Review: Finding Dory

Finding Dory (2016)
Voices of Ellen DeGeneres, Albert Brooks, Hayden Rolence, Ed O’Neill, Kaitlin Olson, Ty Burrell, Diane Keaton, Eugene Levy, and Sigourney Weaver. Written by Victoria Strouse and Andrew Stanton. Directed by Andrew Stanton.

I can’t decide if I’m a tough audience or an easy audience for Finding Dory, Pixar’s sequel to Finding Nemo. I have an enormous bias in Pixar’s favor, but I consider the 2003 original to be the animation studio’s best work. Would my predilection predict that I would like it, or would my super-high expectations predict that I’d be disappointed?

It doesn’t matter much now, because I freaking love this movie. It’s got just about everything the first movie had. The sequel doesn’t wow me quite as much as the predecessor, but it makes up for that with an emotional punch I didn’t see coming. There’s one amazing gasp-inducing emotional payoff that comes close to the lanterns scene in Tangled or even the library scene in Beauty and the Beast. This is rarefied air I’m talking about here, a comparison I don’t make lightly.

A year after Dory helps Marlin find Nemo, she’s become something of a helper in raising the young clownfish. But with her memory problems, she’s almost as much maintenance as Nemo, ‘though she remains beloved by her community on the Great Barrier Reef. Something triggers in Dory a memory she didn’t know she had, of parents and a home. She’s determined to find her family, but she knows that without help from her friends, she can’t hope to make it any more than she can hope to remember what she’s looking for.

You would think Marlin, after everything Dory has done for him and Nemo, would be completely on board, but he’s still psychotically risk-averse, and Dory wants to go to California, so for much of her adventure, she depends on the kindness of others, mostly a seven-armed octopus who agrees to assist in exchange for something Dory can do for him.

The animation is again fantastic, although since you’ve seen a lot of it before, you’ll have to look a little harder to see where the budget went. Water is a strange, beautiful thing that behaves differently from anything else I can think of. The way it moves, the way it changes in different kinds of light, and the way other things interact with it seem impossible to represent well, so there’s a good place to start. I suspect it’s a movie that rewards multiple viewings, and I look forward to discovering more.

One of the most rewarding things about Finding Dory is how elements in this story explain some things in Finding Nemo, stuff that didn’t really need explaining but makes that movie more interesting too. This isn’t just a spin-off, continuation, or rehash, although the general story structure is very close (almost disappointingly close) to the first film’s. It’s more like the ocean is an enormous place with a million stories, and some of them have interlocking pieces which complete each other’s pictures.

I’ve never heard of a voice actor getting nominated for an acting award, and that makes all kinds of sense, but if I were part of the nominating process, I’d be tempted at least to consider Ellen Degeneres for a best actress nod. This picture could have been animated by five-year-olds, and she would have made it worth watching. This was not animated by five-year-olds, and it’s an excellent film I’d put in the lower part of Pixar’s upper tier.


Tuesday Tunes (flashback): December 8, 2009

Another one from the archives of Music Memoirs, this one from December 8, 2009.

Let’s do a winter word association, music style: I give you some words and you tell me the artist, song etc that you first think of.

snowflake:  This is going to sound weird, but the first thing I think of is that my friend Donna (one of my inspirations for starting this online journaling thing before it was called blogging; another reason this is not a blog) chronicled her very long struggle to conceive.  When she went through IVF, the little fertilized eggs they implanted in her were her “snowflakes,” and for the early stages of her pregnancy, she referred to her soon-to-be daughter as her snowflake.  And when I think of Donna and music, I always think of Stryper.

bitter:  The bitterest song I know is Janis Ian’s “At Seventeen.”

cold:  “Cold Gin” by Kiss. Ace Frehley wrote this, but in the early days of Kiss, Ace wasn’t very confident in his singing, so Gene Simmons sang it, even though Gene doesn’t drink. Ace re-recorded it for this year’s covers album, Origins, Vol. 1, maybe the last album I bought in 2016 before I had to switch into austerity mode. It’s a pretty dang good album, and Ace’s cover of his own song is a highlight. What an infectious riff.

snuggle: “We’ll snuggle close together like two birds of a feather would be.”

kind:  “Cruel to be Kind” by Nick Lowe.  A very very good song.

tree:  Wayne and Wanda, of course.

dark:  One of the greatest albums of all time, The Dark Side of the Moon.  I’ve waxed poetic about it in this space before.  Its greatness really cannot be overstated.

long:  Huh.  I wouldn’t have predicted this, but the first thing that pops into my mind is Crosby, Stills, and Nash’s “Long Time Gone.”  I can think of twenty songs with this word in the title, but this is the one I think of first.  Not really going to complain about that.  David Crosby’s lead vocals on this are some of his best.

candy:  I can’t think of anything once I think of Bow Wow Wow’s “I Want Candy.”

special:  I have this 80s playlist in Spotify, and I spent some time adding stuff to it last night (it’s up to about 160 excellent songs).  Somehow, when I first created the playlist three years ago, I’d forgotten to include .38 Special, a band I totally loved when I was in ninth grade.  So I added some of my favorite songs by them while riding home on the bus last night.

I may have written about this before, but I got my first paying job in ninth grade, so I thought I might be able to go to my first rock concert, now that I’d be able to pay for it myself.  .38 Special was going to play, with Golden Earring opening, and I wanted so much to go!  I presented my case to my father, but I knew I was going to get a no.  It was on a school night.  My dad said he respected that I was trying to pay for my own entertainment, and all the details were in order except that he couldn’t let me go on a school night.  My parents had been consistent my whole life about school nights, so this wasn’t a shock, and I actually kind of understood.  I was prepared for no and no is what I got.  It was fine.  I saw Rush in concert a year and a half later, and I’m still proud to say that was my first show.  I think of .38 Special as almost my first concert.

Review: Star Trek Generations

Star Trek Generations (1994)
Patrick Stewart, Jonathan Frakes, Brent Spiner, LeVar Burton, Michael Dorn, Gates McFadden, Marina Sirtis, Malcolm McDowell, James Doohan, Walter Koenig, William Shatner. Directed by David Carson.

It was a good idea. A bridge between the Star Trek films with the original cast and a new series of films featuring The Next Generation characters should have been great. But instead of a properly nostalgic farewell to the old cast and an anointing of the new, Star Trek Generations almost forgets that it has any characters at all, and focuses instead on a lumbering, cumbersome story that sort of connects the two television series but doesn’t give us much reason to care.

The plot is so uninteresting and so horribly assembled as to defy summary, but the heart of it involves a weird extradimensional energy band—called the Nexus—that gives anyone caught within it his or her heart’s desires, a euphoria so complete that people inside never want to get out, and those who do get out yearn to get back in. One character is so obsessed with returning to the Nexus that he’s willing to destroy stars in order to shift the band’s direction so that he might get caught in it, even if doing so results in the elimination of planets and all their inhabitants.

I admire the attempt at complex story to develop complex themes. Jean-Luc Picard confronts enormous grief and the temptation of having his grief allayed. James Kirk confronts his own feelings about what he sacrificed during his long tenure as captain of the Enterprise. Commander Data is given an emotion chip so that he might be more human-like, but soon discovers that emotions are more of a handicap than a blessing. This much works, at least kind of, but it does so without real interaction among the principal characters, as if each is going through all this internal stuff alone, a construct that defies the best thing about either of these series.

Yet some of the climactic action sequences are uninteresting and too long, and we have to endure them twice for reasons best left to the viewer to discover, although I can’t really say why. Not spoiling this one element of the plot doesn’t make the film any better, but I suppose if the discover is at least somewhat interesting, I’d hate to rob anyone of that one little pleasure. Goodness knows it may be all it has to offer.

The film has one aesthetic worth examining, especially in contrast to the earliest and latest films in the canon. One of my favorite things about the reboot series is how sexy and sleek Enterprise looks. The Enterprise in this film is bulky, boxy, awkward, and graceless, and the crew’s uniforms seem built to match. They are nothing like the almost Steve-Jobs-inspired look of the unis and technology in the 2000s, a difficult thing to get used to even looking back. What a time the Eighties and Nineties were.

Thankfully, the series did not suffer as a whole because of this one subpar film. Many of the TNG films are quite good, and the reboot with the classic characters is excellent, so I’m willing to chalk this one up to a task too difficult to be completely satisfying.


Friday 5 for December 16: Back in the Highlights Again

From here.

  1. What was your highlight in dining for 2016?
    Dining has been mostly uneventful this year, but I got together with the family a few times (thanks, Dad!) to celebrate a few things.  Mom’s birthday at Paesano in Aiea was a particularly memorable meal.  I had a vegetable thing with pasta.
  2. What was your highlight in relationships for 2016?
    I made a concerted effort to avoid people this year, mostly because I just couldn’t afford to be social.  It’s tough telling people I can’t get together with friends because I’m completely broke all the time, so it’s just been easier to live hermit-like.  But I have continued to meet with my writing partner, pretty much every week, and it’s been a good, productive working relationship as well as a much-needed in-person friendship.
  3. What was your highlight in entertainment for 2016?
    Probably A Corner of White by Jaclyn Moriarty, a wonderful young-adult fantasy I crammed in somewhere between cozy mysteries.  The 2016 World Series was pretty great too.
  4. What was your highlight in self-improvement for 2016?
    There’s an obvious answer, but I’m going with a less-obvious answer, which has to do with keeping my head up when it would have been very easy to be brought down.  I’ve had a tough year!  But through most of it, I’ve remained optimistic.  I feel pretty good about that, and think it bodes well for a better 2017.
  5. What was your highlight in completing something for 2016?
    Man, this is tough.  I always have ten million things in progress and seldom actually complete anything.  I think I’ll go with what seems to be a completed search for some regular employment.  I found out today that I don’t begin until the second week of January, which I admit is something of a disappointment, but unless something goes wrong in a really weird way, I end 2016 continuing to do my freelance writing while looking forward to a desk in an office for the first time in fifteen months.  I feel pretty good about that.


Red Bull Gives You Wings

I was a minor mess Tuesday afternoon when I went in for the second interview.  Unlike my night before the first interview, when I was up far, far too late getting my writing samples ready (I was printing stuff up on my printer as if I’d never seen a computer before), I didn’t have too much stuff to worry about, or too many details to take care of.

I only really had to show up Tuesday.  But I slept miserably.  Miserably.  My brain was moving in such slow motion after miserable sleep that I had to decide between an extra hour of sleep and a complete shower.  I went with the sleep.  Which was also miserable.

So I didn’t give myself the full get-ready treatment and I didn’t have time to do my ironing.  Any one of these things — poor sleep, not sparkly clean, and unpressed clothes — would have been fine by itself, but the combination had me completely out of sorts.  Then I missed the bus that passes nearest my house, which meant a longer walk to another bus stop.

I got to the location with plenty of time to sit in an air-conditioned space, to chug a Red Bull, to tidy myself up in the restroom.  I did the Wonder-Woman pose for a little less than the three minutes I consider imperative, but it was going to have to do.

It was a group interview with the team I’d be working with.  I kinda like group interviews, and this one was outstanding.  The vibe was really positive, and I could sense a definite camaraderie, a kind of us-among-them feeling of one department working in a larger organization.  The participants were great about not saying certain things so that I knew what they were not saying.

And when it was over, I was far less confident in my chances than after my first interview.  I think I was projecting how nice I thought it would be to work with these people upon my own uncertainty about whether I would fit in, so that I text-messaged someone with “I give myself a 66-33 chance against my getting this.”

I got the call near the close of business Wednesday: they would like to offer me the position if I was still interested.

No details until I’m official, but I promise I’ll be more transparent than I’ve been with previous work.  The politics around the student publications advisor job required me to be vague and to keep a lot of things to myself, not to mention the uncertainty about my permanence.  I had to keep my mouth shut for some time when I worked for the engineers because someone who had something to do with my getting that position didn’t want people to know that she’d hooked me up until she was free and clear of her position.

No weirdness this time, as far as I can tell.  I just don’t want to deal with info getting out there before it’s actual info.  When I’m official, I’ll talk a little more about what I’m up to.  There are a few things I have to get through before I can actually go to work.

I’m super optimistic and looking forward to this new thing.  I’ve had a super-difficult year, so here’s hoping this bodes well for a much better 2017.

What People Are Reading, December 2016

“Happy December!  What are you reading nowadays?”

  • Susan (college friend and romantic near-miss): The Enchanted Castle by Edith Nesbit.  Also picked up A Corner of White by Jaclyn Moriarty and Dept. of Speculation by Jenny Offill.
  • Ann (used to be an advisee at the community college newspaper): The Oxford Map Companion.  She works for the publisher.
  • Nikki (former colleague):  Chicken Soup for the Soul books.
  • JB (former dorm mate): Between books and wanted a recommendation.  I suggested any Michael Lewis he hadn’t already read and Heat by Bill Buford.
  • Kayla (former co-worker at the engineering firm):  Didn’t have my number in her phone, so she asked who it was, even though I asked her last month the same question in FB messenger, worded exactly the same way except “November” instead of “December.”  So I told her it was God and that I missed spending time with her.
  • Susannah (former colleague):  Harry Potter and the Cursed ChildMissoula by John Krakauer, The Man in the High Castle by Philip K. Dick, Miss Peregrine’s Home for Peculiar Children by Ransom Riggs, and Do You Think What You Think You Think by Jeremy Stangroom and Julian Baggini.  She took a photo of her stack and said, “One is for a philosophy project with two students, one is for fun, one is for the holidays, one is because I’m officially an angry feminist since the election, one is to keep me humble.  Guess which is which.”  I got them all on my third guess, which was super fun.
  • Faye (former department chair):  Deep Work by Cal Newport, Creation Regained by Albert M. Wolters, and Reclaiming Conversation by Sherry Turkle.
  • Penny:  New cozy mystery series by Laura Childs, about a tea shop owner.
  • Charles (HS classmate): Just finished The Greatest Salesman in the World by Og Mandino.  Next is The Obstacle is the Key by Ryan Holiday.
  • Julie (former coworker): The Areas of My Expertise by John Hodgman.
  • Marc (HS classmate): Bone Tree by Greg Iles.

Several non-respondents.  To be edited later if I hear from anyone else.




You Up?

The Raiders got smushed by the Chiefs Thursday night. It was a tough loss, and in that one game, the Raiders went from the first seed in the AFC to the fifth seed. It’s a crazy game sometimes. I’m just grateful for the winning season. All I wanted this year was a better-than-.500 record, and they nailed that down three weeks ago. I’ll save higher hopes for next year, now that they’ve proven themselves contenders.

My fantasy team locked down a playoff spot too.  I’m the defending champion in our league, which goes back nearly twenty years.  This week is the last week of our regular season, with the playoffs the next two weeks.  I feel pretty good about my chances; my team has scored more points than anyone else in the league so far this season.

Despite those two highlights, it’s been a crappy football season.  The overall quality of play has been terrible, and there are no great teams in the entire league.  There are a handful of good teams, a handful of bad teams, and a whole lot of mediocre teams in the middle.  I still enoy the games, though.  Football’s pretty good even when it’s bad.

I got called back for a second interview this week.  I’m feeling pretty good about it without getting my hopes up.  My first interview went better than any I’ve had in many years.  I just didn’t feel nervous.  Didn’t talk too much.  Smiled a lot.  I did have difficulty sitting still; my chair was uncomfortable for sitting up straight in.  I’m sure that was noticable.

I was hoping to revise my 43 Things list this month, but the site’s been down since 2015, I was disappointed to discover.  I really liked the concept.  Might have to do my own version of it, you know?  Post my 43 things here, in anticipation of that site relaunching some day.  Kind of annoyed I never copied my list in case the site went down.

I got up early this morning to meet Anto for breakfast, after about 45 minutes of sleep.  I got busy Friday night just doing some household tasks, and then my Dr. Ken review took a little longer than I expected.  I texted a friend (the woman who was my supervisor at the engineering firm for like a month before she took work elsewhere) about the second interview, figuring she was probably asleep and hoping I wouldn’t wake her.

But she was up, so we traded texts for about an hour while I got myself ready and then made my way into town.  It was a nice exchange, one of those that reminds you you have friends even though you fancy yourself a loner.  She shared a few things that have been bugging her, and I offered only sympathy with no fix-it solutions (this is growth, I am convinced).  Mostly it just felt good to communicate so well with a woman, something that’s been largely lacking in my life this past year or so.  We only worked together a month, but I’m really grateful we connected so immediately.

Lately, I’ve been asking friends at the beginning of each month about what they’re reading.  It’s an effort to connect about something I care a lot about, a much better question than how are the kids.

This is what I’m reading.

  • Due or Die by Jenn McKinlay.  I have like two chapters left and have been reading it since August.
  • U is for Undertow by Sue Grafton.  Just started.
  • Summerland by Michael Chabon.  My first Chabon novel.  It’s pretty terrific so far.
  • Messy: The Power of Disorder to Transform Our Lives by Tim Harford.  This one’s to review for one of my clients.

I have to kind of cram that last one so I can meet my deadline Monday, so that will be my focus Sunday.  I have some other work to submit for the lawyer too.  I’ve got stuff ready to show but have been having trouble keeping myself organized for some reason.  I’m usually good at that when it comes to my writing assignments.

Something there is about that text exchange Saturday morning.  I’m still turning it over in my brain.  Might have to explicate in this space leter.


Review: Refugee

Refugee (Bio of a Space Tyrant, Book 1)
By Piers Anthony (1983)

The main character in Piers Anthony’s Refugee is named Hope Hubris, something that doesn’t take as long to get used to as one might think. Hope is a refugee from one of Jupiter’s moons, forced to flee with his family toward Jupiter when an impulsive act of violence against a wealthy white boy leaves his Hispanic parents no reasonable alternative. With his parents and two sisters, he boards a space bubble, a crude transport designed for utility, not comfort or speed, and his family is mistreated before it even blasts off: the space bubble is overbooked, overloaded, and under-provisioned.

The passengers learn almost immediately how vulnerable their craft is when it is boarded by space pirates who do horrible violence to the refugees. The bubble is easy pickings, as it has no real defenses, and its occupants have nowhere to turn for help. The entire novel, except for one lengthy sequence on the surface of another moon, is a series of encounters with pirate ships, each taking its share of whatever the harried refugees have to offer. It’s not pretty, and it gets progressively uglier with each episode.

I’ve read about ten Anthony novels, which is a tiny dent in his bibliography—I count thirty-nine published books just in the 1980s—and his works have always had a strange, dark tint about sex and violence. Mostly sex. Most of it is hinted at in punny titles and the freedom that made-up worlds in fantasy and science fiction afford, but this novel is many shades darker, with such cynicism about sex that I’m not sure I’ll be able to finish this six-novel series. While it does not glorify violent sexual encounters, the cynical telling is nearly too much to endure, which I suspect is the point: these refugees have to confront some of the worst evil in others and the survivalist instincts in themselves just for the tiniest hope of a better life for their children, and of course not all of them will make it.

Still, the telling seems to cross a line from horrifying to fascinating. I believe quite firmly that some time before they enter their teens, children need a close-up look at a dead dog at the side of a road. They have to hold their literally morbid curiosity up against their realization of death’s finality, and come away with some kind of vague sense of the value of life. It’s a terrible thing to ponder, this need to look right at death in order to understand life, and Anthony seems to feel this way also about rape vs. sex, sex vs. love, and even bodies vs. people. Is it an artistic statement, or chilling titillation? Or is Anthony making the case that, like children unable to look away from the dead dog, we are unable to confront our darkest truths without feeling the same thrill?

I could make a legitimate case for any of these possibilities, but I’m not sure I want to. It’s practically pornographic, the way Anthony engages our emotions in dealing with this stuff, and I just don’t have the heart for it anymore. I’ve already decided I will at least begin book two, Mercenary, but I’ve hit my threshold for cynicism. A dip below this line, and I think I’m done.

Refugee is an interesting story with a mostly compelling narrative arc and characters I really care about, but a person can handle only so much revulsion while rooting for characters to rise above this revulsion. For me, it’s this much.

2.5 of 5 stars. I sorta like it.

Friday 5: Ache but Don’t Break

From here.

  1. What caused your most recent tummy ache?
    Jalapeno poppers at this pizza place in town.  My writing partner loves them.  I love them too, but I’ve been having major problems on the evenings after we meet, and I’ve narrowed the culprit down to those poppers.  I’m super annoyed about this, but whatever.  One of these days I’ll tell the story of how I had to relieve myself in the field at a local middle school at close to midnight.  Or maybe not.
  2. What cause your most recent heartache?
    It’s not one of those break-down-and-cry heartaches (I’ve had plenty of those), but today I ache for this week’s death of Greg Lake, the singer in Emerson, Lake, and Palmer (also in King Crimson for a time and briefly in Asia).  Keith Emerson died in March, so it’s been a rough year for prog-heads.
  3. How did you deal with your most recent headache?
    I popped three ibuprofens the night before last.  I usually do three pills in some combination of aspirin, ibuprofen, and acetominophen (usually two of one and one of another), but I’m down to just a handful of ibuprofens right now.  Need to make a Walmart run soon.
  4. How do you deal with a sore throat?
    Ugh.  Usually hot tea.  Sore throats are miserable.  My mother used to give me an iodine swab, something I hated (I gag on my own toothbrush every day), but it did seem to work most of the time.
  5. Where else do you ache?
    I’ve been having some tightness in the neck, shoulders, and back that gives me some pain, especially in the mornings right before I get up.  My feet were pretty achey for a while, but that seems to be subsiding, thank goodness.  And that thing I’m still not talking about, that still aches like crazy.

Thanks for participating, and have an owie-free weekend!

Making it So

Just saw Star Trek: Generations.  I hate to say this, but if it weren’t for my wanting to see all the films in the series, it would have been mostly a waste of time.  Review to come later, but geez.  If I’d seen it in the theater, it might have kept me away from the TNG films that followed.

Wednesday was a strange day for me.  I stayed up far too late getting ready for my interview and only got a few uneasy hours of sleep.  Not good.  I did prepare everything I wanted, including some decent attire (and a lavendar shirt that used to be a favorite before it got too tight on me), and got there about an hour ahead of schedule, which had been my plan.  There was a spot nearby where I knew I could wait in comfortable air conditioning with a cold bottle of water.

I get nervous at interviews, and when I’m nervous I talk too much.  But since I read that book about the Wonder Woman poses, I’ve had a couple of interviews, and that pose really works for me.  I was as present as I could have felt, given the circumstances, and felt mostly at ease, so I smiled a lot and didn’t talk too much.  I think it went okay.

I have to do a follow-up email tomorrow, to send a few things they asked for.  I honestly don’t know what my chances are, but at least I feel I was given a fair chance and I didn’t blow it.  If I don’t get it, I’ll feel okay about that.

The writing partner picked me up and we met, even though neither of us had work.  Ugh.  That’s not good, but meeting is good.  We reset our goals and will meet once more before her winter break.  I need to focus a little more this week on my productivity.

Because I spent most of Tuesday getting into the right state and all of Wednesday in what I used to call my teacher costume (the best version of it, but still it), I haven’t done as much walking.  I’m about where I used to call right on pace, but this past month I’ve been well ahead of this mark.  So I’m not worried, but I am slightly disappointed.

I have a deadline Thursday and hope to get it taken care of early in the day so I can get caught up on the rest of the things I wanted to take care of this week.  The weeks go by so quickly at this time of year, something that surprises me.  I thought that was a symptom of my teaching work, but apparently it exists outside that realm too.

Gonna try and get to sleep early so I can get up early and hit that deadline.