25 Years Old

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I was born on September 6, 1991. Thus, today is my 25th birthday. Rather than going into a ramble about how I feel about being 25, I thought that an interesting way to observe my birthday online would be to compile a list of other interesting things that are turning 25 this year. As it so happens, though, I didn’t really participate in ‘90s pop culture. I’m not even familiar with many of the movies, TV shows, songs, and albums that came out when I was a kid. But here are a few things my age that do mean something to me.


For those of you who don’t know anything about me, I’m a librarian, so this is the obvious place to start this list. I had thought I could pull together a much longer list of 1991 books that I’ve read, but this is what I found with a moderate amount of googling. (The NoveList website appears to be temporarily down, which is annoying.)

Sophie’s World by Jostein Gaarder

My parents gave me this book for my birthday when I was a child; I think it was my eleventh birthday. It’s a Norwegian book about a teenager named Sophie Amundsen who starts receiving mysterious letters about philosophy. Over the course of the novel, Sophie learns about the history of philosophy from ancient times up to the late twentieth century and discovers the strange truth about the reality in which she lives. I very much enjoyed this book and have read it a number of times over the past fourteen years.

Chrysanthemum by Kevin Henkes

Apparently, I really loved this book when I was little. I don’t distinctly remember that, and I don’t even remember what happens in the story, but I do have a vague sense of long-term positive associations with Henkes’ mouse books.

Shiloh by Phyllis Reynolds Naylor

Okay, time for a confession. I’ve never read Shiloh. I know, it’s a classic, and it even won the Newbery medal. I should have read it as a child and I should have read it as a children’s librarian. But I still haven’t read it, so I don’t actually have anything to say about it.

If You Give a Moose a Muffin by Laura Numeroff

It’s not quite as noteworthy as If You Give a Mouse a Cookie, but it’s still a really good picture book. I vaguely remember hearing Numeroff books in library storytimes. For the record, her books are still popular among preschool-aged kids. Last I knew, my cousin’s daughter was fond of them.

Bone by Jeff Smith

This graphic novel is the first in a series that, as a children’s librarian, I can tell you from personal experience is still immensely popular. To be honest, I really didn’t care for this book and I never bothered to read the rest of the series. I think it’s a genre preference thing, and this just isn’t the type of story that appeals to me. I actually hadn’t known that it had been around for so long.

Meet Felicity by Valerie Tripp

The American Girl series played a really large role in my childhood. My mother started reading the books to me and my sister as bedtime stories. I think we were about six at the time. As I got older, I read and reread the American Girl books so many times that it became a personal tradition, and I was still reading them for nostalgia purposes in my late teens. When I was little, I don’t remember having a particular affinity for Felicity, (for any of you unfamiliar with the American Girls franchise, Felicity is a nine-year-old girl living in colonial Virginia) but as an adult, I think that Felicity is notable for the character development she shows across the sub-series about her. The American Girls were such a big thing in the ‘90s that sometimes I feel as if it’s strange that not everyone is familiar with them now.

Movies and TV shows

I don’t watch a lot of ‘90s TV. For this list, I’m only including movies and TV shows that I’ve actually seen, and that eliminates a lot of stuff that’s actually really famous, like Terminator 2 and the show Seinfeld, which debuted in 1991. But there are at least four 1991 movies that I’ve seen, which are as follows:

Beauty and the Beast

I remember Beauty and the Beast  as one of those classic Disney movies that has literally always been around. But it hasn’t been around forever. In fact, I was around for eleven weeks before Disney’s Beauty and the Beast was. I had been completely unaware of that fact until I started looking things up for this blog post.

Drop Dead, Fred

At one point a couple years ago, I would sometimes watch full-length movies on youtube late at night, and this was one that I discovered on one such occasion. It’s about a woman who starts seeing her childhood imaginary friend after going through rough times and moving back in with her mother. Although Fred, the imaginary friend, is goofy and acts like a character in a light-hearted children’s movie, I wouldn’t classify this as a kids’ movie. I wouldn’t rank it anywhere near the top of the list of my favorite movies, but it definitely has a few good one-liners.

Star Trek VI:: The Undiscovered Country

I know I’ve seen this one, but to be honest, I don’t specifically remember what happens in it. I do know that it isn’t nearly as good as Star Trek IV: The Voyage Home. But really, when it comes down to it, there aren’t many things out there that are as good as Star Trek IV: The Voyage Home.

What About Bob?

Bob Wiley suffers from severe phobias until his new psychiatrist somehow cures him with just a brief, cliché-ridden consultation. But now Bob is obsessed with Dr. Leo Marvin and follows him to his vacation home. Through a series of comedic events, Bob simultaneously makes Dr. Marvin miserable and endears himself to everyone else. The title role is played by Bill Murray. It’s very entertaining, but I can’t help but feel sorry for the “bad guy”. Dr. Marvin may be flawed and self-centered, but he doesn’t deserve all the terrible things that happen to him in this movie.


I spent way too much time searching for music I recognized from 1991, and I sure didn’t find much. I do know some ‘90s music, but just by coincidence, hardly any of it is from ’91. It’s actually kind of weird.

(Everything I Do) I Do it For You by Bryan Adams

Since my parents still listened to current pop music at the time when I was born, I have been informed many times that this song was #1 when I was born. It also happened to be the biggest hit of the year. To be honest, I don’t really like it. I’m not the biggest fan of ‘90s music in general.

Don’t Cry by Guns N’ Roses

I definitely didn’t know this song when I was a kid. But I know it now, so on the list it goes. It’s a good song. I like it.

You’re in Love by Wilson Phillips

The only reason I know this song is that it’s on a cassette tape that my father recorded to celebrate Christmas. In fact, the chorus is the only part that I know at all. I’m actually a little confused as to whether this is actually a ’91 song. Youtube says 1990, but my Billboard Book of Top 40 Hits says 1991. Maybe it was on an album before it came out as a single?


Dr. Seuss died on September 24. That’s right, folks, for eighteen days, Dr. Seuss and I were alive at the same time. Other notable deaths include British ballerina Margot Fonteyn, modern dancer and choreographer Martha Graham, Freddie Mercury of Queen, Star Trek creator Gene Roddenberry, and Gilligan’s Island actress Natalie Schaeffer.

The Super Nintendo Entertainment System was released in the United States. I’m not much of a gamer, but I recognize that this was a significant cultural event. I have no idea, though, what distinguished the 1991 Nintendo from the 1985 Nintendo.

The internet became a thing. Actually, the development of the internet was a gradual process that spanned over a significant portion of the late 20th century. But the first web browser was created in 1991, and that’s a pretty significant milestone. If I understand correctly, that’s what really made the internet accessible to the public rather than just to computer experts. The web browser was called WorldWideWeb, but later named Nexus because it’s kind of confusing that WorldWideWeb and the world wide web aren’t the same thing. Nexus no longer exists.

Many of the biggest news events of the year had to do with the Gulf War, but the biggest political change with the end of the Soviet Union. Depending upon which events one defines as the birth of an independent country, one could say that I share a birthday with Latvia, Lithuania, and Estonia. (But it probably makes more sense to go with the late August dates.)

A Few Star Wars Fan Theories

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Star Wars 1Warning: spoilers ahead. Now that Star Wars VII: The Force Awakens has been out for nearly a month, I would imagine that the majority of Star Wars fans have seen it, but if you happen to be part of the small minority of people who haven’t yet seen the movie and don’t want to encounter spoilers, turn back now. I have seen it twice and want to discuss some of my favorite fan theories. I perhaps owe the internet an apology for not citing sources, but most of these ideas are actually pretty mainstream and easy to find in multiple places if you pay any attention to fan theories at all. There’s nothing here that’s directly lifted from one specific source.

Is Rey Luke’s daughter?

The biggest question raised by the new Star Wars movie is Rey’s identity. All we know for sure about Rey’s backstory is that she was left on the planet Jakku and is awaiting someone’s return. Maz tells her that she knows that the person she’s waiting for will never return, but that someone else might. The flashback that Rey has when she touches Luke’s lightsaber shows her as a young girl, tearfully protesting as someone leaves. Someone else is holding her by the arm, and a voice that resembles Kylo Ren can be heard. That’s enough information to inspire debate, but not enough to give a definite answer. Rey’s other visions could be flashbacks, but they could be insight about the future or about other people.

The most popular theory seems to be that Rey is Luke Skywalker’s daughter, and after much back and forth, that’s my guess. My main objection to it is actually that it seems too obvious, and I suspect the moviemakers want to spring a surprise on us. But Rey clearly has some kind of connection to Luke’s lightsaber, and the final scene, in which she returns Luke’s lightsaber to him, certainly looks like we’re supposed to view it as a father/daughter moment. The Star Wars franchise is quite fond of dramatic father/son moments, after all.

Star Wars 2 ReyNumerous fans have found hints to support this theory, such as the way Rey’s theme music sounds together with Luke’s, or the fact that she has a fighter helmet with her on Jakku. Then there’s her natural piloting ability, and, of course, the fact that the Force is strong with her, which seems to indicate that at least half of her parentage is Jedi. Considering that she has no Jedi training, it is a surprise that she’s a match for Kylo Ren, who has been trained by both Luke and, presumably, Supreme Leader Snoke, and is consequently well on his way to being a powerful Sith. And her connection with Luke’s lightsaber seems like a dead giveaway. Not to mention the fact that the entire Star Wars movie series is about the Skywalker family, so it only makes sense that the main heroine of the new movie is descended from Luke.

There aren’t many good arguments against it, but I think it still leaves some questions to be answered. For example, who is Rey’s mother? Certain books name Mara Jade as Luke’s wife, and some fans have guessed that the movies are going to go along with that idea, even though Mara Jade doesn’t show up in this movie.  My brother suggested the theory that Rey’s mother is the female Stormtrooper leader who Finn so intensely dislikes, who either turned to the dark side later, or who is acting as an undercover Resistance agent the entire time. I will have to watch the movie a third time in order to determine whether I think that makes sense.

Another question is why Rey doesn’t know she’s Luke’s daughter, and in fact, questions whether Luke and the Jedi are anything more than mythology. In her flashback, she appears old enough to know those kinds of things. So if she is Luke’s daughter, she was evidently separated from him even earlier than that, and it was someone different who left her on Jakku. And that makes me wonder, 1) who was her adoptive/foster family, and 2) why didn’t Luke and her mother raise her themselves?

Is Rey related to Obi-Wan Kenobi?

I thought that this theory was pretty fascinating, and in fact, when I first read it, I was pretty sold on it. The idea was that, while Obi-Wan was on Tatooine for all those years between Episode III and Episode IV, he had a wife and child that we never knew about, and Rey is either is daughter or granddaughter. Some people say that Rey’s father is Luke and her mother is a secret daughter of Obi-Wan. I’ve also seen mentioned the possibility that she is his niece or grand-niece, which I prefer because it doesn’t require Obi-Wan having a wife, which seems unlikely given that he was a hermit and that he never mentioned having family in the original movie. The best argument for this theory that I’ve seen is that Rey’s manner of holding the lightsaber is similar to Obi-Wan’s, although I admit that that’s hardly conclusive, as lightsaber-wielding surely is more influenced by one’s training than by one’s heritage. If Rey fights differently than other Jedi, it’s because she has no formal training, not because of who her father or grandfather is. Probably.

Is Rey Han and Leia’s daughter?

Star Wars 3 Rey and HanThe first time I saw this movie, this was my initial assumption, right up to the moment when Rey met Han Solo and acted as if she’d never met him before and viewed him as a celebrity. Even then, I was trying to piece together some way that it could be possible that she somehow didn’t recognize her own family members. To be honest, the best thing this theory has going for it is that it would be cool, but in my defense, I’m not the only one to have discussed it. Evidently, it does fit nicely with some of the non-canonical Star Wars novels that I haven’t read.

Did Rey have her memory wiped?

This opens up any of the above possibilities for her parentage, and it also opens up the possibility that Rey wasn’t a relative of anyone we’d recognize, but she was one of Luke’s students who survived the attack. Really, you can guess anything you want about Rey’s past if you assume she doesn’t remember anything. But I’m pretty sure Rey does remember who left her on Jakku; after all, she is waiting for someone and she evidently knows who. When Moz tells her that the person she’s waiting for isn’t coming back, but someone else might, that’s a pretty big hint. I just don’t know what that hint is telling us, exactly.

Who is the man in the opening scene?

It seems likely to me that the old man who had the map segment at the beginning of the movie was filling the same role for Rey that Obi-Wan was filling for Luke in the beginning of the original movie. That is, he was posing as a random hermit in order to keep an eye on her from a distance without interacting in her upbringing until she was ready to contribute to the Resistance. That would explain why he would have the map in the first place, especially if Rey is in fact Luke’s daughter. The plan was probably that, once Rey was old enough and skillful enough, he would bring her or send her to Luke, who would then train her as a Jedi. (This idea works even if Luke isn’t her father, as long as he is aware of her existence and the fact that the force is strong with her.) But that doesn’t answer the question of who he is in the first place. The best answer I’ve heard is that he is a rebel pilot from the original trilogy. They aren’t major characters, but they are important to the rebel cause and they are people that Luke would definitely trust.

Who is Finn?

Star Wars FinnAll right, he’s a Stormtrooper who doesn’t have the ruthlessness necessary to carry out the Stormtrooper agenda, I get that. But doesn’t that seem a little odd that there’s exactly one non-conformist Stormtrooper? If that’s even possible for a Stormtrooper to reject his training, wouldn’t it happen at least a few times? Some have wondered whether Finn might be related to Mace Windu from the prequels or Lando Calrissian  from episodes five and six. I don’t think it’s necessary to assume that all black characters in the Star Wars universe have to be linked, but I’m not rejected those possibilities, either. The Lando one seems pretty far-fetched, but the Mace Windu theory would explain why Finn is perfectly capable of wielding a lightsaber, despite having no Jedi training and being (evidently) less strong with the Force than Rey.

Who is Maz Kanata and how did she get Luke’s lightsaber?

Star Wars MazMaybe I missed something, but the only background information I remember getting about Maz is that she’s someone Han Solo knows and that she has connections with the Jedi and the force, even though she isn’t a Jedi herself. J.J. Abrams has been quoted as saying that Maz and Yoda had “at one point crossed paths”, and I had a sense all along that there was something Yoda-like about Maz. But that still leaves a lot of questions unanswered. The biggest one for me is how Maz ended up with Luke’s lightsaber.

Is Supreme Leader Snoke Darth Vader?

Fan theories include the possibility that the Supreme Leader is Darth Plagueis, a Sith Lord who is mentioned but not shown in earlier movies, or the Emperor, who supposedly died at the end of Return of the Jedi. An idea that I find particularly interesting is that he could be Darth Vader. After all, the scars on his head match those of Darth Vader. Of course, Darth Vader was also supposed to have died, and he became a good guy immediately before dying. I’m actually not a fan of any of the three aforementioned theories, but I don’t have a good alternate idea to suggest. I did read one theory that suggested that he’s actually smaller than human size, since we only see him as a hologram. That’s interesting, but it doesn’t tell us who he is. And one thing is relatively sure: Supreme Leader Snoke is going to turn out to be someone we’ve met before.

What’s the deal with Kylo Ren and Han Solo?

Star Wars 5 Kylo RenWe know that Kylo Ren, originally Ben Solo, is the son of Han and Leia. We know that he was in training under Luke, and that he turned from the dark side and slaughtered all of the other students at Luke’s Jedi academy. And we see him trying to live up to Sith standards and drawing inspiration from his grandfather Darth Vader. (Some have criticized the acting and Kylo Ren’s coolness as a bad guy, but I’m fine with it because he’s clearly a wannabe Darth Vader who hasn’t reached that level of Sith-ness yet. He’s more like Anakin in the end of Episode III than Darth Vader in the original trilogy.) But we don’t know how or why he turned to the dark side in the first place, and I personally have a lot of questions about his relationship with Han Solo. It has even been suggested that Kylo Ren started out as a sort of double agent, joining the dark side in the hopes of getting rid of the Supreme Leader, but quickly becoming completely won over. (I will cite this one back to Reddit user vrso3g, since I have that information available to me and it sounds like this one was an original theory.)

My biggest question is what the deal was in the scene where Kylo Ren kills his father. The first time I saw the movie, I assumed that Han Solo made himself vulnerable with the assumption that Kylo Ren wouldn’t hurt him and the hope that he could convince him to turn back to the light side. But upon discussion with my brother and a second viewing of the movie, I now see Han’s actions as self-sacrificial. In fact, maybe the parallel to Obi-Wan Kenobi in the original movie was not just something the moviemakers threw in there; maybe Han Solo himself believed that he was doing for his son (or perhaps Rey and Finn) what Obi-Wan did for Luke.

Who’s alive and who’s dead?

Star Wars 4 PoeWe all know that Kylo Ren survived just because the movie didn’t conclusively eliminate that possibility. I personally think Han Solo is really and truly dead. Really, the only reason I can see to doubt that is because it’s so sad for him to be dead. But the Star Wars franchise has never cared about our feelings before. I love Star Wars, but it’s true. Which brings me to my next point. It was just really weird for Poe Dameron to come back the way he did. It seemed pretty clear that he was dead and pretty unnecessary, in terms of plot, for him to come back. Some fans have suggested the idea that he really is dead, and that the person we think is Poe later is actually a spy disguised as Poe. I’m cool with that theory.

Star Wars droidsThere is, of course, a lot more to be said about all of these theories. This is by no means supposed to be a comprehensive list or a detailed exploration. Feel free to leave your ideas in the comments, especially if they’re new and original. I’d love to hear them!

Jesus Christ Superstar

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Jesus Christ SuperstarAndrew Lloyd Webber’s Jesus Christ Superstar is a really great musical. I am aware that it was a successful stage play before it was a movie, but the 1973 movie version is what I’ve loved and seen at least once a year for most of my life. (Although I believe that the CD my family has was made with the 1996 London cast) As in all of Andrew Lloyd Webber’s musicals, the music is incredible. Besides that, there’s something fascinating and powerful about the anachronistic setting and the opening and closing scenes that show the actors arriving at and departing from the setting. The casting is great, too. Still, it is the music that really makes Jesus Christ Superstar excellent.

But Jesus Christ Superstar is not a Christian musical. It technically is about Jesus, and the characters and events are relatively closely based on the Bible, but that’s about as much as can be said for its religious value. It is my understanding that neither Andrew Lloyd Webber nor Tim Rice consider themselves to be Christians or claim that Jesus Christ Superstar is a specifically religious movie. Although there isn’t anything that directly denies Jesus’ divinity, there certainly isn’t anything that affirms it, either, and there is no discussion of His salvific work. Very few of the lyrics even come from the Bible.


"Every time I look at you I don't understand why you let the things you did get so out of hand."

“Every time I look at you I don’t understand why you let the things you did get so out of hand.”

Much of the musical is shown from Judas’ point of view, and his frustration with Jesus is the main theme. After the introduction that shows the cast arriving in the desert and setting up, the movie opens with a musical soliloquy by Judas in which he rants and rails about how things have gone too far. Over the course of the movie, we see Jesus ride into Jerusalem, get betrayed and arrested, appear before Pilate and Herod, and get sentenced to crucifixion. Throughout all of this, we see Jesus’ other followers’ devotion to him, his apprehension concerning his upcoming death, and Judas’ confusion and conflict as he decides to hand Jesus over and then regrets it. In the end, Judas hangs himself, Jesus is sentenced to death, and, before the crucifixion scene, there is a concluding song and dance number in which Judas and a group of scantily clad female backup singers sing the title song, asking questions about Jesus’ identity and mission that the movie never answers. At least this movie shows the crucifixion as being the most significant aspect of Jesus’ life, which is more than some movies about Jesus do. But Jesus Christ Superstar completely leaves out the resurrection. It’s almost as if Andrew Lloyd Webber and Tim Rice didn’t know what to do with it, so they ignored it.

At any rate, ending the movie with the resurrection would have detracted from the emphasis that the movie puts on Judas’ questions to and about Jesus. It’s actually really sad that the movie ends the way it does. To quote 1 Corinthians 15:17, “If Christ has not been raised, your faith is futile and you are still in your sins.” And anyway, the questions that are asked in Jesus Christ Superstar would not be left unanswered if this was a Christian movie that portrayed the resurrection. Okay, I get that the line “Who are you, what have you sacrificed?” is there because “sacrificed” rhymes with “Christ”, and that it’s completely obvious what Jesus sacrificed. But the song asks other questions, including “Do you think you’re what they say you are?” and “Did you mean to die like that; was that a mistake?” At that point in the movie, Jesus is done talking. There is no final song in which Jesus responds to Judas and to agnostic viewers who share Judas’ questions. This portrayal of Jesus never explains that he is to die to atone for the sins of humanity and to bring salvation and eternal life. He just dies and disappears, and the rest of the actors break character and climb back onto the bus and leave without him. The end.


It's harder to see in a still image than the video, but you can still sort of see the shepherd dude near the left hand side.

It’s harder to see in a still image than the video, but you can still sort of see the shepherd dude near the left hand side.

But then, in the last couple seconds of the movie, something cool happens. We get a view of the sun setting behind the cross that the actors have left behind, and the faint image of a human figure walks across the frame. This was actually a blooper; when they were shooting the movie, they accidentally caught a random local shepherd on film, but they thought it was a cool visual effect, so they used it. I don’t know whether or not they even realized that it really looks as if the shepherd is Jesus Himself. That final image almost seems as if it is an acknowledgement of the resurrection after all. I’m not going to claim that this was divine intervention; God doesn’t need to miraculously show His hand by speaking through secular art when He already communicates with us via the Bible. But it’s pretty satisfying to see that, despite their efforts, the moviemakers were incapable of totally ignoring the resurrection.

Happy Easter! He is risen!


Christmas Movies


When I little, there were certain movies that my family made sure to see every single year around Christmastime. Many of them were cartoons, like How the Grinch Stole Christmas and Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer, but they also included others like It’s a Wonderful Life and Miracle on 34th Street. Of course, as the years went by and my siblings and I got older and our schedules got more complicated, it became harder and harder to find time to watch all of those movies in just a few weeks, especially because it is obviously impossible to allow Christmas movies to interfere with other important things like Star Trek night.

Then, in the past few years, there have been other movies that I have come to associate with Christmas. Of those, Elf is the only one that is specifically a Christmas movie. The others are only Christmas movies to my mind because of personal connotations, so I have left them off of this list. (Even Jesus Christ Superstar and Passion of the Christ, despite the fact that it is valid and theologically meaningful to associate the non-nativity events of Jesus’ life with Christmas) There are a few other movies that I had planned to include, but left off for various reasons. For example, I only have seen A Christmas Story once, and don’t remember it well enough to say much about it, and I personally don’t associate Sleepless in Seattle or Meet Me in St. Louis with Christmas even though a significant section of each one takes place on Christmas.

With all of that being said, I have a list of eleven movies that I specifically associate with Christmas, that are typically categorized as Christmas movies, and that I have seen many times. I realize that pretty much any holiday-movie-lover will be able to think of several important ones that I left off of my list. But nonetheless, I would like to observe the continuance of this Christmas season (It’s still Christmas until Epiphany, y’all!) by stating my opinion of these eleven Christmas movies.

A Charlie Brown Christmas (animated TV short from 1965)

A Charlie Brown ChristmasThis classic Christmas cartoon is a prime example of the anti-commercialization message that is so prominent in holiday movies. That message has become so common and so clichéd that it is almost a new form of commercialization, one that is used to sell movies and other forms of art rather than toys and the like. But that shouldn’t be held against this particular movie, which I think is more sincere than many true-meaning-of-Christmas stories. So, yeah, I like this movie.

A Christmas Carol (movie from 1951 starring Alastair Sim)

There are quite a number of different movie versions of Charles Dickens’ A Christmas Carol, but this is one of the earlier ones and it’s the one that depicts the ghost of Christmas future most creepily and it’s the one that includes Patrick Macnee in a small role, and Patrick Macnee went on to be John Steed in the awesome 1960s British show The Avengers, so yes, this is the best movie adaption of A Christmas Carol. Also, it’s my understanding that it’s a fairly close remake of the 1935 movie Scrooge, which I believe is the original movie version.

Elf (movie from 2003 starring Will Ferrell, Bob Newhart, Zooey Deschanel, and Mary Steenurgen)

ElfI actually hadn’t seen Elf until just a couple years ago, by which time it was already considered a holiday classic, at least among people approximately my age. (Technically, 10 years plus a couple months isn’t old enough to be a classic, but pop culture ages very quickly among frequent internet users.) The basic plotline is that Buddy, a human who has been raised as an elf, travels to New York to meet his real father and attempts (with little success) to function in human culture. It’s not the most original movie idea ever, but it’s one that is practically guaranteed to be funny. Humans love seeing their lifestyle parodied by viewing it through the eyes of a character who is likable, but not the brightest banana in the bunch. I think that Elf is an entertaining movie and deserves its position as a beloved Christmas film, although it should perhaps be pointed out that there’s not much that can be said about it from an intellectual perspective. But in that respect, it certainly isn’t any worse than the plethora of Christmas-themed chick flicks and animated Christmas movies. Elf deserves some recognition for the fact that it is an entertaining, feel-good Christmas movie that falls into neither of those categories, even though it actually does include a romantic subplot and the characters are about as cartoonish as a character in a non-animated movie can be.  Also, it has an incredible cast. I mean, Mary Steenburgen is from Back to the Future III, y’all.

Frosty the Snowman (animated TV short from 1969)

As far as I can recall, this was only among my favorites for one or two Christmases. It features memorable characters who are fun to quote and it has a hilarious antagonist, which are the most important criterion for evaluating the coolness of an animated movie, but the plot didn’t particularly appeal to me. And it’s way too sad. Christmas-themed television is supposed to be happy, and cool characters aren’t supposed to die on Christmas. Are you listening, Steven Moffat?

How the Grinch Stole Christmas (animated TV short from 1966)

GrinchIt is with great regret and sorrow that I admit that I didn’t see this particular movie this Christmas season. How the Grinch Stole Christmas is a very important movie. Pretty much every little piece of it is entertainingly quotable, and it contains two songs that deserve a place among everyone’s Christmas music. Granted, one of them is mostly gibberish and the other one is only Christmasy when you consider it in the context of the story as a whole. But seriously, if this movie isn’t a part of your Christmas nostalgia, you have missed out on something that everyone should have.

It’s a Wonderful Life (movie from 1947 starring James Stewart and Donna Reed)

This is probably the most famous of all Christmas movies. I get the impression that very few people have a neutral opinion of this movie; you either definitely like it or definitely dislike it. I definitely like it, although when I think about it, I can’t explain why. A lot of people think that it’s heartwarming and that it expresses a positive message about the value of each individual person, but I think it’s actually pretty depressing and discouraging. (If you want to read a bit of a ramble about why I think that, take a look at this blot post from last year) A lot of people think of it as a quintessential Christmas movie, but the storyline doesn’t actually require the story to take place on Christmas. If it didn’t involve a holiday, it wouldn’t have been as popular, but the basic plot would have been the same, so I don’t see that as a reason to like this movie specifically. I suppose it wins some bonus points for the likability of most of the characters and the believability of their lives. And part of my personal penchant for this movie probably comes from the fantastical and almost science-fiction-like nature of the alternate-world part, even though the characters don’t describe it as an alternate world. Those factors do give it some basis for its reputation, but I still can’t exactly explain what sets it so far ahead of so many other great movies.

On a completely random note, I’ve always been intrigued by that bit at the end, where George tells Mary that she has no idea what happened to him, and she starts to say the same thing back to him. After watching this movie twenty gazillion times over the course of my life, I have had to conclude that she is simply referring to the fact that she has found out that the entire population of the town is glad to do whatever they can to help George in his time of need. But I want to think that she, like George, has had some abnormal and supernatural experience, and that the moviemakers deliberately left it up to our imagination to figure out what exactly happened to her.

Little Drummer Boy (animated TV short from 1968)

This one wasn’t particularly a favorite of mine. When I was younger, this was one that I was usually willing to miss if necessary. It’s a fairly short animated movie that leads up to a depiction of the scenario in the song. To be honest, I don’t even remember much of the plot except that I seem to recall that it’s actually pretty emotional; I think the little drummer boy was orphaned and enslaved, or something like that.

Miracle on 34th Street (movie from 1947 starring Maureen O’Hara, John Payne, Edmund Gwen, and Natalie Wood)

Miracle on 34th streetI always have thought of this as a Thanksgiving movie rather than a Christmas movie, but it’s about Santa Claus and it ends on Christmas day, so we’ll count it as a Christmas movie for the purpose of this list. I enjoy it largely because I like the characters, especially Susan. But it’s really an awfully hokey movie. The basic point of the movie is to communicate the value of belief and imagination, but it links the two to such an extent that it equates not believing in Santa Claus with having a pessimistic attitude and an unhealthy inability to trust people. Of course, as in watching every movie, the viewers are supposed to suspend their disbelief and imagine that all of the characters are real, which, in this case, includes Santa Claus. Within this story, Santa Claus is a real person even though most adults don’t believe in his existence. But still, I would argue that either in real life or in a relatively lifelike fictional setting, a person can be practical and unimaginative without being cynical.

Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer (animated TV movie from 1964)

This is a delightful movie except that it has bad music. That Silver and Gold song that the snowman sings is incredibly boring and adds absolutely nothing to the plot. A Holly Jolly Christmas is one of the most annoying Christmas songs of all time. I think it came in at #4 the year that my sisters and I actually made a top ten list of annoying Christmas songs, and it might have come even higher than that if I’d been making the list myself. Aside from the title song, those are the only two I even remember, so the others must not have been anything special, either. The best thing about this movie, of course, is the Abominable Snowman. That needs no explanation; Abominable Snowmen are automatically cool.

Santa Claus is Coming to Town (animated TV movie from 1970)

It’s been quite a number of years since I’ve seen this one, but I recall that when I was little, it was one of my very favorites. It describes Kris Kringle’s early life, and offers a backstory for various aspects of the Santa Claus tradition. Also, the Winter Warlock was almost as cool as the Abominable Snowman. (There’s something about the genre of children’s Christmas television that automatically leads to awesome antagonists) And Burgermeister Meisterburger was pretty entertaining, too.

White Christmas (movie from 1954 starring Bing Crosby, Danny Kaye, Rosemary Clooney, and Vera-Ellen)

White ChristmasThe first time I saw White Christmas was probably around 2004 or 2005, and it doesn’t carry the same nostalgic connotations for me that it does for a lot of people. I’ve still only seen it a few times. My opinion is that it’s a fairly good movie that is fairly enjoyable, but it doesn’t especially stand out as a particularly great movie, either within the genre of Christmas movies or the genre of musicals. (Even though it does have Danny Kaye, and Danny Kaye is cool, y’all. Also, I really like Vera-Ellen in this movie and I presume that I would enjoy seeing her in her other movies, too.) Probably my favorite part of it is the song and dance The Best Things Happen While You’re Dancing near the beginning. And that part of the movie has absolutely nothing to do with Christmas.

Halloween Movies



Here we see my kitten on my lap from a webcam picture I took a few days ago.

There are two ways to observe Halloween. One is to do stuff and the other is to sit around with your kitten and watch stuff on Netflix all day. My original plan was the second option, because I’m a loser or something. As it so happens, though, Thursdays are the days when I have plenty of time to devote to homework and to all of the pleasure reading and online thing-doing that I don’t have time for during the rest of the week. So the aforementioned kitten and I have just been watching a little bit of internet television today and I have thus not really done anything to observe Halloween. But I have decided to acknowledge the Halloween-ness of today by listing Halloween-ish movies that I have seen and giving my opinion of them. With the exception of one movie that I don’t really remember, I have rated them on a four-category scale from “You’ll have seen all that this movie has to offer if you watch the trailer on youtube” to “You haven’t lived until you’ve seen this movie”. There are sixteen things on the list, including recent horror movies, classics, and family movies that seem related to Halloween. I should perhaps add a bit of a disclaimer saying that I’m not a big fan of horror movies in general, so my opinions on those movies will not necessarily be informative for anyone who has a particular affinity for the genre.

Not to be confused with the novel by Kate Chopin

Not to be confused with the novel by Kate Chopin

The Awakening (2011) Starring Rebecca Hall, Dominic West, Imelda Staunton

I saw this movie on Netflix a couple weeks ago when I was specifically looking for a Halloween-type movie. It’s a ghost story set in 1920’s England, and while I won’t give away any of the plot, I will say that I enjoyed it because it’s creepy in a fairly thought-provoking way, rather than relying on gore or special effects to startle the viewer into feeling fear. That isn’t to say that it doesn’t have any gore or disturbing images; I can understand why it’s rated R. (It’s also worth noting that it has more sexual content than is necessary for the plot) But I think that it has value in terms of being interesting, and I would consider it to be a worthwhile horror movie.

My rating: Recommended

Black Swan (2010) Starring Natalie Portman, Mila Kunis, Vincent Cassel

Although it has nothing to do with Halloween and doesn’t involve any undead or otherwise supernatural creatures, I’m including it on this list because it’s been classified as a thriller. (Cue Michael Jackson music) I’ve only seen it once, and yet I could find quite a lot to say about it, both from a dancer perspective and from an over-analytic English major perspective. But for the purpose of this blog post, all that’s really relevant is its value as a scary movie, and in that sense, it’s very good. I found it to be more disturbing than a typical ghost or zombie story because it feels closer to real life. The frightening aspects of this movie mainly boil down to the mental and emotional problems of the characters; the protagonist in particular has a very weak personality and a progressively fragile grasp on reality. I think it’s actually fairly realistic to imagine that the mental instability that she faces is what would happen to any dancer who somehow managed to rise to such a high status in a major ballet company without developing strength of character. In my opinion, this movie never answers the question of what is hallucination and what is real, and that ambiguity is what keeps this movie in your head long after you’ve seen it.

My rating: Recommended

It's a cool picture anyway

It’s a cool picture anyway

The Cabin in the Woods (2012) Starring Kristen Connolly, Chris Hemsworth, Anna Hutchison

Okay, I admit it; I fell asleep twice while watching this movie and missed probably about half of it, including the end. That’s kind of a bad sign for this movie, because technically, horror movies aren’t supposed to put you to sleep. But I probably should acknowledge that it was well past midnight and I was already in bed. From what I saw, it looked like it had some very interesting themes and philosophical ideas, and I’m actually curious enough about it that I might at some point watch it when I’m awake. But it’s certainly not one of my favorites from this list. I felt like the scary parts weren’t very effective and relied too much on gore and special effects, and it seemed to me that it had a lot of unnecessarily mature content.

My rating: It’s worth your time if you have time to spare

Carrie (1976) Starring Sissy Spacek, Piper Laurie, Amy Irving

I promise, there will be some non-R-rated movies on this list, but this is not one of them. This movie is a fairly typical high school coming-of-age movie with all of the stock characters and a plot that revolves around who is or is not going to the prom. But then the movie takes a very sudden, yet totally predictable shift into a violent and bloody ending. Maybe it wouldn’t be so predictable if it wasn’t given away by every review or synopsis, but I guess that might be necessary, because an audience doesn’t want to watch a horror movie when they thought they were watching a typical high school coming-of- age movie. With that being said, I thought it was a relatively good movie, but not necessarily deserving of its reputation as a horror classic.

My rating: It’s worth your time if you have time to spare

E.T. (1982) Starring Henry Thomas, Drew Barrymore, Peter Coyote

Here’s the part where I come to a movie that isn’t a horror movie and that could be classified as a family movie. I don’t really think of it as a Halloween movie, but a prominent part of it does take place on Halloween, so it counts. You can tell it’s awesome because the music is by John Williams, and because all of the main characters are humorous and cute and lovable.

My rating: You haven’t lived until you’ve seen this movie

Just remember: Frankenstein is the scientist dude. This guy here is called Frankenstein's monster.

Just remember: Frankenstein is the scientist dude. This guy here is called Frankenstein’s monster.

Frankenstein (1931) Starring Colin Clive, Mae Clarke, Boris Karloff

I actually don’t remember this very well; I only saw it once and that was many years ago when I was but a small child. But it’s a famous classic and I’ve seen it, so it was necessary to put it on the list.

My rating: NA ’cause I don’t really remember it

Ghostbusters (1984) Starring Bill Murray, Dan Aykroyd, Sigourney Weaver

To be honest, I would have totally forgotten this one if my sister hadn’t made a tumblr post that said, “WHO YOU GONNA CALL?” a few hours ago. I saw this movie on Netflix a couple years ago and had high hopes for it because it has an awesome song, but as it turns out, the song is really the only awesome thing about it.

My rating: You’ll have seen all that this movie has to offer if you watch the trailer on youtube

House at the End of the Street (2012) Starring Jennifer Lawrence, Elizabeth Shue, Max Thieriot

I saw this one last spring break, which I mostly spent watching horror movies in my sister’s room, except when I fell asleep during them because I was sick. I don’t think I fell asleep during this one. We were very excited about it because it has Jennifer Lawrence in it and Jennifer Lawrence is cool. I found her really likable in this movie, and the plot was fairly interesting, but not quite enough to make it a really memorable movie that I’m inclined to recommend.

My rating: It’s worth your time if you have time to spare

Charlie BrownIt’s the Great Pumpkin, Charlie Brown (1966) Starring Peter Robbins, Christopher Shea, Sally Dryer

I have not seen this movie in such a long time. Now I really regret that I didn’t find time to watch it earlier today. This movie is important, y’all.

My rating: You haven’t lived until you’ve seen this movie

Labyrinth (1986) Starring David Bowie, Jennifer Connelly, Toby Froud

This one is important, too. In fact, it was already my plan to watch it tonight, because I always try to watch it within a few days of Halloween. It’s not a horror movie, nor does it take place on Halloween, but it has goblins in it, so that’s Halloweeny enough. It’s a fantasy movie about a teenage girl who accidentally summons goblins to come and kidnap her baby brother, so then she has to go and rescue him, and that’s basically it. But there are lots of quotable lines and entertaining characters and eighties-ness in the meantime.

My rating: You haven’t lived until you’ve seen this movie

Michael Jackson's Thriller was the only really good zombie movie ever, as far as I know.

Michael Jackson’s Thriller was the only really good zombie movie ever, as far as I know.

Like, Every Zombie Movie Ever (Of all time)

Okay, I admit, I’ve only actually watched one zombie movie, and I don’t remember the title. (Although it was definitely one of the really famous ones) I am given to understand, though, that I am correct in my impression that most zombie movies are more or less the same. I don’t really like zombie movies because I feel that they rely on cheap startle tactics rather than playing off of psychological metaphorical connotations to instill fear, which is how horror movies ought to work. For more information, see this blog post from that time I watched that zombie movie.

My rating: You’ll have seen all that this movie has to offer if you watch the trailer on youtube

Meet Me in St. Louis (1944) Starring Judy Garland, Margaret O’Brien, Mary Astor

It’s not really a Halloween movie, but it has a Halloween scene that is pretty much the quintessential depiction of the stereotypical old-timey trick-or-treating experience. So it at least earns a mention on a list of Halloween movies.

My rating: Recommended

Orphan (2009) Starring Vera Farmiga, Peter Sarsgaard, Isabelle Fuhrman

Now we’re back into relatively recent R-rated horror movies. This is another one that I saw with my sisters over spring break. It’s about a family that adopts a girl that turns out to be totally creepy and she kills people and stuff. I found it to be more thought-provoking than my short and facetious summary makes it sound, though. While it did contain some violence and gore, the horror element relied upon basic and relatable human fears, such as harm to loved ones, loss of control, and people about whom nothing is known.

My rating: Recommended

This here was the scariest part of Paranormal Activity I. Because, you see, she's standing there and looking at him.

This here was the scariest part of Paranormal Activity I. Because, you see, she’s standing there and looking at him.

Paranormal Activity (2007, 2010, 2011, and 2012 with another one coming in 2014)

I’ve only seen the first three, or rather, I’ve seen bits and pieces of the first three, and my sisters mocked me for falling asleep repeatedly. Guys, it was late and night and I was sick and had a really high fever that week, okay? Anyway, I actually didn’t really think much of these movies. They are metanarratives in that they are meant to be home videos that the characters are deliberately filming, and for that reason, there’s no background music and the camera never moves unless a character is holding it, and sometimes there will be a few minutes where there’s nothing much happening. I presume that this is intended to have the same effect as in certain old fictional books that have a blurb claiming that they’re true. But in my opinion, the complete lack of any cinematic techniques and effects made the movies dull.

My rating: It’s worth your time if you have time to spare

The Phantom of the Opera (various movie and TV adaptions including the 1925 silent movie with Lon Chaney, the 1990 TV movie with Burt Lancaster, and the 2004 movie version of the stageplay by Andrew Lloyd Weber)

The Phantom of the Opera was, for much of my childhood, one of my favorite stories in all of its manifestations. That included the book, the soundtrack with Sarah Brightman, all of the movies mentioned above, and the game that my siblings and I liked to play with the Legos. The Phantom of the Opera isn’t really a horror story, but it certainly does have a dark and creepy tone to it.

My rating: Recommended

Awkward confession: I sometimes say "Mel Brooks" when I mean "Mel Gibson" or vice versa. I know, I'm a terrible person.

Awkward confession: I sometimes say “Mel Brooks” when I mean “Mel Gibson” or vice versa. I know, I’m a terrible person.

Young Frankenstein (1974) Starring Gene Wilder, Madeline Kahn, Marty Feldman

This movie was directed by Mel Brooks. That’s pretty much what you need to know about it. For the benefit of any readers who aren’t familiar with Mel Brooks’ work, I will helpfully add that it’s very, very silly.

My rating: Recommended

Thoughts on “Star Trek: Into Darkness”

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Star TrekA few days ago, I achieved one of my major short-term goals when I saw the new Star Trek movie. This was a thing that I had decided was very important in my life, for I expected the movie to be awesome, and indeed, I was not disappointed. When the previous Star Trek movie came out in 2009, I had mixed feelings about it. As good as the plot was, I wasn’t sure I liked the casting. In particular, it was difficult for me to accept that anyone besides James Doohan could be Scotty. Scotty is my second favorite Star Trek character, and nobody else can be Scotty the way James Doohan can. My very favorite character, of course, is Spock. I cannot imagine how anyone could favor any other character over Spock. Although Leonard Nimoy is just as incomparably cool as James Doohan, Zachary Quinto does a good job of filling his shoes. I wouldn’t have imagined that was possible, but it is. Also, I would just like to point out that Zachary Quinto is an incredibly good science fiction name. All in all, I’ve pretty much come to peace with the current casting, and with that out of the way, I actually enjoyed the new Star Trek movie more than the previous one. And whoever decided to cast Benadryl Cucumberpatch in the movie was a very clever person. (For those of you who aren’t on tumblr, I should probably clarify that we do not call Benedict Cumberbatch by his real name very often because it’s so much fun to make up variations of it. I have admittedly used “Benadryl Cucumberpatch” far too many times, because you’re actually supposed to change it every time you say it.)

Tumblr people will understand why I had to post this. Those of you who don't use tumblr, never mind. There are too many inside jokes to explain.

Tumblr people will understand why I had to post this. Those of you who don’t use tumblr, never mind. There are too many inside jokes to explain.

Although the plot and the acting are obviously the most important things, good science fiction movies are also characterized by explosions and spaceship crashes, a dramatic soundtrack, and technological lingo that sounds so practical that it’s easy to forget that the scriptwriter is just making stuff up and it doesn’t mean anything in real life. Star Trek: Into Darkness definitely had all of those traits. Also, I have noticed that most good science fiction (Doctor Who, Star Wars, etc.) has some very emotional scenes in between the high-action and/or high-tech scenes. I’m not sure whether I think that this is necessary or just an interesting trend, but in either case, the new Star Trek movie is no exception. It was actually something of a tear-jerker, except that I don’t cry at movies when I’m watching them with other people.

Spock 2There was one part that did make me tear up a little, though. It wasn’t one of the sad parts, not even the part where a certain character died. (For the sake of anyone reading this who hasn’t seen the movie, I won’t specify which character died.) It was the part where Spock committed a logical fallacy.

I can’t quote the lines verbatim, which just goes to show that I need to see the movie again. But I can look it up on imdb, which is good enough. Captain Kirk says, “The enemy of my enemy is my friend,” and then Spock expresses his disagreement by responding, “An Arabic proverb attributed to a prince who was betrayed and decapitated by his own subjects.” This, I said to myself, is an ad hominem argument, and I nearly cried to hear such words come from the mouth of Spock.

When I mentioned this to my sister later, she laughed and called me a nerd, and we agreed that this was entertaining enough to merit a facebook status. But as my hand touched the keyboard, I remembered a thing. Some logicians claim that ad hominem arguments are not always fallacious. Thus was I told in my logic class a couple semesters ago. Google has informed me that these logicians include Doug Walton and Olavo de Carvalho. Neither of these names mean anything to me, but they are apparently people whose thoughts and opinions on logic hold some weight. And if it is true that ad hominem arguments are sometimes completely okay, then Spock’s remark would be one of those cases.  In fact, after giving it further thought, I’m not sure that it counts as ad hominem after all.

Spock 1Spock’s argument refutes Kirk’s statement on the grounds that he is quoting someone who was wrong, and the information that Spock relates about this wrongness is what invalidates what Kirk has said. That’s why my automatic response was to sense an ad hominem, but Spock’s point was actually not irrelevant. He was actually just giving an example of a case in which the maxim did not hold true, which is perfectly logical. The fact that his example involved the person to whom the quotation is attributed doesn’t actually lend any additional logical value to the point; it merely adds a touch of irony that the scriptwriters found useful for the sake of humor, and humor does not cancel out logic. Spock was indeed not wrong.

All of this, I decided, would be too lengthy to make for a good facebook status, and I couldn’t very well accuse Spock of a logical fallacy without refuting my accusation with these further points. So I closed facebook and said to myself, “Self, save it for the blog.”

I am sorry, Mr. Spock. I should never have doubted you.

Star Wars Chronology Compression and related issues


Star WarsThe biggest difference between people of my generation and people of my parents’ generation is that I was able to watch the original Star Wars trilogy for the first time over the space of a few days, while my parents and their friends had to wait years in between each release. Some people may try to say that values and perspectives change across generations, but, if that is true at all, its significance shrinks in comparison to the effects of Star Wars Chronology Compression.

For people who were there to see the trilogy when it was brand new, there was a significant amount of time during which they didn’t know that Darth Vader was Luke’s father, and an even longer period during which they assumed that there was to be a romantic relationship between Leia and Luke. But for me and my generation, the two major plot twists concerning Skywalker genealogy are taken for granted just as much as the destructive properties of the Death Star and the conflict between the Empire and the rebels. This generational divide is one that greatly overshadows any trivial shifts in pop music, fashion trends, moral convictions, social conventions, or any other factor of human experience. (With the exception of the internet)

Star WarsBut there is just as great a chasm between people of my age and people just a few years younger. You see, I remember a time when there were exactly three Star Wars movies. I remember a time when Jar-Jar Binks did not exist, when Obi-Wan Kenobi could only be pictured as a man with a white beard, and when Anakin Skywalker was only the distant memory of the oldest characters. The prequel trilogy was an addendum that came along later, when the Star Wars saga was already a fundamental part of my existence. Not so for those a few years younger than me. Some of my own siblings are younger than The Phantom Menace and probably don’t make nearly as clear a distinction as I do between the original Star Wars and the newer Star Wars.

Although I was not nearly as disappointed and upset by the prequels as many Star Wars enthusiasts were, I strongly agree that they aren’t nearly as good as the originals. They just aren’t. I feel sympathy and concern for those who view the six movies as a unified saga. While that may seem to be a more tidy and satisfyingly holistic way to view the series, it ignores the plot holes and the differences in storyline quality and special effects. (In my opinion, the over-the-top special effects of relatively recent movies are actually a distraction from the plot.) I think that my tendency to perceive the six movies as two distinct series allows me to better appreciate Star Wars in general, just as classic Doctor Who and the current Doctor Who are not the same TV show.

Now, we are approaching the dawn of a new era of the Star Wars fan experience. As of last October, Star Wars has fallen into the hands of Disney, and fans have been promised an episode 7 in 2015, with an implication of future installments after that. Star Wars lovers have mixed opinions about this. Some are horrified, but others say that the worst has already happened and that the future of Star Wars can only be an improvement on its past. And then there are some who didn’t have a problem with the prequel trilogy and are excited by the prospect of yet more movies, regardless of what organization is in charge of making them. I don’t mean to imply that every Star Wars fan falls into one of these categories; my point is simply that this new Star Wars movie is already receiving mixed reviews, two years before it even exists.

Star WarsMy own opinion falls somewhere in the middle, although it is probably closer to the pessimistic side. I acknowledge the possibility that future Star Wars movies could be good, but I wouldn’t be at all surprised if they’re terrible. Even if they are better than I expect, it troubles me to know that there will one day be people on this Earth who know Star Wars as an epic series of at least seven episodes, rather than as a series that expanded around one really great movie. They will be misunderstanding their own culture because, no matter how good the rest of the series is, it is the movie now known as Episode IV: A New Hope that revolutionized cinema and science fiction, single-handedly redefined all subsequent pop culture, and has earned a place in history shared by few other works of art.

Before a new Star Wars movie comes into existence, there is something I must say. It is essential that I make this quite clear for the record, in order to protect myself and my love for Star Wars. When future Star Wars movies come out, I am not compelled to accept them or to acknowledge that they count. My opinion of them and their significance are contingent upon how good they are and how well they fit in with the other Star Wars movies. If they meet my Star Wars standards, I will duly love and obsess over them. But if they fail, even slightly, I reserve the right to roll my eyes and deny that they are really Star Wars or that they bear any relation to the preceding movies. Just because Disney has bought Star Wars, I will argue at great length, does not mean that they can make Star Wars movies, for Star Wars is not a product that can be bought and sold. It is a way of life, I will further inform my bored and annoyed listeners, and ways of life do not come with price tags stuck on them. Commercialism cannot contain and define Star Wars, no matter how hard it may try.

So Disney can go ahead and do its worst. No matter what the new movies are like, there is nothing Disney can do to hurt me or to shake my appreciation of Star Wars. I remain secure in my admiration of the original trilogy.

It’s a Wonderful Life, but not really


It's a Wonderful Life

Late last night, I told myself that I would celebrate being done with my English senior seminar paper presentation by watching a movie, and I selected It’s a Wonderful Life. While I watched it, I was multi-tasking, and when I say multi-tasking, I mean I was sleeping at the same time. Actually, I did that on purpose, because I seriously needed to be asleep just then. Needless to say, I wasn’t very aware of the movie. (Because I was distracted by my dream in which people kept randomly sticking knives into my car tires, and also, there was a gas station in my little sisters’ bedroom, which would have been very convenient if I could drive, but I couldn’t, because my tires were full of holes, although they were magically fixed a couple times. I have weird dreams.) I’ve seen that movie many times, though, so my inattentiveness to it this time doesn’t prevent me from having things to say about it.

In case anyone reading this isn’t familiar with the movie, I’ll give a quick summary of the plot. On Christmas Eve, presumably in 1946 because that’s when the movie was filmed, a man named George Bailey is considering suicide. An angel named Clarence is assigned to come to help him through his time of trouble. The majority of the movie is the story of George’s life, which Clarence watches before coming to George’s rescue. We see George as a twelve-year-old boy who works in a drugstore, as a young adult who has to give up his plans to travel and to go to college when his father suddenly dies, and as a somewhat less young adult who still works at his father’s Building and Loan and suddenly finds himself in trouble for the loss of money that his Uncle Billy misplaced that morning. He’s just about to jump off of a bridge when Clarence the angel

This one facial expression in particular always really scared me for some reason.

This one facial expression in particular always really scared me for some reason.

interrupts him. While talking to Clarence, George says that he wishes he’d never been born, and Clarence gives him a view of what the world around him would be like if he didn’t exist. What follows is a scene that terrified me when I was little, which shows George running frantically around town and finding out that all of the pleasant people he knows are miserable and bitter, the entire town is owned by the mercenary Mr. Potter, and it isn’t even snowing anymore. (I have never entirely understood why George Bailey’s state of existence affects the weather patterns, but it evidently does.) George changes his mind and decides that he wants to be alive again, and when he returns home, fully existent, he finds that his friends have all chipped in to raise money to help him, and then they all have a lovely Christmas party and everyone is happy.

Rotary Phone

Rotary Phone

One thing I did notice about it this time through is that, in the drugstore near the beginning, Mary and Violet have their hair in 1940s hairstyles, even though that scene took place in 1919. Then I noticed that there was a rotary phone on George Bailey’s father’s desk. For a moment, I felt very proud of myself for catching this anachronism, but then I looked it up, and it turns out that rotary phones came into common usage in 1914. There was in fact no anachronism committed. The moral of this story is that I should stop being a smart-aleck and accept the fact that moviemakers know what they’re doing. The other thing I learned from this was, of course, that rotary phones came into common usage in 1914, a fact which I shall add to the list of random facts that I like to keep in my brain just in case they may someday be relevant to a conversation I’m having.

If this picture has no sentimental connotations to you, then you are in the minority.

On a more serious note, as much as I like It’s a Wonderful Life, I think it’s actually a really depressing movie. The central message is that life is worthwhile because individual people have a positive impact on the world around them, but George Bailey isn’t a good example of that because his life is more influential than most peoples’ lives. I mean, he saved two people’s lives when he was a twelve-year old kid, he single-handedly kept the Building and Loan running and thereby provided affordable housing for a significant portion of the population of his town, and, even though we actually don’t see much of his children in the movie, we see enough of them that we find his family likable and that popular culture associates that specific part of the movie with “The Christmas Spirit”. And he seems to be friends with everyone in town except for Mr. Potter and his daughter’s teacher’s husband. Even though he’s lived in the same place for his entire life, George Bailey has done a lot of important things and had a beneficial impact on a lot of people’s lives. His life really is pretty wonderful, despite the events of that one Christmas Eve. (In fact, that crisis only lasts for a few hours; everything’s fine that morning and everything’s fine again by that night.) Most of us can’t say the same things about our own lives. I bet that if I could see what things would be like if I’d never been born, the world would basically look no different than it does now. I’ve never saved anyone’s life, I don’t run a business that is vital to the prosperity of my town, and I highly doubt that my existence has any impact on the personalities of the people around me, or the weather. (If it did, that would actually be a good reason for me to stop existing, ‘cause I know my sister really wants it to snow this week, and it sure isn’t snowing now.) In fact, if it wasn’t for the fact that I have dance rehearsals, dance performances, and two finals between now and Monday, I could probably suddenly disappear without anybody even noticing for a few days, even if my existence wasn’t erased from the past like George Bailey’s was.

If this is all it takes to make your life wonderful again, then you've got things pretty good. Although it sure would help. Just sayin'.

If this is all it takes to make your life wonderful again, then you’ve got things pretty good. Although it sure would help. Just sayin’.

So, yeah. When I watch that movie, instead of thinking how wonderful it is that everyone’s life is special, I think how sad it is that my life isn’t special like George Bailey’s is. And instead of being happy for him that all his problems were solved when his friends gave him all their money, I am sad that in real life, even little problems take more than a fairly obvious plot twist to solve. And I feel no sympathy for someone who wants to commit suicide because of one bad day, when most people in the world have had a lot more than one bad day in their lives.

Oh, what holiday cheer.

There’s this Book I’m Reading, episode 2

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It’s a wonder that I was allowed to watch movies when I was little, because I would usually bombard my parents with questions for days afterwards. I would want to know why Luke Skywalker had to go back to the Death Star and fight with Darth Vader, whose voice it really was that Ray Kinsella heard in the cornfields, why Harry Beaton wanted to run away, and why everyone was so happy when Truman escaped from the Truman Show, even though they had loved watching that show so much. (These questions are in reference to Star Wars VI, Field of Dreams, Brigadoon, and The Truman Show respectively) Then, when I ran out of questions to ask about the plot, I’d want to know what the point of the movie was. I just assumed that any movie other than the most simple and banal cartoon was making some specific and philosophical point. My little kid self wouldn’t have had much of an appreciation for sappy chick flicks. Actually, my non-little-kid self doesn’t care much for most chick flicks either, although I have noticed that non-intellectual genres aren’t necessarily devoid of interesting and intelligent ideas. That’s even more true in the case of books than of movies.

Margaret Mitchell

Although it’s considered a great classic, Gone with the Wind isn’t exactly the most intellectually deep book. In my opinion, it’s actually quite a light read, even though it’s just as long as War and Peace, which is known for not being a light read. I’m not saying I don’t like Gone with the Wind; in fact, it’s actually one of my favorite books, and I read it about once a year. (In case this isn’t obvious by implication, I’m reading it right now) I wouldn’t even say that there’s nothing thought-provoking about it, but most of the interesting ideas it discusses are spelled out in specific detail. As far as I’m aware, there are no subtle meanings in minor plot points, no hidden metaphors in the descriptive sections and the imagery, and no room for analyzing the characters’ personalities or motives, because everything is explained specifically in the text. One doesn’t even need to wonder what the point of the book is, because Margaret Mitchell tells readers: It’s about what she calls gumption.  In my copy of the book, there’s a blurb with a quote from the author that says, “If the novel has a theme, it is that of survival. What makes some people come through catastrophes and others, apparently just as able, strong and brave go under? It happens in every upheaval. Some people survive; others don’t. What qualities are in those who fight their way through triumphantly that are lacking in those that go under? I only know that survivors used to call that quality ‘gumption’. So I wrote about people who had gumption and people who didn’t.”

Is it merely a coincidence that the author of the book and the actress who played the main character in the movie look so much like each other?

It seems to me that in that quote, Margaret Mitchell was being unnecessarily simple and concise. Her book is about a little bit more than people who have gumption and people who don’t. I think that Gone with the Wind is about the differences between people’s personalities in a more general sense. I once read a non-fiction book that used the four main characters in Gone with the Wind (Scarlett O’Hara, Rhett Butler, Ashley Wilkes, and Melanie Hamilton Wilkes) as examples of four distinct personality types. I’m not in favor of trying to sort people into a small number of personality types, but for the sake of that book’s argument, Gone with the Wind was an ideal example. Each of the main characters’ personalities is in contrast with all of the others’.

Gumption isn’t the only personality trait that Margaret Mitchell uses to differentiate the personalities of the different characters. The other main one is analytical thought. It’s pretty obvious because there are quite a few instances throughout the book in which Mitchell explains a character’s response to something by introducing it with the phrase, ‘Never analytical…’ Scarlett is frequently described as being ‘never analytical’. She takes everything at face value and acts impulsively. She shares this trait with her father and many of the residents of the plantations in the early chapters, but most of the other main characters- Ashley, Melanie, Ellen O’Hara, Mammy, Dilcey, Will- are very analytical. Rhett Butler kind of falls into either category, depending upon the situation. Actually, I suppose that the same could be said for Scarlett, because she’s certainly capable of being analytical when nobody else is there to think things through for her. I think it’s worth noting that, in terms of gumption and of analytical-ness, Ashley Wilkes’ personality is almost completely opposite Scarlett’s, while Rhett Butler’s is almost identical to hers.

I say almost because there’s one significant way in which Scarlett is very much like Ashley and very much unlike Rhett, at least in the first few chapters. She changes her mind about it throughout the book and has several meaningful conversations about it with numerous other characters, which I take as an indication that it’s another very central point of Gone with the Wind. It is the question of whether or not it’s important to adhere to social norms. Scarlett resents many things about the culture in which she lives and the restrictions that it places on her, but she is deeply rooted in the mindset behind them, and so she is reluctant to openly defy them. The combination of necessity and Rhett Butler’s influence persuade her, time and again, to go back on the principles instilled in her, to the point that she becomes alienated from her own culture, rather than being exemplary of it, as she appears to be in the first couple chapters. I said earlier that the book doesn’t leave many questions unanswered, but one that it does leave unanswered is which point of view is right. There are several instances where Scarlett asks someone, usually Rhett or Ashley, if she has done the right thing by rejecting societal values for survivalist ones, and they always give ambiguous answers, even though their own views are quite obvious. From the little that I know of Margaret Mitchell, I think she wasn’t entirely clear on what she thought of that question.

True love, according to the movies

One claim that I am not going to make about the point of Gone with the Wind is that it is a love story. I know that both the movie and the book (which are incidentally more similar than movies and books usually are) have been classified as quintessential love stories, but I think that’s silly. If one reads Gone with the Wind as a love story, it is a pretty bad one, because almost all of the characters are absurdly selfish. Scarlett and Rhett especially are, and they are held up as a prime example of the ideal literary romance. I could go more into detail about the selfishness of all of the main characters and most of the minor ones (with the exceptions of a couple of the slaves, Scarlett’s mother, and Melanie) but that’s not really my point. My point is that Gone with the Wind, just like pop culture in general, throws the word ‘love’ around very loosely and doesn’t really mean much of anything by it. Most of the relationships in the book, romantic or otherwise, are characterized more by selfishness or unbreakable social connections, than by anything that ought to be called love.

The purpose of this picture here is to add color. That’s all.

But although the people in the book don’t love each other, one other prevalent theme in Gone with the Wind is love of the land. In fact, I would argue that it is maybe even more central than the themes of personality differences and societal norms. The plantation Tara and the city Atlanta are described in such detail and are so important to Scarlett that it’s impossible to treat that point as being insignificant, and many of the major events in the plot are related to Scarlett’s love for one or the other place. Besides that, in the section of the book that occurs during the Civil War, there are frequent factual interludes that describe military maneuvers in great detail. Even though it was obviously something that the characters were aware of and concerned about, it seems a little out of place to have those kinds of details scattered throughout a story that is essentially a literary version of the ultimate chick flick. I know that Gone with the Wind is a war story and that Margaret Mitchell wanted to show the horrors of war, but she does that much better in the hospital scenes and the descriptions of the blighted countryside. The stories of the Yankees travelling through the South don’t add much to that, unless the real point is land and ownership of land. And I can think of quite a few quotes from the book (including some from the very beginning and the very end) that would back up that argument.

Thus ends my rambling and hastily written list of opinions about Gone with the Wind. And it somehow ended up being over 1500 words. I’m not quite sure how that happened.

How Horror Movies Could Be Better


A few days ago, I made the stupid mistake of watching a zombie movie. In my defense, I didn’t do it because of a misguided expectation that I would really enjoy said movie or because I had any interest in observing images of gory dead people. I watched it out of an intellectual curiosity about what it is in zombie movies that appeals to popular culture. As I mentioned in a blog post that I wrote about a month ago, the fear of zombies is basically an extrapolation of the fear of loss of intelligence. I could imagine the possibility of a very interesting, intellectual, and well-scripted zombie movie that plays off of this fear rather than being a series of disturbing images. Unfortunately, the particular movie that I watched barely acknowledged this aspect of zombies and instead relied upon creepy background music, gory special effects, and the characters’ extreme emotions to make the movie scary. I didn’t find the movie to be thought-provoking in any way, just disturbing on a very superficial level.

One specific way that I can elaborate on this is to point out that there were several instances in which a zombie’s hand would suddenly smash through a window and startle both the main character and me. This seemed to be the director’s strategy for evoking fear in the viewer. The feeling of being startled is, in my opinion, the least cognitive and most superficial kind of fear. An equally effective but much more tasteful way of eliciting the same response from the audience would perhaps be a scene in which the camera slowly pans across a room that at first appears to be empty and silent, but then the viewer sees a humanoid figure, partially concealed or maybe translucent, just standing there silently and creepily. I would consider that to be a pretty scary scene.

Maybe I shouldn’t really be analyzing horror movie techniques in the first place, since I’m not a fan of the genre and actually have only seen a couple movies that could be classified as horror movies, none of which I have particularly enjoyed. On the other hand, I do enjoy reading ghost stories, and I used to write a lot of ghost stories, too. I frequently have nightmares which make very good material for scary short stories. I also discovered several years ago that writing scary stories makes me less likely to have disturbing dreams; it’s as if I use up the ideas before I have a chance to dream them. Anyway, the point is that I have figured out what makes a ghost story scary and memorable, and the key is that it has to be about more than death and disgusting images. It has to rely upon ideas rather than images to evoke fear.

There are certain ideas that people naturally find creepy. One of them is the idea of death, which is what every zombie or ghost story uses, but that’s so straight-forward and so basic that it doesn’t make for a good story in and of itself. Another is things that seem human, but aren’t, particularly if they are messed up in some way. A distorted reflection in a mirror, a doll with a crack across its face, a disembodied voice, a mysterious shadow that looks like a person’s face… Even if some of those things don’t seem scary without a creepy context, if you stick them in a ghost story, they’re very scary. The plot of good ghost stories frequently center around a certain inanimate object such as a mirror or a doll that works towards that effect.

Staircases are another creepy image, although that might be my personal opinion rather than a universal fact. I personally have a kind of phobia of staircases which probably comes from the fact that they often appear in my scary dreams, but I think there’s a specific reason for that. To my overly analytic and metaphoric mind, going up or down a staircase stands for changing something. You are going someplace different from where you already are, you can’t actually see where you’re going before you get there, and if something goes wrong in the transition, you fall down and get hurt. Stairs work well for ghost stories if you think of them as a metaphor for the difference between life and death. In fact, in fiction, the difference between life and death can be metaphorical for the fact that, in real life, things change and are disturbingly unpredictable.  I remember one time when I was trying to make metaphors from a song that involved death, and my family laughed at me and said that death is never a metaphor. I beg to differ rather emphatically; I think that in art and literature, death can be a metaphor for things that are a little less specific. Otherwise, why would anyone ever want to read a ghost story or watch a zombie movie? Horror movies would be better if they made use of these kinds of ideas and metaphors.

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