one can survive now or in the future. Which is also an admission that things cannot be made to stay the same forever, no matter how much one might want it to, or try to make it do so. That way lies only stagnation, rot, disease, and destruction. That status quo cannot and will not always remain. And it is yet another admission that one is informed in part by the environment one is raised in, and if the environment is changed, new lessons must be learned.

Indeed, there is always more for us to learn.

No matter how much we already know, no matter how we might use that knowledge to thrive in one circumstance, there is always more to learn, that we might thrive in other circumstances as well.

Facing those new circumstances, however, is like facing an entire world which we have no idea how to survive in. To willingly step into that brave new world, leaving behind not only what we know but our previous means of survival, needing to learn an entirely new way of doing things… well, that is a daunting task.

Small wonder people react with fear, and want to tell themselves that they already have and know everything they need, despite all evidence to the contrary.

And the real tragedy is not that that one is afraid or stubborn. It is when one lets fear stoke pride to the point that kindness is strangled. That is when sanity and humanity are left behind, and people get hurt.

I know I do not always react well to change, myself, but I am always working on it. If there is one thing I understand with abundant clarity, it’s that I have not yet learned everything.

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2020: Looking Behind and Looking Ahead

Happy New Year! 🙂

2020 is here! Yay!

2019 has come and gone, and what a year it was!

I celebrated my fifth blogging anniversary. 🙂

Said celebration involved the 30-Day (or 30-Week, in my case) Anime Pick 5 Challenge! That was loads of fun to do, frequent YouTube challenges notwithstanding.

I crowned that with the long-promised Anime Countdown, also fun.

I didn’t quite manage to do all of the weekly reviews, of anime and other titles, which I had hoped to, alas, but I got through most of them.

And I had a good amount of fun with a number of tags and miscellaneous fan-based discussions, not to mention my weekly quotes! 🙂

I more than crossed the threshold of 300 followers as well, which was very cool, especially considering 2019 brought in about a hundred and four of them. 😀

Have I mentioned how grateful I am to you, my wonderful audience, for reading and following this humble little blog of mine? Well, I am! Thank you! 😀

Less happily, 2019 also featured a number of rising tensions and upsets in Real Life which necessitate 2020 as a year of transformation, hopefully. These changes are such that, after five years of going strong, I am going to have make a few changes in my blogging behavior. Specifically: cutting back.

Let me make it clear: Merlin’s Musings is not, in any way, stopping. I just celebrated five years, and it was great! I am not stopping now! No way! 🙂

But, regrettably, I must slow down a bit. I find that I have less and less time to  work with, and more issues to deal with in real life, most especially in regards to supporting my family as it passes through a most trying experience. I also have increasing stresses of my own, regarding my real-life future and career, and if I am to find my way forward, I need to do something different.

One thing I am going to do different: I am going to try and finish – yes, to actually complete – one of the many ideas I have for a novel to write.

I’ll be keeping the details of said novel to myself for now, but it is my lifelong dream to become a published novelist. I’ve never finished any of my ideas, though, because 1) I’ve often been in need of a job and 2) I have just sucked at developing my ideas to a finishing point. So, doing this? It is a huge step for me, whether or not I get published (which I certainly hope I do!). Wish me luck!

That, of course, leaves even less time for blogging, and I have no idea how well I might juggle the two efforts.

I don’t know exactly how big the impact crater is going to be, but devoting the time to outlining and completing a novel obviously leaves less time for consuming and reviewing books, anime, and everything else. As for movies, I do still intend to catch some of the new releases, especially the following titles somewhere close to their respective opening weekends:

Mar. 27: Mulan (a Disney live-action remake that I am more excited for because it promises to not be either a bland redoing or have just a few superfluous additions, but a tale that, like Jungle Book, draws more on the original story as well as Disney’s animated take on said story)
May 1: Black Widow (undomesticated equines could not keep me from this one!)
June 5: Wonder Woman 1984 (I am eager for this one, too! Especially the mystery of Steve Trevor’s return!)
June 19: Soul (looks cute, I may or may not make it to this one)
Nov. 6: Eternals (intriiiiguing!)
Nov. 25: Raya and the Last Dragon (yes, this one, yes)

And somewhere in there will be the MCU’s first Disney+ series, The Falcon and the Winter Soldier, due to come out this fall.

On that particular note, my old commentary section, This Week on TV, has steadily dwindled with the dropping, ending, or both, of nearly every show in my Weekly Lineup. The last one standing is Marvel’s Agents of Shield, which is ending this season. I intend to follow through with that one, to the end. But when it ends, so does my commentary, for the foreseeable future. I may come back to it at some point, and I rather hope to, but it won’t be very soon, alas.

There will always be a weekly post in Sunday’s Wisdom, I am determined, but everything else is getting severely trimmed.

But, on the other hand, I am introducing a brand new section, which I think I will entitle… My Own Work. It’s a fairly self-explanatory title 😉 but to elaborate, it will be where I post things I write like, say, poetry, short stories, or memoirs. You know, to keep the juices flowing, but with an occasional break from the grindstone, that sort of thing. It’ll certainly be interesting for me to introduce the world to my own work, instead of only commenting on everyone else’s. 🙂

So… I don’t know what sort of transformation this will really be, if I’ll come out like a butterfly or not, but, I am going to give my all, and I hope that you, my wonderful audience, will not be too badly disappointed in me. 😉

Once again, thank you!

Thank you very much! 😀

Posted in What's New | 7 Comments

Sunday’s Wisdom #267: The Present

“Yesterday is history, tomorrow is a mystery, but today is a gift. That is why it is called the present.”
– Master Oogway, Kung Fu Panda

An appropriate quote for the turning of years, and of decades, no? 🙂

At this moment in the story, the protagonist, a young, fat panda bear named Po, is feeling very discouraged. He seems to be failing to grasp a bright and shining future, doing what he’s always wanted to do, because he can’t seem to do it as well as others can. So he’s thinking about his past, the life he’s always known and always wanted out of, wondering if he should just give up and go back to what he was doing before.

So, he’s dwelling on the past, and a possible future, and he’s upset because he feels like a total failure.

But Oogway tells him this, and the meaning of it is clear.

The past is the past, it is over and done. It can’t be changed, but neither must it forever rule us. It is there to learn from.

The future is unknown, and nobody can predict it perfectly (though they can certainly do a fair job of it at times). One ought to look towards it, but not exclusively.

As for the present… now, that is a wonderful thing, isn’t it? Every day we have, every moment, is a gift. And it’s quite a powerful gift, isn’t it? Every moment of joy, of laughter, of sorrow, of anguish, of anger, of hope, of triumph, all of it is felt, here and now, from moment to moment. Every choice we make, we make in the here and now. The course of the past may be departed from, to change our destination in the future. Whatever has happened before, and whatever we want or fear in what may yet happen, it is in the present that we choose what path to take, or make.

That is a powerful, wonderful, beautiful thing, is it not?

As I learn from yesterday, and look to tomorrow, I hope that I do not forget about today, and everything it means.

Posted in Movies, Sunday's Wisdom | Tagged | 1 Comment

The Subtle Victory Within Game of Thrones

Like many other people who followed HBO’s Game of Thrones, I was not entirely satisfied with how it ended. Everyone who cares about said ending (or was within earshot of anyone who does) is pretty familiar with the usual complaints, which I share, so I won’t bother going over them here. There was, however, one thing which, debatable though it may be, I liked.

It was when the lords of Westeros agreed that their rulers would henceforth be voted into power.

Most of what I’ve heard about that moment has been either approval that vicious, treacherous, idiotic murderers and psychopaths won’t get a claim to the throne just because of who their father was, or disapproval in that it doesn’t actually solve any problems, it just changes the game a little, and the people in power will continue to do all the terrible things they do for power. All of that is true. There’s something else, though, which is a bit more subtle.

To set the stage:

After a very long and tumultuous journey, full of bloodshed, horror, tragedy, tears, destruction, despair, and everything else, we have arrived at this small gathering of all of the most powerful lords and ladies of the land. There have been entire wars fought along the way, and entire ways of life have been completely upended. Slaves have been freed and masters butchered. Very old families, nations, and civilizations, with hundreds or even thousands of years of history behind them, have been pushed to the brink of oblivion, and still others have simply been rendered extinct. Heroes and villains alike have come and gone. There was an apocalyptic war fought against an ancient, unstoppable foe and his undead horde. And this was topped with a final conflict against the most annoying mortal woman in history, which concluded with the merciless slaughter of an entire city’s populace. All of that, and we find ourselves back where we were before the story even began: a city burnt, people slaughtered, a monarch betrayed and killed, a dynasty ended, and everyone divided about what really happened and why… again.

All of that, even averting one possible ending of the world and everyone in it, and it amounts to little more than one more turning of the great wheel of power. All of it. Just. One. Turn.

Dany spoke about that wheel once. What was it she said?

“Lannister, Targaryen, Baratheon, Stark, Tyrell, they’re all just spokes on a wheel. This one’s on top, then that one’s on top, and on and on it spins, crushing those on the ground… I’m not going to stop the wheel. I’m going to break the wheel.”
– Season 5, Episode 8, “HardHome”

The end of the world was avoided, and the wheel just keeps turning.

Even Dany, for all her glorious dreams, failed to notice that those very dreams would, in reality, just keep the wheel spinning.

The wheel, after all, represents the endless machinations of the mighty, of the cycle of their rising and falling in power, always to the same result: everyone ends up crushed, especially the commoners who have no such power.

It’s more obvious in the eastern continent of Essos, where Dany grew up. There, she saw barbarians burning down villages and cutting down villagers, pausing only long enough to rape whoever took their fancy. And then she went back to civilized society and saw even worse, in the form of slavery. The Dothraki horse-lords saw other people and other cultures as little more than something they could use for sport, but the masters of the many city-states saw their slaves as even less. The slaves weren’t even sport, they were chattel, not even human, albeit with more diverse uses.

Yet, though people in Westeros are “free,” the divide between those in power and those beneath them is merely more intricate, but no less profound. These are a people whose customs can be traced directly to their ancient conquest of the continent. The great families stylize themselves after animals, as if they were something more, something other, than human, much like the Children of the Forest became when they joined their minds to that of the beasts around them, a practice that humans soon learnd. Their lords call peasants “smallfolk,” which, of course, means that the lords are bigger, larger, stronger, impossible to challenge even at a glance, like the Giants. Both customs are obviously rooted in the practice of taking power from others and building oneself up with it. The lords are all giants and beasts (aka, gigantic, monstrous beasts), while the commoners are… just people.

It might not be as obvious as the distinction between masters and slaves, but it’s still an inherent, hereditary enslavement that has lasted thousands of years, unchallenged.

For all that Dany wanted to free the people, she still would have claimed a throne and a crown based solely on that system, and on how she had, and “was,” the biggest and most terrifying beast of them all. She would have been part of the system, one under which countless atrocities were condoned.

In the books, Lord Bolton describes how he once hanged a man and raped his wife beneath his dangling corpse, simply because it was his “right” to have the first night with said wife, and he would not be denied. That sired a traitorous, murderous bastard with a penchant for torture, hunting girls and raping their corpses (which was frowned on, but not stopped), and feeding people to his dogs.

Tywin Lannister had a penchant for murdering entire houses and those who stood with them, as in the case of the slaughtered Tarbrecks and the infamous Reynes of Castamere, whom he sealed within their own mine and drowned with a diverted river, murdering men, women, children, and beasts, with no regard whatsoever for their lives. A sin which, it would seem, became magnified in his mad, manipulative, murdering daughter, not to mention his grandson.

Arya Stark witnessed the sadistic brutality of the Tickler’s murdering torture, and overheard the boasting of a cutthroat named Chiswyk, recounting how his commander, Gegor Clegane, called the Mountain, casually raped an innkeeper’s daughter on the very table they were being served at, casually murdered the girl’s brother when he tried to protect her, and still the innkeeper had to just say the equivalent of “thank you for your business” just to try and survive.

The marauding reavers of the Iron Islands, for all their talk of every captain being a king and their kingsmoots of old, they committed countless depravities against pretty much everyone they could reach, and thought nothing of it. No, even worse, they actively encouraged it.

The Tyrells just used their people for their own ends, albeit by more gentle means, and the Starks still demanded absolute loyalty to their bloodline, as if they were more important than others, and even the relatively-enlightened rulers of Dorne, the Martells, who understood that there was truly no difference between those who rule and those who are ruled, still ruled absolutely.

Everything the lords of Westeros did, they simply did, and got away with, because they had the power to do so. They were, after all, lords, not “smallfolk.”

Burning King’s Landing, burning the Khals, burning the warlocks, burning a witch, burning a defiant lord and his son, feeding men to her dragons, killing guilty and innocent masters alike, sealing lying, murdering, traitors to die within an empty vault… all of these are things Dany could do simply because she had the power to do them. She’d have fit in rather well, really, with all the other beasts of Westeros, not really all that different at all. And still, she was just getting started.

The closest thing that Westeros had to a selection of their king by vote was in a great council, where the competing claims of two would-be rulers, both Targaryens, were debated, discussed, and decided. That’s it, really.

Dany was absolutely right: the wheel keeps turning, and everyone on the ground gets crushed, no matter who happens to be on top at any given moment.

…and, it turns out, she may have been right that she would break that wheel, albeit in a completely different way than she expected.

The crux of it all comes after everything else, when Tyrion stands before the lords to be judged, but first he guides them into choosing a new king, and one who completely transforms the system of a king’s selection from hereditary to democratic.

Samwell Tarly proves to be a man ahead of his time when he suggests something that the rest of the lords aren’t ready for, and even laugh at outright. When they’re choosing a king, he says:

“Why just us? We represent all the great houses, but whomever we choose, they won’t just rule over only lords and ladies. Maybe the decision about what’s best for everyone should be left to… well, everyone.”
Season 8, Episode 6, “The Iron Throne”

The lords laugh at Sam. And we laugh at them.

They even suggest, in derision, giving their dogs and horses a vote, completely missing the irony of how they’ve stylized themselves after those same beasts. But I digress.

Even the best, noblest, and most courteous of the lords present reject that idea outright… yet they also lay the first rock in the foundation for it, don’t they?

In the end, Bran Stark is chosen, and he is not going to have any hereditary successors. He is chosen by Tyrion, supported by everyone present. Tyrion himself remarks on the change, that kings will be chosen by their lords and ladies, those who were, until that moment, as step beneath the king, as surely as the peasants are beneath the lords and ladies. Now, the sons of kings will never again torment them all. That is the wheel Dany wanted to break.

And she did, not by seizing an iron throne and liberating all the slaves in the world into her service, but by dying, and leaving behind an opportunity, which Tyrion capitalizes on.

It is the idea that rulers can do whatever they like with those they rule, to whatever end they wish, that is the true wheel. But now there is another idea: that rulers are to be chosen by those they rule, for the good of the realm, for the good of those who are ruled.

Meaning: no one is born with the right to rule.

He poisoned no kings, but he poisoned the idea of kings.

Think about that. That is an idea that hasn’t actually been there before in the entire history of the world. It is a leveling of the playing field, one that evens the odds, and by acknowledging that those who rule are not actually any better, any higher, or any different than their subjects. The notion of masters and slaves, of lords and “smallfolk,” becomes immediately and entirely outdated in the face of that.

Even if it takes time, centuries or even millennia, the idea is there, and it can spread and grow.

Sooner or later, someone will go, “Hey, the king rules the lords like the lords rule the peasants, so if he king isn’t actually above the lords, isn’t actually born to it, doesn’t that mean the lords aren’t actually born above the peasants?”

And though the wheel will continue to turn, that wheel has now been delivered a precise blow, with tremendous force, leaving behind a single, small crack. As that wheel turns and turns and turns, the crack can only grow wider and deeper, the wheel that much more fractured, fragile, and weak, until the day will come that it is shattered entirely and left behind.

Thus, the subtle victory within Game of Thrones, that all of these titanic, earth-shattering events combined and culminated not in the ascent of yet another grand and mighty sovereign who would just be the latest in a long line, but in the birth of a single idea, which will inevitably revolutionize the world:

No man is born, or has the right to be, above any other man.

All will be free, both because and in spite of this.

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Sunday’s Wisdom #266: Make it Last All Year

“It is the Season of the Spirit!
The message, if we hear it,
Is ‘Make it last all year!’”
– From “It Feels Like Christmas,” The Muppet Christmas Carol

Forgive me for quoting this same song two Christmastimes in a row, and, in fact, exactly one year (minus one day) after the last time I quoted it. 🙂

There is something magical about this time of year, isn’t there? It’s like a feast for the human soul, remembering what matters most, refreshing our commitment to it, and rejuvenating our strength, all at once. Every smile seems that much brighter, as every light does when it’s in the dark. It is a special time of love, caring, kindness, and charity. A truly wonderful time of year.

And there is a point to it.

The message of Christmas is not limited to caring for each other only once every year. We need to always care for each other. Always.

A starving, homeless man is not that much better off in summer than he is in winter.

A widow who has company at Christmas ought not to be left alone for the rest of year.

A child weeping in the summer sun needs help every bit as much as the one who weeps in the winter snows.

Christmas is a time for the spirit of love, and people need that spirit, that caring, kindness, and charity, every single day of every season, all throughout the year. We need it within ourselves, to carry our burdens. We need it among our fellows, to help with burdens that are too heavy for one person to bear alone. We need to have it, give it, and receive it. That is the light of human decency itself, offering warmth and comfort for everyone it might touch.

We need to keep that light lit even when things seem bright, as surely as we need it in the dark.

On that note, let us make of this season as happy a time as we might, for ourselves and those around us, and let us take that joy and comfort, and spread it throughout the entire year! 😀

Merry Christmas, everyone! 🙂

Posted in Movies, Sunday's Wisdom | Tagged | 1 Comment

Since I Was a Kid: The Geeky Childhood Tag

This is a new one! A tag that has no rules? It’s just about our geeky childhoods. Cool. I like it!

And I love the timing: just in time for my birthday! What a perfect time for a bit of nostalgia! 😀

My thanks to Tiger for tagging me! 🙂

So, what shall I be talking about? Let’s see these questions!

Where did your geek come from? Parents? Siblings? Destiny?

A bit from one column, a bit from another…

Heh, my parents are about as non-geek as it gets. I hear that my mother’s grandfather was way into tech stuff, such that a cabin he owned on the Norwegian coast had television, by which to watch Perry Mason, without ever having plumbing. Heh. But that skipped a couple generations, it would seem, and came out in me and my sisters. We do not have identical areas of expertise, but we are much more tech—savvy than our parents, and we used it each for our own ends.

My “end” was consuming entertainment, including books, music, movies, television, and games. 😉 And then I’m sure I wore my family’s patience thin talking about what the various characters ought to have done instead, LOL!

My sisters were more into sports and computers or fashion, socializing, and boys, respectively, but we all loved Star  Wars and Star Trek. Oh, the routines we would do, quoting and acting out all of our favorite scenes! And singing all the Disney songs! And so much more! 🙂

So I suppose it was destiny, and siblings, and ancestry all at once. 🙂

The First Geeky Thing You Got Into

Hmmm… I’m going to go with the two star-themed franchises: Star Wars and Star Trek. Not sure which one I got into first, but I grew up with the both of them from a very young age, so I suppose it’s a moot distinction. 🙂

Favorite TV Show as a Kid

Ah, favorites. A tricky thing with me. On the one hand, I was pretty much an instant fan of the latest thing, insisting that it was the greatest thing ever and anyone who didn’t see that was clearly not as smart as me. (Oy vey!) On the other, I didn’t really have “favorites,” per se, or at least none that lasted very long.

So, my favorite TV show as a kid… I’m going to pick two.

ThunderCats, a classic cartoon.

And Walker: Texas Ranger. I just loved how he was so noble and strong.

…not sure how I feel about this reboot…

Favorite Movie as a Kid

Running into the same problem as with any other favorites of mine, I am just going to say… The Princess Bride! …or maybe Return of the Jedi. 😉

Favorite Video Game as a Kid

Ah, an easier one. I’ve always loved the franchise, The Legend of Zelda. 🙂

…then again, I also liked the Kirby game for the original Nintendo, with the twist in the final villain at the end.

And the first game I recall ever actually beating (my mother heard my whoops of triumph despite having most of a house between us) was Megaman 6! 😀

Favorite Book as a Kid

Ah, finally an easy one! The Prydain Chronicles, by Lloyd Alexander! 😀

Favorite Memory as a Kid

Christmas morning, when my sisters and I would get up early, ascend the stairs, and see the rosy glow of the lights around the corner, and then to behold the presents!

I also love  the memory of me and my sisters doing our impersonations together. I was always Chekhov. 🙂

And when my father would tell us bedtime stories, most of which I’ve forgotten, but I clearly recall one story he was talking about these men sharpening their knives: “ssssnik! ssssnik!”

I love time with my family. 🙂

A Character You Looked Up To as a Kid

Hmmm… not so much a single character as a class of character: the mentors. I liked the heroes well enough, but I always wanted to be the mentor, wise and knowing and usually right, a strong support, a teacher, a protector, no matter what it cost them. I liked that. I always wanted to be that.

A Character That Scared You as a Kid

Winnifred Sanderson, from Hocus Pocus! No competition! Her sisters were hilarious idiots, but she was downright nasty! Oh, she was the figure my mind conjured up when I was afraid of the dark!

A Movie That Scared You as a Kid

Jurassic Park.

The movie that gave me my very first ever jump scare, which I have never lived down in the decades since seeing it in theaters, partially because I’d had a box of candies in my hand at the time, and several of said candies went sailing all the way across the theater.

And then I came home and found the little horse toy that my grandmother had given me, and which I had courteously (but not with enthusiasm) thanked her for, before promptly burying it under my dinosaur toys. I got the horse toy out and hugged it after that movie, LOL.

…and that’s my geeky childhood! 🙂

Now, the hard part…

For when there are no rules, how does one proceed?

In my case, I am going to tag a few friends on their respective blogs:
A Winter’s Reverie
The Moyatorium
Keiko’s Anime Blog
Ospreyshire’s Realm
The Things I’ve Seen

And ask the same questions:

  1. Where did your geek come from? Parents? Siblings? Destiny?
  2. The First Geeky Thing You Got Into
  3. Favorite TV Show as a Kid
  4. Favorite Movie as a Kid
  5. Favorite Video Game as a Kid
  6. Favorite Book as a Kid
  7. Favorite Memory as a Kid
  8. A Character You Looked Up To as a Kid
  9. A Character That Scared You as a Kid
  10. A Movie That Scared You as a Kid

Looking forward to your answers! 🙂

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Sunday’s Wisdom #265: Simple Caring

“All around the cathedral, the saints and apostles
Look down as she sells her wares.
Although you can’t see it, you know they are smiling
Each time someone shows that he cares.

Though her words are simple and few,
Listen, listen, she’s calling to you.”
– from “Feed the Birds,” Mary Poppins

It may not be a Christmas movie, but I can scarce think of something more perfect to share at this time of year than a song about caring.

I’ll probably comment on the exact circumstances around this quote some other time. For now, Mary Poppins is teaching the children under her care about the world, and what really matters.

There is an old lady, of very humble means, who apparently makes her living selling bags of crumbs for people to feed to the local birds. She sits in a busy square, on the steps of a grand church, and calls out to the people nearby. Obviously, many of them buy her crumbs and feed the birds, else she’d not be able to continue with this at all. But there are many, so many, who just go right past her without even really noticing. They are on “important business” after all: making their own living, supporting a nation, running an empire, upholding fine structures of finance and religion, praying to God in a cathedral, etc. In all of the hustle and bustle, it’s easy to miss one old woman, to not hear her small voice, her simple call, to just walk past without “wasting” time and money.

But what is most pleasing to the powers of Heaven? Or, a more general way of putting it, what is of greatest value to the human soul?

I do not want to dismiss the importance of other things, of course. Nations, industry, one’s employment, and all those other things, they are certainly worth our attention. Just not all of it. It does us no great harm to take five minutes out of our day to do something for that little old woman.

I also do not want to preach guilt or shame or anything like that. I hate that sort of approach, as it breeds little more than dissatisfaction on the one hand and self-righteousness on the other. One must be true to oneself, and acting kind, because of some sense of obligation, is not the same as being kind.

I merely mean to say that it will do us good to slow down, to see and hear and help the people in need right next to us. By which, I mean, that it is a good thing to help feed starving children in Africa, so to speak, but it’s also good to help that starving child we see right in front of us on the street corner.

And it doesn’t even need to be so dramatic as that. The lyrics talk about showing that we care, and there are many ways to care. Volunteering in a hospital, or a shelter, or a food bank, or a library. Playing Santa for some kids, making a healthy meal for a needy family in the neighborhood, baking cookies, raking leaves, helping someone move, etc. Even just a conversation. It just takes a little time and energy, that’s all.

I must admit, I have not always done this. I will always remember this single moment where I was walking one way, and I passed a young lady going the other way, and I could swear she was crying about something. I kept going, and kept going… and then I turned and ran back the way I’d come, but it was too late. I couldn’t find her, couldn’t be the person who cared enough to help her. I might have brightened her day, but I hesitated, because I was too busy.

I remembered that lesson some time later, when I met another girl who might have been upset about something, or maybe not, on a bus. This time, I offered to talk, if there was anything wrong. She assured me I was mistaken, but that was no biggie.

I was happier to be mistaken in offering to help than I was in failing to help at all.

Posted in Movies, Sunday's Wisdom | Tagged | 3 Comments

The Real Reason Action Movies Are Better Than Chick Flicks

“Mine has explosions!” “Mine has kissing!”

There is an eternal war raging in almost every household. It is the great contest of which movie two or more people will agree to watch together. One side favors action, adventure, fighting, and explosions, and the other wants romance, romance, romance. The two genres are classically called guy movies and girl movies, action and rom-coms, adventures and chick flicks.

Let me quickly make it clear that I am not at all going to argue about the stereotypes of guys and girls. One can like whatever they like, regardless of their gender.

No, this is just a little theory I have come up with based on examing my own personal preferences. It’s a fairly simple one, really.

I, obviously, tend to favor the action movie. I’ll take a testosterone-fueled explosions over brain-scarring love stories (so-called) any day. But, wait, I suddenly realized! How many of my action movies feature a romantic subplot? It’s practically a standard feature of such movies for the hero to be fighting, in the end, to save (or avenge) their romantic loved one.

In the words of Captain Hook, when Wendy was telling him about the adventure stories Peter Pan listened to her telling, he said, “Love stories… They all end in a kiss.”

And there are plenty of movies, anime, and other stories I like which feature little to no action at all. So, I asked myself, if it’s not the love stories I hate or the explosions I absolutely must have, then what is the  real reason for my preferences? What makes the one better than the other?

My theory:
Action movies are about doing something good, and then getting the girl (or otherwise living happily ever after).
Chick flicks are about just how badly someone can behave, how poorly they can treat others, especially their romantic interest, and still get their coupled-up happy ending.
Thus, action movies are better than chick flicks.

There is a bit of variance, of course, in both genres. This is not a statement that all movies of both types are exactly like this. It is what I, personally, observe to be a general rule of thumb.

Now, you may or may not be protesting what I just said about chick flicks. After all, romantic comedies are about people who make mistakes and overcome them, right? That is a valid perspective but, really… they don’t always just “make mistakes.” It can be worse or better, from case to case, but these characters treat each other like crap so many times it isn’t funny. It’s also disconcerting how such behavior gets held up as an example of some happy, healthy, loving, romantic relationship. It’s not.

Naturally, as with most any debatable stance, I come armed with examples! 😉

First, let’s start off with a fairly domestic, harmless example: While You Were Sleeping.

Starring Sandra Bullock as Lucy, the story follows her as she has a mad crush on a man who pretty much doesn’t know she exists. Then he gets mugged, she saves his life, but he falls into a coma. There’s a little mixup when his  family arrives and she gets confused for his fiancé. She rolls with it, out of immediate concern for the man’s loved ones, and then keeps up the charade on the advice of a friend of the family. As she’s suddenly swept up as part of a family she never had before, she soon comes to genuinely love them all, and she also falls for the brother of the man she had a crush on. There are a number of hilarious hijinks involved, and she almost makes a terrible mistake towards the end, but she comes clean and, when the truth is known, the man’s family accepts her once again, and the brother, whom she loves, proposes to her. Happily ever after.

Now, this one is fairly balanced, I think. It’s true that Lucy tells a lie, and builds entire relationships on it in the short term. That is, in the words of my generation, not cool. However, that lie was an accident at first. She maintained it not for herself, but for the family she came to love in a very short time, and at the encouragement of a wise man who had the family’s best interests at heart. She came clean, in the end, and made herself clearly understood in a more mature fashion. It’s easy to see why, and how, she was forgiven, and brought into the family for real.

She actually got pigeon-holed into doing something generally considered “wrong,” but for the right reasons, and she eventually owned up to it. Her happy ending is fairly well-deserved, I would say.

So, that’s the tamest example I could think of.

Now, stepping things up a bit with a second example: Sweet Home Alabama.

Reese Witherspoon’s character, Melanie, is a southern country girl who prefers everything in the big city. She’s a successful fashion designer and has a man of status and wealth who wants to marry her. One small detail: she’s already married, and her husband down south keeps refusing to sign the divorce papers. She goes back home to make him sign, and, while she’s stuck there, she demonstrates how much she dislikes everything in her small hometown. She disparages the people she grew up with and their entire way of life, as if there were something wrong with it and she’s somehow superior to it all because it doesn’t have all the shiny, expensive things she likes. That’s why she ran off to the big city in the first place and even changed her surname to match that of her home’s richest, mot distinguished family. She even lashes out at a gay man who never did her any wrong, but is quickly forgiven, even before she expresses any sort of apology.

Then she finds out that her husband has actually put a lot of effort into making himself worthy of her, with an ambitious effort in glass-making, which has become reasonably profitable, due to some beautiful craftsmanship. And this changes her perspective.

When her lies, including her adopted name, are outed, her true past revealed, her fiancé is hurt, but still wants to marry her. But wait! It turns out, she accidentally failed to sign the divorce papers this time around, and now, as she stands at the altar… she finds that she can’t sign them. She loves her husband more than she loves her forgiving fiancé. So she goes and gets the man she loves, and lives happily ever after.

In short, she left her husband, and the home she displays little more than spite for, and went to the city, crafted an entirely new identity for herself based on the fine things she wanted, and concealed everything about her past from the people around her, including a decent man, a rich man, who loves her. She lashes out at everyone around her, but gets forgiven quickly and easily. She wants to divorce her current husband and marry the rich man… until she notices that her current husband has made something of himself (by her definition of such). She still takes her fiancé all the way to the altar, and only then does she stop, and leave him there, and go after the man she wants now, who immediately takes her back, no matter everything she’s already put him through.

…yeah, that one is far less cool, ya know?

And example number three, which has got to be the single most outstanding example I can think of: Rumor Has It.

Jennifer Aniston takes the lead as Rachel, a woman who discovers that there is a man who successfully had sex with both her mother and her grandmother in rapid succession. As this happened just before her parents got married, and she was born within nine months of the nuptials, there’s a moment where she wonders if he might be her biological father. He’s not, but she basically takes his word for it, and sleeps with him herself. She regrets it, even as she obsesses over having done it, goes on a date with him, and kisses him again, until they’re interrupted by her fiancé. Said fiancé is understandably upset about this. She actually tells her sister about all this during a moment when said sister needed a comforting shoulder to cry on, which I just found to be ridiculously selfish. But the sister doesn’t seem to care about that. And then she goes and faces the fiancé she just cheated on with the same man who slept with her mother and grandmother and might have even been her biological father… but she is simply forgiven, just because, he takes her back, and they sleep together every night for the rest of their lives (because that’s what getting married is really all about, right?).

…do I really need to wax eloquent about this one? She freaking betrays her fiancé, willingly becomes the third generation of her family to have sex with a particular man, continues to stay in close, kissable proximity to said man, is so selfish that she takes a moment of her sister’s need and makes it all about herself… and she’s instantly forgiven and taken back by the man she was so outstandingly unfaithful to like five minutes ago.

I say again: it’s about how badly someone can behave, just how poorly they can treat others, and still get their coupled-up happy ending, as if there were nothing really wrong with what they’ve done.

And these three examples are not remotely the outliers, though an argument could be made for While You Were Sleeping as an outlier, for how decent everyone really was, even when they did something questionable.

Off the top of my head… You’ve Got Mail, Just Like Heaven, The American President, Keeping the Faith, What Women Want, Wedding Crashers, Sleeping With Other People, The Wedding Planner, My Best Friend’s Wedding, The Proposal, Two-Night Stand, Life as We Know It, No Strings Attached, Friends With Benefits, Killers, Easy A, How to Lose a Guy in 10 Days, The Ugly Truth, Runaway Bride, The Truth About Cats and Dogs, Mrs. Winterbourne, Love Actually, Never Been Kissed, When Harry Met Sally, Sleepless in Seattle, A Guy Thing, Message in a Bottle, The Notebook, Ever After, Meet the Parents, Pillow Talk, Calamity Jane, Can’t Buy Me Love, One for the Money, One Fine Day, and The Wedding Singer ALL – I repeat: ALL of them! – feature plots where people (men and women alike) treat each other horribly, albeit with a wide variety of just how terribly they behave, exactly what they do, how justifiable it is, and how much they make up for it. In every case, though, everyone ends up living happily ever after anyway.

No, this is not remotely limited to movies. Books, television shows, anime, they all do this. And don’t even get me started on popular music!

Contrast this overall idea, which we have been spoon-fed for decades, if not centuries, with that presented by the action move.

“It’s our turn now.”

There are superhero movies, such as  Spider-Man, and Spider-Man 2, only the latter of which involves the guy getting the girl he loves. And then Spider-Man 3 comes along, and it is far lesser than its predecessors for a number of reasons… among which, I note, this time the hero acts horribly and gets the girl anyway. Hm, coincidence? 😉

Spy thrillers, like Kingsman and the James Bond franchise, tend to feature a man who saves the world and immediately gets to bed a beautiful woman. Personally, I like Mission Impossible 3, where the last act is literally a showdown between hero and villain over the fate of the woman the hero loves, marries, and eventually goes on well-deserved  honeymoon with.

Other action thrillers, like Die HardTaken, Speed, and so on, they all do the same thing. Epic battles, like those found in Pacific RimStar Wars, Lord of the Rings, The Chronicles of Narnia, and Zulu are followed by the survivors living as happily as they can to the end of their days. Westerns like Tombstone, Silverado, and The Magnificent Seven all follow a group of brave warriors who stand against evil on the frontier, and then people can live in peace.

How about kids movies? One word: Disney. How many of the animated classics tell the tale of a hero slaying an evil villain, or otherwise saving the day? They do something to help others, to slay an evil, to contribute to society around them… and then they live happily ever after. Even Moana does that, despite lacking any romance.

Shrek, How to Train Your Dragon, Kung Fu Panda, and Shark Tale, same thing.

So, whether they be fantasies, westerns, science fiction, spy thrillers, or kids’ movies, there is a definite pattern: action movies feature heroes doing good and then getting a happy ending. Meanwhile, dozens upon dozens of chick flicks, even the more benign ones, seem to have been written as if someone asked, “Just how badly can someone behave and still expect to get a coupled-up happy ending?” followed by decades of scriptwriters and producers answered with a fierce, “Challenge accepted!

In essence, both types of stories are about getting what you want, but one of them advertises such as a reward for doing something worthwhile, while the other seems to advocate getting it in spite of behaving badly.

And that is the REAL reason why actions movies are better than chick flicks.

What do you think? Am I just a crazy, aggressive man who gets his adrenaline thrills vicariously, or did I hit the nail on the head? 😉

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Sunday’s Wisdom #264: Nothing and Everything

“What is a bowl of milk? Nothing. But kindness makes it everything.”
– The Fairy Godmother, Cinderella (2015)

Cinderella is at a very low point in her life when she meets her fairy godmother. She’s suffered losses, and been slowly beaten down and ground into the ashes. Through it all, she has held to the truth her mother taught her, but now she’s been hit even harder and lower than ever before, and she breaks down in tears. She’s even beating on herself, really, thinking that she can’t keep holding on to the goodness within her, not in the face of everything that’s being done to her. It’s a pain that hurts worse than any external blow.

In her lowest, most miserable moment… a strange, old woman asks for a little help. Just a bit of milk, please. Though Cinderella feels that something is odd, she doesn’t hesitate, and not because of anything idealistic that she’s ever said. It’s simply because of a simple caring she has, even for an old woman she knows nothing about. Many, in her place, might be so caught up in their own pain that they refused, but, though she herself may wonder about it, Cinderella is simply kind.

The moment someone else is in need, she stops crying and helps.

That, I think, is the real magic of the story. It is the capacity to be kind, and the meaning which gives value to physical acts of kindness.

The old woman, the fairy godmother, says these words to her, when Cinderella dismisses the reason for her tears as “nothing,” and they are undoubtedly true. I that instance, it was not only the milk but the kindness she shared with a stranger which was valuable. So it is for many humble acts of charity and humanity.

For all of those in need, those simple, simple things that can be so easily dismissed are worth everything in the world. Some food for someone starving, some water for someone so thirsty, some shelter for someone who has none of their own, some work for someone down on their luck, some friendship for someone who feels abandoned and forgotten… yet it is not simply the thing itself, but the love which they exemplify which makes them so priceless.

A single meal is just that: one meal. One gets hungry again soon enough. But the kindness one receives with it, that is what the hungry man most remembers.

I remember this one time I was at work, dong my not-at-all-glamorous job. My frustrations were mounting higher and higher that particular day, and I was getting angry, fit to burst at any moment. Then an older gentleman spoke to me in that calm, soothing way that older people are so good at, and he simply thanked me for doing my job, acknowleging that there was always so much of it to do, and I was always doing it with a smile. I tell you, that one comment wiped out my anger and frustration, and made me smile all day! It made my day and I have remembered it ever since!

What are a few words of appreciation? Nothing. But the kindness behind them made them everything to me. It kept me going.

Interestingly, Cinderella receives kindness too, and caring. Her fairy godmother may conjure a coach, some horses, a dress, and slippers, but what truly makes them good is the care with which they are given. That caring is what renews the light in a soul that’s been beaten down, making it shine so bright and warm that it becomes a beacon to an entire kingdom, expelling a bit of corruption along the way.

Posted in Movies, Sunday's Wisdom | Tagged | 3 Comments