What Is the Point of Zack Snyder’s Justice League?

I get it, okay?

Sometimes, a movie comes out, and you’re not happy with the results. I have more than once been irked by a movie that got on my nerves for how awful it was. For your reading pleasure, here is what I thought of Wonder Woman 1984, here is what I thought of Cats, and here is what I thought of Alita: Battle Angel.

As you can see by these examples, I am no stranger to vitriol.

But never in my life have I thought to myself, “Hmm, that movie was so bad. I hope it is redone, made twice as long, but still retains the same plot points.”

That’s basically what Zack Snyder’s Justice League is.

When Justice League first came out, there were good bits and there were bad bits. I enjoyed the movie for what it was (a rushed attempt to capitalize on the Marvel Cinematic Universe trend of mashing up heroes in one movie) and got on with my life.

But then I started hearing whispers about how “the Snyder cut is the true vision of what the film could be” and other such stuff. I never thought anything would come of it.

And that’s right around when the Snyder cut was announced.

I like 300 and Watchmen as much as the next person, but some of Zack Snyder’s fans talk about him like he is the filmmaking equivalent of Jesus. And I just don’t understand it, especially after watching the four-hour-long version of a movie I already saw.

The plot remains largely the same. For those of you who saw Justice League, rest assured that the Snyder cut only offers a few meaningful differences. The one aspect worthy of attention in this bloated movie is Cyborg’s story. Man, this character got shafted in the first one if this was his original intended storyline. I appreciated the expansion of his history and his inclusion in moving the film along. He actually plays a more important role and gets some much deserved screentime.

However, the rest of the film felt stuffed with unnecessary chaff.

I don’t need to see someone’s disturbed expression for thirty seconds after something upsetting happens.

I don’t need to see measured stares between characters that last way longer than they should.

And I don’t need to see slow-motion walking for no goddamn reason.

I mean, criminy, a quarter of the Snyder cut is made of slo-mo scenes. I don’t even think I’m exaggerating. And it’s one thing if I saddle myself up for a stylistic movie like 300, where I am aware of what I’m getting myself into.

But it’s like Justice League tried to be both stylistic-artsy-fartsy and MCU-generated-popcorn-fluff. PICK A LANE, PEOPLE.

And don’t get me started on the “ancient lamentation music” that played nearly every time Wonder Woman was on the screen.

Snyder fans might hate me for not liking this massive movie, but I swear, I like other films he has done. It’s just…

This one feels so unnecessary. I can’t comprehend why people were so hyped for it.

And I guess maybe part of my displeasure stems from that. If people hadn’t been praising the heck out of it like it was the neatest thing since sliced bread, maybe I wouldn’t be so irritated after watching it and finding out it was as absurd as canned bread.

I rate Zack Snyder’s Justice League a zzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzz.

The Trouble With Tenet: Tenet Review

The pandemic has thoroughly wrecked my usual form of movie entertainment. Before going into lockdown in March, one of my favorite things to do was call up a few friends and go see the latest movies at our local theater.

Yeah, that’s been out the window for a while now.

When Tenet was announced to be releasing in theaters, I possessed mixed feelings about it. On the one hand, I was thrilled at the notion of a Christopher Nolan movie premiering at theaters. A Nolan film is typically a fantastic thing to see on the big screen, an absolute must-watch of the movie season.

On the other hand, none of my local theaters were reopening anytime soon and even if they did, my stress levels and concern for my health would prevent me from seeing Tenet in them. So the news of its release also brought about its fair share of disappointment.

However, my spirits were raised thanks to my boyfriend suggesting we rent it on Redbox when it came out there, and we’d watch it together, make it a movie-date-night kind of thing safe from home.

I love my boyfriend, I love Christopher Nolan movies, and I love watching Christopher Nolan movies with my boyfriend. Sounded like a recipe for a pleasant evening.

As I waited for the day when Tenet released, I refused to read any reviews about the movie. However, one day, I caved and read some of the comments below an ad for the movie while scrolling through Instagram. (I should know better than to read the comments section by now.) Most of these strangers who took the time to type up a response on this ad were complaining about Tenet, saying it was just too confusing.

Now, I’d seen both Inception and Interstellar, so I scoffed at these remarks, knowing I could handle any complex plot Christopher Nolan could throw at me.

Boy, was I wrong.

I can now personally attest to the messy tangle of Tenet’s plot. The movie is basically a clever concept poorly executed and explained in a terrible fashion.

Normally, whenever I review a movie, I’ll provide a brief synopsis of the film, giving you a chance to learn about the story if you haven’t seen it yet.

Tenet’s story is so complicated, I actually leaned back in my chair while writing the outline for this post, absolutely stumped on how to go about explaining it.

Essentially, a man gets hired by a group (I think) to stop a time war that is about to happen thanks to another unknown group from the future (I think) sending items that can go back in time (I think) to the present in order to start or end this war (I think).

This is kind of conjecture, and I’ve seen the movie.

Tenet goes beyond Inception when it comes to how complicated the plot and story mechanics are. In Inception, rules were laid out for moviegoers to follow, and you could visually understand certain aspects about moving through a person’s dreams thanks to the power of filmmaking.

The character of Arthur from Inception spends a lot of time explaining to Ariadne, a newcomer to the dream-thief business, how things work in the dream world. As he explains things to her, he is explaining them to us. Having a rookie character in a story can help you as a storyteller more easily explain complex notions to people. They learn as your character learn.

And the film itself visually showcases how things going on in the real world can affect things in the dream world. It does so in small bursts, such as when a character needs a kick to get out of a dream, and they get jolted awake in the real world. However, Inception also showcases these moments in stunning visual displays, such as when Arthur must fight in a hotel hallway while in the dream level above him there is zero gravity.

Tenet has a barebones moment where “time traveling” is explained, but the notion is so beyond comprehension, it’s not enough to swallow the later events of the movie.

The main character of Tenet, imaginatively named Protagonist (no, I’m not joking), is shown an “inverted” object. It’s a thing that moves backward through time. For example, an inverted bullet gets fired back into a gun and an inverted ball leaps back into your hand.

Right off the bat, I can’t wrap my head around how this works. Protagonist implies it’s half thought, half physical action that makes this happen. But showing me Protagonist as he fires a gun that sucks a bullet back up does not explain to me how it works.

And that is the simplest example of going-backwards-in-time that the film shows you. Once fistfights, car chases, and murders start happening in reverse time, it gets even harder to understand the mechanics of this time travel.

And it didn’t help that when things are explained, they’re using words like “inverted entropy.” The whole movie requires captions to be turned on (which my boyfriend considers a cardinal sin when watching a film that is meant to be viewed without words scrolling across the bottom).

Aside from the convoluted mechanics of inverted time, Tenet also suffers from one glaring issue: it has no heart.

Nolan has covered mind-bending concepts in his films before, from faulty memory in Memento to dream-incepting in Inception. But one thing you could always count on in these past films was a strong emotional connection to the main character. Leonard Shelby was driven by an urge to seek revenge for the murder of his wife. Dominick Cobb is desperate to clear his name so he can see his children again. Interstellar’s entire story is practically driven by Cooper’s love for his daughter.

Tenet is missing that emotional thread that kept us invested in the intellectual twists and turns of Nolan’s other films. Protagonist is a bad-ass, but he’s a blank slate. I relate more to John Wick for his love of his puppy than I do to Protagonist.

Sure, we know Protagonist is a good guy. He’s working to save the world and its future after all. But he is missing that emotional element that would keep me rooting for him aside from a general interest in the survival of humanity.

Side note: Jeez, I sound like an uncaring person, but I hope you guys know what I mean.

Tenet is an intriguing film to watch, definitely one that’ll keep you thinking the entire time, but it is difficult to comprehend and connect to the protagonist’s journey on several layers.

I rate Tenet an avoid-if-you-don’t-want-to-spend-hours-watching-explanation-videos-afterwards-and-if-you-don’t-like-subtitles-because-man-this-movie-requires-you-to-have-them-on.

The Meaning of Life: Soul Review

I watched two movies this past Christmas, both of which released that very day directly to audiences at home. One of them was Wonder Woman 1984. After my last post, we both know how that turned out. The other was Soul.

And I just want to say how lucky I was that I chose to watch Soul after Wonder Woman 1984. There was no bitter taste left in my movie-watching mouth when I went to bed that night, all thanks to Pixar’s latest film.

Soul is a delightful movie that shares a great message, a message that I didn’t see coming until quite a ways through the story. (And I freakin’ loved that.)

Joe Gardner is a jazz pianist who finally catches a break when he signs up to do a gig with a famed saxophonist. Unfortunately for him, almost as soon as he finds out he got the job, he suffers a near-death experience. When he “wakes up,” he finds himself approaching the light.

Refusing to accept this fate, Joe leaps away from the Great Beyond and ends up in a place termed the Great Before. It’s a place where souls congregate before going down to Earth to inhabit newborn bodies. Desperate to make his way back to his comatose body on Earth, Joe learns he needs something called an Earth pass to make the dive.

He agrees to mentor Soul 22, a soul that has just refused to gain her Earth pass because she does not want to go through the trials and tribulations of being alive. They enter into an arrangement where Soul 22 will find her “Spark,” thus gaining her Earth pass, and then give it to Joe so he can return to his body.

That’s the basic premise, and it’s such a fascinating concept all on its own. But Soul does not rely solely on the premise to hook viewers. It follows through with a touching story about what it means to be alive.

I don’t want to spoil the movie for anyone who hasn’t seen it yet, so I highly recommend that if you haven’t seen Soul, stop reading right now. I refuse to go further into plot, but I do want to talk about the major theme of the film.

See, Joe believes that he was born to play jazz piano. He loves it more than practically anything. When he learns about Sparks, he ties that to someone’s purpose in life. He knows without a shadow of a doubt that piano-playing is his spark, his reason for being alive.

However, as Soul goes on to show us, Joe really is missing the whole point of being alive.

Soul does for living what Inside Out did for emotions. Inside Out’s major revelation showcased that Sadness is a vital emotion when it comes to expressing empathy or seeking help from other human beings. It slowly built this point up over the course of the story, showing how Riley was not getting the help she needed because Sadness was not allowed to take the reins for a time.

Soul reveals to us that there is no materialistic or purpose-driven Spark that readies a soul for life on Earth. All it takes is a passion for the joys of living and an appreciation for the sensations you can only experience by being alive. You don’t need to be a skilled pianist or a talented sports player to justify your existence.

And I have to admit, I didn’t see this message coming, even though after a second viewing, I could see the moments where it was readily apparent. I kept waiting for the reveal of what Soul 22’s Spark was going to be. Would it be teaching? Would it be as simple as communicating with other people? I was ignorant of where the story was leading me until a character outright told me about the silliness of getting hung up on “purposes.”

It’s a hefty concept, and I’ve heard more than one person say that Soul is not a movie meant for kids. Personally, I think those people underestimate the kinds of themes a kid can handle. (Though I do think a kid might find Soul an ounce more boring than, let’s say, The Incredibles.)

I rate Soul a balm-for-the-soul-especially-when-you-have-the-tendency-to-question-why-you’re-alive-and-what’s-your-purpose-in-existing.

The Wonder Is Gone: Wonder Woman 1984 Review

For those who have been with me for a long time, you probably know I’m…lenient when it comes to reviewing movies. I have loved some notoriously bad movies. And I’m not even talking about bad-on-purpose movies like Mortal Kombat.

I liked The Rise of Skywalker, if that tells you anything.

But every so often, a movie just…irritates me. And for anybody who knows me, you know that a movie has to make some egregious mistakes for me to start getting annoyed.

The first Wonder Woman movie is by no means bad. It’s fantastic, actually. I really enjoyed it. Even praised a particular moment in a single post. To say my hopes were high for Wonder Woman 1984 would be an understatement.

Which is maybe where all my dissatisfaction with the film stems from.

Wonder Woman 1984 is a letdown, mired in terrible story elements and plot holes, while simultaneously tantalizing viewers with the wonder that might have been.

Spoiler Warning!

Brief Synopsis (In Which I Might Sound Irked)

After the events of the first film, it’s clear that Diana Prince still pines for Steve Trevor. Never mind the fact that she met him for about a week in 1918 and more than fifty years have passed since then. She has never let go of her feelings for him, as indicated by this ham-fisted scene where the gorgeous Diana dines alone at a restaurant.

Diana is introduced to Barbara Minerva, a coworker who works specifically with gems. Barbara is an awkward woman who speaks rapidly and is clearly in awe of Diana’s grace and beauty.

Barbara works with this specific gem/stone/artifact that turns out to be a wishing stone. That’s right, you heard me correctly. A wishing stone. Barbara inadvertently wishes to be like Diana, and when Diana briefly holds the stone, she wishes for Steve to come back.

We are then introduced to this guy named Max Lord, who is aware of the stone’s powers and wishes to possess it. He gets ahold of it by cozying up to Barbara, then wishes that he could be the stone. The stone disappears and Max Lord now has the power to grant people’s wishes.

However, the wishes come with a price, and everyone who has made a wish (by the stone or by Max Lord) needs to pay, be it unintended bodily consequences or ambiguous moral depravity.

Diana and the newly resurrected Steve Trevor (who is in another person’s body) have to find a way to resolve things, and they figure out the solution is to have everyone renounce their wishes.

The end.

I rushed through that synopsis. My bad. But I’m mainly here to cite my grievances.

Shall we get started?

That Beginning Flashback

At the beginning of the movie, there is this flashback to Diana’s childhood on Themyscira. Some Amazonian Olympic-games event is happening, and young Diana is eager to participate and win. She cheats a bit toward the end and is caught, and the moral of this flashback is to not lie.

Looking back, I can’t even see the purpose of this flashback. I suppose that since the climax of the movie is when Wonder Woman uses her Lasso of Truth to convince Max Lord to renounce his own wish, whoever wrote the movie thought a flashback about her cheating in her youth would tie in with her getting someone else to see the truth of a situation.

But even as I type this, it feels like such a tangential connection. If that flashback had been removed from the movie, the story would not have been affected at all.

Barbara And Diana’s “Friendship”

Of all the aspects that intrigued me the most from the trailer of Wonder Woman 1984, the relationship between Barbara Minerva and Wonder Woman was at the top of the list.

If you’ve read the comics, you know that Barbara becomes the villain Cheetah, and her history with Diana is actually tragic and interesting. I was looking forward to seeing how that would be iterated onscreen.

Terribly, was the answer I got.

Barbara and Diana do not seem to spend any meaningful time together. At times, it feels like Diana is only hanging out with Barbara to learn more about the wishing stone. It never feels like she cares about her. And who can blame her, I suppose. Their “friendship” encompassed one meal shared together.

And to make things suckier, we as viewers are introduced to this early dinner by a quick cut to Diana laughing and saying “I don’t think I’ve laughed this much in a while” or some such shit like that, which is the laziest way to indicate that two characters are getting along.

Like…just show me them getting along. Show me Barbara telling Diana the thing that made her laugh so much. Show, don’t tell. Writing 101.

Steve Body-Snatching Someone

So, remember how Diana wished on the stone that Steve would come back to her?

He did come back, in a way.

Except he comes back in the body of another man.

And I don’t know why this happens.

So, initially, I thought that was the price Diana had to pay for getting Steve back. The two of them would have to confront the fact that they have effectively erased the consciousness of the man who originally inhabited the body, and Diana would have to confront how selfish she wants to be, keeping her long-lost love in a body that wasn’t his.

But then, it’s revealed that the price for Diana getting Steve back was that she lost some of her powers.

Which means some guy losing his body for days is not part of the wishing stone’s consequences.

Fuck that.

Is this movie telling me that the stone can make nuclear warheads appear where there were none, make walls rise from the earth that span miles, subvert a person’s will to someone else’s, but it can’t recreate a dead Steve’s body?

Fuck. That.

Plus, it is heavily implied in the film that Diana and Steve-Who-Is-Not-In-Steve’s-Body have sex with each other. Which basically means that the guy whose body got stolen had no say in the matter. Which essentially means he was raped.

What Are the Rules for Wishing Anyways?

The exact rules for wishing are never explained, so things that are wished for can just happen, no matter how strange or nonsensical.

At first, you might think it’s simple enough. You hold the stone and say a wish out loud. But Diana never actually spoke what her wish was. She just wished it in her head and it came true.

And then toward the end of the movie, after Max Lord has become the stone, it’s revealed the the definition of “touching” the stone is wider than the Grand Canyon. (I don’t know about you, but I never thought that watching television counts as me touching whoever is on the screen.)

The movie plays it so loosey-goosey with these magic rules, and I loathe magic that isn’t explained properly.

Diana’s Invisibility Powers

Oh, yeah, Wonder Woman can turn things invisible now. When she and Steve are trying to locate Max Lord, they steal an airplane together. They get noticed by authorities, so Diana just busts out this newfound power that we never knew she had. Turns the whole plane invisible.

And then they see a pretty fireworks display, which I don’t think they should have flown right through.

Diana’s Decrease in Power

After wishing for Steve, Diana suffers a small decrease in her normal power levels. However, this feels wildly inconsistent with what we’re shown. She can flip a car over and lasso bullets out of the air without any trouble or scratch on her, but she starts getting cuts and abrasions from punches and stuff.

Plus, something about her movements in this movie seem…off. I can’t put my finger on it, but it feels like her body does not move the way it should given her motions and the motions of the world around her.

Max Lord Broadcasts Wishes

Back to the stupidity of the wishes.

Max Lord visits this top-secret government broadcasting station because he wants to gain as much access to the population of the globe as he can. He’s not satisfied with giving people wishes (and naming their consequences) one at a time as they grip his hands.

And the reason this method is viable as a source of wish-giving is because those broadcasting signals contain particles that touch the people watching.

Yeah, no.

Just no.

If you show me Max Lord grabbing the hands of people he wants to give wishes to for hours and then expect me to believe that him on a TV screen will accomplish the same thing, I’m going to have a little trouble believing it.

Worldly Repercussions

Max Lord messes shit up by giving everyone wishes. Some people wished for others dead, a lot of people wished to be rich, and government officials wished for nukes to appear out of thin air.

And even if I were to swallow that everyone on the planet renounced their wish, you can’t tell me that the world forgot this day of madness. Those people who got murdered, were they brought back to life? And if they were, do you think they’d forget the fact that someone wished them dead?

If this movie exists in the DC movie universe, it should be as well-known as the day Thanos snapped his fingers in the Marvel Cinematic Universe.

Barbara’s Ending

Everything having to do with Barbara I was disappointed with. I feel like it could have been so much more if they didn’t treat her as a sideshow character. She ends up becoming Cheetah by having Max Lord gain a wish and use its consequences to benefit her. (At least I think that’s how it works. The wishes are so screwy in this movie.) And when everyone renounces their wish, it’s never made clear if Barbara renounced hers.

And after she is defeated by Wonder Woman, that’s the last we see of her.

Physics

Normally, during a super hero movie, I never question the science of things. At no point during Iron Man do I start breaking down how the arc reactor shouldn’t work. At no point in Batman Begins do I question how the Batmobile leaps from rooftop to rooftop.

Wonder Woman 1984 had me questioning everything. Her lasso seems to have a mind of its own, and it does not obey the laws of physics even when it comes to something as simple as swinging a robber around. I could spend days dissecting how inane it is for a lasso to grab onto a bullet or how strange it appears when it reaches indefinable lengths to grab onto a plane.

But I don’t want to be mad for days.

A lot of the fight scenes did not make sense to me as they were happening because I could not figure out how objects and people would move.

You know how if someone throws a tennis ball toward you and it bounces on the floor, you can more or less anticipate where it will be so you can lean forward and catch it? Wonder Woman 1984 physics feel more like trying to anticipate where a deformed American football might bounce to.

Conclusion

I can usually recommend a bad movie to a person based solely on it being a fun bad movie.

I can’t do that with Wonder Woman 1984 because it is so frustrating how potential was just wasted.

Conceptually, Max Lord as a villain is fantastic. Imagine a villain who could grant people wishes. That would lead to some great conflict, perhaps on par with the Purple Man from Jessica Jones.

The backstory of Barbara and Diana could have been the stuff of tragic legends, especially with so much comic book source material to draw upon.

But these things fall flat in the execution.

I rate Wonder Woman 1984 a disappointing-sequel-that-I-would-never-recommend-even-if-I-was-holding-onto-the-Lasso-of-Truth.

Watching The Blob

I have a fondness for old movies.

Side note: I also have a fondness for saying “I have a fondness” for things. I feel like I’ve done this a million times in a million different posts. Sorry about that.

A week ago, I spent a happy evening on the couch with the boyf watching The Blob. For those of you who haven’t heard of this gem, it’s a campy old horror movie from 1958 about a (I kid you not) gelatinous blob that attacks a town. As you can guess, the movie is utterly ridiculous, but I had a fantastic time watching it.

I mean, seriously, it’s a blob. It’s a gelatinous blob. It starts off about the size of my hand, and it eventually grows to be the size of a local movie theater. The origins of the Blob remain largely unclear. You know it came from space, but that’s about it. What also remains unclear is how exactly it consumes its victims.

At the beginning of the movie, it attaches itself to this old man’s hand, and thanks to the power of editing, it starts growing larger and larger. We never see it grow though. It’s like you blink and it’s suddenly larger.

We rarely see it move either. You’ll see it pulse or edge forward, but there’s never really a good time where its motion is captured on video. (Except for this one scene where it seeps under a crack in a door. That was awesome.)

This adds to the hilarity, because all the townsfolk who encounter it have to be on the ground for it to get them. I know it’s a horror trope to trip at the most inconvenient times, but this movie makes it even more ridiculous. At least two women trip on nothing. They’re indoors, for crying out loud. There are no leaves, roots, or sidewalk cracks to mess with their shoes. And when they’re on the ground screaming, they don’t even try to crawl away. They just keep shrieking.

Eventually, the Blob gets big enough to swallow buildings, and that’s when the movie reaches its climax.

However, before I dive into the finale, I should probably spare a thought or two to our completely forgettable cast of characters. The Blob introduces us to Steve and Jane, two “teenagers” who should win awards for looking 20 years older than teenagers. They are purportedly two sweethearts in love, but the movie opens up in an incredibly off-putting fashion. Jane is uncomfortably telling Steve she’s not ready to move so fast (they’re kissing in a car), and Steve awkwardly agreeing to slow down.

And then we cut to a meteor falling and Steve suggesting they go investigate it.

Couldn’t they have come up with a better way to start the story?

What then follows is some of the strangest dialogue I’ve ever heard in an old movie. I’m normally fond of that affected accent you hear in old-timey films, but in The Blob, that accent is coupled with the weirdest non sequiturs I’ve ever heard. It’s like the writers didn’t know how people talk. Or maybe I’m just not used to white man colloquialisms. Who knows?

Steve and Jane are joined by some raucous young boys (they’re men, seriously, they look so old) and some small-town cops to comprise the main cast. Steve’s fellow teenage males all give off this macho vibe, so much so that you can’t tell if they’re angry at him or if they’re best buds. And the cops are either down-with-all-teenagers or I’m-your-best-friend-you-can-trust-me types.

Side note: There’s this pretty hilarious moment where one of the cops looks right at the camera when he’s talking, and it’s a gut-bustingly incongruous action.

Anyway, the Blob ends up being averse to cold temperatures, as Steve and Jane find out when they hide from it in a meat locker. They notice that it retreats from attacking them. This information comes in handy later on when they’re trapped in a diner that the Blob has enveloped. Just when it looks like all hope is lost, they realize they can chase it off of the building by spraying fire extinguishers at it.

An army of local teenage boys who were not there for the entire movie show up to break into the high school, steal a bunch of fire extinguishers, and help free Steve and Jane from the diner.

The Blob shrinks down a bit, and the movie concludes by showing a helicopter traveling to Antarctica where it’s going to drop off the Blob so it can never hurt anyone again.

Which is one way to deal with a piece of jelly from outer space.

The Blob is not the best old movie I’ve ever seen, but it does have its moments. It’s an enjoyable watch, but you will have to remember that it is a campy movie not meant to be taken too seriously.

However, I do think it would be really cool if someone made a modern-day reboot and turned it into a legitimately scary movie. Like if that game Carrion were to be mashed together with The Blob and The Thing, I think we’d have a whole new classic on our hands.

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.

5 Movies I’ve Had To Drag My Sister To See

My sister is a reluctant moviegoer.

She wasn’t always like this. Going to the theater with my father used to be a weekly thing when we were children. That all changed when we saw Dragon Wars.

If I’m being one hundred percent honest, it was my idea to go see Dragon Wars.

But come on! It looked like an epic fight between dragons in a city, Godzilla-style. I was and am very partial to big monster movies.

However, what we ended up watching was a massively disappointing film with terrible writing and acting that barely scratched the surface of what a monster movie could be. It was corny, cringe-worthy…in short, it was a bad-movie-night movie.

And my sister hated it.

Seriously, I got more enjoyment from watching her disgusted and disbelieving expression than I got from watching the movie itself.

But ever since then, Alya has distrusted my taste in movies. No matter how much I tell her that I’m aware they are bad movies and that I think they’re funny, she thinks I have terrible taste when it comes to film-watching.

This means that I frequently have to drag her to see movies with me. And while it does pain me to have to cajole my own sister to have a good time in a theater with me, it does come with its perks.

I get to witness my sister’s sudden reversal of opinion when I take her to a good movie. This has happened on more than one occasion, and it’s especially enjoyable the more my sister thinks the movie will be bad.

So for today, I thought I’d run you through the top five movies I had to force my sister to watch and that she ended up appreciating.

Let’s do this.

Rise of the Planet of the Apes

To be fair to my sister, she wasn’t entirely against watching Rise of the Planet of the Apes. We both had a fondness for the original Apes film with Charlton Heston, so there was precedent for her enjoying this type of genre.

It was a late night though, and my asking her to come with me was a spur of the moment decision. After a few oh-I-don’t-knows and are-you-sure-this-will-be-goods, the two of us went to see it.

The big crowd in the theater surprised the two of us, but what was even more surprising was how much we enjoyed the movie. It wasn’t just fun, it was good. The two of us shared shocked glances when Caesar first spoke, and we were riveted the entire time.

While my sister remembers this as that one time I convinced her to see a late-night movie she enjoyed, I remember it as a rejuvenation of my love for the Apes movies. I watched every subsequent film more than once in theaters, with the trilogy becoming some of my favorite movies.

District 9

Alya seriously thought that District 9 would be a dumb little sci-fi movie. Don’t blame her though. She had not paid a single ounce of attention to any of the trailers or marketing schemes for the film. So she went into this one blind.

I on the other hand had been watching this movie’s progress for a while, knowing it was the kind of science fiction I could really bite my teeth into.

The movie horrified us, but it also engaged us with its shocking portrayals of alien immigration and the connections it was unsubtly making to real-life comparisons.

Alya specifically remarked to me when we left the theater that she hadn’t expected to feel so much while watching this movie. I got a spring in my step after that comment, even though I myself had nothing to do with making the film.

All I had done was manage to convince my sister to take a break from homework to go watch it with me.

Watchmen

My sister thought I was a complete crazy person the day I saw Watchmen for the first time.

See, I had been a long-time fan of Alan Moore’s phenomenal graphic novel, so of course I’d take an immense interest in the film adaptation.

I was so interested in seeing the movie, I was willing to go see the midnight premiere for it even though the next day I had an exam to take in my AP World History class.

Side note: I had to fight my parents to see this movie. I basically promised them I would get an A.

I remember Alya, studying for a class of her own at night, watching open-mouthed as I left the house at 9 pm to go see the movie at midnight. And when I came back home at 3 in the morning and she had fallen asleep while studying at our dining table, her mouth fell open once more when I woke her up singing the movie’s praises.

Maybe that’s why she didn’t complain as much when I asked if she would see it with me one more time.

Afterwards, she expressed an interest in reading the comic book, and now the two of us can quote it at each other all day long.

Star Trek

Both my sister and I are huge Star Wars fans, but only I ever made the jump to Star Trek. My sister saw one episode of The Original Series (the one with the meatball monster) and thought it was stupid.

So I was asking a lot from her to go see the new Star Trek movie with me. She was groaning the whole time, from my pre-movie bathroom break to buying popcorn to sitting in our seats.

But then that opening sequence commenced, when Kirk’s dad saves everybody aboard the USS Kelvin in a suicide maneuver, and Alya’s eyes were glued to the screen. And when the opening title appeared on the screen with the Star Trek theme blaring in the background, she half-whispered, half-yelled, “Holy shit, that was so good!”

How To Train Your Dragon

If there is one thing my sister loathes more than any other kind of bad movie, it’s a bad kids movie. She is used to Pixar-quality kids movies, always has been, so when she watches some low-bar, DreamWorks Animation shit, with pop culture references up the wazoo, a vein pops in her temple.

So try to imagine her initial fury at my audacity in asking her to watch How To Train Your Dragon with me.

But, as those of you who have seen the movie should know, it’s not your typical DreamWorks fare. It does not strive to make itself relevant with popular trends; it just tells a sweet story about a boy and his dragon.

During the montage of Hiccup trying to train Toothless, Alya leaned over to me and said, “I want a Toothless!” with hints of a squeal in her voice.

And that was the start of never having to beg her to watch a How To Train Your Dragon movie with me again. Though she was less impressed with the sequels, she was invested in the characters enough to always give them a shot.

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.

No Eyes Will Stay Dry: A Silent Voice Review

I’m a mild to moderate manga reader and anime watcher. Like, I’ve read all of Death Note, but I’ve never read Bleach. I’ve watched a chunk of Naruto, but I haven’t even scratched the surface of Attack on Titan.

That said, I have friends who are avid manga and anime consumers. They are the ones who reproach me for never having seen Fullmetal Alchemist: Brotherhood or for reading an issue of Shonen Jump. They also advise me on absolutely everything I should be watching/reading.

Side note: Demon Slayer is apparently really, really good.

Of all my friends who watch anime, my good buddy Bubba is probably the best. (Hey, shaka brah!)

Since this whole pandemic started, we’ve been watching movies with each other using Discord or Xbox Live. From Blade Runner to Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs, we’re chewing through films.

One of the movies we settled to watch was A Silent Voice, an anime film made in 2016 that hits you right in the feels. As of this writing, it is on Netflix.

It’s honestly a very touching story. Using blunt symbolism and dialogue left unspoken, A Silent Voice dives into tough subjects like bullying and depression. I approached this movie with absolutely no expectations, and by the time the credits rolled, I had to wipe my eyes and sniff snot back up my nostrils.

Needless to say, I thought the film was good.

The plot revolves around a boy named Shoya, who was a merciless bully to a fellow student named Shoko. Shoko is deaf, and it is this that forms the basis for her getting bullied. Egged on by his “friends” and classmates, Shoya is relentless in being mean to this girl.

However, after leaving middle school and entering high school, things have changed. Shoya elects to make up for what he’s done to Shoko, and spends the rest of the film desperately trying to make amends.

I seriously don’t want to spoil the ending, so I won’t detail how this situation is resolved, but it is a damn roller coaster of emotions.

The genre of the film is clearly slice-of-life, focusing on Shoya and Shoko’s teenage and childhood years. In the grand scheme of things, nothing dramatic or remarkable happens, but the emotional revelations the story places in your lap are enough to keep you engrossed in what’s going on.

A Silent Voice is based on a manga, so, as with anything that gets adapted into a film, there are parts that feel unexplained or rushed. While some might take this as a con of the movie, I feel like it contributes to the concept of peeking at the flashes of Shoya’s life.

That leads to one of the major draws of the movie. The manner in which the characters are examined perfectly encapsulates the overall message of the story. You don’t always know what is going on with a person below the surface. The film successfully conveys this in the way it gets you to (eventually) sympathize with a bully. Plus, there is a near-end-of-the-movie twist that emphasizes that point even further, showing that just because a person looks happy doesn’t mean they’re not struggling.

While it can get heavy-handed, the symbolism in the film is one of its strengths. At one point, Shoya feels like he can’t interact with other people without hurting himself or them. He effectively cuts himself off from socializing with classmates. The film demonstrates this by having every person who isn’t Shoya’s family bear a giant X on their faces. Shoya never meets their eyes, and the movie ensures that viewers can’t as well. This feature of the film is one that only an anime could successfully pull off.

Needless to say, the story covers some triggering topics, with suicide being referred to several times. I think it is handled well, especially with the notion that no life is worthless being incredibly stressed by the end of the film. Anyone can come back from the edge, and while forgiveness does not come easily, it can be found in the unlikeliest of places. Though I did cry, the movie’s end left me with a positive feeling.

Bubba and I like to make jokes throughout our movie-watching, but A Silent Voice managed to temper them. It’s a sobering and poignant story.

I rate it a silent-and-resounding-success-that-should-be-seen-at-least-once.

I Was a Soundtrack Kid: How Music Defined My Movies

Growing up, I always felt a step behind other kids when it came to being “hip” and “cool.” When portable CD players were coming out, I had nothing. When MP3 players came out, I had just gotten a CD player. When iPods came out, I was showing off my brand-new MP3 player.

You get the idea.

To make the stark contrast between me and other kids even starker, I did not hold any of the latest pop songs within my music devices. Instead, I had a love for movie soundtracks.

I swear, I listened to soundtracks all the time as a kid.

And while my taste in musical genres has expanded, to this day, I adore a good movie score.

Side note: That sick rhyme was totally unintentional.

My all-time favorite soundtrack composers were/are John Williams, Howard Shore, and Danny Elfman.

John Williams is one of the most prolific movie soundtrack composers ever, responsible for classic movie themes that everyone recognizes. He’s done Star Wars, Superman, Harry Potter, and Jaws. If you think about it, he’s probably composed the background music to a lot of your movie fantasies. You know, when you picture yourself as a Jedi or a student at Hogwarts? That’s John Williams’ song playing as your imagination runs wild.

Howard Shore did the soundtrack for the Lord of the Rings trilogy. I may not have a bead on his other work, but by god, I know his talent from those three films alone. Elves, Rohan, Gondor, hobbits, and the Mines of Moria all had their own unique themes thanks to Shore.

Danny Elfman is most often associated with director Tim Burton since he composed a lot of the soundtracks to some of Burton’s most iconic films. He did Batman, Edward Scissorhands, and The Nightmare before Christmas. Elfman’s devious melodies often accompanied me on long car drives.

I made it a mission in life to try and collect albums of their work so that my everyday life could feel ten times more awesome as I hummed along to their tunes.

When I first started listening to soundtracks, I enjoyed them for the reminders they gave me of my favorite parts in movies. I’d listen to “Love Pledge and the Arena” from Attack of the Clones over and over again because I liked it when all the clone troopers came to rescue the Jedi on Geonosis.

I got crazy good at recognizing the times a track would play in a film. I would astonish and bemuse my parents by reenacting scenes from movies while playing the movie’s soundtrack on our communal CD player.

But then my love for these tracks branched away from just fond memories of the time they appeared in the film. I grew to enjoy the emotional beats I could find in the melodies, separate from the moments they accompanied in the movie. I had a love of playing with toys and creating epics sagas with my action figures back then, so I started playing movie soundtracks in the background while I played with them, applying the songs to my own stories.

Side note: You would not believe the depth of my toy Diplodocus’ sense of betrayal when Spider-Man refused to save his village. I had “Duel of the Fates” playing when this happened.

These days, video game soundtracks have joined my collection of music source material. I’m not as fond of television themes in general, but Game of Thrones is a huge exception to that.

I still use soundtracks to accompany my “stories,” but not with my dramatic toy playtime. Whenever I’m writing, whether for work or for my own fiction, soundtracks are one of the major sources of inspiration I use when crafting emotional moments.

I also have a more discerning ear when it comes to finding tracks I like when watching a film. It’s far rarer for me to find something I prefer these days, but I make do.

New additions to my roster of favorite composers include Ramin Djawadi, Michael Giacchino, and Mick Gordon.

Djawadi did the music for Game of Thrones so you have him to thank for getting that opening credits theme song stuck in your head. He’s also done the soundtrack for Westworld, which has its own collection of fantastic melodies.

Giacchino is the man behind a shit-ton of Pixar film soundtracks. The Incredibles? That was him. Up? That was also him. Giacchino crafted some heckin’ awesome tracks for the Speed Racer movie too, and as anyone who knows me should know by now, that’s one of my favorite movies.

Mick Gordon is the understated genius behind the Doom soundtrack. Though there is currently a controversy going on regarding his music for Doom Eternal, that does not change the fact that I adore his work, and I think Bethesda and id Software did him dirty.

Side note: I am totally not biased.

Soundtracks capture emotion in a way that few songs can. See, soundtracks are meant to accompany a story; that’s what they were created for. So they can follow along with a plot’s ups and downs. They’re perhaps the most transporting type of music you can listen to.

For me, they are a mild form of escapism for my day-to-day life, especially during stressful times.

And given the state the world is in, I think we could all benefit from taking a breath and listening to a good soundtrack.