Wednesday, July 1, 2015

My Life in Story Form – Evaluating 200 Blog Posts and Counting

This is my 200th blog post. So I’ve decided that in honor of writing for more than two years on topics ranging from deep dives into storytelling to fun countdowns of inconsequential things, I’m taking a look at the deeper ideas I have been striving to get at. Writing about comic books, movies, television, and more elements of fiction and pop culture can be equal parts carefree fun and the writing equivalent of beating yourself over the head with a rock. The tricky thing is that you never quite know which it is going to be until you start the latest piece.

While entertainment may be one of the least important issues in need of discussion in the world today, a great story can change lives. True art not only helps humans express themselves in beautiful ways, but it can give them a chance to impart love and wisdom to other people in a manner that is impossible in any other form. Yes, there are countless terrible works out there that are simply the product of studios and executives trying to make as much money as possible. But good and pure art has a value that can never truly be taken away. Even a failure has value when it is created by people who are trying to do something special.

Human beings are innately drawn to tell, listen to, and pass on stories. It’s not only how we can connect with one another, but it’s how we form societies and create connections from one generation to the next or between people who have lived vastly different lives. There are core truths to the human experience that we all share, no matter our personalities, preferences, or cultures.

I want to explore those truths. I want to make the most out of something I have devoted huge portions of my life to following. I want to combine my passions and my gifts in order to bless other people, even if that is in some minor and fleeting way.

It matters to me, damn it.

Monday, June 29, 2015

10 Apocalyptic Futures (and Their Surprising Upsides)

Post-apocalyptic worlds have been the stage for countless books, movies, comics, television shows, and more. These foreboding futures explore potential futures for a world where humankind’s mistakes and worst impulses have finally resulted in a world that has crumbled.

People fight for survival, try to rebuild, and hope against all odds. They’re terribly depressing but are so incredibly enjoyable when done right.

While these dark futures may frighten, they aren’t without their positives. Tired of the current world you’re living in? These bloody, fire-filled, and desolate futures may be right for you! So if you’re worried about the future of planet Earth, just take a look at these terrifying possibilities and their possible upsides.

Mad Max's Wasteland

The Cause: Oil shortages and water scarcity caused wars and the breakdown of society across the world. Then nuclear wars helped turn most of the planet into a wasteland.

The World: Governments everywhere have collapsed, humanity has broken down into groups of marauders, desperate tribes, and wandering nomads. Water and fuel are in short supply and high demand across the wasteland, meaning that whoever controls these commodities has unrivaled power, but many of those who do are tyrannical warlords. High powered vehicles turned into engines of war are used for high speed battles as enemies speed across the wasteland. Also, leather and punk rock motifs are fashionable everywhere.

The Upside: Chances are that if you survived to breakdown of society, nuclear wars, and attacks by vicious gangs, you will get a really awesome car! You’ll probably need it to escape from others or take out as many people as possible. Plus, you’ll be able to remake society according to your own ideas should you come into power.

28 Days Later's Rage Island

The Cause: An outbreak of a rage-causing virus in ape experiments spreads across England, sending rage zombies rampaging across the country and wiping out most of the survivors. Exposure to a single drop of contaminated blood means transformation into a psycho within seconds.

The World: Survivor numbers dwindle quickly as crazy mad weirdos dash across abandoned Piccadilly Square, beating up non-infected with flailing fists and generally vomiting a lot of blood. The outside world may or may not be infected, but it’s hard to know when everything everywhere has broken down all at once.

The Upside: If you wait out the infection (hint: the key is in the title) you’ll have a nice and quiet English countryside all to yourself and your fellow PTSD-affected survivors. Perfect for recovering from all that trauma!

Wednesday, June 24, 2015

10 Movie Moments That Made Me Bawl Like a Baby

In honor of Pixar’s Inside Out completely breaking my heart and leaving me weeping in a theater full of kids, I reflect on a long line of film that have turned me into a mess. From cheap shots that I should have seen coming to genuine emotional outpourings over finely crafted cinema, I’m not ashamed to say that I’ve spilled salty tears over many a movie.

The following 10 films have left a lasting impression on me by making me cry my big dumb eyes out. While there are certainly more films I've wept during besides the following (I could basically list most of Pixar's output), these 10 are some of the biggest doozies. Warning: There Will Be Spoilers!


The Setup: Estranged brothers Tommy (Tom Hardy) and Brendan (Joel Edgerton) wind up fighting in the same UFC tournament with a huge amount of money on the line. After years of family conflict, the two brothers win their separate fights in very different manners, only to have to face one another in the championship bout.

The Moment: With every win that each brother achieved in the tournament, my emotions hit a sharp spike, so I quickly realized that Warrior had gotten a death grip on my emotions without my notice. Tommy and Brendan face off in a brutal match, with Brendan eventually dislocating Tommy’s arm and putting him in a chokehold submission. Tommy refuses to tap out, but when Brendan tells him he loves him and how sorry he is for everything, Tommy quits. Together, they leave the stadium an emotional wreck. Just like me leaving the theater.

The Type of Cry: Your emotions well up but you can’t hold them back. So you just let it out. I cried well into the credits and it was worth it. Warrior is a fantastic film.

Beauty and the Beast

The Setup: You know the story. But I had seen Beauty and the Beast many times throughout my life without my eyes even getting moist. But falling in love makes this story far more emotionally impactful. Getting married doesn’t make it easier. But it probably makes it better.

The Moment: At the climax of a rain-soaked fight atop a castle, The Beast stops short of killing Gaston thanks to his growth as a person. But when he goes to embrace Belle, Gaston stabs him in the back (and then falls to his death). So Beast lays dying, confessing his love and gratitude to Belle, who tells him she loves him, too. The Beast seemingly dies, but the spell is broken, saving his life and returning him to human form. Cut to me on the couch, embarrassing everyone around me as I turn into a blubbering mess.

The Type of Cry: There are so many emotions packed into this climax that I can’t quite tell where they turn from tears of sadness into ones of happiness. But that’s what makes it so powerful.

Sunday, June 21, 2015

“Inside Out” is Pixar in Its Finest Form

After disappointing recent years and some lackluster films, Pixar Animation Studios has come roaring back with Inside Out, a complex, emotionally resonant, and astounding story that proves the studio has plenty more classics up its sleeve. All it had to do was tackle a seemingly impossible idea for a story.

Inside Out tells the story of Riley, an 11-year-old girl, and the world inside her mind. Here, people’s minds are made of a vast world where the five emotions – Joy, Sadness, Anger, Fear, and Disgust – control our responses to life and help form the memories that make us up. But when Riley and her parents move cross country to San Francisco, the difficult transition wreaks havoc on her interior life. Worst of all, Joy (Amy Poehler) and Sadness (Phyllis Smith) become lost among Riley’s memories and have to make it back to the control center to restore Riley and keep her from making choices that could harm her life forever.

From just a simple synopsis, it’s clear that Inside Out is a movie that is dealing with some extremely complex and high-minded concepts. But being an all-ages Pixar film, it has the added burden of being both understandable and enjoyable to children. Astoundingly, Pixar has created an experience that can be rewarding to viewers of all ages in different ways. Young viewers can be given the opportunity to understand their emotions in a manner that is easy to digest through the personifications on screen. Young teens dealing with the turmoil of out of control emotions can relate to the changes happening inside Riley for the first time. And adults can reflect on both the changes they experienced growing up and what is happening to their children should they be parents.

The beauty of Inside Out is that it isn’t afraid to dive deeply into the world that it has created. While the film begins in the very small confines of a control room, the adventure that happens means that the world slowly expands into more abstract concepts over the course of the film. From the very start, it’s clear that director Pete Docter and the Pixar team have created a very vibrant and imaginative world. But you may find yourself quickly asking about some of the pieces that make up the landscape. Where do ideas come from? How do we dream? Where do memories go when they are forgotten? What do the minds of other people look like? Many of these are answered in incredibly fun and often hilarious ways throughout Inside Out.

Wednesday, June 17, 2015

Greatest Batman Stories: Mad Love

Originally airing on January 16, 1999, and written by Paul Dini based on a comic by Dini and Bruce Timm, “Mad Love” from The New Batman Adventures tells the tale of Harley Quinn, The Joker’s loyal henchwoman and the one person who unconditionally loves the psychopathic criminal. Of course, it’s clear that Harley has issues of her own.

As an original creation of Batman: The Animated Series producers Timm and Dini, Harley is one of the greatest things to come out of the series. While she may have been a simple sidekick at first, voice actress Arleen Sorkin’s performance and her continually strong storylines in B:TAS quickly turned her into a fan favorite. In fact, her widespread love resulted in her induction into the DC Comics Universe in 1999. She’s been a staple of Batman’s world ever since and even has her own successful series today. While there are many factors in Harley’s success as a character, “Mad Love” is clearly one of her greatest stories and is a can’t miss for fans of Batman in general.

Told from Harley’s perspective, “Mad Love” tracks her quest to take down Batman permanently in order to have The Joker all to herself while also flashing back to the first time she met The Clown Prince of Crime. The episode opens with The Joker and Harley nearly killing Commissioner Gordon until a timely intervention by Batman. But the failure of the plot and Harley’s failed attempts to seduce Joker afterward show her desperation to be happy in her relationship. While Harley realizes early in the episode that she’s in an abusive relationship, she’s convinced it is all Batman’s fault, instead of the inherently horrific nature of being a psychotic in love with a psychopathic murderer.

Although it had been mentioned once before in Batman: The Animated Series, the big revelation here is that Harley was once Joker’s therapist during one of his many stints in Arkham Asylum. With the real name of Dr. Harleen Quinzel, the young therapist develops sympathy and then love for Joker through their many sessions. While it may be done in a somewhat simple and cartoonish manner, there is real pathos and emotion here as we see possible depth to The Joker and the true nature of Harley.

Is this a real romance? Is Joker only using Harley? Has he ever really cared about her? The audience and Harley herself are forced to face some tough answers.

Friday, June 12, 2015

"Jurassic World" Saves a Franchise from Extinction Through Difficult Evolution

Can a beloved film still have life as a franchise after more than two decades and a history of disappointing sequels? Director Colin Trevorrow’s Jurassic World shows that the Jurassic Park franchise is alive much like the dinosaurs that inhabit it – modified into something not quite natural, but still thrilling and exciting.

Jurassic World picks up 22 years after the events of the original Jurassic Park, with late founder Richard Hammond’s vision for the island of Isla Nublar coming to fruition in the form of a booming dinosaur park. But the minds behind Jurassic World genetically engineer a brand new dinosaur, the Indominus Rex, and their tampering results in disaster on a humongous scale. Now, Velociraptor trainer Owen Grady (Chris Pratt) and park manager Claire Dearing (Bryce Dallas Howard) have to scramble to save as many lives as possible.

While the central conceit of a dinosaur park being opened and then having things go terribly wrong may not be fresh territory in the franchise, it is fertile ground for reinvigorating a film series that has lain dormant for more than a decade. They even make the ideas of Jurassic World appealing as a theme park. Who wouldn't want to pet baby triceratops and see a T-Rex up close when no one has been hurt in years? Exploring the idea of what a modern day Jurassic World would be allows for the series to examine the effects of present day consumerism and corporate greed. When the wonder has worn off dinosaurs being reborn today, consumers will want something bigger and wilder. As long as it means more money, companies will be happy to oblige. And that’s what results in the creation of the Indominus Rex – an unnatural killing machine that exemplifies the effects of greed.

That being said, these themes mostly play second fiddle to the thrills and chills of Jurassic World, which is, at its core, a monster movie. There is far less wonder and awe to be found here and far more screaming and dying. After all, there’s a highly intelligent, incredibly deadly, camouflage-capable beast running around an island looking to kill everything it can get its massive talons around. Where Jurassic Park managed to strike an amazing balance between the terrifying and the awe-inspiring, Jurassic World is far more of a thrill ride that isn’t afraid to shed buckets of blood throughout its runtime. It’s not that it doesn’t fit within the context of the movie, it just means it is a different beast than the film that started it all. And a beast that is far less family friendly.