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Happy Ninja Day!

Tuesday, December 5, 2017
Apparently it is International Ninja Day.... I wasn't aware that this is a thing but I love a good excuse to write about my favorite fictional ninjas. You'd be surprised how few pop culture ninjas you can come up with because some that come to mind may actually be samurai or kung fu masters. But I've come up with a handful of great ninja moments and characters in pop culture history.

Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles

"Remember, to be a true ninja you must become one with the shadows. 
Darkness gives the ninja power, while light reveals the ninja's presence."

These heroes in green were the easiest inclusion possible. These are the ninjas that have dominated my entire life. What haven't I said about TMNT over the years on this blog? The Ninja Turtles present an accessible snapshot into the world and art of being a ninja, though they lack the more cut throat mentality. (Though they do have that in the early comics.) Master Splinter trained them all to live their lives in the art of the ninja. They strike fast and vanish without a trace. Each turtle has their own personality and makes it easy for anyone to relate. Donnie the geek, Leo the leader, Raph the hot head, Mikey the party dude. These quirks make them unique examples of ninja culture in the American cannon. While the cartoons tend to lean more towards the goofier sides of the four, they take their training extremely serious. Master Splinter and the four turtles are a great example of determination and drive. This influenced me greatly as a child and continues to.

Ninjetti Power Rangers

Billy Cranston: We were told there was a great power here. Is it true?
Dulcea: Yes. The ground is littered with the bones of those who have tried for it and failed.
Tommy Oliver: Well, we're different. We won't fail.
The absurdity of Power Rangers is never lost on me. That's probably why I adore it so much. In MMPR the Movie, Ivan Ooze attacks the Command Center and this results in the loss of their powers. The Rangers are then sent on a quest to find new powers, powers from the Ninjetti. They're sent to the planet Phaedos to find this power. On the TV show, they go to the Temple of Power to locate Ninjor, the original creator of the Power Coins. After this quest, they're presented with their powers. There have been more ninja variations over the years, the most recent being Ninja Steel. While Power Rangers was lifted from Japan and given its own American version, they've tried to stick with the martial arts themes that made it so popular to begin with in the 90s.

3 Ninjas

Grandpa: Colt, what is a ninja?
Colt: A ninja is one who can use everything around him to trick his enemies. He and fast and he is friendly to his environment. 
Rocky: A ninja is honest and good. His mind, body and spirit are one. He has self-control. He has discipline. 
Tum Tum: A ninja loves nature, uh, 'cause he is part of nature. A ninja never fights a battle if he cannot win.

While I mentioned Power Rangers being absurd before, nothing can touch the 3 Ninjas. This 90s trilogy is in a class of its own. The original movie is about three white kids who spend their summers learning martial arts from their Japanese grandfather. When their FBI agent father runs into trouble with a criminal gang, it is up to the three ninjas and their grandpa to save the day. The 90s were wild, guys. These movies do not hold up well whatsoever but as a child I loved them. It wasn't a hard sell for young Kaitlyn, doing Taekwondo obsessively four days a week and practicing nonstop. If you'd like to witness its glory, you can watch the first one on youtube.

"Night of the Ninja"
Batman the Animated Series
Robin: I thought Samurai lived by a code of honor. That gas gun wasn't exactly according to Hoyle.
Batman: He's not Samurai. He's a ninja. They're spies and assassins. Their only code is to get the job done.
Batman the Animated Series is easily one of the greatest animated television shows ever created. I have no problem saying it is my favorite version of Batman. This episode is about a martial arts student who Bruce trained with. He comes to Gotham get revenge after being exiled from the dojo that he studied in with Bruce. Batman is on the case, of course. I enjoy watching Dick and Bruce duke it out in this episode sparring and I love any back story into Bruce's training. This is one of my favorite episodes of BTAS. If you haven't watched this series, please do! Batman defies the ninja role but you can see elements of that lifestyle within Bruce's personality.


These are just a few of my favorite instances of Ninjas in American Pop Culture... What are yours?

As always comments, questions, thoughts, and shenanigans are always welcomed in the comment section! Or tweet me @kaityuniverse! Catch me on Twitch, weekdays at 1:30pm EST! 

Until next time... May the Force be with you!

Steven Spielberg’s Quest for Fantasy & Reality

Thursday, September 28, 2017
Back in 2015, I wrote this essay for the blog the Bearded Trio. As I was discussing some Spielberg films on Twitter, I decided to share it again here on my blog. I hope you'll give it a read. Feel free to comment any thoughts!

The career of Steven Spielberg has been vast. Spanning five decades, he has crossed genres with more success than most of his contemporaries. In the grand scheme of cinema I believe that those who are drawn to his masterful work can be categorized into two groups. This partition between the two revolves around his seminal classic Schindler's List and separates his career into two parts. While his films, early and recent alike, follow common themes; there is also a subtle divide. These themes ranging from the lost boy to obsessions to family issues have been orchestrated throughout the majority of his films. For the purpose of this essay let's call them Pre-93 and Post-93: the former being prior to 1993 and Schindler's List, the latter being everything 1993 and on. The aforementioned themes, along with significant moments within the director’s personal life, paint a picture of a man evolving within his work.

Obsession is defined as ‘an idea or thought that continually preoccupies or intrudes on a person's mind.’ Spielberg was not a stranger to this. In his adolescence he rarely had time for school, friends, sports, girls, or any other regular teenage activity. This did not change with adulthood as he has averaged around seven films a decade, often the productions over lapping.

His first venture within the motif came in the 1977 ground-breaking work in science fiction, Close Encounters of the Third Kind. At the time, there was very little widespread success for films in the same vein. Meet Roy Neary, portrayed perfectly by Richard Dreyfuss, the electrical lineman stuck in his suburban ways with a young wife and growing family. One of the few screenplays that Spielberg penned himself, he explains that with the character he “wanted to make this person as common as possible.” One fateful night when the power begins to evaporate across Indiana (and elsewhere) he stumbles upon a sight beyond his wildest imagination. Thus begins his journey to understand what he has witnessed. “I wanted to make it a very accessible story about the common everyday individual who has a sighting that overturns his life as he once knew it. And turns his personal life, his family life, into complete upheaval as he starts to become more obsessed with his experience.”

Close Encounters is the quintessential film about obsession in the Spielberg canon. It is not exclusive to Roy, but buried in every frame of the movie. Roy, Barry, and Jillian are possessed by images of Devil’s Tower in Wyoming. The images beg them to find it. Roy and Jillian venture all the way to the tower after the extra-terrestrials take Barry. They happen upon a governmental exploration into the very lights and images they have been obsessed with themselves. Claude Lacombe spends the entirety of the film searching for signs of contact, of different encounters, finally succeeding in the final act of the film by communicating through lights and sounds with the aliens before they return the humans (including little Barry) they have picked up. They greet the government officials kindly before taking Roy back with them. There is no warfare; there is no violence, only the introduction of new life to people on Earth.

Obsession is hardly unique to this early film. In the pre-93 films mentioned earlier, there are numerous instances beyond CE3K, some more notable than others. E.T. is obsessed with finding his way home. Quint is haunted by the shark attacks that occurred in the Pacific after his warship the USS Indianapolis went down and the sharks picked off the men one by one. Indiana Jones’s father, Henry Jones, is inflicted by a life long search for the Holy Grail. Spielberg explains that the senior Jones teaches Junior "an important lesson, which is that men have work to do, obsessions to follow, and that, much as they might occasionally wish it were otherwise, family obligations must take second place to these matters." These are illustrations of men consumed.

These are also illustrations of a creator not yet ripened by manhood. Regarding Close Encounters Spielberg clarified years later, "I wrote the story in my late twenties, and I don't think today, being a dad with seven kids, I would have let my Richard Dreyfuss character actually get on the mother ship and abandon his family to this alien obsession and leave the plane.” In his twenties “it was something that absolutely would have been my choice -- get me on that mother ship. I want to explore along with those guys." In the post-93 years, there is a shift in the use of obsession in Spielberg’s films. While it is still a prominent theme, it becomes somewhat conditional. The mecha boy David in A.I. is programmed to love; his mother is imprinted upon him. Carl Hanratty, the geeky and fixated FBI agent, takes his job incredibly serious and makes it his life’s mission to catch Frank in Catch Me If You Can. Viktor Navorski is doing what any of us would do, trying to get home and out the Terminal. These are the obsessions hardened into boulders of maturity. They are obsessions out of necessity.

There is no flowing current throughout Spielberg’s filmography quite like the Lost Boy; the ultimate lost boy being Steven Spielberg himself. As a result of moving often in his formidable years, he was always the new kid. His father, who he described as a workaholic, was often absent. The absence only grew after his parents divorced. Considered a nerd by many of his classmates, even called ‘Spielbug’ behind his back, he found solace in the world of film. In 1958, to satisfy the quest for a merit badge in Boy Scouts, he made a nine-minute video entitled the Last Gunfight. The rest, as they say, is history. Beyond divorce and a less than cool persona, he also struggled with anti-Semitism in the largely WASP neighborhoods he grew up in. All of these afflictions defined his films.
Most of all, these childhood hardships produced the lost boy who created one of the most beloved films in history, E.T. the Extra-Terrestrial. The movie would prove to be an extremely personal one, “for me E.T. was the quintessential story of my childhood.” Described as a contemporary fairy tale, E.T. is as much about humans as it is about aliens. Elliott, the ten-year-old loner, is trying to find his place in a world that has been turned upside down with the separation of his parents. He finds this safe haven in the form of a little alien that is left behind by a group of alien botanists. Elliott and E.T. share a bond that is both emotional and metaphysical. The cute little alien is desperately needing to go home. During the journey that ensues to help E.T. accomplish his goal, Elliott harnesses the help of his brother and his brother’s friends who shunned him before.

This is not dissimilar to Spielberg’s experiences in the seventh grade. In Joseph McBride’s biography a former schoolmate of Spielberg’s, Steve Suggs, explains what it was like to be involved in the young filmmakers amateur production Fighter Squad. “I remember telling my mom about it afterward. Here was this kid who was sort of a nerd and wasn't one of the cool guys; he got out there and suddenly he was in charge. He became a totally different person, so much so that I as a seventh grader was impressed. He had all the football players out there, all the neat guys, and he was telling them what to do. An hour ago at home or on the campus, he was the guy you kicked dirt in his eyes. It was miraculous. It just blew me away." The parallels between Elliott and young Steven Spielberg are absolutely intentional. “E.T. began with me trying to write a story about my parents’ divorce” he’d later explain in an interview. It was the ‘alien and the alienated’ and it spoke to him.

Though it was his most personal use of a lost boy, it would hardly be his last. With Empire of the Sun he described the movie as " the death of childhood. The story is probably quintessentially more about the death of childhood than anything I've made before or since." Based on a true story, Jim is separated from his family as the attack on Pearl Harbor takes place. The silver spoon is immediately ripped from his mouth as he is forced to learn how to survive in less than satisfactory realities of abandonment and Japanese internment camps. Jim, a boy with his head in the clouds, has a passion for aviation that does not waiver during the hardest moments. In one of the most beautifully orchestrated scenes in Spielberg’s film career, Jim witnesses an American airstrikes while screaming “P-51! Cadillac of the sky!” While his world crumbles, he still holds on to the childlike wonderment that categories the pre-93 Lost Boy.

This same wonderment can be found in characters like Roy in CE3K while discussing Pinocchio with his kids. He is searching for meaning in an otherwise ordinary life. Indiana Jones with each successful adventure, stating that various artifacts belong in museums as opposed to being in it for the money. These lost boys have a certain amount of genuine innocence that makes it easy to root for them. This begins to change with Schindler’s List, Oskar Schindler being very much the anti-lost boy. Oskar Schindler is charming and strong willed. He uses his cunning business acumen to befriend certain Nazi leaders, Amon Goeth in particular, and takes advantage of the war. He is not a perfect hero. He is a member of the Nazi party, for better or for worse. He is a war profiteer. He is a philandering playboy. Yet he does so much good that it is unbelievable. Oskar Schindler, flawlessly portrayed by Liam Neeson, acts without explanation.

Following this break from the standard, what lies ahead is a new brand of the lost boy. These lost boys in the post-93 reality come with their fair share of warts. While the pre-93 lost boys are not perfect, there is always a condition from there on out. David, the mecha boy, is not a real boy at all. He is lost because it was programmed within him. He did succeed far beyond his creator’s hopes, but it was still systematic. John Anderton, the protagonist played by Tom Cruise in Minority Report, is miserably lost. After literally losing his son in a public pool, he devotes himself to stopping murders with the government designed Pre-Crime. If only he could have had the pre-cogs envision his son’s disappearance. It plagues him heavily as he turns to drug use and his marriage dissolves. Frank Abagnale Jr is a young teenage con man on the run in Catch Me If You Can.

What was once lost for Spielberg has been found, in part due to the success he found in his personal life around this time. In 1991 he married Kate Capshaw, who he met on the set of Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom. E.T., his ultimate lost boy film, largely prepared him for the steps forward that would be taken in the following decade: “it gave me the courage, based on its success, to start to tackle more adult subjects. E.T. gave me a kind of free pass to fail.” Becoming a father of seven over the decades also was largely thanks to this film, “E.T. was a great experience for me because I wanted to be a dad after making it. I wasn't a father and I kind of became a father to those three kids, especially Drew Barrymore, and so that movie sort of changed my life in a very tangible way.”

The final theme is one that has been mentioned ad nauseam in discussions about Steven Spielberg’s filmmaking. Family issues, in particular non-present fathers, are ingrained in the fibers of his work. Despite finding out his error later in life, he always attributed his parents’ divorce on his father. Even once he found out that his mother actually had fallen in love with another, he had a hard time letting go of the thought. "It's still a mystery to me, but even though my mother was like an older sister to me, I kind of put her up on a pedestal. And my dad was much more terrestrial, much more grounded, much more salt of the earth. And for some reason, it was easier for me to blame him than it was to someone who I was already -- exalted." Out of this grew a theme that sticks with most viewers and critics alike.

Again we circle back to Close Encounters. Perhaps because he wrote it himself, there comes another common theme from his catalogue that can be found in the film. Roy, father of three, puts himself and his obsession first. When his wife Ronnie packs up the kids and leaves for her parents, Roy puts up only a minor fight before returning to the creation of the makeshift Devil’s Tower in their living room. Like Spielberg’s father himself was consumed by his work as an engineer, Roy was preoccupied with watching the sky. In E.T., Elliott’s father is not present as a result of his parents breaking up. He’s mentioned in the film as being off in Mexico with a woman named Sally; this is upsetting news to his mother. During a zeppelin ride in Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade Indy gives a disheartening speech about the absence of Henry Jones, “What you taught me, is that I was less important to you than people that have been dead for several hundred years and in other countries, and I learned it so well, that we've hardly spoken for 20 years.” The examples mount beyond just these.

Around 1993 Spielberg reached out to his father at the urging of his wife. Their reconciliation had a profound effect on his life going forward. He explains that “one of the worst things that happened to me was the voluntary fall out with my father and then the greatest thing that ever happened to me was I finally saw the light and needed to love him in a way that he could love me back.” At this time, there is a sweeping change through his movies. In the pre-93 era of films the father was non-existent or the bad guy, in the post-93 era they become loving heroes. In Minority Report John is obsessed with the loss of his son. It wrecks his world to have lost him. In A.I. Professor Allen Hobby creates David because he pines his dead son who we learn David was modeled after. Richard Schickel in his book Steven Spielberg: a Retrospective opines about Catch Me If You Can, “If the movie has a love story, it is between the Abagnales, senior and junior.” This type of relationship doesn’t seem possible in the pre-93 film set. War of the Worlds shows a father's natural predisposition to save his kids at all odds. Spielberg saw the role of Ray Ferrier as “a deadbeat father who’s not very good with kids and has to become a pretty great dad pretty quickly in order to save their lives and protect his little world from falling apart.” By the end of the film there is a great reconciliation. In the new post-93 platform of Spielberg films, families are complex but necessary.

There is a moment in E.T. when the kids are racing to return him to his ship. Oppressors abound are chasing them before John Williams’ music takes them (and the audience) into iconic flight. But before this they run into some other bikers who wonder what they are doing. Elliott says, “He’s a man from space. We’re taking him to his spaceship.” The answer is cringe worthy, “Can’t he just beam up?” Elliott sums it up by simply saying, “This is reality, Greg.” In my estimation the pre-93 viewers are Elliott. They subscribe to the fantasy, to the hope that comes with everything Spielberg had to offer in his early films. The other bikers are the post-93, simply attributing the moments to something they’ve heard before, a more cynical view of the world. Where E.T. is a botanist alien, in War of the Worlds the aliens have been in hiding, plotting. War of the Worlds being made in a post 9/11 world. Schickel ponders the significance of Spielberg placing the aliens already on Earth but hidden, waiting. “The knowledge that the aliens have been planning this invasion for millennia is a clear indication of their intelligence and complete meanness of spirit, a warning that they may be unstoppably malevolent.” This is a far cry from E.T.

Millions upon millions of individuals have settled into dark theaters or onto their couches to watch the works of Steven Spielberg. Whether the person is drawn in by the hope of the wonderment found within morality and the human condition, or if they subscribe to the enjoyment of sentimental realism, they know they are in for a treat. These two different types are provided with a master class in storytelling. Perhaps the divide simply has to do with maturity and this is all a long way of saying he grew up, that we all grow up. Spielberg, talking about how some pictures take decades to come to fruition (such as Schindler’s List) where as some race in (like War Horse,) he asks "can't I be both?" If he can be, then can't we all?

Guest Post: Gotta Catch All of My Commentary On Various Pokemon

Wednesday, September 20, 2017
What a TRUE delight here on! Here is a guest post from one of the greatest individuals on the planet, Danielle! She is jumping on my blog for this post about Pokemon because it very much fits my aesthetic more than her's. While on the surface we may seem like we differ, we're actually quite similar. Pokemon is one of our shared loves. She has her info at the bottom, make sure you check out her pages. You can find her calling me often when I'm on Twitch. ;) We're goobers but we have a blast together. Thanks, Peanut!

I'm super thankful Kaity let me hop on here to guest post. I'm a blogger too, but usually about fashion, style, decor etc, not cool stuff obvi. (Also disclaimer, we didn't read each other's intros and they sound identical. #twinkies always haha) If you were a kid in the late 90’s and early 00’s, Pokemon ruled your life. I was obsessed with the TV show, can still sing the theme song by heart (#1 on Kaity’s list of best TV Themes of course), and would look forward to every day after dance class going next door to buy a new pack (hoping for a Charizard) or card sleeve for my binder. I literally fought with my brother on the reg on who could take the Official Pokemon Handbook with them to school. There’s no rhyme or reason for this post tbh. This was born after a FT when Kaity was wearing an Ash Ketchum hat. I just essentially picked random Pokemon and shared my thoughts on them because I have a lot of thoughts of course. I have even more opinions after going through a list of the OG 151 now.

Squirtle - Still my very favorite Pokemon. Every girl in elementary school’s favorite Pokemon. I mean I had various Squirtle merchandise and also a wood cut out on my wall among other things.

Beedrill - Ummm there’s nothing scarier to me than a bee/wasp hybrid that stands on two legs. I never realized it until now. You just can’t compare this guy to let’s say, Onix or even Pikachu tbh.

Jynx - Opera singer? Woman? I’m just not sure. What is her/it’s power? Singing Aria’s and breaking windows? I’m just confused.

Charizard - Second to Pikachu, probably one of the most iconic Pokemon. If you had a holographic Charizard, you were a god and probably the coolest kid around.

Mewtwo - The Pokemon that sparked this post actually. He has issues and might be the most emotionally unstable Pokemon, but for good reason. I mean he was created to be evil. I’d be angry and emotionally unstable too.

Gyrados - If you were patient enough to wait for the abysmal Magikarp to evolve, you have a treat in one of the scariest Pokemon out there even though it looks like a glorified Chinese New Year Parade Dragon.

Snorlax - Me in Pokemon form. Spends all the time eating and sleeping. I’m not even sad about it. I feel like he should win just based on being every 20 something out there.

Meowth - I’m not a cat person at all and I could not stand Meowth. He was annoying and associated with Team Rocket. I wish I had DVR back then because I would have fast forwarded through every one of his scenes with that ridiculous voice of his. Also, I can’t remember why he talked and other Pokemon didn’t. Was is it a Spiderman esque mutation situation? This is like the Goofy and Pluto predicament in Pokemon form.

Porygon - Obviously named after Polygons and what elementary school kid ever had a positive reaction when they thought of math on their favorite show? None. Also, apparently seeing it on TV gave people seizures IRL...according to the internet, so make of that what you will.
Pikachu - If you didn’t like Pikachu, there was something inherently wrong with you. He is THE Pokemon above all others. Even if he wasn’t your numero fave, he was definitely in your top 5 just for the sole reason of being Ash’s best friend and companion. Plus, he’s amazing branding for Pokemon, which is right up my alley. If you see Pikachu, you immediately think Pokemon. Everyone should take a page out of their book for establishing a brand.  

Kadabra - Far too much for my sweet baby self to handle. He freaked me out with the spoon bending and the mind powers. I distinctly remember when they went to the Saffron City Gym to and battled Sabrina’s Abra when it evolved. It clearly still Haunts me (Get it? No? Okay haha) to this day.

Jigglypuff - Also so adorable and should maybe teach Jynx how to sing.

Psyduck - Me when whenever I have migraines. I constantly run around and complain while grabbing my head. Pretty useless if you ask me?

Machoke - He basically looks like a UFC fighter complete with a belt and tiny shorts. It’s pretty uncomfortable now to look back at…I mean I guess it's better than having two sets of muscle arms.

Electrode - Isn’t he just a Pokeball gone bad? Did they run out of ideas? I mean obviously not since Mew came later and he was awesome.

I hope you enjoyed my less than stellar commentary about Pokemon. [BB-K8 edit: It is extremely stellar. You hush!] I think I’ll have to do a Part 2 because I still have so many thoughts and so many Pokemon left. If you care to follow me where I don’t talk about Pokemon, you can find me on instagram, twitter, or my blog, Dani Arizona.

Recent Awakenings 9/14/2017

Thursday, September 14, 2017
Well, seems as though I haven't posted on here since May. That's my bad, guys. Things have been a bit nuts with life shifting and evolving as it does. But I'm still here. Working on some new content for the page.

As you'll notice, the blog got a face lift! The absolutely lovely Danielle recently did some major work on not only this blog but my Twitch channel too. More about the latter in a bit! I am endlessly appreciative of the work she has put in on my pages. She is always making sure that I look at legit as possible. She puts up with a lot of crap for me and that isn't lost on me. Thanks, Peanut!

So to make up for my slacking, here is a new installment of Recent Awakenings! Recent Awakenings is a collection of thoughts, cool items, videos, pictures, etc I've enjoyed recently. I hope you enjoy!

Lately, my focus has been on my Twitch channel! A few weeks ago I decided to try my hand at doing a game stream. Twitch isn't the easiest site to break into but I'm having a blast doing it. While my streams are typically dominated by my friends, I've met a few people already who are super dope. I hope to keep growing it, working on things like having a consistent schedule and generating some entertaining content. I think we are all pretty funny in the chat and I know it is fun to laugh at my goober self. If you haven't caught one of my streams yet, I tend to do so week day afternoons. I'm working on a set schedule now and will post that when it is available.

Danielle also created the stellar overlay shown below, along with the panels and general layout found on my page. Again, the work is amazing. She makes me look way better than I have any business looking. I'm endlessly grateful.

You can catch me on tomorrow around 1:15-1:30pm EST. I'll tweet as I go live. Pop in and say hi! You have to have a Twitch account to comment in the chat but I swear it is worth it. It is a fun community. Check out my channel Kaity Universe!

Which brings me to the next thing I'm really enjoying at the moment, Kingsway! You can see pictured above on my Twitch page. I just bought this game yesterday on steam and am IMMEDIATELY obsessed with it. I could not recommend it more. It is a retro PC simulation RPG. 
Kingsway is the #1 operating system for daily tasks such as skeleton smashing and loot-organizing. Trouble sorting through all your potions and swords? Don't worry! Kingsway can help you manage, and with an easy to use interface you'll have time left over for a peaceful stroll through the underworld.
I'm not sure it sounds like much but trust me, it's a blast. The real catch is that every time you die you have to start all over. Having your character that you've invested hours into die is so stressful and crushing. This was my first character who died, may he Rest in Peace. I let my viewers on the stream name the characters. I've gotten much further than a level 2 now, but this one will stings. Sorry about it, Art. You were a good one.
Check out the trailer for the game and see for yourself. It is ten bucks on steam, I got it on sale for $7.50. Worth every penny. I will be giving away a copy of it on the stream sometime in the near future so keep an eye on my twitter page and twitch channel for that!

Onto some non-video game related items... 

This Honest Trailer with Jordan Vogt-Roberts is incredible. Not sure if you've seen Kong: Skull Island but you should! I really enjoy the movie. It is a great mixture of human and monster. Often with these movies, like Godzilla (2014), they seem to almost exclusively concentrate on the human characters. I feel like that kind of defeats the purpose. Kong: Skull Island does not disappoint when it comes to kaijus. Kong is King. Not only that but the supporting cast of monsters on the island are pretty impressive as well.

Jordan Vogt-Roberts jumped on the Screen Junkies YouTube series Honest Trailers to combat some criticism he'd received in an amazingly hilarious way. The guy is one of my favorite directors working right now. While he doesn't have a ton of content under his belt, what he has released has a clear and concise vision that I simply adore. We aren't finished talking about Jordan Vogt-Roberts...

The aforementioned Jordan Vogt-Roberts also was party to one of my other favorite videos I'd seen recently. His TED Talk here is all about giving into vulnerability and taking a leap even when you're scared. I won't ruin his work here by summarizing. Just take the 17 minutes out of your day and watch it. I promise you won't regret it.

You didn't really think we could get through a post like this without mentioning Star Wars, did you? The big news of this week was the firing of Colin Trevorrow and the subsequent hiring of J.J. Abrams to write and direct Episode IX! I am on record here at about my love for the Force Awakens. Read What TFA Means to Me for the breakdown of my love and feelings for the movie. I was pretty thrilled when they announced that J.J. would be returning to finish the sequel trilogy. The man took a nearly impossible task and knocked it out of the park. Count me as super amped!

In her statement about bringing J.J. on board Kathleen Kennedy said:
With The Force Awakens, J.J. delivered everything we could have possibly hoped for, and I am so excited that he is coming back to close out this trilogy.
Agreed, Queen. 

Force Friday II came and went. I had a blast with my friends and got an epic haul.

And now it is upon us again, Star Wars season. Since Disney bought Lucasfilm and started producing new Star Wars movies, it seems as though the winter months become dominated by Star Wars merchandise, advertisements, etc. While the merchandising has always famously been a huge part of Star Wars (for better or for worse,) Disney has really raised it to an art form. During the Force Awakens' run, it wasn't odd to find Star Wars items in stores you'd never think would carry such a thing.

One of the greatest aspects of Star Wars season is Force Friday. While this year was technically entitled Force Friday II, this is the third year in a row that fans have enjoyed the midnight release events. Force Friday I in 2015 coincided with the release of the aforementioned The Force Awakens. LFL made a huge deal of it, including a 24-hour live stream unboxing event broadcasted from various locations across the world. Again, the midnight release of toys is not new to Star Wars. Famously the crowds for the midnight toy release for Episode I the Phantom Menace were extra intense.

Force Friday I was my first personal experience doing the event. We waited outside for three hours, sweat our asses off, and made friends that we still are going to Force Fridays with two years later. That truly is what it is about to. One of my favorite aspects this year was the hashtag #SharetheForce. Truly brilliant marketing. Because to me, that is what makes FF and Star Wars such an experience. Sure, I'm excited to pick up the new stuff, some of which will be harder to find than others. But when I'm anticipating the event, it is the memories I'm making with my friends in line. Our little group had never met before that first event, we all come from very different lives and don't see each other in the year in between. Once a year, however, we come together to share in our common passion: Star Wars. We also all represent the different aspects of the collector types. Alan and Sarah are looking to completely particular lines or series. Eric is a completist, one of everything, please. We're all so different. That is what Star Wars is about.

My haul this year was fairly sizable. We went a little crazy. Another year under my belt felt great.

That's it for this collection of thoughts but I'd love to hear from you! Feel free to leave your thoughts in the comments regarding anything mentioned above. You can find all my social media pages linked on the side.

And as always...

Top 5 Trilogies!

Wednesday, May 31, 2017
I recently caught an episode of Collider where the guys were discussing their top trilogies and felt inspired to share mine. I think the top selections are pretty standard for most. The others reek of nostalgia for me. The lack of quality I should require on this list may bother some... But it's my blog and I do what I want.
Star Wars
A New Hope, the Empire Strikes Back, Return of the Jedi

The first choice is about as obvious as they come. Not sure if this is widely known but I love Star Wars. I love every version of Star Wars, as you'll see later. My hope is that the sequel trilogy will one day join this list, I already adore the Force Awakens. But for now, we only have the two trilogies. This is the one that started it all. The trilogy that spurred generations of fans with a passion for a galaxy far far away. This trilogy would grace most lists. The first two entries into this infamous trio are about as perfect as they come.

Back to the Future

Back to the Future is another easy selection and can be found on most lists. Start to finish, it is the most complete trilogy I've ever watched. All three movies stand the test of time and shine brightly as their own films. The misadventures of Marty McFly and Doc Brown is the stuff of legends. I can never recall seeing these movies for the first time. They have always been a part of my life. If you asked me growing up what my dream car was, my answer was always a DeLorean. Not much has changed.

Image result for mighty ducks logo

The Mighty Ducks

Quack, quack, quack, quack, quack, Mr Ducksworth. You would be hard pressed to find three movies that I watched more growing up than these three right here. My love for Gordon Bombay, Charlie Conway, the Bash Brothers, Goldberg, and the gang knows no bounds. So much so that during a fateful trip to California that coincided with my tenth birthday, my father took me to the Anaheim Mighty Ducks official team store and got me a jersey. It is one of my prized possessions and I still have it hanging in my closet.

Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles

It is hard to imagine a kid growing up in the 90s not loving the Ninja Turtles. These movies represent many Friday nights in the Mason household. If I could get my parents to order us pizza and pop one of these three movies into the VCR then I knew I was in for a perfect evening. When the new movies came out, we continued on with the tradition. Nothing can ever beat the originals though. While the third is heavily panned, the first is one of the greatest comic book movies ever made. It also reminds me of the iconic Pizza Hut commercial that came on before the feature presentation. The second is heavy on the cheese but I loved it as a kid. That beautiful white VHS case is burned into my memory.

Star Wars
The Phantom Menace, Attack of the Clones, Revenge of the Sith

I've written a lot about my love for the Phantom Menace and what it meant to my childhood. The other two get less love from me on here, even though I enjoy them both as well. Revenge of the Sith is so masterfully executed, it's a crusher to watch Anakin fall to the dark side. While Attack of the Clones is panned by most, I believe it has so many redeeming qualities like Obi-Wan's noir-like detective hunt to find Jango, Anakin's brush with the dark side, and the arena fight. These three films created a successful back story to one of the most iconic characters in history, Darth Vader. I've never met a Star Wars I didn't love.

One honorable mention: The Spider-Man trilogy. Read about my love for the first one here. The third one is just so bad though. I know there are others. For example, the Lord of the Rings trilogy and many would include that one but these are mine. What are yours?

As always comments, questions, thoughts, and shenanigans are always welcomed in the comment section! Or tweet me @kaityballgame!

Until next time... May the Force be with you!

May the Fourth Be With You!

Thursday, May 4, 2017
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Happy Birthday, Spider-Man (2002)

Wednesday, May 3, 2017
It is Spider-Man (2002)'s fifteen birthday! After many years of superhero movie futility, the Sam Raimi directed Spider-Man put the genre back on the map. While Bryan Singer's X-Men (2000) was a success, this movie was the one that put the world on notice. It became the first film to make 100 million in its opening weekend, grossed over 820 million worldwide by the end of its run, and is still the largest grossing superhero origin movie. Its financial success paired with winning over critics and fans alike made it one to remember.

The movie's success is centered around its approach of being both silly and serious, which is a faithful representation of the comic the story originated in. Too often superhero movies try too hard to be one or the other, not enough in between. Raimi's Spider-Man dared to make you laugh like a kid clutching old comic book pages but also strike fear into your heart as if every moment that hangs on Peter Parker's life hangs on yours as well. Long before Nolan's Batman or Gunn's Guardians of the Galaxy, Raimi's Spider-Man dared to land in the middle of those two thematically. While it may feel like a throwback in many ways now, it still holds strong in its own right.

When I need to put a face to Peter Parker, I think of Tobey Maguire's performance. I've gotten into arguments in backwoods Florida comic shops with smelly kids about this (actual thing that happened, my wife thought we may brawl.) I will defend this movie to the death. The VFX work was before its time and mostly holds up. The acting shined both in quality and chemistry. Willem Dafoe's performance as Norman Osborn/Green Goblin is downright terrifying. James Franco as Harry Osborn has his moments. Kirsten Dunst as Mary Jane will forever have a soft spot in my heart. JK Simmons is the definitive J Jonah Jameson. Many of the movie's moments stick out to me: him trying out his abilities on rooftops (go web!), the awkward moments with Mary Jane in the beginning of the film at OsCorp, thanksgiving dinner with a demented Norman Osborn, and more. However, one remains more iconic than the rest: the kiss. Now a parody of itself, the kiss was a seminal moment.

One memory that I come back to often has to do with the time period more than anything. The movie's ad campaign and subsequent release coincided with one of the most turbulent times in United States history: September 11, 2001. Famously, one teaser trailer was pulled by Sony due to its content, which revolved around Spider-Man catching bank robbers flying in a helicopter by slinging them up with web in between the Twin Towers. Part of the movie's success, I believe, came because of the time period of its release. In times of strife, we cling to hope and heroism. What is more heroic than a kid doing what's right without thought of reward in the city that had just felt serious trauma in real life? Had Spider-Man been darker, like the aforementioned Nolan's Batman, I'm not sure it would've spoken to audiences the way they needed it to that summer. A nation in mourning flocked to theaters to escape. They didn't need cynicism, they sought hope.

I'll admit, my reasoning behind acknowledging this movie's birthday is almost completely due to the nostalgia that surrounds it in my heart and mind. Growing up, Spider-Man was my favorite superhero. I devoured the comics. My eyes were glued to the television set for the 90s Spider-Man animated series. In 1999, my parents took me to Islands of Adventure right after it opened
so I could enjoy the Amazing Adventures of Spider-Man ride. In the early days of eBay, back when Rosie O'Donnell was its number one fan, my dad ordered me extra silly string cartridges for my Spider-Man web shooter after they discontinued it. Many of my childhood memories revolve around your friendly neighborhood Spider-Man. This movie is no different. Peter Parker was a dork like me and Tobey's portrayal in the movie showed me shades of myself, especially as I grew older.

A nearly eleven year old BB-K8 could not have hyped a movie more. (Except for maybe Star Wars Episode I the Phantom Menace three years prior.) To see my favorite hero take to the silver screen was a dream come true. My sister and one of our family friends checked me out of the fifth grade to see the first showing that day. Afterwards we went to Toys"R"Us to get me a new Spider-Man toy. I picked out the Spider-Man Sky Rider Playset, which I still have to this day and is totally rad. To a ten year old, this was about as amazing as a day gets. I remember the day the movie was released on DVD and VHS, one of my best friends and I were taken to buy it and spent the day watching it over and over again at her house.

What this movie has, above all else, is heart. You can feel Raimi's passion for the project. His vision was clear and fans can see that. I think that is why it spoke to me then and continues to speak to me now. With Spider-Man heart matters most. Many superhero movies these days seem to miss that
mark. Uncle Ben said it best, "with great power comes great responsibility." Raimi understood the responsibility of launching this iconic hero's story into theaters across the globe and did so with a large amount of success. That is this movie's legacy. It isn't a rehash and it wasn't afraid to have its own identity.

While the sequels never lived up to the first movie, the franchise truly rejuvenated the superhero genre. It continued to grow my love for the web-slinger and that love remains strong to this very day. While I saw the Andrew Garfield version and enjoyed it and am excited for the upcoming Spider-Man: Homecoming, this one will always be my Spider-Man. That may not be a hip and trendy opinion, but I've never pretended to be either of those. This is only a love letter to a movie that captured the mind and heart of a young girl and kept her forever in love with one of history's greatest characters.

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