Sunday, June 4, 2017

Wonder Woman Slays the Day

SPOILER ALERT: Wonder Woman gets a rude awakening.

Make no mistake that Wonder Woman is better than everyone. *glares at Batman and Superman*  I find delicious satisfaction in that DC finally found its big break in what the LA Times calls "the first female-fronted superhero blockbuster," with Wonder Woman grossing $100.5 million in its debut weekend.  DC can finally heave a sigh of relief.  Fourth, fifth, sixth time's the charm.

There's a certain coming-of-age quality to Wonder Woman's origin story.  She grew up in paradise filled with strong women like her mother Hippolyta, who instilled the values of justice and peace-keeping through stories of the Amazonian past.  Wonder Woman, also known as Diana, then steamrolls alongside Allied spy Steve Trevor into a war-torn world.  She's determined to slay Ares the god of war, because she believes his influence is the sole reason for the war and that once he is dead, then everyone will stop fighting and killing each other.  Take out the one bad guy, and you're all good, right?  It takes a while for Diana to learn what we already know: people are way more complicated.

(Source: Wikipedia)

Besides the nice character development, the film has great action scenes, with liberal use of the dramatic slo-mo and athletic feats that would make you do a double take.  Wonder Woman is a goddess.  Meanwhile, Steve does his best to help with his rifle, with a pew-pew here and a pew-pew there, but you know she's the one that's kicking butt and taking names.

I also like that the movie acknowledges racism several times through Sameer and Chief, two men of color on Wonder Woman's team.  Sameer wanted to be an actor, but he tells her that the color of his skin has ultimately forced him to become a spy instead.  Chief, a Native American, explains that when he smuggles, he's taking back what was taken from his people by (gesturing to Steve) "his people."  Both Sameer and Chief become heroes in their own right, and I appreciated seeing that.

Wonder Woman showed us the transformation of an idealistic, fresh-faced woman into a hardened warrior that knows her way with a sword (a sword, mind you, that at one point she wears in the back of her dress).  The film made me gasp with surprise and tear up with emotion.  Diana and her merry band of unexpected heroes are a wonderful (pun not intended) addition to the DCEU.  This world did not deserve this movie.  But I'm sure glad that we got it.

P.S. There's a big spoiler that's not in the header.  Can you guess what it is?

Wednesday, May 24, 2017

Everything, Everything

SPOILER ALERT: Rapunzel leaves her tower.


Imaginative and sweetly tender, Everything, Everything is a young adult romance that fulfills your feel-good needs thanks to the performance of its talented leads.  The movie follows Maddy, a girl who has stayed inside her house her whole life because she has a compromised immune system - SCID, which she illustrates for us in the opening.  Then along comes the new neighbor Olly with a bundt cake and... well, you get the idea.

I thought the movie stayed true to the YA fiction genre it came from.  The characters felt like real teenagers.  Their story felt hopeful and cutesy and touching.  Example: when Olly and Maddy finally meet in person, you see subtitles of their thoughts as they awkwardly try to make conversation.  Olly: I'm more nervous than she is and she's never even left the house! Maddy: His hair could save my life.  Funniest scene in the whole movie.

Beneath my sarcastic exterior is a giant cheeseball for a heart, and that heart bawled ugly happy tears for this movie.  The actors have wonderful onscreen chemistry and a fun, flirty friendship that develops into something bold and genuine as the story progresses.  The pièce de résistance is that it's a relationship between a white guy and black girl that NO ONE questions on the basis of their race.  I need me more healthy interracial relationships like this.

(Source: Wikipedia)

Since Maddy takes architectural classes, she frequently builds models of various structures - including a 50s diner and a several-story library that she visualizes meeting Olly in as they are having their text conversations.  I loved seeing those imagined architectural spaces on screen that allow Maddy to touch and talk to Olly in a personal interaction that she desperately desires.  In and out of those spaces walks the astronaut that Maddy also puts into every model because she identifies with a man in a suit in space.  That aspect of the film was fascinating both visually and metaphorically for me.

The movie had its faults, which my mother and I discussed afterward.  Maddy's nurse Carla has a daughter, Rosa, who is briefly introduced at the beginning but does not return until the end.  We thought it would have made more sense to include more of Rosa and to have her facilitate Olly meeting Maddy at her house rather than Carla, since a teenager is more likely to take risk like that.  I also thought that we should have seen hints earlier on about Maddy's mother being controlling and overprotective of her daughter, which doesn't come to a head until the last minute.

I mentioned to my mother that I saw a lower rating for Everything, Everything on Rotten Tomatoes, and she said: "It's very much a girl movie.  Probably it was all the male reviewers who said bad things."  I haven't checked to see if her comment is true, but it's probably true in the sense that anyone who is not into somewhat sappy teenager romance won't have much interest in this movie.  If that's not your style, it's not your style.  But if it IS your style, I think watching it is worth your while.

P.S. I totally stole the idea of a spoiler header from Maddy.  She writes several blog reviews throughout the movie and always puts a funny or cryptic spoiler at the top.  Might try doing that from now on.

Wednesday, May 10, 2017

Guardians of the Galaxy Volume 2

I try not to be Marvel trash.  I really do.  You would think that I'd get bored of Marvel after six or seven years, but somehow the Guardians have won me over for the millionth time.  The sequel to last year's smash hit, though not quite up to par with the original, was still funny, still zany, and still hard on the feels.  Sue me, I liked it.

(Source: Wikipedia)

Peter, Gamora, Drax, Rocket, and Groot are back to save the day.  In true Guardians fashion, one of the first scenes opens with the gang fighting a disgusting monster as baby Groot jams to the first song he plays on Peter's Awesome Mixtape Vol. 2.  Rocket reveals afterward that he has stolen the very batteries that they were protecting from the monster, and as a result the people who hired them chase the Guardians throughout the movie to get them back.  But that's not the main story.  The big reveal is when Peter Quill's father Ego (played by Kurt Russell) arrives to bond with his long-lost son and takes them to the planet that he created with his Celestial powers.  I won't go too much into the Peter-Ego relationship because (SPOILER), but just know my mind was blown by Ego's character several times.  

In line with the father-son theme, Rocket is constantly struggling with the burden of fatherhood - namely making sure that Groot doesn't get them all killed.  Wonderful and hilarious interactions ensue.  Meanwhile, Yondu, who Ego had hired to take Peter to him after his mother died, has been kicked out of the Ravagers for breaking their code and feels lost until he runs into Rocket.  They come to realize that they have more common than they think, and it's an excellent moment for both characters.  I didn't expect Yondu of all people to get me so emotional on several occasions, especially because of how crappy he was to Peter in the first movie, but he does.  And that whistling arrow is as cool as ever.

Nebula, Gamora's sister, is trying to kill her for revenge for always beating her when their father Thanos would pit them against each other.  She gives us another hint at how awful Thanos is and reveals a surprising dynamic between her and Gamora that I hope to see developed more in the future.  Drax is still not doing much, like last time, but I did love his interactions with Mantis, an alien who can feel people's feelings by touching them.  He's so blunt and she's so innocent and it makes an interesting contrast.

One of my favorite moments in the film is when Gamora mentions how Peter told her that he used to carry a picture of David Hasselhoff and tell other kids that it was his father.  Peter complains that he told her that when he was drunk and it's too depressing, but Gamora replies, "I love that story."  Ever since the first movie, Peter has had an obvious crush on Gamora and tries to flirt with her, but she shoots him down every time.  However, their conversation about Peter's childhood story reveals that if Peter stopped acting so cocky and shared more vulnerably with Gamora, she would probably be far more receptive to his romantic intentions.  The moment subtly shows men that being tough and egotistical isn't the way to win women over.  (Certainly not this woman, anyway.)

I will say that some of the humor fell flat this time around.  The movie takes shots at a few cheap jokes and of course that means that not all of them are going to get a laugh.  It's not the end of the world and it doesn't take away from the overall comedy and feel-good vibes, but I have to acknowledge it.  Aside from that, the movie had stunning space fight visuals, unexpected emotion that made me tear up at least once, and a fun comedic tone that I enjoyed thoroughly.  And I hope to keep enjoying the Guardians for several years to come.

The Marvel Trash Can. This is where I am, and this is where I'll stay.
(Source: Wikipedia)

Monday, March 13, 2017

Orale, Zoot Suit!

Minutes before the show began, the closed curtain looked like a giant newspaper with the title "WAR EXTRA: American Bomber Victim of Jap Raider" and several other headlines, including: "Grand Jury to Act in Zoot Suit War."  When the lights faded to black, a silver blade jutted out and ripped the middle of the curtain, trailing down to the bottom in rhythm with the snappy music that started to play.  A zoot suit pant leg stretched out of the hole like a lady's leg in a black stocking stretching out from behind the red curtain.  The crowd rumbled.  Finally, the mustached zoot suiter stepped out from the curtain and leaned so far back he was almost lying down, and the crowd cheered.  It was El Pachuco.

Us Mexicans we dress dapper, ese.

Luis Valdez's 1978 hit show Zoot Suit had returned to the stage, telling the story of Henry Reyna and the infamous historical Sleepy Lagoon murder trial that wrongfully imprisoned a group of Mexican American youths.  As Henry transitions from a starry-eyed, soon-to-be Navy man to an embittered prisoner, his El Pachuco conscience follows him to remind him that "America is not your country" and to break the fourth wall to the audience in his throaty, drawling voice.  The Pachuco periodically breaks into song with his trio of pachuco girls and an impressive choreography with the rest of the cast.  He and the other characters throw in Spanish, English, and the pachuco dialect throughout, which is great to express the culture, but for pochas like me it makes it harder to catch all the jokes.  I only have my two-year-old self to blame for refusing to learn Spanish from my mother.

I loved all the subtle ways the play hinted at the ties between the Jewish and Chicano experience during World War II.  Through Henry's interactions with Jewish activist Alice Bloomfield, the Pachuco's offhand comment that Chicanos were fighting Nazis at home, or the music sequence where the pachuco girls step out in red dresses and black hats - the play shows no qualms in tearing down America's idealized image of itself as the savior of WWII.  There's also a religious parallel in the Pachuco figure.  During the Zoot Suit Riots, navy officers are stripping Mexicans of their zoot suits, so the Pachuco pushes the other characters aside to take the brunt.  When the officers finish with him, he falls to the floor wearing only a loin cloth, a Christ-like martyr representing the death of the Chicano spirit.  However, it's not long before the Pachuco rises again in a pristine white zoot suit to greet Henry.

I'm sure you can tell, but the Pachuco steals the show.  Some of the best moments and most biting lines come from him - particularly during his fourth wall breaks.  When Henry is tempted to kill the rival Downey gang member in a brawl, the Pachuco stops him to point out the audience, who has apparently paid good money to watch him kill somebody.  Henry refrains.  For the first of the play's alternate endings, the LA Times character claims Henry did go on to kill a fellow prisoner, but the Pachuco interrupts "That's what you'd like to think," before presenting two other possible endings where Henry becomes a war hero and a family man.  The play invites the audience to make what they will of the story, a fascinating ambiguity that fiddles with history and fiction, pessimism and hope.

The show will go on until April 2, 2017, but hurry if you're thinking of buying a ticket!  If they're not too hella expensive by now.  There's a film version out there too that you can consider watching if that's the case.

Sunday, February 26, 2017

Groupon

This is a sponsored post.  Hopefully for something you'll find useful!  All opinions are mine.

When I think of coupons, I have an image of a middle-aged soccer mom throwing them at a grocery store cashier so she’ll get $2 off her 2% milk.  It turns out that there’s a lot more to coupons.  On my first visit to Groupon’s website, I was surprised at their diversity of offers, from electronic goods to yoga classes to local eateries to sports games, and I discovered deals that were right in my area.

Up to 50% off at ZPizza in Claremont.  38% off a OneRepublic concert in Anaheim.  46% off admission for two to the American Museum of Ceramic Art in Pomona.  The cool thing about the Groupon mobile app (which is free!) is that you can look up local deals on the spot when you’re taking a night on the town and you’re deciding where to go for food or fun.

(PC: Paul Swansen)

A few clicks on Groupon and you’ll find hundreds of coupons for big name stores and corporations, such as eBay.  We all know you can literally buy anything on eBay.  They have 12 subcategories for books alone.  Considering what I blog about, I'll also mention Barnes & Noble and Fandango for offering a myriad of coupons and deals on books and movies on Groupon.  No longer do you need to cut coupons out of newspapers.  They're already right there on your phone or laptop!

One feature I think Groupon could add is allowing users to search by item category under each store (i.e. books, cookware, electronics).  If I want to check for coupons for DVDs at Target, for example, I’d like to see that in its own category.

My minor suggestion aside, Groupon makes the coupon experience much more convenient and available for on-the-go shopping.  Which is great for lazy people like me. 😆  So next time you’re shopping online or in store, consider Groupon as a new way to save!

Sunday, January 15, 2017

Hidden Figures: Women & STEM Do Mix

Hidden Figures is proof that black women get the job done.  Since its first trailer, I have looked forward to seeing the true story about the women behind NASA’s groundbreaking (space-breaking?) expeditions.  The film holds nothing back in portraying the subtle and obvious racial discrimination in the 1960s, but it simultaneously enforces the hope that things can get better.

(Source: Wikipedia)

The film revolves around three women - Dorothy, Mary, and Katherine - who work as "computers" for NASA and must fight to step up the professional ladder.  Mary struggles to become an engineer, Dorothy a computer programmer.  Katherine Goble, the central character, is hired by the space program to check the math for trajectories and launches, a fact that insults hotshot Paul Stratton’s elitist sensibilities.  She struggles to justify her presence to her alleged superiors. The character’s (and the film’s) most powerful, racially charged moment stems from something seemingly mundane: a trip to the bathroom.  Katherine has to trudge a half mile to the west campus to use the colored ladies’ restroom, a forty-minute long endeavor.  We see her do this throughout the movie, until one ridiculously rainy day her boss demands to know why she keeps disappearing.  She explodes.  She tells him off for all the indignities she has endured, from the bathroom to the “colored” coffee cup that everyone refuses to touch.  Such small details, but they build up to a larger injustice.  The scene that follows Katherine's explosion is just as great.

Katherine Goble Johnson
(Source: Wikipedia)

Because I appreciated the movie for portraying important historical women and their struggles, I wanted to love the movie unequivocally.  However, I do have my criticisms.  There were several times where the plot and tension ran a little slow and I started to fidget in my seat.  Meanwhile, all of the three characters experience unprecedented victories, becoming the First African American women to do X, Y, and Z.  Though I understand the need to end on a happy and hopeful note, I also wonder if ending with complete victories all around gives the impression that our work for racial justice is done.  Of course, those women really did succeed in their aspirations, but black people now still have to endure more than their fair share in life.

Though not always possessing the most compelling plot, Hidden Figures does offer sympathetic characters and stellar acting that made me enjoy the film.  I believe that Hidden Figures deserves an audience if for no other reason than our sore need for movies to embrace the talent and genius of women of color.   Katherine and her colleagues deserve for us to know their historic contribution.  They have already been forgotten for long enough.

Tuesday, December 20, 2016

Rogue One: The Star Wars Prequel Fans Deserved

Star Wars fans seem to agree on one thing: ignore the prequels.  However, fans can rejoice in Rogue One as it blends the new and the old while offering a fantastic space ride and just enough character throwback (or foreshadowing?) to satisfy your all your nerdy needs.  The movie tells the story of the people who steal the plans to the Death Star, and despite knowing the end result, I was still invested in every character, every moment.  Spoilers ahead.

(Source: Wikipedia)

The protagonist Jyn Erso is the daughter of Galen Erso, who is responsible for the design and construction of the Empire’s Death Star.  Galen sends a message through a defected pilot that he has placed a hidden weakness in the weapon.  When the Rebellion recruits Jyn for her help, she must convince them of her father’s good intentions and exploit the Death Star’s weakness.  We know from the original trilogy that she and the other characters succeed but die in the attempt, since none of them greet Luke Skywalker in A New Hope.  Although this could have stolen the tension, it instead creates a ticking time bomb for the characters to operate in.

I liked Jyn as a headlining female character (though not quite as much as Rey).  She looks tough, she is tough, but her devotion to her father carries the story as she reveals a greater amount of hope than she initially had.  Rebel officer Cassian Andor possesses an interesting moral nuance as a man who believes in the cause but who has done pretty ugly things to support that cause.  Then there are just plain cool characters such as Chirrut Imwe, a blind warrior who taps into the Force to kick everyone’s ass and take names - though he isn’t himself a Jedi.  His capabilities reminded me of Toph Beifong from Avatar: The Last Airbender.  K-2SO, a former imperial android, was by far the sassiest character.  He had the best lines.  I didn’t think I would find a droid the most relatable character, but here we are.

Meanwhile, Saw Gerrera wasn’t used much despite his important relationship to Jyn.  After her father was kidnapped, Gerrera rescued and raised Jyn until she was sixteen and he abandoned her to “protect” her - a fact that was skimmed over in a fast and awkward conversation.  I guess you can only cover so much, but I would rather not be set up to believe a character is more significant than he is if he’s only going to fall away in the first act.

The movie quickly establishes that Galen Erso is an unwilling accomplice to the Empire’s Death Star, but I thought it missed an opportunity to amp up the moral grayness. One of Jyn’s childhood flashbacks hinted that Galen was once willingly working with the Empire.  I thought the story could have explored his involvement more and make the audience wonder whether Jyn is right to automatically trust him.  But that’s just a thought.

I also want to gush about the diversity of the cast.  Almost all of them were people of color, which makes me wonder where they disappeared to in the original trilogy.  Even better, Andor is played by Mexican actor Diego Luna.  A Mexican in Star Wars!  I’m so proud because it means have a chance.

Rogue One offers a fun and fast-paced space adventure that mixes the appropriate amount of action and just enough fan service to make me squeal at the right moments.  I hope that this film signals more quality Star Wars content in the future, from Episode VIII to the Han Solo spin-off to whatever else Disney churns out for us.  It’s a good time for geeks to be alive.