Five Things Kubo and the Two Strings Did Right

I saw Kubo and the Two Strings and it was magical! A solid 4.5 out of 5.

The wonderful thing about Laika is their attention to detail, both in the animation and the story.

The story is well crafted and beautiful but not perfect. If you enjoy fantasy, animated movies, or a good cry, this movie is for you. Go see it and help its box-office totals.

*Warning Spoilers*

kubo

5. Not Afraid of Sadness

From the first scene of the movie, you know this isn’t going to be a light hearted comedy. It’s dark, magical, and ends with a baby who’s missing an eye.

Throughout the movie there are scenes where the writers could have avoided sadness or pain, both for the audience and for the main character. They don’t avoid it at all, and I cried a few times during the movie.

It’s not just cheap tricks, but genuinely heart hurting moments. Watching Kubo take care of his mother who seems to be losing her mind or watching him pray to his father were cry-worthy.

4. Balance

The movie balances the sadness with humour while avoiding useless slapstick. (Although there is a part with a fire breathing chicken that is slapstick-ish but hilarious.)

The humour flows from the characters, not from the jokes. It means each joke has a reason and helps balance the intensity of the rest of the story.

I laughed a lot.

3. Nuanced Characters

When I saw the trailers I assumed the Beetle Samurai would be a cross between Kronk from Emperor’s New Groove and Donkey from Shrek. I was wrong. He, like the rest of the characters, was well balanced and so very human.

It’s important for a writer to understand why their characters exist and what pushes them. In a lot of comedies, the only answer is humour. At no point could Kubo and the Two Strings be considered a traditional comedy.

2. No Useless Information

There is a lot that happens in the movie and at the beginning you’re given a lot of information. Some of that information is purely visual and easy to ignore. Every detail, from the stories to the landscape is important. It’s a tightness that is hard to do in writing without giving too much away.

Everything is important; every line has a double meaning. It’s beautiful.

1. Strong Ending

The ending threatens to undermine the entire message(s) in the movie and for a split second I was ready to be extremely angry. After the fake out, the story ended the best way it could and made me extremely happy. Like the humour, the ending was driven from the characters.

Throughout the movie, despite terrible things happening, there is a strong message of love and hope; both for the character and humanity.

There was joy, even in death, and that’s something that we don’t see very often.

Caveat

If you haven’t guessed, I loved this movie but it wasn’t perfect. The end of the second act dragged a little and there were a few parts that luxuriated in the animation (which is spectacular).

The biggest issue I had was that none of the main cast, or writers, were Japanese, or even Asian. There were some of the extras that were played by Asian characters and George Takei does have a few lines, but overall it’s all white people.

You can argue, as the producers have, that it doesn’t matter as much in animation because the voice is the important part and not the look. I think that’s taking the easy defense. There are plenty of great Japanese actors that could have done the voices.

 

Despite my minor reservations, this was a spectacular movie that I look forward to owning and watching again and again. Solid 4.5 out of 5.

What did you think of Kubo and the Two Strings?

Éric

Blush: Swimming and Periods

Before I get started on the post, I’d like to share a piece of good news I got yesterday from my publisher. The Blush cards have been completed, and the printer has shipped them! They should be arriving at the publisher’s on Monday! I am ridiculously excited about this, as it is earlier than anticipated. Whee!!

Pre-Order your copy!

Fu Yuanhui is a Chinese swimmer in the Rio Olypmics. Image from www.shockmansion.com
Fu Yuanhui is a Chinese swimmer in the Rio Olypmics. Image from www.shockmansion.com

This Chinese swimmer got her period during the Olympics. The day before her race. And apparently she gets debilitating cramps while on her period. Ouch. As someone who (usually) bleeds every month, it surprised me that it hadn’t occurred to me before this point what athletes did about the cramping that (might) come with their periods while during a meet.

Apparently it hadn’t occurred to me because it’s a taboo to discuss it in the sports world. Really? Ok then. Not my place at all to judge. But it certainly surprised me to hear that. But what surprised me even more was what was said as I continued to read the article; only 2% of Chinese people who get their periods use tampons. (In the US, 42% of menstruating people use tampons, for comparisons sake.)

I am a swimmer. Not competitively, but I was a lifeguard. I taught swimming lessons. I love the water. I used tampons from age 14-23. Not always successfully… but that’s a story for another time. Now (when needed) I use a menstrual cup called a Diva Cup.

So to hear that only 2%, TWO PER CENT, use tampons… it boggles my mind. How do they swim? Or do they just forgo swimming one week every month?

Not only do they not use tampons, but a lot of people aren’t even aware that they exist. Or weren’t, until Fu Yuanhui talked about swimming on her period on national television. Apparently someone even accused her of lying about being on her period, because how could she swim?

Hopefully this opens up a healthy discussion about menstruation and the variety of products available, and more menstruating people can have the opportunities that were so long denied to them.

P.S. If you go and read the article, there is more content, including whether menstruation affects sports performance, and whether using a tampon stops the person from being a virgin. The former would be an incredibly long post involving a lot of research that has yet to be done conclusively, and the latter is another post entirely – about what virginity means. I’ve been avoiding talking about this subject because I’m afraid of including too much of my opinions, but I think it’s time for that discussion…in two weeks.

P.P.S. If you are interested in doing a guest post about a topic that would fall under Blush, please let me know! This can be done with credit given, or anonymously. Please contact us at jenericdesigns@gmail.com

Network Television Draft 2016-2017

For the past few years I’ve run a Television Draft / Pool. It’s like a football or hockey pool but with new television shows.

Tvpool

 

How It Works

  1. Get a bunch of friends over to your house and watch all the trailers for this year’s new network television shows. (List below)
  2. Everyone Pays $5. (You can use pretend money or no money at all)
  3. Divide the amount of shows by the amount of people. (There are 53 this year)
  4. Put everyone’s name in a hat, chip bowl, or other receptor.
  5. Pick a name from the receptor and that person gets first pick. Record what that person chooses and have them pick the next name.
  6. Reverse the order of people who picked. (First goes last, last goes first)
  7. Repeat steps 5-6 until everyone has an equal number of shows picked.
  8. Give updates monthly for how well the shows are doing. I recommend TV Line, TV By The Numbers, and Is My Show Cancelled for checking what is and what isn’t cancelled.
  9. At next year’s Draft give this year’s First place 50% of the money collected, Second place 30%, and Third place 20%.

The Points

Points are awarded by how many episodes air and if it’s renewed. All points are tied to the category of the show.

Categories Points Per Episode Aired Renewal Bonus
Traditional American (18-24 Episodes) 1 10
Mini-Series (6-14 Episodes) 2 10
Mid-Season Traditional (6-12 Episodes) 2 15
Unknown /Summer (4+ Episodes) 2 20

The Shows

There are enough shows this season that you could easily play 3-17 people. More if you let 2 people choose the same shows.

Show Network Estimated Premiere Date Category Trailer link
24: Legacy Fox February 5, 2017 Traditional American Trailer
A.P.B. Fox Unknown Traditional American Trailer
American Housewife ABC October 11, 2016 Traditional American Trailer
Bull CBS September 20, 2016 Traditional American Trailer
Chicago Justice NBC Unknown Traditional American Trailer
Conviction ABC October 3, 2016 Traditional American Trailer
Designated Survivor ABC September 21, 2016 Traditional American Trailer
Doubt CBS 2017-Winter Traditional American Trailer
Downward Dog ABC 2017-Winter Mid-Season Traditional Trailer
Emerald City NBC 2017-Winter Mini-Series (10) Description
Frequency CW October 5, 2016 Traditional American Trailer
Great News NBC 2017-Winter Traditional American Description
Imaginary Mary ABC 2017-Winter Mid-Season Traditional Trailer
Kevin Can Wait CBS September 19, 2016 Traditional American Trailer
Kim’s Convenience CBC 2016-Fall Mini-Series (13) Teaser
Law & Order: True Crime  NBC Unknown Mini-Series (??) N/A
Lethal Weapon Fox September 21, 2016 Traditional American Trailer
MacGyver CBS September 23, 2016 Traditional American Trailer
Making History Fox 2017-Winter Traditional American Trailer
Man with a Plan CBS October 24, 2016 Traditional American Trailer
Marlon NBC 2017-Winter Traditional American Trailer
Midnight, Texas NBC 2017-Winter Traditional American Trailer
No Tomorrow CW October 4, 2016 Traditional American Trailer
Notorious ABC October 22, 2016 Traditional American Trailer
Pitch Fox September 22, 2016 Traditional American Trailer
Powerless NBC Unknown Traditional American Trailer
Pure CBC 2017-Winter Mini-Series (6) Description
Pure Genius CBS October 27, 2016 Traditional American Trailer
Ransom CBS/Global/TF1/RTL Unknown Mini-Series (13) Description
Riverdale CW 2017-Winter Traditional American Trailer
Shoot the Messenger CBC 2016-Fall Mini-Series (8) Description
Shots Fired Fox Unknown Mini-Series (10) Trailer
Son of Zorn Fox September 11, 2016 Mini-Series (13) Trailer
Speechless ABC September 21, 2016 Traditional American Trailer
Star Fox Unknown Mini-Series (13) Trailer
Star Trek: Discovery CBS/CBS Streaming 2017-Winter Mini-Series (13) Teaser
Still Star-Crossed ABC Unknown Unknown Trailer
Taken NBC 2017-Winter Traditional American Description
Ten Days In The Valley ABC Unknown Unknown Description
The Blacklist: Redemption NBC Unknown Traditional American Trailer
The Exorcist Fox September 23, 2016 Traditional American Trailer
The Good Place NBC September 19, 2016 Traditional American Trailer
The Great Indoors CBS October 27, 2016 Traditional American Trailer
The Mick Fox 2017-Winter Traditional American Trailer
The North Calling CBC 2017-Winter Mini-Series (7) Description
This is High School CBC 2016-Fall Mini-Series (6) Description
This Is Us NBC September 20, 2016 Traditional American Trailer
Time After Time ABC Unknown Unknown Trailer
Timeless NBC October 3, 2016 Traditional American Trailer
Training Day CBS 2017-Winter Traditional American Trailer
Trial & Error NBC Unknown Traditional American Trailer
When We Rise ABC Unknown Mini-Series (7) Description
Workin’ Moms CBC 2017-Winter Mini-Series (13) Description

Good Luck!
Éric

Five Things Suicide Squad Did Wrong

I saw Suicide Squad and it wasn’t as bad as I expected (not a high bar). I’d give it at solid 3 out of 5.

The frustrating thing about the DC Cinematic Universe isn’t that they’re making mediocre movies but that they have so much potential.

Let me say that everything I know about DC is from these movies.

In that vein here are five things that they did wrong, concentrating on story and structure. I’m not going into the bizarre wardrobe choices or racist themes.

*Warning Spoilers*

Suicide Squad

5. Not enough death

The movie is called Suicide Squad and only two team members die; one to show the stakes and one to tug on your heartstrings. It had a dark atmosphere with creepy monsters and a distinctly “Survival Horror” feel to it, which made me want to re-watch Pitch Black.

Unfortunately these characters are all precious to DC and they didn’t have the guts to kill any of them off (seems like a trend). There were enough useless characters in this to have left 2-3 plus soldier boy for the big fight and then have only Harley and Deadshot walk away. It would have given the action scenes more bite if we thought these characters could die.

The only non-dramatic death was to prove that the head-nano-bombs could actually kill. It was so predictable that I rolled my eyes. The character had no backstory, he shows up at the last minute with bland coloured clothing and was native. In a movie where the black guy is Will Smith and the Latino has a mysterious backstory. You know the poor native will die. It’s a trope, it’s lazy writing, and it’s borderline racist.

4. Happy Ending

For a movie universe that is supposed to be “Dark and Gritty” following a group of villains, its ending was borderline saccharin.

Sure, I get you need to set up the sequels with Harley and Joker, but almost everyone in this movie got happy endings. Deadshot deserved it, Harley needed it, but soldier boy and witch puppet? Really?

3. Weak Antagonists

If the antagonists (not the villains, those were the protagonists) were any more two dimensional, they’d have tried to papercut everyone to death. The only motivation for them was revenge because the Aztecs (maybe?) turned against them and trapped them in dolls. There was also Amanda Waller being herself which pissed them off.

They were only there to have the Squad do something. They were the traditional Bond / Fantasy overlord. “I will destroy the world in order to rule it!” Even Lex Luthor in BvS had a more nuanced character.

If they wanted something simple, they should have gone for a force of nature or a big dumb animal.

2. Too many characters

The amount of characters and the amount of time spent on some of them was not only self-indulgent but boring. We get it DC, you like these little pieces of intellectual property. The movie spends almost the entire first act in a series of vignettes explaining who each character is and what they do. It made it long and killed any pacing they were going for.

Not all the characters got this special treatment, letting us know they had plot immunity.

Some other characters added literally nothing to the plot (looking at you Katana girl and Boomerang-Dude). If they had any character development it was left on the cutting room floor and awkwardly alluded to.

1. Too much useless information

“With great backstory comes great useless detail.”

There’s a rule in writing called Chekhov’s gun, by the Russian playwright Anton Chekhov:

“Remove everything that has no relevance to the story. If you say in the first chapter that there is a rifle hanging on the wall, in the second or third chapter it absolutely must go off. If it’s not going to be fired, it shouldn’t be hanging there.”

Unfortunately the backstories for the characters trumped this rule, several times. It’s as if they decided that the movie was less important than the characters.  The witch could be killed by destroying her heart but Amanda Waller didn’t burn the damn thing… Why tell us so many times?

Katana’s sword ate souls but was never used to kill the body possessing entities. Katana’s backstory was completely at odds with her her actions. (Most likely because any character development was axed.)

The Joker and Harley “love” story was pointless backstory that could have been cut for more emotional build up.

All the scenes with the “mean” jailer were pointless. Why have the “Honour Bound Assassin” threaten someone and then let the Joker kill them off screen?

Conclusion

I might be being generous with my 3 out of 5 score but I did have fun despite the issues in the movie.

 

What did you think of Suicide Squad?

Éric

Denmark’s LEGO

How many of you played with LEGO as a kid? How many of you actually raised your hand reading that?

Personally, I played with Duplo, not LEGO. My other half played with LEGO. We still have a lot of both to pass on to our Dragon, and hopefully she will have as much fun building with it as we did.

Do you want to recapture your joy of LEGO, or if you’ve never lost it, do you want to explore your enjoyment of it further?

Legoland image from here.
Legoland image from here.

Might I suggest travelling to the origin of these super cool toys? Denmark!

Denmark is awesome, and is definitely in my top ten places to visit. There are tons of really cool things to see and do in this country, as well as Legoland. You can contact me to find out more!

Obscure facts about LEGO can be found here.

You can stay and play in a world made of LEGO. Go to this link and admire the amazing pictures of the LEGO creations. Then imagine how much more incredible it would be in person.

If you are interested in booking a trip to Denmark to visit Legoland, you can contact me Jennifer Desmarais through AJ Travel. jenniferd@ajtravel.ca

DIY or FML?

Hello My Imaginary Friends,

I have noticed something strange among people I know (or follow online). It transcends age groups, social groups, and economic groups.

There seems to be a collective “looking down the nose” towards people who don’t do it themselves.

Snobbism?

How did this come about? I’m not sure. I assume it’s the backlash to big businesses selling and doing everything (and doing it as cheap quality as possible); the same backlash that has seen a resurgence of crafts people and small businesses.

But when did, “Oh, that’s hand-made? Where’d you get it?”, turn into disdain because we didn’t make it ourselves?

Maybe it’s the hundreds of DIY shows that make it look like people who know nothing suddenly can do amazing things. Reality (show) check; they’re coached and taught by professionals.

Ego?

Because there is so much information on the internet about everything and a lot of websites that trick you into thinking you’re doing it yourself for cheaper, people assume that they can do anything.

And that might be fine for a drywall patch or a regular dessert or even setting up your television system. However, no one is perfect or good at everything. When I make a cake it tastes good and looks like something a toddler put together. I know so little about drywall that if I tried alone I’d probably just screw it up.

It’s ok to admit that you don’t know everything and can’t do everything.

Small Business and Freelance Professionals

I know why this happens and how to fix it.
I know why this happens and how to fix it.

There are certain things you might be good at and that’s wonderful, work on those and improve yourself. Maybe you have the persistence to turn it into a career.

As a Freelance Layout Artist, I have worked on my profession for years. I did my first professional book layout 17 years ago and I’ve been doing it for private and government for 10 years. I have tools, tricks, and resources that most people don’t. The same goes for your friends and family who are professionals in their trade.

Do you know the downfall of most freelancers and small businesses? It’s not that they suck at what they do or that they aren’t skilled in their craft. It’s the business part that’s hard. It forces us to stop working on our passions to become salespeople.

You’re not Bothering Us!

My wife is a travel consultant. Read her travel articles, and contact her for all your travel needs.

She and I get plenty of emails that start with or include, “Sorry for bothering you” or “I know it’s a hassle”. It’s NOT, it’s our job and we love it.

If I could lay out fiction books for the rest of my life, I probably would never retire. It’s my passion and something I enjoy greatly.

My wife relishes finding the best price for someone. My photographer friends love taking pictures. My baker friends love baking. My clothes making friends love making clothes. My graphic artist friends love art-ing. Etc. Etc. Etc.

No one starts a small business, or goes freelance, unless they love what they do.

MONEY!

It all comes down to money. Some people DIY because they can’t afford anything else… or can they?

I understand that not everyone can afford to buy coffee from JenEric Coffee. It’s a luxury item and I don’t get annoyed seeing people drink Starbucks.

I do cringe when I see friends and family booking cruises or vacations “on their own.” No one books travel “on their own”. They use online sites with catchy names. These sites charge you for the privilege of searching for your own travel. Good travel agents make their money by taking the commission from the vendor not the traveller. That means the cruise ship pays commission not you. (Airfare is different and requires a small fee but is usually cheaper than doing it yourself.) So you don’t pay for a travel agent and they can get you better deals than doing it yourself.

Every profession is different but most don’t, or shouldn’t, charge a fee for discussing what you want. And if they do charge a service fee, they are obligated to tell you so at the beginning of the conversation. We love our jobs and are more than willing to discuss things with you. I’ll talk margins, kerning, and fonts all day (and I have).

My Point

Before you waste long amounts of time, get a quote or extra information from your friends who do it for a living. You might be surprised at the amount of frustration and money you’ll save in the end.

And if you truly want to do it yourself, ask us to teach you. I’ll gladly teach you how to roast your own coffee, or work with InDesign.

Éric