Month: July 2014

Adventures in Reading Part 1: Comic Books

First an update-

This week I’ve felt a little bit like the mole man.  I came up on Wednesday after my voyage from California and have only gone downstairs one time in those days.  It’s very strange living in a tunnel and 2 rooms.  It feels kind of like I’m in a bomb shelter.

As far as my knee it is still painful, swollen, and sore.  I can’t put weight on it but it is improving everyday.  I’ve been able to shower and walk around the room with a cane without too much trouble.  Standing up and then sitting down are the hardest.

Needless to say I’m getting more than a little stir crazy up here so if any of you aren’t doing anything come by and visit (thanks to those that have!).

But I am encouraged by my progress and tomorrow am going to go to church which should be a nice way to get out of the house without too much walking.

Thanks for the prayers and thoughts my way.

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Back to regular post

This is actually a post I’ve wanted to do for some time.  I’m sure some of you have gotten sick of my movie posts so I thought it would be fun to focus on literature for a little while- particularly literature I am less familiar with.  Some I thought of are comic books, graphic novels, anime, poetry (epic, limericks, hiaku, different types), plays etc.

What am I missing? I’ve talked about fiction and non-fiction a lot (and some poetry but it’s been a while).

Anyway, today I am taking the first item off the list and talking about comic books.  Until beginning this project I had never read a comic book in my life.  I’ve seen some of the movies and to be honest they are usually not my favorite.  Even one’s everyone else likes such as the Dark Knight movies I couldn’t get into.

I keep hearing I would like the movies better if I read the comic books, so I went into the project with an open mind and excitement with what could be a new world of writing.

And you know I’m glad I did. I learned a lot and have a genuine respect for the melding of art and story in comic books.

Here’s how it all went down

20140726_170727In April I bought a lot of 50 comic books off of Amazon.com and it was only $20. So comic books are definitely affordable literature!  This lot had a variety of big names like justice league, avengers, x-men and fantastic 4. I had seen all of their movies so these were easier for me to grasp.

comic books1First of all the artistry and colors blew me away.

20140726_195454I also thought the dialogue was brisk and didn’t shy away from large words and big concepts

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From a Green Lantern comic book. A lot of big words in there!

In my lot of 50 there were two that stood out the most for me:

1. DC 507 Adventures of Superman Bloodsport

You will probably be surprised I picked this one because it is very violent and I probably wouldn’t like it in movie form but I’ve always said that reading about violence is a different experience than viewing.

What made this story interesting to me is the villain bloodsport is not a super villain.  From what I’ve read there is no science experiment gone awry, no scarring injury that made him bitter.  This is a man who has decided that certain people are worthy of living and certain people are not.

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I think you could also have a good discussion with a mature child about hate and discrimination after reading this issue (but I don’t think it is overly-moralistic.  It fits with the story)

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In this issue Bloodsport attacks a neighborhood called Hob’s Heights which he deems as taking not giving people.  Welfare drains and drug addicts in his eyes and this disgusts him.  He is also a violent racist.

The reason this villain interests me is I feel like it isn’t that far off from the kind of villains that actually exist. At the very least, there have been many people who have justified taking lives because they view the humans as worthless, as an affront to civilization. To me this is much more interesting than say a Joker or Two Face that feels very far removed from anything in real life.

There’s also a real emotion to the story with a little boy named Adam murdered at the beginning and his mother’s grief turning her back to alcohol. It is this human element that is often missing in the comic book movie adaptations.

20140726_1648352.  World War Hulk: Frontline

This is called hulk but I don’t think you actually see the hulk.  It is more about 2 reporters Ben Urich and Sally Floyd and how they are able to cover the story of aliens in New York.  Along the way they have some help from Korg, The Sentry, Ironman and others I didn’t recognize.

I really liked the character Sally Floyd.  I thought she was tough but soft and a little bitter.  She is also an alcoholic, which could throw her off the story if she isn’t careful.

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My kind of hero. Kram!

This is one of the only comic books I read that had a woman I could relate to.  I thought it was cool to have a comic book story where the superheroes assist the humans in fighting not the other way around.  Jonah Jameson is in this as well

 

Things I don’t like about comic books-.

There are some things I didn’t enjoy about comic books.  Believe it or not I actually found them difficult to read.  The font is so small and packed in and sometimes there are so many images on the page my brain didn’t know where to look first.

20140726_161216It’s just so busy!

The other thing I am not crazy about is the way men are portrayed as chiseled beefcakes.

20140726_162134Even the women often look a little too chiseled.

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That is preferable to the sexpots, villainesses, and damsels in distress that are in almost every comic book.

comic books2Honestly all of this would make me hesitant to recommend comic books to my son or daughter despite their other positive characteristics.

The interesting thing is from what I can gather the two comics I liked best and mentioned above appear to have been flops.  Bloodsport only appeared 3 or 4 times and as for Sally Floyd evidently she gets turned into a shrill, judgmental, shallow, jerk who argues with Captain America that the Nazi’s weren’t the bad guys in WWII…

Language in this article but it says what they did with the character.

Darn it Marvel.  Couldn’t you have left one woman that was relatable and interesting that doesn’t have a bust size DDD?

Final Review-

Comic books are visually striking, fun, even thought provoking stories that can inspire creativity and teach basic moral lessons.

Comic books are also crowded and visually assaulting at times to read.  They portray only one type of body for both men and women, especially women.  This can be demeaning and even bordering on the pornographic.  Many are also very violent and would certainly be R rated (or worthy of R if the rating system meant anything) so it could create a desire on the part of young fans to see movies that are not appropriate for their age group.

Those would all be concerns of mine if I had children interested in comic books.

But there was a lot of things I did like and I must say I enjoyed the experience of diving into comic books more than I expected.  None of what I read was in order so if there is a series you like please recommend it below.

I also got a lot of support on twitter when I started this project from @HowtoLoveComics and @Nea_Pol so give them a follow if you are on twitter.

What do you guys think of comic books?  Are you fans? Would love to hear your comments.

A Gift of Service

Most of us that are active in social media have a few friends that aren’t really friends.  They are people we have met on forums or fan pages and we chat about our mutual interests, enjoy each other’s company and think nothing more of it.  I have these from several angles and I love them.

Well, today I had a very touching experience.  I am writing this from my bed at my home.  To get here I had quite the day.

First of all I had a busy morning and I said goodbye to my family, some of which I won’t see for a long time as they are moving across the country and to Japan. 😦

Then I hobbled to the airport and got a wheelchair from Delta who were amazing through all this.  They coordinated the wheelchair, cancelled my ticket at no fee and I got first class for only $59.

Btw, I really liked first class.  If it is $59 again I am totally doing it.  It was a rough flight too.  I came so close to losing my first class snacks when we hit a long stretch of turbulence.  Then we got my bags and I was picked up by my new friend Amber.

She is one of those people that was a facebook friend but I hadn’t met.  I had posted I needed a ride to the airport a few weeks ago and she responded.  I said ‘are you sure?’.  I couldn’t believe that someone was willing to take a complete stranger to the airport.  It was so nice.

I told her I have never met anyone via airport pick up but it went great and she agreed to get me on the way home as well.  Then when I hurt my knee and had to change flights around she was more than amenable.

I called her to talk about the injury and she suggested getting a cane from walmart so that it was ready for my arrival and I would pay her back.  It was brilliant and she took the time to purchase it.

She even got me one with some pizazz.  It was perfect.

cane

Then she drove me home and helped me in with my bag and all the mail I had.

Next was tackling the scary stairs and she helped encourage me as I took it one step at a time.  It was hard but I made it through.

stairs

Once I was settled she took a grocery list and helped me stock the mini-fridge and microwave with food and drinks so that I wouldn’t have to go downstairs for a few days.

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It was beyond nice.

I’m really quite touched by it. I mean how many times have you devoted days to someone that is basically a stranger? Most of us, including myself, have never done that outside of charity projects or writing this blog.

It would have been so easy to let someone else take care of it but she didnt and I find that remarkable.

Now to some rest and quick recovery.
Thanks again. I’m usually the one giving service and making things work so it humbling to be on the other side for a bit.

🙂

 

On Bended Knee

Alas I have not been proposed too.

Mine is a knee problem of another sort.  Sadly today was supposed to be my last day at the family reunion but yesterday I slipped on a tub in my hotel room and twisted  my knee badly.  I was able to get out of the tub by rolling out and then hobbled to clothes.  However, when I tried to get onto the bed and lift my knee a bit my leg turned to jello and I toppled to the ground.

My poor Dad came to my rescue and had the Herculean task of lifting not so little me up onto a desk chair that they rolled down the hallway onto the elevator.

No wheelchair or bathroom mat I could see!  Badly done Hampton Inn.  The lady was very good to wait for me but I called and told them what had happened and she said ‘I will have someone come fill out an incident report’ and I said ‘could you get me a bag of ice first…(sigh. Litigious world we live in)

Nevertheless, I was in so much pain.  Worse than ever in my life.  Basically carrying me into the car and then drove me to the urgent care.  Luckily the urgent care took my insurance (even though Humana had no one at their call centers for emergencies!)

They were great at the urgent care and did 3 x-rays and gave me a shot, some meds.  According to the doctor it could take a while to heal.  I certainly can’t put any weight on it right now.  I’m honestly very surprised it isn’t an ACL or break because the pain is very strong (although the pain meds do help).

knee knee2

I have been packing the knee with ice 24/7 and resting.  Thankful for my family for taking care of me and Sam for giving up his room.  In a way it is a good place to have something like this happen because at home I would have lots of stairs and nobody home most the day to help me.

I was supposed to fly home tomorrow but I can’t even have my knee dangling and if anyone touches it there is extreme pain.  There is no way I could wedge into a little airline seat right now.  Luckily I had gotten the trip insurance and Delta let me get a credit.

I hope Sunday I am able to continue to rest so I can work a little bit on Monday.  I’d hate to get too behind after missing 3 days of work this week for the reunion.

Please send a little prayer for me that the pain will be bearable and that it will heal quickly.  It’s certainly been one of the most painful experiences of my life.  I just wish it was all for something more exciting than a shower!

It’s a real shame because I had been having a pretty good time at the reunion.  This is actually not the first knee injury at a family reunion.  My Uncle Jim tore his ACL at a Thanksgiving reunion we had in Colorado.

I guess family is hard on the knees and not just from all the praying!

Dawn of the Planet of the Apes: A Movie Review

It’s gotten to the point my friends that I don’t get out to the theater as much as I would like. Last year it was once from January to August.  This year twice. Today was #2 and it was a film I was eagerly awaiting- Dawn of the Planet of the Apes.

Dawn-of-the-Planet-of-the-Apes-postersI know what you are thinking.  An ape movie?  Really Rachel?

Yes!!

Have an open mind, and I bet you will be dazzled by the movie (and maybe even think a little bit while you are at it).

Dawn is the 8th entry in the Apes franchise that started in 1968 with Charlton Heston. In that film Heston lands on earth to find humans are no longer thriving and apes are the evolved species.  There were then 5 follow ups and a TV series, which were all pretty entertaining.

Then in 2001 Tim Burton made his laughable Planet of the Apes with Mark Walburg (who seems to have a habit of falling into very bad movies, The Happening, transformers…)

In 2011 we got a new version called Rise of the Planet of the Apes which basically ignored the Burton movie and became a prequel to the original film.  It was very good but was pulled down by some weak human actors James Franco, Frieda Pinto and others.

So now in Dawn we have moved to 10 years past the events in Rise and the apes have started to evolve into their own civilization while the humans have been annihilated by the virus introduced in the last film.  In fact, the apes think humans are completely gone and haven’t heard anything from them in 2 years.

They were very clever to not make the apes too evolved.  It is after all only 10 years.  Caesar, the leader of the apes, played by Andy Serkis (oscar worthy performance), has taught the apes how communicate using the sign language taught to him by Franco.  These interactions are presented to us as a subtitle like in a foreign film.

It feels believable apes could learn to communicate in that way.  They also use short phrases and words like home, family, war, ape, and human.

The two main apes are Caesar and Koba who present different takes on the relationship with humans.  Caesar avoids war and remembers Franco with nostalgia while Koba fears man and remembers being tortured by them.  This is main question of the movie.  When is the time for peace and when is the time for protecting one’s country and people?

It is interesting yesterday I heard Prime Minister Netanyahu debate these very ideas on Face the Nation.  Some see Israel as acting in an aggressive way and wish they would try harder to bring peace.  Others, including Netanyahu, feel they must defend themselves and their interests.

So, Koba and Caesar are the most compelling characters in the story and the stop motion capture is amazing.  The fur is fluid.  The movement feels smooth and after a few minutes you forget it is a special effect and it is just Caesar.  One thing making it so seamless is the green screen for the CGI was set up around the forest scenes which had never been done before.

andy-serkis-talks-dawn-of-the-planet-of-the-apes-123027-470-75
Andy Serkis creates a character through his movements and facial expressions. Awesome

DAWN OF THE PLANET OF THE APESMy only flaw with the apes is that at times it was hard to tell them apart aside from Koba and Caesar.  I don’t know how they could have improved on it but it was a challenge.

The apes eventually come into contact with a group of humans who need access to the dam that is next to the ape’s home.  Koba is very resistant, Caesar is more open to the idea.

Most of the human actors I am not overly familiar with.  Jason Clarke was new to me, and he was very good.  Kerri Russell takes a huge step up from Austenland.  Gary Oldman is good but not in that many scenes. Kodi Smit-McPhee is also good as Clarke’s son. All of them have seen their civilization and families get obliterated and the fatigue is on their faces.

movies-dawn-of-the-planet-of-the-apes-jason-clarkeSo, the apes and the humans come into conflict and contact with each other and the movie plays out at a very brisk feeling 2 hours and 10 minutes.  A few of the visuals are over-the-top.  There is an ape Rambo scene which is cool but a little corny.

But other than a few brief moments I don’t have much criticism.  It does not take the easy way out and idolize the apes (ala Avatar).  Nor does it paint the humans as heroes or villains.  It’s message is surprisingly simple- all creatures can be bad and good.  They all have the potential to cause pain on others.

I don’t want to give too much away but I loved it.  I walked away dazzled, entertained, moved, and inspired.  It is modern storytelling at it’s best and I recommend seeing it on the big screen.  It will have a lot more umph than at home.

As far as content it is fairly violent with war, deaths, murders, blood depicted by both apes and humans.  I heard 2 swears although there could have been more.  It was not a huge problem.

Content Grade- C+          Overall Grade A+ (I think this is about as well as you could make this kind of movie.  If you don’t like it than it may not be the genre for you.)

 

ps.  There were apes on horses.  It looked totally cool.

apes on horses

Epic Disney Tag

epic disney tag2

I just thought I would share this video I made.  It took a lot of work so please check it out and share it if you enjoy it.  I started with this thing called the ‘Disney TAG’ which has been going around youtube.

Then I figured if I was going there I would add more questions, make it a full look at Disney and what I like and don’t enjoy as much.  I would love to hear your thoughts and what you would pick for the questions.

Here are the questions:

1. A scene in any Disney movie you wish you could experience
2. An unforgettable experience you’ve had at the parks
3. What non-Disney song reminds you or brings back memories of Disney and or the parks?
4. When was the first time you went to a Disney park?
5. If you could choose any of the characters to be your best friend who would you choose?
6. Who is your favorite Disney princess?
7. Name a scene/moment in any Disney movie that never fails to make you cry?
8. What is your favorite Disney movie?
9. Overrated Disney?
10. Underrated Disney?
11. Favorite Disney song?
12.   Least Favorite Disney?
13. Most Memorable Disney villain?
14. Favorite classic Disney/ favorite modern Disney?
15. Favorite Disney score?
16. Favorite live action
17.   Didn’t like as kid, like now
18. Favorite Studio Ghibli

epic disney tag

Because of the rules of youtube I couldn’t put in my favorite songs but here they are:

If you haven’t seen it in a while listen to Hans Zimmer’s amazing score for the Lion King

Stadium of Fire 2014

stadium of fire

Have I mentioned it recently how much I love living in Utah? One of the greatest parts is all the wonderful entertainment that is accessible, affordable and family friendly.  I have long thought of doing a blog called Utah52 and talk about a different cultural event every weekend of the year in Utah.  Unfortunately I would need a group to help me with such a project as I have things going on some weekends.

Nevertheless, you could easily go to a great quality event every weekend.  In December you could go to something every day.

People that are long-timers in Utah don’t understand how unique it is.  My parents live in Sacramento and thy have a professional musical theater called Music Circus and a youth theater and that is basically it.  I wanted to see Christmas Carol there and nothing.  In Utah you can see Christmas Carol like 100 different places.

Dance is heavily supported.  Ballet West is one of the best companies in the country.  Same with Utah Symphony.  There’s the Mormon Tabernacle Choir and every town has their own little playhouse.  Where I live in Draper has the amphitheater and Draper Historic Theater.

It’s just a great place to live!

The universities here make everything special also.  The choirs, dance troops, productions are second to none.

In this vein, every year BYU and the City of Provo puts on a huge production called Stadium of Fire.  They usually get a popular recording act- often country and then surround them with the longest fireworks display in the country and much more.

Unfortunately I haven’t been able to attend for a long time because of family stuff but this year I was so I snatched up tickets.  Carrie Underwood was the singer and I particularly wanted to see her because in 2005 I was supposed to see her but the traffic into USANA Ampitheater made us an hour late and we missed both opening acts to Kenny Chesney 😦  (That is why I hate USANA)

So I got tickets and pretty good one’s too.  I went with my new friend Adam and we had a great time.  Carrie was awesome and did all my favorite songs.  One especially cool moment was when she went from Jesus Take the Wheel to How Great Thou Art.  It was great.

(I wasn’t as close as this guy but I still enjoyed it)

There was also a field worth of dancers, a super hero trampoline troop that was amazing.  If these 2 routines don’t make you smile than I worry for you… 😉

The fireworks were then pretty awesome.  I made this video of the night using a new app called majisto.  It turned out pretty well.

War veteran and land mine survivor JR Martinez was the emcee of the night and hearing his story and the Utah Army Band play made me ponder about the freedoms I enjoy.  Too often these days we are talking more about rights than freedoms. Rights are important but we also need to step back and be grateful for the many freedoms we do have that others do not.  The push for more rights can make us forget what tremendous blessings we have.

Let’s just say there is a reason so many including children are desperate to come here and we forget that or at least I do. Sometimes it is helpful to have all the pomp and circumstance of a stadium of fire to remember how great it really is.

I loved it and am grateful for all the volunteer work which goes into such a production.  Thanks to all!

God bless America!

stadium of fire2

 

 

Life Itself: A Movie Review

“We all are born with a certain package. We are who we are: where we were born, who we were born as, how we were raised. We’re kind of stuck inside that person, and the purpose of civilization and growth is to be able to reach out and empathize a little bit with other people. And for me, the movies are like a machine that generates empathy. It lets you understand a little bit more about different hopes, aspirations, dreams and fears. It helps us to identify with the people who are sharing this journey with us.”

Roger Ebert

I bet if the great film critic Roger Ebert and I met we would have about 2 things in common.  We disagreed on religion, morality, philosophy and definitely politics.  Why then do I admire him so much? I love Roger because of the way he got me to think. My parents are big on thinking and not just doing, but they don’t watch movies or television.

Let’s face it- being a kid in the post Star Wars world, means movies are a huge part of most of our lives.  So, when Gene Siskel and Roger Ebert were teaching me how to think about  movies, they were kind of teaching me how to think about life.  It was a building block to add on to what my parents demonstrated at home.

From 1975 to Siskel’s death in 1998 Gene and Roger reviewed movies on their PBS and then syndicated show under various titles, the longest being At the Movies.  They of course were famous for their thumbs up and thumbs down and their constant on air debates over the movies. Here’s one of their best

I have never seen Full Metal Jacket but I still find the review fascinating (and entertaining). In fact, I probably didn’t see 90% of the movies reviewed on Siskel and Ebert and yet I still loved watching the show.

Anyway, with that preface a new movie has come out about the life of Roger Ebert who died in 2013 after a long and painful battle with cancer. It is amazing to think one of the most verbose men in media became someone who could no longer speak. For the last 5 years of his life he communicated through a keyboard and laptop.  His blogging and twitter posts became his new voice and he taught many of us how to use the medium to enrich the world not simply criticize.

The film Life Itself is directed by Steve James of Hoop Dreams fame and it is a lovely film about a man that lived a unique, fascinating life.  He started filming as he was going into a final surgery several years before his death.  They are unflinching (at one point insistently so by Roger) in showing the damage which had been done to Roger’s face and neck.  Even his famous Esquire magazine shoot did not really show what had happened to his face.

They show him writing and then go through his life starting as a young journalism student who insisted on a page edit on his local paper the day Kennedy was shot.  Then it moves on to his first job at the Chicago Sun Times, his alcoholism, his Pulitzer prize winning writing, his time on the show, relationship with Gene Siskel, his marriage and then his illness and last chapter.

I learned a lot about Roger Ebert from the movie but it also reminded me of all of the lessons I’d learned from Roger over the years.  He taught me about movies but also subtely how to live.   Roger and Gene were a reminder to all of us that to share your opinion is not something to be fearful of and to avoid but it is a gift of knowledge and discussion to the world.  Through sharing we hopefully become better people.  I suspect Siskel and Ebert did that for a lot of people.  They made us better by sharing their perspective.

Life Itself is a loving piece but not a complete lovefest.  It makes it clear Siskel and Ebert really did not care for each other for most of their careers.  Roger was also an egotist and a perfectionist to a fault, but we all have our flaws don’t we?

I love learning about people’s lives and how they became who they are.  If you enjoy those types of documentaries than you will like Life Itself- even if you disagreed with Roger Ebert most of the time.  He had quite the life.

Getting back to the quote from above.  Roger Ebert says the movies create ‘shared empathy’.  I propose they do such a thing because he and Gene Siskel taught us to see that empathy.  To look beyond the moment and think about the art whether it was a blockbuster, a silly comedy or a war movie:

Siskel and Ebert showed all of us how to watch the movies.

I’m grateful.  Thumbs up!

Overall Grade A              Content Grade C   (There are a few photos briefly shown of naked women, and a few swears but not too bad)

roger ebert

This is perhaps their best reviews because they both hated it so much.  Love it.