Monday, August 21, 2017

Monday Musings: A Wishlist for The Incredibles 2

Last night we introduced Samwise to his first superhero film: The Incredibles. It went over the same as almost every movie we've shown him that isn't Moana: some interest, but he spent most of the movie playing in the floor instead. In addition to reminding me why I love this movie so much, the experience got me thinking about the sequel due out next summer.

We haven't heard a whole lot about the movie so far; we know that Helen (Elastigirl) will be the central character the way Bob (Mr. Incredible) was in the first film. We know that Frozone, Edna, and the Underminer will all return. And we know that the movie picks up right where the first one left off: with the Incredibles facing off against the Underminer.

So, with that in mind, here's my wishlist for The Incredibles 2:

  • A time jump. Yes, the movie picks up with the fight against the Underminer, but that could easily be the opening fight sequence that sets the stage for the film. I'd like to see at least a small time jump of a few years for a couple of reasons. First, it allows Jack-Jack to age up (allowing us to see what becomes of his powers). Second, it allows the relationships from the first film (including Violet and Tony's) to develop and reach a point where they can be more dramatically moving than they would be if the film simply acts as a "part 2" to the first.

  • An onscreen appearance for Honey, Lucius' wife. She's obviously a strong person if she has been married to Lucius all these years, and I would like to see her utilized as more than an end-of-movie comic relief. (Also, can you imagine the girls weekend with her, Helen, and Edna?)

  • Speaking of Honey: Did Lucius make it back in time to save her evening?

  • Violet and Dash's expanding roles as heroes and members of the family. Depending on how far ahead we jump after the battle with the Underminer, this could be anything from Dash entering adolescence and Violet navigating high school/prepping for college to Dash simply being Dash and Violet trying to balance her dates with Tony and her time as a hero.

  • More fabulous fashion from Edna, along with perhaps a more expanded role? Edna is obviously close with Helen, and I doubt their renewed friendship will cool any time soon. While the Incredibles may not need new supersuits (aside from the kids sizing up), even with a time jump, Edna seems to act as much as counselor and friend as she does a Q-like inventor and designer.

  • A villain whose presence stretches the family in new ways. Since Helen's role is more central to this film, it's likely the villain is someone with a special connection to her. Whether this means the villain is a former love interest (which would offer a chance to reverse some of the first film's tension), a mentor, or someone who simply dislikes Helen, I expect Brad Bird will not skimp on the heart of the matter: the Parr family, and especially Bob and Helen's marriage. Bird has said he wants to keep the emphasis on the family matters, and that's the best thing he can do. The relationships between these people are what made the first film so great, and I have no doubt that will continue in the sequel.

What about y'all? Anything you want to see in The Incredibles 2 that I failed to mention?

Wednesday, August 16, 2017

Watercolor Wednesday: July/August Paints and Sketches

So this month has actually been a decent one for artwork (albeit most of the paintings in this post are due to last weekend). Commence the art-sharing!

This first piece is a watercolor postcard I made for a friend's birthday this week (and this is the reason I swapped Watercolor Wednesday and ThrowBook Thursday--to allow the card to make it to its recipient). The card is a mixture of a Ray Bradbury quote and an I am the Messenger reference.

Happy birthday, Bella!

The next two images are more postcards, both experimenting with some techniques and colors. The first was a chance to try out one of the brushes in my set that allows you to do fun textures (seen at the bottom). The second was trying out the browns and oranges in my pan set to see what I could/wanted to do for some of the other paintings later in this post.

After my Silver Chair binge last month, I listened to the audio book and Focus on the Family versions of The Horse and His Boy, and one of the effects of that marathon was the desire to draw the Hermit of the Southern March (or more specifically, his cloak, which Lewis describes as "the color of autumn leaves").

Here are some more face sketches.

And a vaguely serpentine person in a hood.

An Entish creature and a diamond snake.

Angular zoot suit guy.

More faces, some with descriptions.

Even more description faces.

This next piece is a practice painting for Samwise's first birthday coming up in a couple months. He has a lovie blanket with Nutbrown Hare from the kids' book Guess How Much I Love You, and since that's the thing he loves most (aside from his mom and our cat Pumpkin), we're going to theme his party around the book. (I used a page from one of the Guess How Much I Love You books as a model for the Nutbrown Hare here and in the later painting.)

The next three paintings are the three panels for the finalized version of the sign.

Monday, August 14, 2017

Monday Musings: Long Hauls and Minor Characters

If there's one thing I love in fictionwhether it's printed or presented in some audiovisual form like movies or video gamesit's a long-haul revelation. I mean something that adds more dimension to a character than it ought to at face value because it fits into what we already know about them and builds on that knowledge in a way that is both satisfying and piquing. One example of this is the revelation about Snape near the end of Deathly Hallows; knowing his history adds a great deal of depth to his interactions with the main characters throughout the series (and fits in with some details we might have forgotten from early on, such as his determination to save Harry in Year 1 when Harry's broomstick is bewitched during a Quidditch match).

But I'm not here to talk about Snape. The title of the post is, after all, "Long Hauls and Minor Characters"—and I have a particular minor character in mind.


I'm going to assume none of you know who I'm talking about, so here's a little more info: he's the (blind?) wise man who shows up in a handful of episodes of the '90s Aladdin TV show Disney produced.

Why do I want to talk about Fasir? Because this guy has one of the best arcs of a minor character in a TV show when it comes to a long haul revelation.

When we first meet Fasir, he's an unnamed old man in the marketplace of Agrabah who is involved in Jasmine's attempt to prove she can survive on the streets as well as Aladdin. Later, he tells the story of a gigantic cyclops whose brother turned him to stone to stop his monstrosity—revealing at the end of the episode that he was the brother (and also a cyclops, albeit a human-sized one).

He goes on to offer wisdom and prophecy during several other adventures, one of which involves Mirage, the vengeful cat-woman (voiced by Bebe Neuwirth) who was responsible for Aladdin's childhood friend becoming a kidnapping monster of the night (but he gets better).

In the episode which cinches Fasir's long-haul revelation, Mirage finds the perfect revenge to take on Aladdin for foiling her previous plans: she tricks Jasmine into using a cursed lotion which transforms her into a snake-person. Jasmine's new body even has poisonous barbs, so that she can't even be with Aladdin without killing him. When they finally reach the tree whose fruit will cure Jasmine, Mirage kills the tree. Rather than be separated from Jasmine (or be forced to kill her; Mirage doesn't care how they're sundered), Aladdin uses the same cursed lotion to become a snake-person. They can live out their lives together, even if they must live separated from human society. This act of true love foils Mirage's plan. Fasir, who cautioned Mirage about the power of love at the episode's beginning, restores the tree, not wishing Aladdin and Jasmine to suffer because of Mirage's hatred.

And then.

Fasir looks on the happy couple, amused by Mirage's outrage and bemusement. She has underestimated the power of love. But Fasir tells himself that Mirage knew love once, and that it will lead her back to him (Fasir) one day.

So this guy has gone from no-name beggar to wise man and prophet to former love interest (and possible redemptive happy ending?)  of one of the series' most interesting villains?

Talk about layers.

So tell me: are there any long-haul revelations you love?

Thursday, August 10, 2017

ThrowBook Thursday: Neverwhere

First off, my apologies for missing Monday's post. It's been a busy week and I dropped some things. I'm also mixing things up a bit this month and switching the weeks for ThrowBook Thursday and Watercolor Wednesday (for reasons which shall become apparent next week).

This month's book is Neverwhere by Neil Gaiman.

This is the edition I first read, and the cover that comes to mind when I think of Neverwhere.

If you've never heard of this book, let me give you a quick history lesson. Neverwhere began as a TV show for the BBC. While the show was in production, Neil Gaiman worked on a novelization to bear with the cuts and changes the show made to the scripts. Now, the book is a bestseller and the show is hardly known (though it does have a cult following in some circles). When the American edition was released, Gaiman cut some things (mostly a second prologue and some humor the editor thought would go over the American audience's heads) and added others (like descriptions for people who hadn't been to London). Then for its 10th anniversary, Gaiman released a new edition called the "Author's Preferred Text" which streamlined the UK and US editions, reincorporating many of the cuts to the American edition. Then, in 2013, BBC Radio made a radio play adaptation.

I mention this last point because I've listened through the radio version twice now. It's got spot-on casting and even features some cameos from Gaiman himself.

Right. On to the book.

Neverwhere follows an average Joe named Richard who, after saving an apparently homeless young woman, is swept into a parallel city called London Below, where all the people and places who fall through the cracks wind up. Richard and Door (the aforementioned young lady) must face treachery, psychopaths, monsters, and London high society in their attempts to avenge Door's family (murdered by said psychopaths) and restore Richard to his normal life. (Did we fail to mention once you're in London Below, no one in London Above can see you? Oh, well now you know.)

Neverwhere is a modern Alice in Wonderland sort of portal fantasy. Much of the humor and tension rest on Richard's not believing (or at least not wishing to believe in) the magic he encounters. He is often a liability to his companions, though sometimes his more mundane personality traits wind up being useful in their quest. There's a sardonic figure called the Marquis de Carabas, who is both vain and wise. There's a mysterious angel called Islington (played by Peter Capaldi in the TV show and Benedict Cumberbatch in the radio play). There's a lot of playing on place names in London. In short, the story is fun, enjoyable, insightful, and touching. If you haven't read it, I suggest giving it a try. Every time I come back to it, I'm reminded of how much I love it.

If you've read Neverwhere and want more, I suggest tracking down a copy of "How the Marquis Got His Coat Back," a novella-length sequel Gaiman released a few years ago. It's available in a number of anthologies, as a BBC Radio adaptation (featuring the TV show's Marquis), and in the appendices of newer editions of the Author's Preferred Text.

(Side note: I have not read the Author's Preferred Text yet, but I'm planning to shortly, if for no other reason than I want to read the story again, not just listen to it.)

Have you read Neverwhere? What did you think? Who are you favorite characters?

Tuesday, August 1, 2017

Top 10 Tuesday: Studio Ghibli Films (Through 2011)

I recently finished working my way through our Studio Ghibli collection, which includes every feature film the studio released between 1986 and 2011 (except for Only Yesterday), with the addition of Nausicaa of the Valley of the Wind. In celebration of this, and as a result of watching so many of the movies so close together, I though this month's Top 10 could be my ranking of Studio Ghibli films.

Note: I'm not going to be entirely objective with this list because some of the films I'm excluding (looking at you, Grave of the Fireflies) due to the fact that I'm not likely to watch them again (or at least not for a very long time). Rewatchability is high on the list of qualifications for this Top 10. With that out of the way, to the rankings!

10. Porco Rosso

This movie surprised me with how much I enjoyed it, considering I knew very little about it going in. But the story is very heartfelt, and the characters are lovable in their individual ways. My one quibble is the ending with its "we'll never tell" attitude about the chief happy ending the movie was building up.

9. Whisper of the Heart

I'll admit that my main interest in watching this one was so I could have context for The Cat Returns, a spin-off sequel that centers on a minor character (the Baron) having further adventures. Funnily enough, I wound up enjoying Whisper more -- even though it's one of the few Studio Ghibli films to not feature fantasy elements (aside from the book Shizuku writes). It reminded me a lot of From Up on Poppy Hill, which was one of the first Ghibli films I saw.

8. My Neighbor Totoro

I actually wasn't sure this one was going to make it on the list at first because my initial impression of it was that the story was far more episodic than I usually care for in movies. But it's hard not to love Totoro the character. The whimsy and hope that fill this movie make it one I'll watch again.

7. Laputa: Castle in the Sky

I need to rewatch this one anyway; I was putting together a baby swing the first time we watched it, so I'm a little hazy on the details. But I do remember liking the story, with its magic stones, robots, and floating cities.

6. Tales from Earthsea

This is not LeGuin's Earthsea, but I'm okay with that because of one thing: Timothy Dalton as Sparrowhawk. I didn't know I needed this to be a thing until I watched this movie. If nothing else, this movie is worth it for that (and Mariska Hartigay as Tenar). I've not read Tehanu, so I don't know how faithfully the elements of that book were adapted, but honestly this was a film that (like Howl's Moving Castle) was so enjoyable on its own, I can view it as a separate story (simply an adaptation rather than a representation). Although it is very, very odd to hear Willem Dafoe's voice coming from such an effeminate looking character as Cob.

5. Kiki's Delivery Service

This is another of Studio Ghibli's films that runs closer to magical realism than fantasy. Although Kiki is a "witch," most of her problems are those of everyday people. With a touching climax and plenty of heart, this movie deserves to be a childhood staple for all.

4. Howl's Moving Castle

This is just such a great movie. Where to begin? Sophie is strong and weak in proper turns, just as her book counterpart is. The brilliant way they conveyed her old age and young heart through the film still makes me grin. Calcifer is properly belligerent. The castle moves in a fun and exciting way. And the way they handled the Witch of the Waste (while not in line with the book) adds a touch of humanity to the whole piece.

3. Princess Mononoke

This movie carries a lot of the themes Miyazaki and Studio Ghibli are known for: strong main characters who are young, journeys to discover self and save others, the proper relationship between man and nature, and the existence and power of the supernatural world.  But I found myself enjoying this one more than some of the other films in that vein (Pom Poko, Nausicaa) for some reason. I think it may be the fact that this story, unlike Nausicaa, is the whole of itself. (I loved the Nausicaa manga, but the movie just felt truncated and flat in comparison.) Gillian Anderson as a giant wolf spirit doesn't hurt things, either.

2. From Up on Poppy Hill

I didn't expect this film. It's purely realistic, a historical slice of life piece; until this movie, I had associated Studio Ghibli with fantasy and magical realism -- movies that fit the idea of animation being the realm of make believe more than reality. But the struggles of Umi and Shun drew me in and kept me intrigued until the last satisfying moment.

1. Spirited Away

This movie is the perfect fantasy film from Studio Ghibli. It keeps the folklore I loved in Totoro and Mononoke, mixes in some of the heroism of Howl, and tells a beautiful story about seeing beyond appearances to the true nature of things. It is wonderful.

Honorable Mentions:

My Neighbors the Yamadas -- This movie is just a light-hearted and funny look at everyday life. It's a great pick-me-up after you've had your heart torn out by Grave of the Fireflies.

The Secret World of Arrietty -- An adaptation of The Borrowers by Mary Norton, this movie is fun and charming, but not one of my top picks for rewatching because I'm so familiar with the story from other adaptations, it doesn't feel like it's as fresh even as Howl.

Do you have any favorite Ghibli films not on my list? Any you'd place differently on the list? Let me know!

Monday, July 31, 2017

Monday Musings: Albion Academy Pronunciation Guide

Someone recently asked me about some pronunciations of character names and such in Albion Academy. Although I didn't include a pronunciation guide in the book, I recently put one together in anticipation of the audio book entering production. What follows is a rough guide to how some of the more unusual names and magical phrases in the book are pronounced (some are pulled from other languages, so the pronunciation here is an Anglicized approximation; I apologize for any errors).

Aella – AY-ell-a

Akachi – uh-KA-chee

Alamar – AL-uh-mar

Albion – AL-bee-un

Albrione – al-BREE-own

Ambrosius – am-BRO-zyus

Ana – AH-na

Anaia – uh-NI-uh

Asgard – AZ-guard

Athanval – AH-thahn-vahl

Bechronian – beh-KROW-nee-an

Beclys – beh-CLIS

Belchor – bell-CORE

Bifröst – BUY-frost

Blaise – blaze

Bryn – brin

Brynhildr – brihn-HIL-dur

Caerleon – CAIR-lee-own

Cauda Pavonis – CAW-duh pa-VO-nis

chana – chah-NA

Colonomos – KO-lo-no’-mos

Corrine – core-IN

Corvin – CORE-vin

D’Artagnan – DAR-tan-yan

Darity – DARE-ih-tee

Ddraig tân – dryg tahn

Dénsmore – DENS-more

Ditrio omini nux – DI-tree-o AH-mih-nee NOOX

Djinni – jih-nee

Elevas – ELL-ay-VAHS

Emrys – em-riss

Eovaldi – AY-ō-VAL-dee

Fafnir – făf-NEER

Fiera – fee-AIR-uh

Fortuxanat – for-TOO-zah-NAHT

Freki – FREH-kee

Frey – fray

Freya – fray-uh

Frigga – FRIH-guh

Fyri – fih-REE

Geri – GEH-ree

Greenwich – gren-ich

Heimdall – HĪM-doll

Heurodis – HER-ō-diss

Horos – HOAR-ōs

Huginn – HOOG-in

Iasthai – YAS-thy

Ifrit – ih-freet

Ilium – ih-LEE-um

Jötnar – YŌT-nahr

Jotunheim – YO-tun-HĪM

Juvelin – JOO-veh-lin

Kaya – KI-uh

Lillesøster – LEE-leh-SO-stir

Lochesh – LO-kesh

Loki – LOW-kee

Mabh -- MAB

Malchus – MAL-kuss

Marcellus – MAR-kell-us

Mjölnir – MYŌL-neer

Muninn – MOON-in

Myr – mur

Myrddin – MUHR-thin

Oberon – O-bur-on

Odin – O-din

Pendragon – pen-DRĂ-gun

Purgaplene – PER-guh-plen-ay

Pyros incarcero – PIH-rōs in-CAR-ser-o

Ragnarok – RAG-nuh-rock

Saluton mia amo – SAH-loo-than MEE-uh AH-mo

Sicat – sic-AT

Sif – sihf

Sigrún – SIH-grun

Skuld -- SKULLD

Skuldsdóttir – SKULLDS-dot’-er

Slahn leat – SLAHN laht

Stavros – STAV-rōs

Stelara – steh-LAH-ruh

Steyan – stay-ahn

Storebror – STOW-ray-BRUR

Taliesin – TAL-ee-ess-in

Tariq – tuh-REEK

Terrapos – TEHR-ah-pōs

Titania – tih-TAHN-ya

Valhalla – val-HĂ-luh

Valin – VĂ-lin

Valkyrie – VAL-kur-ee

Yali – YAH-lee

Tuesday, July 25, 2017

Mossflower Library Tour Addendum

There are two main shelves I wanted to include in the library tour that didn't make it into the original photo shoot. First, the writing reference shelf.

This is all of my books on writing craft (along with the dictionaries and a few books of church skits).

Gardner's The Art of Fiction is worthwhile.

Then, there's the bedroom shelf. I featured this shelf in my reading goals post at the start of the year but it's changed a bit since then, so let's revisit it. (There may be a few books here that were already shown in previous library posts, but that's because they migrated between pictures. There are also a few books that migrated from this shelf to the library between pictures, and thus are not shown at all. Poor neglected things.)

Books from giveaways, books from Christmas, and nonfiction.

Fantasy, lit fic, mystery, and ongoing series reads.

Currently in progress: The Mysterious Affair at Styles, The Fact of a Body, The Great Divorce (reread, part of the C.S. Lewis Essential Classics), Innocents Aboard (also a reread), and They Have not Seen the Stars (Ray Bradbury's collected poetry).

More lit fic and fantasy, including a couple ongoing series reads.

This is the complete Count of Monte Cristo. This is the treacherous edition I read in high school that did not tell me it was abridged. I got rid of it as soon as I realized this.

More books I wish to reed sooner than later. I may not finish this shelf before New Year's.