Thursday, February 28, 2019

Chasing the Rabbit: Chapter Eighteen -Firewalls and Blindspots

Click here for the table of contents.

She lay. Motionless. Numb.

Elsa.

A voice. Anna's? No. Someone else. Pleading with her to get up.

Was she sleeping? What happened to her? There was an island. And a creature. Screeching. With talons. Made entirely of molten rock.

Get up.

Was she dead? The bird had come for her. A gaping beak of flames. Open. For her. The corner of her mouth twitched into a smirk.

It had chosen the wrong girl.

Elsa!

The voice came one last time before vanishing into stillness. She opened her eyes as a cloud of mist dissipated into the hot air around her. She lay. Her back pressed against stone. Glowing stone. Burning.

She shrieked. Sparks scattered as she sprang upright. The ground was hot as coals. She encased her feet in protective ice which immediately began to melt.

A second shriek startled her. On reflex she struck a defensive stance, sending a tiny shield of ice in the direction of the sound which turned to vapor before it touched the floor. It had been nothing more than an echo.

The soles of her feet were starting to burn again. She reformed her makeshift slippers and started mov-



The image of Arendelle's queen on the auditorium screen froze mid step, and Judy Hopps turned her attention to the assembly of figures, thirty or so, scattered throughout the seating meant for around two hundred. Nobody ever wanted to sit towards the front.

"Did I see a hand?" She was positive one had gone up, only to retreat comfortably back into anonymity. "I like questions," she assured her audience who hadn't discovered until an hour before that they were attending a workshop on character analysis. The student who had caught her eye meekly raised his paw again. She smiled. "Yes. Go ahead."

"Wouldn't the heat kill her?"

"Very good! That is an excellent critical question!" She skipped to the edge of the stage and sat down. "Always ask questions like that. It doesn't matter if you go into animation, writing, music, or performance. You should always ask about the details. Look at them from the protagonist's eyes. From the antagonist's. From the side characters'. And especially from the audience's. You don't always have to have an answer. But if something slips past you that you haven't at least thought about, it's only going to reflect back on you. And believe me, someone else WILL pick up on it."

Now that Judy could see the faces of her audience more clearly, she took a moment to scan for the ones who were genuinely engaged in the workshop.

"So what do you guys think? Would the heat kill Elsa?"

Silence, as expected.

"Let me rephrase it then. You have someone whose whole existence is attuned to ice surrounded by recently molten rock. Why is she still alive?"

A few eyes tilted back as if the attendees were trying to puzzle it out, but nobody spoke up.

"There's no wrong answers- well, obviously there are. But there are no wrong ideas in trying to get to a right answer. I'll be honest, I don't know. This is only the second time I'm seeing this footage, and before this morning I didn't know it existed."

"Where'd this come from?"

"I don't know that either. All I can tell you is, it's unused footage from something the high-ups haven't told me about, but they asked me for my take on it and I thought it would be a fun exercise for us to explore together." She hopped back to her podium and reversed the stream to a still of Elsa's slippers melting. "No matter what field you eventually go into, intuition is a healthy skill to develop. Sometimes you only have an instant to make a decision. That's not the scientific method; that's survival. So what quick deductions can we make about what little we've seen?"

"It's not real molten rock?"

"Bingo! That was my first thought. I'm no volcanologist, but it's a pretty sure bet that stones glowing red from heat would kill anyone who isn't aligned with fire. Now we can see there's actual heat, enough to create vapor. A sauna can do that. Do you think a sauna could kill Elsa?"

A few shrugs transformed into a small ensemble of bobbing heads.

"Possibly so." Judy advanced the footage a few minutes ahead, with Elsa flailing all over the screen at triple speed; provoking some comfortable snickers from the students. "I'm going to skip a bit because it's mostly her staggering through the tunnel, trying to create cold spots on the floor to step on."

She stopped the feed on an image of Elsa giving a puzzled look to a series of human-made rails; metal and wood, likely designed for a mine cart.

"All right. Now remember, this is a workshop on character analysis. Based on what we've talked about, and what you're about to see, I want you to make as quick a deduction as you can." She gave her audience a sly grin. "Ready?"

She pressed play. Elsa came to life, gasping for breath. She glanced in one direction the tracks led. Then made herself a small platform of ice to stand on while she intently peered down the other direction. A loud roar. Elsa's attention snapped back to the first direction she'd faced. And the image went blank.

Judy brought the auditorium lights up for the first time since she'd taken the stage. "Conclusions?"

"Get the heck out of dodge."

Judy laughed along with her audience. "That would be a sensible decision, and I want to put it on hold for a second. What can we conclude about character?"

"She's scared."

Judy nodded. "Good, yes. What else?"

"She wants to leave?"

They were reaching now. "Yeah, this is all good. But we knew that already. We have new information now. What can we take from it?"

Empty stares.

"Okay, let me put it like this. We're making a guess based on what little information we have. One, Elsa. Someone synonymous with ice. Two, an artificial setting that she would be most uncomfortable in. Three, a premade clear-cut choice: left or right. And four, a solid indication that one way is significantly different than the other."

In truth, she wasn't surprised that nobody was making the leap of logic; a thing like that really had to come from experience.

"What's a logical deduction we can make about a character other than Elsa?" Judy crossed the length of the stage and back to give them time to mull it over. When nobody volunteered and answer, she decided to give them one last hint. "Is anyone here familiar with Scooby-Doo?"

"They're trying to scare her away."

There it was. "Good job!" she said. "We call that the 'Aha!' moment, and that's what you're striving for in analyzing character."

She resumed her spot at the podium, bringing up the first still page of the rest of her presentation; but her audience that, until recently could barely be prodded into speaking, now openly expressed their determination to know what happened to Elsa.

"I don't know," Judy reminded them to an audible disappointment. "I don't know what happened next or what any of this was about. That's all the footage they gave me. And that's the harsh reality about answers. They reveal themselves when they do. If you only take one thing from our time together, let it be this. Answers tend not to come to you when you wait for them. Some questions require an answer from the inside. It takes courage to go in blind and it takes creativity to get back out again. It's never too soon to start practicing both."

"So you don't know if Elsa made it out alive?"

"Exactly. I don't know. And I won't know until I do." What she knew was that she was going to have to rush through the rest of her presentation if she didn't bring this portion of it to a close. "I would assume she did, if for no other reason than I can't believe our company would send us the final recorded moments of one of their stars. But ignoring that; if we're right that someone wants Elsa to go a particular direction, and she goes in that direction, the odds of survival are stacked in her favor. It's a lot of assumptions but it's still the most-"

She trailed off. An idea had piqued her curiosity. Something about assumptions.

It took her a moment to realize that she'd stopped mid-sentence in front of her whole workshop, and all she could do was give them a half-attentive apology while she took out her phone.



Monitors. Seventy-six in all. They filled an entire hemisphere of the control room; revealing every single detail, and disguising them in an impossibly thick coat of visual noise.

Alice's ankle had been wounded, likely sprained, possibly broken. That would slow her down, making a handful of screens unnecessary to pay any attention to for a while. Maleficent was impossible to keep track of but anytime she did something important she drew as much attention to herself as she could. Tarzan was...uncomplicated. But it was utterly frustrating that the 'Jasmine' team wouldn't stay together. There was no way to predict where to look. And now that the mouse had returned from his meeting, those twelve screens erupted into chaos.

"Where's Oswald?" He had the nerve to ask such a question of the very staff members who'd been anxiously awaiting him and the rabbit to return together.

"What do you mean 'Where's Oswald'?" Minnie snapped at him. She'd already endured a tongue-lashing over the phone from Madame Medusa, and had to force back tears while vastly overstating her optimism that they'd have regained access of the system by the next day. The robot V.I.N.CENT was their best bet for tech support, and he'd been unable to help them over the phone so Minnie had to approve an emergency overnight flight using a thousand dollars out of her own pocket to get him to the studio by the next afternoon. She was in no mood to hear that Mickey had lost track of their island simulation's main designer.

At that moment the security gate alarm went off. It happened on a fairly regular basis and ordinarily the staff had gotten used to it, but today their reaction was priceless. Ducks spilled papers and chipmunks dove behind shelves as if the place was under attack. It was a much needed moment of delight among seventy-six monitors of monotony.

But somewhere in the franticness was an unfazed horse.

Horace Horsecollar.

Hired in 1925 as a jack-of-all-trades handyman, Horace was your go-to guy for practically anything. In over nine decades, he hadn't missed a single day of work. His presence was so commonplace that the bulk of the newer generation (and some of the veterans) often stopped noticing him. He was always just kind of...there when you needed to know where he was. And now he was there.

Amidst the commotion, Horace suddenly appeared behind Minnie, speaking into her huge ear something that the hacked surveillance cameras couldn't broadcast.

Minnie's expression had recently gone from unbridled stress to subtle relief as Mickey had taken charge of the issue with the security alarm. Now her face had become stoic. For a moment the two animals stared at each other, followed by a simple nod from the horse that Minnie should follow him. What was going on?

Without a word to the rest of the staff, Minnie led Horace toward the stairwell, and it didn't take a leap of intuition to figure out where they were going. The old sound room from the B&W years had never been renovated, essentially storage; but it was also more soundproof than anything the modern era had produced. If you wanted some privacy to warm up your voice, scream your head off, or negotiate off the record, that was the room to do it.

And obviously there was no surveillance.

Unfortunately there was no way to record footage on this end and replay it, so there was no way to tell where Horace had come from, but disconnecting the feed from the outside world was no big loss at this point. And it might even prevent the robot from being of any use at all.

The operator felt under the console for the handful of cords that connected him to the main office and yanked. In unison, twelve monitors shrank to a single pixel and faded to black. "Too fast for ya," he smirked, satisfied that whatever Horace was telling Minnie no longer mattered.

But it did. What he didn't realize was, in trying to send Elsa away from the control room he'd inadvertently given the outside world a suspicion that the simulator's malfunction was not by chance. Not that they could do anything about it, but you should never overestimate the resourcefulness of animals wearing gloves.

It was time to up the ante; so far he'd been too generous. Keep them running. Where was the panther?

He pulled up the feed from the caverns and scanned for glowing eyes; the ambient noise made it impossible to hear footsteps down there. There were specks of light in many places, fireflies and bats, but not what he was looking for.

So intensely did he stare at that handful of screens that he neglected to take notice of anything else happening on the island. You couldn't blame him for not paying attention to Elsa once she'd encountered the roar of the lava monster a few hours ago. Indeed, he'd have no reason to think that she wouldn't make a beeline for the exit, which is why her decision to head towards the danger would have perplexed anyone (save for one exceptionally clever bunny). But even as determined as he was to track down the whereabouts of Bagheera, it was pure carelessness not to notice the Queen of Arendelle stumbling just outside the entrance to the control room.

And even as she now stood behind him, he only became aware of her presence by the abrupt drop in temperature that made the fur on his arms stand up.

Return to the table of contents.


Saturday, February 2, 2019

Ten Lessons From Ten Years of Marriage (With Guest Blogger Sarah DeArmond)

Yesterday was our ten year anniversary.

Never having had a ten year anniversary before (not of marriage anyway) I was trying to think of what the ideal way of publicly flaunting my success story would be. My first thought was to write "I'm happily married and you might not be! So nyah nyah!" all over my Twitter feed. But then I worried it might alienate all of those alleged independent publishing houses that keep trying to get me to buy online courses, so instead I want to go with something a bit humbler.

I think the best way to honor the past decade of truly feeling whole is to compile the life's lessons that I never could have learned otherwise into one single blog. And then flaunt that. But as marriage is never a 'my' journey but an 'our' journey, I'd like to welcome my beloved back for her third appearance at the Wooly Side.

Thank you Sean. We've learned a lot, I mean a lot, over these past ten years. I can honestly say I wouldn't be the woman I am today without my husband. I've been though a lot and it's because of him that I'm still standing firm. That's why we want to both present to you all ten things we've learned over the past ten years. 

1. There Are No Secrets.

Now, I'm not talking about those kinds of marriages that you see on Lifetime or in magazines. And I'm also not talking about those kinds of secrets, because that really should be a given regardless of how frequently we see examples otherwise. No, I'm talking about that terrible side of yourself that you keep hidden from the world for your own sanity. Be it any of your undiagnosed mental health issues (chronic depression here) or how you REALLY feel about Harry Potter, those things come out. You can hide them from everybody else but not your spouse. They will see you at your very worst, worse than you would ever have believed anyone would. And when you're still loved, cherished, and honored in sickness and in health after those shadows come forward, you know it's the real thing.

2. You'll Be Each Other's Biggest Cheerleaders.

It's taken me awhile to find my passion in life, but I've had my husband cheering me on every misstep of the way. When I finally found what I wanted to do, there was no rubbing in my face all of my past mistakes, he just continued to cheer me on and say, "I knew you could do it" Marriage is about rooting for the other person, not bringing them down reminding them of their failures.

3.  You'll Get Comfortable Being Wrong.

I've heard several other men describe marriage sarcastically as "Oh yeah, I love never being right." And I understand where they're coming from, but I also can't help but feel they're missing the vital element. The harsh reality is, you're going to be wrong. A lot. And in a healthy marriage, you're going to be reminded. On the flip side, sometimes you'll be right and your spouse will not. How to reconcile those conflicts is a later entry on this blog. For now the takeaway is, being wrong isn't the worst thing in the world. In and of itself it's not even a bad thing. It feels like it, sure. But eventually you come to realize that *gasp* you can be wrong and not be any less of who you are; not be loved any less. It's okay to be flawed, to make mistakes, and to say those three beautiful words to your love "You were right".

4. You Will Say, "I'm Sorry."

While we're on the topic of being wrong, love doesn't mean never having to say you're sorry. Of course it does. As my husband was saying, sometimes you'll have to be the bigger person, swallow your pride, and say, "I'm sorry." Now, that doesn't mean throwing your beloved's apology back in their face, this is where you talk it out. But saying those two words can lift a huge burden off of you both.

5. When Someone Wins, Nobody Wins.

It seems counter to just about everything you're taught growing up, but the sooner you remove the idea of 'winning' the argument from your mental facilities the better off you'll be. You're not out to win, you're out to return to each others arms. In most cases that means being partially right, partially wrong, deciding several things aren't even worth sorting into either category, and ultimately defeating the conflict by rendering it unimportant. Arguments you win are still important to you. Arguments you resolve are just vessels to a warm embrace. You both win when the idea of win versus loss is irrelevant.

6. You'll Get To Know Each Other's "Silly Side."

I know this is a bit of a weird one, but going back to what my husband said in the beginning, you will get to know every part of the other person, including what makes them laugh at weird moments. Sean knows I get goofy at night or when I don't get enough sleep. To be honest, I never knew that about myself until after we got married, but he doesn't mind. When you find the one, you won't mind what hits your partner's funny bone, even if it is a little odd!

7. You'll Become an Authority on Unexpected Topics.

When your significant other cares a lot about something, you're obligated to care at least a little. Not a fake "that's nice dear" kind of caring, because you'll never slip out that way more than once. As such, you're going to be finding out-of-the-box ways of connecting to things you otherwise would never have noticed. I've become a connoisseur of romantic comedies. They're not all equal in quality regardless of predictability; there's a whole spectrum between very well done and offensively bad, and it's actually quite fun to explore. I still can't tell you the steps to applying makeup, but I've become quite interested in the 'why' behind it. And, oh yeah, Netflix please give Girl Meets World a reunion movie; those characters were awesome!

8. Be Prepared That Your Spouse Might Change Their Mind On Some Big Things.

When my husband and I first got together, we agreed to be parents. A few years down the line, I discovered that wasn't what I wanted. I broke the news to him as soon as a realized it. That's key, as soon as you know deep in your heart your mind has changed on plans, tell your spouse. If Sean had truly wanted a kid, we would have worked something out in therapy. It wouldn't have ended us, but when I told him, he was shocked at first. Then, as we had a long talk, we realized we were on the same page. The point is, never go along with something you aren't 100% on board with that you will later regret. If your spouse disagrees, work it out in therapy. I'm thankful that after a very long talk, we were (and still are) on the same page.

9. You're Never Alone.

That sure sounds like happily ever after; and yes, it IS the case, but that's not much of a lesson. There's a side to that fairy tale ending which requires some very real (and ongoing) responsibility. Namely, whatever you do is always going to affect the other person. We had a wonderful counselor who explained how the notion of two becoming one paints an inaccurate picture of marriage. In actuality, two become one and one and a marital connection (which makes three by my count). The people are still individuals, and the marriage is a whole new entity that has to be cared for and nurtured. The work is constant, but not in a grudge work kind of way. This is the work an artist puts into their craft for the pure joy of creating something they're proud of.

10. You Still "Date".

You know how you acted like you were when you were a couple? You always hugged, kissed, held hands, and made time to go out. That doesn't stop after the wedding. We will always keep doing those things. Saying "I do" doesn't mean we're no longer dating. It means a more intimate level of it.

Thank you love for indulging me. Next blog should be a characteristic return to my regular snideness and cynicism, but here's a toast to our second ten years!

Tuesday, January 8, 2019

Finding a Host for the Oscars (My Nominees)

To recap: on December 4th, it was announced that Kevin Hart would host the Oscars in February 2019. By December 6th, Hart announced he was stepping down from the position after jokes he'd made ten years prior on Twitter had resurfaced; namely of a homophobic slur nature. Then last week, Hart's interview on Ellen DeGeneres's talk show aired, and Ellen endorsed Hart as the host and tried to play peacemaker between him and the Academy, a move that divided Ellen's fan base, and really did nothing to quell the controversy about Hart's tweets. And, man, I have little to no interest in writing recaps.

Okay, my opinion which nobody asked for; I don't blame Ellen for wanting to support a fellow comedian. I happen to not agree with her (I don't think Hart should host -keep reading), but I don't think she deserves the backlash she's gotten for the interview. I've heard it said by some comedians that comedy can't exist without offending someone. I'm not entirely positive that's true, but there's no such thing as a comedian who's universally loved. As such, it's a natural trap for comedians to start out trying to be edgy. Not all of them go that route, but the ones who do typically move on from that phase to achieve any kind of success.

I'm obviously not in Kevin Hart's head, so I can't say for certain whether he is or isn't homophobic today, or where he fell on that spectrum ten years ago. If I had to guess, I'd say he's probably a comedian who did some stupid shit ten years ago in an attempt to find an audience. I believe he's since graduated from that adolescent phase and become a better person.

Why shouldn't he host then? Simple. As he correctly surmises, the controversy would overshadow the proceedings. Is that fair? No. But too damn bad, that's the way it is. He doesn't 'have' the audience right now, and a venue like the Oscars requires a performer who will have the audience without a struggle. The Golden Globes are jazz, they can take a risk. But the Oscars are classical music. They're kind of stuck with the memory of Bob Hope, and this year that just isn't Kevin Hart. Sorry, but comedy is brittle.

So, who should host instead? I mean, besides Rob Lowe and a Disney cosplayer. Well, I might have a few thoughts on that. Here then are my nominees for 2019's Oscar host in ascending order.

5. Billy Crystal

I know! Right? Brilliant! Who would have thought of that? I don't need to prove that Crystal can host. He's done it nine times. It just feels wrong to not top his legacy off at the big two digits. Crystal is also the safe fallback bet after a controversy, see 2012's ordeal with Brett Ratner and Eddie Murphy for details (including homophobic slurs, ah repetitive history). How good would he be? Who knows. Truthfully, he'd only have to clear the bar of adequacy to feel like a success, and Crystal can do that with his eyes closed.

4. Mel Brooks

In light of the controversy, why not embrace a classic comedian whose whole career (the good stuff anyway) is based on subversion? Now honestly this is a long shot. After all, Mel Brooks is 92 years old. I'm sure he doesn't have near the energy he had at the peak of his creativity. But suppose he served as the show runner, bringing in a wide ensemble of performers who get his type of playfully offensive lampoonery. It would be like letting the soul of Mozart run wild for one last night in the great concert hall; a perfect cap to an amazing career.

3. Jay Leno and David Letterman

I'll admit this is probably a really bad idea, but I don't blog (or write fiction) to play the odds. Let's pretend the microscopic-chance-in-hell-of-a-best-case-scenario happens; these two late night power hitters wind up being able to work together. If egos could be set aside, Leno and Letterman could conceivably have the chemistry of Abbott and Costello. Watching them trade barbs for three plus hours all behind the veil of 'it's just for the show' comedy would make for a night of legend. And I can't think of any duo who could more dramatically symbolize the repairing of rifts (Except Conan, but something tells me that's never going to happen).

2. Elizabeth Banks

The awards programs understandably tend to favor those with talk show hosting experience, but Banks has that 'it' factor. Actress, director, producer, or hostess of the Democratic National Convention, Banks is that rare starlet who can land face down in the sludge and still make a classy exit (Madeline Kahn had 'it' as well). A good host has to demonstrate enough confidence to carry a show, but enough humility to remember that it's not about them. That's Elizabeth Banks in every role I've seen her play.

1. Trevor Noah

Like Hart, Noah had his own run in with tweets from his past at an inopportune moment. But unlike Hart, Noah's apology was unquestionably convincing. Taking over the reins of The Daily Show after juggernaut Jon Stewart was a thankless uphill battle, and Noah may in fact be the only comedian who could have pulled it off. His outsider perspective on the state of America always carry a weight that cannot be dismissed. He's blunt, but always respectful. And he's funny as hell. His goal as a comedian is always to heal, no matter how harsh the reality is between here and there. We could all use some of that by now. And it opens us up to a really bad review blurb that's begging to be printed: "Hart-less Awards Ceremony is Anything But".

And on that note I turn it over to you, Google crawlers and Russia's hackers. Who would you like to see host the Oscars?

Monday, December 31, 2018

2018 Movie Wrap-Up

I can't think of a better way to close out the year than by complaining about entertainment. Here are all the films I watched in 2018 and my one paragraph reviews.

Black Panther

Like last year's Wonder Woman, this was more than just another superhero film. It was a warm, inclusive eff you to all the powers in Hollywood who have insisted that audiences will only flock to see heroes who are white men. It was a no-brainer the film was going to be successful, but I think we were all surprised at just how GOOD it was. A combination of sci-fi, fantasy, and celebration of African cultures, this is one of those rare superhero films where the superhero element is practically unneeded. It won't be a surprise if the mantra "Wakanda forever!" takes on a life of its own outside of the MCU.

Game Night

Imagine an actual game night where you pop open a hot new adult board game, read the rules, and put all the pieces in the right places, but nobody can quite figure out how the game is supposed to work; thus you feel like you've missed a really cool opportunity. That's this movie. The premise is great: a night of 'you won't know what's real and what isn't' role-playing gets interrupted by an actual kidnapping; and comedic actors Jason Bateman and Rachel McAdams really should be in their element. But it all falls apart after the first act (at about the point where they definitively realize they aren't playing a game). You really need a chess master like Steven Moffat to make a script like this work, and they didn't come close to getting him.

Tomb Raider

There's good news and bad news. The good news is, this Tomb Raider does a much better job of translating Lara Croft and her videogame adventures into cinema than its Angelina Jolie predecessors (and most videogame-based films) ever did. The bad news is, that's as low as I have to set the bar for it to read as good news. It's got good things going for it, Alicia Vikander is well cast and many of the action pieces are well staged. But you need to freaking go for it! Just do Indiana Jones! Probably the biggest problem is that the story bogs itself down with ties to the current game series, and not the good stuff (the dumb idea behind the dumb Trinity organization is dumb). If we try this again, please lose the daddy issues and just let Lara run free.

Ready Player One

Um. That was...fine? Okay, I'll be blunt, Steven Spielberg ended in 1993. Jurassic Park was his last vintage film, and Schindler's List was when the Academy Awards finally had to admit he knew what he was doing. But from there, something changed. Maybe he didn't feel like he needed to prove anything after that, or maybe DreamWorks tarnished his artistic quality, I don't know. The point is, Ready Player One is a movie custom tailored for old school Spielberg and that man unfortunately no longer exists. As such, a huge budget and tons of pop-culture nods can't distract from the truth that this is Diet Spielberg. We would likely have fared much better with Edgar Wright.

Avengers: Infinity War

That was pretty good I guess, although my friends tell me I'd have understood it more if I'd watched the eighteen prequels first. But seriously, this movie was amazing and the Russo brothers are rock stars for even managing to pull it off. Between the engaging villain and the incredibly downer yet surprisingly satisfying ending, this is cinematic spectacle at its purest. Now if you press me against the wall and politely ask me to say so, I believe Black Panther was the better film. But in terms of promise to build-up to pay-off narrative roller coaster, I don't think you're ever going to see anything like this again.

Overboard

Now this is interesting. The original movie was well-liked, but it wasn't iconic or anything, and it certainly wasn't begging for a remake. This version actually took on enough solid life on its own that they conceivably could have eliminated the boat element altogether, renamed it literally anything else, and passed it off as an original script. ("Whoops! I guess it is kind of like that Goldie Hawn movie...oh well.") At any rate, this was a nice surprise; cute, funny, and touching in all the right places. Anna Faris's comedic shtick may seem familiar by now, but it doesn't show any signs of going stale. And if Eugenio Derbez still doesn't catch on here in the States, it's clearly going to be our loss.

Deadpool 2

Throughout the three act structure; loved it, loved it, eh....kind of liked it. That's really not the act you want to drop the ball on. The action was great, Domino rocks, and Ryan Reynolds put way more emotion into his performance than he ever needed to. But the moment Cable teams up with the ex-X-Force members the movie is being held together by duct tape. It's still funny, but the motor's burned out and it's coasting on momentum. Juggernaut would have no reason to stay with the kid, and it feels like Cable has switched drafts. Come on guys, you were so close.

Solo: A Star Wars Story

I did not want to see this movie. I forced myself to watch it out of spite. And damn it all, I really liked it. It was completely unnecessary, but it was fun. Alden Ehrenreich had so much working against him and did the impossible by making me believe he was Han Solo. Donald Glover was great as Lando. And the story just worked. But the movie needed to be released before The Force Awakens to have evaded being instantly irrelevant, and as is there was no hope for it. It's a shame because there were two interesting (if superfluous) takeaways. One, Han honestly viewed himself as a bad guy. We sort of knew that already, but here we get to see the extent to which he was wrong. Two, the world of Star Wars really sucks to live in. You can actually understand how the Empire could have sprung up. Oh yeah, and Rey is Darth Maul's daughter, but don't tell anyone.

Incredibles 2

The Incredibles was a Pixar film that I honestly never connected with. I thought it was okay enough, but it wasn't anything special. It took a sequel for me to figure out why; the characters really aren't that interesting. Without superpowers they may as well have been named Mom, Dad, Sis, Junior, Baby, and Friend, which leads to about half the running time devoted to generic family issues. The other half is the superhero adventures, and Incredibles 2 has a bit of an upgrade regarding its story. Elastigirl has the most visually interesting power set, and the movie benefits by focusing on her. And some questions are raised that might have been worth exploring, but director Brad Bird is more content with thrills than substance. In the end it's clear that the movie was only pretending to be about something, making it a decent Fantastic Four adaptation (take that however you choose).

Jurassic World: Fallen Kingdom

You know, if we pretend that Jurassic Park was turned into an animated show on Nickelodeon in the nineties called Jurassic World, and then that show was adapted into the live-action film series with which we seem to be currently stuck, that might be worthy of some adulation. Unfortunately our bar is still set at that first book and movie, which neither Michael Crichton nor Steven Spielberg could reproduce. Dinosaurs run around. People die. Stuff happens. There are occasional signs of a real story happening but they're brushed aside in favor of watching a kid play with 187 million dollars worth of action figures. Welcome to Michael Bay Park.

Ant-Man and the Wasp

The MCU has had a few disappointments, but it hasn't been since The Incredible Hulk that a Marvel movie has missed the mark so badly. First off, Ant-Man is silly. That by itself isn't a problem as the first movie demonstrated. But when the story requires some emotional resonance, silly gets in the way. Second thing, to kind of piggyback off that, it should have been The Wasp (with Ant-Man). Scott Lang already had his story. It's Hope van Dyne's turn. And the fact that she has to share the running time with him means the crucial elements (like Hank Pym's temper) and the moments of depth keep getting undercut by detours into Scott's life that amount to nothing. A lot of missed opportunities in this movie, and it's certainly not helped by having to be the palette cleanse after Infinity War's downer ending.

The Spy Who Dumped Me

Not solid, but not bad either. There are many different tones comedies and thrillers can take, and not all of them overlap. This movie can't seem to make up its mind which comedic tone and/or thriller tone to adopt, much less how to blend them. But somewhere amidst the chaotic storytelling is a genuine chemistry between Mila Kunis and Kate McKinnon. That by itself is enough to make much of the movie work, even if we're left with a feeling that these actresses deserve much better.

Crazy Rich Asians

This reminded me of My Big Fat Greek Wedding, in the sense that I thought it was good but I literally have nothing to say about it.

White Boy Rick

I'll be honest, I wasn't the audience for this movie. This is the kind of dreariness I buy a movie ticket to get away from. The film's performances were as impressive as you'd expect, but I'm not really clear what I'm supposed to take away from it. Detroit sucks? Snow sucks? Don't deal drugs? Don't work with the FBI? Don't work with the FBI in a drug dealing capacity? I mean, I think director Yann Demange told the best story he could with the source material, but it just left me with a feeling of futility.

A Simple Favor

I can't speak on the merits of the book penned by Darcey Bell, because I don't have enough time to both read and blog about not having time to read, but this film script clearly more ambitious than it was capable of following through on. Don't get me wrong, for all the rough patches there were a few likable elements to more than counterbalance them. Anna Kendrick has a unique screen presence about her and her ability to appear two steps behind and ahead simultaneously is put to full effect. Blake Lively has needed a typecast shattering role like this, and she's eating it up. Unfortunately the story only holds together by the forgiveness of the audience. But for a Lifetime movie on the big screen, it's an exciting, if head scratching, romp.

Smallfoot

I think we all learned a valuable lesson from Shrek 2; if you don't have enough creative energy to sustain an entire movie, put your good stuff in the second half. Smallfoot starts out as a by-the-numbers non-Disney animated musical. There's a passable opening song, an energetic protagonist misfit, some quirky side characters, a generic conflict, and an out-of-nowhere full screen close-up of an animated spider (thanks, assholes). But then the damnedest thing happens, it gets good. And then it gets really good. There's a barely beneath the surface argument between faith and science, but both sides are handled with respect. The moral of the film is less obvious, but my takeaway is this: in a battle between blind faith and blind science, if either one wins nobody wins. The ultimate reconciliation is the mutual overcoming of the blindness. Not bad at all for a movie starring Channing Tatum. Oh, and to whoever pitched the idea of having Common do a rap as the yeti chief, bravo thrice over. It is the most ridiculous sounding thing on paper, but the execution is jaw dropping.

Bohemian Rhapsody

I don't know how accurate the band members were portrayed, but I truly hope they got the soul of Queen right. Based on this edited history, Queen was that rare band where all of its members were listening to the same muse (something you can't say about The Beatles, Styx, or Talking Heads). But fair or not, at its core was Freddie Mercury, resurrected through an Oscar-worthy performance by Rami Malek. What the point of the movie is, I'm not sure. But the script kind of non-answers the question in-universe with a reminder that poetry doesn't explain itself. And poetic, this journey is.

The Grinch

Here's a little game. I'm going to say 'animated Dr. Seuss film' and you write down every adjective that you think might apply; I'll see you in an hour or so. Okay, done? Let's see: 'whimsical', 'colorful', 'fun', yeah the usual lot. 'Equanimous'? Now you're showing off. Um...nope, I'm on page 97 and I haven't seen 'subtle' yet. Yeah, who would have guessed? This film is subtle. Benedict Cumberbatch's Grinch quite possibly has a mental health disorder and only knows how to treat the symptoms by delighting in other people's misfortunes. This version knows it's not going to supplant the Chuck Jones masterpiece (expect to find a shelf full of the Jim Carrey vehicle at 2nd & Charles) and it uses that knowledge to take a few well-timed liberties with the source material. Cindy Lou Who's B-reel plot could have used a rewrite, but the heart of the Grinch has always been the heart of the Grinch, and this one starts out a big enough size to feel it bursting. Do you know what it's like to dig your fingernails into a theater's armrests desperately trying not to lose it in front of a room full of eight year olds? I do.

Ralph Breaks the Internet

It was good, not great. And I so wanted it to be great. The set-up was fantastic. The internet gags were clever. Gal Gadot's character could easily have headed up her own film. And Disney may not fully be aware of the Pandora's Box they've opened with their princess line in what can only be described as the Coolest. Thing. Ever. And the lesson Ralph learns is a really good one. The problem is, it takes a relay race of conflicts to get him there instead of one solid obstacle to overcome. This film could have really used a villain. Compare it to Inside Out, which was a movie that either had no villain or had a villain protagonist, depending on how you look at Joy. There was one central conflict. It carried from the opening moments all the way to the resolution, and the film is all the more powerful for it. Ralph needs three conflicts to keep the story going, a new one for each act. As a result, the third act's tension is undermined by its own (dare I say?) cheapness. The algorithm would have made a great villain, or even a second Ralph. Hell, a leftover clause in Michael Eisner's old contract would have been an inspired antagonist. "We have to keep this direct-to-video sequel from being green lit!" On that note, there's early talks of a third film...

Creed II

Speaking of potential third films, it's inevitable the Creed series is going to get one. It probably should, but at the same time it probably shouldn't. On the 'should' side the story feels just a little incomplete. But on the 'shouldn't' side it doesn't feel incomplete enough to warrant a full feature that's likely to veer into actual Rocky IV/V territory. But what do I know? Certainly not sports, which is still baffling to me that I've embraced the Rocky franchise so passionately; I guess because it was never just about boxing. What can I say about Creed II? It doesn't necessarily surpass its predecessor but it matches it in different ways. Michael B. Jordan's performance is nothing short of electric (you can even pinpoint his Oscar clip). Stallone continues to prove how much we underestimated his talent in the eighties. Tessa Thompson is destined to be a power player in Hollywood. And definitely keep an eye on newcomer Florian Munteanu's career; he took what easily could have been a screen test for Bald Bull in a Super Punch-Out!! movie and turned Viktor Drago into a full character that you just wanted to hug until he believes the world can still be better than it is (that, incidentally, is what America is supposed to be doing with the world). Who do you root for when you want everyone to win, or at least not lose? For me it was Dolph Lundgren. You can tell for his whole career he's been wishing people would see him as more than the "I must break you" guy. It's ironic that returning to the role of Ivan Drago that made him a cliché is the exact thing that shows off his depth as an actor. On one level or another, everybody comes out of this film a hero.

Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse

I'm not planning it this way, but: speaking of everyone being a hero...This film was freaking amazing. It was visually stunning, which I usually don't like to point out because it tends to mean the story and/or characters were neglected like a Tim Burton movie; this was not the case here. The story was brilliant, and the characters were very well polished. And on top of that, it was visually stunning. I just pulled it up on Wikipedia, and holy shit! They did all that on $90 million? What the hell cost Pirates of the Caribbean: On Stranger Tides so much? Until we go back into the Spider-Verse, and we will, we'll no doubt be talking about Stan Lee's voice from beyond, what we've missed about Nicolas Cage, and whether or not Hugh Jackman could be persuaded to return to Wolverine as a voice actor. But for all of the open-ended possibilities we've been offered, the core of this story is a personal one. It only took Miles Morales seven years to go from comic debut to big screen debut, which is telling both of how much his fan base needs him and how much extra room there really is in the world of superheroes. His journey is one of the heart. It's hard, it's unfair, but you can do it. We could all use some Miles Morales right now.

Mary Poppins Returns

I have one question that I'm asking myself as much as you. How would you feel about this film if it had been released exactly as is, but three years after the original and with Julie Andrews in the title role? I think I would feel that the songs never quite came to life, and the story beats mirrored the original a bit too accurately, but the character of Mary Poppins achieved a depth that wasn't there before. The Andrews Poppins was more of a concept, like a TV show hostess. The Emily Blunt Poppins hits the bull's-eye on all the mannerisms, but there are questions raised. And it's implied those questions have answers, even if we're not likely to ever get them. The original's beauty was in the spectacle. The new version's beauty is in the details; her reaction to a rude banker, the fact that her balloon doesn't lift her off the ground, the impending heartbreak of being forgotten, moments that speak volumes (although not to us). Mary remains a mystery, and a more tragic one this time around. In the end I notice a parallel with Meat Loaf's Bat Out of Hell series. The first one will always be the one I grew up on, founded on raw emotion. The second one has processed emotion filtered through experience; not destined to be as iconic, but pure in its progression. And just possibly (don't throw anything at me), it might be the better production.

Aquaman

This movie should not have been as good as it was. In addition to being freaking Aquaman (DC's punch line since The Super Friends), it's the first DCEU movie after DC socked itself in the face with its heavy hitter. I imagine we have a similar situation here as with last year's Wonder Woman, in that DC really didn't believe in the project and thus never thought to screw around with the director's vision. The result benefits all the more from their negligence. You could easily say that director James Wan hacked together leftover bits from The Abyss, The Little Mermaid, Thor: Ragnarok, Tron: Legacy, Lord of the Rings, Indiana Jones, and Robot Monster. But damned if he didn't fit the pieces together in a creative way. It's silly and Wan knows it, but he clearly respects the film and the character. The whole cast looks as if they're enjoying at least something about their roles; be it Dolph Lundgren's substance, Willem Dafoe's conviction, or Nicole Kidman's "No, this isn't beneath me" sincerity. Even Amber Heard's Mera starts to find some funny (yeesh) fish-out-of-water moments. But as we all know this is the Jason Momoa show, and from his opening line he makes it clear that we're not at the theme park to discuss ethics. We here to ride some rides. His Arthur Curry is a perfect balance of barbarian and teddy bear, and every glance at the camera reminds us to just roll with it. I can't think of a better way to end 2018 than on the hope that DC might actually stop drowning.

Monday, December 17, 2018

Editorial: Should Radio Stations Pull 'Baby, It's Cold Outside' Out of Rotation?

I don't know who you are or when you're reading this, but the egotistical side of me would like to believe that my little blog might get dug up by anthropologists of future centuries who are interested in the history of social issues. So with that in mind, here's some redundant information.

"Baby, It's Cold Outside" is a song written by Frank Loesser in 1944. It was not a Christmas carol, as it's since come to be identified by huge groups of people who are wrong, but was a jazzy call and response number between two vocalists (named on the sheet music as "Mouse" and "Wolf"). Mouse has paid a social visit to Wolf's home and is at a crossroads where the appropriate time to leave is at hand, but Wolf's opinion that Mouse should stay the night is made clear. Loesser wrote the song for him and his wife Lynn Garland to perform at a housewarming party (as a 'time for everyone to get the hell out of here' song) and it became an instant hit among the Hollywood social scene of the 1940s.

Now skip ahead to the present (December 2018). Christmas music, and music posing as Christmas music, is overdosing department store playlists. But we're also in the #metoo climate; a social movement that it's still too early to tell what (if any) will be the long term effects thereof, but certainly begun in the best of intentions.

#metoo is a complicated topic, at least enough so that I don't feel comfortable trying to define it in a single sentence. But at it's core is an umbrella that's been catching as many buried feelings as possible from people who have been sexually violated; a much higher percentage than we'd generally accepted prior to the movement. The seeds seemed to have been planted with the high profile Hollywood cases such as Woody Allen, Harvey Weinstein, and Bill Cosby; only the latter of which took anyone by surprise.

I think the reason Cosby hit so close to home for the zeitgeist is that he was universally loved. We trusted him because he was all over our childhoods, and nobody earns your trust faster than someone who can make you laugh. The thought of him being a serial date rapist is something that's too disturbing to fully accept upon the first charge but impossible to dismiss as 'well, it's Hollywood' like we did with Allen and Weinstein for way too long.

So that brings us back to "Baby, It's Cold Outside", a song with lyrics that feel a little too predatory by today's atmosphere, and a line "What's in this drink?" that immediately calls to mind the Cosby accusations of date rape drugs in women's drinks. Should radio stations pull the song out of rotation?

Well first off, let me say that I personally don't give a flip about the song. It's not a musical style that I connect with, and I find it kind of annoying. But that's an easy out for me, and it sidesteps a real discussion, so let me strike that off the table.

Do radios have the right to pull a song out of rotation? Yeah. They don't have to give a reason for it. Take any song of the season. Do you think they're going to get hate mail in January if their station doesn't play "Silver Bells" one single time? Who pays that much attention?

But WDOK in Cleveland (which apparently started this topic) just had to go on the air and announce that they were pulling the song, and provide a reason. And the backlash happened. On the one side are people who think it's just a song and other people are too easily triggered and too sensitive, and on the other side are people who actually are getting triggered and are sensitive and feel like those emotions are being trivialized. I see both sides and I don't think there is a solid 'right' answer, but hopefully we can find some 'right' reasons to decide on an answer.

In entertainment, most any romance with a sexual undertone is presented as a predator/prey kind of relationship. That may very well be a symptom of a larger problem, but it is possible to tap into that formula without crossing the line into harmfulness. I can't tell you where that line is, and I doubt it's in the same place it was in 1944, but I feel comfortable saying that Loesser's intention was likely meant to be sexually fun. Garland certainly loved the song, so much that she felt betrayed by Loesser when he sold it in 1949 to MGM. If that has any bearing on how one should interpret the lyrics, Mouse is probably consenting.

Wolf is traditionally understood to be a male character while Mouse is a female voice. In the 1940s I don't imagine those gender roles would ever have been challenged. But how would the song be perceived if the roles were switched?

Question one: Why is Mouse trying to leave?

The lyrics don't give a definitive answer. In the forties it was considered improper for a woman to spend the night at her lover's home (implying they aren't married). With a female Mouse, it's as conceivable that she truly wishes to stay the night and is only worried about how people will react as it is that she's being seduced against her wishes.

If it's a male Mouse and a female Wolf, the story has even more disturbing implications than it already does. It's accepted that men think with their genitalia, which is an unfair stereotype but we're not at the point where we're taking offense to it yet. The perception then is that a male Mouse would want to leave because he legitimately wanted to leave. Thus, there seems to be little explanation for the line "What's in this drink?" other than the worst possible scenario.

Real quick before I move on, have you tried imagining the song sung by two singers of the same gender? Where does your mind naturally paint the encounter as an innocent seduction, and where do you think of it more as a violation? No seriously, I'm interested in what you think if you want to e-mail me your thoughts.

Question two: What are Wolf's intentions?

We presume we already know the answer to that question, but the truth is we only have a transcript of the conversation; and as anyone who's ever gotten into an escalating misunderstanding on Twitter can attest, nuance means as much as words do. It's really not a huge leap to imagine Wolf as that corporate incubus making the come-hither gesture, but look at how much profiling that is based on very little information.

You know, it's not the most exciting interpretation but it's quite possible that Wolf is merely concerned about Mouse's well-being. Why do we assume that Wolf assumes this is going to lead to sex? Hell, I didn't even think about it until just now when I typed in question two.

Another thought: imagine if Mouse comes from a higher economic class than Wolf does. How does that change the story's dynamic? It's not likely, but it's also not outside the realm of possibility, that Wolf is coming from an awareness that the relationship is truly based on matters of the heart; one that will invariably not survive the expectations of the metaphorically cold world outside. Surely there's no harm in wanting one's ultimately doomed hope spot to last just a little bit longer.

That's a reach of course, but it illustrates how there are several problems with definitively saying the song should be treated as a condoning of sexual predators. First up, how ambiguous the situation is. We can't really divine from either character where their intentions lie, and one wonders if they can divine it from each other. Secondly, at the end of the day this is just a song. We can't expect every song, poem, or story to abide by the same parameters we place on real life encounters. The third problem, it's also not just a song. Many people have a sentimental attachment to this old school style of crooning that helps them get in touch with the whole of what the holiday season means to them. Any artist is hoping that their work will transcend itself by connecting with an audience on an emotional level. "Baby, It's Cold Outside" has been doing that for decades. And in the current climate it's now doing that in an unfortunate way that Loesser could not have predicted.

So where does that leave us? Well, even if you haven't had your own #metoo story (and I genuinely mean this, I hope you never do) you HAVE to be able to recognize that the song can be taken in its more ominous interpretation. And from there, surely you can understand why someone who has been through any kind of sexual assault might have some of those emotions stirred up by a song. And you might even be right to wonder aloud why something as inconsequential as a song could provoke a hornet's nest.

My best advice, stop there. I can admit there's a certain bandwagon of hate that a lot of people can't help but enjoy jumping on, but it never starts with them. It starts with people who were hurt by something they couldn't process, even if they had a solid support system; and chances are they didn't. Life requires you to still function, so they've handled it the only way they can. They've buried it. And tried to forget about it. And then something innocuous hits the wrong nerve at the wrong time and these buried feelings come pouring out. And yes, that might make Christmas a little less joyful at times, but the harsh reality is there are people in the world who aren't you, dealing with issues that aren't yours. Maybe show a little compassion?

Getting back to the question that started all of this. What should radio stations do in regards to a song that has inadvertently become controversial? There may not be one single answer to accommodate every situation, but we might be able to simplify things a little. First, is your radio station normally in the habit of playing the song? If the answer is no, then there's only a problem if you invite one. There's no reason to start playing it now. If you get a sudden surplus of requests for the song then maybe consider it, but also consider the very un-Christmas-like us vs. them mentality that has spread through our culture as of late and ask yourself why the song is being requested. Is it to make other people angry? Because that's a good reason to deny the request.

But okay, suppose your radio station has had a history of playing "Baby, It's Cold Outside" in recent years. Do you now remove it from the lineup because of the stigma, or do you keep it because of tradition? To answer this, I'd have to ask what your intention regarding the current social issue is. As a representative of the organization whose opinions typically don't reflect that of an individual's, do you want your station to take a stance or do you want to avoid the issue altogether?

Case one: avoid the issue. This is a little harder to do than it sounds in this day where everyone has an opinion and outlets to force them to be heard. And not responding at all may provoke the extreme voices on one or both sides. But if this is your route, keep doing exactly what you're doing and distance yourself from your listeners. Don't take requests and don't read e-mails until the holidays are over. And don't draw any attention to what you are and aren't doing. You may lose some integrity points, but it will be across the board, and that's the way it has to be.

Case two: take a clear side. It won't be without penalty, but it's the easiest course of action in the long run because you'll never have to ask yourself again which side you're on. The downside is, you aren't going to be able to change your mind, and you'll invariably lose some listeners and gain some negativity/hostility that I personally wouldn't care to deal with. But that's on you.

Case three: take a middle ground stance. This is hard to do because the extremes on both sides treat your balance point as support for whatever they themselves are opposing. But they won't hear anyone but themselves anyway, and you're trying to make sense for the rational listeners who are closer to that middle ground.

I would say, keep the song in rotation but be prepared to explain yourself. For example:

"We here at WGOF have heard the complaints from our listeners about the song "Baby, It's Cold Outside", and at this time we feel it's unnecessary to remove the song from our regular rotation. As with many issues, this is an ongoing discussion, and we welcome your comments.

"The complaints we've received center around the notion that the lyrics serve as a condoning of sexual assault. We believe this was not the intention of the songwriters, and as such the song itself is ultimately harmless. With that said, we understand that we have a variety of listeners who may feel very strongly about the song for any number of reasons.

"It is certainly not our intention to make anyone feel negatively regarding our content, and sexual assault is a very serious issue that we do not take lightly. If it turns out that playing this song is in fact harming any of you, we want to hear from you.

"It also occurs to us that, as a radio station, you invite WGOF into your homes on a regular basis. We're obviously not trained to counsel anyone, but if you've had an experience that you've not been comfortable revealing to anyone before we encourage you to talk to someone, our station included. For any of our listeners who need to be heard, we invite you to contact us. We realize it's only a step, but perhaps there is something more beneficial we can do than the mere elimination of a song from our airwaves.

"As always, we hope everyone stays safe this holiday season, and that we can all be a little more kind to each other."

Saturday, December 1, 2018

2019 Movie Previews

"I'm an American! I don't have to see something to know it's stupid!" Tom Smothers

I've been really busy cheating on my nanowrimo word count this year, which is why I haven't had much time to post a whole lot to my blog. But as Hollywood continues to try to bankrupt itself by releasing nine blockbusters every couple of days I thought it might be a fun distraction to do a preview on the upcoming releases of the first half of 2019.

Here then are the twenty-two films listed on Wikipedia that stood out for me one way or the other, and what I think the odds are of them being hits or misses. I've included my interest level ranging from one to five.

1. Escape Room 1/4: Six strangers participate in a room escape game that turns deadly.
Interest Level: 4. It shows promise. And I'm a sucker for game-oriented films.
Will it be good? That one's a toss-up. We've tried hybrid-ing film and game before and the results have been predominantly disappointing. This movie shows a lot of promise and could be quite fun if the filmmakers don't force the tragic ending so as to appear 'indie'. 1997's Cube anyone?
Will it do well? No. Not until DVD. January is typically the dumping ground for films that the studios don't believe in, and a movie like this requires a word of mouth hookup to generate interest. At least it will show up for a few days on the highest grossing films of 2019 list, if that's any consolation.

2. The Lego Movie 2: The Second Part 2/8: The continuing adventures of Emmet, Lucy, Batman, and Princess Unikitty.
Interest Level: 4.5. It's got a tough bar to probably fall short of, but hopes are high.
Will it be good? Yes, of course. It's a question of how good. The first movie may have been lightning in a bottle, and I can't imagine how they could duplicate it for the sequel. But as long as it tops the meh-ness of the Lego Batman Movie, I'll have very little to gripe about.
Will it do well? Oh yeah. It's going to spend about a month topping the highest grossing film list, and won't likely fall off until November, if even then.

3. Alita: Battle Angel 2/14: A live (sort of) adaptation of the classic manga Battle Angel Alita; known affectionately as BAA.
Interest Level: 2. For a lot of us old enough to have caught the first wave of anime in the States, Battle Angel was our initiation into how operatic a kick in the gut could be. But it really runs the risk of its soul getting westernized out.
Will it be good? It's Robert Rodriguez, so it will look good. But emotional impact simply isn't confirmed under his skillset. Granted, he hasn't proven he can't handle the weight, but spectacle alone isn't going to carry a misfire.
Will it do well? I'd say even odds. On the one hand it's got James Cameron's stamp on it, which seems to attract audiences like moths no matter how eye-rollingly dull the movie turns out to be. On the other hand, people are still waiting for their tax refunds in February. It's not the best time to give movies a blind shot.

4. Happy Death Day 2U 2/14: Come celebrate Valentine's Day with a return to the Groundhog Day loop.
Interest Level: 5. Happy Death Day was a silly premise that they did some genuinely inspired things with. And when a cast and crew is having that much fun making a film, of course you want to see them rehash the party.
Will it be good? It's doubtful it will be bad. The first film pretty much felt complete, so there's always a risk of undoing what worked. But at the same time the killer's motivation was the only real weak element, and this could be a chance to fix that.
Will it do well? Respectably. I wouldn't be surprised if it was a slightly bigger hit, as so many people have discovered the first film on DVD. But I honestly hope they leave well enough alone after the sequel. Birthday treats go stale quickly.

5. Captain Marvel 3/8: The MCU finally admits that there's an audience for super-heroines.
Interest Level: 4.5. Given Marvel's track record, there's not any reason to doubt it will be good. But all I really know about her character is that she's essentially Marvel's Superman, which might come with the same over-powered story issues.
Will it be good? Naturally. Marvel's got it's act together. The question is more, will it be amazing like Black Panther, or will it just be good enough like Iron Man 3?
Will it do well? Uh, yeah. At the end of the day it doesn't matter if it's good. It's necessary. You don't think you're going to go into Avengers 4 having skipped this one, do you?

6. Dumbo 3/29: Oh look. A live action remake of a classic Disney film. Yay...
Interest Level: 0.5. Guys, seriously. This may not be your direct-to-video redux, but in the foreseeable future when 'oversaturation' becomes equated with Disney, this is what people are going to be using as the example.
Will it be good? I don't have the lung capacity to sustain the sigh of appropriate length. Why put this movie in Tim Burton's hands? Unless you're doing the version where the heartless invade, Burton seems to be the least qualified director to take on the emotions needed.
Will it do well? Dear God, I hope not, but large groups of people have a habit of disappointing me. Maybe they'll remember what a waste of time his Alice in Wonderland was, but I suspect it won't matter.

7. Shazam! 4/7: DC throws in the towel and decides to just copy Marvel.
Interest Level: 2.5. The trailer looks funny, and DC could certainly use some funny in their camp. But trailers don't always match their films, and DC already has the reputation of being all over the place.
Will it be good? That would be nice, wouldn't it? I don't know how DC's pantheon of modern deities became the underdogs to Marvel's demi-humans, but I'm more than willing to forgive some rough edges if it keeps them in the game.
Will it do well? Best guess: adequate. DC has proven they're run by committee, which is why their films tend to be messes. Shazam seems like a decent supporting player, but when you've used your three biggest guns and only Wonder Woman has hit the mark, it might be time to go back to the minors for a bit.

8. Avengers 4 5/3: The world's first cinematic television show airs its season finale.
Interest Level: 5. Duh.
Will it be good? The Russo brothers have emerged as the superstars of ensemble action films, so if they drop the ball at the end then I'd expect literally nobody was up to the task. But in addition to having to give resolution to about thirty-eight subplots, this is goodbye to ten years of story. There are going to be emotions.
Will it do well? Ha ha. Good one.

9. Pokémon: Detective Pikachu 5/10: Ryan Reynolds is Pikachu, a detective in the live-action world of Pokémon, bent on solving the disappearance of -wait, what?
Interest Level: 4. You know, if you'd just given me the written synopsis I'd assume this was a joke ad for the Deadpool collection on blu-ray. But no. This is actually happening. And it's just strange enough to have my attention.
Will it be good? *shrugs* Maybe. Nintendo is so guarded about their properties, they must really believe in the project to have signed off on it. The fact that the trailer isn't depicting Deadpool humor in a presumably family film is a good indicator.
Will it do well? You know it will. I feel a little bad for the Ugly Dolls movie which opens opposite, because you know it's not going to stand a chance. But we're in the middle of 90's nostalgia, so Detective Pikachu is going to rake in whatever Avengers 4 doesn't. And if the production team has their hearts in the right place, it just might deserve to.

10. Aladdin 5/24: The story of Aladdin. Retold. In case you've forgotten.

Interest Level: 3-ish? I would really, really like to see this live-action remake trend die, but there's a regrettably morbid side of me that can't help but be a little curious. The original was fun, but incredibly imbalanced. Perhaps we'll get to see the 'What Could Have Been' version where Genie doesn't hijack the film and Jasmine actually has something to do?
Will it be good? A Guy Ritchie film is like a fireworks show. It's big, loud, and colorful, and you don't really remember much about it once it's over. I honestly can't judge its quality going in, and I won't be surprised if I feel the same way after seeing it.
Will it do well? I would bet on yes. Solo: A Star Wars Story took in almost $400 million and it had a backlash that Aladdin doesn't. Aladdin will probably make about that range. Whether it's a hit or a flop depends on what it cost to make.

11. Dark Phoenix 6/7: X-Men 3 again. Or 4 if you start counting with the McAvoy series.

Interest Level: 1. 2000's X-Men was ultimately the reason superhero movies are what they are today, but I'm honestly over this franchise. The films have tripped more times than Jennifer Lawrence, and once Bob Iger makes up his mind is any of this even going to matter?
Will it be good? Writer/producer/director Simon Kinberg isn't a name associated with much more than adequacy. So anticipate that. Unfortunately a movie like this needs more than adequacy. And they probably should have done this instead of Apocalypse.
Will it do well? Don't count on it. The younger cast just feels like a pale imitation of what drew us to the theater almost two decades ago, and it seems like we've only been going lately out of obligation. Maybe it's time to pull the plug before Channing Tatum does irreparable damage to Gambit.

12. Toy Story 4 6/21: The toys are back! And this time they're even more back than they were last time they were back!
Interest Level: 2. You read that right. One was groundbreaking. Two was probably flawless. Three was, dare I say, not as solid as it's given credit for but still a well earned conclusion to the story. Quit while you're ahead for &#$%'s sake!
Will it be good? *huff* Yeah. If there's one sure bet, it's that Pixar knows how to tell a story with these characters. Whether or not it's considered a worthy fourth chapter in the trilogy is going to be the debate.
Will it do well? As well as Christmas does in coming to Who-ville.


...and one to grow on
I decided to stop at June because I feel the blog is long enough. If you're interested in seeing me tackle the second half of 2019, let me know. But after dealing with Dumbo and Aladdin, I feel compelled to add that I have absolutely no interest in the remake of The Lion King. The original was a beautifully drawn just-okay story, and I think we've seen the best version of that just-okay story already. I can think of no reason whatsoever to justify the trouble of rehashing it. There.

Wednesday, November 7, 2018

Chasing the Rabbit: Chapter Seventeen -One Little Spark

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Bagheera batted carefully at the singed ground. Still hot. Not as hot as he would have predicted, but he'd burn his fur if he tried walking across it.

The devastation to the foliage had been abrupt, yet controlled. The flames had been neither the unstoppable eruption of magma nor the carelessness of man. This was something else entirely.

Bagheera took to the branches on the outskirts of where the land had been engulfed. In truth, he'd had no expectation of finding any trace of Tarzan or Elsa, but if the molten rock stream had come and gone as quick as this, they might have found refuge somewhere. How had the fires not spread? The rising moisture in the air had the feel of a recent rainstorm, but not the taste. He was certain that the flames had not been extinguished by the ocean.

He hopped to a higher branch to gage the distance to the small mountain where Tarzan had most likely taken Elsa. Still quite a sprint, even without the cinders. And the panther preferred not to step into open terrain unless absolutely necessary. He could get much closer before making that trek.

The shrill crack of thunder startled the large cat. Reflexively he dove to a branch with thicker brush. It hadn't come from the sky, but from behind him on the ground. He stared silently, looking for some indication of where lightning may have struck, but nothing. He waited. A second crash. Not thunder. It sounded more like a rock splitting open. One of man's tools.

Bagheera still couldn't grasp why the jungle was so deserted; at the very least the noise should have disturbed a few birds. It didn't bode well for a larger animal like himself to survive in a place where small scavengers were nowhere to be found.

PLUNK

What was that? The panther scoured the grassy area where he thought the sound had come from.

PLUNK

There it was again.

It was similar to the sound of one of man's musical instruments. A string of plunks came in succession, slightly rising in pitch. Whatever was causing it had to be close.

CRACK

The louder sound struck again, and a split second later the odd from the branch where Bagheera stood splintered. The cat sprang so high he smacked his head against the limp above him, letting out a startled roar. That was the last straw.

Bagheera lept from his cover into open air, plummeting down toward his best calculation of where the plunking had come from. He spotted the strange creature a beat before it spotted him; a tall, grey, bipedal animal with long ears and clothing around its front paws. "Yipe!" it whimpered, failing to get out of the way in time as Bagheera pinned it to the ground.

The thing stared up at him and shrugged innocently. "Eh? Wakanda forever?" it said.

Bagheera put his face inches away from the creature, trying to determine what it was. Some kind of grey panda? "What are you?" he growled.

The animal did a side glance at Bagheera's teeth. "Um, listen doc," he gestured to the area where the cracking had most recently come from. "Y'think it might be mutually beneficial for us both if you point that bear trap in the direction of a more imminent threat?"

If there was any doubt that the animal wasn't responsible for the louder sound, it was confirmed by the next strike which burst through the foliage, grazing Bagheera's shoulder. He ducked out of the way and disappeared behind a fallen trunk, leaving the creature to fend for itself.

It got to its feet grumbling. Clearly it had been hunted for some time and was getting pretty fed up with it. "Now just a darn minute!" it scolded the anonymous presence in the jungle. "You've had your fun! I demand you show yourself!"

It was answered with more loud bangs, to which the creature contorted in mid-air as if it was avoiding something that Bagheera couldn't see. It dove into the closest shrub, which seemed to explode in a cloud of leaves, exposing the animal again. Its second attempt at preservation was to hide behind a large stone. A pair of banging chipped off a few shards, but the rock stood firm. "My demands have been sorely unmet as of late," it muttered aloud.

Bagheera snorted. Compassion hadn't amounted to much, but this creature obviously liked to talk, and it seemed to have information. A little at least. Despite his better judgment, Bagheera sprang out from his cover, landing right next to the animal.

As soon as it saw the panther approach it recoiled, as if anticipating an attack. "Hold onto me!" Bagheera instructed.

The animal blinked. "Really?" It tentatively wrapped its arms around the huge cat's neck and straddled his back like a horse.

"Keep your head low," said Bagheera.

"Don't let me slow you down," said the creature.

One final crash through the otherwise silent jungle and Bagheera bolted. It was the fastest he'd run in ages. The animal on his back shrieked. "Perhaps I would care to revise my previous statement."

"You're not from the wilderness are you?"

"Not in a while. Suburbia makes you soft."

Bagheera picked up his feet and soared between a log and a low branch. He landed gently in soil dampened from the upcoming creek and sailed through the twisted path.

"I don't mean to sound ungrateful," said the creature, "but does this merry-go-round have a medium speed?"

"When we're clear of danger-"

"Yeah, I got that. The thing is, this guy's been after me the second I got here. He doesn't quit, doesn't sleep, and doesn't obey the laws of physics. He's everywhere, and he's really got somethin' against rabbits."

"And what does this 'guy' look like?"

"That's just it. I haven't seen a face or a pair of shoes or an oversized pencil. I just walked into the wrong theater and started dodging bullets."

Bagheera's sprint was starting to wear him out so he slowed to more of a quick prowl. "This is an unnatural jungle. I've met several man-creatures who have no idea how they got here."

"Oh, I know how I got here. Took the bus over to the studio. Got picked up at the gate by this doll with a blazer. Shuttled to one of the back studios. Told to go in, get comfortable. A buncha rainbow lights, and BAM! I'm smack-dab in the middle of Discovery Island with Crystal Lake's park ranger."

Bagheera should have known better than to take his eyes off the direction he was traveling in, but his passenger's excessively confusing testimony had drawn way too much of his attention. "So you're saying you actually remember coming into the jungle?"

"More like being beamed in, but yeah doc."

"And you came willingly?"

"Well yeah," the animal smirked. "I got an invitation, and you guys have the best craft service -Look out!"

Even before Bagheera could turn his head his paws stepped into open space. The jungle ground itself had opened up revealing a tunnel straight down into darkness. The panther twisted in an attempt to catch himself, but his center of gravity was already too far over the edge. He fell, taking the strange creature with him.




"Hello?" Oswald timidly called into the darkness. He'd followed Mulan's directions as best as he could, which had led him through a maze of old pavilions that were primarily being used for storage. He now stood beside the door she'd described, purple with an orange stripe, trying to see more than a few feet into the warehouse that allegedly contained what he needed. Words from a dragon.

"Come in! Come in!"

Oswald did as instructed and the door slammed shut behind him. He put his hand out to feel for shelving or whatever else might be close by. "I can't see."

"That's because you're in a dark place."

A fluttering of wings circled over his head, landing on a platform somewhere above him. Oswald fidgeted with his fingers. "Mulan sent me here."

"Why?"

"I guess she thought you might help me?"

"Why should you need help?"

"Because," he trembled. "Something bad has happened. And it's my fault."

Laughter. The voice in the darkness started laughing. Not a malicious laugh, but certainly amused by something in the rabbit's misfortune.

"Why is that funny?"

"You're scared."

"Of course I'm scared!" He hadn't meant to lash out but his self control had already been tested one too many times. "People's lives are at risk!"

"Some wonderful things come out of risk. And some wonderful things could never exist without it."

Oswald huffed. "Those are nice words. But right now, people are literally in danger."

"And how is that your fault?"

"Because it was my idea!"

The dragon stepped off the platform and glided to the floor, landing not too far away from where Oswald blindly stood.

"And now you wish you'd never had the idea."

This dragon was not very big at all. In fact, he didn't sound like he was much larger than Oswald. And now that the two were facing each other Oswald could make out that the dragon's voice sounded soft and almost childlike. "Yes," said Oswald. "That's what I wish."

"Do you see the problem?"

Oswald almost blurted out 'Yes' without thinking, but standing there in the darkness triggered a metaphorical understanding of the fact that he'd been so stressed about the effect of what was happening that he'd never actually figured out what the problem was. "No, I don't."

"Why?"

Oswald stared at where he estimated the dragon was, gradually becoming aware that this darkness was serving a purpose. "Maybe I've lost sight of it?"

A speck of light appeared in front of Oswald's eyes. He didn't know where it had come from; it most definitely hadn't been there before. It floated like a firefly, and Oswald instinctively reached out to grab it. But when he opened his hand it was no longer there. The dragon giggled again.

"It looks like that one got away from you. That happens all the time. But surely it's not the only one."

Oswald grumbled. "You're trying to tell me something aren't you."

He still couldn't see the dragon, but Oswald could just tell he'd moved closer, casually tilting his head in a friendly gesture.

"What's the one thing we always hope to never lose sight of?"

The lucky rabbit rolled his eyes. "That it was all started by a mouse."

"That can't be right. You were there before. What is it really started by?"

The answer appeared, as it had before, right in front of him. Oswald's eyes followed it as it danced in the air; finally coming to a rest on the tip of the dragon's purple snout. Then growing. Lighting up the area. The dragon smiled at him.

"Now you've got it."

Oswald nodded. "One little spark-"

"-of inspiration-" the dragon sang. But Oswald was too distracted by the flood of ideas pouring into his head to join in. Whether any of them would work or not was unclear. All he knew was the best chance of fixing the world he'd created lay within him. And for the first time he truly believed he'd figure it out.

"Yeah," the rabbit said, "I got this."


Continue to Chapter Eighteen

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