Sunday, October 28, 2012

There's A Trope For That - Week Of October 28th

Two very special related tropes this week!

"Weather in TV Land is weird. It strikes with no warning or buildup, and can stop just as suddenly. The most common example is a loud thunderclap, followed instantly by a drenching downpour (sometimes a single raindrop in between them). No wind, no sprinkling rain, nothing beforehand to warn our unsuspecting characters that they need to get indoors. Nor does it ever thunder without an accompanying downpour."

And second: Instant Thunder.

"FLASH! Lightning streaks across the sky! A few seconds later, the thunder arrives. BOOM!

In Real Life, thunder is the sound caused by a lightning strike. It has a delay because sound travels slower than light, and so the farther away the lightning strikes, the longer it takes for the thunder to arrive. If you hear thunder at the same time of a lightning strike, it probably means that you're inside the eye of storm.

Not so in fiction. Here, lightning almost always arrives with the sound of thunder, no matter where the lightning is. This happens so often that it is remarkable when thunder does have a delay. Expect quite a few aversions to mention counting the seconds to see how far away the lightning struck, especially if the target audience is children."

* * * 

I will start by saying this: I get annoyed when I see movies and shows use these tropes because ugh, they're so cheesy. But they don't bother me as much as, say, Every Car Is A Pinto, and maybe that is because these two are not tropes that kill. It's just a light/sound effect oversight. When in real life does it ever just start raining, thundering, and lightning-ing at the same time? 

Well, apparently... in Austria.

Ah, The Sound of Music. Lots of fond memories of watching this film... but boy, does it have its issues. Especially with weather. First we get a triple-threat weather combo when Leisl and Naziboy are out in the garden, and then later, when Maria is in her room and all the rugrats come running in for protection from the storm. Perfectly coordinated thunder, lightning, and rain.

Not only does the thunder and lightning start off (and continue) simultaneously, but sometimes the little von Trapp kids seem to know they're going to happen before they happen and can duck appropriately. And the best part of all is that when Captain von Trapp comes in Maria's room, the storm just stops. It's like it knows the Captain means business. You tell em, Georg! Forget all that crap about singing your fears away, all you need is to give mother nature a stern glare. Duh!

Granted, The Sound of Music IS a musical, and musicals sort of have the license to defy things like science and logic, and there are far weirder things in that film, BUT... it still annoys me.

So to make myself feel better about the overused tropes in The Sound Of Music, I will sing a song about my favorite things.


Soft gooey brownies
and yummy potatoes
Pizza and nachos and
Bright red tomatoes
Cold cherry Pepsi
Oh, of thee I sing
These are a few of my favorite things

Coconut sunscreen and meat on a hot grill
Cookies are baking, oh my heart do be still
Carving a pumpkin
The smell that it brings
These are a few of my favorite things

Warm fuzzy blankets
And baths with some bubbles
Dear furry kitties
Make me forget troubles
Reading a book by the fire gives me wings
These are a few of my favorite things

When work sucks
When my head aches
When I'm feeling sad
I simply remember my favorite things
And then I don't feel
So bad.


Okay, yeah.

Sunday, October 21, 2012

There's A Trope For That - Week of October 21st

This Week's Trope: Robot Buddy!

"The character is an artificially intelligent robot.

This kind of character is often good-looking and has a million and one functions; if you need him to do a job, he has the right tool installed for itUp to and including jet packs.

Typically, they are very loyal to their owners, requesting only proper maintenance like recharges and repairs. The trend in recent years is to make the Robot Buddy an obnoxious, cynical Deadpan Snarkercommenting on human foibles (or just those of the protagonist).

A bonus is that they can do a Heroic Sacrifice and still come back believably because Mr. Fixit can put him back together in the maintenance shop and upgrade him as a reward to be even better than before."

I don't really have anything to say about Robot Buddies... except, you know, I want one.

Random Things From My Childhood Part 6

Random Things From My Childhood, Part VI

1. Lunchables

Cheese. Meat. Crackers. The ability to create your own miniature sandwiches on the spot. A kit of comestible creativity, if you will. Lunchables trumped mom-made tunafish sandwiches every day of the week.

But Lunchables weren't cheap. And if you didn't like one of the ingredients (for me it was cheese as a child, then meat as a teenager) you were sort of screwed. Until, of course, the Oscar Mayer company started making Lunchables with things like mini pizzas and throwing in Capri Suns and tiny candy bars for dessert. But alas, Lunchables were still expensive, and to this day, I have never felt compelled to buy one.

But that ONE TIME my parents bought me one to take on a field trip... I enjoyed the heck out of it. And I made some pretty awesome little sandwiches.

2. Tarn-X

When I was three or four, they used to run Tarn-X commercials during cartoons and kids' shows for whatever reason. I LOVED THE COMMERCIALS. There was one with a man and one with a woman. The woman dipped a coin in Tarn-X and I think the man dipped a small bell. I would've given anything for a bottle of Tarn-X. It made everything magically SHINY! To this day I have never polished silver, but I still think those commercials are amazing. (Though I suspect tricky camerawork may be afoot.)

3. Strawberry Shortcake

There are toys I remember receiving not because I asked for them, but because some relative of mine just thought I should have them. So while I never got the Snoopy Brusha Brusha Toothbrush or the Sesame Street Phone as I desired, I did receive a heck of a lot of Strawberry Shortcake dolls. And they were great, I mean... they were colorful, they smelled good... and there was the TV show, which I remember watching. Anyway, I must have given off some vibe that I was into the big-headed fruit children, because by the time I hit my seventh birthday, I'd acquired not only a dozen little dolls, but a Strawberry Shortcake lunchbox, a baby-sized doll, bed linens, a pillow, and curtains.... It was madness. 

What might be even more mad is that I think I still have most of that stuff in storage. 

Oh, and then there was the Atari Game. I played it once at my cousins' and enjoyed myself. Looking back... wow, that was some serious crap.

4. Fruit Roll-Ups

I really don't know why, but when I was about five, Fruit Roll-Ups were amazingly delicious. Better than cookies, ice cream, birthday cake, or any kind of candy. I think maybe because you could sort of fold them into shapes? I don't know.

Nowadays I rarely touch them. I mean seriously, what's the appeal?

5. Mr. Sketch Scented Markers

These were the best. No, these still ARE the best. Markers each with a distinct smell. Some are eh-okay (see: orange), others are wildly delicious (cherry, I'm talking about you.)

Drawbacks? Instead of getting down to the business of coloring, you'd spend a great deal of time sniffing them. Then you'd wind up with little colored dots on the tip of your nose, not realize it, and walk around like a dork for the rest of the day.

Oh gosh, look at those markers. Look at their colorful beauty. I'm dying of happiness just thinking about their smells! Must... go... buy... a pack....

6. Glowsticks

I have three glowstick-related childhood memories. They are as follows:

1. Being about 5 and at a lodge near the beach with my relatives. Finding a dying glowstick on the ground. My older cousin taking it away from me. Me harboring a grudge against said cousin for years.

2. Going camping with family friends around age 9. Their mom giving us each a green glowstick. Me sleeping in the back of the truck at night and being mesmerized by the thing, feeling like the luckiest kid in the world.

3. "Night games" at youth group retreats, where we had to find glowsticks in a forest... in utter darkness.  While avoiding the adults trying to find & tag us.

Ah, youth?

7. Kites

As an adult, I really think kites are cool. Some of them are made by talented artisans who really care about their craft. And watching them sail through the bright blue sky can be breathtaking indeed.

But as a kid, the idea of kites was much better than the reality. Michael in Mary Poppins made flying one look all easy. In the real world, kites often failed to go up, and even when they did, they quickly ran aground. They were diamond-shaped instruments of disappointment. Plus we were constantly being warned by teachers and the television that kites could run into power lines and cause an excruciating death (and then alternately being told that Benjamin Franklin had once flown a kite during an electrical storm, but that was okay.)


8. Tootsie Pops

I don't get Tootsie Pops. Perhaps I never will. The fruity outer part is okay, but when you get through that, suddenly you meet up with this blob of pseudo-chocolate. Blow pops were a lot better. They had gum, man. GUM. Not some weird brown core. 

I remember there used to be this rumor around the elementary school that if you found 10 Tootsie Pop wrappers with little Indians shooting an arrow at a star, you could send them in (to the Tootsie Pop company?) and win something, but nobody ever did. And the Indians weren't that hard to find anyway.

According to Wikipedia, kids who sent in their wrappers got sent... a story... about an Indian. Yay?

9. Whatever The Heck This Thing Was

A Fisher-Price Toy for babies, it had fun activities on all four sides, top, and bottom. I just remember thinking that was really neat, having a different thing to do on each side. Annnnd apparently I was easily impressed.

10. Child-Size Record Players

I had one of these as a wee lass. It was light blue and I think it had Raggedy Ann or somebody on it. I had my own collection of RPM-45 records with storybooks, including The Night Before Christmas, Frosty The Snowman, and a Walt Disney collection of nursery rhymes. This may be why I felt like kicking the guy in a writing class a few years go who mentioned record players, looked at me (I was the youngest person there, circa age 24), and made some comment about how I probably did not know what records even were. Jerk! 

Meanwhile I loved how my little record player had two speeds, so I could make people sound like Alvin and the Chipmunks whenever I felt like it.

Sunday, October 14, 2012

There's A Trope For That - Week of October 14th

This Week's Trope: Mangst

"There are several variant forms of Angst. There is Wangst, the angst of whiners. There is Angst? What Angst?, which is angst that is barely even felt by heroes. And then there is Mangst, the angst of badass characters.

A man who feels Mangst is the kind of guy who carries around a picture of the wife and child, both of whom were killed by the villain. Every once in a while he picks up that picture. . . maybe once every three or four days, mind, when no one is looking... and stares at it for a couple of hours. He never talks to other people about his private pain. Several things keep him closed up about it. First, he's not the kind of guy to get all weepy (unless you count the occasional bout of Manly Tears, of course). Second, he's not the kind of person who loads his problems on other people.

Mangst usually involves a man trying to fix his problem, right the wrong, prevent his tragedy from occurring to someone else, seek revenge, etc. If he's not doing any of those things, it's because something's holding him back. When a Badass has Mangst, he may have an inner monologue, during which the source of his Mangst gets a regular mention. However, to mitigate potential Angst Dissonance, the character's monologue often is deceptively calm or metaphorical.
One of the things that turns basic Angst into Mangst is the source of the character's pain. When That One Case involved someone dying (especially if it was an innocent kid), the hero will most likely end up Mangsting. Having one's wife or girlfriend horribly killed by the Big Bad is perhaps the most common cause of Mangst in the world. Guilt over some past misdeed, or from failing to stop someone else's past misdeed, can also be a cause."


You know who I think of when I think of mangst?

That would be this guy.

Right here.

Poor Jarod. Kidnapped as a child and forced to work for an evil organization. Now, out on his own, searching tirelessly for his mother, whose photograph he carries with him so that he can take it out at regular intervals and gaze at it longingly. They took him away from his parents! Rawr! They used his genius ideas for evil! Double rawr! And they won't leave him the heck alone! 

You tell 'em, Jarod!

Uh oh, now we've made him mad.

Face it... Jarod had every reason in the world to be an angsty basketcase. But he channeled that anger worthily, going after bad guys and making them PAYYYYY.


Saturday, October 13, 2012

My Top 14: Film Scores

I love film scores. I love the way the music makes me feel while watching a film, and then later, when I'm merely listening to the music on its own, how it can transport me back to that theater. I love how it can stir my emotions. Movie music really is a glorious thing. 

So it is with great pleasure (and a little apprehension) that I present my own personal list of my Top 14 film scores. Why the apprehension? I'm afraid I've forgotten some. I'm worried you all won't love them as much as I do. But then, I guess it's all a matter of taste. These are my favorites. So let's begin.

P.S. Be sure to click on the links after each movie. (Links last verified on 8/12/13). They'll send you to samples of the music itself, and I've selected my favorite pieces from the soundtracks, so I'd definitely recommend a listen.

Okay, here we go.

My Top 14: Film Scores

*   *   *   *   *

Nicholas Nickleby (2002)

music by Rachel Portman

This film's music is delightful and beautiful. The only problem? The movie isn't! Yeah, it's Dickens, so it's dark, it's sad, and it's a bit depressing. So what's with the cheerful music that suggests the endless frolicking of woodland nymphs? I'm not exactly sure -- but I still like to listen to it! (Portman did something similar with her score to 1996's Emma, so the number below may sound a bit familiar to fans of that film.)

Main Titles
End Titles

*   *   *   *   *

Flight of the Navigator (1986)

music by Alan Silvestri

On its own, I guess Flight of the Navigator's music isn't anything to write home about. It's synth-heavy and pretty much the exact opposite of what you'd expect from a sweeping film score. (I like to think Mr. Silvestri, better known for his score from Forrest Gump, had a really fun time making this one.) That said, when paired with the film -- a great, sci-fi family movie that packs an emotional punch -- the music is spot-on. It makes me delightfully happy and nostalgic.

Robot Romp
Have To Help A Friend

*   *   *   *   *

My Girl (1991) and My Girl 2 (1994)

music by James Newton Howard (1) and Cliff Eidelman (2)

These two themes -- by different composers -- share a similar sweetness. The films -- made two and half years apart -- are quite different from one another. But in the end, they're both about a young girl searching for answers. I love both pieces because they're melodious and gentle, with a little essence-of-childhood-fun thrown in. I do wish the scores for these films had been made available in their entirety, but I'll take the themes if nothing else. All in all, two of my favorite little numbers from two of my favorite movies as a teen.

My Girl: Vada's Theme 
Theme From My Girl 2

*   *   *   *   *

Tuck Everlasting (2002)

music by William Ross

Beautiful music graces this film, music that features whistling, upbeat Irish melodies, and the sounds of a tiny music box. And I know I'm not the only fan of this score -- barely two years after the movie came out, the soundtrack went out of print and the price shot up to nearly $100 per (used) CD! Fortunately, if you've got the DVD, the music plays over many of the title screens, which means you can listen to it to your heart's content.

The Wheel/Treegap

*   *   *   *   *

Beauty and the Beast (1991)

music by Alan Menken

Sure, everyone knows about "Be Our Guest," "Gaston," and the title number, but the unheralded stars of the film are its instrumental pieces. The official soundtrack has five of them: To The Fair, West Wing, The Beast Lets Belle Go, Battle On The Tower, and Transformation. The latter is my favorite: what a range of emotions that one covers! Which is to say it makes me cry. Yeah.

*   *   *   *   *

Dear Frankie (2005)

music by Alex Heffes

If I was merely putting together a list of beautiful soundtracks, this would likely take the #1 spot. I really, really love it. A gorgeous score for a sweet film.

*   *   *   *   *

Rudy (1993)

music by Jerry Goldsmith

Rudy's a fine film, a feel-good type of underdog-beating-the-odds story. Its main title is pretty and delicate, and makes a great piano piece. The track Spring Training, on the other hand, will make you stand up and cheer. Jerry, we miss you, we really do.

*   *   *   *   *

Hook (1991)

music by John Williams

So one thing about John Williams is that he sometimes just rehashes his own work, which means the soundtracks to two different movies he's done will sound eerily similar. But when he's on his A-game, he brings it home. And Hook has a stellar soundtrack. Maybe the movie itself hasn't held up that well. (Yeah, I own it, it's corny.) But the music has. Who cares if John W. "borrowed" from it when he composed the scores for Home Alone 2 and Harry Potter? Not I! (Okay, maybe a little.) His themes from Star Wars, Indiana Jones, Superman, and E.T. may be more iconic, but Hook is the one that gets my heart racing. Laugh if you must.

Remembering Childhood

*   *   *   *   *

Peter Pan (2003)

music by James Newton Howard

I saw this film in the theater on opening day, and the music lodged itself into my brain and stayed for months. I ended up going back to the theater three more times just to get my fix (well, I loved the film, too). I may have over-listened to the soundtrack back in '04, because it doesn't give me quite the same thrill these days, but it is really fantastic. Flying, Fairy Dance, and I Do Believe In Fairies are favorites. Annnd now I want to go watch the film again.

*   *   *   *   *

To Kill A Mockingbird (1962)

music by Elmer Bernstein

I've noticed that a lot of older movies (pre-1970) have this sort of old-timey quality to their music, with violins playing loudly but slowly, blended with the sounds of a choir, people in white robes with cropped hair and/or pompadours who you figure are probably all dead now. To Kill A Mockingbird manages to avoid this, with music that sounds rather modern (or has just held up remarkably well). It's beautiful and fits the story, a story of childhood, (in)justice, and innocence lost. And even though the music and the film are fifty years old, they're every bit as wonderful today as they ever were. (As is the book, which you should go read immediately.)

Main Title
Roll The Tire

*   *   *   *   *

The Goonies (1985)

music by Dave Grusin

This is one of those films that you probably only enjoy if you first saw it (and liked it) as a kid. Well, I did. And whenever I hear most any piece of music from the film -- whether it's the scene with the wishing well or the reunion on the beach or whatever -- I get immensely nostalgic. But it's more than that. Like I said, I get nostalgic over Flight of the Navigator's music, too, and that one's lower on the list. The Goonies is just a really, really good soundtrack, full of exciting, great music that lends itself to a fun film.

End Theme
Fratelli Chase (and others)

*   *   *   *   *


Robin Hood: Prince Of Thieves (1991)

music by Michael Kamen

There's a reason people keep borrowing the Robin Hood overture to use for their trailers, commercials and montages: it's epic. And yet, who ever really remembers what movie it's from, the way you might if you heard the Star Wars theme? Trust, it's from this movie, and this movie is just plain fun. Swordfights, romance, badass archery-doings, and a whole lot of Alan Rickman being campy and evil. Gotta love it.


*   *   *   *   *


Back to the Future (1985)

music by Alan Silvestri

I've seen BTTF roughly a hundred times, and I never get sick of the music. Alan Silvestri did something with this movie that I do not believe he's done since (except maybe with BTTF III). We all know he's great at making sweet melodies and feel-good orchestral numbers, but BTTF's music is feel-good with a shot of kick-ass and a gallonful of hell yeah. If this music doesn't get your blood pumping rapidly, then... I'm sorry, but you're probably dead.

*   *   *   *   *

The Man In The Iron Mask (1998)

music by Nick Glennie-Smith

I'll admit it: I was one of those girls who went and saw this movie in 1998 after falling for Leonardo Dicaprio in Titanic. I mean, why else would I care about the Three Musketeers-as-middle-aged dudes? I couldn't even tell Jeremy Irons and John Malkovich apart! But I went and saw it, and I found myself getting into the whole swashbuckling saga. I also remember how much I loved the music. Some years later, I got the soundtrack, and it's one I can listen to repeatedly. Nick Glennie-Smith did an amazing job on this one.

All For One (be sure to listen all the way to the end!) is my favorite and Training To Be King is another good one. Which brings up an interesting question: why do so many of my favorite tracks have the word "training" in the title?

Eh, forget it.

*   *   *   *   *

So that's my list. I know I've probably forgotten one and may have to revise this later, but for now....

Honorable Mentions: Dances With Wolves, Batman Begins, Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade, The Princess Bride, Harry Potter 1, 2, 5, 6, 7 and 8, Ever After, Anne Of Green Gables, Forrest Gump, Now & Then, E.T., Back to the Future III, Contact, Superman, Superman Returns, Mary Poppins, The Secret Garden (1993), Attila, The Natural, The Game Of Their Lives, Lord of the Rings, The Chronicles of Narnia, Pirates of the Caribbean, A Little Princess (1995), The Lion King, Little Women (1994)

Friday, October 12, 2012

BrickCon '12

BrickCon 2012 was last weekend. That's the Seattle Lego convention, where people build crazy/amazing things and show them off. And if you're really into it, like me, you can attend seminars and compete in contests. 

Ah, three whole days surrounded by people and plastic. A builder's dream come true.

I went to a Lego con in Portland in June, and enjoyed it, so I figured I'd go to the Seattle one as well. The only difference I really noticed was the size. It felt like there were five times as many people -- that is, con attendees and visitors -- in Seattle. But with that... more Lego models, too. I took some slightly blurry cell phone photos so you can see some of what was there.