Good Riddance, 2016

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Well, 2016 will be over in a couple days, and much like everyone else, I won’t be sad to see it go. This year has been rough enough from a news and pop culture standpoint. Rampant violence, an obnoxious U.S. presidential election, celebrity upon celebrity passing away, etc etc. It felt like bad news was more inescapable than ever this year. I know we’re sure to see this stuff in 2017, but the amount of it this year has officially worn me down.

Not helping that is the personal stress I’ve endured. Spending most of the first half of the year trying to take care of my mom while she was recovering from surgery was tough on her and me. I struggled to keep her from sliding deep into depression and drove her to physiotherapy many times over. And when things finally started to settle down as we moved into the summer months, I lost Scamper, my pet cat of 17+ years. Having spent all of my teenage years and then some with the little guy, it was heartbreaking. I’ve even gone so far as to vow not to take on another pet until I’m finally with my fiance, Richard.

But things haven’t been ALL bad. I got to spend quality time throughout this year with my mom doing fun stuff once she was able. It’s always nice spending time with her, whether it’s something as simple as going out for lunch or shopping. She and my dad also spent time with me visiting the nearby cities, whether it was going to movies or gambling at a casino. I played through many RPG video games that I hadn’t tried before this year, as well as all the new ones 2016 had to offer. I saw some great movies this year like “Captain America: Civil War,” “Finding Dory,” “Doctor Strange”, “Moana” and recently, “Rogue One: A Star Wars Story” among a few others. My fiance and I both managed to fit in fun-filled visits with each other, and my trip even resulted in me going back to Disney World for the first time in six years. More importantly, we finally were able to start the visa process to get me down to Florida to marry him. Because of that alone, I’m hopeful that 2017 will at least go better than 2016 did.

Once again, another year has flown by fast. However, while I’ve done my best to take the good with the bad, it’ll be a bit of a relief when January 1st rolls around. All I can really hope and pray for is to have 2017 start off on a good note. But time will tell if that ends up being the case.

One More Canadian Christmas

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It’s still hard to believe that this Christmas is shaping up to be the last one for me in Canada. By next year, I’ll be celebrating the holidays with my fiance and his family. There’s always the possibility that we could come see my family during this time in the future, weather permitting obviously, but it’s going to be a huge change for me. So, since I mentioned in my last blog how I’ll miss my family and friends not just because of Christmas but all year around, this week’s blog will be about the things I WILL miss about spending Christmas here.

For 2016 in particular, I’ll miss having my cat around and watching him hide beneath our Christmas tree. Aside from the Christmas of 2011, which I got to spend with my fiance in Florida, I’ve had my cat around me at this time since 2000. Now that he’s gone, it’s hard to think about how last Christmas really did end up being his last, and in relation our last with him. I still miss him like crazy, and this year’s Christmas just won’t be the same.

As for Christmas in general, I’ll miss our family traditions. My family never had many to begin with, but besides the last few years, we’ve almost always had a real Christmas tree. When I was younger, my sisters and I used to go out with our dad to cut one down in the woods behind our house. The house always smelled like pine, and no matter if the tree was real or fake, we’d all chip in to decorate it. I’m pretty sure that when I’m living in Florida, having a real tree won’t always be possible. In fact, it might be more of a nuisance than anything. But there’s something about a real Christmas tree coupled with the snowy landscapes we have up here that just feels right.

Speaking of snow, I mostly won’t miss it. One of the reasons I’m downright happy to be moving south is to get away from the freezing winds/temperatures, snow and ice. But that’s not to say that snow is all bad. It IS pretty to look at and always reminds me of the days when my sisters and I would make snowmen and snow forts, have snowball fights, go sledding and ice skating, and curl up afterwards with a nice cup of hot chocolate. We have had the occasional green Christmas, so having nothing but snow-less Christmases in Florida isn’t a big deal to me. Who knows? Maybe being away from it will make me appreciate it more.

But a lot of what I’ll miss centers around being with my family. Aside from 2011, I’ve spent every Christmas with my parents even after my sisters moved away. Being away from them next Christmas is going to be really weird, especially since we do so much together. We open presents together, we go to our family’s Christmas dinner together, we order Chinese on either Christmas Eve or New Year’s Eve and ring in the new year together, and there are many other things like those. I’m excited to start my life with my fiance so we can finally spend Christmas together and maybe even have our own traditions, but I’ve gotten so accustomed to being with my family that it’ll take some getting used to.

Still, Christmas will always be my favorite holiday no matter who I’m spending it with. As much as I enjoy Halloween, I’ve always loved the sense of good cheer and traditions surrounding Christmas more. I’m sure I’ll cherish this Christmas more than any other, and I can’t wait to make some new Christmas memories with my fiance next December. So, from me to you, Merry Christmas/Happy Holidays/Happy Hanukkah/Happy Kwanzaa!

A Time for Family

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The Christmas season is here, and today I spent time with my Mom and aunt doing a baking party. What is a baking party? Well, it’s exactly what it sounds like. Every year, my Mom and her sisters get together to do all their Christmas baking at once. They’ll share desserts, talk about anything and everything, and generally just spend time together. Up until this year, I never bothered to go because I saw it as a sisterly thing. But when my mom invited me this December, I felt compelled to say yes.

There are a couple reasons, but my main one is that I feel like I should spend whatever time I can with my family when the occasion arises. By next year (at some point), I’ll be leaving my country pretty much for good to marry and live with my fiancé in Florida. This means far less opportunities to see family, let alone spend time with them. Our little party today was supposed to consist of myself, my mom, and TWO of my aunts, but bad weather coupled with misplaced ingredients meant it was just the three of us and with very little actual baking planned to do. Still, we had a good time making snowball treats and peanut butter balls.

Does this mean I’ll be going to every little family thing from here until the time I move? Probably not. I hope to make even a little time with my friends and I’ve always liked having some quiet time to myself or at least with just my parents around. But I also know it won’t really hit me how many routine events I’ll be leaving behind until once I move away. It’s gonna be a weird adjustment, but I’ll still try my best to come back from time to time and see everyone. Until then, keeping in line with this cheery time of year, I’m gonna spend whatever time I can around the people I care about.

“Moana” Review (Spoiler-Free!)

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I finally saw “Moana” for the first time yesterday. Aside from “Doctor Strange,” it was something I’d been looking forward to seeing before the year’s end. So, did I enjoy it? Well, long story short, yes. Oh, and before I forget, there is a short before this movie. I won’t go into it, but I will say that while I’ve enjoyed other shorts more (either from Disney or Pixar), it has a message that I feel kids AND adults should take to heart. Now, with that, let’s get into the nitty gritty without going into spoiler territory.

The story of “Moana” is basically a chosen one adventure. Moana is the daughter of an island chieftain who refuses to allow anyone to sail past the reef because it’s too dangerous. But Moana has been drawn to the ocean since she was little and, despite preparing to take on responsibilities as the new chief, still longs to sail outside the island. But she gets her chance when it’s discovered that her island is slowly wasting away. Now she must set out to find the demi-god known as Maui to help her restore her homeland. Will she succeed or is it too big of task for her to handle?

There’s so much more to the story than I’m telling, but a lot of it is set up as exposition at the beginning. From there, it becomes more about the adventure Moana gets to go on and how she interacts with Maui once they meet. I’ll just say it now: I enjoyed every character in this movie but Moana and Maui were the shining stars. Even though Maui starts off as kind of a pompous jerk, he grows on you. He reminded me in shades of Genie from “Aladdin” for having a bombastic personality at the start and throwing in some godlike power usage during his introduction song (more on those later). He doesn’t throw in nearly as many pop culture references, but the couple that were there were a little cringeworthy. However, he still gets some serious moments and backstory that set him apart as well, and I adored his shape-shifting powers. Props to Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson for an overall solid job.

But I have to give bigger props to Auli’i Cravalho for being the voice AND singing voice for Moana. This is her first film and I felt she did an incredible job. She sounded like a pro and I really hope this opens some doors for her. Moana herself is extremely likable, much like the female leads in recent Disney films, and her steadfast attitude made her compelling to watch. The movie even pokes fun at her having a couple animal sidekicks like so many others, though I was surprised that the one I wasn’t expecting ended up joining her on her journey. Despite that, it got some chuckles from me.

I loved the world they built here as well. I don’t know hardly anything about Polynesian culture and mythology, but I was fully invested in what this movie presented. The tropical setting is always something I’ve loved, and the various threats the movie presents were feasts for the eyes. Honestly, I think Disney has stepped up their game in the 3D animation department with this one. There’s also additional animation that was definitely welcomed and surprisingly fluid. I hope they use the techniques presented here in future films.

As is typical for Disney, the songs are a lot of fun. I’m not sure how memorable they’ll end up being, given the styles they’re in, but I found myself liking each one of them. My favorites ended up being the more bombastic ones like Moana’s song, “How Far I’ll Go” and a few Polynesian-influenced tracks as well. Maui’s introduction song, “You’re Welcome” was fun and I have to give kudos to The Rock for doing an admirable job at singing it. The only song I was kinda iffy on was essentially a villain’s song, though there are arguably more than one of those in the film. It was still a fun song, but it didn’t resonate with me as much because the character it’s attached to is kinda minor in the grand scheme of things.

If I had to pick any major gripe I had with the movie, it’s that the basic plot points it hits are cliched and predictable. You can see at certain moments where the story’s going, even though the story concept is executed well enough (aka by having some poignant emotional moments). It’s just odd after coming off of “Frozen,” where they at least tried to subvert some of the usual Disney tropes. The movie also felt pretty fast paced, which made the adventure aspect of it seem kinda short in relation to the rest of the story.

Despite those gripes, “Moana” was definitely entertaining and worth watching. Moana as a character is easily one of my favorites in recent memory, and I liked that the story was both an physical and emotional journey for her and Maui. I’ve always had an affinity for Disney movies that break the mold (*cough*Lilo & Stitch*cough*), so I was glad to see “Moana” move away from the princess angle in favor of an adventure film .While it has its flaws, I would still highly recommend this to kids and adults alike.

My Top 5 Favorite Pixar Shorts

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There isn’t a year that goes by where I don’t watch a mainstream Disney or Pixar film (well, barring the “Planes” movies). I just love the works they’ve produced, even if some have been…less than stellar from time to time. But one thing I haven’t mentioned on this blog is how I feel about the shorts, namely Pixar’s (though I definitely have enjoyed Disney’s as well). So, I’ve decided to make a top 5 list dedicated to the shorts I enjoyed the most. While many of them are well-animated to begin with, these shorts are also ones that stuck with me for one reason or another.

However, before I start, there is one ground rule I applied to this list. I’m only looking at the original shorts, not those based on established Pixar films. So, shorts like “Burn-E”, “Jack-Jack Attack”, and “Riley’s First Date” won’t be seen here. With that said, here are my honorable mentions that didn’t quite make the list.

Honorable Mentions: 

Luxo Jr. (a classic, but ultimately more memorable as the company’s logo to me), Knick Knack (pretty funny and would easily place as #6), and Sanjay’s Super Team (a neat idea even if I’m not knowledgeable about Hindu culture).

And now, here are my top 5 favorite Pixar shorts!

5. La Luna

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I’ll be honest – I mostly liked this one thanks to the gorgeous animation. Don’t get me wrong, I enjoyed the little story of a boy spending time with both his dad and grandpa. But what really sold it for me was the concept of the three cleaning up stars in the night sky. It’s unique and kept me invested through its breezy run time. I’ve always loved nighttime mainly because of the stars and moon, so this short had me hooked on the visuals the second it started.

4. Piper

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This short is just too cute, and that’s right up my alley. I’ve always loved baby animals, so following this little sandpiper as she goes about facing her fear of the ocean was a lot of fun. It’s a simple moral, but the execution of it made me care for this bird just as much as if it were a person. Of course, the visuals are a feast from the eyes, especially with this being the most recent short Pixar’s released. What else can I really say but that this short is adorable, funny at times, and presents a great message for kids.

3. Geri’s Game

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Before I saw “Knick Knack” or even “Luxo Jr.”, I vividly remember this being my first ever Pixar short. Not only that, but it has stuck with me ever since. Why? Well, besides being goofy and fun, it was also really weird. The idea of a man playing against what appeared to be an evil twin isn’t all that surprising to me now, but as a kid, seeing him all alone by the end kinda blew my mind a little. It was so bizarre and cool at the same time. And, as the oldest short on this list, it still holds up to me. It may not be my favorite, but it will always be my first.

2. Day & Night

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At first glance, the animation in this one probably doesn’t seem as spectacular compared to other shorts. But the beauty of it is that it combines 2D AND 3D animation, with the characters of Day and Night being 2D and the scenes in their bodies being 3D. That’s pretty cool on its own, but what I love the most about this short (aside from the humor itself) is how Day and Night interact with each other. Not just as characters, mind you, but also the scenes that play out in their bodies. I love the various ways they represent both times of the day, and the idea of discovering and adapting to the unknown is done well here. It’s just an insanely creative short, though there’s one short I still prefer more.

1. Presto

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I love everything about this short. The humor is like something straight out of Looney Tunes, the pacing is spot-on, the bunny is nothing short of adorable, and the use of a magic show for the setting allows for some great visuals. While it doesn’t hurt that it precedes one of my favorite Pixar movies, “Wall-E”, this short is more than capable of standing on its own. It might not have an in-depth message to convey, but I don’t feel like it needs one. This short is pure slapstick through and through, and to this day it still never fails to entertain me. Even though I love all of the shorts on this list as well as most of the others, “Presto” is still my absolute favorite Pixar short.

And that’s my favorite Pixar shorts list! Feel free to agree, disagree, or list some of your own in the comments. Until next time!