Wednesday, December 4, 2013

"The Nostalgia Critic" (Web Series)

Title: "The Nostalgia Critic" 
Starring: Doug Walker
Genre: Web series, non-fiction
Naja's decency rating: R (language and crude humor)
Year: (2007-the present)

Criticism is vital to the health of the art community. It's hard to criticize well. Everyone is naturally analytical, but although everyone knows if they do or don't feel comfortable about something, most of us can't articulate why, or do it in a way that's thoughtful.

Without criticism, how could we appreciate the arts? In some ways, criticism is a form of appreciation- a meditation which takes artistic efforts seriously.

We'd become disappointed with media much more often if we consistently chose uninteresting media to watch. We'd consume a lot less of it, and we'd cling that much more tightly to what we already know. If we refuse to analyze our own feelings about why we do or don't like something, we can't become aware of the struggles and ideas of other people. Without critical analysis of why we feel the way we do, our feelings can become confusing.

I used to love watching Siskel and Ebert, so when they split up and passed away, I was pretty devastated. They left a vacuum. After years of film criticism depletion, I realized how rare and valuable a really engaging critic is.

Then I found "The Nostalgia Critic," one of a couple different characters made by Doug Walker of Chicago, Illinois, who all analyzes media. The Nostalgia trashes old films from the 80's and 90's that many have never heard of. He does a few new films, but they aren't as standard as his formula for reviewing bad 1990's films. But even with contemporary films, The Nostalgia Critic does most of his best work criticizing obviously bad movies, like Sharknado, as opposed to praising films he does think are well-done (which he does as well).

The Nostalgic Critic is very low budget, and it's really funny if you enjoy sarcasm and a rather choleric, irreverent sense of humor. I have really come to enjoy the panic attacks that ensue in every episode when the critic is disappointed to the point of outrage. The Nostalgia Critic's humor is very similar in style to the Angry Video Game Nerd.

I don't always agree with the Nostalgia Critic's opinions, but he backs up most of his premises with convincing points and there's plenty of quick wit written into each episode. And the Nostalgia Critic does his research when he isn't just making fun. He keeps it smart, if not clean. He's not racist or sexist (as is apparent in his review of Doomsday Machine), and although the humor is predominantly angry, the Nostalgia Critic character, written by both Doug Walker and his brother, is capable of introspection, humility, and revising his opinions based on new information (but always without compromising on the points he feels are very important. See his review on Man of Steel).

The Nostalgia Critic started off giving reviews alone, but his later episodes have a lot of side characters, and some of them aren't too bad. A lot of these side characters are other reviewers from "The League of Critics." My favorite character so far is easily "Brental Floss" who participates in musical reviews and does a really, really great Russell Crowe impression. There is also "Santa Christ," which is a pretty funny concept: Jesus and Santa Clause merged into one ultimate mentor figure that's always doing Gandalf impersonations.

This Les Miserables review is a great example of my not agreeing with a lot of the opinions contained therein, and not finding all of the playacting very interesting, but still finding a whole lot of entertaining truths to keep me engaged. Check it out! "The Nostalgia Critic" is a real trip down memory lane for us twenty and thirty-year-olds.

Here are all of the Nostalgia Critc's webisodes from the official website: 

Wednesday, November 27, 2013

Happy Thanksgiving!

Happy Thanksgiving, everyone! I've been thinking about you. Yes, I've been thinking about how I've been neglecting you and how it's just plain wrong of me. *hangs head in shame* 

I have about six half-finished reviews for indies that I have discovered and LOVE and I think they deserve a little attention! But between applying to transfer to colleges in my beloved L.A. County, working at my humble job in a fantastic little place, writing my fingers off and well... goofing off too, writing about all the great independent books I've read and great independent movies I've watched has fallen to the wayside. :-(

In addition to working on five screenplays, a musical, and going over my first novel again (which has been taking a lot longer than I'd hoped), I'm wrapping up the first draft of the second novel in the Lost Atlantis series- a series which is proving difficult and time-consuming. To write about such difficult characters and interactions the way I believe they demand to be written is taking several editions and years of ongoing revisions. 

Unfortunately, I wonder if there's just no way around it. I don't think there is any way around working slowly like this for me- not for this series for some reason. I'm actually not usually like this. I'm usually quite anal about having my ducks in rows and it's stressful not to have them in a row for Lost Atlantis. I can whip out an okay full-length screenplay in two months, no problem. I'm pretty happy with the few I've done, although I've never tried to sell one. 

But this? A novel? It's insanely hard. A novel might be harder than anything else one could write because:
  • You have to be a designer, describing scenery and sets and colors and size and texture, etc.
  • You have to be an actor, and you have to play every single part.
  • You have to be a poet, attending to how one word flows into another, and how subtle differences in words can change moods.
  • You have to be a critic, understanding why a choice does or doesn't work- and you have to be honest about your opinion, stand by it and defend it.
  • You have to be a copy editor. A very, very good one.
  • You have to be a social commentator. Even if you aren't, someone else will put the social commentaries in your mouth anyway.
  • You have to be a psychologist. You have to attempt to explain human behavior.
  • And most importantly, you have to be a director who sees to it that every element is of an acceptable quality and fits into the artistic picture as a whole.
I won't even get into the business side of writing a novel and having to market it yourself, because I'm nowhere near ready for that or even interested in being ready for that for a long time to come. I wouldn't know anything about it except that the mere thought of marketing one's own novel to friends and neighbors and strangers is intimidating.

So speaking of goofing off, this is one of the designs I put together as a potential 2nd book cover. The original drawing was so tiny- it's funny to see it blown up digitally! I loosely based White Sand (the main character's) face off of pictures of Angelina Jolie, Sophia Loren, and some random person with wet hair on the internet. I always pictured my main character as having a wonderful, Mediterranean kind of beauty.


Ciao bella mias! Enjoy tomorrow's food bellies!

Friday, August 2, 2013

Sorry for abandoning the blog! (rants)

Sorry for abandoning my blog for so long! I've been working like crazy on my main body of writing projects (book two of Lost Atlantis, several plays and screenplays, etc.) and I'm also doing a lot of reading about how to write better (especially since I might not be able to continue majoring in English. There are really strict requirements for to the schools I'm looking at transferring to).

I won a drawing contest by joining author James Scott Bell's internet mailing list, and got a 100% free, autographed copy of his book:

It was a fantastic read!

I also picked up a copy of the Portable MFA in Creative Writing and am dedicating myself to finding ways to improve my ability to entertain.

I'm coming out with a third edition for my first novel, and I'm making some major revisions, especially with regard to less exposition. I feel pretty bad about not having a finely polished product out there right from the start, especially when I've had really strong support from the very, very small group of people I've come out of the writing closet to. But I had to put something out there to get a feel for how Kindle self-publishing works and to see what would happen. Well, I know what happens now! I'm crossing my fingers and gearing up for the rest of the series.

Also, I'm going to start taking down my old dream diary posts! Maybe a few years down the road, I'll start a brand new dream diary.

Tuesday, June 25, 2013

Second experiment on my graphic design tablet!

Quick study of a photograph of a statue by Francis Derwent-Wood. 

I'm at home sick today, so am looking for stuff to do.

I looked up public domain images and I'd never seen or heard of this artist before! The picture I found was of a statue called "Leda and the Swan" (the man is bent over a swan). It seems like this Derwent-Wood person was a popular sculptor in the Victorian age. My study looks so different from the original- I made it kind of creepy! There was no swan in my reference photo! I wasn't sure why he was so bent over, so I took out most of the white. Later I found out what was going on with the figure's unusual posture.

I really enjoy this little $30 Bamboo tablet! It does all the basics with none of the mess or expense of paint or charcoal.

On another note, I do apologize for my lack of focused posts... I'm trying to figure out what kind of "online presence" an author should have- especially an author with only 1/6 of a series done. I'm in the middle of overhauling book one, I'm trying to build an author website, and I'm also trying to decide if Twitter is worth while.

Monday, June 17, 2013

My first experiment with "Autodesk" on the Bamboo tablet

Hello! I've just started goofing off on my brand new little beginner's tablet, and here is my very first drawing, done with the bundled software that came with it.

The program's called "Autodesk" something-something. I've done some tracing with Art Rage too, but didn't pick up a knack for it. Autodesk feels a little more like organic drawing materials but it's still very different. I can't write my name properly on it yet.

So this is my kitty! I got bored and didn't bother with fleshing out the laptop case she's sitting on (I'll never get tired of sketching her though! Kitty love!)

Thursday, May 23, 2013

"The Nest" by Dominic Bailey

Title: "The Nest" 
Author/Illustrator: Dominic Bailey
Genre: Horror/Monster
Length: Short story
Naja's decency rating: R (violence)
Setting: Contemporary

The Nest is a unique short story with many interesting quirks that couldn't be found in a traditionally-published book. I was attracted by the organic drawing on the cover. Its simple, confident strokes were something I could hear my old charcoal instructor appreciating.

When you start the book, the sardonic tone is sure to give you a couple sarcastic smirks along the lines of Psycho, "The Yellow Wallpaper" by Charlotte Perkins Gilman, twisted fairy tales, or a Simpson's Halloween. It's a self-aware, soft-core Poe-horror with a lot of pop culture references. Everything in the story revolves around phobias- one more than any other: the fear of rats.

The tone is what really makes this book fun; it's sharp and pithy. The voice is clear. My favorite line is, "I have a pretty good idea of what a rat flying at my face looks like," because of how often he's imagined it, or "But there, on the book is a small oval dropping," when he's trying to convince himself there's nothing to be afraid of. The book starts with really fun details like that, but the ending was a little more ambiguous. There's nothing necessarily wrong with that, but it made me feel like I'd started something I couldn't finish.

I have no problems with rats, and that makes the main character's hysteria even more fun for me. The first 38% of the book is from the phobic man's perspective, and the next 38%-71% is the rat's perspective. It took me a little doing to get invested in the villains' perspectives. I thought of the Rat King from Teenage Mutuant Ninja Turtles- someone fallen and divine who was "interpreting the thoughts" of his army of rat-minions. There are a few gross-out moments at this point, but nothing terribly shocking- just creepy enough to keep things interesting.

We switch perspectives again at the end, and then the book totally and completely bows down to the Poe poem influence.

I thought this little ninety-nine-center had a good dose of literary merit! It's entertaining, there's excellent description, insightful detail, humor, and it's a short, fast ride. I was able to finish in about a half hour while procrastinating on homework. If you're looking for a quick escape, check out The Nest!

This review was for the version uploaded on October 27, 2012.

Monday, April 29, 2013

"The Bride Who Would Not Burn, A Play on Dowry Deaths in India" by Rajesh Talwar

Title: "The Bride Who Would Not Burn, A Play on Dowry Deaths in India" 
Author: Rajesh Talwar
Genre: Play (Comedy)
Length: 223 estimated pages
Naja's moral fortitudinousness rating: (PG-13) for sexual content and adult situations
Setting: Contemporary India 

I wasn't going to review this indie since I don't know much about the culture and history of India and  had very mixed feelings about the play. But a week or two later, I was still thinking about it, and realized that because of it, I've been awakened to something I wasn't aware of before. That doesn't always happen when one reads a piece of literature. Often, I'll turn the last page of a piece of fiction, and if I ever come across the book again, I might not even remember having read it.

Let me be specific about what I mean when I say I don't know much about India. Like many Americans, what little I know of India, aside from curry, beautiful clothes at fair trade stores and belly dancing, is a smattering of sensationalistic melodrama gleaned from old movies which point out the evils of burning a bride alive along with her dead husband's body. I had always assumed that bride-burning happened centuries ago (actually  this practice of burning a bride alive on her husband's funeral pyre was called "Sati" and became illegal in 1829). I expected this play to be a historical play about Sati- not a contemporary play about something that happens now once an hour to a woman in India, and has ever since the early 90's.

The play follows a lawyer, a prosecutor and a judge discussing a modern bride-burning case. One family tries to extort the most amount of money from their son's bride (the girl in this play is only nineteen), and the bride's family tries to sell her off to the wealthiest family. Everybody involved drops their heart-felt sense of right and wrong in the process. Unfortunately, my brief research confirmed that this is a common real-life scenario in these dowry murder cases.

As the play opens, we get to know the judge and the prosecutor as they wait for a late lawyer to join the discussion. Almost immediately, we come to a major challenge and also (arguably) one of the major appeals of this play for a Western audience: differing cultural assumptions.

The two narrating characters are discussing confiscated "blue films," which I eventually assumed meant pornography. Many Indian cultural issues are implied throughout the play- concepts which are sometimes  quite different from Western culture. A reader who is not familiar with contemporary Indian culture will be obligated to do a fair amount of background research. For instance, I also had to assume that pornography is illegal in India, and that traditional assumptions about sexual boundaries must therefore be dramatically different from the default mode of thinking about sex that I had developed.

I did a Google search and yes, pornography is illegal in India. I found that the strange feeling I get from discovering these things about a totally different way of life lingers with me well into scenes in which I'm supposed to be getting to know the characters and their struggles. I wasn't focusing much on the characters because I was still working on what I think of a cultural thing I just looked up that I wasn't sure yet was even correct. I'd carry a lot of assumptions with me throughout the narrative that would superimpose a lot of different meanings onto the text until later on in the story when I might start seeing a pattern and realize my assumptions were right, wrong or still indeterminate. And of course, it's hard, as an outsider, to know how people in local milleus and subcultures tend to think about the popular culture surrounding them. This aspect to reading this script put it out of the easy reading category.

There are two distinct morals to the story. One: you're going to get a mess when you mix the ethics born out of consumerism with certain traditional practices. Two: it's nearly impossible to successfully legislate deeply ingrained behavior. Personally I would argue that you can and perhaps should legislate some moral beliefs for long-term change. Lincoln's anti-slavery law didn't stop abuses against African-Americans for decades, but it slowly and steadily improved human rights after many generations. Similarly, it seems that women in India continue to struggle with abuses influenced by a world in which the dowry system ruled.

It's written as a comedy, so how funny this play actually is would be mostly in the hands of the actors and the director. If the actors played it well, it would almost be a comedy of manners (the prologue does quote Oscar Wilde).

The most important thing you will take from reading this ninety-nine cent play is learning about the real-life plight of many women in India. (Spoiler alert: there is a plot twist in the end that weakened my experience of the story quite a bit. It made the already challenging aspect of delving into a world with so many different customs and different terms of respect or affection for authority figures even harder to assimilate, because the judge, the lawyer and the prosecutor launch quite a lengthy and vicious ad hominem attack against Poonam, the bride. And you are definitely under the impression that these men are united in their negative opinions of her until they start criticizing each others' sex lives. Perhaps the playwright did all this end-twisting in order to avoid completely turning off people who think more conservatively about women's sexuality in India, or to offer up a more well-rounded perspective on the situation- to make it funny that these men are putting down a sexually-open woman when they themselves are out-of-control... sort of like how amusing it is to hear Aunt Augusta in The Importance of Being Earnest discussing in all seriousness how "...we live, I regret to say, in an age of surfaces," when she is so interested in money. This reflects the attitudes in that social setting, but it's also hilarious to watch her behaving so judgmentally.

I do not know if this kind of comedy is how the playwright intended all of this to play out. I do know that the playwright seems to be quite bright in the prologue, has already put on this play before live audiences and has gotten feedback from it. What's more, he has a better command of properly written English than most Americans do. But most importantly, he has an agenda with this play: to protest these dowry abuses- even if the argument is not necessarily one that stems from feminist ideology. This aspect to the play seemed like it could be open to interpretation.)

In the long run, what will haunt you the most about this play is the sense of helplessness that you feel for these dowry-burdened women, living in a situation that's very hard to comprehend in the West.

The following links open in separate windows:

Bride-burning as acceptable murder in India. puts together a list of "bride-burning for dummies:" restrain the girl in the kitchen, douse her in kerosene, and light her on fire. 

Dowry deaths are on the rise in the 21st century at the rate of one bride-burning an hour (written from New Delhi).

Saturday, April 20, 2013

"Zelda" by Kathleen Scheiner

Title: "Zelda" 
Author/Illustrator: Kathleen Scheiner
Genre: Horror/Disaster
Length: Short story
Naja's Morality Policing: PG-13 (language and violence)
Setting: Contemporary Brooklyn, USA

I'd been searching for self-published books to read and stumbled on this one when I did a search for mermaids. The cover was so bizarre, I had to see what was going on. After reading this book, I found the cover mermaid to be a very helpful image. The story leaves the reader wondering what happened before all of the chaos the city was plunged into, what's happening during the heart of the action, and what's going to happen after all of the action takes place.

The short story is edited religiously for clarity of language. There are no typos, no grammatical errors, no gimmicks- it ends (which is often pretty rare for indies). It doesn't lead up to another story, promotion or anything else (although this would make a great full-length novel).

Rather than this brevity leaving you with the feeling that you might be missing something, this inspires a craving for more. The story is a well-cropped snapshot of dystopian New York- a blend of Jaws meets one of those "last person on Earth" scenarios. It's a monster movie in a Kindle file.

If you're looking for something entertaining and original, this is a good example of the unconventional stuff that's possible with Kindle self-publishing.

The author is available on Twitter and Goodreads and is currently concentrating on horror and science fiction. She has one other ebook available as of May 2016.

This review was for the version uploaded on May 17, 2012.