Life Update #3: Snow in the Desert

I went to visit my sister for a bit, and the unthinkable happened.

It snowed.

My sister lives in the arid Arizona desert near Tuscon. Deep-red rocks layer the mountains surrounding the region. Cacti and cholla line the dried-up wash behind her house.

And this past weekend, a healthy five inches of snow settled upon her neighborhood.

It was so unreal. Even though I saw snow fall during my Christmas cabin trip, I’m still not used to the sight. I felt like Alya’s sliding glass door opened onto an alien planet, a planet where a saguaro cactus could be hooded with an ice-cold powder. I spent a long time just staring out the window, watching fat flakes pile up into frozen mounds.

The funny thing is I wasn’t even supposed to stay at Alya’s this weekend. I extended my stay at the spur of the moment (with my sister’s eager consent). So it felt like the snow was destined for me. I was meant to encounter it. (Pretentious, I know.)

My sister and I stayed indoors for the most part. We bundled up with blankets and clasped mugs of hot coffee in our frigid hands. We let Alya’s dog, Ushi, outside to frolic through the meager snow drifts. She pushed through them with her paws as if they were the most diverting things she had ever seen. Her white fur, normally so bright and eye-arresting, looked dirty next to the pure white of the snow.

Despite the novelty of the experience, stirrings of uneasiness shook my heart. Climate change is real, people.

The snow falling in the desert might have had nothing to do with the effects humanity has wreaked on our planet’s climate.

But it sure reminded me of the fragility of our biosphere.

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The Dubious Pleasure of Poetry

I have a love/hate relationship with poetry.

Let’s start with why I hate it.

The medium hasn’t always called to me. It’s always felt like the abstract expressionism of the literary world. (For those of you who don’t know, I have an abiding dislike for abstract expressionism. I can’t understand what those blocks of color have to do with art. There is no meaning behind a rectangle.) At times, poems can be beautiful. However, sometimes poems are just nonsense.

I once had to do an analysis on Emily Dickinson’s “I heard a Fly buzz–when I died,” and it was the strangest assignment I ever had. It’s a short poem, full of statements that I couldn’t understand, and themes made inscrutable by blunt words. I have since grown to appreciate the meaning the poem must have had for Dickinson, but when I was young, all I could think was, “What the actual fuck is this?”

I’ve tried my hand at writing poems, but I don’t think I’m any good. (For my latest Below Average attempt, check out this post over here!) I second-guess myself whenever I write anything that seems the least bit artsy-fartsy. Plus, I hate to come across as whiny, and I think poems have the tendency to bring that out in me. Poems are a great way to express yourself, but I’d hate for mine to turn into petulant, pre-teen-Amanda diary entries.

Now, let’s talk about why I love poems.

I adore the way my lips can form around succulent verses. Poems can be collections of the best, least-used words in your language. I don’t need to have rhymes everywhere, but a well-turned phrase gets my poetry boner going.

And I love mirroring that kind of word choice in poems of my own. I like gathering my favorite words together in a basket and then sprinkling them around the field that is a pen and paper.

Oof. I sound hoity-toity, don’t I?

My two, all-time favorite poems are “When Death Comes” by Mary Oliver and “The Hollow Men” by T.S. Eliot. If you haven’t read them, I’ve included links that should take you straight to them.

I’ve been puzzling over whether to include poetry in this blog (since I had so much fun making my last one), but I’m still undecided.

What do you guys think? Should I give it a whirl? Or should I leave that hippie-dippie, touchy-feely stuff out of this blog?

Cyberpunk Silliness–Alita: Battle Angel Review

It’s been a while since I walked into a movie theater with low expectations and a good sense of humor. In that regard, Alita: Battle Angel was not a disappointment.

SPOILERS!

The story is about this cyborg head that’s found in a scrapyard underneath this gleaming, floating city. A kindly cyborg-doctor finds this head, discovers that a human brain is still alive inside it, and gives it a body back in his workshop. However, once this cyborg-head wakes up (complete with hair that I’m not entirely sure how she got), she has no memories of who she was or how she ended up in that scrapyard. She can’t even remember the proper way to eat an orange. However, she does remember a bad-ass set of fighting skills. So it’s up to her, the nice doctor, and a cute boy she randomly meets to piece together the story of her past and the path of her future.

Alita: Battle Angel was based on a manga that I haven’t read. So in this review, don’t expect a comprehensive knowledge of the lore or backstory. I went into this movie as fresh as a daisy. The only thing I knew for sure about it was that it was going to have cyborg battles and stuff.

Which is cool.

So let’s start with the good parts.

The visuals are superb. I watched the movie in 3D, with the glasses and everything, and I didn’t regret it. I don’t suffer from terrible motion sickness, so I was able to sit back, relax, and watch cyborgs beat the crap out of each other.

Alita is a freaking powerhouse. I know people were slightly put off by her appearance, that whole Uncanny Valley thing. But one of the highlights of the movie for me was looking at her. Her expressions were so…weirdly engrossing. Plus, her acrobatic style of fighting was a marvel to watch.

I also thought the premise of the movie was intriguing. A big war was fought, and all we really know about the end result is that when the dust settled, that floating city was left standing (i.e. floating) and a dirty slum city was left to grow beneath it. Alita was part of a group of warriors who were meant to bring down the floating city. They clearly failed, but since Alita lost most of her memories, she doesn’t feel compelled to continue with her original objective. That is, she doesn’t until this one mysterious figure who lives on the floating city named Nova messes with her and her love life. Then she decides she will get to that floating city by playing sports.

Confused?

I was too.

There’s a huge disparity between the people living in the city on the ground and the people living in the city in the air. Everyone on the ground, including Alita’s boyfriend, wants to move up there. It’s like an Elysium to them or something. One of the only ways you can get up there is to become champion of this sport called Motorball. And then I guess the floating city people just…let you in?

The actual plot is where the movie just flops for me. I could get the individual plot points, and I could tell what direction the story was heading. But how we got there was either ridiculously corny or unexplained.

The love story between Alita and the human boy was just…bad. It was predictably cute, at first, because it’s a fish-out-of-water scenario. But when the boy introduced her to chocolate for the first time, I felt like rolling my eyes. Of course he introduced her to chocolate. I could see that coming a mile away. I had much more enjoyment from seeing Mike Wheeler introduce Eleven to the joys of a reclinable chair in Stranger Things.

Plus, once she became a bad-ass hunter-warrior, her interactions with her boyfriend became gut-bustingly hilarious. She offers him her actual heart at one point for money to pay for passage to the floating city. And he said no. Plus, the boy has two death scares that just did not cut it for me because one, they were predictable as fuck, and two, I just didn’t care about this romance.

Side note: One of these death scares ends with him having his head cut off and placed on a cyborg body. My peals of laughter had to be hushed up. Seriously, go see this movie for that part alone.

I honestly cared much more for Alita reconnecting with her past than for her romantic life, and the movie did not even satisfy me on that count. Let me tell you right now, the movie ended, and we still have no clue why Alita was really made, what she fought for, what her life was like, or anything.

And as for that floating city in the sky, we never get to see what it looks like up top.

Never.

That was a case of blue balls for my brain, right there.

Alita’s journey just felt so incomplete. Let’s look at all of the “quests” her character goes on:

  1. Figure out who she used to be.
  2. Help her boyfriend get to the floating city so he can be happy.
  3. Become a Motorball Champion.
  4. Defeat the sinister and sneaky Nova who has plotted her destruction this entire time.

Now let’s see how these quests were resolved.

  1. She figures out a skeleton draft of who she used to be, and that is it.
  2. Boyfriend dies, and when the movie ends, she hasn’t gotten to that floating city either.
  3. The movie ends right before her final match to become a Motorball Champion. We don’t even get to see the final match, you guys.
  4. Bruh, the two of them never even meet face-to-face.

Another thing wrong with Alita: Battle Angel are all these plot coincidences and contrivances. People have random changes of heart for no reason, show up in places with no explanation for how they got there, and go about accomplishing tasks in the most circuitous ways possible.

Nova, the movie’s supposed big bad, orders Alita to be killed, but instead of, I don’t know, cornering her with ten bajillion cyborgs, holding the kind doctor hostage in order to force her to comply, or tricking her to give her heart to her boyfriend and having him accept it, they do other things like have a Motorball match or a one-on-one fight in a tunnel.

So I would recommend this movie to you only if you want to watch cool cyborg fight scenes with a barely adequate story in between the combat.

I rate this movie an I-have-seen-it-once-in-3D-and-now-I-will-be-happy-if-I-never-see-it-again-unless-it’s-for-free-and-I-can-put-it-on-in-the-background-while-I’m-doing-other-things-with-my-life.

My Top 5 Favorite Horror Video Games

Horror video games are scarier than horror movies. I’ll stand by that statement till the day I die. A horror movie can be scary, I’m not saying that it can’t be, but nothing beats being in the role of someone in those terrifying circumstances.

I mean, would you rather watch a character run away from a monster or would you rather be that character as he/she flees?

Exactly.

It’s bone-chilling, sweat-inducing, shiver-inspiring, and scream-splitting terror.

So even though it is broad daylight and the sun is shining through the window as I write this, I’m going to scare myself by telling you guys my top 5 favorite horror games.

Shall we?

5. Layers of Fear

Layers of Fear is not a particularly good or memorable horror game. There are others that outclass it by a long shot. Layers of Fear relies too much on jump scares, and a sense of player agency is missing. You feel as if you’re on a set path you can’t stray from, which makes the creepiness feel forced and manufactured. (And in a horror video game, you really want to mask that sensation.) You play as a renowned painter who has fallen on hard times. He has been ruined by his own arrogance and the disintegration of his family. Alone with his thoughts and a grotesque, new work-in-progress, he must roam through his dilapidated house as paintings fling themselves from their frames, wallpaper melts, and porcelain dolls scamper around corners from just outside his field of vision. Typical horror fare. I played the game once and then forgot about it. However, I made the mistake of getting my sister to play it while I watched years later. She screamed at every loud noise, flinched at every sudden motion, and shrieked at the smallest change in scenery. I got traumatized by this game because of her reactions to it. At one point, she threw the controller in fright directly at my face. I had a bruise for a week.

4. Slender: The Arrival

This game got a spot on this list because it was the first horror video game I ever played. And by played, I mean I cowered behind some friends while they played the majority of the game. My sister and I are friends with the Twins. They’re two of the coolest people I know, Robert and Emmanuel. When they bought Slender: The Arrival, they invited me and my sister over to play it with them. They turned all the lights off in their bedroom, raised the volume on their speakers, and began to play. It was terrifying. The atmosphere of the game is top-notch creepiness. What scares you the most in the game is your own sense of dread. You do half the work of scaring yourself. You play as a young woman named Lauren, desperately combing the woods and an abandoned mine in search of her friend. The infamous Slender Man haunts her every step. (For a synopsis of the latest Slender Man movie, be sure to check out my post here!)

3. Outlast

The plot of Outlast alone would be enough to scare anybody. You play as Miles Upshur, a reporter who is investigating strange experiments at an insane asylum. Several of the inmates are out to get you once you’re trapped inside, and you have to race your way out while hounded by deformed crazy people. You’re equipped only with a camera which has a night-vision setting. This setting is what gives the game its sense of horror as you move along, even while nothing happens. The quality of the video makes you wait for scary things to jump out at you. And when things do jump out at you, they are delightfully unexpected. Outlast is a game that made me appreciate jump scares.

2. Soma

Soma was made by Frictional Games, and it is one of my favorite games period. Its environment is unique in that the game takes place in an underwater facility after a meteor has crashed into the Earth and decimated the human population on the surface. The reason I like this game so much for itself is because the story is fantastic. It’s an intellectual puzzler of a plot, and there’s nothing I like more than a horror story that has roots in philosophy. This is the one game on this list I would recommend to anybody who has a love for video games in general. It’s great, and I wish more people knew about it. I feel like it flew under the radar when it first released in 2015.

1. Alien: Isolation

The suspense of the gameplay is what gives Alien: Isolation its power. Admittedly, the game runs far longer than it should, with a play-time of about 15 hours, which can potentially stretch a lot longer if you take your time. However, the AI of the Alien is superb. It’s masterful. Whenever it is present, you can feel the terror of having a Xenomorph in the same room with you. The Alien series has always terrified me (as seen in this post I wrote about the Alien specifically), and this game paid tribute to the beginnings of the franchise. You can’t kill the Alien, even if you have your pistol equipped. The closest thing you have to a weapon against it is the flamethrower, and all that does is temporarily scare it off. It always comes back. It dogs your character, Amanda Ripley, as she explores Sevastopol Station looking for information as to the location of her missing mother, the renowned Ellen Ripley. The tension the Alien inspires whenever it is present made me sweat buckets. You never feel secure. I could not play this game for more than 20 minutes at a time. Otherwise the stress would make me shake. I played this game with a friend of mine in order to survive the experience. We passed the controller off every time it got to be too much.

The Pain of Thrones

I don’t watch much TV.

The shows I watch can be counted by my fingers.

One of those shows is Game of Thrones.

I am a Thronie.

My sister introduced me to the books. She started reading them in high school, and she swore up and down that it was the best fantasy series she had ever read. I picked the books up and haven’t put them down since.

There is a deep lore to dive into, with characters so nuanced, it’s impossible not to sympathize with them all. And the show has done a phenomenal job of capturing the essence of the books.

The show’s final season premieres on April 14, and while I’m staying at my sister’s, we have decided to watch the show again from the very first episode so that we can be prepared for the new season.

It’s going to be a tumultuous ride.

For those of you who have seen the show, you know about the emotional roller coaster we’re going to be on.

For those of you who haven’t seen the show, I’m going to do what anyone who has fallen in love with Game of Thrones would do.

I’m going to recommend it to you.

The final season of the show will be the eighth, so there are not a tremendous amount of episodes to binge on. It is a feasible endeavor. While the lore is extensive, it’s not so dense that you won’t be able to enjoy the story. And I can’t praise the story enough. Unlike some shows that seem to have no coherent ending in sight (*cough cough* The Walking Dead *cough cough*), Game of Thrones has a (fairly) compact tale to tell. As a result, the quality of each episode is above average.

As you may have heard, the show can be heart-rending at times. The deaths of beloved characters are not uncommon. But I promise you, their deaths are not pointless, especially as the end of the show draws near and you can see where the plot is heading. And at least as far as the seventh season goes, I can say that Game of Thrones is the best television show I have ever seen.

I won’t spoil the show here with a lengthy review, but when the new season comes out, expect some posts extolling or condemning it to be published. You’ve been warned.

Have you seen Game of Thrones? Are you planning to? Feel free to talk about your Game of Thrones experiences in the comments.

(Bubba, Mia, the two of you are going to watch the new season with me, yes? I’ll bring the popcorn, you guys bring the tissues.)

Of Couch Boats and Coffee Mugs

In a day, I’m going to go spend a few weeks with my sister.

Since I work from home, it’s fairly easy to travel to my sister’s place and stay over for extensive amounts of time. All I need to work is my laptop, a solid internet connection, the use of my hands, and my brain. The only real hassle in visiting Alya is the long drive.

I have found myself reminiscing about all the time she and I used to spend together.

We are/were each other’s best friend. We never really spent time apart from each other until she got married. This was due to the fact that we lived together, shared a bedroom, and couldn’t understand other people nearly as much as we understood each other.

As kids, we didn’t get out much. You know that ’80s nostalgia that’s been going around, with movies and TV shows about kids who leave their backyards to have wild adventures with aliens and other dimensions?

That was never me and Alya.

Our parents are of the “helicopter” generation of parents. Well, mostly my mother. We were never allowed to go out by ourselves when we were young. And since we lived twenty miles away from our school and most of our friends, we couldn’t easily walk over to hang out with classmates anyways.

So we made do with each other.

Our favorite thing to do was pretend we were other people. Cool people, not boring people. We would pretend we were in Middle-Earth slaying Uruk-Hai or that we were in Jurassic Park and a T. Rex was trying to eat us. One time, we pretended we were monkeys and we climbed our next-door neighbor’s tree. The looks they gave us made us never do that again. They weren’t mad. But they looked at us as if we were crazy.

On quieter days, Alya and I would do “Couch Boat.”

For those of you who don’t know what Couch Boat is, it’s when you pretend that your living room couch is an island in a vast ocean, an isolated spot you can only leave with great difficulty. Alya and I would gather up our most entertaining belongings (stuffed animals, blankets, action figures, books, markers) and climb aboard the Couch Boat.

And then we’d just stay there.

Sometimes we’d put on a movie in the background, but for the most part, we’d just float along alone together.

As I’m writing this down, it makes us sound incredibly unhealthy. We did run around in our childhood, okay? We got exercise. We were not just sedentary couch potatoes.

But on a Saturday morning, sometimes there was nothing better to do than good old Couch Boat.

Our Couch Boat these days has evolved. We bring tablets, lesson plans, notebooks, and coffee to the couch now. We do work together separately. But sometimes we’ll put on a movie we’ve seen a million times in the background. And we still pretend we can’t leave the Couch Boat. Well, we don’t actively pretend.

It just goes without saying.

.

The Latest Disney Trend

Let’s have a talk about these upcoming Disney movie remakes.

About a week ago, I went to the mall with my friend Bubba. The local mall is home to my favorite stir-fry noodles. If I could, I would eat these noodles at least once a day. Sadly, my wallet and my waistline would probably protest this.

The best spot to eat said noodles is by the carousel (yes, our mall has a carousel) and the movie theater. That way, you can hear calliope music blaring in your ears while you eat, and you can look at the “Coming Soon” movie posters, too.

So while we were slurping up noodles (yes, Bubba got those stir-fry noodles too because they are amazing), I noticed that out of the ten movie posters on the wall, three of them were for Disney remakes (Aladdin, Dumbo, and The Lion King).

These three posters gave me pause. I didn’t know how to feel about them. Still don’t, if I’m being entirely honest.

I wouldn’t call myself a Disney nut, but I own nearly every Disney animated movie on VHS. You name it, I probably own it. My sister and I would watch them together back when we shared a room as kids. We can quote from a Disney movie as well as anyone, and we have favorite songs from each one, too.

So I’m talking from the perspective of someone who has been steeped in Disney.

On the one hand, I’m extremely fond of all the movies. Seeing any of them remade does give my heart a little flutter because they are getting attention. It’s like hearing a remix of your favorite song on the radio. You just have to listen to it (before you judge whether it’s good or not) because it’s your favorite song.

But on the other hand, it’s also extremely irritating to me.

On multiple levels.

It feels like a cash grab. Is that just me? Am I the only one feeling that? And what makes this sensation all the more sour is the fact that even though I know it’s a way for Disney to make money, I’m still going to pay to go see them.

It also rubs me the wrong way because, at least in regards to Aladdin and The Lion King, the originals were perfect. I feel like the cartoon versions of those movies were made the way they were meant to be made, and trying to remake them is like trying to improve on perfection.

The same issue came up with the Beauty and the Beast remake they did a few years back. The original animated film was gorgeous. And while the live-action remake did add a few things, nothing they added really boosted the story because the story was already at its peak.

Dumbo is in a different category of remakes, similar to The Jungle Book. Early Disney movies did not have the narrative strength that more recent ones have had. Remaking those is like a civil service.

Well, I’m still going to see all these Disney movie remakes when they come out, like the Below Average person I am. (Actually, depending on the box office numbers, I may be square in the average category this time around.)

So what do you think about this latest Disney trend? For? Against? Or somewhere in the middle like me?