Monday, December 27, 2010

Nitpickery -- Tron Legacy

Hey y'all.  I really wanted to see the next Narnia movie, but I ended up seeing Tron Legacy instead.  I thought I would review it while it's fresher in my mind.  I saw it with my boyfriend, so that gives it a boost. 

Notedly, I don't know the Tron universe.  I did see at least parts of Tron as a kid, but I don't remember anything significant about it.  You might think that it would be better if I was familiar with the older universe for the purposes of this review, and that might be so.  Thing is, you so rarely get a chance to see a review from someone unfamiliar with the universe of the movie in question.  If it's a sequel or remake of a movie, that is.  Ones from books, like Lord of the Rings, are pretty common. 

Anyway, first I'll give my spoiler-free review, and after that I'll get into my nitpickery.

So, this movie was a glut of digital madness and shiny glee, without much to do with logic, plot, or character development.  The acting was meh for the most part, and the script was terrible.  If you like shiny things, relentless action, and don't really give a crap about plot, you'll like this movie.  It doesn't really explain too much to newcomers, but if the plot had been better it wouldn't have been such an issue. 

The visuals were interesting, very good actually.  The CLU character didn't really look that great, but other than that it was good.  I especially liked Flynn's home in the digital world.  And that's my compliment. 

Cora (I'm sure her name was spelled differently, but that's what it sounds like) actually was a great character.  To look at her in the posters, she seemed like a feminist stereotype, but she wasn't actually that bad.  Her naiivety was entertaining, and if they had gone deeper into her character it would have been cool.  As it was, she sort of reminded me of that chick in the Fifth Element, in a negative way.  Just the way the plot treats her -- strong when the script needs it, and weak in the next bit.  Weird.  Anyway, ironically enough, even though she's a digital being, she seemed the most human out of everyone in the dang movie.  So yeah, Olivia Wilde gets my vote for the best actress in the movie.

So yeah, this movie is good if you're bored and want to watch shiny things and listen to Daft Punk.  Don't expect anything deep, original, or logical.  You won't remember it tomorrow. 

3.5 out of 10.

Nitpickery time!  Spoilers abide!  Actually, reading the spoilers won't really hurt the movie for you.  The plot isn't that enjoyable, and when they tell you what's really going on you don't really care in the end.

Summary: Sam Flynn's father, the creator of the digital world, has been missing for years, and his father's friend gets a beep from him on his pager.  Sam goes back to the old arcade and gets sucked into the digital world too, where he goes on a mission to get his dad out of the digital world.

First of all, this movie starts off with a bit about Sam Flynn going into the company he is the primary shareholder for and sabotaging a piece of software by putting it out on the internet for free instead of charging for it.  Trite, trite, trite.  One, his company needs to make money somehow, and two, they treat this as they would very typically in any generic movie.  Sam is the generic rebel sticking it to the generic corporation whose generic management is generically greedy.  Gee, great stuff, no?  Ain't it swell?

After this, Sam proceeds to jump off a building with only a parachute, which he opens far too close to the ground.  He would have died.  Parachutes don't open as fast as you think they do, and even then people who open theirs high enough still risk leg injury. 

Fun fact: this one dude named Dr. Christmas once said he could make an airplane out of wood.  Both times he built a prototype and sent out a pilot to test it, the plane broke down at a high enough level to kill the pilot, but not high enough for parachutes to work.  You think the second pilot would have been a little more skeptical.  Not that that's relevant to the movie, but hey, it's something you can tell your friends and sound smart.

Once Sam lands, it's on top of a taxi.  Note that the driver is more concerned about collecting a fee for the ride rather than if Sam is hurt (if he's a nice guy), if his taxi is damaged (if he's more selfish), or simply freak out because a dang body landed on his car.  What's that mess?

So....the old arcade that his dad used to own isn't torn down and replaced with something else?  How quaint.  It's only been empty over twenty years.  Yeah.

Okay, so the kid gets sucked into the digital world.  At one point he and this other strange program get assigned to play in the games, the games of course being the things that they played in the original Tron movie.  Thing is, that other program jumped into a pit and killed itself.  If the worst thing that can happen to you in the games is that you die, why bother with suicide?  Is this less painful than death by one of the glowy rings?  Maybe the program just fell into the pit by accident and I'm nuts.

One of the plot points in this movie was that CLU was secretly stealing programs and making them join his army he was going to use to unleash against the real world.  This was very much unnecessary.  First of all, if you need them for your secret army, why have them die in the games?  The movie made it clear that CLU couldn't make more.  Also, if you're going to reprogram the programs to make them do what you want, why bother giving them the motivational speech at the end?  Couldn't you just use them without it?  How did he know none of the other programs actually wanted to go to the real world?

I also found it weird that no one in the digital world seemed to care that the portal to the outside world was open.  Wouldn't it be a huge indicator that a user was back?  Something?  Does it mean anything to them?  No?

Michael Sheen was actually pretty interesting as Castor/Zuse, though as it wore on he got a bit annoying.  Not a lot, though.  The real problem with his character is that Castor was capable of being a lot, and yet they played him as a bit stereotype and killed him too soon. 

Another wasted character is Tron himself, and I personally have no clue why they name a movie after a guy and then make him a bit character with practically no lines nor understanding of his motivations.  I mean, he's been following CLU a long time and is a quote unquote baddie, and after two seconds of seeing his creator changes his mind and betrays CLU for no real reason.  Note that at this point Tron and Flynn are flying in separate aircraft, and Flynn happens to say a couple of words as if Tron could hear him.  Then Tron decides he doesn't like the bad guy thing after all.  Lame.

So Sam and Cora make it back to the real world and Sam's father dies, destroying CLU and the digital city in the meantime.  There's some chip thing around Sam's neck that implies the city or something can be rebuilt, but yeah, the death of Kevin Flynn feels very cheap, and the movie ends on an odd note with some "change the world" bullcrap and no means by which to achieve this world change.

All in all, this movie is a poser.  I know you're going to think that I'm the most pretentious thing ever for saying that I don't like this movie.  You'll say that I'm taking it too seriously and need to relax.  However, I would like to point out that just because something is ridiculous doesn't mean I don't like it.  For example, I'm a fan of the very silly Mystery Science Theater 3000, and one of my all time favorite movies is Madame Blueberry, a children's movie about talking and singing veggies.  The thing about MST3K and Madame Blueberry is that they don't pretend to be anything more than they are.  Their substance is enjoyable all on its own, without trying too hard to be fun and good.

Tron: Legacy pretends to be good, entertaining, and stylish.  It's fine to look at and listen to, but there's hardly anything here.  You'd be better off watching something else.  Well, I dunno, maybe you just like shiny stuff.  No shame in that.

Sunday, December 19, 2010

Mega Man Music - MM1

Hey y'all.  I felt like doing something a little different as far as music goes.  I haven't really established what I'm going to do with this blog, therefore...I'll write what I want!  Buahaahaha! 

Anyway, so for the next few posts, other than whatever interruptions I feel like, I'll be reviewing music from the classic Mega Man game series.  I'm not really into the other series that the Mega Man universe spawned, but I'm sure they have some good music too.  It's just that I'm from the old school as far as video game music goes, and I'm Classic Mega Man all the way.

I love Nintendo and Super Nintendo, as for me nothing really gets better than that.  I don't mind rock music in a game or whatever, it's just that I love video game music essentially being able to be its own legitimate musical genre.  Trouble is, VGM comes from old consoles that weren't capable of playing modern musical tones or things that sound natural.  Now that games are getting better and are on the computer, there's no need for the plinky plonky sounds that so characterized the games and times that I loved. 

So, in tribute to that and my love for Mega Man, I'm going to be reviewing the music for all ten Mega Man classic games.  For now, just the first one. 

Mega Man is a little blue robot that has to go fight the six robot masters that Dr. Wily stole from Dr. Light.  Those six robots are destroying the world, getting revenge for Dr. Wily's sake because nobody gave him the recognition he felt he deserved.

Ah, Mega Man 1.  This is one of the contenders for the best music in MM Classic, at least in my opinion.  It's just so wonky and out there.  You've never really heard anything like it.  The tones are even weirder than the rest of the MMC series.  This is mostly due to the fact that the makers of the game had to establish this as a futuristic universe, and the limitations of the Nintendo forced them to express this in limited ways.   Also, rumor is that this game was supposed to be an Astro Man game, but something legal went awry and it didn't work out.  So much the better for the gaming universe. 

Everything about this game was weird.  The graphics (which weren't really settled until the next game), the point system (which was eliminated immediately after this game), and other gameplay aspects.  I think the lack of establishment in this game was what caused a lot of people to like MM2 better.  MM2 really had it together as a complete package.

But onto the music!

Okay, so I'm going to be ranking the robot master music in order of which I feel is the best for this game, but I won't be ranking other music, like stage select or boss battle themes.  Oh hey, you can listen to all the songs from it on this youtube video.  Yeah, it's only one video long.  That should tell you something.


This game doesn't actually have a title screen song.  Another wonkiness about it, but oh well.  It starts off with a very classic sounding stage select screen.  It's simple, urges you to pick, and does the job.   I like it, but as a song it's not particularly awesome.  The real gem of the soundtrack to this game is the music that plays as you select a boss.  This song, and slight variations thereof, will remain in the Classic series until the end.  It pumps you up and gets you ready for the level you're about to play.  And that's awesome.

Okay, let's get to the robot masters.  There are six in this game, and I'll rank the themes in order from least impressive to the most.  I'm trying to get these in order of not so much my favorites, but which songs I feel where actually better in skill and entertainment value.  Which means at some point I'll have to admit that I like wonky songs.  But not now.

#6 is Ice Man's theme.  It's nice, and it actually does a really good job of implying ice and cold for a song that has to use archaic MIDI formatting as music.  However, it doesn't really do too well compared to the others.  MM1 did this weird thing where it used very short loops of music, and certain songs suffer because of this.  Ice Man's being one of them.  Oh well.  This is still good stuff.

#5 goes to Guts Man.  Like Ice Man, Guts Man's theme suffers from short looping.  The difference is that Guts Man's theme has lots of power and drive, making it stand out a lot more.  However, it's still not the best because of its repetitiveness.  You don't notice this as much when you're playing the game (especially not when it comes to those noisy platforms) but you will notice when you listen to the song by itself.

#4 is Bomb Man.  He has a nice, fun theme.  It doesn't really remind you of bombs (I dunno, maybe it does), but it's just a fun song that's perfect to cruise to.  It feels adventurous, but not unhumorous.  Like you're fighting a really fun villain.

#3 of the bunch is one that a lot of people actually like the best.  It's Elec Man's theme, and while I feel that this is a great song, it's sort of dull to me.  I put it this high because it really does sound classic, and it has skill.  This right here is the point where I admit that just because I don't care for a song as much doesn't mean it isn't one of the better pieces.  Let me state right now that I love all the songs in this game.  Elec Man's just isn't as remarkable to me.  It is, however, a very relaxing, fun piece, and even a little sarcastic considering that this level is probably the toughest as far as gameplay.  I can't hear this theme without imagining little "zzznt, zzznt" noises from the electrical spikes.

#2 is Cut Man's.  Now this song is classic.  This theme right here shouts "Mega Man" like no other.  For some reason this just feels so wonderful.  It represents everything a Mega Man game song should be: fun, quirky, mildly serious, and memorable. 

#1....What could possible beat Cut Man's theme?  Why, Fire Man's!  I love this song so much.  When I used to play it at my grandparents', the first part would be so weird and scrambled that it sounded awesome!  Apparently the Game Genie (a thing that allowed you to input cheat codes of various kinds) was responsible for this.  This song is just what you would expect a fire-wielding maniac to play as he tries to burn you to death.  Somewhere floating out there has to be a metal remix.  Honestly, this song just goes out of its way to be awesome.

Mega Man as a series has always had very good boss battle music.  I absolutely love this one, though it also suffers from short looping.  It has a very hyperactive pace that really drives you on.  Though, I have to admit that I always got annoyed when my brother got to the bosses and I couldn't listen to the robot master themes anymore.  After that is a short victory theme, which I think inspired other Mega Man victory themes.  It wasn't as influencial as the robot master introduction theme, for sure.

Huh....that's odd.  The game over music sounds awful cheerful.  I mean, you've got these robots blowing up the earth, and failing there means certain doom, but...okay....

Wily stages 1 and 2 have a great theme, and it's fun.  It's very serious, dramatic and desperate, despite the fact that it's not the fastest song.  Stages 3 and 4 have another good theme, which is along the same line, but even more serious.

Now, the Wily boss battle is one of my favorite boss battles ever.  It's digital, awesome, and very weird.  It's absolutely perfect for fighting a mad scientist.  It needs a remix so deserves one!  Few of the Mega Man games actually have a boss battle victory song, but this one has a short, happy little bit. 

The ending of this game really is wonderful.  It starts off a bit slower, then picks it up a bit, really getting into swing.  It's perfect, as if the oppressed world is waking up and realizing that everything is okay again.  It's one of the happiest Mega Man endings ever, especially later on as Keiji Inafune takes his series down a more melodramatic route.  My favorite part is how this song ends with a crisp teleportation sound, as if Mega Man is going home now that his job is complete.  This song is excellent.

Okay, so, overall Mega Man one has a great soundtrack.  It's fun, wonky, and sets up the Mega Man universe on a happier note.  MM2 might have defined the series in many ways, but MM1 was where everything gets put together, creating one of the best gaming franchises of all time (of all time!!). 

I think in the end I'll rank all of the classic games' soundtracks in order of which I think is best, and this one is sure to rank higher.  It does suffer from the shortness of the tracks, as the creators of the songs never really give any of them, other than the ending theme, enough time to really develop into even more awesome songs.  Elec, Cut, and Fire Man's themes do well despite this, but the other robot master songs really suffer.

Alright, so stay tuned for the next, and let me know if you disagree. 

Saturday, December 18, 2010

Chronicles of Narnia Movie Tones

Hey y'all. I really need to work hard on posting more. I'll try to do a bit more. My boyfriend's back from his trip, so I'm hanging out with him more.  Naturally.  For now, a rant. Yay for ranting!

Okay, so, I'm hear to talk about the Chronicles of Narnia movies. At this point, I have seen the first two, and I haven't seen the third. It hasn't been long since it came out, so yeah. I'm sure I'll see it at some point, more than likely on my parents' Netflix account. Bad movies tend to come out on there faster than good ones. Yep, I'm already calling it a bad movie. I've seen the trailer. You don't always need to see a thing to know how bad it is. Sometimes it's just incredibly obvious.

So the first movie, The Lion, The Witch, and The Wardrobe (or LWW as I will now refer to it) was actually pretty good. I liked it fine. I had some problems with it, namely the presense of the centaurs -- for the love of God make them do something other than stand there like melodramatic statues! The battle scene was too melodramatic as well, and I didn't like the battle involvement of Susan.

Susan in the books was more of a girly-girl, and to make her more tough is cheap and too Hollywood. There are some women in the world that care more about makeup than shooting arrows, y'all. Reality is far more entertaining than feminism. Besides, you've got Lucy, who was plenty tougher than Susan, to go be the woman hero archetype. Sheesh, if you portray women with having one dang flaw then you must be a sexist. Yeah.

Anyway, the movie was actually pretty good. It was entertaining, had a pretty good script, and Tilda Swinton was a great villain. Aslan was digitized well and had a great voice actor. The kids did good, other than Susan being whiny -- though you might blame that one on the scriptwriters. I'm not sure I really liked the waterfall scene, but Hollywood had to have its thing, I guess.

Warning, I'm going to be putting plot spoilers in this rant from now on. But I mean, these books have been around like sixty years, so you're not missing much. Go read the books. They're awesome.

In any case, I was all set up to go see Prince Caspian. Now, as a kid, this book was my least favorite (other than The Last Battle, which I hated because it got rid of Narnia). I was sort of hoping to get through it and go on to better things, but the badness of this movie actually made me realize how good the book was. I mean...this movie was such a pile of drudge. It wasn't entertaining at all, other than a few moments thanks to Reepicheep. It was just a bunch of actors going around and doing really stiff impersonations of characters.

Quick plot summary: in Prince Caspian, the young prince Caspian is raised by his uncle, King Miraz, who, unbeknownst to the boy, has murdered his father and stolen the throne. Caspian always loved stories of the older days of Narnia with talking animals and dwarves and the like, but everyone except his half-dwarven tutor tells him that these things are all nonsense. On the day that Miraz's own son is born, Caspian runs away and must gather the old Narnians to go and fight against Miraz and retake the throne. He is helped by Peter, Susan, Edmund, and Lucy, the four heros from the LWW.

Let's get more specific about the problems of this movie. For example, in the movie they get really political. There's so much emphasis on the dull, political nonsense going on with the usurper Miraz that it really detracts from the feel of the original story. Since there's very little real political discourse going on in the book, then all of the political stuff has to be grafted into the movie, something that really can't be done without a properly skilled writer that follows along with politics. Yeah...that wasn't the case here.

A risky choice was to make Caspian and the Telmarines (the race of humans who entered Narnia and took it over), of more or less Spanish nationality. This possibly could have worked out, if the plot were better. My personal objection to this was the rather stuffy portrayal of the Telmarines in the book, making them not look like lively Spanish people. Or maybe the whole "lively" Spanish thing is a stereotype. In any case, the pretentious, dull, and unimaginativeness of the Telmarines as portrayed in the book doesn't really seem to fit with Spanish people, who seem far less uncreative by comparison.  They fight bulls for fun.  Stuffy people wouldn't do that.

Also, when you think of Spanish people, you automatically think of brilliant colors and flamboyant style choices. Why then do the movie's Spanish-based Telmarines dress only in black? This is not only weird, it's downright lazy. All peoples have a culture, and by throwing them all in generic costumes you really detract from the reality of the movie. Come on, if you've got millions of dollars, can't you afford to at least let them wear a few brighter colors? Something that says more than "I'm a random peasant"? The Telmarine soldiers did have awesome helmets though.

I like to think that the Telmarines were based off of a real people group, but that's neither here nor there for the moment.

Friggin' melodramatic centaurs!!!! I swear, Dawn Treader better not have any dang centaurs in it.....

In Prince Caspian, it seemed like nobody could really act. Things happened in sequence....and yeah. I'm really disappointed with Trumpkin the dwarf. He was really lively and fun in the books, and in the movie he was dull, sour, and barely relevant. Caspian was an emo kid, Peter seemed to have made no growth in maturity since the first movie (since it's beginning, no less), Aslan was being a weirdo and not really doing much, and overall there seemed to be no real love for the characters, excepting possibly Reepicheep.

The worst part of the movie for me was this one quote by Aslan to Lucy, something like "if you were any braver, you'd be a lioness". In the book, it was "you are a lioness". This is essentially the symbolism for the movie vs the book: the movie was nerfed, weakened, and expected to just be normal Hollywood schlock. I'm now going to call this "Star Wars Prequel Disorder". The love of money is the root of all kinds of evil, and one of those evils is stupid movies.

I was hoping that with the change of studios going on for the production of the next movie, The Voyage of the Dawn Treader, would result in a better movie. Nope! No need to see the movie: it's Hollywood schlock. Telling the future isn't that hard, not when it basically tells itself. You don't need to touch the stove to know it'll burn ya.

First of all, they have Tilda Swinton coming back as the White Witch. What the crap is this crap? I mean, it did make some logical sense to give her a cameo in Prince Caspian, despite that being not the greatest scene in the world. Is it because she was the only decent villain this movie series had that they have to keep bringing her back?

I heard that they added some crap about finding these seven swords to go defeat some smoke monster. Why in the world was this plotline added? Just in case you were wondering, this has nothing to do with the book. I mean, at one point they go to this dark island, and I guess that's sort of smokish, but that was more of a phenomenon than a malevolent force or person.

What the real plot was, Caspian was going on a voyage to seek out what happened to seven good Telmarine lords that had left Narnia when Miraz stole the throne. Lucy, Edmund, and their selfish cousin Eustace all appear in Narnia and join in on the voyage. The story goes along several different islands, the adventure of each is different and unique as they discover each lord or what happened to him. This trip takes them to the ends of Narnia, which isn't a round world but a flat one.

The wrongest part of this movie was basically the same thing with Prince Caspian: the movie makers tried way too hard to make the movie an "epic adventure" and "thrilling ride". The trouble with this notion is not every movie is supposed to be an epic. This is especially true of the Chronicles of Narnia stories, as each book is different in tone from the next. Voyage of the Dawn Treader isn't about driving plot, rushing forward to a wild conclusion. It's a dwelling plot, where you learn about interesting phenomenon and peoples all while trying to survive the latest threat to the ship. You're supposed to enjoy each island almost as a separate tale, having fun with characters that were established in the first two books. You'll notice that the only major character in the Dawn Treader who wasn't established in a previous tale was Eustace.

To continue my point that each book has a different tone, I'll go over the others. The Lion, The Witch and the Wardrobe was the closest thing to an epic adventure in the Chronicles series. You have new characters coming from the normal world into an unfamiliar and magnificent world where they have to go and save the day. Prince Caspian (the book) is the story of dullness and drudgery overcoming what was once a beautiful place, and good has to retake it again. Imagination and wildness are stifled under dull rule and tedium. Huh, maybe the movie version was more poignant than I thought.

Let's see, after Dawn Treader is The Silver Chair. That one has a special place in my heart. It's the story of Jill and Eustace, who go to Narnia in search of Caspian's lost son Rillian. They are joined by Puddleglum, the Marsh-Wiggle. The three go on an adventure that isn't an epic, but has a very tragic tone as they proceed to screw up just about every instruction Aslan gave them. They finally rescue Rillian, freeing a species of underground trolls from an evil witch as they do so, and Rillian is able to meet his aged father just before the older Caspian dies. The end of the book allows the now dead Caspian to become young again in Aslan's country, and Caspian actually gets to take a trip to England. It's a paralell to real life, trying to find your way and trust God when you make mistakes. Life isn't about getting every little thing right.

A Horse and His Boy, the story of a boy and a talking horse fleeing Calormen for Narnia. This story (based during the time when the four Pevensies were kings and queens of Narnia) really gives the reader a sense of adventure. Not grand, epic adventure, but camping out and surviving, then suriving in a large culture that is strange and does things differently than the reader expects. And then the boy's misadventures gain him information for saving Narnia, but only if he is quick enough. It's the sense of going through hard times and environs to complete a mission that no young man would ever expect to recieve.

The prequel in the series is the Magician's Nephew, a story a boy and the girl that is his neighbor, and they unwittingly find themselves the guinea pigs of the boy's uncle's magical/scientific experiment. In the midst of adventures they discover Narnia. This two is not an epic, not with the subplot of the boy trying to find a cure for his mother's sickness.

Actually, now that I'm going through all of these, none of them are really that epic. They're not about being epic. It's about the normal versus the weird, the boring versus the vividly wild, and oppression versus freedom. It's all about normal things in wonderful adventures, mixing things like children from Britain and practical preparations for what lies ahead with mystical creatures and magical villians. This is fantasy that doesn't hold back from frighting things, like death and cannabalism and creepy gravesites, but somehow none of this taints the sheer magic that is the Chronicles of Narnia. It's not some flight of fancy, it's a dang adventure in the truest sense of the word: hard, bad weather, figuring out how to save the day, and genuine companionship. It's like Tolkien said in The Hobbit. Adventures are more than maying in the sunshine.

I guess the only real "epic" of the bunch was The Last Battle, though you might have a different opinion on the matter. While the plot might have involved more dangerous things - necessary in an epic - the tragic tone of the story really destroys that grand feeling. As a kid, I was so mad when I heard that Narnia disappeared in the Last Battle. I wanted very much to go there myself. Lol, yeah, I was one of those kids.

Look, Hollywood, back off. Don't feel you have to make a movie gratuitiously glam or glitz, or all CGIed up. Two of my favorite movies that recently came out are Gran Torino and Book of Eli, movies that are far more about characters and story than camera angles or fancy bullcrap. Honestly, when you have a really good story, you don't need that much flair. Book of Eli, which I watched again last night with my boyfriend, had a great story and an ending you didn't see coming. It didn't have an overly complex story, a lot of main characters, or a great big wad of computer generated images. It was fancy with the camera, if you like that kind of thing, but that just goes to show that the movie works to show off the characters, not to show off bullcrap stunts and obviously faked violence.

The closer your movie is to reality, even if it's a fantasy, the better your movie is. If you don't have realistic creatures, make them behave realistically. If you have a weird world, make sure that your audience feels that this world could exist, at least in some alternate universe. Reality makes the fantasy more intensifying. When you make big CG dragons and sea serpents, it really cheapens the feel. I dunno, I guess some people like it.

Anyway, that's my rant.  I dunno, I heard the Dawn Treader movie was better than Prince Caspian.  I sure hope so.  I'll be seeing either that or Tron tomorrow, so we'll see how that goes.

Friday, December 10, 2010

Music You've Probably Never Heard -- Grab Bag 2, Techno Collection

Bah, long title.  Hey y'all, I'm back.  It's been a pretty slack week for posting.  Sorry about that.  I'm going to have to get better about it.  I want to have a schedule that I more or less follow, but for right now I've got a lot going on.  I still have one last fanfiction to finish, and I've got to work on publishable stuffs.

But anyway, music time.  This week I'm going to be telling you all about the songs I have in my collection playlist on youtube.  The best ones will get a mention here, and hopefully you'll like them as much as I do.  This week won't be for those deeply entrenched in the pop realm, I have to warn you.

Let's start off with a trio of songs by Acen.  My mom likes to comment that I like drug music, and despite the lack of drugs in my life, I have to admit that I like these songs.  This trio is known as Trip II the Moon, and it comes in three parts.  Part number one is my favorite, as it's the most story-esque.  Part 2 is more trippy, and part 3 is more pop accessible....for trippy stuff.   What they did was take some bits from a James Bond song and turn them into the most nuts thing you've ever heard.  Here ya go.

Trip II the Moon part 1:
Trip II the Moon part 2:
Trip II the Moon part 3:

What else we got?  Would you like something more happy?  Sure!  Let me show you the most happy song that Happy Hardcore has to offer: Love, Life, and Happiness!  It's fun, and it will catch you off guard with how much you like it.

Love, Life, and Happiness:

Some of the stuff I like has a more urban feel to it, and this next song feels very much that way.  It's fun, but not the easiest song to get caught up in.  Very hypnotizing...

Is It True? (To The Unknown):

Okay, so I'm not really into Acen enough to give them their own week, but I will admit that I love another of their songs, Close Your Eyes.  This one right here is definitely more of a druggie song.  I'll include two remixes, though I'm sure there's like forty bajillion more.  I like the XXX version best, but I'll let you decide which you think is good.

Close Your Eyes (Remix II)(The Sequel):
Close Your Eyes (XXX Mix):

Dream Injection is just a beautiful trance song.  It really deserves a listen.  No really, just sit there and relax to it.  Don't worry about doing other things.  It's the perfect chillout song, and it reminds me so much of my childhood and adventurous days...the image in the video is absolutely perfect for the song. 

Dream Injection:

I just ran into Brainskan the other day, and they have two songs I really want you to check out.  The first of which is No Commin Back, a mostly lyricless piece with the totally acid sound and a right creepy party beat.  Seriously, it's good stuffs.  Human Spirit is a somewhat more cheesey song, but hey, I think you'll like it.

No Commin Back:
Human Spirit:

Wanna chill out with something less ecclectic?  Well, here you go, Pacific Wish.  It's very trancey, odd, and tropical.  The image with this vid sums it up well.  It's just a lot of fun and party.  Perfect for people who don't hang out in the more rave genres.

Pacific Wish:

Song of the Second Moon sounds like a really cheesey movie title, doesn't it?  It's actually the name of one of the weirdest mess songs I've ever heard.  You might not believe it, but this song was made in the fifties.  People have been working on electronic music for a long time.  The fifties spawned some weird stuff, because nobody was sure then where exactly this whole electronic music thing was going.

Song of the Second Moon:

Let's chill it down to finish this off.  Manifesto by Aztech is a very pleasant song, quiet and subdued.  It's perfect for calming down after all this weird mess.


Alright, so hopefully I'll be posting a little more this week, just to let y'all know that I'm still alive.  I like to write, and I actually need to stop lazing around.  Of course, my boyfriend is coming home soon from Afganistan, so we'll have to see.

Friday, December 3, 2010

Music You've Probably Never Heard - Teapacks

Hey y'all. Time for another episode of music you've probably never heard. Today? More Hebrew pop. This group to me is more entertaining, generally speaking, than Sarit's stuff. It's a group that focuses mostly on europop and jazz, with certain songs in the more techno side of things. I'm talking about Teapacks, an up and coming group whose influence in America will likely grow in the next few years. They are a group comprised of several dorky looking guys, but who isn't entertained by dorking looking guys? They can make good music, and that's what counts.

I heard a song from these guys on a cd I bought that was attempting to illustrate Hebrew music of today. I wasn't too big a fan of most of the songs, but a search on youtube got me hooked on these guys. My only complaint is that while I can check out several Teapacks songs on iTunes, I have a really hard time finding these same songs on youtube, because most of them have hebrew writing, which I can't read. I managed to find a goodly amount of songs, but I'm afraid some are just going to have to be posted with no real explanation.

Let's start with the most popular of their songs, Push the Button. It's a satrical bit with english, hebrew, and french, and it describes the plight of modern Israel: a struggle between peaceful living and trying not to die. There are many bad people around the world threatening to try and blow peaceful people up, and this song both laments and mocks them. It's very europop, very crazy, but very fun also.

Push the Button:

One of my favorite songs by Teapacks, one I was lucky to find at all, was Ve Hapam Shir Ahava, or Love Song This Time. It's a very simple, relaxed song about finding true love and not fake. You will like this song, and even if you don't you'll at least admit that it's well made. I don't really like the music video to it, but I love how it's filmed in an older cinematic style. It sets the mood really well.

Ve Hapam Shir Ahava:

The first Teapacks song I heard was Yesh Li Havera, or I Have a Girlfriend. This song is very modern Jewish in style, in a plunky, almost silly kind of way. It's very fun to sing or hear when you're in a good mood.

Yesh Li Havera:

Now, Teapacks have a sound that's not for everyone, because it's too quirky for people who take music too seriously. But indeed, anyone who has any serious dislike of this band is full of it. Anyway, one of the quirkier songs is Ma Asit, or What Have You Done?. I like this song a lot, and it's one of theirs available on iTunes.

Ma Asit:

Another popular song in Israel is Odd Shabat, or Another Sabbath. It's very fun, and I'm sure you'll like it.

Odd Shabat:

Hatikva (Hope) is my favorite national anthem. As much as I like Star Spangled Banner and A Soldier's Song (Ireland's), I love the humilty and God-seeking nature of Israel's. All by itself it's a beautiful song, anthem or not. Teapacks actually teamed up with Sarit Hadad to create my favorite version of the song, which you really should check out.


Okay, I'm going to admit it. I'm not all that familiar with some of Teapack's songs because of the language barrier. However, while I was trying to search blindly for specific songs on youtube, I came across some that you might like. I don't know them, but if you like this band you'll enjoy these next songs.

I'm really sorry about this, guys. It's so hard to find anything by them on youtube with only english to go by. And I couldn't even find two of my favorite songs, Welcome the Great Crew and Hataklitan (the DJ). However, these guys are so much fun that you can't ignore them. They're perfect for someone who's burnt out on pop crap and yet not dark enough to go venture out into rave. Check 'em out!

Write Club -- Context

So I was checking on my fanfiction online, and I was having a talk with one of the reviewers about context. Y'know, people talk about context a lot, but I'm not sure everyone really knows specifically what it is.

Let's look at the dictionary. "The parts of a written or spoken statement that precede or follow a specific word or passage, usually influencing its meaning or effect".
"The set of circumstances or facts that surround a particular event, situation, etc".

Do those help you out? They sound pretty good, don't they? I dunno, to me "context" seems like something deeper -- or maybe I'm just pretentious. I dunno, those definitions work well.

In any case, context can of course have a huge effect on your stories. Let's look at some examples. First, think of a wedding dress. If you're getting married in an old Roman Catholic cathedral, a ballgown is appropriate. On the beach, something breezy and light is more fitting. If you're getting married in Vegas, there's not too much need for overly ornate dresses, but you can try something funkier and possibly not even floor length. They're all wedding dresses, but they each have different purposes depending on their environment.

Also, say if you're trying to dress for a specific formal occasion (not a wedding) and you want to look good, your body is your context. Skin color, body shape, hair color and texture, and even eye color can affect what looks good on you.

Sorry for the girly references. I've been watching a show on child pageants, so I'm thinking about dresses right at the moment. If you're a guy trying to pick out a suit, the same process applies, it's just a lot simpler because guys aren't as complicated. In any case, when it comes to clothing, you are your own context.
Okay, so let's work on writing context. Let's start with the sentence "she went to the door". Look at the difference between these two passages.

---- 1
Pluck, pluck, pluck....there went the stray eyelashes. Ramona put her tweezers down on the sink and picked up her washcloth. Why did she always have to feel this way before going on dates? It wasn't as if she didn't know Bruce liked her. That didn't stop her from worrying about it even the night before as she scrubbed her pale face as if she could wipe away the freckles. But those wouldn't be going away, nor would the curly red hair she hated so much. Other people seemed to like it so she couldn't complain too much, but it still annoyed her.

Ramona stretched out, leaning side to side as she gave each arm an extra pull. Lowering her arms with a slap to her sides, she went to the door. Her mother's bathroom was good enough for getting ready for bed, but the ducky theme incorporated in the shower curtain and rug was hardly mature. Ramona had to wonder about her parentage sometimes.

---- 2
She tapped her hands on the book. For a while, Lacey pretended to actually be reading it, but it now sat on the couch beside her serving as nothing more than the instrument her fingers rapped against. The thunky, almost wooden sound was the only noise in the dark living room. Other than the small lamp Lacey had been reading by, the room was shadow. If only she wasn't too scared to turn on the light. She rummaged through her thoughts, trying to convince herself that it was better to leave them off. To her the thought of leaving that couch was the second most frightening thing. The first was the person coming to the apartment at that very moment.

Lacey's breaths were coming quickly; she forced herself to pull in more air. She had to remain calm, she told herself. It was the only way that she was going to be able to handle what lay ahead. But he would be coming, and there was no changing that. The thought of him sent her right hand to her lap. She lovingly stroked the handle of the 357 Magnum laying there. It surely was more reliable than any man. The only trouble was that she would have to use it herself.

"Don't shake on me..." she pulled her hands to her lips, whispering to them. "Be strong for me."

She could hear a car pull up outside. Lacey knew it was him. She didn't dare go to the window and look, but she knew who it was. The sound of his rickety old car was perfectly unique. She had heard it many times. If all went well, this would be the last.

She went to the door.

Okay, so obviously one phrase can mean two completely different things in context. For the first passage you might barely notice the "she went to the door", and in the second it was the emphasis of the passage. Try this exercise yourself. You can try one of these sentences down here. Try to write two different different genres.

You can put the sentence anywhere you want in the passage, emphasized or not. You can also add more to them by using a comma, colon, or semi colon. As long as the sentence is intact, then you're good. If you want, you can make it an exclamation or a question. You can even make it dialogue. Pick your favorite and go with it.

"He didn't like what it said."
"If only it wasn't so hot."
"It made them happy."
"You couldn't tell what it was supposed to be."
"It was fantastic and definitely clean."
"The room smelled of old fish."

One of the things you need to realize about context is that it applies to characters. Think about the people you're addressing. You see, when we write books or articles, we're speaking to a certain set of people. This is called our audience. Maybe you want to appeal to bikers, or the urban market, or farmers, or a specific ethnicity.

This same concept applies to characters within a given story. Whenever your character is trying to get across an idea to a specific person or specific sort of person, they should try to speak in a way that the people they're speaking to will get the idea. It's not even a matter of mere understanding; for example, I prefer writing that's a bit more logical and observational rather than quick and emotional when I read books. Others prefer just to be spoken to casually with tone similar to normal conversation. Other people are all about wit and sarcasm. When you speak the way a person feels most comfortable, they'll be willing to listen to you. In this circumstance, speaking in context means to speak for the group or environment you're in.

I recently got into a debate with someone on the internet (sounds pathetic, don't it?), but from this I got an idea of how to explain perspective and how it relates to context. Think of a fictitious world. Let's take Shakespeare for example. I know some people say it wasn't Shakespeare that wrote all those plays, but for the sake of this illustration let's just say he did. Imagine two different circumstances. Let's say that someone from Shakespeare's time came up to him and asked him why Hamlet was written so dark -- why do all the main characters die? Can't some of them live? Also then imagine that Shakespeare entered the world of Hamlet, and if one of the servants in the castle, knowing that Shakespeare wrote everything, asked him why everything was so dark. Why does everyone die? Can't some of them live?

You might realize that both of these people are asking why the story is the way it is. The context, or the circumstances of the question, are two different things, despite the fact that two different people are asking what amounts to the same question. Shakespeare would of course tell his contemporary that he made it dark to reach an audience that likes darker stories and to be sure to draw a crowd to the show with his dramatic tale. Can you imagine what it would be like if he gave this explanation to Hamlet's servant? The servant would be mad, accusing Shakespeare of torturing people for the entertainment of others, simply not understanding that he and everyone he's ever known is completely fake.

I'm not really sure how Shakespeare would answer this question if he had to. Well, how would you explain to your characters that you wanted to kill them or have bad things happen to them simply for the sake of others' entertainment?

Well, the point remains that even when people ask the same question, you can't always give them the same answer. There's a few reasons for this.

1. Their heritage/life experience gives them a different perspective.
Sometimes you have to explain cultural things. For example, Japanese high schoolers have these things called culture fests where they dress up the rooms like different things -- haunted houses, cafes, takoyaki stands -- basically anything that illustrates Japanese culture. Not everybody knows about that. You have to realize when certain people aren't aware of certain things.

2. They can't understand or you're for some reason not able to tell them the whole truth.
Sometimes you're talking to someone, like a child, you just can't go all out explaining something. Or maybe you don't want to tell someone a bad thing their recently deceased loved one did. Maybe you know a person is argumentative and you just don't want to deal with it. This affects how you speak to them.

3. You are trying to convince the listener of something.
Any story or speech is about 40% fact or circumstance, and 60% editing. It's all about presentation. This can involve lying, but you don't necessarily have to lie to convince the person you're speaking to that you are right. For example, if I'm selling a radio to a person, I can make them more interested by describing the features of the radio, or perhaps mentioning that it comes in different colors. If I keep talking about how expensive it is, then this will make the person not want to buy. It's true that the radio comes in different colors, and it's true that the price is high, I just have to make sure that they buyer knows that it's worth it.

4. You have to make your statement relevant to what the listener wants to find out or to their lives.
People really want to listen to things that feel important to their lives. They don't want to listen to you rant and rave about your life, unless you're famous or their friend. For example, if you're this really rough guy that got in trouble at a young age and turned your life around, you can speak well to younger people facing the same temptations. Teens will want to hear about all the dangerous things you did and what made you change, because these things are relatable. They aren't as interested in the things you did once your life was settled down.

In the Bible, apostle Paul gave his testimony three or four times throughout the New Testament, each a little different and emphasizing different parts of his story (which is told in full in Acts). He does this to refer to his audience and emphasize a specific point to them. Also, people doing a research paper will want to know specific things, so you have to answer their questions in a way that will help them have enough information.

So yeah, context is really important. Before you come to conclusions about a scene, think about how the words your characters say affect others, and so too think about your own words when you speak to others.
Think about how you would answer the question to these specific people.

"What's the best way to get a girl to like me?"
- a ten year old
- a well-off business man
- a guy who works at Walmart.

"How can I improve my grades?"
- a football player
- a woman returning to college after waiting five years
- someone with a short attention span.

"Why is life so hard?"
- a character in a book someone else wrote
- your young cousin
- an older person.

Saturday, November 27, 2010

Music You've Never Heard - Billie Piper

Hey y'all.  So I was thinking the other day that while this segment tries to show music that you've never heard before, it is under no obligation to have to show you good music.  While I much prefer this, this week I have something else in mind.  This may sound like a harsh criticism of Billie Piper, but honestly, she's not that great as a singer.  She's by far not the worst thing you've ever heard, but still.  I bring Billie up as an example of something I want to address in music today.

If you've heard this name before, it's because Billie Piper played the role of one of the most iconic companions to the Doctor in the television show Doctor Who: Rose Tyler.  Notably, I like her on this show.  I think she did a good job of portraying someone who is a friend and helper to the Doctor.  Her acting was good and consistent.  Rose was more or less a normal British girl who worked in a department store ("the shops", Brits call 'em) who gets swept away into the adventures of an alien who travels in a blue police box that's bigger on the inside.  I highly recommend watching her during seasons 1 and 2 of this show. 

Season three is where everything starts to go to crap as far as writing goes (with a few notable exceptions), so unless Matt Smith is a good doctor (I haven't seen him yet), then it's not really that much worth watching past the first couple of episodes of season three.

But this post is not about Doctor Who, though I expect I'll be writing about that at some point too.  In any case. Billie Piper was a pop star before she was on this show, and I'll be featuring some of her songs on here. 

I have a few questions for you.  What exactly makes a song a "pop" song?  Is pop as a genre good or bad?  What makes a successful pop song?  Is Billie Piper a good pop artist, merely a successful one, or just plain bad?  You should answer these questions for yourself, but for the sake of form I'm going to try to answer them from my perspective.

Okay, so how do I define a pop song?  To me, pop songs are songs that are more or less lighthearted, expressing surface emotions without really going deeper.  These songs are about living life, love (or lack of), or partying.  They have simpler melodies that eat your way into your brain and make you think of them during odd times, and you find yourself a little ashamed (or possibly amused) that you remember some of the words.  These songs are by no means to be taken seriously.  They are for fun and nothing more, other than kpop and possibly jpop.  Those, however, I usually consider a different genre from normal pop; Koreans and Japanese are not like out west pop people.  A lot of the times artists take their work too seriously, like trying to make a song about breaking up with someone intense and "hardcore".  Yeah.

Okay, so pop songs are
1. Shallower than other genres
2. About normal things, possibly taking them too seriously
3. Simple, catchy melodies
4. Potential shame for liking them (depending on you or the crowd you hang with).

Now, is pop a bad genre?  I have to say not necessarily.  I mean, we've had good pop songs over the years, help me here...ooh, Sweet Dreams by Eurythmics.  That's synthpop and not normal pop, but still.  Synthpop is fun stuff.  In any case, pop is like any other genre: it depends on who makes it and how they make it whether or not it is good.  Now, at this point in time pop is very stupid, because it has forsaken love for lust, soul for screeching, talent for notoriety, and effort for bad, emo crooning.  Pop is bad now, but there's no reason why it has to continue being this way.  Most undergrounders throw out pop entirely because of this, but this is too far in my opinion.  Everyone just needs to have fun once in a while.

My definition for a successful pop song is one:
1. that you hear on the radio over and over again.
2. that will not leave your mind unless you drive it out with techno or rave.
3. that makes you listen no matter how much you don't like it.

Feel free to add more to this definition if you feel it lacking.

Okay, so let's get on the topic of Billie.  Two words will describe her singing style: Britney Spears.  No, really.  She's just as silly, bland, and auto-tuned sounding (she may not be, it just sounds like it) as Spears sounds.  The saddest part about this is that Billie is British, and yet in only one of her songs does she display any sort of British accent.  I don't expect her to be a stereotype, but the reason I listen to music from other countries is to hear the styles of those countries.  An artist shouldn't be afraid to represent who they are, and they shouldn't be so drowned in metaphorical pop ketchup that you can't see their individuality. 

That's my opinion, though.  Do you agree?

Let's start with this one song right here, Day and Night.  This is the single most cliched song I have ever heard in my life.  Not unless Weird Al decides he's going to come up with a song where he sings nothing but cliches.  It's a song about love, I guess...maybe?  She needs a dude, apparently.  Maybe I'm just being critical because the most pop I get is Sarit Hadad, but the words of this song are so repetitive and unpoetic that it's hardly worth listening to.  Then again, this follows the idea of making you listen no matter how much you dislike it.  Try and see.

Day and Night:

Next up is Honey to the Bee, and...ugh...ugh, ugh.  It's so bad it gets me talkin' like a caveman.  The other songs of Billie's I've heard are meh at worst, but this one is plain bad.  First of all, it feels touched by country (kryptonite for techno peeps).  It also has bee pun lyrics, shallow ones about...whatever.  The lyrics drag on like the drolling way she sings.  Guh, the bridge of this song just makes me sick.  I haven't once listened to this song to the end.  You won't either.  Don't believe me?

Honey to the Bee:

Okay, okay, enough ragging on Billie.  Let's put up a better song.  This one is actually a lot of fun, and it plays on nostalgia.  I'm not going to pretend it's something important or great, but it accomplishes the pop mission of having fun.  It's called She Wants You, it's a story about a girl noticing another girl trying to steal her man.  The lyrics and the topic aren't that special, and the music video is laughable, but I actually kinda like this song.  It's fun stuff.  It will eat into your brain like one of them critters from Star Trek II.

She Wants You:

I can't say the same for Something Deep Inside.  You kinda think with a title like that that this would be something more heartfelt and deeper.  It's just about bland love.  Blah, boring.  I can't say "meh" enough times so I won't try.  Seriously, Backstreet Boys kick this song's butt.

Something Deep Inside:

There's one more of Billie's songs I like.  It's called Because We Want To, and it's essentially a pop song glorifying youthful independence and self-righteousness (teens think they know crap about crap; you know how they are).  I love the beat.  In  my head I change the lyrics to more violent things, but I tend to do that to cheesy things.  That's what I like about this song.  It's so cheesy that none of the pretentious, bland pop-ness that infects Billie's later songs catches this one.  This is the one where you can actually tell Billie is British if you didn't know otherwise, sort of.  It's fun, but you cannot possibly cheese this cheese.

Because We Want To:

And let's round this out with one last song.  It's called Walk of Life, otherwise known as Meh.  At least to me.  It's just not interesting.  Not the words, beat, or the way Billie sings it.  It's like the musical equivalent of watching paint dry.  Do you seriously like this song?

Walk of Life:

So yeah.  I realize that this is nineties stuff, but at the end of the day you have to look at this stuff if you want to see what happened to music.  Nobody really seems to like music anymore.  Everyone nowadays talks about how all the older music is better than now, and you have to wonder where it all went wrong.  I hardly know.  There are a few generic answers, like artists caring more about good money than actually making good music.  There's narcissim, too.  Maybe people are so impatient for new music that they don't realize good music takes time.  Looking at Billie's songs up there, it seems like her best songs were the ones where she just tried to have fun rather than try to be so serious.  

Also, I'd like to point out that the best songs are not about the artist.  They are about common feelings and thoughts that we share as humans.  When an artist sings to someone out there, not for or to themselves, that song is touching.  It's humble and endearing, and it pulls us in.  It's like I was saying with the Disney songs in the The Princess and the Frog review.  The best songs are either fun as all get out, or are ones that reach out to the audience.  Nobody likes songs where people sing how great they are. 

Now, I'm not saying Billie has no talent, though I personally feel most of it lies in acting rather than singing.  I don't mean to criticize her unduly, as there are worse artists out there.  Tell me what you think of her, and if you think I'm full of it.

So yeah, that's todays rant. Next week I'll get back to posting music I like again.

Wednesday, November 24, 2010

Write Club - Inspiration

Hey y'all.  Let's write stuff.

I was talking with a girl who works with me in the church nursery, and she said that she found it amazing that people could create fictitious worlds out of seemingly thin air.  It never seemed this way to me, but because I'm a more creative person, I might just not know the difference.  I mean, writer people, of which I hope you are one, get their inspiration from anything and everything.  Is there anything we twist into originality?  Well, if it inspires us aside.  Without inspiration, we can't really do it either.

So where does inspiration come from?  None of us writer people know, that's for sure.  That's why somebody invented the metaphorical concept of a muse, a more or less fairy-like being that magically shines creativity on us from time to time.  Thing is, a muse can be rather inefficient when it comes to writing to make money.

In reality, creativity is a muscle, and it needs work too.  This brings me to the point that the only way to become a good writer is to write, and in the meantime you're going to make some rather undelightful choices as you progress.  Don't be ashamed.  There are no writer prodigies.   All of us have to learn a language, and expressing our creativity in that language is a learned thing too.

So, let's go more on inspiration.  Thing of some things that inspire you to write.  Not things that make you happy, necessarily, but things that make you want to open up your computer or journal and start putting words together.  Go ahead.  Think of some.  If you can recall a specific instance, so much the better.

But what if you don't feel inspired?  You've got to practice somehow.  Here's some creative ways to get your brain going.

Inspiration #1: Music.

Honestly, today nothing inspires me more than music.   Sometimes I'll be listening to several different songs, and they seem to cooperate together to make a story influence.  Let's practice.

I find that the best way to go about this is to choose a song with little to no lyrics.  Or lyrics you just don't understand.  It works with lyric songs too, but decide for yourself.

Okay, so clicking this link will bring you to the song "Silence" by Delerium.   It is a very passionate song with only a few lyrics, but since these lyrics are poetic this will still work.  Okay.  Play this song a couple of times to get used to it, or you can skip directly to step two: close your eyes and listen.


Think about this song, and think about how it makes you feel.  Don't look at the video (not that there's much of one, but still), just listen and think about what this song makes you feel.  After that, think of the things that make you feel the same way or similarly.  Does it make you feel like walking through a haunted wood?  Make you feel like you're fading away?  Try to think of places, activities and people.  Think of a character (yourself if you have to) wandering in this environment, doing this thing, or meeting these people.  What would that turn out to be like?  What happens next?  Write it down.

Writing these down will give you the basis of great stories.  In case Silence doesn't work, try one of these songs.  Remember, listen to the music, don't watch the vid.   Well, you can, if it inspires you, but for the sake of this exercise try not to.  Some are serious songs, some are not.  Click at your own risk.  Don't worry, they won't hurt you. :D

Notedly, if you don't like these songs you can just go get an album and check out your own music.  Also, as a way of progressing from this exercise, take a cd that you have, or at least a whole album off of iTunes or something (no skipping songs!) and do this exercise for all of the songs.  Then you should connect all of your inspiration notes into one massive story for that album.  The best albums have united themes, so your album should sound rather like a story when you do this.  Even if you don't like a song, try anyway.  You'd be surprised how inspirational songs you don't like can be.

Inspiration #2: Fabric.

That's right, I said fabric.  Okay, so first of all, go from your computer and pick a fabric out somewhere in your house: a shirt, couch, purse, scarf, whatever.  Anything fabric-y.  Things that have patterns are better, but that's not necessary.

Okay, so there's two ways to go about this.  The first way is to think of how this fabric makes you feel.  Is it a warm sweater that reminds you of your boyfriend?  Is it an antique design that makes you think of the past?  A glamorous design that that makes you feel like you're right in the middle of paparazzi?  Does it make you think of something that doesn't seem logical at all?  When you look at it are you happy?  Sad?  Dramatic?Write it down, then think about the people and places your mind comes up with.  What would you do in those situations?

The second way is to look at the pattern and think of an object that pattern reminds you of.  I once did this exercise with a lady using the pattern on a bag I own, and the pattern reminded her of a chair.  I asked her to describe this chair, and to her it was one of those older fabric chairs that are fancy.  I then asked her to imagine a place where this chair would exist.  After that, what sort of things would happen in this room?

It's really not hard at all.

Inspiration #3: Words

This inspiration is muse-heavy, I like to say, because there are certain words that appeal to certain people, but not others.  Basically this is where you take a word and imagine what that word really describes.  For example, I was staring at the music term "dark house", and after thinking about that for I while, I got the inspiration for a techno-thriller.

How do these words make you feel?  A simpler way to go about it would be to imagine that that word is the title of a movie.  What movie would go with that title?  Use whichever word or phrase on this list you like better.

Free Options
English Translation
Dwelling Place
Quartz Words

If you don't like any of these, you can use words in a book you like, or on the internet, or whatever.  As long as the word speaks to you, that's the one to go with.

After looking at all of these, you'll notice that the basic idea is to look and see how this thing makes you feel.  Bingo.  That's inspiration.  You can take absolutely anything in the world and be inspired by it, as long as you note how it makes you or other people feel.  Getting people to feel what you feel is the point of writing, so if you get these exercises, you're good to go.

Friday, November 19, 2010

Music You've Never Heard -- Sarit Hadad

Hey y'all. Today's artist you've never heard of is named Sarit Hadad. I'm all into Hebrew music, because Middle Eastern languages are pretty. Sarit, like Ofra Haza, was a child prodigy who at eight was already performing piano at dance clubs, all without the parents' permission. Also, she took it upon herself to learn more instruments, like guitar and darbuka. She's pretty popular in the Israeli realm of music, but I don't know how many Americans or others would recognise her name. So, she lands a spot here.

Sarit is one of my favorite singers, despite the fact that she has more of a pop sound. And I am not into pop. That's one of my two negative points about Sarit, the other being that Madonna listens to her. Ugh...Madonna...*gags*. Anyway, it's okay to listen to pop every now and again, because taking music too seriously is a bad thing.

So what kind of stuff does Sarit sing? Mostly fun pop songs. Once you get past the hebrew lyrics, the songs are basically about love and fun and everything else pop singers sing about (except Sarit's songs aren't slutty). For me, not knowing what the lyrics of a song mean somehow makes the song more deep and more interesting. Sometimes the meanings really don't meet my expectations, and I've been burned more than once by liking foreign songs with bad lyrics. Don't worry about Sarit, though. She's not singing about killing people or anything.

Why am I talking about that?

Anyway, let's get into her music. This first song I'm going to post is actually a song I've written about before: Shir Ha'frecha. I love this song, and Ofra Haza's version is marvelous and tragic. Now, I'm usually not a fan of other artists coming in and doing remixes, because most remixes are fail or meh by default. Not so in this case. Sarit actually makes a version that is more party and a lot of fun, actually doing good things with this song rather than just making it a bland imitation.

Shir Ha'frecha (Sarit version):

If you like fun party music, you should check out Bosem Tsarfati (French perfume). It's a song that basically says "don't give me gifts, I just want you near". Yeah, one of those anti-materialism songs. Whatever. It's so much fun, and one of my favorites. Seriously, Sarit has a great voice, and towards the middle this one really cooks.

Bosem Tsarfati:

Man, I love this next song. It's another love song, this one about a girl who is believed to be shallow because her love with a man is going too fast. Sarit sings from the girl's perspective, explaining that this really is love. The chorus is the kind that digs into your brain and never lets go. Don't say I didn't warn ya.


Okay, so what's next? Ah, let's do a slow song. As party as Sarit is, she's got to chill out some time. This song is a very touching one, one that cries out to God for help. There are times in our lives when everything is going wrong, and we don't even know how to fix it, or even if we can. That's what this song is about. "He calls out to his God on the edge of the deep..."

Shema Israel:

I love this next song with all my heart. One of the things artists do is describe a certain thing, usually an emotion, without directly saying what it is. Think "Eye of the Tiger" and how bizarre most of its words are. Lamut Me'ahava is one of these songs, and is so poetic and's definitely a favorite. Seriously, you need to go look at the lyrics. Oh yeah, in english the title means "die out of love".

Lamut Me'ahava:

Sarit isn't perfect, and though I like this next song, the music video irritates me. It really makes me wonder about her childhood. I mean, it shows her pretending to be a young girl being bossed around by her mother, then the girl later sneaks off to a club and meets a guy. After telling him all her problems, the guy goes with her to tell off her mom, and then the two drive away.

Does anyone see the problem with this? I mean, crap, if you meet a guy who wants to take you away from your family after knowing him one or two nights, then there is something seriously messed up with this guy, or he's only after one thing from you. He might even sell you into slavery. Seriously, that's a very stupid thing for a girl to do. Also, it's really depressing seeing the mom sitting there alone at the end, all sad. Strict as she was, she was only trying to help her daughter. What the crap is with that, Sarit? The song has nothing to do with the vid, other than being a party song called "celebrate".


I'm not going to lie. I have no clue what this song means. It has something to do with Sarit's father, but that's all I can tell you. That, and this song is beautiful. Check it out.


This next song is another love song, this one surprisingly generic as far as the words go. It's Rak Ata, or "only you". I like the beat and everything, but the music video really misleads in the sense that it makes you think the song is about a more serious topic. Nope. Whatever, I mean it's not like it's a bad song. Check it out.

Rak Ata:

So, you can check out more of Sarit's stuff. Like I said, most of her stuff is too pop for me, and it's begging for a heavy metal remix. Crap, just linking all the songs for this blog really makes me want to go listen to metal. That being said, Sarit Hadad's work is a lot of fun, and it's very good for people just out to have a good time. She has a great voice, and she really should be looked at more by the international community.

That being said, just because a thing is in the same language as the Bible doesn't mean it's as serious or important. Now, if you will excuse me, I must go hunt down some metal.

Wednesday, November 17, 2010

Write Club - Villainy

Hey y'all. This post I wanted to discuss villainy. Villains in stories are in many ways as important as the heros, and they make a clear and specific impact on your story. Let me make it clear that by villain, I don't mean antagonist. An antagonist is the person (or persons) causing the conflict that your lead character has to face. For example, Apollo Creed in Rocky is the antagonist, but he's not evil so he's not a villain. He's just the guy that makes the plot happen, namely that Rocky is being given the one of a kind chance to fight the champion though he's nobody in the boxing realm. So, a villain is a type of antagonist, because they cause conflict, but an antagonist is not always a villain.

So what makes a good villain? Well, let's first put out some of the best and most terrifying villains there are out there, from various genres. I pick Hans Gruber from Die Hard, Ursula from The Little Mermaid, Kerrigan from Starcraft (note that at this point I have not played Starcraft II), and King Edward I from Braveheart. There are other good villains out there, but I'm very familiar with these, and they're also well known. So let's look at what makes these villains the awesome villains they are.

The thing I look for the most in a villain is whether or not they engage the fight or flight response in me, if this particular villainy seems realistic, and if I want to see more of them. These kinds of baddies tantalize you and make you wish that you could join the book and save the lead characters from them, or help the good guys solve the case. I love to see monsters display the absolute worst of humanity in the most delightful of ways. Let's go over the picks and see what exactly is so fun about them.

Let's start with Hans Gruber, the man who held hostages in the Nakatomi building in California, only to find himself stopped by a New York cop wandering in the abandoned areas in the building. The thing that makes Hans distinct from other villains is his intelligence. He might not be the best for beating someone up or hacking a computer, but this guy is a real leader. He constructed a well thought out plan and did his best to keep it going despite the fact that everything was crumbling around him. Despite being surrounded by cops and hassled by John McClaine, he actually got fairly close to succeeding.

Just looking at the guy, we see his distinctive taste in clothes, his love for literature, and his persistent calm in the face of trouble after trouble. He always seemed to be in control, not only of himself, but of the hostages' fears and of his own tempermental men. He calmly probed the crowd for the one man he wanted to discover information from, never once letting this man's refusal to talk bother him. He cleverly faked out McClaine (for a while) by pretending to be a hostage. Even when one of his minions was freaking out because McClaine killed his brother, he kept control of his group's actions.

What made the best part of his character was that at the end, despite all of his cleverness, leadership, and saavy, he was just out to get money. Hans could have done anything with his life, and here he was just stealing paintings and savings bonds. This guy has an actual story arc. Hans' finale is a dramatic fall out of the window, right before he is about to shoot John McClaine in the head.
So the qualities of a good villain we learn from Hans are:
- smarts
- own story arc
- control
- a death deserving of his crimes.

Ursula from The Little Mermaid is a totally different kind of villain. I absolutely loved her villainy as a kid, particularly because she wasn't trying too hard to be an obvious monster, and yet you knew all along that she was only the most evil of octopi. I'm sure most of you are familiar with the story of The Little Mermaid, where Ariel half-fish being decides that she wants to live on land and is madly in love with Prince Eric. So she goes to the sea-witch Ursula to see if she can get legs.

The thing about Ursula is her total vanity. She uses make up, but at the same time she seems perfectly comfortable with her body, creating the image of a self-confident woman who is in control. See there? She and Hans share an aspect of villainy, just in a different way. Ursula's vanity is an additional flaw that the writers exploit to flavor her character and make her distinguished from other Disney villains.

One of the things I loved about Ursula was her more or less admittance to evil. She gives a vague excuse saying that she used to be evil, and now all she does is help "poor, unfortunate souls". This is so clearly a lie that you know Ariel doesn't believe it, and you find yourself shouting at the screen for Ariel to swim away before she does something stupid.

Ursula is someone who enjoys being evil, and who happily delights in her schemes. One of things I feel makes her unique is her love for Flotsam and Jetsam, her minion eels. This love, while more of a master to a slave, is actually somewhat genuine. Other villains might treat their servants like crap, but Ursula actually shows appreciation for her minions. This too fits in with her vanity, as her most intimate servants are like accessories, part of herself. She could no more dislike them than she could dislike her own personality.

What we can do with Ursula that we can't do with other villains is compare her to the villains of other Disney movies. Let's do that! Okay, so first up is the evil witch queen from Snow White. I feel that this villain is okay, but her problem is that she's mad at Snow White for being more beautiful than her. It's not a matter of power or anything big, just sheer jealousy. That's actually kinda sad. Also, her plan to give Snow White a poison apple was overly complex. Couldn't she just shoot Snow White with an arrow or something? I realize that this is a problem with the actual fairy tale than the Disney version, but this still applies.

Cinderella's stepmother was a pretty good villain, I just don't feel like she was used appropriately. The stepmother's anger at Cinderella for being gentler and more lovely than her own daughters should have been more accentuated. Like, she should have been more harsh at Cinderella for the slightest mishaps and proud of each minor achievement of her own girls. All in all, she was still interesting, but she wasn't the greatest villain.

Malificent of Sleeping Beauty was a marvelous stage villain. She was evil, bitter, and full of hate. However, she too misses the mark. It's awesome she can change into a dragon, but I find it weird that simply being snubbed for a christening party alone would cause her to want to ruin Aurora's life. In the book this jealously was explained very well, but here Malificent feels the need to find Aurora for some reason, even though she's already placed the curse on her to die at the age of sixteen. Why does she need to kidnap Aurora? In the fairy tale she placed the curse and left it at that, not to be seen for the rest of the story. I appreciate what Disney did with the story, but all the same, Malificent was just too concerned about it.

Also, her minions are useless. She's got all these goblins and warthog soldiers, but all they ever succeed in doing is kidnapping the Prince the first time. Before that and from then on, they accomplish nothing. They're deliberately idiotic. What kind of a villain keeps these idiots around? Ursula's two eels were more useful than the whole lot of these guys.

Next in line is Gaston from Beauty and the Beast. This guy is actually pretty hilarious as a baddie. My problem with him is that he's kind of a ham, trying way too hard to be a jerk and manipulate Belle. That was probably the point for his character, and it really was enjoyable. Overall he's one of the better Disney baddies, but at the same time he's too simplified. His lack of depth prevents him from being the best.

One of the best Disney movies ever is Aladdin, and it has the villain that I feel is second to Ursula: Jafar. Jafar is the assistant to the Sultan, and he is busily working on a way to steal the power from the Sultan and take his place. I like this guy because he's unashamedly bad, dastardly and always keeping his eye out on Aladdin. He's quick to discover that Aladdin isn't a prince and almost kills him. More than once, actually. He also has a sense of humor, sick as it is.

However, the real downfall of Jafar is two things: his cheat stick and the Sultan. Controlling the Sultan with a scepter is really cheap, and is a gimmick instead of Jafar taking power by cleverness. Also, if Jafar can make the Sultan do whatever he wants, then why does he need to take his place? Can't he just stay by the side and keep pretending to be loyal? When the princess marries, he can just control the guy just like he did the Sultan.

Also, Jasmine's dad is a stupid ruler. He's lame, easily impressed, and totally lacking in sense. As much as heroes are judged by the villains they fight, villains are judged by the heroes that they face and rulers they defeat. Controlling the Sultan wasn't hard by any means, making Jafar unable to beat Ursula in a contest of evil.

Eh, the villain in Pocahontas was lame. I don't even remember what they called the guy, but it was John Smith's leader or whatever. I didn't like that movie much, and the baddie was one reason why: he was shallow, stereotypical, and completely uninteresting. You can compare him to Gaston and Gaston's selfishness, but Gaston was fun to watch and made you laugh. This guy? Eh. Moving on.

Mulan's baddie, Shan Yu, was pretty good. He was evil, greedy, and merciless. He wasn't as distinct as other baddies, but he was someone you could really be afraid of. However, I found his vague beastness to weaken the character. His seemingly superhuman strength made him too cartoonish, like the point where he burst through the ceiling of the emperor's palace to fight Mulan. How in the world is that even possible? I really shouldn't question cartoon physics, but Mulan as a movie tried to be more or less realistic when it came to human ability, and if there was a part of other fighting that was fake, the movie convinced you it was possible. Also, there's this one point where Shan Yu could have gotten away and killed the emperor, but he cries out in...I dunno, beast-like rage or something, and Mulan hears him, causing her to go and stop him.

I say all that, but really this villain wasn't too bad. He wasn't distinct enough to rise to the level of others, but he served the appropriate purpose in Mulan that was required of him. In that, he did a great job. He's not the kind of villain that you'll appreciate well or remember much of, but there's so many other people in this movie to like and have an interest in that it doesn't really matter. That's a thing to remember about baddies, and actually characters in general. Sometimes the plot doesn't focus around them, and you have to decide, as a writer, how much influence you are willing to give to them.

If you don't have a lot of opportunity to talk about a character, then make them as interesting as possible in the short amount of time they have, and that way your readers will want to hear more about them, instead of feeling that your story is bogged down by too much detail (which will be the subject of another posting at some point). You can always do a spin-off story about them, or if you feel like you can just leave them as they are and your fans will write fanfiction to fill in the gaps for you. Leaving gaps for your readers is always a great idea to keep them interested in your story for longer periods of time.

Shadow Man from The Princess and the Frog had so much dang potential. So much! The plot for this movie was clumsily handled by the writers, leaving all of the characters but the firefly severely underdeveloped. Shadow Man was no different. He had so much going for him: his freaky magic, his sentient shadow, and his general entertaining demeanor. This guy was hilarious! However, he suffers from several things. First of all, if you look at this movie, you'll notice that he almost never does something himself. He's got those spirits running around for him and the servant pretending to be Navine. Only three times does he directly antagonize characters: the time he was trying to poke the Big Daddy voodoo doll, the time he stomps on the stupid firefly, and the time he tempts Tiana (his best scene, I think). Villains need to do things for themselves, facing the heroes and intimidating them with all the gall they have.

Also, Shadow Man's motives were unclear. In the opening song, he appears to be motivated by money, particularly as he tricks a man into taking a bad hair potion for coin. However, once he reveals his plan to take over New Orleans, it just feels weird. There was no foreshadowing for this. Then throw in the whole thing where he's trying to keep the spirits from taking him down into his afterlife, and he's scrambling, running around and trying to keep everything together. Where's the confidence and control?

The main thing that bothered me about Shadow Man is that he doesn't even know that Tiana is interfering with his plans until the very end of the movie. He knows she exists because he saw her at a restaurant, and he saw another frog leave with Naveen at the party, but he has no reason to assume that its her. Tiana is the lead of this movie, and Shadow Man is always off dealing with other people. How lame is that mess?

So, at the end of the day, Ursula really is the best Disney villain, from a literary perspective. What do we learn from her?

Villains should:
- be distinct
- have relevant help
- be interesting
- have a set out plan for power that has wiggle room just in case.

The next villain is one of my favorites of all time: Sarah Kerrigan of the Starcraft series. Now, Starcraft has this sequel out now, so I'm going on the original and the Brood War expansion set only. It always pissed me off that Glynnis Campbell wasn't the one voicing Kerri in SCII, and besides, if I ever talk about Star Wars characters, I will have nothing but complete disregard for the prequels, which I refer to as Not Star Wars. I don't think Starcraft II is all that bad, but for now it's just going to have to wait.

Anyway, Sarah is a great villain because of her deep history. The plot of Starcraft basically goes that there are three races out there, the humans, Protoss, and Zerg. These three races are fighting for domination of the galaxy (one not near earth). Sarah is a human fighting under Arcturus Mengsk, a man that once saved her life and is rebelling against the current human ruling faction. She becomes good friends with Jim Raynor, a simple but good man also in on the cause, and you begin to think that their relationship can get so much deeper. That is, until Kerrigan is betrayed by Arcturus in his quest for power. Mengsk abandoned her on a planet, believing that she would be killed by the Zerg, a malevolent race of creatures that take other species and turn them into new forms of Zerg.

The plot goes on without her until it is revealed that the Overmind, the leader of the Zerg, wanted Kerrigan to become his "daughter", and mutates her into a Zerg that is not just a brainless servant, but is a powerful, ferocious enemy of all who oppose the Zerg. Once the Overmind is killed, Kerrigan decides to take over the Zerg for herself and gain revenge against the faction that stole her childhood, Mengsk for betraying her, and Raynor for not saving her. In the end, she tears through all of the Protoss and human factions, making herself the supreme leader of all that exists....and it means nothing.

The reason why Sarah Kerrigan is such a great villain is because she didn't start out that way. She used to be a little naiive, trusting Mengsk even though his actions made it clear he preferred power above all else. She went through so much, being subject to experiments that tested and probed her telepathic powers. After Mengsk saved her, she trusted him not unlike a father. Once infested, the Overmind was like a really sick version of a dad, leaving Kerrigan with even more demented daddy issues.

This poor girl's troubles have risen up in her and filled her with an anger. That anger is hollow. Kerrigan might rule the galaxy in the end, but that was never what she ever wanted. Her entire conquest was to get back at everyone that had ever hurt her. Now that she's won, she doesn't know what to do with herself and her power. All she knows is that she doesn't want to lose control ever again, because she doesn't trust anyone to be an authority over her.

As pityable as she is, Kerrigan is responsible for many deaths. She kills off several characters that are beloved to the people that play this game, and she torments Zeratul, the most popular Protoss character, by brainwashing his Matriarch and forcing him to kill her. She spared Raynor's life at one point because he was someone that cared about her in the past, but once she murders his friend Fenix, he swears to kill her one day.

Hans and Ursula are valued for their skills and attitudes, but Kerrigan's interest comes from her depth. You can either feel sorry for her or hate her, and whichever you do is up to your perspective. There is no set in stone way to feel about her. Other characters are engineered for you to specifically hate or like them, but Kerrigan is open ended. You either want her to die for all she's done, or somehow become de-infested, or somehow make up for her crimes in the way she dies.  The game doesn't make this choice for you.

So Kerrigan shows that a good villain:
- has depth
- has ties outside of evil
- is still a person with aspirations and fears
- doesn't always realize how evil they are.

Okay, so my last villain is King Edward from Braveheart. I'm gonna be honest: crazy Mel aside, I love all the characters in this movie, especially Steven the Irishman. The real reason I like Edward as a baddie is because he's so hardcore. Okay, well the story goes that Edward is oppressing the Scottish people, and this local man William Wallace has to stop him so that Scotland can be free of British oppression.

Edward is portrayed as a man both harsh and strong, someone you just don't want to mess with, especially head on. In any direct fight, he's sure to win. This guy is smart, cunning, deceptive, and willing to take advantage of the slightest thing he can. Early on in the movie he tricks a bunch of Scots by saying he wanted to negotiate peace, but he slaughters all the people that show up to his meeting. This guy has no mercy in him at all. He firmly believes that the Celtic Islands should all be under one rule. That is, the rule of Britain.

Even in real life, Edward was someone who was hearty and physically strong. Even to his oldest days he was risking his life simply to show off his daring. However, he had one major failing: bad parenting. A lot of people objected to the portrayal of Prince Edward II in this movie, and I understand why, but the fact of the matter is his character in the movie was a natural extension of who Edward II really was. He was simplified for the purposes of the movie, but in real life Edward II was nowhere near as feared as his father. He relied so much on his father's hardcore nature and iron-fisted rule that he never achieved the political wisdom Edward I had. He always was so close with his pal Piers Gaveston that it actually interfered with his political needs. He and Piers made fun of the British Lords without considering that perhaps these men might actually be vital to his rule once his dad died. Notedly, Piers was replaced with Phillip in the movie, and they never showed this mockery (or the Lords much at all), but that is what actually happened.

So that was where Edward failed the most. In both real life and the movie, he never made his son realize that power isn't a static thing and it can slip out of your hands easily when a weak ruler gets the throne. In both, Scotland becomes free shortly after the death of Edward I, and despite all of the political and economic gains Edward did for Britain, Scotland reachieved its independence. Notedly, Scotland belongs to the United Kingdom mostly because of intermarriage, and it ended up that one of the kings of Scotland (James, I think) turned out to be next in line for the English throne through various circumstances.

Edward is a king with strong beliefs and strong greed, and he is unable to be swayed from this path by anyone. He is overcome in the end by sickness and secrecy, the only two things that could directly bring him down.

He shows us that:
- villains are selfish and don't see from others' viewpoints
- the audience wants to enjoy both the evil and the downfall of evil in the villain.
- villians need to be strong to be believable and feared.
- No villain is too strong to have a flaw.

So, who do I feel is the greatest villain of all time? That's hard to answer. There are many different types of villains, and each is enjoyable in different sorts of ways. Hans Gruber is a crafty villain, one that stays in control by using his brain. Ursula is a trickster villain, who uses anything besides physical strength (magic, tricks, servants) to get what she wants. Kerrigan is a damaged villain, who fights for herself and not for money or power. Edward is a hardcore villain, one that has to be worked around, not directly fought. So which type is the best? Isn't it really a matter of taste?

Well, just in case it isn't, I submit that Darth Vader is perhaps a good candidate for the greatest fiction villain of all time, as far as literary appeal goes (I'm sure there are more destructive baddies). He is not only strong in fights, but also in the Force, which enables him to do things that most people can't. Also, his dark costume and heavy breathing make him well known even among those that have never seen Star Wars or don't even like it. He remains one of the most recognized bad guys of all time, whose depth, strength, smarts, and control will ensure that he remains known for many years to come.