Secretary of State

26 Sep

Daveed Diggs as Thomas Jefferson (2017).

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Lexington Avenue Comic

26 Sep

An example of my college comic strip, Lexington Avenue (2014).

Simon Says: The Hunchback of Notre Dame

1 Feb

The Hunchback of Notre Dame is a Disney movie that’s based on a novel written by Victor Hugo way back in 18-something.  I haven’t read it (although I have read Les Miserables, so check this blog later for more on that) but I have watched the movie more than a few times.  Though it came out after the “Disney Renaissance” on the heels of Pocahontas, a mediocre Disney film, I found Hunchback to be a thoroughly enjoyable movie.  Though it has a few missteps (i.e. gargoyles), its positives more than make up for it, and Hunchback is one of my favorite Disney films to date.

So imagine my joy to find out that there was a stage show based on the Disney movie, based on the book.  I had always thought the music was one of the highlights of the film (I can’t tell you how many times I’ve sung “Hellfire” in the shower) and I was super excited that the show was finally releasing the studio album.  The album dropped on January 21st of this year, and of course I was first in line to check it out.  What did I think?

Warning: Spoilers ahead.

 

The Good:

The Hunchback of Notre Dame (Studio Cast Recording) is a faithful adaptaion of the source material, and mixes a lot of the old songs from the film that I love with new songs that feel right in place, both thematically and stylistically.  If you liked the music from the movie, then you will love this.  It sounds like the old songs have been dusted off and polished up like the bells of the french cathedral itself.  My favorite songs from the movie are my favorite songs from the musical.  The vocals are nothing short of amazing.  Esmeralda’s caring heart and Frollo’s inner darkness can be heard in their vocals.  “The Bells of Notre Dame” deserves some special mention; if you have watched the movie, you may notice some changes in the backstory here.  But I actually like the changes.  We get much needed backstory on (now Archdeacon) Frollo, the musical’s main antagonist.

The new songs are great too.  About half of this soundtrack is new material, written by Alan Menken, the guy who did the original music for the movie.  As a result, a lot of this new stuff fits.  I really liked the track called “Made of Stone” that appears near the end of the soundtrack.  It’s a song about Quasimodo’s darkest moment, and you can just hear the defeat in his voice.  It also does a good job of using the gargoyles the right way.  They’re more like a chorus from the Greek plays of old, existing in Quasi’s mind to help him develop his thoughts.

The Bad:

The ending.  Oh my gosh, the ending.  I don’t think I’ve cringed harder listening to a soundtrack (and I’ve seen Avenue Q twice).  If you want to avoid major spoilers about the ending, just skip this next part.

Okay, in the climax of the movie,  Quasimodo and Esmeralda are trying to escape a crazed Frollo, who’s chasing them with sword in hand.  The three are on the top of Notre Dame Cathedral, Frollo hellbent on murdering them.  Hundreds of feet below, a great fire is burning, surrounding Notre Dame in hellish flames.  A scuffle sends the three over the side, and Quasimodo and Frollo end up hanging on for dear life.  However, Frollo is able to regain his footing and pulls himself up to a gargoyle outcropping.  As Esmeralda desperately tries to drag Quasi up, Frollo raises his sword over the two, ready to deliver the final blow.

“And he shall smite the wicked,” Frollo bellows, “and plunge them into the fiery pit.”

At that moment, the gargoyle below Frollo gives way, causing the mad man to slip.  He grabs onto the rocky outcropping in a last ditch effort to save himself, before the stone structure breaks from its hold completely sending Frollo into the fires below.

That is an epic, amazing ending.  Couldn’t have written a better ending myself.

Here’s what the musical does:  Frollo begs and enraged Quasimodo not to kill him.  Quasimodo hesitates for a moment, but his gargoyle friends tell him to go ahead and waste the old man, and Quasi pushes Frollo off the side of Notre Dame.

So why do I have a problem with this?  They’re basically the same ending, right?  Both end with Frollo falling off of Notre Dame.

Well, in the movie, Frollo meets his end because of his own madness and obsession.  His quest to conquer the gypsies and what he sees as “sinful” sends him into a hell of his own making.

The musical, however, decides to kill Frollo by killing Quasimodo’s character.  Quasi goes from a misunderstood misfit to a homicidal psychopath in a few moments.  This isn’t the Quasimodo we see in the rest of the musical.  As in the movie, Quasimodo shows himself to be the real man, and Frollo the real monster, because of his sense of right, his kindness, and his willingness to let his obsession (Esmeralda) go.  But I can’t buy it when Quasimodo shows that he’s just as willing to murder as Frollo is.  It’s ironic, because the whole point of Hunchback of Notre Dame is that Frollo is the real monster,nut in this show, Quasimodo becomes one when he kills Frollo.

The Final Verdict:

With all that, you may be surprised to read that I still really enjoyed listening to this soundtrack.  I suppose that like the movie it’s based on, it has its own share of problems that are kind of hard to overlook, but once again the good outweighs the bad.  If you loved the movie, or if you’re looking for a good album to sing along to, give this a shot.

Just ignore the last two minutes.

 

There Lived A Hobbit

8 Nov

I’m writing this blog at about 7 at night, and I’m not feeling the creative juices flowing, so once again I’ll probably just end up rambling about nonsense.  But here goes.

I made a lot of friends in college.  I went to a business college so a lot of them were and are going into the fast-paced, high reward promised land of business.  I wasn’t so wise, and ended up with a BA in journalism.  That’s probably the first bad sign of what’s to come.

I’m surprised and impressed on how many of my friends have these grandiose plans for their lives.  Almost all of them are driven, passionate, and ambitious.  Even better, most of them are dedicated to making the world a better place.  I’m constantly humbled whenever I talk to them; they have grand designs on their lives.  If more people were like these guys, I have high hopes for the future.  These guys want to change the world.

These people are shaping up to be giants.  But where does that leave me?  Well…not in a very good place.  Don’t get me wrong, I also have plans for my life, but next to those I’ve heard, mine seem so much smaller.  This isn’t going to be a blog about me complaining that I’m small, so stick with me.

I’m a hobbit.  A little guy.  A halfling in the Shire.  Next to these giants, I’m a little guy.  Or at least, that’s what I’d like to be.  Out there in the world of men, in a land of expansion and ingenuity, I think I’d be happy sitting in my little hole in the ground, tending my garden, and wondering whether to have lamb for supper or break out the dried sardines.

There are a couple of reasons for this.  One, trying to change the world is a lot of pressure.  Way back when, I had world changing plans too.  I wanted to get out into the world, and make it a better place.  I wanted to fix all the worlds issues, and create a better tomorrow.  I wanted to sew peace in the nations, and become a part of the beautiful future.  In retrospect, this seems just a tad unrealistic.  And boy, did it make me unhappy.

Inevitably, when I graduated, none of these things happened.  I didn’t change the world, I didn’t change the country, heck, I even had a hard time changing my unemployment status.  I felt defeated, like I wasn’t living up to my full potential.  It was like the world was depending on me, and I let it down.  I was a failure.

But then, a revelation.  I read a book, called Me, Myself, and the Tomato, by Phil Vischer.  It’s a memoir about how he wanted to change the world, and created his company, Big Idea Productions, with his magum opus (debatable), Veggietales.  It’s a great book, highlighting the power of ambition and the temptation of hubris.  At the end of the book, Vischer learns that changing the world is not something that he was called to do, and that he needed to be content where he was before he could even try.

So here I am, trying to do the same.  Sitting in my little hole, and just finding myself.  A little hobbit.  And if that means that I’ll never change the world, so be it.

But you never know when a wizard will come knocking.

I Should Write More Stuff…And Civ

30 Oct

It’s been a while since I’ve written anything on this blog (or any blog, for that matter).  But to keep my writing skills in check, I’ve decided I’m gong to make it a point to write something every week.  At least five-hundred words long.  The current word count I have is fifty-one, so I’m a tenth of the way there already.  If you’re looking for something insightful or inspiring, you may want to look somewhere else.  Otherwise, strap in and enjoy.

The first post I’m making today is super experimental, and I’m not even sure what I want to write about.  Over the course of this blog, I guess I’ll have to come up with something engaging that I can talk on and on about, and Heaven knows there are things that I love to discuss.  Since this blog also serves as a kind of journal, I guess it might get pretty personal.  But today is not that day.

So with all that said, what am I going to talk about today?  The pressure of picking a really good topic for my first post is palpable; I can feel the failure creeping up my spine like an icy gust already.  But I digress.  Let’s talk about something I know well and like a lot.  That being Sid Meyer’s Civilization.

First, a little background.  Way back when, in the golden age of my childhood, my mom, my younger brother Andrew (who deserves his own post someday), were at a TJ Maxx somewhere in Staten Island.  My mom, true to her spending habits, was looking for deals on clothes.  Now for those of you not in the know, TJ Maxx is a department store that deals mostly with clothes, but often contains furniture, kitchenware, and the like.  It’s kind of like Macys, but without the brand name recognition, or size, or customer base, or quality (Ha ha kidding TJ Maxx please don’t sue).

Anyways, in a corner near the back, TJ Maxx had a small, wooden bin that for some reason contained discount computer games.  THis was around 2000, so they were mostly CDs in jewel cases in cardboard boxes.  My brother Andrew rummaged through the mismatched and disorganized pile of games and came across one that must’ve caught his fancy.  It was called Civilization III.  As a side note, it was actually a multiplayer expansion, and we would wind up getting the real game some time later, but that’s not really the point.

And so Civilization came to our home, and the first domino falls.  But despite my obvious love for history and the series today, I had no interest in the game.  Civilization, as far as I could tell, was just another game that my brother Andrew (and at this point my older brother) would use as an excuse to tie up our laptop.

The fact that we played it on a laptop was important.  Because one day, while we were on vacation, we had nothing to do in our hotel room.  I forget the circumstances, but we must’ve been waiting for something or have just done something.  All we had was a television with the same channels, an old Nintendo 64 system that cost 6.99 an hour to play, and the laptop that my family brought with us.  But it was in that hotel room, in a nameless city, on a vacation I probably can’t remember for any other reason (sorry mom and dad) that I tried Civilization for the first time.  And, to borrow the colloquialism, I was hooked.

I realized that by now I’ve talked a lot about Civilization, but never really talked…about Civilization.  Civilization (and the subsequent games in the series) is a game about building and maintaining, what else, a civilization.  Each game has a selection of real civilizations from history, like America, Russia, China, and the like.  You are put in command of one of these civilizations, and it’s up to you to build your empire, from it’s humble beginnings in the stone age, to glory and fame in the information age and beyond.

Each game, of course, contains more than one civilization, and you are competing against each of them to ensure victory.  Most Civilization games have several ways you can win.  You may wish to focus on developing your nation’s science, and be the first Civilization to reach the edge of the galaxy.  Or perhaps you wish to become the most culturally dominant civilization in the world, to the point where your civ’s name is recognized anywhere.  Or, my personal favorite, your civilization establishes it’s supremacy through sheer military might, using your mighty armies to silence all opposition.

Now, over a decade later, I’m still playing Civ.  Heck, I probably play more than my brother now (side note: he’s still better though).  During the process of writing this post, I’ve been wondering why I like that game series so much, and what is it about Civilization that I find so alluring.  For simplicity’s sake, I’ve narrowed it down to three main factors:

  1.  The History:  This one’s probably the easiest to see.  Though when I was a kid, I couldn’t care less about all the facts behind the scenes of the game, I think Civilization has worked on me the other way around.  The game is what actually jump-started my love of history.  Civilization allows me to experience some of these cultures and times through new eyes.
  2. The Problem Solving:  Civilization is a turn-based strategy game, meaning that it works like a board game.  You take your turn, and then each of your opponents takes theirs, one by one.  This has important implications in terms of game play.  You don’t need fast reaction time in order to effectively play Civilization.  This in turn means the way you tackle problems in Civilization are vastly different than say, the Total War series, another historical strategy game.  Each turn allows me to think out the problems my Civilization is facing, and what my best options are to counter them.  I like that I can sit in front of my computer, not touching anything for ten minutes, as I ponder what new social policy or science would be best to adopt.  There’s still pressure, but the pressure doesn’t come from the fact that I need to act in 3 seconds.
  3. The Power Trip:  Alright, this is probably the biggest one, and the reason I play a lot of games (coughSkyrimcough), but I think Civilization is what started it.  I like being in complete control of my own nation.  I like the total domination that comes with it, being able to use my resources to influence the sway of an entire (virtual) world.  I like seeing my armies rolling into enemy land, ready to conquer those that dare oppose me, or to liberate those that have been wronged.  Playing Civilization puts me on an imaginary throne, and allows me to dictate the future of a nation according to my whims.

I’m still playing Civilization, and in all likelihood I’ll probably be playing it today,  It’s a great game that allows you to shape the course of history however you want, and if it sounds like anything at all you would like to check out, I highly recommend that you do.  The game is for sale on Steam, and it’s a must-buy from me.

Now if you’ll excuse me, I have to go conquer the Greeks.  They’re domination of the United Nations ends today,

Next Gen- Comic Strip #1

6 Jan

1MovingIn

 

This is the first comic I did for Kabooooom.com, a web blog that deals with geek culture.

Image

Lexington Avenue Comic Two

2 Jul

Lexington Avenue Comic Two

Baruch recently got a water bottle filling station, and it looked a little like this.

You can read more Lexington Avenue comics here: http://www.facebook.com/pages/Lexington-Avenue/152507351448516