Wednesday, May 31, 2017

Top 5 Trilogies!

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!

Wednesday, May 3, 2017

Happy Birthday, Spider-Man (2002)

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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Monday, May 1, 2017

Top 10 Animated TV Series Theme Songs

My buddy @RKOLemonJack and I were having a fun discussion about the best animated television series theme songs. It started when I mentioned how iconic the theme to the 1992 X-Men animated series is! He mentioned his top three, objectively. It inspired me to make this list, though admittedly I will not be all that objective. Enough with the explanation and on with the tunes!

10. Doug (1991)

While most of the songs on this list have catchy lyrics, this one is catchy all on its own without the help of lyrics. If you don't immediately have the "doo, doo, doo" stuck in your head upon seeing the name Doug, then you're doing something wrong. Doug had a lot of amazing songs within its episodes, thinking particularly of 'Banging on a Trash Can,' but the theme is a cut above. Doug Funnie and his pals always made for a great viewing experience. 

9. Magic School Bus (1994)

Growing up a nerd (thanks, mom and dad,) I never needed encouragement to think science is cool. For others, Magic School Bus was an amazing gateway into the world of science. So many episodes are ingrained into my mind from childhood but the theme song alone is enough to really pull you back in. Miss Frizzle didn't mess around.

8. Rocko's Modern Life (1993)

Easily the strangest show on the list, Rocko's Modern Life certainly never was boring. It has probably the best Wikipedia summary of all time: "The series centers on the surreal life of an anthropomorphic Australian-immigrant wallaby named Rocko as well as his friends: the gluttonous steer Heffer, the neurotic turtle Filburt, and Rocko's faithful dog Spunky." Included here is the version performed by the B52s. I consider it to be the definitive version. The first season had a slightly different version of the theme, not performed by them, which can be found here. I'm still asking myself, who puts a banana in the refridgerizer?

7. The Flintstones (1960)

In terms of iconic theme songs, this is about as good as it gets. My dad immediately mentioned this one when we were discussing this blog post at dinner the other night. I was raised on the Flintstones, particularly A Flintstones Christmas Carol stands out to me. This is an easy one to include. This now seminal song "Meet the Flintstones" wasn't actually introduced until the third season. The first two seasons had an instrumental theme. It is hard to imagine the history of television without it. Yabba dabba doo!
6. Ducktales (1987)

Perhaps the catchiest of all the themes mentioned on this list, DuckTales woo-ooh! Based on comics about Uncle Scrooge McDuck, the series followed the aforementioned Scrooge and his crazy great-nephews through many adventures while trying to further his wealth. Ron Jones, who composed the musical scores for each episode, said this of his work: "I would not play the score like a kid's show at all. If they went on an adventure I would play it serious like Raiders of the Lost Ark." That is the show in a nutshell. It was fun but took the adventures as serious as any classic serial. This song is seriously a jam.

5. X-Men (1992)

The theme that started the discussion that led me to this blog post. It is pure nineties perfection. Without words, this instrumental song truly captures the essence of the television program. During its five-season run, much like Batman the Animated series, this show solidified the way many of us view the group of mutants we so affectionately refer to as the X-men. While there are more and more X-men movies, an absurd amount of variations in the comics, and even more animated series, this one stands aside as a great achievement in superhero television history.

4. Angry Beavers (1997)

One of my all time favorite shows growing up, the Angry Beavers is as much my childhood as anything else. This theme song, entitled "Beaver Hop," was written by Charlie Brissette. His other work also includes the themes for Jimmy Neutron, The Fairly OddParents, Ren & Stimpy, and SpongeBob SquarePants. Light on words but heavy on rhythm, this theme song is easy to love much like the cartoon it fronted.

3. Batman the Animated Series (1992)

The darkest theme to grace our list, it is the perfect intro to arguably the greatest cartoon of all time. (Avatar: the Last Airbender may have something to say about that, though.) For a collection of folks who were kids during this show's run, Kevin Conroy is the definitive Batman. This theme shares that same feeling. Composed by Danny Elfman, who composed the music for the 1989 film as well, it immediately places the viewer in the perfect mindset for the show's often dark and meaningful content and themes. It is about as perfect as they come.

2. Pokemon (1998)

When Pokemon hit the states, it became an instant phenomenon. With the power of the Gameboy game and card collecting game, the television show was a must watch experience for kids of a certain age. The greatest thing to come from the show was obviously the theme song, "Gotta Catch Em All." A fun tidbit about its lasting legacy found on Wikipedia: In July 2016, after the release of the mobile game Pok√©mon Go, the song had a 630% increase in listeners on Spotify. The theme is about as grandiose and epic as you'll ever find from a children's television program. If it doesn't make you want to leave Pallet Town to catch some Pokemon, I don't know what will.

1. Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles (1987)

Cowabunga, dudes! Winner winner chicken dinner. The best of the best. The pizza of theme songs! Without a single doubt in my mind, this is the greatest television theme song of all time. This cartoon launched three decades of fandom. While the comic was successful in its own right, it was the original animated series that made the turtles what they are today. It is fun, catchy, and so fitting for the heroes in a half shell. Whether you were the leader, the machine dork, the cool ass hole, or the party dude; I'm fairly sure every kid picked their favorite based on the little bio blurb mentioned in the theme.

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I am keenly aware that there are more iconic themes that could (and possibly should) make the list. Like I mentioned at the top of the page, I went for the shows that meant something to me. But I acknowledge themes like the Simpsons, Fraggle Rock, Rugrats, and many others. This list was purely personal and by no means is definitive. 

Share with me your top ten!

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!

Wednesday, January 4, 2017

The 2003 Clone Wars Microseries

In 2003, in between the releases of Episode II Attack of the Clones and Episode III Revenge of the Sith, Cartoon Network aired a microseries entitled the Clone Wars. While not the Clone Wars series that the Star Wars fandom now holds dearly to our hearts, which came later in 2008 and introduced the likes of fan favorites Ahsoka Tano and Captain Rex, the microseries has its redeeming qualities.

It was created by Genndy Tartakovsky; also the creator and/or director of Dexter's Lab, Samurai Jack, Hotel Transylvania, and more. Over its three season run, it resulted in twenty-five episodes. The first two seasons each episode lasted a whopping three to five minutes or so each, whereas the third season's episodes had a run time of twelve to fifteen minutes. The entire series comes in at just over two hours and can be found on YouTube.

(For whatever reason, this is missing the last like three minutes, so here that is.)

The goal of the series was to show some of the long-discussed Clone Wars and to fill some gaps in between the two movies. I gave it a re-watch recently, as I haven't viewed it much since its original airing. I was blown away by how much it still holds up. I wrote two pages of notes, random observations and such. Some of them deeper than others, but a lot of them being things like "Kit Fisto!!" 

In a retrospect piece about the series with the show's creator, he spoke about how things changed as the series went on. (I very much recommend you reading the piece.) He gained more control from George Lucas with time. Initially they weren't given much to work with at all. So their goal was to drop you into various battles to show the severity of the war. This is one of their strengths, as early on it shows the Jedi's apprehension of being in the war. The tone of the episodes early on is much different from the later episodes. There is not a lot of dialogue and I was struck by how much silence could be felt throughout the episodes. As the series progressed, there was a bit more dialogue. The first season or so is very superficial but still delightful.

A few things in particular stuck out to me immediately. Anakin is much more Episode II Anakin and not just stylistically. He's whiny and brash. As the show evolves, so does Anakin. That is one thing that I really enjoy about this series. The 2008 Clone Wars Anakin sometimes leaves me wondering how he came so far between Episode II and the series, this series shows you more of that. In the same light, it shows the evolution of his relationship with Obi-Wan. At the start it is very much more master and apprentice, it then evolves to a more peer-like relationship. I don't particularly care for the stern Obi-Wan interpretation presented in this series.

Another interesting aspect is the vast difference in the relationship the Jedi hold with the Clones than in the 2008 series. They're referred to as 'Troopers' mostly, though Cody is mentioned later on in the series. In the 2008 Clone Wars you see the intense bond between the Jedi and the Clones, particularly with a character like Rex. They make them people, not just clones. It makes Order 66 that much more upsetting when you watch Revenge of the Sith.

As the show evolves, the episodes grow in quality. There are great moments like Mace Windu's interaction with the young boy Paxi Sylo after he wins a strenous battle, Padme embarking on a mission with Master Yoda and worrying about his well being, and her using C-3PO as a decoy. (Padme is still a bad bitch in this. It doesn't matter the series or movie, she's still the best.) Grievous's entrance is fairly dramatic and he seems a little OP to me but it does open you up to the idea that the Jedi can be beat. That is an interesting notion. Though now it doesn't seem so crazy, this series was before we ever saw Order 66. The moments between Dooku and Grievous are some of the show's best. "Don't let your pursuit of trinkets cloud your reality."

My favorite moment of the series was probably Anakin following Asajj to Yavin IV and duking it out. I didn't know I needed it in my life, but I did. Asajj is a point of celebration for the series, as she went on to become a fan favorite with the 2008 series. The show has other continuation aspects that really set it apart, even though now it is no longer canon. Grievous's wheezing and coughing is a result of Mace Windu crushing his lungs with the Force. It leads directly up to Episode III and shows the abduction of Palpatine, the rescuing of him being the opening scenes of Revenge of the Sith. Interesting to me that Grievous did not know Palpatine is the Emperor. They question his loyalty perhaps? Or he is just not important enough to know such a secret. The series also uses a few familiar voices like Tom Kane as Yoda and James Arnold Taylor as Obi-Wan Kenobi. They'd go on to reprise these roles on the 2008 series.

Season three gets a bit strange. Anakin, in particular takes a turn with the Nelvaan arc. This probably seems to be expected with what takes place in Episode III but the execution was just a tad strange to me. Anakin with the weird tattoos just is not my cup of tea. While that threw me off a bit, season three's strength lies in the manipulation at the hand of  Palpatine as he sets his plot to begin Anakin's turn and the Jedi's demise that we see in Revenge of the Sith.

Generally speaking, I very much enjoyed the series. The battle on Yavin IV, Luminara explaining the creation of lightsabers to Barriss (I always enjoy the inclusion of kyber crystals,) the use of Qui-Gon in mentions and in Force dreams, Shaka Ti kicking ass, and much more. There are a lot of extremely redeeming qualities to the series. While vastly different from the 2008 series, it is worth taking the little over two hours out to sit down and watch.

Monday, January 2, 2017

To Me, She's Royalty.

Last week we lost one of the all time greats. When I heard that Carrie Fisher had left us, I couldn't even fathom having the words. I'm still not sure I do.

Princess Leia was a mainstay in my childhood, a hero to a child who usually liked boy characters more. With her endless spunk and poise, she was never afraid and got more shit done than the boys did. I'm not sure there is an image that haunted (in a good way) my childhood more than the hologram of Princess Leia in A New Hope. "This is our most desperate hour. Help me Obi-Wan Kenobi. You’re my only hope." Leia taught me a lot of things about perseverance and believing in a cause even when the odds are stacked against you. But Carrie Fisher became so much more than Princess Leia to me.

Carrie was a shining beacon, an icon, and a hero to many. She overcame so much adversity in her life to send a message to anyone who listened: hope. She wasn't afraid to be herself: brash, funny, beautiful, and incredible. Her ability to be open about her mental illness helped so many come to terms with it, myself included. It isn't easy feeling alone when dealing with the craziness inside of your mind. She showed that it was okay, it isn't your fault, and you can still be amazing anyway.

This tattoo is extremely meaningful to me. It isn't just about a character from a movie I've loved my whole life. It is about hope. The buns are from the spine of her book The Princess Diarist. Hope is written in her handwriting. This tattoo is in honor of her but also to remind me to live true to myself, to never give up, and to have strength even in the face of impossible odds.

To some she's just an actress, but "to me, she's royalty." We love you, Carrie. You will never be forgotten. I feel honored to carry you with me everywhere I go.

May the Force be with you.

Saturday, December 31, 2016

2016 Redux

What an odd year. With all of its twists and turns, I’m not sure anyone could have scripted quite a year.

It began simply enough with the most joyous occasion possible: a wedding. I will forever remember this as the year I got married to the love of my life. That day is seared into my memory. The fates conspired to provide perfect weather on a Friday in February. My wife looked like something from another world because it seems impossible that so much beauty could take shape in one person. But she’s real and I’m lucky. It was a day full of love and joy. One of the greatest feelings of my life.

Unfortunately after that the year seemed to take a turn. As we were coasting along, mid-year I experienced two events that would upend everything I knew. One was the most agonizing heartbreak at the hand of a lifelong best friend, someone I considered family. In most years this would take the cake. But 2016 is resilient and wouldn’t let us off the hook so easily. Soon after my mother was diagnosed with her second bout of cancer. This was absolutely devastating.

My world still isn’t right side up, some five months later. But I believe she will win the battle. And all the heartbreak lead me to something I never would have believed I could prosper in: mindfulness. Buddhism saved me. Daily Dharma pulls me out of the deep end. I have now meditated for over a hundred and ten days consecutively and don’t plan on stopping, ever.

In 2016, I learned to let go. It hasn't always been perfect and I’ve had to remind myself that after ecstasy then comes the laundry but I’m in a better head space now than ever before. Everything is temporary.

The end of the year brought more challenges, some large and some small. The election of the single most unfit (and corrupt) candidate to ever run for the highest office in all of the land. The death of one of my greatest idols. A stomach flu that left me sicker than I have ever been. A panic attack that landed me in the ER. All of these challenges failed to squash my spirit, however. This December the latest Star Wars movie was released, Rogue One. The final word of the movie resonates as we move into the new year: Hope.

2016 hasn’t broken me, we shall all come out on the other side. I’m blessed with a caring beautiful wife, a strong family, everlasting friendships, and a fortunate life. This year may have been terrible in many ways but we can stand taller knowing we made it through.

The journey is not about going into the light. The forces of our human history and entanglement are tenacious and powerful. The path to inner freedom requires passing through them.” — Jack Kornfield