Movies

A Comedic Birding Film Starring Jack Black

Spoiler-Free Movie Review:

The Big Year (2011)

Rating: 8 out of 10 stars

Intro

When I heard this was a comedy about birding, I was reluctant to watch it. I figured it was mostly a movie for birders or at least those vaguely interested in birds. Since I lack interest in most animals, and would rather do almost anything than watch them for hours, I thought this would be perhaps educational, but not relatable or funny to me in the least.

I was wrong.

It was funny…it was heartwarming…it was adventurous. The theme was creative. The trailer really doesn’t tell you much, so don’t rely on that. Overall, it was much better than expected.

Background

The movie is based on a nonfiction book called The Big Year: A Tale of Man, Nature, and Fowl Obsession by Mark Obmascik.

It stars Steve Martin, Jack Black, and Owen Wilson.

It can be watched on Disney+ at this time.

Summary

Three birders, Brad Harris (Jack Black), Stu Preissler (Steve Martin), and Kenny Bostick (Owen Wilson), attempt a Big Year. For those who do not know, a big year is when a whole calendar year is spent seeing and identifying as many bird species as possible. It is based on an honor system, because birders do not have to show proof.

Pros

  • Phenomenal actors
  • Complicated characters
  • The theme and premise are creative
  • Not only about birds–it’s about people pursuing their passion wherever it may lead them
  • It’s just plain funny
  • Credits actually fun to watch

Cons

  • It just merits an 8 out of 10. There are better movies, but if you want a good laugh, this one is one to pick up. This movie takes itself very seriously at times, making it less of a comedy (at least in the sense of the modern definition that people use), but then deals with things with a lot of humor at other times, preventing it from being completely serious.

Review

Acting

The acting of the three main actors–Steve Martin, Jack Black, and Owen Wilson–is spot-on. No complaints in that department at all. The rivalry and grudging respect between the characters is audible in the way they speak to and about each other. I do not know as much about Steve Martin and Owen Wilson, but Jack Black is a familiar name around my home.

Characters

Brad Harris (Jack Black) comes off as more of an amateur than the other two, kind of like a superfan without as much experience. He is trusting, likeable, and easy to root for. He lives with his parents after a failed marriage. His father is not very supportive, thinking that the Big Year is a waste of time and money. The movie develops a potential romantic interest for him–to see how it turns out, you’ll have to actually watch it.

Stu Preissler (Steve Martin) is an older man who is considering retirement again. He is encouraged by his wife to do the big year, and has many years of birding experience. Not as trusting as Brad, he is still willing to remember what really matters even when pursuing his passion. Stu built a company and is the CEO, and his employees continually distract him from his big year to try to get him to negotiate business deals.

Kenny Bostick is a man obsessed with birding to an unhealthy degree. Even though this is supposed to be the year he tries to conceive a child with his wife, he goes on a Big Year because he is afraid someone will break his record. During the movie, he is fiercely competitive and not afraid to turn to subtle acts of sabotage, especially by turning people against each other.

Theme

The theme of the movie is creative. Making a birding movie watchable for a wide audience is not easy, but it makes the topic more interesting. If I were to pinpoint a theme or deeper message it would be that you should follow your dreams, but in doing so you should not leave your loved ones behind.

Comedy

The movie is hilarious at times. Watching Jack Black jam to bird song, only to have a coworker listen in and say “rock on” in confusion, was great.

Plus the movie started with a warning–“This is a true story. Only the facts have been changed.” That was some humorous self-awareness there.

Credits

The credits show the various pictures of birds that were purportedly taken by a character during the movie. The song playing during the credits is “This Could All Be Yours” by Guster.

Conclusion

I would recommend this movie for anyone who enjoys comedies. Give it a chance–you won’t regret it!

Rating System

If you are interested in how I rate movies, check out my rating system.

Links

Shows

Gravity Falls Gets Even Weirder

Spoiler-Free Show Review:

Gravity Falls Season 2

Rating: 9.8 out of 10 stars

Intro

When my sister wanted me to watch Gravity Falls, I was skeptical about whether I would like it. It looked like an uninteresting kids show or like it would have a style of humor I wouldn’t be a fan of. However, it has become one of my favorite shows.

Background

Gravity Falls Season 2 was released in 2014-2016. It stars the voice talent of Jason Ritter, Alex Hirsch, Kristen Schaal, and Linda Cardellini.

It can currently be watched on Disney Plus.

Summary

Season 2 focuses on the search for the author of the journals, Gruncle Stan’s past, and the struggle against Bill Cipher.

Pros

  • Loveable characters
  • Unique villains
  • Interesting supernatural beings
  • Touching character dynamics between the twins
  • Entertaining setting
  • Clever and amusing dialogue
  • Fun animation
  • References to other shows and pop culture
  • Continuity between episodes unlike in some cartoons
  • Enjoyable for adults and children alike
  • Original catchy music

Cons

  • Gets darker in a way that is a bit much (though this is a minor con)

Observations

  • The whispers at the end of the intro song of each episode are hints to solve the cryptogram at the end of each episode
  • Alex Hirsch is the voice actor for Gruncle Stan, Soos, Old Man McGucket, and Bill Cipher.
  • Dipper’s hat was originally supposed to be red, but the creators feared that he would look too much like Ash Ketchum

Review

Characters

My Favorite Pic of the Whole Gang

Mabel Pines, the girl in the pink sweater and braces, is a quirky and boy-crazy girl. She wears a different sweater almost every episode and is very spontaneous.

Dipper Pines, the boy in the blue hat, is adventurous, practical, and cautious. He is eager to find out what supernatural forces are at work in Gravity Falls.

The twins do a lot of growing in their understanding of themselves and the world around them during Season 2. They have to realize what is most important and worth protecting.

Wendy Corduroy is the redheaded teenager. She is tomboyish, strong, assertive, clever, and funny. Wendy is my favorite character.

Gruncle Stan, the old man, is the main characters’ Great Uncle. Get it? Gruncle? He is miserly, bossy, and occasionally engages in criminal activities. Nonetheless, he is one of the most loveable characters.

Soos is the handyman in the green shirt. He is laidback, has a big heart, and is very close to the Pines family. He acts kind of like a big brother to Dipper and Mabel.

I can’t imagine the show without any one of these characters. They are all essential and add so much to the story.

There is only one character of note who debuted in the second season, but his existence is so integral to the plot that I cannot reveal who it is without major spoilers.

Bill Cipher is the iconic villain of Gravity Falls, and the main threat of Season 2. He’s just so weird….some of his scenes from Season 1 involve deer teeth and possession. It’s all quite odd, and that’s what makes him so unique. He is sadistic and thoughtless and enjoys making deals. Season 2 gets even weirder with his greater involvement.

Relationships

The relationship between the twins is so sweet and authentic. It is clear that they genuinely do care for each other and enjoy each other’s company. Gravity Falls avoids common tropes used in shows for twins–such as twins that are identical or very similar in personality, or the twin that is always right vs. the one that is always wrong, single-minded twins, etc.

Season 2 delves into this relationship more by revealing more of the twins’ pasts and creating conflict between them.

Setting

The show is set in Gravity Falls, Oregon. A lot of time is spent at the Mystery Shack in particular, which is a tourist trap filled with gimmicks and odd artifacts.

Dialogue

Pain is hilarious! And two eyes? This thing is deluxe!”

Bill Cipher, referring to humans

Romance is like gum. When it loses its flavor, you just shove another one in.”

Mabel Pines

A TV show that has big mystery elements and jokes that go over kid’s head’s”

Gruncle Stan, referring to Ducktective in a metajoke also referring to Gravity Falls itself

Animation

The goofy and sometimes postcard-worthy animation of Gravity Falls is attractive and fits the theme of the show.

Allusions

  • When Soos says “Shining, shimmering, splendid,” he is referencing the song “A Whole New World”
  • Smez is a spoof of the brand Pez
  • “We Built This Township on Rock and Roll” is a reference to “We Built This City” by Starship
  • “The Golf War” title of an episode alludes to the actual Gulf War
  • One episode has several allusions to the Muppets
  • At one time the Eye of Sauron can be seen in the Mystery Shack
  • There are so many more!

Continuity

The show is dependent on the episodes that come before for a lot of the development and for most of it to make sense. That makes it different from many TV shows where the episodes can be watched in any order.

Audience

The audience for this show is varied. When I was looking at who had left ratings on IMDb, there was a large age range from teens to people in their mid-20s or mid-30s–even people older than that such as in their 50s. In addition, it was made for children, so it fits all of these audiences well. There are a lot of jokes that adults will appreciate that kids may barely notice. The darker themes at times in the show makes it appealing to adults as well.

Music

The theme song is so catchy my sister and dad both made it their ringtone. I love it. It’s one of those iconic songs that will always bring back good memories for me.

Conclusion

I recommend this show for all ages except for very young children due to dark elements. Admittedly this season is darker, so parental guidance may be best. Things such as a person turning into cockroaches and a couch made of petrified humans might be uncomfortable for very young audiences, as well as the darker overall atmosphere.

Rating System

If you are interested in how I rate shows, check out my rating system.

Anime, Shows

MHA Season 4 is the Best Season Yet

Spoiler-Free Anime Review:

My Hero Academia Season 4

Rating: 9 out of 10 stars

Intro

This is my favorite out of the seasons of My Hero Academia. So far none of the seasons come close to it, including what I have watched so far of Season 5.

Warning: This review does not contain significant spoilers for Season 4, but it does contain spoilers for earlier seasons.

Background

My Hero Academia Season 4 was released in 2019. It was produced by the studio Bones and directed by Kenji Nagasaki. The plot is based on the graphic novels by  Kōhei Horikoshi.

You can watch My Hero Academia on Crunchyroll, Funimation, and Hulu.

Summary

U.A. students face off against villains new and old. Later in the season, the members of U.A participate in a school festival. In the meantime, Bakugo and Todoroki attend special courses to catch up with the rest of Class 1-A.

Pros

  • Creative quirks
  • New and unique characters
  • Dangerous and effective villains
  • Well-chosen way to introduce the season
  • The Big 3 show what they are made of
  • Backstory for Kirishima and Amajiki
  • Actual consequences for choices
  • Concept of Quirk Singularity Doomsday
  • Darkest season balanced with comic relief
  • Attractive intros and outro
  • Catchy music
  • Original art style

Cons

  • Tickling machine kind of disturbing
  • The relationship between Gentle Criminal and La Brava is uncomfortable
  • Weird angles on characters focusing on breasts, legs, and skirts at different times

Observations

  • Natsu look-alike appears near end of season

Review

Introduction

The idea of starting the season off with a feature story on the members of Class 1-A was an interesting way to recap everyone’s quirks and personalities without being boring and forced.

Creative Quirks

Creative quirks such as whole-body lens fill this anime. This quirk allows camera lenses to grow from different parts of Taneo’s body. He can print the pictures from his chest when desired, or keep them in memory. For a journalist, this is the perfect quirk, being able to take pictures anywhere anytime, looking inconspicuous until finally getting a shot.

Characters

Getting Kirishima’s backstory is a great bonus for this season. Seeing how he changed over time to become the person he is now was amazing.

Amajiki is a shy character who continually compares Kirishima and Togata to the sun. This season really gives him the chance to shine, however, delving into his past and showing that he is formidable despite his reticent nature.

Fat Gum’s fat absorption quirk allows things to stick to his body and be absorbed. His quirk is more complex than it initially seems, however. He is a Pro Hero who is honorable and likeable.

Eri is a 6-year-old girl whose quirk and backstory are a well-kept secret from most of the characters until later in the season. She is compassionate and self-sacrificing, and surprisingly mature for her age yet still childish in many ways.

Nighteye holds to many of the same ideals as All Might. He values laughter and smiling, and wants to make the world a better place. He truly believes there is no future to society without “humor and energy.”

I appreciate the character design of Overhaul with his unique mask. I thought about getting one designed to look like Overhaul’s during the worst part of the pandemic when everyone was wearing masks, but mask regulations have since been relaxed in my area for those who are vaccinated.

I think of Overhaul as the most evil and cruel villain introduced in My Hero Academia so far. He’s not only physically dangerous, he is also causes psychological damage to others.

Relationships

The relationship between La Brava and Gentle Criminal gives off strong romance vibes and it’s not the most comfortable relationship. La Brava is 21 and Gentle is 32, which is a large age gap–but that’s not a big deal. The problem is the character design makes it seem like Gentle is an old man, and La Brava looks like a little girl. That makes it seem like Gentle is some sort of pedophile and that he is grooming La Brava. And since they don’t mention ages during the anime itself, viewers aren’t aware that La Brava is not a minor. Seems like a poor design choice here.

Consequences

Trust me, there are negative consequences for failure, and even for hard-won success, in this season.

Concept

The Quirk Singularity Doomsday theory has to do with each generation having stronger quirks. There is the idea that one day the older generation will not be able to stop the newest generation from doing whatever they want.

Balance

This season gets surprisingly dark for My Hero Academia, and the comic relief of the school festival is well-timed and much-needed. The last couple of episodes don’t seem to belong and probably should’ve been in the next season, but that’s not a big deal.

Music

The first intro of the season is Polaris by Blue Encounter. What I like about this intro includes the camera angles seeming natural and the movement of the piece as a whole. If you look at the part with the hands at the very beginning, you’ll notice it shows his hand when he was younger, his hand when he joined UA, and his hand with the scars.

The first outro features the song Kōkai no Uta by Sayuri. This is one of my favorite outros because it portrays backstory for an important character in Season 4 without spoiling anything significant like some outros do. The pictures of Eri are so cute and really builds sympathy for her.

The second intro features the song Starmarker by Kana-Boon. Unlike the first half of the season, the second half is lighthearted, and the intro reflects that. Interesting choices are made regarding color, and the song is upbeat.

The second intro features the song Shout Baby by Ryokuōshoku Shakai. This scrapbook-style intro shows glimpses into the character’s pasts, including those of side characters.

There is a song during the school festival that is amazing too, but going into details on that would constitute a spoiler.

Style

The animation was done by Studio Bones, which also did the style of Fullmetal Alchemist, another one of my favorite anime.

The style is different from Fullmetal Alchemist because it uses bold, bright colors and deep shadows for contrast. The pupils of characters are much smaller than in most anime.

Problematic Aspects

Sir Nighteye’s tickling machine is uncomfortably similar to torture and harassment. As a boss, it’s entirely inappropriate for him to tickle his sidekick without permission as a punishment. Bubble Girl literally begs him to stop and he refuses. There are better ways to show that Sir Nighteye values humor without making him seem like a creep.

Occasionally with this season the camera would rest on breasts, legs, and skirts without any apparent reason. It just seemed unnecessary and an odd choice.

Observations

Looks kind of like Natsu from the anime Fairy Tail, right? Whether that was intentional or not, the pink hair and scarf make this side character a lookalike to one of Fairy Tail’s strongest wizards.

Conclusion

If you liked the first few seasons of My Hero Academia, you will like this one too. If you didn’t like the first few seasons, you may like this season anyway because its darkest moments are horrifying and its lightest moments are hilarious, and there are plenty of heartfelt moments that fall in between those two extremes.

Rating System

If you are interested in how I rate shows, check out my rating system.

Links

Books

A Rival for The Lord of the Rings

Spoiler-Free Book Review:

The Stormlight Archive: The Way of Kings

Rating: 10 out of 10 stars

Intro

This is the best book I have ever read. Period. My dad suggested it for me and I could barely put it down, especially near the ending. I was visibly smiling at parts, laughing, and on the edge of my seat repeatedly. In my opinion, it blows The Lord of the Rings out of the water. Read on to find out why this is my new favorite book!

Background

Brandon Sanderson is the author of various books for adults and younger audiences alike. Some of his more famous works include the Mistborn Trilogy and Alcatraz Versus The Evil Librarians, as well as the rest of the Stormlight Archive. He typically writes high fantasy with fantastic worldbuilding.

Summary

In the world of Roshar, three promising characters struggle against their pasts and continued threats while going on journeys of self-discovery. Kaladin, a mysterious slave with a tragic past. Shallan, an artistic young woman who seeks to become the ward of a famous scholar. And Dalinar, an older man who is trying desperately to unite the Alethi highprinces and create a stronger kingdom of Alethkar.

Pros

  • Multiple intriguing points of view
  • Gripping character backstories
  • Different lifeforms than in any other series
  • Unique magic system
  • Richly developed cultures
  • Objects unique to the realm of this book
  • So many quotable moments
  • So much research put into this
  • Illustrations and other worldbuilding snippets between sections of the book
  • Quotes that introduce chapters are interesting and relevant
  • Phenomenal ending with twists

Cons

  • I honestly cannot think of a con. Sure, it’s very long, but without that length I doubt the worldbuilding would be nearly as impressive.

Observations

  • The length of the book is 1200+ pages, but every bit is important to the narrative as a whole.

Review

Characters

Kaladin is introduced as a slave with a history of troublemaking and a host of enviable skills. The book delves deeply into his backstory in particular, speaking of his numerous losses and continued failures. If there is a character who is focused on the most in the book, I would say it is Kaladin.

Shallan is another point-of-view character, trying to become a ward of Jasnah Kholin, who is a high-ranking scholar. Shallan’s primary concern is saving her homeland, which has fallen into disarray since her father’s death. One of her most interesting skills is affixing an image in her memory and being able to draw a replica of it later on. She also draws from sight with remarkable skill.

When she drew, she didn’t feel as if she worked on charcoal and paper. In drawing a portrait, her medium was the soul itself.”

Dalinar is the third significant viewpoint character, an older man whose visions during highstorms worry him about the state of Alethkar. He has two sons, Adolin and Renarin, who are each very interesting in their own ways. Adolin goes through relationships with all the eligible young women of high enough rank quickly. Renarin struggles with physical weakness that prevents him from engaging in battle.

Lifeforms

This novel has lifeforms different than in any book I’ve read. From thunderclasts to chasmfiends to skyeels, Brandon Sanderson has a high capacity for creativity. My favorites, however, are the spren and the chulls.

Spren appear when something changes–when fear appears, or when it begins to rain. They are the heart of change, and therefore the heart of all things”

Hesina

There are musicspren, fearspren, painspren, windspren, and hungerspren, among dozens of others. Some are large and monstrous, others are like wisps, and some can even shift their form.

Chulls are kind of like large hermit crabs with rock-like shells that are used as herd animals and to pull cargo. See an illustration of one on Fandom here.

Magic System

The magic system is dependant on Stormlight. Stormlight from highstorms infuses many everyday items, the currency, and gems. That energy can then be used to perform lashings–attaching things to each other or moving objects, standing on walls, etc. Very few people are capable of these feats.

Culture

The first notable cultural difference is that men are expected to handle fighting, commerce, and creating glyphs. Yet women are the ones who are able to read and write and it is considered wrong for men to engage in these activities. There are also foods considered to be men’s food vs. women’s food.

In Alethi culture, people with light eyes are considered higher-ranking citizens than those with dark eyes.

There is also the Vorin tradition of having a safe hand, a woman covering one’s left hand with a long sleeve or glove. Uncovering one’s safehand is considered as scandalous in their society as very low cleavage. The society is medieval so there are a lot of restrictions for women and men.

According to Shin culture, one should not tread on stone and mining is an abomination. To them, a dying request is sacred. Farmers are celebrated with lavish clothes and acclaimed for their hard work. The Shin have childlike features. One of the characters in this book is a Shin assassin.

At the end of the book a kelek poem is displayed, which must be the same backwards and forwards (excepting verb forms).

Objects

Shardblades are the most interesting weapons in the Stormlight Archive. It is said that “a shardblade did not cut living flesh; it severed the soul itself.” Slicing through someone’s skin would cause no flesh damage, but would lead to numbness in the area swung through. Slicing through someone’s neck would lead to death and eyes being burnt out.

Soulcasters are objects used to turn substances into different substances. For instance, rock to smoke, or human flesh to flames. It is even possible to soulcast food, but it usually ends up being pretty bland.

Spanweed is an instrument that allows long distance communication through writing.

Quotes

But expectations were like fine pottery. The harder you held them, the more likely they were to crack.”

Shallan’s point of view

Well, I myself find that respect is like manure. Use it where needed, and growth will flourish. Spread it on too thick, and things just start to smell.”

Kabsal

The purpose of a storyteller is not to tell you how to think, but to give you questions to think upon.”

Wit

Research

After 10 years of research and writing, Brandon Sanderson produced The Way of Kings. There are many aspects of the story that are realistic and well-thought-out. The medical and surgical knowledge Sanderson included in his book added to the effectiveness of the story. Even though it’s a work of fiction, I felt that I learned more about how wounds were treated after battles.

There were other thoughtful aspects such as how a soldier was told to urinate before battle so during the battle he would not be distracted. He was supposed to do that well ahead of time because armor is hard to get off and back on. Another instance of realism is that the brand that Kaladin has is scabby and needs to heal.

Extras

The illustrations between sections of the book are beautiful and contribute to the illusion of realism that Sanderson creates. Illustrations can be seen at his website, here. The quotes at the beginning of each chapter are mostly made up of the dying words of random people. The reason for these quotes is revealed at the end, and they turn out to be extremely relevant.

Conclusion

If you like fantasy, read this book. I have a feeling this book will become a classic for the fantasy genre. Recommended for ages 13 at least and up, but may be better for an older audience due to length.

Rating System

If you are interested in how I rate books, check out my rating system.

Links