Thursday, January 18, 2018

Okay, So I Finally Signed Up For Netflix

I had resisted signing up for Netflix for the longest time. My main reason? Because I had a hunch that once I did, I would fall into a binge-watching black hole that I would never emerge from. Also, I didn't need yet another monthly bill.
I finally caved in last month, however. I knew the moment would come once I learned that season 2 of Miraculous Ladybug, a series that both my daughter and I enjoy, would premiere exclusively on Netflix for American audiences in December 2017. So, right before winter break (when I figured we'd have some time to watch the show), I took the plunge.

Imagine my surprise, then, when I discovered that season 2 WAS NOT YET AVAILABLE. Apparently, the premiere date had been pushed out to the infuriatingly imprecise time frame of "Spring 2018." After growling at my computer while making repeated - and futile - attempts to search for season 2 ("They're kidding, right? It's gotta be on here!"), I finally accepted my fate. I briefly considered cancelling my account, but, with a heavy sigh, I decided to sample some of the other programming I'd been hearing about from my friends for years.

Well, no, actually, that's not quite true. In reality, I began with a show that no one had told me anything about: Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt. I had seen super-tiny clips of this show on those T-Mobile/Netflix commercials, and something about the title character's smiley perkiness (perky smiliness?) seemed amusing to me, so I looked up its description online. When I read the tagline "determined to be seen as something other than a victim and armed only with a positive attitude, Kimmy decides to restart her life by moving to New York City," I was further intrigued, as I'm a big fan of positive attitudes. The show proved to be light, fun, and oh-so-slightly subversive - basically exactly what I expected.

While that was in progress (I decided to take a break from Kimmy partway through season 2), I polished off season one of Atypical. I had heard mixed things about this one, but in general, I enjoyed it well enough. Was Sam's character an accurate and respectful portrayal of someone on the autism spectrum? In my opinion, partially. But as I said in this article, any representation is a good start and this show certainly pushes the trend in the right direction. Really, you should check it out for yourself - if you haven't already - and come to your own conclusions.

From there I moved on to Black Mirror, a series that seems to be all the rage at the moment (the drummer for Second Player Score heartily endorsed it). I've watched two episodes so far and okay, yeah, I get the hype. "Fifteen Million Merits" was pretty good, but "Be Right Back" (featuring Bill Weasley/General Hux and Peggy Carter!) was amazing. Quiet yet creepy, the show - so far, to me anyway - seems to be the kind of subtly disturbing psychological horror that I enjoy.

I also decided to sample Death Note, another show I had heard a lot about. I haven't finished all 37 episodes yet (EDIT: yes I have), but so far all I can say is: wow. I actually had been thinking recently about how cool it would be to have a story where - mild spoiler alert - the protagonist firmly believes he's the good guy but in reality he's the big bad, and this pretty much fits the bill.

So that's where I currently stand in the Netflix binge-watching black hole. I know, I know, I can hear you all screaming from here: "What about Stranger Things? Or BoJack Horseman? Or any of the Marvel shows?" I'm sure I'll get around to those eventually. I actually sampled Stranger Things at my bass player's house a while ago, but for some reason I just couldn't get into it. Gasp, right? I'll probably give it another shot later on. After all, there's still some time before "Spring 2018" arrives...

Thursday, January 11, 2018

Movie Roundup: Is It 2018 Already? Edition

Man, does time sure go by fast. I can't believe that the last proper Movie Roundup I did was over five months ago. Anyway, here we are, talking about a bunch of films that came out over this past holiday season as well as one that was released during the previous year's holiday season that I finally got around to watching. Also, here are the usual disclaimers: these are not really reviews, these are just my random thoughts about movies I've seen, and oh - there may be massive, massive spoilers.

Kingsman: The Golden Circle
This one was worth it just to see Elton John as a foul-mouthed action hero. Think they'll figure out a way to bring Lancelot and Merlin back? Yeah, me too.

Thor: Ragnarok
As I said in my special MCU edition of Movie Roundup last November, this one was a lot of fun and was easily the best of the three solo Thor films. In fact, it actually made - in my opinion - the first two retroactively better. Everyone in it seemed to be having a great time, and Matt Damon's cameo was hilarious. Also, Hela's deer antler helmet = epic.

Coco
I really enjoyed this one. Doesn't Miguel look a bit like Marco Diaz from Star vs. The Forces of Evil, though, with the reddish-orange hoodie and everything? I suppose they're both Disney properties, so what the heck. Either way, I love the fact that there's another young male protagonist who plays a stringed instrument to go along with Kubo and some other dude named Joel Suzuki.

Arrival
And now it's catch-up viewing time. I had heard good things about this one but never got around to seeing it in theaters. It was quite a change of pace from my usual diet of super-whiz-bang action flicks, and I liked it a lot. The whole idea of the heptapods experiencing all events at once was fascinating. Also, Lois Lane and Hawkeye getting together? Scandalous! Wait, that's the super-whiz-bang action flick part of me talking.

Justice League
Speaking of super-whiz-bang action flicks...to be honest, I had put off seeing this one for a while because of the negative reviews it received, but - surprise - I actually had an incredibly good time! It was concise, punchy, funny, and Henry Cavill's upper lip didn't appear uncanny-valley-ish to me at all. Sure, Steppenwolf was one-dimensional, but that's basically how it goes with stuff like this. And, I mean, Cyborg had to say "boo-yah." I would've been very disappointed otherwise!

Star Wars: The Last Jedi
Porgs look delicious.

And that concludes my Movie Roundups for 2017. Tune in next time when I will probably offer short and random thoughts about Please Stand By (can't wait for that one), Black Panther, A Wrinkle in Time, Ready Player One, Avengers: Infinity War, and Solo: A Star Wars Story.

Thursday, January 4, 2018

Joel Suzuki Is Now On YouTube!

On behalf of the Joel Suzuki series, I am pleased to announce that we are kicking off the new year with our brand new YouTube channel!
Imani Chapin, the awesome and talented young filmmaker who directed Second Player Score's music video for Liberty's End, has created a playlist of short videos collectively called The Insider's Scoop with author Brian Tashima. In these videos, I talk a little bit about Joel's origins before going into some exclusive insider info about each individual book in the series so far, including (insert drum roll here) Volume Four.

Imani also made a video titled "Young Readers" that features actual real-life fans of the Joel Suzuki series discussing what they like about the books, fun facts about themselves, and more.

Check out all of these videos here!

Thursday, December 28, 2017

"Oh, Brilliant" Indeed!

Normally, unless I'm doing a live rewatch with Felicity, I don't talk about individual episodes of a TV show in this blog. There are lots of other places on the Internet for stuff like that. In this case, however, I need to make an exception. Note: contains spoilers for "Twice Upon a Time." Although, if you're into Doctor Who, you already know everything by now.
If you've been following this blog for a while, then you're aware that I'm a Doctor Who fan. As far as a particular Doctor goes, though, I don't really have a favorite (Whovians, as fans of the show are called, are generally fond of picking favorites). All the Doctors are pretty awesome to me, but I suppose if you go by the amount of merchandise one owns, then Peter Capaldi's Twelfth Doctor would have the edge, since I have his coat, sonic screwdriver, sonic shades, and I dressed up like him on more than one occasion (it doesn't hurt that he plays the guitar).

So it was a little bittersweet to see his last episode on Monday. It really does feel like he just took over the role a few days ago, which I suppose might be the closest we non-companions can get to time travel. I enjoyed the fact that his Doctor had a really defined character arc; he started out all dark and grouchy and a wee bit misanthropic, but by the end of his run he had evolved into a warm, caring, and - okay, I'll say it - kind person who didn't mind hugs at all.

I'll miss him. But! Notice that I said "bittersweet." The "sweet" part comes from the fact that we now have an interesting new incarnation to look forward to when the show resumes later next year. I had been attempting to predict a number of different milestones when it came to the Thirteenth Doctor, such as who would play the role, what her introduction would be like, and what her first line would be. I sort of got the first one (Jodie Whittaker was among four candidates that I guessed), but I totally whiffed on the second and third. I was a little disappointed that my second prediction was wrong (I still think my idea would've been pretty epic), but I'm glad I missed the third.

While "Well, it's about time" might've been in character for Twelve (he seemed to have been fond of puns), it was, I admit, probably a bit too on-the-nose. Also, in any case, it wouldn't have made sense given the context of the story, which was that - in my opinion, anyway - Twelve was consciously trying to regenerate into a woman. According to the show's lore, the Doctor has never been very good at regenerating (others of his kind have shown the ability to exert more control over what their new forms will be), but I think that this time, he really wanted to "afford the upgrade," as his arch-frenemy the Master/Missy once said. Then, when she saw that it actually worked, her reaction was one of a person who got exactly what they wanted for Christmas.

My only question now is, how is she going to survive what looks to be an extremely long fall? My guess - here we go with the predictions again - is that, having just freshly regenerated, she'll still have enough of that energy left to heal whatever injuries she'll sustain when she hits the ground. There are precedents for something like that to happen, like in "Let's Kill Hitler" when River Song was shot by German soldiers but was unharmed ("Word of advice, boys - never shoot a girl while she's regenerating!")

Anyway, what do you think? I guess we won't be able to find out until next year...unless one of you has access to actual time travel? If you do, please contact me immediately, because I can't wait for the next season of the show to start.

Thursday, December 21, 2017

Video Game Roundup

There are times when my daughter and I struggle to find video games that really capture our interest. This is not one of those times. Here's a rundown of what we've been up to:

Skyrim (for Switch)
The first thing I should point out is that my daughter is now at an age where we're both more-or-less comfortable playing MA-rated games together, depending on the actual content. I originally played Skyrim on the Xbox at a friend's house a while ago, and while I didn't have time to get too far, I enjoyed what little gameplay I did get to experience. Then, when we were on a family trip earlier this year (so that my daughter could meet her favorite YouTube animators in person), we had some time to kill in a local mall so she played Skyrim at PLAYlive Nation. She had fun - sort of - so when the game came out for the Switch, and we learned that you could get Link's clothes from Breath of the Wild and a Hylian shield, we were sold. I haven't found that stuff yet, but I have managed to kill a few dragons and complete a decent amount of quests. Depending on how the rest of the game goes, it might end up finding its way into my all-time favorites.

Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild
Speaking of Breath of the Wild, when I (pretty much accidentally) finished the main quest back in June, that was on the Wii U. We also had the game for the Switch, so we were doing a replay on that system while still mopping up loose ends (e.g., finding Korok seeds) and doing the DLC stuff (Trial of the Sword, etc.) on the other system. This game is so good that it easily absorbed most of our time, especially since I was having trouble really gaining traction in Stardew Valley. Of course, now that there are a bunch of other games to play, it's been temporarily put on the backburner, but I'm sure that we'll come back to it eventually once we hit another dry patch.

Xenoblade Chronicles 2
I had been waiting so long for this game. But now, thanks to Skyrim and some other stuff (see below), it's been sitting unopened in our stack of Switch games, like an item on your to-do list that you just haven't had the time for. Pretty positive we'll get to it during the winter break.

Fire Emblem Warriors
When you combine all the hack-and-slash gameplay that you love about the Dynasty Warriors franchise with the strategy and storylines of the Fire Emblem franchise, you end up with a great...oh, who am I kidding, I mostly just play this for the hack-and-slash. Sometimes, there's nothing more therapeutic than some good old-fashioned button mashing.

Doki Doki Literature Club!
This blog is family-friendly, but believe me when I say that this game is definitely NOT. Family-friendly, that is. It looks innocuous enough on the surface, but their warning of "this game is not suitable for children or those who are easily disturbed" should be taken very, very seriously. The only reason I was okay with my daughter playing it is that she found it and played it first before I even knew what it was. One day I was walking around and heard the cutesy game music coming out of her computer and thought "well that sounds pleasant." She's mature enough now that I'm cool with it after the fact, and when I played it we discussed it during and after, but for you parents out there, try to be more responsible than I was and make sure you know what your kids are getting themselves into.

Okay, with all of that out of the way, I have to say that this is a pretty mind-blowing game, especially if you're a fan of subversive psychological horror. Without getting too far into spoiler territory, it's kind of like if you took that Gravity Falls episode with Giffany and mutated it into something that would be shown on, say, HBO instead of Disney XD. It's been practically all I can think about since I played it, and although the Joel Suzuki series won't be morphing into adult horror fiction any time soon, I have to say that this game has had a profound influence on my creative muse and will probably show up somehow in my future works (maybe Second Player Score's fourth album will feature a song titled "Just Monika.")

Thursday, December 14, 2017

Autistic Characters In Fiction

This article originally appeared in the Winter 2017 issue of Spectrums Magazine.

Fictional characters with autism-like traits have been around for quite a while. Some of the more prominent examples include Ray Babbitt (RainMan, 1988), Tommy Westphall (St.Elsewhere, 1983-1988), and Christopher Boone (The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time, 2003).

But recently, not only have these kinds of characters become more commonplace, they’ve also begun to explicitly identify themselves as being on the autism spectrum. One of the first was Max Braverman (Parenthood, 2010-2015). He was followed, just within the past year alone, by Christian Wolff (The Accountant), the latest incarnation of Billy Cranston aka the Blue Ranger (PowerRangers), Julia (Sesame Street), Theo (Thomas the Tank Engine), Sam Gardner (Atypical), and Shaun Murphy (The Good Doctor).

Personally, I think that this trend is terrific. “Representation” is kind of a buzzword these days, but that doesn’t make it any less important. People – kids, especially – need to see reflections of themselves portrayed in a positive, respectful, and accurate manner in the media they consume. It helps encourage self-acceptance, self-esteem, and a belief that they, too, can become the heroes of their own stories.

It also encourages acceptance from others. When people see fictional characters with autism, or from any group of society that is underrepresented in popular culture, it becomes more “normal” to see them in real life, especially when those characters are three-dimensional and not just there as a token or plot device. Life influences art, but it works the other way too.

The fact that these characters are actually identified as autistic is important as well. The aforementioned examples of those who were not - along with others like Sheldon Cooper (The Big Bang Theory), Spencer Reid (Criminal Minds), and Gil Grissom (CSI) - were good starts, but letting the audience know that your character is on the spectrum (without beating them over the head with it) helps to get the message across in an even stronger fashion. For those who haven’t had any prior connection to the autism community, they can now make the mental associations that, hopefully, will lead to an increase in understanding and acceptance. And for those who are themselves on the spectrum, they can take a little more pride in knowing - rather than guessing - that yes, this character may share similar characteristics with them.

Now, are these portrayals perfect? Of course not. I’ve seen a lot of divided opinions in the autism community about these shows and movies, with some lauding the inclusion and praising the performances while others take exception to what they feel are unrealistic stereotypes, e.g., the characters’ savant-like natures or their robotic mannerisms. In general, a lot of the positive reactions seem to come from those who aren’t on the spectrum themselves, while those that are on the spectrum appear to be a bit more critical. This is certainly a cause for concern.

There also remains a disproportionate amount of female characters on the spectrum, with only Julia – a Muppet – as the prime example (there was Sonya Cross from The Bridge, but, like with the example of Sheldon Cooper, the show never explicitly stated that she had autism). Books have a few more characters, like Caitlin Smith (Mockingbird) and Ginny Selvaggio (The Kitchen Daughter), but there is still a way to go. I’ve read that the male-to-female ratio of people diagnosed with autism is somewhere around 3-to-1 or 4-to-1, so we really should be seeing more autistic female characters.

Improvement can also be made with regards to casting actors who are on the spectrum in real life in roles that are specifically written as autistic. I understand the challenges inherent in finding the right people for the right parts as well as the pressure to make sure your movie or television show is profitable (Paddy Considine, an English actor on the spectrum, would probably have made a terrific Christian Wolff in The Accountant, but, as of this writing, Ben Affleck is the bigger box office name). Still, though, it would be nice to see some more advancement made on this front. Autistic actor Mickey Rowe was cast as Christopher Boone in the stage adaptation of The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time, so that’s a good step.

Despite all of these issues, I feel that, overall, things are definitely moving in the right direction. It’s hard – impossible, even - to please everyone, but the fact that we are even having these discussions in the first place is what leads to progress. My hope is that writers and creators will learn from the feedback they receive and use that to make improvements going forward.

I urge everyone reading this to check out some of the recent examples of autistic characters if you haven’t done so already. Not only to see how they are portrayed – I feel that most of them are well-done, although you may form your own opinion – but also because your support will help show the producers of these shows and movies that there is an audience for what they are doing, and in turn, they’ll keep going and make more. And more representation with input from the autistic community can only be a positive thing.

Thursday, December 7, 2017

Felicity And Fireflower Watch The Avengers: Infinity War Trailer

'Sup. It's me again - Felicity Smith. Brian just finished something he calls "the first draft of Volume Four" (no idea what that is) so he decided to take the week off from writing stuff. Which is why I'm here. Anyhoo, since I now have complete creative control over my guest posts - mwuahaha! - I decided to invite my friend Fireflower over to watch (okay, rewatch, I've already seen it like a hundred times) the trailer for Avengers: Infinity War. Let the good times roll.
Felicity: Okay, you're gonna love this.
Fireflower: Is this more of the "television" phenomenon you showed me a few Earth months ago?
Felicity: No, this is more like the Star Wars thing we were talking about back in May. Except that it's not the whole movie, it's just a trailer.
Fireflower: What, exactly, is a "trailer"?
Felicity: It's like a preview of the movie. Here, we'll watch it and you'll see what I'm talking about. (presses play)
Fireflower: So who are these individuals?
Felicity: They're the Avengers. A group of super-powered people, kinda like the Wavemaker Order.
Fireflower: What do they avenge?
Felicity: You know, that's actually a good question. They're not so much "Avengers" as they are..."Protectors," I guess. Or maybe "Defenders," but there's another group with that name. I dunno, I think "Avengers" probably just sounds cooler.
Fireflower: I see. Why does that one particular Avenger have a light in his forehead?
Felicity: That's Vision. The light in his head is the Mind Stone. It's one of the Infinity Gems.
Fireflower: Is it like the Songshell?
Felicity: Sort of. Just keep watching.
Fireflower: Are all of these people Avengers?
Felicity: Most of them. The long-haired dude holding the blue cube and the bald purple guy with the big chin aren't.
Fireflower: They are the adversaries, then?
Felicity: The purple guy, definitely. Longhair used to be, but now we're not completely sure. He's kind of like Darkeye, in a way.
Fireflower: Oh my. It appears as if Vision is having his Mind Stone extracted in a very painful manner. I assume the purple man wants to use it for some evil purpose?
Felicity: You're catching on. That's basically the whole plot of this story - Thanos, the purple dude, is trying to collect all the Infinity Gems so he can become omnipotent.
Fireflower: How many of these gems are there?
Felicity: Six. The blue cube is actually another one of them.
Fireflower: And the Avengers are trying to stop him from collecting them all?
Felicity: Yup. Pretty straightforward.
Fireflower: Since this is a story, I assume they will be successful?
Felicity: Well, maybe not. There's gonna be another movie after this one, so there's a chance that Thanos will get all the gems first, just to make things more interesting.
Fireflower: Oh - so you do not know what, exactly, is going to transpire.
Felicity: I don't. I mean, he gets them all in the original comic version, but sometimes they change stuff up for the movies. We'll just have to wait 'til it comes out next May.
Fireflower: I am looking forward to it.
Felicity: Right? I can't wait.
Fireflower: Well, thank you, Felicity, for -
Felicity: Hold on, it's not done yet.
Fireflower: Oh?
Felicity: There's one more scene.
Fireflower: Wait - those women...one of them looks like she is from Spectraland!
Felicity: I know! That's Gamora.
Fireflower: And the one standing next to her resembles a Six States citizen!
Felicity: That's Mantis.
Fireflower: Are they...?
Felicity: No. That would've been really cool, though.
Fireflower: Perhaps one day someone could create some stories based on all of the adventures that we, ourselves, have had.
Felicity: Yeah, maybe.