Wednesday, December 23, 2015

C.S. Lewis... IN SPACE!

Growing up I drank, ate, and breathed the Narnia Chronicles ever since my dad read them to me as a kid.  I reread the series every year, despite the fact that I could probably recite it to you from The Magician's Nephew to The Last Battle without blinking an eye.  Last summer I enjoyed The Screwtape Letters and Mere Christianity just as much, but for different reasons.  At this point, I'm sure you can imagine how high my expectations were for the space trilogy.

So, did I enjoy the series?  Yes and no.

I have to be honest, if there were a race between the plot of any of the three books and a tortoise-sloth-snail hybrid, the hybrid would be wearing the gold metal right now.  Fifty pages in, I found myself still wondering when we were going to get to exploding spaceships, battling aliens, and death-defying stunts.  For the main character Ransom, not much... happens.  Instead there are long descriptions of Malacandra and Perelandra (Mars and Venus respectively), which are fascinating to read in contrast to the Silent Planet (Earth).  Ransom's interactions with the inhabitants in the first two books open up a philosophical conversation about spiritual conditions in the different planets that I thought was delicious food for thought.  Sometimes I felt like I was looking into an alternate universe of what Earth could have been, yet at the same time I could clearly see how the events on Earth influenced the rest of the planets.

Despite their status as fiction, I came out of the first two books feeling like I had read a combination that was 80% Lewis' theoretical Christian nonfiction (such as in Mere Christianity) and 20% Lewis' imaginative Christian fantasy (such as in Narnia Chronicles).  It threw me off to have this experience, which wasn't necessarily bad, but it was different from the thrilling action and character interaction that I had expected.  One element from the Narnia Chronicles that Lewis heightened, however, blew my mind in the best possible way.

In a few of the Narnia books, Lewis briefly inserts himself as someone who actually talks to the characters about their story.  The first example that comes to mind is this moment from Voyage of the Dawn Treader:

And suddenly there came a breeze from the east, tossing the top of the wave into foamy shapes and ruffling the smooth water all round them... It brought both a smell and a sound, a musical sound. Edmund and Eustace would never talk about it afterwards. Lucy could only say, "It would break your heart." "Why," said I, "was it so sad?" "Sad! No," said Lucy.

In the first two installments of the space trilogy, Lewis becomes a character/first-person narrator who has whole dialogues with Ransom.  I had thought it could be a random unnamed narrator, but Ransom actually calls him "Lewis."  LEWIS!  C.S. Lewis is writing about himself as if the events have occurred in his real life in his real time period.  It's meta on so many levels, and I missed seeing it in the trilogy's final installment.  Speaking of which...

Lewis makes a disclaimer in the preface that although That Hideous Strength concludes the trilogy, it can be read on its own.  That fact is true, so true that for most of its duration I wondered if it belonged in the trilogy at all.  We start off with a fresh batch of new characters going about their business in, as Lewis admits, "hum-drum scenes" in the first half.  No one at any point (spoiler!) goes into space, which makes me question whether it fits into the science fiction genre.  There are fantastical elements, but I had a more magical/Narnia vibe from them rather than the scientific/alien.  Maybe I just don't know what science fiction is supposed to be.  All in all, this last book is so different from the other two that it might actually have deserved its own review if I wasn't so busy binge watching all the shows I've wanted to see when school was happening.

I appreciated various aspects in the three books as a Christian thinker and as someone who likes reading Lewis' writing.  However, if given the choice between this series and the Narnia series, well, you've got to go with the classics.  Am I right?

Saturday, December 19, 2015

Star Wars: My Inner Geek Awakens

I have a confession: as a kid watching the original trilogy, I thought that Star Wars was just for lame sci-fi geeks like my dad.  Coming out of Episode VII, I realized that I am now one of those geeks.  Thanks a lot, J.J. Abrams.  You ruined the last shred of dignity I had as a nerd who spewed random Marvel facts and liked reading books for fun.

I can't tell you how cool it is to watch Rey, a female character, rise up as this generation's newest and most badass Jedi.  It's obvious this story is mainly about her realizing her connection to the Force and Luke Skywalker, even though there are plenty of characters old and new that also stole their share of screen time.  Alongside Rey, we have Finn, a guy who tries so hard to do right and who made me laugh on more than one occasion due to his natural adorableness.  Speaking of which, BB8 is the cutest android since, well, R2D2.  Who knew you could express so much excitement and emotion in a series of beeps?  For the nostalgics, we also have Chewbacca and Harrison Solo - I mean, Han Ford - I mean... never mind, same difference.  Just remember their unfailing bromance in the original trilogy, and know that it is as beautiful now as it was then.  Then Leia.  We need more Leia, people.

Between the quest to find Luke Skywalker and the light saber duels and the laser gun battles, I had not thought I would experience as many light, humorous moments as I did.  I already mentioned the comedy from Finn being Finn, but of course Han Solo had some of the best lines ("That's not how the Force works!").  However, the movie was not all banter and laughter.  I won't go into into any more detail than that because SPOILERS, but y'all should be prepared to tear up at least once. *sniffs*

Of course, the danger that all sequels must face is falling back on old tropes and plot devices to drive their story forward rather than coming up with something different.  Despite the fun it has, Star Wars: The Force Awakens is somewhat guilty of this.  Everyone wants a hold of an android with critical information in its hard drive, but that android ends up getting captured and becomes buddies with the film's protagonist (if that also sounds like Episode IV, that's because it is).  Then that protagonist wants to find a Jedi master, who happens to be the last of his kind (if that also sounds like Episode V, that's because, again, IT IS).  Not all classic elements are bad to have in a new chapter, such as Han Solo's ship making a reappearance or the Darth Vader-esque mask that the villain Kylo Ren has in order to pursue Vader's legacy.  You just have to be careful not to use those elements at the expense of your own storytelling and originality.

All in all, between Rey's mysterious backstory, Finn's fight v. flight dilemma, and Kylo Ren's very complicated origins, I'm honestly so excited to see where the sequels takes the characters next.  Will Rey become a master Jedi?  Will she defeat Kylo Ren, or will the Dark Side finally win?  Tune in next week for Star Wars: Episode VIII.  Heck yeah.


Tuesday, December 1, 2015

The Beard Must Die

Happy December, everybody!

I recently participated in BOP Journal's "Oh Facially November" contest, and although I didn't win, they have put my flash fiction story "The Beard Must Die" on their site.  You can check it out here.

Also, I have a new Twitter account if you want to follow me there:

Tuesday, November 17, 2015

Peanuts Movie: The Classic Modern Charlie Brown

First off, if you have never read a Peanuts comic strip, I hope that what I have attached above has educated you on the awesomeness that is Charles Schulz's work.  When the news first came out that a CGI-animated Peanuts movie was coming out, I had hardly dared to hope that it would have the same style, humor, and heart that I was used to--both from the comics and from the 2D animated movies.  Thankfully, I did dare.  My nostalgia was more than sufficiently fed with familiar tropes such as Lucy's psychiatric help stand, Snoopy's imagined battle with the Red Baron, and Charlie Brown's struggle with, well, pretty much everything.  As a bonus, there are flashes of the original comic style whenever the characters have a thought bubble and whenever exaggerated 2D lines create the character's expressions.  At the same time, the movie does not entirely follow its predecessors and truly came into its own.  Mild spoilers ahead.

One of my favorite parts involved Charlie Brown's relationship with his dog Snoopy.  Snoopy serves as an encouraging wingman for his owner as he tries to woo the Little Red-Haired Girl, whose face we actually see despite my expectations.  Snoopy's interactions with Charlie Brown are always so sweet, which in the comic strip has not really been the case, and every time I saw them together on screen, I wanted to run over to them and have a group hug.  When he's not helping out Charlie Brown, Snoopy pretends he is in a wild adventure that involves rescuing his true love from the infamous Red Baron.  This leads to several hilarious moments, such as when you remember that instead of inching across a broken bridge over a high drop, he's just hanging from a few Christmas lights in front of Peppermint Patty's house.

Meanwhile, as if I hadn't found Charlie Brown endearing enough already, the movie presents several moments where he chooses to do the right thing rather than take his chance to impress the Little Red-Haired Girl.  When he makes a fool of himself to rescue his sister Sally from embarrassment in the talent show, sacrificing his own magic act, I literally had the "awww" sound on loop in my head for pretty much the rest of the movie.  Of course I don't want to give away all of his moments of glory, but know that he is a precious cinnamon roll and deserves about ten billion kisses.  I really like how Charlie Brown, at his root, is simply a good kid.  It gives me hope for humanity, even if he is just a cartoon.

The movie does not entirely follow the comic strip, but describing that in detail might be going too far into spoiler territory for some of you.  You were warned.  Basically, at its end we see Charlie Brown actually gaining a few victories, which Schulz never wanted to have happen while he was alive.  His reasoning, as I understand it, was that Charlie Brown is supposed to be a character that keeps hoping even though things never go his way.  All the same, I can't help but find it satisfying as well as surprising for the character to at least have a few of his wishes fulfilled.  I don't think it takes away from the spirit of hope Schulz was going for, and with a movie as funny, adorable, and heartening as this one, I would not be surprised to see a Peanuts 2 movie coming in the near future.

Saturday, November 14, 2015

57 Chevy

Before “57 Chevy,” which my acting class took a trip to see on Wednesday in Los Angeles, I had never seen a one-man show, which made me initially have doubts about the play’s ability to keep me engaged for an hour and a half.  How could one person, one character, maintain a presence so engrossing that they didn’t need anyone else on stage with them?  As you can probably tell, I was thinking of a one-man show as more of a really long (boring) monologue than a play with diverse characters interacting with each other in a meaningful way.  Coming out of the play, I am glad to not only have had my misconceptions cleared up, but also to have been thoroughly entertained in the process.

The main character Cris “Junior” Franco, played by Ric Salinas, narrates his life story through the lens of his beloved father’s Chevy, the symbol of the Franco family’s American Dream.  Junior seamlessly transitions from playing himself in the present day to himself as a child, to his father, to his mother, and to a multitude of minor but hilarious characters.  I was really impressed with Salinas’ ability to adopt the mannerisms, inflection, and tics of people of different ages, ethnicities, and attitudes.  Within a few moments, I had a good sense of each character’s personality and truly believed that Salinas was whatever he was acting as.  His exaggerated gestures and voices contributed to the comedy that kept the play light while dealing with deeper issues of race.

Salinas also made excellent use of props, especially the two desk tables that he writes on in the beginning, in order to help the audience visualize what was happening.  The tables filled in for almost everything--from the front door, to a coffin, to (of course) the Chevy itself.  Combining props with realistic movement and the projection of images in the background, Salinas always made clear where the character was and what he was doing.  My favorite moment was when Junior talked at length about the “stalker gringo Jesus” (which, if you are Mexican, you’re probably very familiar with) while the picture was displayed behind him just in case you haven’t seen it before.

We see all the play’s events through the perspective of Junior, who at ten years old has to deal with moving from the familiar South Central L.A. to the “Same” Fernando Valley.  The tensions between his immigrant family at home, the white people at school, and his distant relatives in Mexico are expressed poignantly through a series of anecdotes of his day-to-day experiences.  His father is shown over and over again to be an important figure in his life as he undergoes this process.  I understood the father’s desire for his son and daughters to achieve, especially in light of his background and the love he clearly possesses for them; he becomes a sympathetic character alongside Junior as a result.  Junior’s navigation through issues of identity and race is a political one, but personalizing it through childhood memories and a strong relationship with his father makes it more subtle yet also real.  As a fourth-generation Mexican American, I fundamentally appreciate the Latino Theater Company for producing a piece of art that I was able to partake in, even if I couldn’t relate to everything that happened in Junior’s life.

Monday, October 19, 2015

Hotel Transylvania 2

If you want to remember the quirkiness from the first Hotel Transylvania, you'll certainly get it in its successor.  The sequel features Dracula and his daughter Mavis once again, but this time with Mavis' son Dennis, who has yet to get his vampire fangs.  Worried that Mavis will move her family away to live with humans, Dracula wrangles the hotel gang in a series of hilarities to bring out his grandson's monster side.  Also, Dracula's dad shows up.  That part of the plot is shoe-horned as ungracefully in the movie as it is in my synopsis, but more on that later.

I really liked Mavis and Johnny getting together in the first movie (what, I'm a romantic, SUE ME!), so I enjoyed even more watching them get married and having possibly one of the cutest, sweetest animated kids to ever exist.  When they go to see Johnny's family, his mother embarrassed me on so many levels, like a true mom.   She had obnoxious Halloween decorations to make Mavis "feel at home" and invited "mixed" couples of a monster and a human to have dinner.  Unfortunately, one of the couple members told her that he wasn't a werwolf like she thought.  #Awkward!  Anyone else see the parallel with mixed-race couples?  Just wondering.  In general I liked seeing her and other humans interacting with the monsters in the classic fish-out-of-water trope.

From the preview, I knew that Dracula's dad would get incorporated in Dracula's quest to make Dennis a vampire.  I expected him to come into the movie a lot earlier, but instead he showed up in about the last fifteen minutes.  His conflict with the family about Dennis' half-human identity and the swarm of creepy bat monsters he brings with him are resolved too quickly to feel real.  His appearance didn't fit well into the overall arc of Dracula embracing all aspects of his grandson, which had thus far created quite a bit of entertainment for me, and it did not turn into a satisfying father-son reconciliation to make up for it.

Hotel Transylvania 2 is a fun animated kid's movie, although in the end it's simply that: a kid's movie.  I don't mean that negatively, because I laughed and awwwed several times in the theater.  However, when you put up this movie's amusing yet silly characters against the glory of, say, Toy Story, you remember that Hotel Transylvania 2 is not the classic, universal film that adults and kids get nostalgic about generation after generation.  It may be enjoyable for families, but it's missing the substance that takes a movie from decent to great.

Tuesday, October 6, 2015

Remember My Satire?

My lovely followers, I have an announcement, which you may have already heard but I'll share it again: my satire about Twilight and Fifty Shades of Grey has finally been posted on BOP Journal.  I submitted it in the spring (I think), but some issues with the images and other things delayed its publication.  If you want to relive the laughs that the satire gave you before, go to this link:

Some things have been changed to make it child appropriate, but hopefully it hasn't lost any of its overall humor and wit.

Friday, August 14, 2015


Raunchy, unapologetic, and funny, Trainwreck is one of those rom-coms that (probably) wouldn't make your boyfriend want to dunk his head in the toilet and then flush twice.  Amy Schumer was phenomenal, both as the writer and the leading actress, and her co-star Bill Hader ain't too shabby either.  Schumer plays Amy (hm, same name… COINCIDENCE??), a woman who was taught by her father that monogamy isn't realistic and who has been living the party life ever since.  She interviews the sports doctor Aaron Conners for a men's magazine and, as you may guess, eventually changes her player/partier ways.

Aside from the gender role switch, we've seen this trope before, but thanks to the chemistry between the leads, Schumer's impeccable comedy, and a slew of other characters that contribute their own wackiness to the story, Trainwreck still feels like a fun ride.  We have John Cena as Amy's clueless, ridiculously buff semi-boyfriend, Colin Quinn as her rude, offensive father, and Carly Oudin as her pregnant, barely-keeping-her-cool sister.  Also, I really appreciated any scene that had LeBron James (that's his name right?).  His friendship with Aaron was adorable (and much more than the mere cameo I expected), and he even stages an "intervention" for Aaron that I had a fun time watching.

The story's secondary dimension with Amy's father Gordon had its laughs, but it had its tears, too.  At some point, Amy asks a crowd of people if he had ever offended them, and they all raised their hand.  However, they also all raised their hand when she asked if Gordon was still one of their favorite people.  A touching moment that I could relate to my own grandfather.  Moments like that made the characters so much more relatable, and even though Amy had her bad moments like her dad, she still turned out to be one of my favorites.

My only qualm about this movie was the sex scenes.  Like, SEX scenes, if you know what I mean.  I knew the movie was rated R so I wasn't surprised, but unless you wanna feel #AWKWARD watching it with your parents (hi, Mom) or even your significant other, I'd see it solo.

Wednesday, August 12, 2015

Fantastic Four: A Study on How to Screw up Marvel… Again

I could sum up my thoughts on Fox's (hopefully final) attempt at doing Marvel's Fantastic Four in six words: too much buildup, not enough payoff.  I had seen the bad reviews on Rotten Tomatoes before going into the theater, but I wanted to see it for myself since I hadn't hated the previous Fantastic Four movies as much as everyone else did.  I went in not expecting greatness but thinking it at least wouldn't be the worst film in the world.  It wasn't, but it was certainly disappointing.  Spoilers ahead.

The plot was dragging its feet, and I kept waiting for the inevitable confrontation between the superhero team and their nemesis.  Unfortunately, once it came, I didn't feel any of the edge-of-my-seat tension I've come to expect of this kind of movie.  I didn't even get to see much action before the scene ended.  The story's climax was not the only part that let me down from too little effort.  There's supposed to be a romance between Sue Storm (Invisible Woman) and Reed Richards (Mr. Fantastic), but aside from a meet-cute and one friendly conversation that makes Dr. Doom, I mean Victor, jealous, they did not have any relationship development.  Meanwhile, Johnny Storm is rebelling against his "overbearing" father, Dr. Storm, a theme so clichéd I don't even want to bother going into detail about it.

Reed's friendship with Ben (The Thing) had more meaningful attention, but even that got plunged into the toilet.  Reed abandons the group in a military complex after they get their powers and is in hiding for the next year as he tries to find a way to fix the situation.  Ben especially feels betrayed, but somehow by the end of the movie he acts as if nothing has happened.  Wow, way to deal with tension, movie.  Just have them work together to fight some villain for five minutes and then maybe the audience will forget all about it, too.

My final complaint is having to see some of the worst examples of foreshadowing that I've come across… and I say this as someone who's read a lot of good and bad books.  The first was when Ben's older brother exclaims "It's clobbering time!" right as he's about to beat him.  Aside from the horribly not-subtle harbinger of Ben's future, I can't imagine using a reminder of childhood abuse as a catchphrase when you become a superhero.  Later, while the group is having a conversation about their inter-dimensional teleporter, Victor expresses pessimism about the world and Sue scoffingly calls him "Dr. Doom."  Really? Really?  I could have dealt with the more low-key foreshadowing of Johnny's car engine exploding into flames, but that piece of dialogue felt like someone was squelching all of my book-loving braincells in one swift motion.

Listen, you don't have to be like me and find out how the movie is for yourself.  I will tell you straight up: you will have a much, much better time watching Ant-Man.

Monday, August 3, 2015

Ant-Man: A Worthy New Avenger

When I heard that Paul Rudd, the guy I knew from the high school comedy Clueless, had been cast as the newest addition to the Avengers franchise, I was skeptical.  I didn't think he was the kind of guy that could pull off playing a superhero, but he pleasantly surprised me. I sympathized with his character Scott Lang, an ex-convict who is finding it impossible to get a job or reconnect with his young daughter because of his record.  I thought his interactions with her were adorable and heartfelt (he calls her "peanut," how cute is that?).  They were a nice contrast to the strained relationship between Hank Pym and his daughter  Hope van Dyne.

Hank Pym, the original Ant-Man, and Hope are plotting to take down Pym's old mentee Darren Cross.  Cross is developing his own shrink formula despite Pym's attempts to keep it under wraps, so Pym enlists Scott's help to steal it and shut Cross down.  For it being a Marvel movie, I expected there to be a lot more action, but most of the plot involved planning the heist of Cross' work.  During that time, a lot of the development focused on Pym and his daughter and the fact that Pym is so overprotective of her that he won't let her wear the Ant-Man suit for the heist, even though she has better knowledge of Cross' facilities and more experience with the Ant-Man technology.  Frankly, I found it an overused theme, and I also couldn't imagine Pym being like that if Hope were a son.  Thankfully the mid credits scene (spoiler!) made it up to me.

The movie also had me laughing a few times.  Scott was funny in an awkward way, but his Hispanic friend/fellow thief was by far the most hilarious.  Scott's conversations with Hope were fun to watch as well, even if you can see their romance coming from a thousand miles away.  Seriously, when don't they pair a male and female character up?  Finally, of course, there are plenty of cameos and references that reminded me of this film's ties to the Marvel Cinematic Universe.  Awesome bonus for Marvel nerds like me.  Admittedly, if you're not already a Marvel fan, Ant-Man is not the first film I would recommend to make you fall head-over-heels in love with the franchise.  It is, however, still an entertaining film that will make you laugh and cry and cheer for the characters.  I applaud Paul Rudd for pulling off such a charming new character and I look forward to seeing him in future installments.

Wednesday, July 1, 2015

This Movie Turned Me Inside Out (Pun Intended)

Well, Pixar has done it again.  Inside Out is another heartwarming, visually compelling addition to the studio's plethora of animated films that both adults and kids can enjoy.  Before watching the movie, I already liked the idea of personifying emotions, but I liked even better how it manifested as Joy, Fear, Sadness, Disgust, and Anger operated headquarters in Riley's mind.  You never think of emotions such as fear, sadness, or even disgust as being good things, but the movie made a solid point about their usefulness and necessity.

The character Joy describes Fear as the one who keeps Riley safe, while showing Fear prevent Riley from tripping over a wire.  This is just one of many moments throughout the film that prove how sometimes in this world, happiness may not be the most appropriate response.  In fact, that's what the whole story arc is about.  Joy and Sadness are swept out of headquarters and must work together to find their way back.  Meanwhile, Anger, Disgust, and Fear are the only ones left to help Riley navigate the difficulties of moving to a new city and trying to find her place there.  The separation between the characters makes clear how all of them are needed for Riley to be, well, Riley.  Now that I'm writing it out, the message by itself seems a little corny, but the movie did a great job in not becoming fake or sappy.  I even cried.  Twice.

We also get brief glimpses into other people's heads, which usually led to a lot of crack up-worthy moments (by the way, can I get a Brazilian helicopter pilot to daydream about?).  One thing bothers me about that though: the emotions get the same hairstyles as the person whose mind they're in, except for Riley's.  Her dad's emotions have his mustache, and her mom's emotions have her ponytail.  Riley's emotions, however, have nothing in common in their appearance.  It's a small thing, but consistency-wise it is questionable when you really think about it.

My tangent aside, Inside Out is a beautiful, funny, and meaningful movie that deserves all the critical praise it has received thus far.  This is just my two cents, but I think anyone who likes Pixar will definitely like this movie.

Thursday, June 25, 2015

Jurassic World Accused of Promoting Mommyhood (and other things)

Sometimes the feminists get it right, sometimes they just like to crap on things, and sometimes they do both at the same time.  Molly Fitzpatrick makes great points about how much more feminist the movie Jurassic Park is than Jurassic World, but sometimes her argument falls a little short.

Jurassic World does not offer a well-rounded, capable female character for us to look up to in Claire Dearing.  The mucho macho Owen Grady rescues her on multiple occasions, which struck me as nothing new in a movie culture that loves the knight in shining armor.  However, Claire’s arc is hardly about, as Fitzpatrick describes it, being taught "the importance of motherhood."

True, when Claire says "if I have kids," her sister Karen changes it to "when," as if motherhood will come whether Claire likes it or not.  Is it annoying to women who don't want families, myself included, if people assume that we want kids or that we're good with them because of our gender?  Oh yeah.  But we shouldn't base all of our interpretation of Claire on one piece of dialogue.

Fitzpatrick discusses how Alan Grant’s "discovery of his fondness for children is joyful,” while "Claire's is colored with shame and anxiety."  Grant doesn’t have children with Ellie Sattler, or anyone else, after the events of Jurassic Park.  Even though he did start to like Hammond's grandchildren, he apparently didn't consider it a path to actual fatherhood.  Meanwhile, Claire becomes protective of her nephews when she realizes how much danger they're in.  Is that really mothering?  Claire doesn't know her nephews' ages, and she hardly speaks to Karen.  Because of her workaholic tendencies, she's not just disconnected from children, but from her family in general.  Is she supposed to learn how to be a mom?  How about she learns to be an aunt or a sister?  I think that's closer to what the movie was aiming for, especially since Claire gives no indication that she wants her own kids at the end of the movie.  All she does at the end is run off with a hot guy.  What character growth!

Claire also doesn’t get to play the hero like Owen.  Fitzpatrick rightfully points out the unfairness of her nephews saying, "We want to stay with him" even though they just saw Claire take out a Pteranodon.  However, Fitzpatrick becomes unfair herself when she asserts that Claire's "genuinely heroic moment" of summoning the T. rex is "swiftly undercut by the fact that she must then flee from the animal in her heels."  Honestly, what did she expect Claire to do?  Punch the dinosaur in the face?  When you call out a T. rex, even if it's purposeful, you run for your life.  Truthfully, Fitzpatrick should commend Claire for running in her heels.

Wanting a female character to kick ass with no questions asked is one thing.  However, expecting her to do the impossible or to show no weakness is another.  That's expecting her to be a super-woman.  Headlining women are in short order among movies, especially blockbusters, but we must take care not to heap all of our hopes and dreams for feminism onto a single character.  Feminists besides Fitzpatrick have unfortunately done that to plenty of female characters that overall are pretty fantastic but aren't absolutely perfect.

When I first came out of the movie theater, I thought that, while nowhere near Jurassic Park's excellence, Jurassic World had some cool mythology, awesome dinosaurs, and, let's face it, eye candy that made it entertaining and enjoyable.  Then people like Fitzpatrick pointed out all its anti-feminist ways.  I never considered it feminist, but I still felt guilty for not catching the more minute misogynies throughout the film.  How dare I even call myself a feminist when I can't uncover all the ways a movie reinforces sexism and shout "Down with the patriarchy!"?  I'm only partially kidding.

Lately I've wondered what feminism is supposed to be about.  As I pursue my bachelor's degree in a highly liberal college environment, I've learned a lot of the words and ways to criticize society for oppressing women and other groups of people.  To be honest, I've heard less (not none, but less) about actual things to do about it.  Which is easier: typing away about how much this author or that director mistreated a female character, or getting involved in grassroots organizations that work for women's rights?  Perhaps one can do both, but as feminist lingo runs around my head, I can't help but think I haven't done much besides the former option.  I wonder how many people like me are out there, saying all the right things and receiving all the appropriate praise and yet feeling a distinctive lack in their convictions.  Do we just say feminism, or do we do feminism?  The answer may not be as easy as we hope.

Monday, June 22, 2015

Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D.

Well, I finally know what S.H.I.E.L.D. stands for.  It only took me about five years, but this show finally hammered it in my head.  I would say I regret putting off watching this show until now, but that would have meant that I couldn't binge watch it all on Netflix in less than a month.  Pros to procrastination.

The best part about the show by far was the characters.  I didn't care that much about Phil Coulson in the Marvel movies, mainly because there were so many superheroes around that I didn't have much attention to spare for some stoic-faced agent.  However, this show gave me a chance to see Coulson's character on the ground level, as a human being with a good heart and real struggles.  In a way he reminds me of the pre-serum Steve Rogers, a guy who was considered a nobody but who had so much faith and strength that it's hard not to root for him.  I imagine Coulson would explode at my comparison if he were to read my review.  As for the other characters (in season one and two), I fell in love with every one of them--even the character who I knew ahead of time was going to be a traitor.  I knew it was coming, but the moment that character turned, I still gasped.  I had the sense that I was supposed to like this character, as much as I tried to hate them with every ounce of my body, so I was very interested to see what happened next with them in the following season.  Too bad the person ended up becoming a true blue psychopath, but, well… spoiler.

Can I say how much I enjoyed having so much diversity among the cast of characters?  Season one gave us a main cast that was half full of badass woman, two of them being women of color.  Both seasons gave us a slew of other women and people of color, both as major and minor characters.  Thumbs up for that, Marvel!

And oh, THE CAMEOS!  Nick Fury, Maria Hill, in the FIRST FEW EPISODES of the first season.  And then Sif came, too!  And then Peggy Carter came in for the first episode of season 2.  I could hardly handle that much awesomeness at once.  The show had so many connections to the Marvel Cinematic Universe via characters, plot lines, and references.  You can easily see the events of Thor: The Dark World, Captain America: The Winter Soldier, and Avengers Age of Ultron play out in the lives of the agents of S.H.I.E.L.D.  It really felt like the characters were living in the same world as the Avengers.

Ties to the overall Marvel universe are not the only thing that the writers kept an excellent handle on; within the show itself are a multitude of multi-faceted characters who have new mysteries to discover all the time.  The many and complex threads in the various episodes were almost always consistent, which is impressive considering the episodes are long and numerous.  The writers kept their hands on the reins throughout the entire crazy ride of spy adventures, uncovered secrets, more uncovered secrets, character development, shocking turnarounds, and more.  My dad compared the series to a soap opera, which is very apt considering I could not stop watching until I absolutely had to.  By the end of each season so far, little is left undone or overlooked.

Honestly, anyone who appreciates good writing, well-rounded characters, thrilling action, oodles of sarcasm, or Marvel in general would appreciate Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D.  So if you haven't seen it yet, what are you waiting for?

Wednesday, May 27, 2015

Paper Towns

I didn't have a particular expectation as I got deeper and deeper into John Green's Paper Towns, but somehow I still found myself surprised at the end.  It's the kind of story that moves so slowly that you can practically hear it dragging its feet along the ground.  Yet all that time you're chafing for the plot to get a move on already, something else is forming underneath you.  By the time you reach the conclusion, you tear the paper-thin skin off and finally see the rich meat of the matter.  That, my friends, is what it's like to read Paper Towns.

To be frank, I didn't love Paper Towns as much as I loved Green's The Fault in Our Stars, but it had a theme that struck a particular chord with me.  All semester I've been thinking about subjectivity and how it's seemingly impossible to actually become another person or enter that person's perspective.  That tension becomes very present in the relationship between the novel's main character Quentin Jacobsen (AKA "Q") and Margo Roth Spiegelman, the object of his love from afar since childhood.  When Margo disappears and Q tries to piece together the clues she left behind, Q realizes how little he knew her, how little her friends knew her, and how little any of us know each other.  The "mirrors" metaphor I found especially illustrative of this point; I would explain it to you, but I think you'd have to read the book to understand it (hint, hint).

We also meet Q's friends Ben and Radar, both of whom are amusing in unique ways.  I believe I laughed the most and the hardest during scenes with Radar.  Whenever Q isn't off on his own to solve the Margo mystery, they are there to help him out and to banter the way friends do.  Y'all know how much I love me some witty banter, although there was not a whole lot in this book.  The characters overall were quirky and complex and lovable, which helped me through the story's slowness of pace.  Q's journey may not have been especially romantic or exciting or adventurous, but it did uncover the limitations of our own perspective (it's fitting that the book is in first-person) as we try to find out the book's most basic question: Who is Margo Roth Spiegelman?

Perhaps Paper Towns isn't your kind of book, but if you have time to think on an important question, then think on this: Is it really, truly possible to "walk in another person's shoes"?  Can you inhabit another person's consciousness and understand where they're coming from?  I'd be interested to see your answers in the comments below.

Monday, May 4, 2015

Avengers: Age of Ultron

When you have consistently snappy dialogue, actors with great chemistry, awe-striking special effects, and all the wonderful fantasy elements of the superhero film genre, it's hard to go wrong.  Especially when you're Marvel.  The sequel to the wildly popular The Avengers that premiered in 2012 has its faults, but moviegoers are still guaranteed a good time.  Perhaps as a diehard Marvel fan I was biased to love it from the get-go, but Avengers: Age of Ultron got a lot of things right for me.  Mild spoilers ahead.

After seeing the dynamic duo of Captain America and Black Widow competing for the championship in the Sassiest of the Sassy Competition--AKA Captain America: The Winter Soldier--I was prepared for plenty of witty dialogue from the whole ensemble.  I was not disappointed.  My favorite running joke was--well, I shouldn't spoil it, so I'll just say it has to do with Cap being the ole goody two shoes I know and love. I really liked all the interactions between the Avengers, sarcastic and otherwise, because I really got a sense of familiarity and camaraderie that the team didn't have in the first film.  The action scenes, of course, were mostly spot-on right from the beginning of the film, as the Avengers take down yet another evil HYDRA base.  There's a point where Captain America flips a motorcycle in the air and lands a perfect somersault.  One of my favorite moves.

I also enjoyed seeing two new characters: Quicksilver and Scarlet Witch.  Scarlet Witch has the power to make others hallucinate into seeing their biggest fears and uses this on most of the Avengers.  Some of the visions fell through--I didn't understand what fear was behind Thor and Steve's visions--but others--like the Black Widow's--helped with character development.  Quicksilver and Scarlet Witch don't have a whole lot of scenes in the movie, but they make the most of what they have to show a tender sibling relationship between the two of them.  I love their ambiguous role as they initially team up with Ultron so they can exact revenge against Tony Stark (everyone seems to hate this guy, honestly).

The main antagonist Ultron, created by Tony with the help of Bruce Banner, is an AI who, like many other robots too smart for their maker, saw all the violence in the world and figured human extinction was the best way to peace.  A tad cliché, but Ultron managed to make it seem fresh.  I had expected him to remain the stoic and menacing villain from the previews for the whole movie.  He was that most of the time, and he had some great lines, but there were also moments where he sounded downright childish (as the "child" of Tony Stark, I suppose that makes sense).  I think those moments were supposed to be humorous and indicative of Ultron's inexperience with the world, but they didn't always work for me.  I've seen reviews about how this movie was supposed to be a Frankenstein metaphor, which I hadn't realized.  I feel ashamed of myself because I just read Frankenstein this semester and I really should have caught the similarity.

Overall, Ultron was a formidable (and badass) foe who did well in keeping me on the edge… y'know, when he wasn't singing a Disney song (There are no strings on meeeee!).

In other news, Bruce and Natasha have a fling.  I found their scenes quite adorable (I am, after all, a romantic).  When we first enter the sequel, Natasha calms the Hulk down with a lullaby, as she's apparently done many times now.  Throughout the film everybody talks about how it's SO OBVIOUS that they have a thing and it's been going on for a while.  Apparently I missed the memo, because when we last left off in the first Avengers, Natasha was simply dealing with a (not unjustified) fear towards the Hulk.   By Avengers 2, she's already moved into full-blown crush-mode and everyone but Bruce is on board with it.  I accepted it, but I also wished I could have seen their uneasy acquaintanceship from the last movie grow to friendship/romance.  You know what would have been a great place to put that?  A solo Black Widow movie.  Ugh, I'm so bitter that the only female Avenger up to this point hasn't gotten her own film.

Anyway, I could geek about this movie for hours, but I have to cut this review off at some point.  If you like Marvel movies, you'll find Avengers: Age of Ultron an exciting and entertaining addition to the Marvel Cinematic Universe.  It's full to the brim with great dialogue, cool fights, and awesome heroes new and old--which can make it feel overstuffed at times, but personally I'm not complaining.  Now, it's time to start the countdown to the next Avengers movie.

Friday, March 13, 2015

WARNING: This Post is Not Twihard Friendly

Ah, Satire, my good friend.  We hadn't spoken in a while, but I was glad when my public writing course reunited us a few weeks ago.  You returned to my life at an opportune time, because I was in the middle of the hype of Fifty Shades of Grey, an erotic novel/movie based on a Twilight FanFiction.  Such unholy offspring between a terrible writer and an even more terrible writer should never have been birthed, but alas, it was.  I hope that our efforts shall help moviegoers go on the upright path and avoid any showing of Fifty Shades of Grey.  For those who have already fallen, I hope that my satire will offer you at least minor relief from your sufferings.

Message to Christian Grey: No One Knows How to Win Middle-Aged Women’s Hearts Except Me

By Edward Cullen

Mr. Grey, you have disgraced cold and controlling boyfriend-stalkers everywhere.  I’m disgusted with your rookie tactics to woo not only your clueless brunette virgin, but also the millions of other females who made my franchise a success.  Your appeal, which I admit has been enough to produce your own feeble franchise, cannot compare to mine.

I might not have built a giant corporation from the ground up, but I know how to properly coerce a woman into loving me despite even greater obstacles than yours.  I’m a vampire.  I wanted to kill my girlfriend every second, but she latched onto me like I was her prey.  How did I reel her in?  Aloofness, my friend.

When you first meet your lady friend, you offer her an internship in your company almost immediately.  Real subtle.  I ran out of the room when I met Bella, and you can bet she felt hella confused and hella interested.  Meanwhile, you cancel your meeting so you can continue talking Ana into feeling more and more awkward until she stumbles into believing she’s fallen in love with you.  I could do everything you do with a brooding stare.  Ana is too easy to embarrass.  Let me tell you, no one can trump my significant other’s calm and cool demeanor.

Look at that.  I hadn’t even turned her into a vampire yet, and she already had the unperturbed, emotionless face of the undead.  You make me proud, sweetie!

Speaking of faces, let’s talk about yours.

Seriously, what kind of face is that?  Did you lose your favorite flogging belt?  Sorry, Bella wanted to try it out.  Our kid’s kinda killed our sex life.  I figured you wouldn’t need it anyway since at the end of your most recent film your girlfriend dumps you (for the record, I did all the dumping when I dated my wife).

Now this is a face that sells!  Eighty percent constipated, fifteen percent stoned, and five percent sparkly.  This is the face that can make pedophilia seem sexy.

Vampires like me have been seducing women since the 1720s, and now you think you know how to do it better with a piece of rope and a mask?  Please.  You have made the BDSM community ashamed of you, but I have made all vampires fall to their knees with my hot-damn, diamond-encrusted body.  When Dracula saw the first Twilight movie, he staked himself in the heart.  What hope did he have of winning another maiden, when I started stealing the hearts of not only tweens, but also their mothers and grandmothers?

You know you’re just a rip-off of me, so don’t pretend to be doing anything original besides bringing porn to the big screen.  I refused to have sex with Bella until she agreed to marry me, like a true gentleman.  You have to tease her until she binds herself to you forever, not give in to your own lust.  Honestly, I’m a bloodthirsty vampire and I have more restraint than you.  I managed to stay away from Bella for almost a whole movie.  You wouldn’t last five minutes before you had to hump one of your fancy footstools.  In case you still doubt my expertise, I’ll ask you this: have you ever broken a bed during sex?  I didn’t think so.  Try to out-kink that.

In this age of feminism, where women have strived to make their own choices, we as men must work hard keep ourselves on top. (I know what you’re thinking, Grey.  Well, get your mind out of the gutter.)  I give you credit for Ana’s obvious infatuation with you, and I don’t doubt that in the end you’ll have all the power.  If you stay true to your roots in me, you’ll probably do just fine – assuming you don’t blow it.

Sunday, March 8, 2015

Marvel's Agent Carter

If you know me, you've probably already heard me gush about Marvel's Agent Carter, a miniseries that recently finished premiering on ABC.  Well, be prepared for me to gush some more.  Given that there are only eight episodes to keep track of, I figured Agent Carter would be the perfect opportunity to segue way into reviewing TV shows on my blog.  Here's a list of reasons I have to demand that ABC give us a second season:

1.  Peggy Carter.  Duh.  If you've seen Captain America: The First Avenger, you've already met her, but even if not you'll find she is a praiseworthy character all on her own.  Not only does she throw a killer punch, she has oodles of sass and class to go with it.  If there is anyone who can crush sexism and get the bad guys with literally just a tube of lipstick, it's this woman.

2.  The banter.  My favorite relationship on the show is easily Peggy's friendship with Edwin Jarvis, who is the butler of Tony Stark's father Howard and the likely inspiration for the AI J.A.R.V.I.S. who assists Iron Man in the future.  I love Peggy and Jarvis' friendship primarily due to their excellent exchange of wit as they team up on missions together - with Peggy, of course, doing most of the butt-kicking.  Peggy can dish out her sass to just about everyone, but she plays off of Jarvis the best.  Underneath all their banter, however, they have genuine respect and care for each other, and that's why they have such an awesome dynamic in my opinion.

3.  The exciting espionage.  The premise of this mini-series is that Peggy, who works at the Scientific Strategic Reserve (SSR), becomes a double agent when Howard Stark is accused of selling his inventions to the bad guys and he secretly comes to Peggy to clear his name.  So while the SSR is trying to nail Stark, Peggy is trying to recover the stolen inventions and help Stark prove his innocence.  She finds success thanks in large part to her partnership with Jarvis, her quick thinking, and the rampant sexism that causes the male SSR agents to overlook her.  Speaking of which…

4.  Those dumb SSR agents!  Okay, that's not strictly accurate considering these guys are great at their job, but I have to express my frustration with their attitude somehow.  In the beginning, these agents (with the possible exception of Daniel Sousa) just seemed like annoying douche-bags who deserved a sucker punch.  What pleasantly surprised me was that halfway through the season I began seeing new aspects of their character that made them much more interesting than one-dimensional antagonists.  I really would like to see agents like Jack Thompson *mild shudder* be fleshed out in future seasons (assuming we get any).  Also, with the disclaimer that I'm no expert on this subject, Daniel Sousa seems to be one of the better representations in media of a person with a disability.  After losing his leg to an injury during WWII (oh, in case you didn't realize, this show takes place in the 1940s), Agent Sousa has used a crutch to help him walk.  But guess what?  HE ALSO USES IT AS A WEAPON DURING FIGHTS, AND IT'S PRETTY SICK!

5. Marvel Cinematic Universe (MCU) tie-ins.  I'll admit that this is probably only a bonus for Marvel geeks like me, but I love how the writers added so many links to the MCU (besides the obvious connection to Captain America).  There are five Easter eggs in the first episode alone, and a bunch more besides in the rest of the season.

Honestly, I could go on, but I would rather you go check out the show for yourself than continue reading my loving rant for Agent Carter.  Episodes 4-8 are available online for free, and you can find the first three on other sites as well (you'd have to pay money, but believe me it's worth it).  Please, don't let Agent Carter suffer the same tragic fate as Selfie when it was canceled prematurely due to low ratings.  FIGHT FOR STRONG MARVEL WOMEN LIKE PEGGY CARTER!  THEY'RE AMAZING!

Sunday, January 18, 2015


It seems that there have been consistent technical difficulties for people I've invited to read my private blog, so I have switched it back to a public blog to avoid the hassle.  Hopefully no stalker uses this blog to track me down and kidnap me.

Friday, January 16, 2015

The Woods Are Where All the Fun's At… and the singing, too.

For those of you who are not familiar with Into the Woods, here's my sum-up: Happily ever after?  LOL watch this!  Also, singing.  Lots and lots of singing.  You might remember from my last post that Annie (2014) didn't feel much like the musical it should have been thanks to several of the songs being skipped/cut short.  I did not get that feeling with Disney's version of Into the Woods, I'm happy to say.  95% of the time people were singing, so no one can argue that this was not a musical.  I watched a video of a production of this musical in my Core II Fairy Tale class last year, and after dissecting the original fairy tales to pieces, my classmates and I enjoyed seeing their traditional set-up get obliterated in the musical's second act.  Since I loved the original musical, and since it was Disney making it, you can imagine my anxiety regarding how it would be handled when turned into a movie.  I wasn't thrilled to see a poster of Johnny Depp as the wolf (more like a kitty cat with a snazzy tie, if you ask me) when I first heard about the movie.  However, I saw Chris Pine was cast as Prince Charming and figured I'd give it a shot. :)

The movie was surprisingly faithful to the story, even showing things that I didn't think Disney would portray due to their more, ahem, adult themes.  I won't spoil what I mean, but for those of you familiar with the musical you can probably guess what I'm talking about.  In the first half of the film, the childless baker and his wife have to get a hold of the cow as white as milk, the cape as red as blood, the hair as yellow as corn, and the slipper as pure as gold for the witch in order to lift the curse that has left them barren.  Their search in the woods incorporates Jack & the Beanstalk, Little Red Riding Hood, Rapunzel, and Cinderella, whose stories play out in the way that you are already familiar with.  The baker and his wife succeed, but as soon as you think everyone is getting their happily ever after, everything goes wrong and the characters must return to the forest.  That's where the real fun begins.

(For the record I don't know why they're showing Rapunzel lying asleep.  She's not Sleeping Beauty, ya know!)

In terms of singing performance, everyone was good (no one was exceptional, in my opinion, but no one was mediocre either).  I forgot how funny the "Agony" song was until I saw Chris Pine and Bill Magnussen do it.  The actors got really into it, and I almost wish I could have seen a reprise of it like in the original musical.  You can watch the clip here (the part at 2:22 makes me crack up every time).  Meryl Streep's version of "Witch's Lament" was very powerful, both in terms of visuals and drama.  I was sorry not to see even more of her.

As good as a rendition I thought this movie was overall, there were a few things I missed from the original musical - nit-picky stuff, really.  The first is the part where the witch feeds the narrator to the vengeful giant in an attempt to fend her off, leaving the characters on their own to figure out how their tale will turn out.  I can see why they cut it out from the movie, because it's not like the narrator ever steps into the screen like he steps onto the stage in the play, but still.  It would have been cool to have a more striking end to the narration rather than it getting cutting off in the midpoint of the film and never being heard again.  My second complaint is the wolf.  I don't know why his face is always so big in the movie posters, because he does not play a large role.  In the original musical, the same actor plays the Wolf and the Prince (hinting that they're both predators), but obviously that didn't happen in the movie.  I liked the symbolism that it had though.  It's like the same actor playing Mr. Darling and Hook in Peter Pan.

My most significant complaint is what they did with the Rapunzel storyline.  Minor spoiler alert: In the original musical, both princes turn out to be jerks, but in the movie it's only Chris Pine's Prince that's "charming not sincere."  The Other Prince (seriously, that's what he's called in the movie poster) is the more clumsy yet also endearing one.  In the movie, Rapunzel has a fight with her adoptive mother, the witch, and runs off to presumably have a happily ever after with her prince.  At least I think that's what happened, because the two of them don't show up for the rest of the film.  It was an unsatisfying way to rework that storyline, even if I wasn't in love with the original one where the prince dumps Rapunzel after she suffers a mental breakdown (not one of the better portrayals of mental illness).

I think that Chris Pine's character was enough to get the point across that Prince Charming isn't great and is in fact exploitative, so I don't have a problem with the other prince's character being changed.  What I'm not happy about is how anticlimactic Rapunzel's runaway with the prince is.  I didn't feel any emotion or satisfaction about it.  If they had played up the mother-daughter relationship between Rapunzel and the witch more, I could have more easily seen the scene as a portrayal of a child growing up and a parent being forced to learn to let go.  I think that there was potential in the rewrite to make this scene happen in a powerful way, but it didn't.  It doesn't ruin the movie for me, but it's something that will always irk me.

Anyway, if you like to see fairy tales turned on their heads and if you enjoy watching musicals, I would say that Into the Woods is something I would definitely recommend.  As far as movie remakes go it's not totally perfect, but it kept me entertained and that's enough for me.