I’ve Got Mask Mania

Okay, I’ve gone on poetic diatribes about why people should be wearing masks and social distancing during a pandemic, but can I just take a moment to talk about how much I actually love masks? It sucks if you don’t enjoy wearing one, but holy hell, I’m having so much fun with my masks. There are just so many reasons for me to wear a mask, that I thought I’d spend today sharing with you, my Above Average readers, why I, your Below Average Blogger, think they’re awesome.

It Makes Me Feel Like a Costumed Vigilante

Granted, a lot of super heroes don’t actually wear face coverings, such as Superman with his perfectly chiseled features and piercing blue eyes.

But a lot of stellar heroes do wear masks, like Spider-Man, The Question, and Sister Night. And even though I’m nowhere near them in terms of coolness, wearing a mask makes me feel like I could (in theory) be a hero.

Is this childish?

Heck yes.

Do I care?

Not in the slightest.

Masks Hide My Least Favorite Features

I’m honestly not too fond of my face.

You know how sometimes hearing your voice recorded and played back to you is thoroughly off-putting?

That’s what it feels like to see my face sometimes.

Just as my voice sounds like it doesn’t belong in my throat, I occasionally don’t really connect with the face I see in the mirror. It’s me, but it doesn’t look like me.

Side note: This is incredibly strange to actually type out. It makes me sound a tad psychotic. Don’t worry. I’m perfectly fine. These are just errant thoughts I occasionally get. (Oh geez, that sounds exactly like what a psychotic person would say to explain this away.)

A mask covers the majority of my face, leaving only my eyes to stare out. (Which is fine by me. My eyes are below average and good-humored, which totally jives with how I perceive myself.)

It’s a Gracious Gesture Toward Others

Lately, I’ve been working on my bows, so that I can perfect a pandemic-era salutation. It’s actually harder than it sounds. You want to come across as gracious, while not looking like you’re being abysmally subservient.

And a mask is the perfect thing to complement my courtesy in bowing.

See, what a lot of people don’t seem to get is that masks aren’t intended to protect you from getting sick. Masks are intended to protect others. When I wear a mask, I’m wearing it on the off chance I’m an asymptomatic carrier. It is a symbol of my respect and regard for others around me.

And that kind of civility really appeals to me.

I Get To Look Like Richard Nixon

Okay, Nixon is definitely not my favorite US president. In fact, he’s somewhere near the bottom in a ranking of every president that ever took the Presidential Oath of Office.

But I do enjoy coming back inside after a summer walk with my mask (I live in a place with temperatures consistently 100 degrees Fahrenheit or hotter), taking off my mask in front of the bathroom mirror, staring at the slick sheen of sweat on my upper lip, and then caustically muttering, “Well, when the president does it, that means it is not illegal” like Frank Langella from Frost/Nixon.

It’s funny.

They Come in Different Colors

Personally, I did not go on a mask spending-spree when social distancing was put into effect in March.

However, both my mother and her sisters went absolutely nuts buying a bunch of masks, of all colors and types.

My mother got me some homemade ones from a friend of hers, and those come in navy blue, light blue with rainbow flowers, light grey with white spirals, and black. She also got a few from some stores, including a plain white and a bright red.

My tias (aunts), always looking at the heights of fashion, got me silk and cotton masks made by designer Johnny Was.

Fucking silk.

I didn’t know who the heck Johnny Was was, but he makes some damn fine masks. I feel uber cool wearing his pleated and floral wares.

If you find yourself traveling during this time, be sure to do yourself and others a favor by wearing a mask when out in public. It is not only the decent thing to do, but it is the fun thing to do, too.

I think I’m going to keep on wearing masks in the future. I’ve grown rather fond of it.

I mean, clearly, since I just wrote an entire blog post about it.

5 Disturbing Moments in Kids Movies That RUINED Me

Strange things can creep you out when you’re a kid. But one thing I’ve noticed is that when I saw something that freaked me the eff out as a child, it stuck with me for a while.

As in, to this day, I’m still unsettled at the initial object of “terror.”

My wild imagination coupled with my penchant to lie in bed reminiscing over distrubing images makes for an unpleasant combination.

Anyways, today, I thought I’d go over some scenes/images/characters in kids movies that scared the hell out of me even though I don’t think they were supposed to.

Side note: And my parents thought they needed to keep me from watching R-rated movies. If only they had taken a look at these purported children’s movies.

Be prepared for some distubing pictures up ahead. You’ve been warned (albeit briefly).

The Fireys – Labyrinth

Stuff of nightmares, am I right?

Let’s be honest, the whole of Labyrinth is pretty terrifying. From the stalkerish Goblin King to the tunnel of hands, it is a nightmare fest. But nothing made me squirm in discomfort quite like the Fireys.

These “playful” critters torment Sarah on her journey, and they have this terrifying song-and-dance number where they cavort around like demons from the fires of hell. They even kick their own heads off and play with them like hacky sacks.

I haven’t seen Labyrinth in years. And I’m not planning to. While I am very curious to see how I’d feel about it as an adult, those damn Fireys are keeping me away. I don’t think I’m going to touch this movie with a ten-foot pole.

Artax in the Swamps of Sadness – The NeverEnding Story

He literally died of sadness…and part of my heart did, too.

If people thought Mufasa’s death in The Lion King was traumatic, then they never saw the way Artax died in The NeverEnding Story.

On a quest to save his land, Atreyu and his loyal horse, Artax, have to travel through the Swamps of Sadness. These swamps are incredibly dangerous because it can make you feel so sad, you become so heavy, you sink into the treacherous muck.

Atreyu is protected from the Sadness thanks to the amulet he wears (called the Auryn). But his horse has no such protection.

Artax slowly starts sinking into the mud, and at one point he just can’t move at all.

This moment scarred me because Atreyu is screaming the whole time, trying to get his horse to stop feeling sad. Also, since I had read the book, I knew exactly what Artax was thinking as he sank into the mud forever.

E.T. – E.T. the Extra-Terrestrial

Come on, he looks kind of freaky.

Don’t judge me.

I know E.T. the Extra-Terrestrial is a classic film, but as a kid, E.T.’s design freaked me out.

I’m not alone in this sentiment.

Both my boyfriend and I shared this distaste in our respective youths. It impacted our enjoyment of the movie as a whole.

However, the two of us have largely grown past this, and we can watch the film and appreciate it for what it is.

But whenever I’ve seen the movie on my own, I always wonder who in the world okay-ed E.T.’s appearance in a children’s film. I’ve seen better lovable aliens in sci-fi horror movies.

Rat Bellies – The Secret of NIMH

Ouch.

Overall, I actually very much enjoy The Secret of NIMH movies, but that first one was incredibly dark, and it’s only now that I look back at them that I realize this.

If you haven’t seen the first film, I would highly recommend it to you. There’s just one part that made me absolutely squeamish. When recounting the rats’ time at the National Institute of Mental Health, we’re treated to a montage of flashbacks showcasing these experiments. And boy, they did not hold back. The image of rats getting injected in the belly has been forever imprinted in my memory.

I don’t know why this moment in particular stuck with me. It just did. And later on in the film, when the evil rat Jenner gets sliced in the stomach with a sword, I had flashbacks.

The Elderly – Spirited Away

Yubaba wants my soul.

Look at the detail given to Yubaba’s facial features in Spirited Away, and I think you’ll be able to understand why she scares me.

That’s right. “Scares.”

She still does.

Every indent on her lips denoting where her teeth are located, the brightly jeweled rings on her fingers, the massive wart in the middle of her forehead, her clawed nails, and the menacingly pale eyeshadow she has applied all contribute to making her the most feared elderly woman I’ve ever encountered.

And Spirited Away is by no means lacking in freak-out moments. Chihiro’s parents turning into pigs, the gigantic needy baby, and No-Face’s gluttonous rampage are all disquieting moments.

Yubaba takes the cake when it comes to the scariest of them though.

Ranking My Favorite Star Wars Movies (Skywalker Saga Edition)

These are stressful times, and one of my go-to comforts is rewatching the Star Wars movies. I have a deep and abiding love for the Star Wars universe, so doing a dive into the films is the mental equivalent of relaxing in a hot tub for me.

As such, I thought I would go over and rank my favorite movies.

However, when I first contemplated writing this post, I realized with a rise of horror that there is no way to subjectively rank these movies. (Yes, you heard me right, I said subjectively. I’m a Below Average reviewer, okay? Being objective about my geeky loves is nigh impossible.) I love each and every Star Wars movie, but I love them for very different reasons. My love for, let’s say, Attack of the Clones is far removed from my love for The Empire Strikes Back.

Therefore, I needed to come up with a way to rank my favorite Star Wars movies that wouldn’t make my heart explode with indecision.

And so I made brackets. That’s right. Brackets.

I’m going to bracket the nine films of the Skywalker Saga into the originals, the prequels, and the sequels, and rank them accordingly.

Side note: Just because I’m not talking about Solo or Rogue One does not mean I do not adore them. I frickin’ love those movies.

Let’s do this!

The Prequels

I think if I were to be objective, I could argue that the prequels are the worst of the Star Wars franchise. The acting and the dialogue felt stilted, the plot was terribly contrived, and who can forget Jar Jar Binks.

However, to this day, the prequels never fail to put a smile on my face with how ridiculous they were. No other Star Wars films lend themselves so well to making meme-worthy material. Plus, while the dialogue often sounds godawful, it is incredibly quotable. I might have hated Anakin Skywalker’s sand diatribe/pick-up lines with a passion, but I can remember them word for word. And the music for the prequels was fantastic. Perhaps the best scores of the entire franchise.

So, without further ado…

3. Revenge of the Sith

In last place comes Episode III. All of these rankings were tough choices to make, but I knew from the get-go that this would be my “least favorite” of the prequels. Before the movie came out, I read this novelization by Matthew Stover, and it was superb. If you’ve never read it before, I highly recommend it. It’s actually right up there with my favorite Star Wars novels.

The thing is, the novelization did such a great job telling the story of Revenge of the Sith, the film itself could not compare. I was let down by the movie, especially when it took such serious subject matters and made them seem laughable.

Still, this movie gave me my all-time favorite one-liners, including those brief quotes from Chancellor Palpatine. “Power! Unlimited power!

2. The Phantom Menace

I saw The Phantom Menace when I was really young, so a lot of the “politics” of certain situations went right over my head. I had no idea what was going on between the Trade Federation and Naboo, why people couldn’t stop the invasion, or what the heck was this Senate. As a result, I viewed Episode I as the “boring” Star Wars for the longest time.

However, it gave me podracing (which I thought was really cool) and the most epic lightsaber battle I had ever seen. When “Duel of the Fates” started to play and Darth Maul appeared, I forgave the movie for most of its sins. The only thing that ruins that fight for me is the knowledge that I’d never see/feel its like again.

And while the disparity between how ships and technology look like from the prequels to the originals is gargantuan, I have to admit, I fell for that sleek Nubian royal starship like you wouldn’t believe.

1. Attack of the Clones

The “romance” between Anakin and Padme is one of the cringiest things I’ve ever seen in a movie.

And I love it.

It is so incredibly awkward, unlifelike, and creepy that I love it. When considering this list, I initially thought to put Attack of the Clones at the rear of its bracket. But upon further reflection, I realized that nothing beats the sheer hilarity of Anakin’s stalker behavior and winning over of Senator Amidala.

I think Episode II is one of the most uncomfortable Star Wars movies to watch, which inadvertently makes it my most favored of the prequels.

Though, to be fair, it does have some fun action sequences.

The Sequels

I know there were many people who were disappointed by the sequel trilogy. It did not live up to the expectations of prequel lovers or original lovers. However, I found myself thoroughly enjoying most aspects of the sequel films.

For me, at the end of the day, my love of Star Wars is rooted in my love of the universe. Anything that gives me more time in the universe already has a leg up on my affections.

Besides, I can’t hate on anything that gave me Babu Frik. I couldn’t call myself a fan at that point.

3. The Last Jedi

The major thing that bothers me about The Last Jedi is the structure of the movie. Call me a basic bitch, but I like a simple three-act structure. Beginning sets up the characters and the plot, the middle is full of rising tension, there’s a climax, and then a resounding ending.

While deviations from this structure can be exciting, The Last Jedi did not do it for me. Is the climax when Rey fights with Kylo Ren against the Praetorian guard? Or is it when Rose saves Finn’s life by crashing her ski speeder into his? Or is it when Kylo Ren confronts ghostly Luke? The story drags a tad for me, and Canto Bight felt unnecessary.

Plus, the Admiral Holdo/Poe Dameron subplot irritated me. It was one of those simple moments where just reassuring people under her command with confirmation that she has a plan would have erased that whole conflict.

That said, I love Porgs. Those eyes ripped into my heart. And those strange moments between Kylo Ren and Rey felt charged as heck. I held my breath in theaters every time they talked through that connection because I was waiting for some other shoe to drop. And that lightsaber fight between them was kick-ass.

2. The Force Awakens

I was so pumped to see this movie. It marked the first time I could camp outside of a movie theater to see a Star Wars film. And while it did not meet every single one of my expectations, it did satisfy that need.

Its biggest flaw is how closely it adheres to the plot points set out by the original Star Wars. I was not so engrossed with giddiness while watching that I couldn’t notice that.

I mostly enjoy The Force Awakens for the little things. The fact that the previews and movie poster trick you into thinking Finn will be the “Jedi character,” but it ends up being Rey. The cool effect of Rey making her weird portion square turn into a piece of bread. The way that Han Solo says, “That’s not how the Force works!”

The Force Awakens gave me characters I knew I could fall in love with if I just spent more time with them.

1. The Rise of Skywalker

Feel free to call me crazy. Or stupid. Bear in mind that I’ve called my blog The Below Average Blog. I know what I’m like.

Nonetheless, The Rise of Skywalker is my favorite of the sequel trilogy.

Does it have its flaws?

Hell yes. Gaping flaws. It comes across as a rushed mess of a movie that reverses decisions made while making The Last Jedi while hastily covering up any discrepancies that caused haphazardly.

But I still love it.

This movie doubled down on lightsaber fights, introduced Babu Frik into my life, made C-3PO my all-time favorite Star Wars character, and ended with a nostalgic and resounding space-battle victory.

But perhaps the one thing it gave me that I had wanted since The Force Awakens was time between Poe, Finn, and Rey. If The Rise of Skywalker hadn’t delivered on that front, I might not have had as many positive feelings about it as I do. But seeing the three leads going on an adventure together was my bottom-line, I-demand-this desire for the sequels.

The Originals

Damn. This was tough. Tougher than tough. I rolled between the three original Star Wars films with more anxiety than an arachnophobic person walking through a spider exhibit.

But after much time and hair-pulling indecision, I finally ranked them.

It’s tough to decide which of three perfect films you like more.

3. Return of the Jedi

I love Return of the Jedi. It was the best way to end the original trilogy. Luke finally confronted his father, we got to meet the cuddly Ewoks, and Darth Vader saving the day made for a memorable conclusion.

However, this ranks at the bottom of my originals bracket (oof, it hurts to type that), simply because it feels a tad weird to have a second Death Star crop up like a reused tactic from the Empire.

But seriously, I’m not even that mad about it.

I just needed something to justify the ranking.

2. The Empire Strikes Back

The “darkest” Star Wars film was my number one movie for the longest time. I would watch it on repeat for hours just to see the big twist over and over again.

Episode V gave fans so much to love, from Yoda to AT-ATs to Lando Calrissian to the unforgettable revelation that Luke’s dad is Vader. It’s honestly probably the best of the original trilogy given how much it gave to us and how bold it was at the same time.

However, I’m going to place it in second simply because that cliffhanger ending is a killer.

1. A New Hope

I have a special place in my heart for beginnings. Origin stories are the best. This is the one that started them all. It created the universe without getting bogged down in exposition. It simply showed us a story. And in so doing, gave us one of the most memorable sci-fi franchises of all time.

George Lucas really followed the hero’s journey archetypes to a tee, but there ‘s a reason those archetypes became archetypes. For the most part, they work.

I will never forget what it was like to watch this movie for the first time. My Tia Kaki (my aunt) gathered my sister and me to watch it together when we were sleeping over at her house. She would whisper the lines to us right after they were spoken. (Like whenever ghost Obi-Wan would say, “Use the Force, Luke!”) The three of us together got swept up into that galaxy far, far away, and I don’t think I’ve ever fully come back.

My Top 5 Favorite RELAXING Horror Movies

I know what you’re thinking. Horror? Relaxing? Surely you kid.

Nope!

Though horror films are meant to thrill, scare, and discomfit us, there are a handful of movies I enjoy watching in my downtime.

As everyone who reads this should know by now, I’m a big rewatcher, and familiarity breeds comfort.

Each of these five films are classic horror movies, but as I’ve seen each of them more than once, they have become as relaxing as a day spa to me.

Side note: I’ve never been to a day spa.

Let’s dive into them then! Who knows? They could end up becoming your de-stressing, go-to movies too.

The Shining

Based on Stephen King’s illustrious novel, the film covers a family isolated in a hotel that is closed for the winter months, and they must not only deal with the physical isolation permeating the empty halls, but with an evil that creeps among them too.

I can’t even remember the first time I saw The Shining. I feel like it’s been a part of my life for years now. Directed by Stanley Kubrick, it’s a masterpiece of long tracking shots, uncomfortable silences, and sublime terror.

I love showing this movie to friends when I have the opportunity, and when I’m by myself, I really enjoy watching it on cold days with a warm cup of coffee in my hands.

The Thing

An Antarctic research station happens upon a frozen alien life-form with the ability to mimic organic matter down to the cellular level, causing mayhem and paranoia among the men trapped with it, as they no longer know who they can trust.

This movie only recently made it onto my list. I first saw it years ago, but because it had been so long since I had seen it, the details of the plot were hazy. However, while visiting my boyfriend in LA (way before this whole social distancing thing happened), we found a Blu-Ray of it at a Barnes & Noble. And you can bet I bought that baby right on the spot.

Since I haven’t seen The Thing as often as the other movies on this list, it still has the power to creep me out. If I have the house to myself, I’ll pop it on for an afternoon of grotesque and horrific fun.

The Exorcist

When her daughter becomes seemingly possessed by a demonic spirit and all other possibilities are exhausted, one mother finally turns to a priest for help in saving her child.

My own mother shudders at the mere mention of The Exorcist. She actually crosses herself when she sees the movie’s cover. (Which, if I’m being honest, is actually a pretty creepy cover. Shows Regan when she’s been fully possessed, and there’s an icky green lighting over everything.) However, my mother’s reaction to the movie is in part what spurred my desire to see it.

I will willingly watch The Exorcist at night, inviting the scares to bring it on. But, I have to admit, I’m likely to fall asleep to it at times.

Rosemary’s Baby

A young expecting mother must steel her nerves and try to find answers for herself as both her husband and her creepy neighbors take an unhealthy interest in her baby, an interest which hides an even deeper conspiracy.

I saw this movie at my aunt’s house a while back, when she had invited my sister and myself to go swimming in her pool. After the pool antics were done, I decided to watch a movie, and Rosemary’s Baby just so happened to be on. I was only half paying attention to it though, so when I saw it again later with my boyfriend as movie-night sort of thing, it was a tremendously hilarious experience.

Rosemary’s Baby unintentionally tickles my funny bone. It contains some outdated and truly inappropriate lines of dialogue that are side-splitting in how bad they are. But it does a good job at raising the tension. It’s the perfect movie to watch while eating from a big bag of chips, guffawing the whole time.

Alien

The crew of a space hauler encounters a deadly alien that slowly picks them off one by one.

It’s a simple premise, but it’s a fantastic movie. I already wrote a whole post about why I love Alien. I think the Alien/Xenomorph is the best movie monster to ever grace our screens. It fascinates me as well as terrifies me. If you haven’t seen it, you have a real treat in store for you!

I can watch this movie whenever, wherever. It is one of my go-to movies period.

Top 5 Books To Reread

I’m a rereader in a major way. About half the books I read in a year are books I’m not reading for the first time.

I know that’s not necessarily a good thing, that I should probably expand my horizons and pick up books by new authors, but I can’t help myself.

For one thing, I’m a creature of comfort. I like revisiting characters, stories, and writing styles that I know I enjoy.

For another, I feel I have to justify the amount of books I have in my possession. I mean, what’s the point of buying them for myself if I’m not going to read them again and again and again.

Now, I can reread any book. You name it, I’ll reread it. But I have to admit, some books are easier to reread than others. What follows is a list of my all-time favorite books to read over and over again.

I will vouch for these books’ rereadability with my life.

Side note: Figuratively speaking.

So let’s browse these page-turners and get on with it!

Abandon in Place – Jerry Oltion

This is by far the best book I ever picked up in my middle school library. When I was in school, there was a program for students called Accelerated Reading. It forced kids to pick up books and take comprehension tests on them afterwards in order to collect points. I don’t mean to brag, but I always got number one for AR points at school. But the real benefit from AR wasn’t the points. It was the fact that I got my hands on this fantastic book.

The premise alone is fantastic. Rick Spencer, an astronaut, is feeling low after Neil Amstrong’s death. However, after the funeral, a ghostly Saturn V rocket launches from a NASA pad and no one knows where it came from. The government and the space agency, along with Rick, have to figure out where these things are coming from and what to do with them.

Abandon in Place is able to pass off as a cerebral read, but it’s actually like popcorn. It delves into space-race nostalgia and paranormal questions alike with a sense of humor and honesty. It’s not often that you see a sci-fi book paired with obvious romanticism, but that’s what Abandon in Place does. At the end of the day, the book is about hope and optimism, and I love it for that.

Pride & Prejudice – Jane Austen

Is it cliche to like Pride & Prejudice? I feel like it is. Regardless, there’s a reason this book is so popular.

The story is all about Elizabeth Bennet dealing with her family’s quirks and how they make her relate to societal classes. Oh, and also it’s about her romance with Mr. Darcy. That’s why most people read it, and I can’t say I blame them. Darcy’s demeanor is the absolute draw of the novel. I mean, who doesn’t like stoic gentlemen?

It’s a fairly short read, and no chapter is wasted. If Austen includes a paragraph in her work, it is for the express purpose of furthering along her story. That sense of direction and purpose will carry you through every page and make Pride & Prejudice a total speed-run of a book.

The Elegance of the Hedgehog – Muriel Barbery

There is absolutely no reason why I should have bought The Elegance of the Hedgehog that day at the bookstore. I normally don’t extensively peruse bookshelves the way I did. Plus, I don’t like it when book covers feature photos of people. Call me crazy, but I prefer artwork or abstract symbolism on my book covers. But I bought the book, and it’s one of my favorites.

The story has two deuteragonists. One is an aging concierge at this swanky French hotel, where she has to deal with snobbish residents. She pretends to be dumber than she is so that she doesn’t have to share the fact that she is a thoughtful and intelligent person. The other is a young girl, the daughter of one of the families at the hotel. She is incredibly smart, and has decided to kill herself before she grows up to be exactly like her parents.

This book is wonderfully deep, and it makes you feel emotions regardless of whether you’ve heard of the literature or philosophers the characters constantly reference. It’s the most moving quick read I’ve ever read. I remember the first time I finished it, I was in a Dillards, in the shoe department. I cried next to the Gianni Bini heels.

The Hitchhikers Guide to the Galaxy – Douglas Adams

Absolute best book ever. If I had to pick a book to take with me on a desert island, it would be this one. Funny story, I once hit a guy in the nutsack with a collection of Douglas Adams’ work. I’m not proud of that moment (for reasons I may or may not mention another time), but I feel like it adds to the legacy of my copy of The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy.

Anyways, the book’s plot is exceedingly straightforward. Earthman Arthur Dent has to confront the wider reaches of the galaxy after the Earth is destroyed in order to make room for a hyperspace bypass. He goes on adventures, and hilarity ensues.

It is that hilarity that makes The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy such a great reread. The humor never gets old. It’s comparable to Monty Python and the Holy Grail. The trappings might get aged, but the essence of the thing can draw more than a few chuckles from you.

Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire

This book makes it onto this list based purely on the fact that I have reread it more than twelve times. I honestly think it’s my most reread book. Any of the Harry Potter books are great rereads since they move so quickly (yet enjoyably) through their plot points.

This was the Harry Potter book I had to content myself with before The Order of the Phoenix came out. So what else was there for me to do if I wanted to immerse myself in the Wizarding World some more than reread The Goblet of Fire for the umpteenth time.

Hope you liked the list, and I also hope I was able to pique your interest in the direction of any of these books!

Top 5 Hayao Miyazaki Films

You might not know who Hayao Miyazaki is, but I thought I’d write about my top five favorites of his movies.

That’s right, folks! It’s time for yet another Below Average list!

Hayao Miyazaki is the creator behind several wondrous animated films, each one brimming with detailed and immersive worlds and engaging characters. Miyazaki is a genius of the highest order. He knows how to tell one heck of a story.

The fact that his movies are animated might fool you into thinking they’re meant for kids, but you’d be dead wrong. The narrative appeals to people of all ages, dealing with morality and fantasy in equal measure.

Plus, all of his movies have insane replay value. Whether you’re looking for a movie to put on in the background while you do something else or a movie to intensely revisit in order to learn something new, Miyazaki’s films can satisfy both needs.

So, even if you’ve never seen a Hayao Miyazaki movie in your life or if you’ve seen them all multiple times, here are my top 5 favorite Hayao Miyazaki films!

5. Spirited Away

Spirited Away is the classic Hayao Miyazaki movie. It’s probably the one that most average moviegoers have heard of. It’s about a little girl named Chihiro whose parents turn into pigs due to an unfortunate case of the munchies. Chihiro then has to embark on a peril-infused journey through a fantastical ghost world in order to save herself and her parents. She makes a few friends along the way and learns about the strength she’s had inside the whole time. Spirited Away is a pretty vanilla story when you look at its bare bones, but the trappings surrounding the narrative are what make it so special. The ghost world is absolutely magical, and by “magical,” I do mean that magic is involved. I rewatch this movie about once a year. Feels new every time.

4. Ponyo

If my sister made a list about her favorite Hayao Miyazaki movies, Ponyo would be the number one for hers. She loves this movie so much, she actually stole my copy of it. Ponyo tells a version of the Little Mermaid story. A little girl falls in love with a little boy and abandons her watery home to live with him. It’s a very cute story, with a surprisingly laid-back atmosphere considering it’s about a phantasmic underwater world. It actually reminds me a lot of My Neighbor Totoro (another Miyazaki film that sadly did not make my top 5) because of how quaint and unique it makes the average character feel. Ponyo is the perfect rainy day movie. (Unless your sister then starts butchering the final song by only singing the word “Ponyo” over and over again.)

3. Castle in the Sky

Castle in the Sky is actually one of my favorites for reasons that are external from the movie itself. My mom bought me a DVD copy of the movie one day, completely out of the blue. She got it for me simply because she knew I liked Hayao Miyazaki movies, and she figured I didn’t have this one. The spontaneity of this act of love touched my heart so much that it made the movie hold a special place there. And funnily enough, this movie about a boy and girl who have to find a lost city in the sky is all about those random acts of kindness. Plus, it features Mark Hamill as the voice of the villain. You just can’t beat that.

2. Princess Mononoke

Okay, remember how I said Hayao Miyazaki makes animated movies that please both adults and children? Well…Princess Mononoke is a tad gruesome, so be wary when showing this PG-13 rated film to kids. But the story is truly epic! I love this movie so much! It deals with man’s destruction of nature, love, and integrity in the face of rising odds. The name of the movie initially put me off from watching it when I was younger because I thought it was going to be a weird “princess” movie. It’s not that at all. It’s an engrossing story, and what I like the most about it is how it has these two opposing perspectives and neither one of them are truly evil. It’s about compromising and realizing when you have to change and when you should hold to your ideals.

1. Howl’s Moving Castle

I’m a bit embarrassed that Howl’s Moving Castle is my number one Hayao Miyazaki movie because it is unabashedly a love story. But I like how unexpected a lot of it is. Sophie, the main character, is a quiet girl who meets the flamboyant wizard, Howl. As you might guess, they’re the romantic couple of the story. But get this: Sophie is cursed by a jealous witch at the beginning of the movie to be an old woman. This love story feels unconventional because it truly is about loving a person for what’s on the inside. I mean, say what you want about strong Disney princesses or whatever. You can’t deny that those chicks are gorgeous and that their looks are usually what garners them the attention of their romantic interests in the first place. Not so with Sophie. Her willpower, practicality, and dry sense of humor are what make her stand out from the other girls vying for Howl’s attention. Plus, Calcifer (voiced by Billy Crystal) is one of Hayao Miyazaki’s best side characters.

It’s That Scheduled Time Of Year Again

It is that time of year again, folks.

It’s time…

…to get my new agenda ready.

And no, I’m not talking about some figurative agenda that I have to start planning for my diabolical machinations.

I am a big agenda person. I like keeping my days organized with a physical planner, none of that phone shit for me. I make bullet-point entries of all the things I need to do each day. When I complete the activity/task/chore, I cross out its bullet point. Crossing those items off my daily to-do list is immensely satisfying. Sometimes, I think I put things on my agenda just so I can have something to cross out.

Having an agenda really caters to the list-making part of me too. No matter what, thanks to my agenda, I work with a list every day. (For some of my list-oriented posts, click here!)

My agenda obsession started when I was in junior high. I wish I could say I was cool enough to have brought my own agenda to class, but I wasn’t that awesome when I was younger. The school’s administration passed out agendas to all incoming middle schoolers on our first day. They probably wanted to instill organizational skills in us. And hey howdy hey, it worked! Well, on me at least.

I buy agendas once a year now. It’s a habit, but one I’m not entirely ashamed of.

Since I got introduced to agendas through school, I always buy the July-to-June agendas instead of the January-to-December ones (which are so totally lame). Which means, as I stated before, that it is officially time to get a new agenda since June is ending.

I’m a basic bitch when it comes to buying my agendas, so I always just pop over to the nearest Staples and by the most appealing, overpriced planner I can get. I wish I could say that I crafted my own agendas out of sketch paper and a three-ring binder, but I haven’t reached such levels of niftiness yet.

Do you guys get agendas of some sort? (If it’s a January-to-December kind, I was just being silly before when I said they were lame!)

My Favorite Harry Potter Books Ranked

It’s time once again for another list-oriented post!

God, I love these things.

My boyfriend and I have just started playing the LEGO Harry Potter Collection together. About a day after The Gaming Diaries (a blog I really enjoy following) recommended the game to me, I found myself in a GameStop. What a kawinkadink!

I bought the game for me and Danny, and we dove into the strange LEGO world of Harry Potter. (We are rapidly becoming LEGO video game veterans. Which is maybe something I should not brag about.) We have worked our way through most of Harry’s early school years at Hogwarts, and it has gotten me reminiscing about the Harry Potter books. It’s been a while since I’ve read them, but the series was a huge part of my life. (Still is.)

And aside from my Hogwarts house analysis, I haven’t written much about them.

So welcome to my list of favorite Harry Potter books!

Please bear in mind that I’m a Below Average person and that these rankings are entirely subjective.

Let’s do this:

7. Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban

Funnily enough, this is my sister’s favorite book from the series. And let’s get something straight. I don’t dislike any Harry Potter book. I just like some of them more than others. Prisoner of Azkaban never appealed to me for multiple reasons.

For one thing, I couldn’t get behind how emotional magic got. I know the Patronus Charm is now one of the staple spells of the Harry Potter universe, but when I was a kid, I thought it was kind of corny how only “happiness” could make the Patronus Charm work. And is it just me, or did no one ever explain why chocolate helps after a Dementor attack?

Another thing that bothered me was how easy it was for an innocent man to get framed for a crime he didn’t commit. This is a world of freaking wizards who can do magic. Why couldn’t one of them suss out the fact that Sirius Black did not kill Peter Pettigrew? Did no one think to use Veritaserum on Sirius?

Did like the idea of school trips to Hogsmeade though. That seemed nifty.

6. Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows

Call me old fashioned, but I missed the simplicity of Harry, Ron, and Hermione at school. I get that as the seventh and final book, things had to get gritty and real as they sought to destroy Horcruxes out in the world. But I found myself missing Hogwarts more than I thought I would.

There’s something about the school that centers a Harry Potter story. Without the school as the primary setting, it didn’t feel like a Harry Potter story. It felt like…well, it felt like a story.

Of course, it is extremely difficult to finish off an epic tale and leave everyone satisfied. I like The Deathly Hallows for that sense of finality you get when you close the pages. Once it ended, I was perfectly content knowing that I might never visit Hogwarts in a book again.

Annnnnnnnd then The Cursed Child came out.

5. Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix

People call this the darkest book in the Harry Potter series, and they would not be wrong. Sirius Black, the beloved godfather of Harry Potter, just bites the dust in this book. And I remember when I read the part when Harry is yelling at Dumbledore afterwards, I was crying.

That’s not to say the book doesn’t have its positive features. Having Harry teach proper Defense Against The Dark Arts classes and start Dumbledore’s Army was legitimately bad-ass. And Professor Umbridge is one of the most terrifying villains I have ever come across in a book.

And I like Stephen King.

However, this book also includes Harry’s whiny teenager phase. And snogging.

4. Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone

More than any of the other books in the series, The Sorcerer’s Stone is a kids book. I read it in elementary school, and that’s what hooked me on the series.

The reason it ranks so high on this list is because it’s the original. It’s the first. It’s the one that started them all.

The Sorcerer’s Stone was not only Harry’s introduction to the Wizarding world; it was ours.

3. Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince

The best villains in stories are usually those that you don’t know too much about. If you’re going for a big bad that maintains that same level of terror in you, it’s best to keep a lid on the details of his or her sordid past.

Voldemort was the constant terror of Harry’s life, and in The Half-Blood Prince, we got to take a closer look at his past in all those lessons that Dumbledore started giving Harry. He became more nuanced, and Wizarding history got a bit deeper, or at least our understanding of it did. Our examination of his early childhood did not diminish our wariness of his current form.

Plus, you’ve got to love all that romance stuff that was happening while Voldemort’s past was being showcased to us.

Ron and Hermione. I’ll never understand it.

2. Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets

I don’t know why I love The Chamber of Secrets so much.

Maybe it’s because we got introduced to the lives of an ordinary Wizarding family like the Weasleys.

Maybe it’s because Gilderoy Lockhart is one of the most hilarious teacher caricatures in the history of Hogwarts.

Maybe because the mystery of the Chamber was just that compelling.

Who knows.

1. Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire

Hands down my favorite.

I loved everything about this book. The tournament, the other Wizarding Schools, the headlines, the champions.

Plus, while it was heart-wrenching to read through, I liked how Ron and Harry got into that big fight after Harry’s name came out of the Goblet. It must have been difficult for Ron to have to be the famous Harry Potter’s best friend. And while it was a dick move to be jealous of your friend who has been thrust into a life-threatening situation against their will, it was, dare I say it, relatable. I think Harry, and readers, took Ron for granted prior to this book.

This big tome of a book was the first Harry Potter book (for me at least) that took a turn for the serious, the more mature. With the death of Cedric Diggory, the stakes were definitely raised.

Also, one of the great things about reading the series as a kid was how you grew up alongside the characters. I never felt that this was more apparent than while reading The Goblet of Fire.

So which Harry Potter books are your favorite? I understand if you can’t pick. It took me days of ponderous thought to come up with this list.

My Top 7 Ugly-Cry Movies

Are you ready for a roaring good time?

Well, then I suggest you go somewhere else, since I’m about to start a woeful list.

It’s been too long since my last list-oriented post. For my next post, I’d like to write about movies that make me bawl like a baby. I’m talking about some serious crying over here.

Now, I’m not overly sensitive, but I’m also not made out of stone. I get the feels as much as anybody. (I think.)

So are you ready to mumble and weep? ūüôā

Side note: Both my sister and my boyfriend helped me compile this list.

7. The Imitation Game

What Part Specifically: When Alan Turing breaks down in fear of losing his machine, crying that he doesn’t want to be alone.

Why I Cry: For the whole movie, Turing comes across like an unfeeling machine. This makes for some humorous moments while he’s working with his fellow code-breakers to decipher the Nazi Enigma machine. And he does end up displaying some fondness for them. But for the most part, Turing feels like a solitary island. The only real glimpses of humanity that we witness are from his childhood flashbacks, when we see Turing’s time at school. While at school, Turing met a fellow classmate named Christopher, who saved him from bullies and whom Turing fell in love with. Unfortunately, Christopher dies. As Turing completes his work on his machine, you understand how much Christopher meant to Turing based on the fact that Turing named his machine after him. However, it’s only at the end of the movie, when Turing has been condemned for being a gay man and he is threatened with having his work taken away from him, that you realize how much of a crutch his machine became to cover for Turing’s sense of loss. So of course I’m going to cry over the idea that the man responsible for creating computers, devices used to connect countless people across the world, could have felt lonely and afraid at the end of his life.

6. The Fox and the Hound

What Part Specifically: When Big Mama starts singing that song as Copper and Todd are playing together.

Why I Cry: As a kid, the concept of two friends being unable to play with each other even though they really wanted to was traumatizing. I never liked watching The Fox and the Hound as much as other Disney movies when I was younger. Nowadays, Big Mama’s simple, happy song towards the beginning of the movie gets me bawling because you know what is going to happen next. They’re not going to be the best of friends forever. Once, my mom decided to show this movie to her kindergarten kids. I was volunteering in her classroom when she put it on. That part of the movie came on the screen, and I had to walk away from the group of kids so they wouldn’t see the tears gushing out from my eye holes.

5. The Lord of the Rings: The Return of the King

What Part Specifically: When Sam carries Frodo up Mount Doom.

Why I Cry: Okay, I can hear the snickers now. Yes, I cry when Sam yells heroically that he can’t carry the Ring, but he can carry Frodo. I feel embarrassed that I sob at such a meme-worthy, laughable moment, but I just can’t help it! It’s so noble! And then the music swells up as Sam hefts Frodo onto his shoulder and trudges up the lava-spewing mountain. My sister walked in on me when I was watching this part, and do you think she comforted me? Nope. She laughed in my face.

4. Blindspotting

What Part Specifically: When Collin confronts Officer Molina in the basement of his own home.

Why I Cry: I can’t recommend Blindspotting enough. It is a very good movie. It’s one of those movies that can make you laugh or cry on a dime. I saw it in October, and one of the final scenes had me silently weeping in the theater. Collin, after having seen a police officer shoot an unarmed man and get away with it, has been deeply affected by the event. He spends the next couple of days living in fear and shock. (Whoever directed this movie did a really good job of having you feel that fear too.) A few days later, when Collin is moving some things out of a person’s house as part of his job, he realizes that the house he’s working in is owned by the very cop he saw perform the shooting. Collin picks up a gun and threatens the cop with it. Except it’s not just a simple threat/revenge scheme. Collin is still clearly terrified of the cop and angry with him for having such a hold over his life, and you realize that all Collin seems to want out of the situation is for the cop to know what he has inadvertently done to his life. And as you look into the cop’s eyes, you see (or at least I did; I may have interpreted this scene a bit too freely) self-reproach, and you realize that while Collin may have spent the past few days in terror, the cop was probably being wracked with guilt. I won’t spoil what happens next, but Blindspotting is an overall fantastic movie that had me fighting/succumbing to the feels on more than one occasion.


3. Toy Story 3

What Part Specifically: When Andy plays with his toys one last time.

Why I Cry: I mentioned this moment in my Top Ten Pixar Movie List a few weeks ago. Originally, I wasn’t going to have this movie on my list because I felt like it would just be a rehash of what I wrote before. But my sister insisted I keep it in because no matter what I’m doing, no matter if it’s just this scene that I watch, I will always weep when I see it. I was a “toy” kid when I was young. I would spend my Saturday mornings playing with my toys in my room all by myself, crafting adventures for them and having great character arcs for each of my action figures. When I was a kid, there was nothing I liked to do more than play with those toys. But as I grew up, the toys didn’t come out as much, until eventually, all toy-playing ceased. So when I see Andy play with those toys, it reminds me of how I used to be and wracks me with guilt over the possible sense of abandonment my toys might be feeling. I’m getting all teary-eyed right now just thinking about it.

2. Rudy

What Part Specifically: The goddamned ending.

Why I Cry: Fuck you, Danny, for showing me this movie. I know you’re reading this. For those of you who don’t know, I’m not a sports movie person. I’m not a sports person period. Whenever I watch some sports event, I pick teams I want to win based on whether or not I like their mascots. (Animal mascots win out over non-animal mascots. Bird mascots are the best kind of animal mascot.) So it was a real struggle for Danny to get me to watch Rudy. Why, I thought, should I waste my time watching some lame sports movie? Oh. My. God. Rudy is one of the best movies ever. All Rudy wants is to play on this one college football team. That’s it. That’s the end of his objective. And his determination is goddamned beautiful.

Honorable Mention! Hamilton

What Part Specifically: Whenever Angelica says/sings, “I know my sister like I know my own mind.”

Why I Cry: It’s a play, not a movie, but I wanted to include it anyways. My sister and I have a really close relationship, and whenever any evidence of the Schuyler sisters’ love for each other comes up, it always gave my sister and me a bad case of the feels. When we went to go see the play in San Francisco, both she and I cried when that part of Angelica’s song came up. Yes, we’re both saps at heart.

1. Hachi: A Dog’s Tale

What Part Specifically: When Hachi passes away at the train station his owner always went to.

Why I Cry: It’s a sad dog movie! Of course I’m going to cry. In case you haven’t heard about this sobfest, it’s about this loyal dog named Hachi, who always accompanied his owner to the train station when he went off to work. At the end of the owner’s work day, Hachi would go and wait for him at the station. Unfortunately, the owner suffered a heart attack at work one day. Hachi went to the train station, but the owner never came. For every day afterwards, Hachi stayed at the train station. He eventually passed away in front of the station. The movie really twists the knife when it shows us what Hachi experienced as he died. Hachi saw the doors to the station opening and his owner walk out from them, giving him a big old hug. You just can’t withstand the emotional impact of a dog’s affection.

So do you have any ugly-cry movies? I may have heard of (and cried during) them as well. ūüôā

Top Ten Pixar Movies Worth Adoring!

It’s time for another list, you guys! It’s been too long since the last one. What, has it been years? Decades?

(I exaggerate. In case you’re interested, here is my last top ten post.)

I’ve never thought of myself as too old for a kids movie, but I have to admit, my taste in kids movies has gotten pretty refined. Burp and fart jokes just won’t cut it anymore. I want character development and nuanced humor.

Pixar has consistently delivered that to us as the years have gone by (give or take a few exceptions), so I thought I would honor their years of excellence by giving them their very own list on this Below Average Blog.

(Now that I type that, it feels like I’m punishing Pixar more than I’m rewarding them.)

Let’s do this.

10. Toy Story 2

People don’t give¬†Toy Story 2¬†enough credit as a sequel. Given how poorly sequels to popular movies can turn out, I think¬†Toy Story 2¬†did a superb job of following¬†Toy Story.¬†It deepened our understanding of Woody’s character (and made him into a non-jerk) while also introducing us to new toys to fall in love with. (Though I still can’t understand why Bullseye can’t talk like the rest of them.) Jessie’s backstory was heartbreaking for me as a kid. I think I vowed never to abandon a toy under a bed ever again. (I have my shoes there now.) Plus, that airport chase was an amazingly huge set-piece for a movie about toys.

9. Ratatouille

Ratatouille¬†is like the middle child of Pixar movies. (No offense to middle children.) It’s easily overlooked and forgotten when you’re trying to recall the names of all the Pixar movies that have ever been. It’s like one of those forgettable Presidents. But it’s always been the most homey of the Pixar movies to me. Where other Pixar movies are these eclectic and fascinating beverages,¬†Ratatouille¬†is hot chocolate. It’s my favorite movie to put on during a rainy day when I’m all by myself. It always makes me hungry though.

8. Finding Nemo

Even as a small child sitting in a theater, I knew that¬†Finding Nemo¬†was gorgeous. I’m not one to linger over and praise the visuals of a movie, but¬†dang, Finding Nemo¬†was stunning. The amount of detail that must have gone into crafting the ocean world staggers me. The story was super heart-warming too. It’s a classic adventure with emotions thrown in.¬†Finding Nemo¬†gave us some of the most memorable characters as well, and what I find funny is that Nemo, the fish whose name is in the title, is overshadowed by Bruce, Crush, Dory, Peach, Bubbles, and all those other sea critters we met along the way.

7. Toy Story

What, you didn’t think that I would forget the OG Pixar movie, did you? Of course I’m including¬†Toy Story¬†on this list. It’s the one that started it all. Even excluding the fact that it was the first in a long line of great movies as a factor,¬†Toy Story¬†made it onto this list because of how imaginative it was. A movie about toys that are alive and have their own society was my cup of tea as a kid. It was thoughtful and hilarious. My dad did get a bit squeamish showing this movie to me. He didn’t like the fact that I was being shown a child sadist in the form of Sid for the first time. Well, dad, I had to find out that psychopaths existed at some point.

6. The Incredibles

If I ever did a list on the best super hero movies, The Incredibles would be on there too. Hell, I think they do a better job of showing a super family dynamic than any other super hero film involving a family does. (*Cough cough* Fantastic Four *cough cough*) They made it fun and they hit all the right notes without getting bogged down in an origin story. The Incredibles focused on that family dynamic and definitely gave the best demonstrations of elastic and speed abilities that I have ever seen on a screen.

5. Monsters Inc.

If I thought that¬†Toy Story¬†was imaginative, I had no idea what I was talking about until I saw¬†Monsters Inc.¬†A movie about the monsters in your closet? A society that gets powered by screams? It’s just too good. When I was younger, I only really knew that I liked the movie, but now that I’m older, I can appreciate the creativity that went into making the world of¬†Monsters Inc.¬†Plus, the humor was just delightful for both adults and kids.

4. Up

I have never cried so quickly while watching a movie. How many minutes passed, 10 or 15, before that movie just ripped your heart into tiny pieces and sprinkled lemon juice on it? No one I know is immune to Up’s¬†opening introduction of Carl and Ellie. And then that one moment where Carl looks at that scrapbook and finds out that Ellie believed that he was her adventure this whole time anddammitI’malreadycryingwhywhydoyoudothistome?!¬†The music for¬†Up¬†was fantastic, too, and helped hit all the right emotional notes. Not that the movie needed anymore help hitting those emotional notes.

3. Inside Out

I have to admit that this movie is definitely higher than it should be on an unbiased list, but the reason it has such a high ranking on mine is because of timing. Before¬†Inside Out,¬†Pixar had released¬†Cars 2, Brave,¬†and¬†Monsters University,¬†none of which touch even the bottom of this list. I want to call this period of time Pixar’s Slump. So when I went to go see¬†Inside Out¬†in theaters, I walked out with tears not just because the movie was emotionally satisfying (in more ways than one), but also because I was so happy that Pixar’s Slump was over.

2. Toy Story 3

Oof, it was very hard choosing between my #2 and #1 spots on this list, but I ended up putting¬†Toy Story 3¬†as #2 because it kind of had an unfair advantage over my #1 since it was the culmination of two other movies. Still,¬†Toy Story 3¬†hit me right in the feels. I had to see my favorite toys reach a new stage in their life when their owner, Andy, goes to college, and it just hurt too much (in a good way). That one moment at the end when Andy plays with them all for one last time had me crying harder than Sadness from¬†Inside Out.¬†It was the perfect ending to the movies, and I’m low-key bummed they decided to make a fourth. I’m going to reserve my judgment until I see it, but I think that¬†Toy Story 3’s¬†ending is going to be hard to beat.

1. WALL-E

I love¬†WALL-E.¬†Despite having little to no dialogue at the beginning, you learned about the kind of robot WALL-E was and you learned to empathize with him. I have this theory that there are two kinds of people in the world: WALL-Es and EVEs. People who have been WALL-E find it easier to empathize with him and therefore enjoy the movie more. People who have only ever been EVEs get fed up with the movie. This is not an absolute rule; there are exceptions. Still, I adore WALL-E because I’ve been WALL-E. Mayhaps not so desperate, but I’ve been the person who pines and who thinks that the person she likes will never like her. Now, I can’t hear the word “objective” without wanting to hold someone’s hand.

So what’s your favorite Pixar movie? (Please god, I hope it is¬†A Bug’s Life.)¬†Feel free to let me know in the comments!