Friday, February 27, 2015

Bad Shakespeare 52 Project: The Maze Runner by James Dashner

           There’s a debate amongst my circle of friends: Should you see the movie first, or read the book first? Personally, I think that a movie and a book should be treated differently. For example, it would be really cool to see Harry Potter blast every Dementor possible while Hermione Granger fights for the rights of house elves, but that would relate to a roughly eight and a half hour movie, would allow for more book splitting, and then we’d end up with things like Harry Potter 4: The Goblet of Fire part 6. Then I would have to quit movies and books altogether and take up a nomadic lifestyle of yelling at people on the Metro.

            Bottom line for me: Book is a book. Movie is a movie. And a roll is a roll. (Robin Hood: Men in Tights Reference for the win!)

            So, it is with this in mind that I ventured into a movie theater late last fall and saw The Maze Runner without having read page one of the book. I vaguely knew that it involved some amount of “maze running” because best books often have their descriptions in the title. I was so amazingly blown away that I had to start devouring the books as much as I possibly could. The movie was THAT good. So, I sort of did it in reverse, where most people think you should read the book first so you can smugly say, “how can you be surprised about the Red Wedding that was like two books ago?”

            Needless to say, this is about the book, not the movie.

            The Maze Runner tells the story of a young man named Thomas who wakes up with no memory except his name in a box in a place called the Glade. He’s quickly welcomed by several other characters, including the injured and extremely British Newt, (all of his dialogue is accented with the word “bloody” in case you forget), Alby, the leader, and the immediately antagonistic Gally. There’s also the lovable Chuck, so lovable that (spoilers for a book that came out three years ago) his death at the end is all at once a surprise and not a surprise.

            Turns out, they all live in this place they’ve named the Glade, they’re given a fresh boy and supplies each month through a box in the ground, and they’re encompassed in a giant maze. Thomas longs to be a maze runner… but he has to go through the rules and regulations of finding his job, until he eventually becomes a maze runner through acts of courage just before the box opens again, well before schedule, and introduces a young woman with whom Thomas can communicate with telepathically. Together they have to battle through the maze, get their memories back, and figure out just why “WICKED is good.”

            This is an interesting book that manages to suck readers in immediately with an interesting premise and interesting “hook”… no one remembers anything about their pasts except a few who had been stabbed by monsters that inhabit the maze, and when they get their memories back they go somewhat crazy. The best thing about this novel is that it keeps ratcheting up the crazy and the sheer insanity… rather than being content to rest on it’s premise, it works to increase the craziness and make it that more insane. There’s the mystery of the maze. When that gets solved, there’s the mystery of why they’re there. Then Theresa shows up, and the mind reading starts… just insane.

            I also liked the characterization of our main character, Thomas. He doesn’t suffer from the “special snowflake role” that a lot of young adult literature sometimes relies on. I mean, obviously he’s a little bit different… there’s a whole genre of story that relies on “stranger comes into town,” and he really hits that. But at the end of the day he’s still a confused guy trying to find his way out of this maze with everyone else.

            The only real weak point of this novel is the main antagonist, Gally. He’s set up as the “bad guy” who doesn’t like the new guy immediately. The problem is that a lot of it is set up as foreshadowing as he has “regained” part of his memories, but can’t articulate them. This novel doesn’t follow the all too typical YA structure of using first person, but rather third person and then limits it by letting us see a lot of the story through only Thomas’ eyes. Yes, it’s his story, but you take one of your more interesting story and manages to sort of push him into a role of a one note bad guy. (I’m currently reading the trilogy, and the third book fixes this. But hey… I’m just doing one at a time.)

            I really did enjoy this book. Like I said, I like the twists. It can be a little difficult to get through from time to time because there’s not a lot that sets it apart from a lot of the Young Adult (spoiler) post-apocalyptic fiction that is running (see what I did there) around out there. But that being said, I’m looking forward to seeing how it all ends.

Thursday, February 26, 2015

Bad Shakespeare Oscar Extra: Lighten Up, Everyone.

Ladies, Gentlemen, and I swear one day Nathan Fillion, the Oscars are officially over. Yes, the little statues have all be handed out, Entertainment news is packing their Red Carpet Teams back in boxes and putting them in warehouses like at the end of Raiders of the Lost Ark, and we can go back to anxiously waiting for the next Fast and the Furious Sequel to kick off the start of the Summer of Statham. 

I originally wasn’t going to write up a Post-Oscar follow up, mostly because it follows my yearly tradition of not writing a Post-Oscar follow up. But you see, this year was different. Mostly because I didn’t have to be anywhere on Monday Morning, so I was able to follow most of what was happening on the Oscars in real time while flipping back and forth to WWE Fastlane, which, because Brock Lesnar only works twice a year and is somehow the champion, had it’s own issues. But that got me thinking about a lot of things that I wanted to talk about.

One, of course, is the “backlash but not really” to the winner, Birdman. Look, I understand that Birdman is a weird movie. Quite frankly, I’m a little bit frightened that Academy voters went in so heavy for a movie I liked so much. Not because I’m out of the mainstream or because I don’t want to like the favorite movie like most movie snobs out there, but because... it’s a weird movie. Seriously Best Picture of the Year probably should have gone to Whiplash, or Wes Anderson Quirky Movie #78. Hey, no one is happier than me that it won. (Except the director. And the Actors. And the production team.)  I’m just surprised that it actually did. It was an awesome movie, it was a weird movie, and it’s one that people will be talking about for a while.

Except movie snobs, I guess. 

I do want to talk for a minute about the favorite movie ever for a lot of people (The Dissolve went and and made it the best picture of the half-decade so far, and many a think pieces were written about it’s sheer greatness) and that was Boyhood. Look, I get the appeal, but it wasn’t a very good movie. It was too long, and mostly, it didn’t have a coherent story. I get that it was filmed over the course of 12 years, a cinematic feat! I joked that it’s not been seen since the Up Series when I wrote my mini-review for the marathon, but the truth is it’s a feat not seen since the Harry Potter series, which I guess did it in 8 years, but told a story. (Technically 7)

I understand that there is a problem in trying to tell a story like that, but you have to sit down at some point and say: What is this movie about? What is our end point, not just when we run out of film. I understand that Ethan Hawke doesn’t exactly have Gattacta money anymore, but what was the point of the entire movie? Even tell mini-arcs about him growing up. It just seemed to me that no one on the cast really knew what the movie was going to be about beyond this grand experiment to film it a little each year... and it’s been done. Remember in Harry Potter when it turned out Snape was the good guy the whole time? Yeah, two people knew that. JK Rowling and Alan Rickman. They knew it because it was important to the plot, the arc started in Harry Potter and the Magical Macguffin Part 1. Richard Linklater needed to know that about his character, and he didn’t seem to, even with him working one year at at time. The ending had all the urgency of a student who realized that he needed to turn in a paper or get an “F”, but chose not to finish it with the hopes of at least a “C”. I don’t understand why people liked it.

The other big complaint, was like I said, from conservatives bashing the non-win of American Sniper. This, of course, was held up as THE LATEST REASON LIBERALS HATE AMERICA. Look, if a movie HAS to win, that’s not a win, it’s a hostage situation. But it also pushes aside the other main point, and that’s this: there were over 400 films eligible to be nominated for best picture. Love it or hate it (please... hate it) Dumb and Dumber To was eligible for best picture. Transformers Age of Extinction was eligible, and that featured an extended justification for statutory rape. American Sniper was chosen above every. Other. Film. Except. For. Seven. Others. to make it to the top slot. Some would argue it made it over other films, including Nightcrawler, Rise of the Planet of the Apes, Still Alice, The Fault In Our Stars... (For the record, these were ALL listed as early frontrunners when they appeared. I know some of them may not seem like it, but they were.)  These didn’t make the cut. American Sniper did. So, it’s not the latest reason for anything, except the need to push an outdated narrative. 

Basically, stop pouting because your movie didn’t win. That doesn’t make Birdman some strange outlier. It’s a movie a guy made. Some people liked it. They didn’t like the movie you liked as much as yours. It’s not some vast conspiracy against you. 

The problem is, especially when it comes to the Oscars, WAY to many people take it seriously. It’s an awards show. Because Wes Anderson Quirky Funtime doesn’t win, it doesn’t suddenly make it a bad movie. I still love it. (I keep calling it that because I can’t spell Budapest.) Movies are supposed to be fun. Even if they’re taking you to a dark place, it’s supposed to be a fun transformation. Paying attention so much this year made me realize that people pay WAY to close attention to it, and they need to lighten up a little bit. I mean... come on. Relax. I enjoy the movie marathon, because I like going to the movies, and having to sit and watch them all reminds me of that, and it reminds me of just how interesting movies can be. I think that some people need to step away from the hype for a little bit, relax, and enjoy it again. And that’s one of the reasons I liked Birdman so much. Because of that one scene... when he’s imagining (or slowly devolving into madness) the movie scene around him, wanting to have fun. I mean... in the middle of this sad comedy about a guy losing his mind and fortune, he reminds himself that he was once a dude in a bird suit, and people loved him for it.

So lighten up, everyone.

Oh, and everyone, stop complaining about the Oscars running long. You’ve seen them before. If they get in under a tight six hours, it’s a good night.

Wednesday, February 25, 2015

Bad Shakespeare Takes England: The Scottsboro Boys

So, I saw a lot of plays in London. As I’ve mentioned before, 11 to be exact. After each show, we (the intrepid class and I) would try to rank them, and it became increasingly difficult to do so, because they didn’t fit a category. Do we like Curious Incident of the Dog at Night-Time for it’s technical wizardry, or because of the acting? Was Knight of the Burning Pestle good because of the fact that it was a throwback? Did the fact that all the dialogue in Treasure Island was yelled take away from the show? (yes. Yes it did.) And as our handsome and still not yet having put grades in the book Professor Rick Davis pointed out, whether we liked it or not was pointless. What did we see? How did it affect us? 

That being said, I want to talk about what most of the class (there are always outliers. The ones that said Knight of the Burning Pestle wasn’t amazing are flat out wrong, though) agreed was one of the most powerful productions we saw while we were there: The Scottsboro Boys

I’m going to give two major caveats before I post this. One, for reasons we are going to discuss, this is a controversial production. Not just for its controversial elements, but because we all like to look back and see the past as beautiful and the present as a rotting cesspool and why can’t it be more like the past. I got some mean comments on Facebook for even saying I liked this musical, not because of what it says but because it shines a light on, let’s face it, an ugly time when guilt was more “the color of your skin” rather than, “did you actually do it.” The Scottsboro Boys were all pardoned. Reasonable doubt hung over the many, many, many trials they endured. This was a powerful production. 

Secondly, and this will be a separate post, but three cast members of the show came into our classroom (yes, I actually went into a classroom in London) and talked to us. So, it may seem like I’m heaping praise on a show where I know the cast members, but while they were nice guys, I’m not going to heap praise where heaps of praise don’t really belong. That wouldn’t be fair to them. Or you guys, really, as I’m only going to say about a million and a half times that you should see a production of this, first chacne you get. 

Thus, on to the play report.

Seeing the Scottsboro Boys in London is an odd experience. One of the things about seeing a live production is that it’s very much a product of the time it is playing, more so than a movie. At the time that The Hunger Games Part 3: Mockingjay Part 1 (Sidenote: if you’re going to keep splitting the last book up into two in order to make more money, come up with a new title) Phillip Seymour Hoffman was very much alive and able to participate. His death by overdose changes that static ending to the film: Peeta going through extreme withdrawl and gives it a disturbing new meaning (especially as “In memory of Phillip Seymour Hoffman” shows up). Star Trek: Deep Space Nine was filmed as the best Star Trek Series since the original, and was filmed at a time when several characters could be called “terrorist” or “freedom fighter” interchangeably. That won’t change. 

We saw The Scottsboro Boys, a play very much set in a time and place in America... in London. England certainly isn’t going to win any awards when it comes to it’s treatment of people with different skin tones, but their experiences were very different than ours. So... it was probably a different experience. When one of the northern characters sings about how much Alabama is awful, there was only one section really laughing, and that was the one centered around where we purchased tickets. Just sayin’.

For those of you who don’t know (and I wasn’t well-versed in this incident) The Scottsboro Boys is the story of 9 Black men accused of raping two white women in 1931. During the first trial, all but one of the defendants was found guilty, but they appealed, noting they actually had pretty poor defense, and noting that none of the medical evidence pointed towards rape. Eventually, the American Communist Party got involved (Communism wasn’t as dirty as a word back then, and it actually worked towards ending racism) hiring better lawyers. More and more the case continued to fall apart - one of the women apologized and recanted her story, the other’s story got more and more outlandish - but they kept being convicted. They were all eventually exonerated, posthumously, sadly, in 2013. 

I know... fun subject for a musical, right?

If that wasn’t offensive enough, the whole musical is done in the style of an old-time Minstrel Show. For those of you who don’t know about that well... let’s just say that it has it’s roots in racism as well. (The very, very ends features most of the cast in blackface.) It was a show that often played to Black stereotypes in the south. Many of the cast members were Black, some were White people in blackface. 

I should point out that the three people that came into our class were Forrest McClendon and Coleman Domingo who played many, many, many characters... part of the Minstrel show is that several people played one character. They played Mr. Bones and Mr. Tambo, who took on any of the other roles as needed. Brandon Victor Dixon, who played Haywood Patterson also came in as well. 

I’ve typed all of this and I think you all know my feelings by now, that it was probably one of the most powerful plays I’ve seen. It’s the only one I can remember giving a standing ovation to (except Knights of the Burning Pestle because I was in the Standing Room Only section, and Treasure Island, but that’s because I was getting up to leave as soon as possible.) It was a reminder of what musical productions could do - more than just put on a spectacle (boom. Used another word, Professor Davis.) it also pointed out a real message. What was done was horrible. And we don’t look back to make us feel bad or to feel that we have to apologize. We look back on this stuff because it’s important to remember it happened, so we can move forward and ensure that things like this don’t happen again.

This show was produced in America a few times. By the time it got to Broadway it was being protested for it’s “offensive elements” by people who probably never saw the show. (I’d bet money on that) The thing is, hell, yes, it’s offensive, and that’s the point. The jaunty songs are meant to draw you in, get you clapping, and then realize the horribleness about what they’re singing about. 

I know that one of the bigger elements that people were upset about was the use of the “Minstrel Show” type retelling of this. But the writers used this element to show that the entire trial itself was a type of minstrel show. Medical examiners, witnesses, even one of the “victims” pointed out that this crime couldn’t have occurred. But because it was nine black men... it was easier to just convict and move on, because they were the disposable people du jour. The fact that this is told through the style of the minstrel show... it enhances the experience. It makes it more effective. I get that people don’t want to accept that stuff like this happened, but it did. Forgetting about it, denying it doesn’t help. It just makes things worse. 

I also think it’s important to re-iterate that I saw this show in England, which sort of changed the meaning of some of it for me. Again, they don’t win any awards for non-racism (I think people tend to forget, while talking about all the slaves our founding fathers owned, they weren’t suddenly magically imported in on July 4th, 1776... they were imported in by England) but it allowed us, for a minute, to sort of take an outside view of what happened. Yeah, we may throw in an Alabama joke and laugh, but the lack of laughter from everyone else also spoke volumes. 

So, will The Scottsboro Boys ever get another shot in America? I hope it does. Social issues are covered in plays all the time. I know no matter what it will be met with protests... sadly. And I know that I’m probably going to get more nasty emails because of this post. I don’t care. Watching as the cast sung “When we going to go back home” was powerful. Watching the screen as it flashed that these men were pardoned - in 2013 - was powerful. It was just a reminder that musicals can have a powerful message. It was a reminder that in order to get a message you believe in out, you may have to step on some toes. It was a reminder that we can’t forget an unpleasant past, we have to sometimes embrace it, if only to ensure that we don’t repeat it. I was a reminder of the power of the stage... something we sometimes forget as we want to focus on what’s “fun.”

Whew. That was a lot more words than I thought I’d type out about this play. I think next week I may jump back to talk about something a little bit lighter. Maybe some more Christmas stuff. 

Monday, February 23, 2015

One Year Later...

So, it’s been about a year since I made my fateful decision to drop the whole idea of being a High School English Teacher, and made the switch to the far more lucrative Masters in English. Keep in mind, not a year since I made my fateful post, just a year since I made the actual decision. Roundabouts, actually, I know I’m a few days off. I just remember that I went to the Oscar Movie Marathon, and at some point in my sleep deprived, what the hell was Gravity state, I turned to my fateful companions and said, “I don’t want to be a teacher anymore.”

It helped that two of them were asleep and one of them was wearing noise canceling headphones. This meant she got to get the news later over ribs because I felt like giving ribs to people since I do that well. The other two got the news in the car on the way home.

As I’ve mentioned, it wasn’t an easy decision. It was one of the hardest decisions I’ve ever had to make. I mean, I was good at teaching. I had gotten all A’s in one of my classes except for the very first one, which I’m not sure what that means but hey… I got all A’s. I worked hard for my position as an intern, which included taking that damn Praxis test more times than I care to count (4) because the Praxis is totally a measure of how good you are going to be as a teacher and not a money making scheme were a standardized test is required by the state, then the people that graciously offer to run that standardized test (for a fee) also happen to offer… what’s this? They happen to offer classes, books, and anything else you may need to PASS said standardized test. 

Wow, that sure is lucky that this company that graciously offers to run the state’s standardized tests (for a fee) also happen to offer all that stuff out of the goodness of their hearts and also for another fee. 

Some people have noticed, too, in my many retellings of my time as an intern/student/teacher that I’m not always as upbeat as the experience as I may have talked about on the blog. One day, I may talk about the whole story. It involves casting some people in a not as good light. But for now, that’s kind of my decision, and when I’m a little further removed, I may talk about some of the other concerns that I have as someone who viewed the teaching world from the outside but on the inside for a little while. The problem is that it involves casting some people in a not-great light, and I know they do not frequent but visit this blog from time to time. I’m not afraid of offending them, I’m just sort of… done with them. 

No, today’s post is all about… where are I now? (Also, I sometimes get people correcting my grammar on these posts, like human versions of the Microsoft paperclips that everyone hated. Yes, I know I wrote “are”. It’s a joke on the articles, “where are they now?” Yes, jokes you have to explain amn’t as funny. See what you made me do?)

I’m a pretty creative person. I actually have an entire novel written about Nicolas Cage trying to take over the world with magic to discuss that. But that’s neither here nor there. But part of this creativity is that I can’t always shut off my brain. From time to time, I’ll lapse into little moments where I try to think about whether or not something looks like a dragon, or whether or not that snow falling is actually little alien spaceships driven to take over the world. It’s actually pretty healthy. But part of this creativity, is that I wondered… what if I stayed with the teaching program?

I probably would be pretty burned out already… I’d be done with my Masters on the one hand, but I’d be stuck in a job I really didn’t enjoy. I wouldn’t have gone to England, probably not even for vacation, because let’s face it, I’d be too busy with finishing my masters and really wouldn’t be in a place to enjoy it. I wouldn’t have gone to see 11 plays, or seen London in so much detail that I can still navigate around certain parts of it like a non-tourist. (But will still take pictures of Big Ben if I get a chance to. Well, the clock tower around Big Ben, because… ok, I’ll stop now.) I wouldn’t be in my dream job advising students, I’d probably be stuck in a house I didn’t like. I wouldn’t have the time to get my creative endeavors done… little known fact is that the part that drove me over the edge was when I wrote my final Bad Shakespeare. Oh, yeah, this blog was ending. I wouldn’t have attended Awesomecon, met Billie Piper, and got her autograph on my arm. I also probably wouldn’t have had the courage to finally get my full sleeve tattoo that I love so much. 

You see, the thing is, for a while I was held back, and the only person hold me back was me. I wanted to go out and do fun things, but I needed to stick with my full time job, save money responsibly, buy a house, have 2.5 children, save for retirement, then… then I could pursue my dreams? But, then, as I grew miserable in my full time job - and this I’ll point out had nothing to do with the job since I loved everyone there… well, not that guy who smacked his lips when he ate. He I just liked. Anyway, I needed a way out, because I was getting burned out and I hated my life. So, I jumped on the teaching thing because I thought it was what I wanted, and it was far more respectable than the “English Majoring” thing I’m doing now. I mean, I don’t have a real office job. I swim coach. I tutor. I advise. I do any of the million things that come my way. It wasn’t until I realized that I was holding myself back was the problem. 

And we all do this. We take a look at people’s lives around us and we think, “why don’t I have a house? Why don’t have a job that pays a billion dollars a year?” The thing we never ask ourselves, “will this make me happy?” 

Turns out that it took about eleven years, but I learned the very important lesson that being happy is way more important than fitting in any day.

So, it’s been a year. I’ve had some amazing adventures… things I never thought I’d do. I’ve made some decisions about my life. Important ones. I’ve been able to admit to myself all those things that I didn’t think a responsible adult would be able to admit to himself. Is some of it selfish? Hell, yeah it is. We need to get over the idea that all selfishness is bad. A lot of selfishness, as it turns out, is pretty awesome, as long as you’re not hurting anyone. But my point is that none of my adventures or growth as a person would be possible if I didn’t sit back and say, “oh. I don’t like what I’m doing. Let’s move forward.” 

It’s been a great year. Now, let’s see what adventures the next year is going to bring. 

Sunday, February 22, 2015

AMC Best Picture Showcase 2015... the Wrap Up

Well… the lights are up, and the movies are over! I hope you all enjoyed Bad Shakespeare and his movie Ranger’s coverage of the AMC Best Picture Showcase 2015. It was a long night… it was a snowy night.. and it was apparently an icy night. The Georgetown AMC Shut down at 6:00, but we still managed to rock the night away in pure awesomeness, movies, good friends, and movies. Yes, I said that twice. We saw eight movies.

Also, a real quick shoutout to the crew running AMC Georgetown 14. It was an awesome event, and it was because they all spent time iced in with us. So, I guess in some ways they didn't have a choice. But they decorated and kept our spirits up, even as people started leaving because the ice was really hitting.

Speaking of ice, for those of you who aren’t in Washington, DC, AMC Georgetown is, as it mentions, is in Georgetown. But, it’s in a strange place in Georgetown where there’s an overpass, and the place itself is underneath this overpass. So, say, for instance, you’re standing out front waiting for the pizza, and the snowplow comes to plow the overpass. It pushes stuff to the lower area. Like where you’re standing… waiting for the pizza. Yeah. I got snow plowed. It was fun.

We all had a great time in this year in interaction with the staff. Maybe it was being snowed in. Maybe it was that they enjoyed the cookies. They certainly enjoyed the cookies, provided by Benedict Cumberbatch enthusiast Kim. They even gave most of the Rockin’ Movie Ranger prizes! First for Bad Shakespeare for tweeting. Then because we were bold enough to have pizza delivered. And because we’re just awesome people who sat up front and managed to enjoy things. Mysterious Jerome and I managed to eat plenty of cookies, which was important to maintaining the balance.

Also, we did something a little bit different this year by managing to get Papa Johns to deliver three pizzas for our group in the middle of an ice storm. Everyone else was gone, but we had our own little pizza party in between Selma and American Sniper

Now, for a write up of the films themselves! I posted mini-reviews on Bad Shakespeare twitter and Facebook Page, but here is what we thought.

Boyhood: This is the gimmick film that filmed every year for 12 years, a gimmick not seen since 56 years ago with the Up Documentary series, or with Coffee and Cigarettes. Basically that’s the movie. One year of a boy’s life. The problem most of the Rockin Rangers found was that it didn’t really tell a story, and it didn’t have anything to do with it’s title… boyhood. It starts at a random place in his life. Then it ends, randomly, when he meets his college roommate. Plus, the acting in some of the teenage years borders on “after school special” quality. Yes, this is a lot of people’s frontrunner, but it may take some more viewing to really appreciate, but our group really couldn’t figure out what it is that made this movie so special, beyond its… let’s face it, gimmick. Tell a story. Not a random assortment of scenes. 

The Theory of Everything: This is a really good movie, so I felt bad referring to it as Stephen Hawking: Origins. It was basically this, movie, telling the story of Stephen Hawking as he invents time, then doesn’t get knighted, and manages to have three kids. (Good for him.) But this was an amazing movie that got a lot of “the big things” right. The scenes of Steven slowly losing his motor skills is extremely heartbreaking, and is really juxtaposed where he stood up at the end in his imagination. There were a few scenes that I was convinced that I was actually watching Stephen Hawking. It was just an incredible film.

Birdman (Or the Unexpected Virtue of Ignorance): This was the only spot where we had a real split in the ranks. Bad Shakespeare loved it (as I’ve mentioned) but it was too weird for the rockin’ rangers. For those of you who don’t know about it the 20 times I’ve talked about it, but Michael Keaton plays a guy who once placed a superhero who decides to put on a prestige piece and yadda yadda yadda… METATHEATER! They dug the central gimmick of the one shot, but also found it too weird, specially when you throw in all the superpowers maybe superpowers, never mind here’s Michael Keaton running around in his underwear. Wasn’t the worst movie we ended up seeing, but ultimately, they didn’t have the same unabashed love for it that Bad Shakespeare showed. Oh, well. Can’t win them all. 

Selma: This was a gripping look at the events in Selma, the Civil Rights movement, LBJ, George Wallace, MLK… this had it all. It pulled from the real FBI Transcripts that were kept on LK during this time. We all agreed on this one that this is an extremely powerful movie, but none of us were prepared for the moment when the movie switched from the fictional movie to the actual footage. It’s a powerful reminder of history… one that is way too recent for us to think about. 

After this was dinner time! This is when we had Papa John’s bring us food! Because we’re awesome.

American Sniper: Ok, so I went into American Sniper with a certain prejudice. Not really against the subject matter, but the attitude around it that says, “if you don’t like this movie, you hate America!” It’s a movie. Everyone has their opinions on it, and I hate anything that tells me that we have to “like” something to “be” something. For instance, I didn’t like Passion of the Christ. It didn’t make me non-Catholic… it meant that I didn’t like the movie. That being said, the Rockin’ Rangers kind of agreed that we didn’t enjoy this movie. This movie was about Chris Kyle, a Navy Seal Sniper who was killed by a veteran he was trying to help. There’s no doubting that he was a hero. He was a real hero that saved a lot of lives. He should be honored. We didn’t feel that this film really honored that. It took away from a lot of the teamwork that’s associated with being in the military… including Snipers, who typically use a spotter. But it also followed the “Poochy Rule” from the Simpsons, which meant that if Chris Kyle ever wasn’t on screen, everyone would be asking “where’s Chris?”. Plus, there’s that one scene, an extremely dramatic, well acted scene in which to characters are arguing while holding a baby. Chris’s newborn daughter, adding to his drama of going back to war. But… they didn’t get a real baby. They had a fake baby, and it was OBVIOUS. The theatre was laughing the entire time. It’s a multi-million dollar movie about a hero. Let’s pay a little extra to get an infant on set. 

To clarify before I’m attacked: Chris Kyle did a lot and is a hero. The movie wasn’t good, in my opinion. 

Intimidation Game: The first half hour was pretty much indistinguishable from a good episode of Sherlock in which Martin Freeman just hasn’t show up yet. The movie tells the story of Alan Turning, his hidden (or not so hidden) homosexuality, and the fact that he built the first real computer that powers what I’m writing this blog post on. Powerful performances from everyone involve, and a pretty good movie that jumps back and forth through time at his time in boarding school, and working for the government in trying to stop Nazi messages in World War 2. It’s sort of like a spy thriller, but with a lot of history.

Whiplash: It’s a movie about drums. Well, a drummer at a prestige school in New York and the semi-abusive… ok, abusive teacher that tries to make him better or drives him slowly mad depending on your outlook. Also features one of the great “fight scenes” in movie history at the end. Again, another agreement as this was a film that came out of nowhere, really, on our collective radars. Not just top notch performances, but extremely top notch performances from everyone involved. Plus, there was that special bonus that they put the drumming movie on at 1, so… yeah. That helped. No black and white family dramas then wondering why everyone is asleep. 

Grand Budapest Hotel: We all fell asleep during parts of this movie. It’s Wes Anderson, and it’s about a hotel and the people who run it. It’s also a story within a story, within a story. Most of us had seen it before, and we loved it, but knowing it’s Wes Anderson and a hotel is pretty much what you need to know about this. Really good.

As for what we think will win? Ah, we don’t know. We know what we liked… we know what we enjoyed. And we know what we want to see again.

So, the chapter closes on another successful AMC Best Picture Showcase, the 24 hour edition. Thanks to everyone who made it happen.  Bad Shakespeare and his Rockin Movie Rangers will come at you next year for more movie excitement. 

Saturday, February 21, 2015

AMC Oscar Movie Showcase 2015... a rundown of the events!

It’s that time of year again, boys, girls, and Nathan Fillion who I don’t think knows this blog exists but I’m going to tag him on Twitter until he responds. But welcome... to AMC’s Best Picture Showcase, 2015! We’re going to be live blogging the ENTIRE THING, so stay tuned, because the posts are only going to get weirder probably around 1:45 a.m.

Nah, They’re all going to be weird.

As with every year, it’s time to meet your crack team of Bad Shakespeare’s Movie Rangers who will be covering this mega event for you. 

First up is Bad Shakespeare a.k.a Me... your loyal blogger who has not only done this three years running, but is handsome while doing it. My interest includes about 400 posts worth of stuff, so get reading. Having seen 2 of the movies running, I can tell you that my frontrunner is Birdman.

Next up is Marissa, the queen of making sure we’re prepared. Marissa is a kitten enthusiast from just outside of New York. As her queenship implies, she is prepared for every incident from tums to a helmet, “just in case.” 

Then we have the queen of cookies, Kim!! I say this because she makes cookies. She better be making cookies. Like, if she shows up and there’s no cookies, my first response is, hey... where are the cookies? Cookies. Anyway, Kim is a Benedict Cumberbatch Enthusiast who’s interests also include Bradley Cooper and Eddie Redmayne. 

Next up is the mysterious Jerome, who’s mysteriousness is only matched by his ability to be an enigma. He does not provide cookies. 

Last, however, certainly not least, is Kati! Kati enjoys Netflix and has known Bad Shakespeare longer than everyone on the list. (Actually longer than everyone on the list, combined!) And yet still hangs out with me, so... yeah. That will tell you all you need to know about your sanity. Kati’s likes include telling me to stop talking about Birdman.

Here is the breakdown of the times of all the movies. 

10:00 a.m. Boyhood
1:05 p.m. The Theory of Everything 
3:30 p.m. Birdman (a.k.a The movie I think should win)
5:50 p.m. Selma 
9:00 p.m. American Sniper 
11:30 p.m. Intimidation Game
1:45 a.m. Whiplash (a.k.a thank GOD they put a movie about drums on at 1:45. That's not a joke. I'm glad.)
3:45 a.m. Grand Budapest Hotel 
6:45 a.m. We all sleep, cocoon like, until Monday.

Want to follow all of the excitement and fun? We'll be posting all the fun, excitement, and silliness over on Bad Shakespeare's Facebook page (click the link to bring you to the page, then "like" it while you're there), or, of course, follow me on Twitter at @shakesbad. 

Then tune in here on Sunday for the full rundown of events!!

That’s it. Your guide through this madhouse for the next 24-ish hours. (There’s only eight movies this year, so it’s not ACTUALLY 24 hours.) 

Also, there better be cookies.

Friday, February 20, 2015

Book Report 52 Project: The Rook by Daniel O'Malley

So, imagine you wake up in the middle of a field. You’re surrounded by bodies, and they’re all wearing latex gloves. Oh, and you can’t remember anything about who they are, how they got there, who you are. In your coat is a letter addressed, quite literally... “To You.” 

That’s how The Rook, the supernatural superhero novel from Daniel O’Malley starts. And yeah, it sucks you in that much.

When I first started Bad Shakespeare 52, I wondered how exactly I was going to maintain reading 52 books a week, particularly when most of my classes demand I read books for them, and most of them aren’t as fun. The last one I read was about a woman who buys a horse and falls in love with it. Or doesn’t. I’m still not sure what the horse represents in that one.

Moving on, there are no horses in The Rook. Just superpowered awesomeness. 

Anyway, my point is that The Rook is not a light book that you can breeze through. Actually it’s just under 500 pages long. So I was surprised I picked it to try and get through in under a week, and I was even more surprised as I found myself not only finishing it, but wishing that there were 500 more words dedicated to these characters.

The woman who wakes up in a field with no memory and apparently the butt-kicking ability to take out a bunch of armed men is named Myfawny Thomas, and it turns out that she knew about the fact that one day, her memories would be taken from her. In fact, a large portion of the book are letters written by Myfawny (Pronounced like “Tiffany,” but with an M. Despite the fact that I knew this because they say it a lot, I still pronounced it “Mi-FAWN-ee” which isn’t anything like the writer intended. Sorry, Daniel O’Malley.) who is an extremely talented administrator, but not one for the heroics of the organization she works for, the Checquy. 

Myfawny is a super-powered agent for a super-secret Government organization of people with powers who fight supernatural threats in Great Britain. She has the ability  to control people by touching them, something that her former self never really took advantage of. All of the characters are named after Chess pieces, and she's the titular "Rook" within the organization. There's an amusing bit about how they can't have a King and Queen, since, after all, they live in England, there IS a King and Queen already, so they just go with "Lord" and "Lady" as the highest office in this particular realm. 

Yeah, that’s probably one of the best parts of the book, the way it deals with identity. Everything up to her memory-erasure (which is a slow, but exciting, burn) is treated as a separate person. So, in essence, there are two Myfawnys (Myfawni?) who inhabit this book. The capable administrator chosen for her role specifically because she lacks the need to go out and put her life on the line with danger and heroics, and the new one who is trying to unravel the mystery of who the mole is in the organization, her own powers, who this original Myfawny is, and just who tried to kill her and only succeeded in sapping her memory.

Speaking of identity, one of the more creative characters in the novel is that of Gestalt. He... they... Gestalt was born as quadruplets - three boys, one girl, but with only one mind. As such, the book reminds us that Gestalt is one character, one “person” with the ability to jump back and forth in between four different bodies that can be station anywhere. But this also means he/she can control his/her bodies anywhere, and with varying degrees. At one point one body is sitting in a meeting with Myfawny while two of his others are out on missions, and he’s talking his way through it. It’s very interesting to think about what makes someone “a person” when dealing with memory loss and a character that is literally four people.

This is a fun book, too. Myfawny pre-amnesia never took advantage of her powers, despite the fact that she is pretty powerful in what she does. Later chapters (spoilers) have her powers growing to the point that she can take down Gestalt when needed, and that’s no easy feat when he can simply decide that one body will attack you from the back and one from the front. But it plays with superpowers, it plays with the fact that the supernatural world is kind of gross all while also exploring the fact that, yes, they are a fancy organization that has a certain attitude to project on the world. (Why do we keep insisting our super-spies keep wearing 2,000 dollar suits when it’s just going to get covered in bomb-dust? Really, people? go to Men’s Warehouse and pick up a 6-pack of jackets that can get disposed of when you get swallowed by a fungus monster.) 

There are large sections of this book that are expository, most of them coming from Pre-Myfawny’s letters to her Post-Amnesia self. That can bog down some of the action, and is used to enhance suspense, but it also serves a pretty fun purpose of dropping minor clues here and there about what is really going on. The cool thing is that the mystery is pretty much laid out in front of readers from letter one, but you don’t realize it until everything has been explained. Including one thing I wondered about, but not in as much detail as we got. Way too much detail.

Overall, the best thing I can say about this book is that it’s a fun read. I heard it described as like Buffy, the Vampire Slayer, which had one of the better senses of humor about the fact that it was about a teenage girl who fought vampires while going to High School. I felt the same way about the Rook. It had a good sense of humor about itself, never took itself too seriously while maintaining a plot that was engaging enough to keep me moving on, even as we got long histories of secret organizations. This is a must read for fans for superheroes, the supernatural, and mind-bending mysteries. I’m looking forward to the inevitable sequel. 

Wednesday, February 18, 2015

Bad Shakespeare Takes… er… Scotland...

You’ll notice that I have titled these Wednesday updates about my trip to London as “Bad Shakespeare takes England.” That’s actually very specific wording. Despite the fact that I spent 99% of my time in London, I was encouraged to spend time outside of it as well. I mean... I was in the United Kingdom, after all. It’s basically an Island, although one not as creepy or confusing as the one on Lost. At times we did confuse the constant gray sky as the smoke monster, but that joke got old after a little bit.

And, because I was able to take trips all over the island... and yes, I was able to go over to “the continent” as they referred to the rest of Europe... I wanted to take advantage of it. The first trip I took was to Cardiff. I’ll talk about that one later, because I’m more excited to talk about the second trip I took, following a trip to the laundromat. (More on that later, too.) Because I was able to take a day and a half long trip to Scotland. Home of lots of things. Including Scotch.

Did I mention I like Scotch?

Getting to Scotland from London is easy... they have lots of trains there, just not exactly like the ones on Harry Potter. They do have platform 9 3/4 there, but the line to get my picture taken was too long, so I settled for hopping on Platform 4, which is the one I needed to get from London Kings Cross Station to Edinburgh. It’s a nice four hour train ride that’s better than going through security and having to take another flight.

Four was enough. Thanks for that, Expedia.

In any event, I wasn’t really sure what to expect when I got to Scotland. Of course, the first thing to expect was nothing... I didn’t arrive until 11 at night, so it was mostly dark with a few cabs and people coming out of bars. I briefly walked walked around and considered going into a bar, but then I thought that wandering around a new place in the dark in a foreign country even if they speak what can loosely be considered English and going into a bar may not be the best idea, even in an area that can be considered safe. 

Plus... I had to share a room my entire time in England. This wasn’t a bad thing because I liked my roommate. He was with a different program so I only saw him in passing since he did most of his stuff in the morning, and since I was there for plays I did most of my stuff at night. So we never had time to get on each other’s nerves. That being said, I was still sharing my space with someone, and when I went to Scotland I got one, glorious room all to myself. So I wanted one good night to enjoy it. And I did. And after a week and a half of sharing a room with someone at this point it was all I hoped it would be.

Moving on.

I woke up the next morning a bit late, and I decided to explore. That’s when I learned that there two real “parts” of Scotland... and there were a set of steps called “The Scotsman Steps” that took you up to the Royal Mile, which is like Bourbon Street but with more kilts. 

Yes. There were kilts. Kilts everywhere. I don’t mean people wearing them, but kilts were sold almost like T-Shirts here. I guess that’s to be expected since you really think of Scotland containing Kilts, Braveheart, Scotch, and Sean Connery, but I was surprised to see how many places you could just buy a kilt.

For the record, I bought what is called a “novelty kilt” in that the real kilts were like, mega expensive and I was enjoying having “food” on a regular basis. 

Speaking of food... the first thing I did as I stumbled out of bed and managed to tell myself I’ll have to start working out more once I walked up the Scotsman Steps was hit up a good place for food. Being “Scotland” I just walked into a pub for brunch because I was in Scotland and why not. I ordered the house scotch and of course, eggs and salmon. I came THIS CLOSE to ordering Haggis, but, well... at the end of the day I guess I’m not as adventurous as I thought I was. Here we are. 

The scotch and salmon was so delicious I thought I was in some kind of magical land in which they specialized in both dishes. (That’s the joke. They are) Seriously, it was probably one of the best meals I have had in my entire life, and I once ate at a place endorsed by Gordon Ramsey himself. No one tell him. I’m afraid of what he might do if I say this place was better.

Now, I was in Scotland for one entire day, really, when you count the fact that I really just had the trip late one night, then I had to go back the next day. So, I wanted to know how I could make the most of it. I decided that I could make the most of it by just wandering around.

Sometimes when we make trips we spend SO MUCH time planning, we forget to just... wander. And by wandering, I found my way to a little comic book shop just off the Royal Mile. I was able to find a little cafe and sip some hot chocolate as it snowed around me. I walked all the way to the Castle, where it was still snowing and at that point I had about enough. I found a place to do a full scotch tasting (that’s going to be it’s whole own separate post, coming later.) And I met people, too. The little woman running the store where I bought the kilts and told me about this pub I just HAD to go to because it had the best chips in town. Or the bartender who guided me through a list of scotches. Or the guy running the sweater store I went to who let me know “the weather’s not always like this....” When I told him I was from Virginia he said, “I heard it’s colder there.” 

But it was nice spending the day as sort of a tourist who wasn’t hitting up the touristy spots. I get that the Royal Mile is pretty much a touristy part... I could tell that when I hit up the fourth kilt store... but not really having a plan made it that much better. I was just there for the day. I didn’t have a set plan. I ended up wherever I want. I had a real adventure. 

And yes... there was Scotch. We’ll discuss that one at a later date...