Random Epiphanies

Here’s hoping 2016 is better

The further away I am from my college days, the more I realized something about adult life: there are no purely good or purely bad days. The same applies to years.

2015 will go down in my memory as the year that I lost my bearings. I changed jobs twice, took a sizeable pay cut, fell into depression, lost a puppy to an illness, contracted both German measles and amoebiasis, spent most of the year carrying the kind of slow boiling anger that weighs on your chest and sends your blood pressure spiraling out of control.

But it’s also the year that I went to Japan for the first time ever, which has been a dream of mine since I first started watching anime. My braces came off, too, after ten long years. For the first time in more than a decade, my hair was at a very short length. This was also the year that I gained seven beautiful puppies (and kept three), moved to a job that allowed me to see my boyfriend five days a week as opposed to the once-or-twice every two weeks (incidentally, this was also the year we celebrated our fifth anniversary). I remembered, belatedly, my grad school plans and dreams, and began to move in that direction again, monetary hits aside. I completed the zero draft of a book and learned that one of my stories was on the 2015 James Tiptree Jr. Award Recommended Works list. There was also helping run a fundraiser for a friend, and helping fund a few more despite my money problems.

Sadly, I did not get to complete some of the lofty goals I set for myself. For one, I only managed 80 out of the 100 books goal of my Goodreads Reading Challenge (81 if you count Asa Ka Awan Du Vatan by Victoria Abad Kerblat, which has no Goodreads entry), though that’s not bad at all when you consider the numbers. There’s a bunch more, but I’d rather get into the goals I’m setting for myself for next year, which are rather small. However, I’ve learned this year that small, specific, and concrete wins the day. Without further ado:

  • Lose 10 pounds this January. (Related: More regular exercise every Saturday.)
  • 100 books for the Goodreads Reading Challenge–this time, try to make a dent in my existing TBR pile.
  • Write more duds. Which means completing a zero draft every month.
  • Submit to magazines once a month, or as responses return.

I hope 2016 is awesome for you!


Movie Review: ‘Star Wars’ IV, V, VI & VII



I’m going to come out and say that I’d never watched the original Star Wars trilogy, and so it was no big deal whether or not I watched Star Wars VII: The Force Awakens, just like watching the second trilogy was no big deal (in my defense, I was 8 years old when Episode I came out and I wasn’t yet very particular about art by the time Episode III hit theaters). 

But my dad was insistent that we watch that first Sunday after the release date (“You write science fiction, you should be a fan!”), so in preparation for Episode VII, my sister and did a marathon watch of the first trilogy the day before. In glorious VCD. (We didn’t bother with the second trilogy because we don’t even have copies.)

Episodes IV, V, and VI

Image from Port-Haven.com

Episodes IV, V, and VI follow the typical trajectory of the Chosen Farm Boy discovering his true origins and innate powers, in true Hero’s Journey fashion. He develops those powers with the help of a Wise Old Mentor, all in the service of rescuing a scrappy and attractive space Princess. Along the way, he also gains some friends in the form of the Dashing Smuggler and his hairy first mate, loses his Wise Old Mentor, shows that he’s a damn capable pilot, and blows up the World-Ending Weapon of Doom–thereby pissing off the Dark Lord. He spends the next two movies further developing his powers, losing a hand, losing the Princess to the Smuggler (totally okay because she turns out to be his long-lost twin sister, so that’s a relief), falling into trap after trap, losing his second Wise Old Mentor, leading the Resistance, discovering that the Dark Lord is his father, refusing to join the Dark Side, and celebrating with everyone after the second World-Ending Weapon of Doom is blown up, thereby bringing about the downfall of the Empire.

I make it sound like I didn’t have enjoy watching the trilogy with that summary, but the truth is, I did. The original trilogy is a ball of fun and adventure and despite the no-nonsense Princess Leia being put in that infamous slave bikini, she goddamn strangles Jabba the Hutt with the same chains he clamped around her limbs. It was probably pretty groundbreaking–though it didn’t quite get everything right–in terms of feminism and diversity in the 70s. I think that if I’d seen it at a younger age, I’d be a pretty big fan today.

But I wrote the summary of the first Star Wars trilogy in such a manner because I wanted to point out how much the movies (Episode IV, in particular) adhere to the usual tropes. In that sense, however, I think Episode VI is superior to the first two in terms of trope-breaking: for one, Luke is not the Big Damn Hero who blows up the second, larger Death Star (that honor goes to Han Solo and everybody aboard the Millennium Falcon). Luke also doesn’t have a Big Damn Showdown with either Darth Vader or Emperor Palpatine–he already had one with the former in Episode V, so another would’ve been redundant. Lastly, Luke’s most heroic act in Episode VI is on a whole other level with his most heroic act from Episode IV: whereas he blew up the first Death Star in the first movie, he decides that his father is worth saving and actually hies on over to the the second Death Star to help him back into the light. He believes this even while being tortured by Force Lightning. Luke evolves from a whiny farm boy with Zac Efron-good looks, immense talent, and no impulse control to a guy who didn’t age well but looks and acts so damn cool in his black suit, has mastery of his Force powers, and believes in the goodness of the guy who killed Obi-Wan Kenobi, the guy he mourned more than the uncle who raised him.

I did have a few problems with some aspects. The political situation of the Empire wasn’t very clear, for one–yes, they blew up Alderaan, but apart from that, were they allowing slave trafficking? Over-taxing its people into deep poverty? Banning free speech? Taking entire planets by force? What was it that compelled them to build a Death Star in the first place if most people were already under their rule? What tyranny was the Resistance fighting against? And did they realize that there would be a pretty gaping power vacuum if they sunk the Empire and didn’t have an alternative leader?

And a few quibbles: why does everyone allow the other side to track them to their damn bases (Princess Leia already mentioned the tracking to Han Solo, but they did zilch about it afterward)? Why did the Resistance name Luke Skywalker a commander when he has no tactical experience in battle apart from blowing up the first Death Star (which is completely different from a land or sea battle on another planet)? And why the hell didn’t the Empire vary their architectural plans for the Death Star a.k.a. why is there another small hole that functions as an Achilles’ heel?

All told, however, the first trilogy did a pretty good job of getting me excited for Episode VII.

Episode VI

Image from StarWars.com

Apart from viewing the first trailer more than a year before the release date, I steered clear of any and all news and bits of information about Episode VII. Therefore, I didn’t know what to expect of this movie–except perhaps, everyone might break into song, as befitting a Disney movie.

The story begins thirty years after the defeat of the Galactic Empire. Jedi Master Luke Skywalker is missing and everyone is searching for him–including his sister, Resistance General Leia Organa, and the pro-Empire cult called the First Order. A map of his location falls into the hands of Ace Resistance fighter pilot Poe Dameron, who in turn hides the map in his BB8 unit and puts up a brave fight before he is captured by Dark Lord-wannabe Kylo Ren of the First Order. The BB8 ends up with Rey, a young Jakku scavenger, while Poe is freed by ex-stormtrooper Finn. Poe and Finn’s comandeered TIE fighter crash lands on Jakku and Finn finds himself in Rey’s company. Their adventures begin when the Jakku post they meet at is bombed by the stormtroopers and they escape on a rickety old ship called the Millennium Falcon–which is being tracked by its former owner…

There’s a fine line between paying homage to source material and actually copying everything about it. At first, the movie was walking the homage line with the Millennium Falcon and the fact that BB8’s journey in a way parallels that of R2-D2. But as it went on, I got the sneaking feeling that it was basically the plot of Episode IV rehashed: the planet-sized Death Star (forgot what it was called, sorry) destroys a planet, this time the one that housed the Republic; the Resistance storms the First Order base while a small group (Han, Chewie, and Finn) infiltrates it to not only take it down from the inside, but rescue a captured Rey; Rey witnesses the death of her father figure at the hands of Kylo Ren; Poe’s squad takes down the planet-sized Death Star by bombing a weak point in its design–all before it can fire at the star system of the rebel base; Rey and Kylo Ren have a lightsaber showdown.

Which is not to say that, like with its predecessor above, I did not enjoy Episode VII. In fact, I’d say that I’m a fan of the movie at this point, and it’s thanks in large part to deuteragonists Rey and Finn.

I love that Rey is a competent mechanic and decent pilot–there is nothing of the whining or angsting found in Luke or Anakin. She is not afraid to show her insecurities or her fear and thus, these do not bog her down, especially when it’s time to get down and dirty (with the exception of the incident at Maz Kanata’s castle).

I love how Finn alone among all the stormtroopers has lasted this long, even if it’s because he turned his back on the cause. I also really like the bromance blossoming between him and Poe (hahaha–let’s face it, those two have far more chemistry than Finn and Rey). I love how he managed to hold his own in a fight with Kylo Ren; even though Ren eventually slashed him unconscious, he still managed to cut the guy.

Episode VII also managed to address that power vacuum I mentioned earlier. The politics are more developed and contemporary. What I mean by this is that the First Order has parallels with both the Nazis and ISIS in terms of goals and hierarchy. And in terms of cultural politics, it’s pretty awesome to see a woman as the (not at all sexualized) Chosen One, a black man as deutragonist and potential love interest (not shipping this one because see Finn and Poe above), and a couple of Asians as minor characters.

My takeaway from this movie: I’d watch the sequel; the Skywalkers should not be allowed to have children EVER because they tend to dictate the fate of the Galaxy with their Force sensitivity; someone should tell Kylo Ren that his grandpa turned to the Light Side before he died; Han throwing that gangster henchman to the squid beast kinda renders the whole morality root of the “who shot first” argument moot; and someone needs to fire the Death Star engineer and all their descendants, pronto.


Movie Review: ‘Aladdin’

Aladdin. Image from Amazon.
Image from Amazon.

Aladdin is special to me for being the very first Disney movie I ever watched, and perhaps the only one I–according to my parents–would cry at the end of, as I apparently wanted them to rewind the VHS tape and play it again. I couldn’t tell you what I saw in it over 20 years ago, of course.

Considering that I watched it for the first time as an adult recently, I can tell you what I think of it now: despite some plot holes and glaring problems in the geographical and cultural setting, Aladdin is a rollicking, hilarious, romantic, and progressive (for its time) cartoon.

Summary from IMDB:

When street rat Aladdin frees a genie from a lamp, he finds his wishes granted. However, he soon finds that the evil has other plans for the lamp–and for Princess Jasmine. But can Aladdin save Princess Jasmine and his love for her after she sees that he isn’t quite what he appears to be?

It was extremely difficult for me to summarize the plot of Aladdin without going into great detail as to what happened in the beginning. I think that this is because Aladdin’s turning point, that of meeting Genie and trying to win Jasmine’s hand as a prince, doesn’t occur until a good one-third into the film. That’s not necessarily a bad thing, as I enjoyed the somewhat tuneless preamble leading up to the second Cave of Wonders sequence.

You know what else I enjoyed? Aladdin and Jasmine, from start to finish. I feel like there is no other Disney movie where the chemistry between the hero and the heroine is this strong. Aladdin turns into a real goofball when it comes to Jasmine, so much so that I can feel a goofy smile growing on my face whenever they’re about to kiss or when the “A Whole New World” number came up. Even if the next two films and the animated TV series weren’t as good as Aladdin, I’m glad Aladdin and Jasmine got that much material and screen time to further develop their relationship; they are by no means perfect and they often have misunderstandings, but that’s just part of their charm.

Image from DisneyScreencaps.com
Image from DisneyScreencaps.com

Jasmine herself is a pretty admirable character, perhaps the first example of the naive-but-fiery-and-capable-princess trope. She can’t handle a bow like Merida or a sword like Mulan, but she’s every bit as willing to fight to protect what’s important to her like Nala, and even as willing to trick her way into achieving her aims like Megara and has all the sexuality of Esmeralda. I may have wanted to be her when I grew up.

The film–in glorious 2D that’s all but disappeared from mainstream US animation–has a rocking color palette that isn’t at all shy about going from warm to cool undertones from one scene to the next. Appropriate when you consider that the “A Whole New World” sequence is basically a preview of the settings of future Disney movies, like Hercules and Mulan. I also very much enjoyed how Carpet was animated–it takes a lot of skill to be able to draw a rug that can express its emotions without any voice acting. Plus, its pattern was beautiful.

Speaking of voice acting, Robin Williams in his turn as the Genie was especially stellar. Scott Weinger does a pretty good job as Aladdin, too.

I did have to wonder, however, about some plot points. Why Jafar didn’t just attempt to marry Jasmine in the first place if he wanted to take over Agrabah so much? He clearly had the resources–the snake staff–to do it, and if he’d done that in the first place, he’d have had access to enough resources to storm the Cave of Wonders, or else to discreetly detect Aladdin’s presence in the marketplace.

It also bothered me somewhat that you couldn’t tell at a glance if you were in India, Saudi Arabia, or Iran. (The palace and Jasmine’s attire has some Indian influences, the marketplace is more Arabian souk–and I’m probably getting too technical on this, but wasn’t the original Aladdin story set in China?)

I was also thinking the whole time I watched the Sultan, how did this happy-go-lucky guy who doesn’t take anything seriously get to lead a whole country? I mean, Jasmine was so upset when she thought that Jafar had had Aladdin beheaded, and he thinks that talking to both parties as mediator is going to appease either one? And yet, it’s that same quality of the Sultan’s that finally allows Jasmine to choose Aladdin as her husband, so I guess it’s all good…?

Maybe I wouldn’t have enjoyed Aladdin as much if I’d first come to it as an adult, but who cares? The bottom line is that it gave me so many feelings and I’m still singing out “Prince Ali, fabulous he, Ali Ababwa” at random times throughout the day.