My Top 5 Favorite Films of 2016

By Nathan On January 12th, 2017 | 63 views

Sorry, True Believers. I meant to post two blogs for you this week to make up for missing last week, but real life has a way of getting in the way, so for now, you get this. Please enjoy!

For moviegoers, 2016 was an often scatterbrained year, particularly for blockbusters. From the heights of Marvel Studios and Star Wars to the controversial Ghostbusters remake, it vacillated from exciting to abysmal.

So, for your reading pleasure, here are my top five favorite films of 2016. It was hard to narrow the list down since there were many films I enjoyed (including a few others didn’t). (Disclaimer: There were a few films I wanted to see that I didn’t around to, like Hacksaw Ridge, which may have changed this list. I just thought you should know).

5. Kubo and the Two Strings


A one-eyed boy who earns money to care for his brain-damaged mother by working as a bard. He plays music, which magically brings origami figures to life to illustrate his stories. Now dark forces are after him because he’s more powerful than he realizes.

This was the most surprising movie of the year for me. While it looked somewhat interesting in previews, I saw it mostly because my artist brother, Jarod, who’s a huge animation aficionado, wanted to see it. I’ve seen Laika’s other films, and while I liked them well enough, I wouldn’t call myself a huge fan. This movie, though, spoke to me. Not only did I enjoy the Japanese backdrop, but with story/storytelling being a key theme, I couldn’t help but resound with it. The stop-motion animation remains unique and superb, especially in this age of CGI. Plus, it’s bold in that it has a melancholy ending, which is rare for a family film. Plus, the theme song is the lesser-known Beatles song, “While My Guitar Gently Weeps.”

4. Shin Godzilla (aka Godzilla: Resurgence)

A nigh-invincible giant beast comes ashore and wreaks havoc in Japan, forcing its leaders to battle government bureaucracy to save the country.

As a fan of the Godzilla franchise (so much so I’m starting a podcast about it), I wasn’t sure I’d get a chance to see this at all, but Funimation surprised everyone by giving it a limited two-week release in October. This was easily one of the strangest and most unique Godzilla films in years, thanks in large part to director/co-screenwriter Hideaki Anno, who created the (in)famous anime Neon Genesis Evangelion. He brought several of his collaborators from that series to work on this film, and it shows. There were points I felt like I was watching a lost live-action episode of Eva. Shin Godzilla satirizes government bureaucracy, showing how it slows things down in a crisis, and even non-Japanese audiences can appreciate that. There’s clear influence from the 3-11 disasters and the Fukushima meltdown, as Japan is dealing with an ever-evolving crisis. A marked departure in this film is the use of CGI and a little puppetry to bring the title monster to life, which upset some fans, but it still became a huge hit. The climax is a slam-bang thrill ride that is sure to please.

3. Doctor Strange

An arrogant has his hands irreparably damaged in a car accident, and during his travels to find a cure, stumbles upon a commune of magicians led by a woman called the Ancient One. She teaches him how to harness magic and, eventually, to combat dark forces intent on destroying the world.

Both Marvel and DC were pumping out movies in 2016, but Marvel Studios (not 20th Century Fox’s X-Men movies) came out on top for me. They took a risk with Doctor Strange, but they proved once again that they can make a compelling movie out of even their more obscure characters. Like their previous risky venture, Guardians of the Galaxy, it expands on the MCU and adds fascinating new facets to it. All the while, it remains entertaining, thought-provoking, and exciting. The director/co-screenwriter, Scott Derrickson, is, ironically, a devout Christian, and it shows. It explores deep themes of self-sacrifice, spiritual discovery, and self-denial in ways not typically seen in a Hollywood blockbuster (such as the secret to channeling magic being surrender). It’s also one of the most visually unique and engrossing films of the year (even if it does owe a little to Inception).

2. Captain America: Civil War

The Avengers are split when a U.N. sanction superheroes putting superheroes under government regulation is passed. Now Iron Man leads a team of heroes against Captain America and a rogue faction as they pursue a terrorist with a vendetta against Cap.

It was tough choosing between this and Doctor Strange, but in the end Civil War (aka Avengers 2.5) won out. Mostly because Cap is one of my favorite superheroes, but the film itself is remarkable. Like the comic that inspired it, the film examines a very real-world issue—government control—by playing “what if?” If superheroes existed, there would be attempts to control them. It begs the question: are superpowers any different than guns? Thankfully, it presents both sides of the argument, never vilifying either side even though this is technically a Captain America film and we’re meant to root for him. This is the darkest film in the MCU’s canon, with its climax being an emotional brawl not between both teams of superheroes (that was act two) but between Cap and Iron Man. Also, the villain, Zemo, is arguably successful. While he’s captured, he succeeds at turning the Avengers against each other and breaking up the team. With Infinity War just around the corner, who knows what will happen next.

1. Rogue One: A Star Wars Story

A ragtag team of criminals, soldiers, and defectors defies the Rebel Alliance and infiltrates an Imperial Empire stronghold to steal the plans to a secret superweapon called the Death Star.

It may seem a little strange that Star Wars edges out my favorite superhero as my favorite film, but out of every movie I saw this year, this struck the best balance of risk, quality, and experimentation. This was the first of the Disney-produced “anthology films” for Star Wars. Unlike the other ones that have been announced, this one has an entirely new set of characters while familiar characters are relegated to bit roles. However, it does focus on a story long-known to fans: the famous “dead Bothan spies” mentioned in the original 1977 classic. The film succeeds not only in telling that story but in retroactively adding another layer to the original film. The biggest reason I love this movie, though, is how daringly different it is. It still has enough franchise trappings to be called a Star Wars movie, but it doesn’t have stuff like an opening text crawl or Jedi. It’s also the first time Star Wars, at least on the big screen, has delved in moral gray (with the possible exception of Revenge of the Sith). Star Wars traditionally likes black and white—Dark Side and Light Side, if you will—while Rogue One presents audiences with heroes who’ve all made morally-questionable choices. I also love Chirrut (played by martial arts superstar Donny Yen), who, while not a Jedi, relates to the Force in a manner more like faith than mysticism, which is a big departure.

Okay, I think I need to stop before I rave about this for hundreds of words.

Do you agree with my list? What were your favorite films of 2016?

Digression 15: My Tribute to Carrie Fisher

By Nathan On December 30th, 2016 | 20 views

The year 2016 ends with yet another tragic celebrity death, one that has left the nerd/geek community in mourning: Carrie Fisher, who famously played Princess Leia Organa in the Star Wars saga. In this video, I share some of my memories of Carrie Fisher, most notably when I met her at Indiana Comic-Con 2015.

What are your memories of Carrie Fisher?

Music: “Funeral Pyre for a Jedi” by John Williams
Fonts Courtesy of www.Dafont.com

Ankle Pickers, Episode 3 – What We Want in ‘Marvel vs. Capcom: Infinite’

By Nathan On December 22nd, 2016 | 31 views

“Ankle Pickers”
Hosted by Nathan Marchand, Sergio Garza, and Bill Miller

It’s been a few weeks since PlayStation Experience when Marvel vs. Capcom: Infinite was announced, but we decided we had to say something about it! Bill wasn’t able to join us, so this time a very excited Sergio and Nate talk about what features and characters they’d like to see in this next entry in the “Vs.” series.

What about you? What/who do you want in Marvel vs. Capcom: Infinite?

Please comment, subscribe, and share!

I’m Going on Hiatus (sorta): An Announcement from Nate (YouTube Channel Update)

By Nathan On December 16th, 2016 | 31 views

You’ve probably noticed I haven’t been posting videos as often as I used to. There are reasons for that, which this video explains. Don’t worry–I’m not going away completely.

Writer vs. Storyteller

By Nathan On December 13th, 2016 | 84 views

People often use the words “writer” (or “author”) and “storyteller” interchangeably, but I would argue they aren’t always synonyms.

This goes back to a conversation I had with a schoolmate in college about Stephen King. She made the statement that King wasn’t a great writer, but he was a great storyteller. I knew what she meant instinctively. It required a fairly nuanced definition and understanding of these terms.

To put it simply: a writer is someone who is excellent with the stylings and mechanics of language, whereas a storyteller is someone whose tales can compel and interest audiences.

We’ve all at one point or another read (or seen) stories that excelled at one of these areas at the expense of the other. A book/author may have great “purple prose,” as we in the industry like to call it, but the story itself is boring, trite, and /or cliché. In other words, it’s style at the expense of substance. It’s a common complaint with many modern blockbuster films, which often seem more interested in fancy cinematography and eye-popping special effects than in telling a story.

On the other hand, there’ve also been stories that are irresistible page-turners but are either hampered by writers who lack the talent to tell them well or writers who choose to use cheap tricks in telling them. To put it another way, the stories have great ideas that don’t find full expression because the author is either unable or unwilling to have them reach their full potential. To use a film as an example of the former, I’d site 1986’s Highlander, which had a great world and concepts but was hampered by almost borderline schlocky filmmaking. For the latter, I would cite The Da Vinci Code by Dan Brown as an example. It was a fast-paced page-turner, but it relied on things like cheap cliffhangers at the end of chapters (i.e. “He opened the door, and…”) in order to keep people reading.

In order to be a truly great author, one must strive to be both a good writer and a good storyteller. This, admittedly, is a difficult thing to achieve, especially when improving each area requires different exercises. Style and mechanics can be developed through education and practice. Reading books like The Elements of Style and studying other authors’ writing styles can help one become a better writer (just make sure you don’t copy other authors to the point you become a watered down version of them, which will get you nowhere). However, becoming a better storyteller is a bit more difficult. It requires learning how to generate ideas and/or looking for new spins on old concepts. This is the sort of stuff editors are looking for when they hear pitches from authors. Perfect grammar and poetic prose will only get them so far; what truly matters to them is, “What is the story?” This, as my schoolmate hinted at, is probably what propelled Stephen King through most of his career. He has an uncanny ability to dream up compelling concepts, most of which involve making everyday objects terrifying.

In the world of speculative fiction franchises, there are often creators who fit into one category or the other. People like Gene Roddenberry, creator of Star Trek, and (more infamously) George Lucas, creator of Star Wars, were incredible world-builders and visionaries, but they weren’t the best writers. They needed to surround themselves with other people to help fill in their gaps. It was when they tried to overstep the bounds of their talent that things would go wrong. That, too, is another way to help yourself as an author: have people around you who can help fill in your blind spots. These usually come in the form of beta/alpha readers and fellow writers. It’s also a great way to build community, and God knows writers need as much community as they can get, what with their penchant for working in solitude.

Am I splitting hairs with this? What do you think is the difference between a writer and a storyteller, if any? Which end of this spectrum are you on? What advice would you give about filling in your gaps as a creator?

Revulsion of Death

By Nathan On December 8th, 2016 | 79 views

This was the closest I could bring myself to photograph my Grandmother in her casket (which is just out of frame). Photo by Nathan Marchand

My Grandmother lay in that open casket like someone sleeping. She was peaceful, serene, even beautiful. It was picturesque, and I had my iPhone out to snap a few photos. But I could not bring myself to step within a few feet of her, even if it’d get me a better photo composition, because I knew the awful truth. What I saw before me wasn’t slumber—it was death. And it repelled me.

Grandma Ruth’s funeral was difficult for all the typical reasons, but also because it reminded me of a truth I’d pondered several times before: death is repulsive. While there are exceptions to this rule (like medical examiners, who’ve become desensitized to it because of their work, or certain weirdos who take perverse pleasure in it), most human beings find death to be a revulsion. It is a great mystery, a tragic loss, an unwanted end. It frightens us. We don’t usually like talking about it because it forces us to grapple with our own mortality. That’s why there are about as many euphemisms for death as there are for sex (which, ironically, involves the creation of life): “the big sleep,” “passed away,” and “bit the dust,” to name a few. We don’t even like to utter the word oftentimes.

Personally, as a Christian, I believe this revulsion is because deep down in every human’s heart, they know death is an intruder. Despite the fact that it appears to be a part of the natural world (or the “circle of life,” as a popular song once said), it was never meant to be part of God’s design. In the Garden of Eden, there was no death. Does that mean Adam and Eve were immortal? The answer to that is beyond my paygrade. Regardless, God warned them that if they ate from the Tree of the Knowledge of Good and Evil, they would die (Genesis 2:17). I take this to mean there was no death (or at least death as we know it) before then. It was when Adam and Eve succumbed to the wiles of the Serpent in Genesis 3 that death became part of the natural order. It was a corruption of what God created as good.

So, though many human beings deny this, deep down they know it to be true. They can dress it up or joke about it, even say death can be dignified, it doesn’t change the fact that it is unnatural. Perhaps part of why death is feared is because it is an irrefutable sign of God’s existence.

I think this is why, to put it in a storytelling perspective, why many comic book readers both love and hate resurrection stories in the funny books. On one hand, there’s the thrill of seeing a beloved character return (i.e. Superman in the famous ‘90s storyline) because it shows someone defeating death (which is itself an echo of Christian theology [Revelation 1:18]), but on the other, it cheapens death. What’s the point of killing a character if they’ll just be brought back later? It kills (no pun intended) the suspense, and makes their sacrifice hallow. The joke used to be that nobody stays dead in comics except Uncle Ben, Bucky, and Jason Todd. Now only the first third of that statement applies.

Regardless, this, too, is a reflection of this idea: we want there to be meaning in death. It is an inescapable intruder, so we try to find purpose in it, even if that purpose is only to celebrate the life of the deceased or glory in their passing (I’m looking at you, Fidel Castro). That’s one reason why we have funerals: they’re occasions for us to come to grips with how we think and feel about death.

These are but a few of my thoughts. Whole books have been written on the subject. I’m an amateur philosopher at best, so I won’t pretend to have it all figured out. Indeed, I’m still trying to figure out myself. Death is a subject too large for a little blog entry here. However, I do hope I’ve inspired you to think more deeply about the subject, whether it relates to your life or your writing.

What are your thoughts on death? It is repulsive to you? Why do you people are afraid of it?

What I’m Thankful for This Year 2016

By Nathan On November 24th, 2016 | 60 views

Happy Thanksgiving, True Believers!

By now you should know this was coming. Every year I list off the many things I’m thankful for. It is, after all, what Thanksgiving is about, right? It’s not just food, family, and football. Admittedly, this holiday season is a bit more melancholy for me what with the death of my Grandma Ruth, but it is my determination to practice the holiday.

So, with that, here’s my list for 2016.

  1. God the Father
  2. Jesus Christ
  3. The Holy Spirit
  4. My salvation
  5. The Bible
  6. My wonderful family
  7. That I’ll soon be an uncle again
  8. That my Grandma was reunited with Grandpa in heaven and is no longer suffering (though I still miss them)
  9. My amazing friends
  10. My equally amazing writer friends
  11. The Fort Wayne Ballroom Company (FWBC)
  12. My “dance family” at FWBC
  13. That I got to perform at FWBC’s showcases and at a charity event with two wonderful instructors/partners
  14. Ballroom/social dancing
  15. For all the conventions I attended this year
  16. My car, which I named Silver Sable (206,000 miles and still going!)
  17. My church
  18. My gaming consoles and video games
  19. My book collection
  20. My movie collection
  21. My laptop
  22. My music collection
  23. My day job
  24. That I’ve paid down my student loan debt by nearly half in almost two years
  25. My cosplays
  26. That I’m a published author
  27. Hades Publications/EDGE Science Fiction and Fantasy, which published my first novel and still has me under contract
  28. CreateSpace, which publishes my self-published books
  29. That I published by first short story collection this year: The Worlds of Nathan Marchand
  30. That I’ll have a new novel published in 2017 (more on that later)
  31. My strong sense of justice
  32. The house I live in
  33. My talent for writing
  34. all for One Productions (afO)
  35. Volunteering for afO
  36. My YouTube channel
  37. For being part of the team writing at Children of the Wells
  38. That I’m creative
  39. My intellectual mind
  40. My poet’s soul
  41. My warrior’s heart
  42. That I can read
  43. My iPhone 5S
  44. That I’m an American
  45. That I’m a Hoosier
  46. Summertime
  47. October (the “sweet spot” of autumn)
  48. Changing seasons
  49. Christian Gamers Guild
  50. GameChurch
  51. Theology Gaming
  52. My sense of humor
  53. The North Webster Community Public Library
  54. The Constitution, which lists my inalienable rights.
  55. My “superpowers” (rarely get sick, my “BS” sense, look much younger than I am, heal fast from injuries).
  56. My health
  57. Netflix
  58. That I got to meet some awesome celebrities this year (Brent Spiner, Ian McDiarmid, Ray Park, etc.)
  59. My camera
  60. My knack for photography
  61. Pretzels
  62. Exercising at the gym.
  63. My comic book collection
  64. Chimp’s Comics
  65. B.E. Comics
  66. My board game collection
  67. My nerdiness
  68. The police and their service
  69. The military and their service
  70. My journal(s)
  71. My website (NathanJSMarchand.com)
  72. My fandoms
  73. Gen-Con
  74. The family pets
  75. Bookstores
  76. Spaghetti
  77. Highland toffee (the family recipe)
  78. Amazon.com
  79. Movie theatres
  80. My college degree
  81. Running water
  82. That I’m tall
  83. That I still have all my hair
  84. Football
  85. That I got to play kickball with great co-workers/friends
  86. (Most of) My coworkers
  87. The generosity of others
  88. The TUFW Alumni and Friends Center
  89. That I attended TUFW
  90. The YMCA
  91. For living in the countryside
  92. Plumbing
  93. The Internet
  94. That I somehow won the “fantasy bowl” when I tried fantasy football for the first time (beginner’s luck?)
  95. That I’m on the verge of starting my own podcast
  96. My big tax refund
  97. Facebook
  98. The freelance writing gigs I had this year
  99. Holidays
  100. And lastly…THAT THE ELECTION IS FINALLY OVER!

What are you thankful for this year?

Ankle Pickers, Episode 2: DLC Debacles

By Nathan On November 15th, 2016 | 38 views

“Ankle Pickers”
Hosted by Nathan Marchand, Sergio Garza, and Bill Miller

In this episode, we discuss the often obnoxious DLC practices that plague modern gaming, and in several fighting games in particular. While Nathan tries to defend some, Bill and Sergio have choice words for those games.

What are your thoughts on how some developers are handling their DLC?

Ankle Pickers: where if you don’t like what we say, start blocking low!

Please comment, subscribe, and share!

The End of the Election

By Nathan On November 10th, 2016 | 90 views

I don’t usually get political in this blog or on any of my social media sites. It’s not because I’m apolitical—I’m a staunch conservative, in case you didn’t know—but because I have no desire to join the firestorm-beset wasteland that is “internet discourse.” I’ve been a troll magnet in the past, and let me tell you, while I can endure the abuse (and even laugh at it), it is tiring.

Regardless, the strangest election cycle, well, ever, finally came to an end Tuesday night. Or rather, Wednesday morning at 2AM. I voted, but it was with reservations. I wasn’t excited about either Donald Trump or Hillary Clinton. I was a Ted Cruz supporter during the primaries. Heck, I even attended one of his rallies when he came to Fort Wayne, Indiana (it was the first political rally I ever attended). If he hadn’t won, there were several other candidates I would’ve gladly voted for. I was disappointed to see Trump come out on top, and thanks to my state, no less. I honestly thought his appeal was largely a cult of personality (cue mandatory reference to the ‘80s song) fueled by angry people fed up with the government. Although, admittedly, it did give me some reassurance to see him nominate my state’s governor, Mike Pence, as his running mate.

There was a period in my life where people seemed to assume I was a Republican in my political beliefs, and they put me into the “box” they’d constructed for what that meant, most of it based on inaccurate stereotypes. Even when I tried to explain that I considered myself a conservative, not a Republican, that didn’t always seem to stick. For me, one’s political beliefs should be based on ideas and philosophies, not party affiliations. Just because I, or anyone else, tend to identify with one more than the other because they usually espouse similar ideas doesn’t mean my first loyalty is to that party.

I'm not the only nerd who made the connection. :P

I’m not the only nerd who made the connection. 😛

That’s why, especially in the last few months, I’ve tried to make it clear that I was interested in the truth above anything else. I’d defend Trump if I felt someone was regurgitating misnomers that were being spread about him, but again, that didn’t mean my loyalty is to him. (I’d have done the same for Hillary, but, well, the truth is either hard to find about her or it’s unpleasant). I had no pretensions about who these candidates were. I was never all-in with Trump. He’s not the pseudo-messiah some of his supporters seem to think he is, nor is he the reprobate his haters think he is. I, like the majority of Americans, I think, was somewhere in the middle.

There’s a reason I joked on my Twitter and Facebook that this election could use the same tagline as the first Alien vs. Predator movie: “Whoever wins, we lose.”

Now all we can do is pray for President-Elect Trump and hold all of our leaders accountable for how they govern.

In meantime, enjoy these Star Wars memes I created for whoever won the election. 😛

1dqtor 1dqu0y

A Tribute to My Grandmother

By Nathan On November 4th, 2016 | 64 views

Normally I’d blog about my experiences at Fantasticon Fort Wayne last week. Unfortunately, tragedy is postponing that.

My grandmother, Ruth Sitton.

My grandmother, Ruth Sitton, with her dog, Pebbles.

On Monday, October 31, 2016, my grandmother, Ruth Sitton, died of natural causes at the age of 94. She was my last living grandparent.

A large portion of my childhood was spent at Grandma’s house in Arcola, Indiana, growing up. She and Grandpa Max were my first babysitters. Mom and Dad took me and my siblings there almost every Sunday after church. Whenever a new baby arrived in our family, we went to their house. If any of us wanted a little getaway, we went to their house. Every Halloween we went to Arcola for trick-or-treating. When Christmas Day rolled around, the family always gathered at their house for gifts, food, and fun. When I started college, Grandma, now a widow, gracious let me live in her house and commute to school for the first three semesters I was there.

Ruth, like a typical grandmother, always spoiled her grandkids, especially us, it seemed. We were never allowed to be hungry at her house. She always made sure we ate our meals and was generous with snacks throughout the day (she had an endless supply of Skittles). It was at her house I discovered the joys of video games, cable TV, and the internet, much of which I didn’t have at home. I have fond memories of her driving me into video stores in Fort Wayne, which I would explore looking for new video games and movies to experience.

But it wasn’t just media that made visiting Grandma (and Grandpa) great. She lived by a hill, which was great for sledding. She and Grandpa took me on a special trip to the Oshkosh air show. We went on bike rides throughout Arcola (although that was more of a Grandpa Max thing). She usually had some eccentric animal—whether it was her cats Fluff or Theodore or her Yorkshire Terrier, Pebbles—to keep us entertained.

Grandma Ruth has always been there. Even when she moved to the nursing homes, I had the comfort of knowing she was around. Now, for the first time in my life, I have no grandparents. I’d hoped that, whether in person or not, she’d be around to see me get married. I guess that was always a fool’s hope.

Thank you, Grandma Ruth, for all your generosity, kindness, and hospitality! I miss you so very much, but I know you’re happy in the house you dreamt Grandpa Max built for the two of you in heaven.

Until we meet again.