Bring on 2016!

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Well, another year is about to end and I can’t help feeling a little relieved. While I do feel that 2015 was an improvement in many ways over 2014, I’m looking forward to the year being over just to see what 2016 brings. But before we ring in the new year, I’d like to reflect back on what 2015 meant to me personally.

Aside from bearing witness to all the awful media drama via politics, crime, etc., 2015 was a pretty good year. While I may still not have a steady job, I’ve been trying to get past putting so much pressure on myself from trying to get one. At the moment, the job I am doing benefits my mom, who’s had a rough time injury-wise since the summer. I’d still love to get a job in any of the fields I studied in college some day, but for now, I’m dedicated to helping my mom and looking toward my future with my fiance. Hopefully, within the next year or two, we’ll have concrete plans set for it.

2015 was also a year of nerdy accomplishments. Aside from beating a few games I’d been putting off, I managed to complete reading “The Dresden Files” series as documented throughout my blog. It’s the first series in a long time that I took the time to explore and one of a few to keep my interest. I also started the 11th Doctor’s comic book series and plan to see that through, plus I read and finished the colored editions of the “Scott Pilgrim” graphic novels. I saw many good movies this year and a handful of bad ones, and I’ve continued to get back into TV shows via platforms like Netflix or as recommendations by my fiance. How else would I have discovered gems like “Marvel’s Daredevil,” “Steven Universe,” or “House of Cards”?

And of course, 2015 wouldn’t be complete without not one but TWO trips to Miami to spend quality time with my fiance. I even got to up my convention visits by re-attending Megacon in the spring and checking out Wizard World in the fall. Both visits were awesome and full of great memories, but the highlight for me and possibly for the rest of my con days will always be meeting James Marsters. It was truly a dream come true and he was one of the most kindest and attentive celebrities I’ve had the pleasure of meeting. I even made the picture of myself, my fiance and him my official Facebook and Skype photo. I’ll probably never take it down. XD

So, that was some of my 2015. As for New Year’s resolutions for 2016, aside from hopefully making plans with my fiance both for visits and our future, I hope to try to exercise a bit more (dancing games, maybe?). I also have many, many video games still waiting in the wings that I haven’t touched, and I’m hoping to beat more of them alongside new games I’ll want (this also applies to books). If an opportunity, job or not, comes my way and sounds appealing, I will definitely take the risk to try something new. And finally, I will be more diligent about not worrying like my dad about money, whether it’s mine or others. I’ve noticed over this year that sometimes I would sound like him about that stuff and I don’t want to be. Life’s too short and as long as I continue to be careful with my spending and saving, I know I’ll be fine.

From me to you, have a happy 2016 and I’ll see you all back here for another year of blogging! 🙂

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The Story of Scrooge

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Well, Christmas is coming, and that means a Christmas-themed blog! Over the last few days, I’ve been indulging in watching various adaptations of the Charles Dickens classic “A Christmas Carol.” No matter which version I watched, be it the Disney short, the film version with Patrick Stewart, the Muppets, or one with a Doctor Who twist, I found myself not getting at all tired of the story. Sure, it’s been heralded as a timeless classic, but one of the reasons I’ve always liked the story is how people choose to present it. As a side note, I’m writing this on the assumption that you’re familiar with the story in general. If you aren’t, well, there are a bajillion versions out there and as such no real excuse for you not to know the story.

Anyway. presentation can mean any number of things when it comes to “A Christmas Carol.” One method is how they tackle the book overall. For example, the 1951 version starring Alastair Sim seemed to try to explore more of Scrooge’s character by showing not only his usual defining moments, but even how he met Marley and became the money-grubbing miser he is. Most versions omit details here and there, especially when the story focuses on Scrooge’s past. Some include his family background, others choose to focus on him being lonely, and most include his meeting of Belle (or whatever name an adaptation might give her) at Fezziwig’s party. The biggest exception I’ve seen so far is the 1935 version which ONLY focuses on Scrooge already being miserly by the time Belle dumps him. No childhood exploration, no Fezziwig’s, not even his initial meeting/relationship with Belle. It’s a bizarre version to say the least.

My personal favorite method is when TV shows or films either parody or put their own spin on the story. A lot of that is done by using an established character or newly introduced one as a placeholder for Scrooge. The reasoning behind their attitude can be similar or very different from the original source, but it’s interesting to see how the story can be applied to nearly any kind of genre. It’s still one of the main reasons why I enjoy the Doctor Who adaptation so much, because they play around with the story while making it work with the timey-wimey aspects of the show. Sure, it’s not perfect, but it’s definitely a unique take. While I’ve always felt there isn’t technically a bad way to tell the story, there are some that miss the mark. There are TV versions I’ve seen (mostly kiddie ones) that like to focus on just the “grumpy miser who hates Christmas” aspect and come off a bit shallow as a result. If I want to see a story like that, I’ll watch “How the Grinch Stole Christmas.”

I’ve found over the years that I appreciate “A Christmas Carol” more than I ever did as a kid. I guess that can be chalked up to having a better understanding of the material and more respect toward the message it conveys. But I also think it’s because as a kid, my exposure to it started with the Disney short. Because that’s such a bare-bones adaptation (still love it, though), the simplified story never resonated all that much with me. But as I grew up and saw stuff like the Muppets, a few live-action versions, “Scrooged”, and Doctor Who to name a few, I’ve grown to consider it one of my favorite stories among those of the season. Maybe one day I’ll actually sit down and read the book itself, but until then, there are plenty of versions out there to bring out my Christmas spirit.

“Star Wars” Memories

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Unless you’re living under a rock, most people know that today marked the release of the seventh “Star Wars” film: “Star Wars: The Force Awakens.” I’m not here to talk about it, however, because I don’t have easy access to a theater from the small town I live in. I do plan to see it at some point (through any means necessary), but even with all the hype leading up to it, I’ve found myself not feeling hard-pressed to see it NOW.

Don’t get me wrong – I like the series (though the less said about the prequels the better). I came into it during my mid-teens by renting and watching Episodes 4-6 and thought they were enjoyable. For me, “Star Wars” was a universe I could get into a bit more than something like, say, “Star Trek” (though I’ve made some effort to give some of that franchise a chance lately). A lot of that was thanks to the cool powers of the Force, the fast-paced space battles, and, of course, the awesome lightsaber duels. The characters were memorable (for better or worse) and it was fun to see what planets they’d explore throughout the films. If I had ONE overall gripe about the entire series, it would be that the political aspects never really appealed to me. But that’s a pretty minor nitpick, and in the grand scheme of things, I respect “Star Wars” for partially getting me into sci-fi as a genre. Although, I still regret ever seeing “Attack of the Clones” in theaters. That’s a couple hours I’ll never get back.

Anyway, around my foray into the films, I was also branching out my hobby playing video games. I received a Gamecube one Christmas and it quickly became one of the last systems I owned that I actually rented games for. Sure, I also bought a few, but there was a fun little challenge to renting a game for three or so days and trying to beat it in that time. During this time, I rented and played the “Rogue Squadron” games and had a blast flying around and shooting things in the X-Wing and other ships/vehicles. I recall even before getting my Gamecube that my cousin and I played a few games on older systems like the Nintendo 64 and Playstation (1). We played crap like “The Phantom Menace” tie-in game and decent stuff like “Star Wars Episode 1: Racer.” In recent years, I even played “Lego Star Wars” just to see them break down each movie into the Lego format. I know there have been plenty of good and not-so-good games to come out over the past few years, and I’m hoping to check out some of the good ones when I have the systems for them.

So, as you can see, I like “Star Wars.” But I’ve never considered myself a hardcore fan, and that brings me back to “The Force Awakens.” I’ve been very cautious about hype since I’ve been let down before, but I’ve realized that another part of my lack of a “see it now” reaction is thanks to my own casual fling with the franchise. It’s probably not helped that I’ve gotten into more variations of sci-fi flicks and shows that have interested me even more than “Star Wars” has. And I know it’s definitely not helped by the fact that I didn’t grow up with these movies as a kid. “The Phantom Menace” came out when I was still a pre-teen, and I hadn’t even begun to explore anything sci-fi at that time.  Still, I will be seeing the movie at some point in the near future. Until then, for those of you who either saw it yesterday or are seeing it today, I hope it lives up to your expectations and please be mindful about posting spoilers for those of us who have to or want to wait.

“The Good Dinosaur” Review

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I’ve been an avid fan of Pixar since “Toy Story” and have made the point to see each and every one of their movies at some point. While I, like many people, think the bulk of their work has been outstanding, there have been a few bumps in the road. I’ve found stuff like “Cars”, “Monsters University” and “Brave” to be very average at best, and also agree with most that “Cars 2” has been Pixar’s worst film so far. With an amazing release earlier this year in the form of “Inside Out,” I was a bit wary going into “The Good Dinosaur” thanks to hearing about its troubled production and lackluster reception. Did I find it to be all that bad? Well, let’s take a look at the plot and find out.

In an alternate timeline, the fateful meteor meant to wipe out the dinosaurs instead bypasses Earth. This allows dinosaurs to flourish and even live during the age of man (specifically, Neanderthals). One day, an Apatosaurus named Arlo is separated from his family and teams up with a little Neanderthal boy known as Spot. The two head on a journey together to get Arlo home, soon becoming friends in the process. But their journey is fraught with many dangers, including other dinosaurs. Will Arlo be reunited with his family, or will the danger be too much for him to overcome?

This movie felt…messy. For starters, the writing lends no favors to either the plot or characters. Both are riddled with cliches and borrow elements from other Disney flicks like “The Lion King”, “Home on the Range” (I’ll get to that in a second), and “Homeward Bound.” The plot was your run-of-the-mill story that smashes together a moral about facing your fears with an “I must get home” journey. Because of this, I found it hard to get invested in much of what was going on. I DID end up liking the relationship that unfolds between Arlo and Spot and a couple emotional scenes worked for me, but again, it’s a plot that’s nothing new and in many cases has been done better. I also found it jarring how violent the movie could get at times. Sure, it’s set in a majorly “kill or be killed” time period, and Pixar has mentioned death and killing in other movies, but for some reason it bugged me here. Maybe it’s because it stood out so harshly against the other bland stuff going on, but I digress.

As for characters, I found myself only really caring a slight amount for Arlo and Spot. The others mainly exist to exposit to Arlo or serve as obstacles. The voice acting didn’t do much for me either, aside from a couple decent performances. As I said above, one of the movie’s “inspirations” seemed to be “Home on the Range”…at least, the western aspect of it. Yes, you heard me right. This journey/road trip movie has western themes strung though it as well. This means that a few of the characters are there mainly as western stereotypes, such as raptors acting like cow hustlers or T-Rexes sitting around sharing campfire stories. I just felt it was an extremely bizarre choice and only served to make the movie feel unfocused in what it wanted to be.

I even found that some of the animation bugged me. In some ways, this could be argued as Pixar’s best-looking movie to date. Much of that, for me at least, came from the incredibly detailed backgrounds and overall world they created. The scenes from the trailers with the fireflies looked amazing, and I even loved smaller things like the water effects. My problem with the animation was the character models. When I initially saw the trailers for the movie, I wasn’t very impressed with the style of the dinosaurs. I thought Spot looked fine (Pixar continues to improve on its human characters), but the dinosaurs always looked a little TOO cartoony to me. Having seen the movie in full, I still feel the same way. There’s even a weird, totally unnecessary scene where the animation changes a bit to make things look like a drugged-out hallucination that just didn’t mesh with me at all.

So, with all my complaints, is “The Good Dinosaur” a bad movie? Well… I can say I put it down there with “Cars 2” as being both forgettable AND something I don’t want to see again. My biggest issue is, like with “Cars 2,” that the bad outweighs the good. However, while I disliked “Cars 2” because of how much it annoyed me (though I did love that Michael Caine spy car), this movie felt like a Pixar low point for the opposite reason: I was bored by it. For having a run-time of an hour and 40 minutes, it felt a heck of a lot longer than that. Honestly, it’s a shame that I have to echo what many people have felt about it. I wanted to at least like this movie. As it stands, a couple decent moments and (mostly) pretty animation wasn’t enough to save it for me. Better luck next time, Pixar.

Moffat and Death (Series 9 Minor Spoilers!)

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Last night marked the end of the 9th series of “Doctor Who” (barring the upcoming Christmas special) and with it the departure (finally!) of Clara Oswald. I’ve said in the past how I disliked the character while still liking Jenna Coleman as an actress, but today’s blog isn’t about all that. No, today’s blog will be talking about an issue I’ve had with this series thanks to our good friend Steven Moffat: the impact of death.

In a show where the main character can regenerate upon death, this series (made up mostly of two-parters) sure seems to push the idea that the Doctor and Clara would/could die. From the beginning, cliffhangers would spring up putting either of them in peril. While that CAN build dramatic tension, it was used so often that by the finale, I was just rolling my eyes and sighing whenever such a cliffhanger would arise. Now, you could argue that since it was established this would be Jenna’s last season, those instances involving Clara had more impact. But I think most people knew that Moffat would save her departure, no matter how it went, for the end and that’s exactly what happened in “Face the Raven.” Despite my grievances with Clara, I thought her exit was tastefully done. I still would’ve preferred the “exit” they seemed to set up in “Last Christmas,” but overall it was one of the better moments all season with her.

That brings me to last night’s finale, and boy, did it shoot any good will I had toward both Moffat and Clara down the toilet. I’m sure many Clara fans will see it as a happy ending, but for me, her exit in “Face the Raven” was so much stronger. In “Hell Bent,” I felt she ended up learning next to nothing. She got to go on another adventure with the Doctor, didn’t seem nearly as perturbed by his actions as she rightfully should be, and played the Doctor 2.0 once more for kicks. They hint that she’ll eventually have to return to her point of departure in “Face the Raven,” but I get the feeling we’ll never know just WHEN she’ll do so. It’s left completely ambiguous and I was just not a fan of it. That’s not to say the finale didn’t have other issues (seriously, Gallifrey needed more love), but these events got me thinking back on the series (mostly about those stupid cliffhangers) and how Moffat continuously made death seem…well, almost meaningless.

Speaking of Gallifrey, there’s a moment where a Time Lord is basically forced into regenerating after being shot. This thing that the Doctor has in the past toted as being like dying and being replaced, this thing that has always been a grand spectacle and held importance for him (such as by saving others at the cost of his own life), is brushed off as being like a “flu” in regards to this other Time Lord. It was a bizarre scene in many ways for the Doctor, but that particular part just had me shaking my head. There have been many episodes in past seasons where supporting characters are killed, some with impact because of their strong characterization and others without due to a lack of it. THIS season had several episodes with decently done characters who are killed off without a thought or any sign of grief (barring Ashildr/Me, until she was brought back to life therefore “erasing” her death). I’m just sick and tired of Moffat reversing deaths like they’re nothing. It makes all the tension instantly dissipate (like in those aforementioned cliffhanger endings).

I’m sure this season isn’t the first example of all of this, but it sure was noticeable. That being said, I would like to see Moffat helm the show for at least one more year. And while I prefer his style over RTD’s, the flaws in his writing are becoming more and more apparent as each season goes by. I still consider myself a fan of his, but, unfortunately, not quite as big of one as I once was.