Sunday, January 7, 2018

In Defence of/A Take-Down of Star Wars: The Last Jedi

Storytelling is tricky to truly master. For one, there has to be a plan connecting everything together. And two, it must be done in such a way that it doesn’t feel manipulative. This is especially challenging for a long-running series, which needs to do the above while setting the groundwork for the grander picture. There are definitely wrong ways to pull this off (see Lost), but there’s also no one way to do it correctly.

Take Star Wars: The Last Jedi. Star Wars is no stranger to narrative inconsistencies, due to the franchise frequently building off of previous installments, but it’s always seemed like there was a plan in place. Even lesser-entries, bad as they are, had a reason for existing, an established goal worth respecting. Unfortunately, this latest film bucked that trend. Despite taking the franchise in a new direction, which I’d argue isn’t a sure-fire guarantee of quality on its own, the film has seen backlash over a few dropped threads from its predecessor and its decision to include a detour on a planet called Canto Bight. I happen to not mind these decisions too much, but I’ll play Devil’s Advocate and explain why I think it’s not fair to dismiss the criticism.

By the way, spoilers.

The first I’ll tackle is the attempts at a new direction. Star Wars: The Last Jedi, right from its opening scene, subverts expectations. Poe Dameron, the loveable pilot of The Resistance from Star Wars: The Force Awakens, is reckless and gets most of his fleet killed. Luke, seen at the end of Star Wars: The Force Awakens, immediately chucks his prized lightsaber off a cliff in his first scene. Even Snoke, built-up to be another Emperor, is defeated by Kylo Ren, only for Kylo Ren to shock Rey and usurp the title of Supreme Leader shortly after the regime change. These are legitimately new and surprising decisions for an over 40 year-old franchise.

But is “new and surprising” necessarily good for Star Wars? Remember, the oft-maligned prequels introduced new and surprising elements too: the introduction of political banter was new, and Anakin’s descent to The Dark Side was surprising. That doesn’t, however, mean that these inclusions were good. And they shouldn’t be expected to, either. It’s a case of “different =/= better”, and it’s important that people understand that.

Fortunately, these decisions do work in the movie’s favour. Remember, Star Wars is over 40 years old. Even if you remove the “what ain’t broke, don’t fix” mantra so many people love touting, or that, to paraphrase George Lucas, Star Wars is like poetry and, therefore, rhymes, there’s a point where retreading too much can be a bad sign. It’s one of the many ill-founded complaints detractors lobbed at Star Wars: The Force Awakens, and it was used to reverse effect here. To paraphrase Jeremy Jahns in a YouTube video on the film, “It’s all about The Goldilocks Effect”.

That said, I do think there’s no real Goldilocks Effect with some Star Wars fans. The franchise is so deeply-rooted in nostalgia, and their hatred of Disney’s so strong, that they’d complain regardless. I don’t think Star Wars fans would be truly satisfied even if a movie found that balance, essentially.

The dropped threads are included here. Star Wars: The Force Awakens built up real questions and potential lore for future movies to address: who are Rey’s parents? Who’s Snoke? Why did Kylo Ren turn evil? And, most-importantly, how did Maz Kanata acquire Luke’s old lightsaber from Cloud City?

How does Star Wars: The Last Jedi address these questions? By ignoring the questions. To be fair, some of the answers are fine, like Rey’s parents being nobodies, but others rub me the wrong way. I know Snoke isn’t important, and that The Emperor originally had no backstory either, but so what? The Emperor sucked until the prequels anyway, and a simple acknowledgement of who Snoke was would’ve sufficed. Also, Luke’s lightsaber was the laziest part of Star Wars: The Force Awakens, and not addressing that irks me.

This is the biggest disconnect between fans and detractors. On one hand, not every franchise needs Harry Potter-levels of Rube-Goldberg connectivity, that’s asking too much. But, on the other hand, it’s ridiculous to bring up major questions, then drop them Damon Lindelof-style. Even if the question’s more important than the answer, there’s a fine line between creating intrigue through ambiguity and laziness. Some of these answers fall into the latter category.

Fortunately, I can forgive it somewhat because the Star Wars franchise is coded with laziness and false-leads. The initial cut of the original film was a mess, saved at the last-second by rush-edits and decisions. The sequel’s original script was trashed, with a new director, the late-Irving Kershner, replacing George Lucas in the end. The trilogy’s finale, arguably its worst entry, had plenty of padding and two anticlimactic deaths, the second being my biggest gripe as a whole. And the prequels were guilty of many contradictions and retcons, the most-egregious being Midichlorians.

Let’s address Canto Bight. It’s a detour in the film where Finn and Rose are dispatched to find a secret codebreaker at a casino. They end up getting arrested, find another codebreaker in prison and escape on alien horses. They then arrive at The First Order’s flagship destroyer, whereupon the codebreaker betrays them in time for everything to go crazy. It’s a subplot that I like, since it deals with classism, but it’s received the biggest split reaction of everything that people were split on.

I get it: it feels tacked-on. The social commentary about the elites trouncing on the poor feels out of left-field. It distracts from the main story. It goes on for too long. And it ends up being a pointless distraction.

I also get the defence for it. Not only is it thematically in-line with Star Wars in general, it’s also a fun way to explore a new side of the universe’s lore. It also builds Rose and Finn’s characters, and its pointlessness is kinda the point. And given the weird detours Star Wars has gone through in its history, both show and movie-wise, it’s not the most-outlandish part of the mythos either. So I’m cool with it existing.

But I think that, in an attempt to defend it, we mistake the forest for the trees. Star Wars has had some weird detours, Star Wars Ep. VI: Return of the Jedi’s opening act qualifies as one, but they usually lead to something. Canto Bight doesn’t lead to anything until the end of the movie, and that can be jarring for those not patient enough to endure. Also, while not everything needs to be a Rube-Goldberg machine, there’s a difference between breaking conventions because there’s something fun/meaningful to say, and simply diverging from structure because you want to. The former is interesting, the latter, again, lazy, and that’s an important distinction.

That’s really the problem in the discourse surrounding Star Wars: The Last Jedi: there are many points of criticism that are irrelevant, like how Luke failing Kylo Ren is considered to be a flaw, but some of the complaints are, in fact, valid…from a certain point of view. It’s not enough to brush them off as “irrelevant whining”. Especially when they’re not.

Do I love this movie regardless? Yeah. It has its moments of wasted potential, and Carrie Fisher is, once again, underutilized, but more of it clicked than didn’t. And I liked how it was bold enough to try new ideas. But it’s not perfect, and the sooner people recognize that, the better.

I’m also not sure if I liked it more or less than Star Wars: The Force Awakens, but I guess time will tell…

Sunday, December 17, 2017

21st Century Disney? A Post-Mortem

(Note: The following is all based on speculation and personal concerns, and is subject to reflection pending what happens next.)

Last month, I wrote a blog discussing the talks Disney was having with 20th Century Fox to buy their films and TV divisions, the implications behind the deal and what I personally thought. This past Friday, the deal was closed for $52.4 billion. While some people were cheering at the prospects, others were mortified by Disney gaining control of more of Hollywood’s assets. I still remain divided on this, but for the sake of inner-peace, I’ll argue both sides and explain why this is a big deal in hopes of making sure my readers better understand where I’m coming from:


In the 80’s and 90’s, Marvel, now a giant corporation, was on the verge of bankruptcy. In order to help their situation, Marvel comics siphoned off their IPs to different film studios with the intent of making movies. Said siphoning came with a single clause: in order to keep hold of the property indefinitely, the studio had to begin work on a new film every few years. Note that they didn’t have to make the film, but rather begin work on it.

Many of Marvel’s high-profile IPs went to big-budget studios. Fantastic Four, for example, went to a studio that’d later be bought out by 20th Century Fox, while Spider-Man would float around for many years before being grabbed by Sony Pictures. And, of course, The Incredible Hulk went to Universal. This decision saved Marvel from collapsing, but it left them with little of their own in the end.

That didn’t stop Marvel from working with what they had, however. After seeing the frequent misuses of their IPs on the big screen, in 2008, after reclaiming Iron Man and The Incredible Hulk, Marvel began an experiment that’d become known as The MCU. Beginning with Iron Man, they kicked off a shared universe on the big screen, with mostly C-tier superheroes, and made a name for themselves in Hollywood. This was further amped up by Disney purchasing Marvel in 2009 and adding them to their growing arsenal. With their success all but assured, Disney simply had to play the waiting game to gain back all of Marvel’s lost IPs.

But there was a problem: not every studio was willing to co-operate. Some, like Lionsgate, were happy to oblige, seeing no real use in failed IPs, but others, like Universal, would only give up what they had on the condition that they shared profiting or licensing rights. This was how Marvel reclaimed Spider-Man from Sony in 2015, and even now any solo Spider-Man efforts are under the Sony Pictures banner. Yet the biggest thorn in Disney’s side was 20th Century Fox, who stubbornly held onto Fantastic Four (despite four failed movies) and X-Men (a property they had mixed success with.) Disney and Fox were known enemies, with Fox making their acquisition of Star Wars in 2012 a living nightmare, so reclaiming these properties seemed like nothing but a distant dream in the eyes of Marvel fans…until now.

The one upside to this deal is, as I mentioned, a full acquisition of Marvel’s properties. Finally, after decades, Marvel’s complete! Fantastic Four has a shot at a good movie now! X-Men can appear in The MCU! It’s like I said last time: think of the possibilities.

But even outside of that, Disney can now use Fox’s IPs in any way they so desire: want to finally make Avatar the franchise Disney’s clearly wanted since they opened up their theme park? It can happen. Want to reboot the Alien, Predator, Terminator and Die Hard franchises properly? It can happen. And with The Simpsons being well-past its prime, having gone on for 28 seasons, perhaps it’ll finally be cancelled? Who knows?

What’s best is, on a purely theoretical level, the amount of creative freedom Disney’s giving these properties and the results they’ve received because of that. The Muppets has seen a renaissance under their rule following two successful films this decade. Disney’s Marvel and Star Wars divisions have really shone, with Star Wars getting a second-life following the reception of The Prequels. And with the announcement that Deadpool 2 will get to keep its R-rating, this looks to be a deal with no losses on paper!


All of this is hunky-dory, but at what cost?

Keep in mind two points: first, this wasn’t a cash deal, but a stocks deal. That $52.4 billion was all in shares of the Fox enterprise. And now that Disney owns the film rights to its biggest competitor, this makes for some really shady investing considering that Disney was on the verge of bankruptcy 30 years ago.

Remember, Disney’s not infallible. They’ve made big mistakes, and I’d argue that their streaming service they’re set to launch next year will be another one. It’s easy to assume that Disney’s untouchable, especially given their record profits these last few years, but they could crash-and-burn if they’re not careful. Pride goeth before a fall, after all!

On a deeper level, this also reeks of anti-competitive practices. We bemoan big corporations running Hollywood, but the diversity of studio output allows for healthy competition and creative options. Art never works well under unfair monopolies. As so do big corporations, since they never feel a need to expand their horizons and challenge themselves.

This is something I don’t think fans are aware of. True, X-Men was always a Marvel property, but while it’d had its ups and downs under Fox, it was going in unique directions that Disney wouldn’t take. An ambitious film like X-Men: Days of Future Past would’ve never flown with Disney, nor would small-scale ventures like Logan or Deadpool. They wouldn’t be acceptable under the family-friendly reputation Disney’s made for themselves. And that’s important to note in a superhero market like the one currently dominating Hollywood.

It also bothers me because Disney’s now one step closer to owning everything in Hollywood and charging more for consumer to watch movies. Films are already expensive enough as is, I don’t need to pay any more than I already do. Yet I might have to, and that worries me.

Essentially, this is greed at its finest. I can appreciate Marvel owning Fantastic Four, as Lord knows the IP was struggling, and X-Men being back at Disney is fine, if not a little disappointing creatively. But owning all of 20th Century Fox’s IPs? Isn’t that a bit much? Isn’t that a bit scary?

Still, I’m willing to be proven wrong, so who knows?

Sunday, December 3, 2017

Stranger Things and 80'stalgia

I have no affection for the 80’s. Aside from having been born in 1990, I think people are so caught up by the Cold War paranoia and constant frustrations of Reagan-era policies that any sincere love for the decade is soured by how crappy it was to grow up then. I also think its films, which people hold in high-regard, have largely aged awkwardly, with its weird blend of timelessness and edgy causing most of its output to feel either outdated (Ghostbusters), blatantly-offensive (Revenge of the Nerds, Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom), or over-compensatory for lacklustre storytelling (Labyrinth, The Dark Crystal). And sure, there are some real gems, like Robocop and E.T.: The Extra Terrestrial, but not enough to fangasm. Especially now that 80’s nostalgia is permeating film culture like a curse.

So it’s curious that I was sold on Stranger Things, especially since the series thrives on its love of the 80’s. I’d heard plenty of praise from friends and family, but being a love letter to a decade I couldn’t relate to made me skeptical. Still, I gave it a shot and watched Season 1. That it delivered was impressive on its own, but that it delivered in ways I never thought it would was even more so. I’d even argue that this makes me excited for my inevitable Season 2 viewing, but I’m getting ahead of myself.

Stranger Things begins on an evening in 1983. After four friends depart from their Dungeons and Dragons campaign, one of them, Will Myers, is attacked by a monster and vanishes. Around the same time, a psychic, dubbed Eleven, escapes from a lab and runs into Will’s friends. Initially hoping to use Eleven’s powers to find Will, these friends, Mike, Lucas and Dustin, discover something sinister and disturbing that connects her to Will’s captor. The situation becomes more complicated when Mike’s older sister, Nancy, gets involved, reaching a head when the protagonists realize what they’ve stepped into. I’d give away more, but it’s densely-packed and I don’t want to ruin the show.

On the outset, Stranger Things feels like a typical Netflix offering: its budget is cheap, so The Duffer Brothers, for whom this was a passion project, had to get creative. Not a lot of action is shown, the special effects are minimal, many sets are reused and there are long stretches of padded-out conversation. Fortunately, like many low-budget projects that are successful, it works, thanks to strong performances across the board. Special shout-outs to Finn Wolfhard and Millie Bobby Brown as Mike and Eleven. Child actors are hard to get good performances from, and these two make it look easy.

Stranger Things also excels at suspense. The show isn’t exclusively horror, but it does use many of the genre’s trappings to great effect. I especially like its execution of jump-scares. People love giving modern horror crap for its over-reliance on those, but it’s all a matter of how they’re used. To that end, Stranger Things follows the familiar patterns of suspense, build-up and payoff to make these scares work, something badly-made horror films should take notes from. The show also uses that pattern to make its thriller components work, but given how thrillers and horror often go hand-in-hand…

[Insert jump-scare here]

Stranger Things has a love for 70’s and 80’s film. It incorporates elements from the greats, like Jaws, E.T.: The Extra Terrestrial and Alien, but it doesn’t do so in a way that feels cheap or pandering. Much like the Daniel Craig James Bond films, Stranger Things’s goal isn’t to bonk you over-the-head, but rather reference in subtle and subdued ways. This allows die-hard 80’s fans to appreciate the references, while those unfamiliar with these references can enjoy a well-written show. I definitely appreciate that.

It’s also for the best, as Stranger Things, like YouTube user Mother’s Basement pointed out, does the 80’s better than many 80’s films. Its timeless feel feels relevant now, unlike many 80’s films being dated, and its dark edge isn’t cheap or over-compensatory. That’s not to say it doesn’t fall back on Reagan-era paranoia, as it does, but even then it feels welcomed because it amounts to something significant. Stranger Things is truly the best kind of 80’s love-letter for someone who doesn’t care much for the 80’s. Because I don’t, and I love it.

Stranger Things does occasionally stumble, however. Ignoring occasional cracks in its production design, the show revels in instances of homophobia and sexism. I understand the intent, given how people talked then, but it can be jarring in 2017. The show also feels a bit slow and disjointed in its attempts to wrap up four plotlines in 8 episodes, forcing you to stay to the end and punishing you for getting distracted. In those two areas, Stranger Things could use work.

But that doesn’t distract from the show’s strengths. After all, this is a series seeped in the best of the 80’s. It’s got the creepiness of the best horror, and the quirky irreverence of the best drama. It’s an “80’s movie” for Netflix in 2017, but it knows its audience well and can be enjoyed by people who both grew up in the 80’s or didn’t grow up in the 80’s. As someone who fits the latter category, I can respect that.

Now then, I’m curious if the second season is as good as the first…

Wednesday, November 22, 2017

The Hollywood Washing Machine

Being a minority can be frustrating when it comes to proper representation in society.

Take me, for example: the most obvious characteristic people notice is my tics. The questions I’ve been asked, whether it’s if I have epilepsy, or if my face is okay, are perturbing, but after over a decade I’ve come to peace with that. Once you get to know me better, however, you pick up on the social barriers of Asperger’s Syndrome/Autism, as well as the heightened insecurity of anxiety, OCD and ADHD. Add in that I wear a yarmulke, a sign that I’m Jewish, and you have a recipe for trivial jokes, most of them pretty awful and not funny.

I mention this in light of a recent documentary, one that’s been circulating for a while, yet I can’t view because I’m Canadian. Enter Hari Kondabolu, an Indian-American (from the real India) who’s taken on a beloved character from The Simpsons. Kondabolu loves the show, yet he’s never sat comfortably knowing that everyone’s favourite convenience store clerk, Apu Nahasapeemapetilon, is played by Hank Azaria, a “white man”. And, what’s worse, he’s a racist stereotype. Ignoring that Azaria’s actually Sephardic Jewish, more on that later, that’s something you wouldn’t think about unless it were pointed out.

Kondabolu’s stance on Apu has sparked a backlash, with detractors calling him a “liberal, cuck, social justice warrior snowflake who needs to get over it and whine in his safe space”. He even mentions this in the trailer of his documentary, stating that he has gotten over it for the longest time, yet can’t anymore. Considering the recent surge in respectful, Indian-American representation, Kondabolu feels it’s time to shed light on why Apu’s an example of Hollywood brownface.

I can relate. As a Jew, it upsets me how frequently Jewface is used in subtle ways in the mainstream. Jews in Hollywood are frequently confined to nerdy and entrepreneurial roles. Jews in politics are often slammed by conservatives for being socialists, while liberals shun them for excelling at the capitalist system. Jews in world politics face unfair castigation for being Zionists, stating that they’re “ethnic cleansers of Palestinians” without getting the full and nuanced story. And Jews in media haven’t gotten over their stigma of being “inheritors of white privilege”, which ignores that this is recent, easily-revoked and how Jews are too diverse to really be “white”.

I haven’t even covered my disabilities. Because that’s a whole other can of worms! Not only do disabled roles go to able-bodied individuals, but they’re riddled with inaccuracies and over-romanticized attributes. At worst, they’re even portrayed as helpless and incapable of taking care of themselves, or smug jerks who lack empathy. That I understand Kondabolu’s point is eerie, and that I actually agree is even more so.

That said, I want to prod Kondabolu a bit. Not because I’m a jerk, but because there are a few points that deserve clarity and/or defence. For one, Hank Azaria isn’t white. This is a misconception that frequently gets tossed around about Jews, even Ashkenazi ones. Jews, firstly, have been around longer than the concept of race theory. Additionally, Wilhelm Marr, the inventor of modern-Antisemitism, wouldn’t have considered them white. I know that second point is a bit flimsy, but given how white-supremacists still abide by Marr’s principles when it comes to Jews, well…it’s fair game.

Two, while we’re on the subject, Hank Azaria wouldn’t be white even if he weren’t Jewish. His parents are of Spanish/Middle Eastern decent, so he has more in-common with Iraqis and Spaniards than traditional, white Europeans. It might seem trivial to play semantics here on some level, but racial politics and identity politics often go hand-in-hand. I’m playing by everyone else’s rules, after all!

Three, Kondabolu shouldn’t only be going after Apu. He should go after Azaria’s other roles in The Simpsons too, including Akira and Bumblebee Man. I know it’s unfair to assume that of him, but he needs to play fair. The Simpsons has whitewashed many different minorities, most of whom were voiced by Azaria. (Then again, you have to pick-and-choose your battles.)

Four, hate the game too! Entertainment’s riddled with whitewashing almost-consistently, to the point where it’s become a running joke. Sure, we don’t do it as much in live-action anymore, but animation? It’s everywhere! Even Avatar: The Last Airbender, arguably my favourite show, has instances of subtle whitewashing with its casting! You wouldn’t notice it from the get-go, but it’s there.

And five, I don’t think whitewashing alone is the issue. I take offence to able-bodied individuals embracing disabled characters, but I’m less-offended by Sally Hawkins playing a mute in The Shape of Water than Jim Parsons playing an Autistic savant in The Big Bang Theory. I could also be a tad biased, knowing how Autism should function, but Eliza appears to be better-written than Sheldon Cooper. She has agency, a character and general respect for those around her, while Sheldon’s narcissistic, self-obsessed and blatantly-sexist/condescending. Both aren’t ideal, but one’s at least respectful.

What it really comes down to is, in a word, discourse. I know I’m one guy in a world of many, but for as much as I appreciate art despite its flaws, I similarly appreciate thoughtful discourse with marginalized groups. It’s not always easy, and sometimes I feel like my own struggles go on deaf ears, but it’s important. It’s important because it lets concerns be known, and it’s important because it challenges preconceived notions. But, most-importantly, it’s important because it offers perspective. And we could always use some more of that.

Also, people really need to stop with the “SJW snowflake” nonsense. Not only is it unhelpful, but it’s extremely hypocritical to turn around and get offended when the tables are turned.

Thursday, November 16, 2017

Casting Ouch! On Hollywood and Sexual Predators...

(Apologies in advance for the roughness of this piece, but I figured that something raw and heartfelt was better than something more polished and mechanical.)

Geez! And I thought politics was a circus…

I’m sure I don’t need to elaborate on the current surfacing of rape/harassment accusations that are flooding pretty much every area of work ever. It’s been on the news constantly since the floodgates on Harvey Weinstein broke about a month ago. And while some could argue that this should’ve been happening sooner, I’m glad that it’s at least being acknowledged in large numbers that’s there a serious power imbalance. But that discussion is a rabbit hole I’m not an expert in, so I’ll leave that to the psychologists and victims to share. In other words, not important right now.

I was originally not gonna discuss this on my blog. Firstly, despite having my own story of assault (small as it may be) to share, I’m not sure I could really do something this terrifying and dark justice. And secondly, I’ve always tried to judge art outside of its behind-the-scenes nonsense on principle, so this really spit in the face of that. But the allegations moved from Weinstein to more respectable individuals like Kevin Spacey and Louis CK, so it seemed almost inevitable. I finally caved once George Takei was revealed to be a predator, since I happen to really admire Takei’s advocacy work for the gay and Asian-American communities, and now my sorrow’s being shared with you. Welcome to my pain.

Allow me to clear a few misconceptions up: one, sexual harassment and assault being rampant in Hollywood shouldn’t surprise anyone, especially men. Hollywood, despite touting itself as being “progressive” on a face level, is actually regressive in certain respects. Many of its big kahunas are pretty traditionally-mined conservatives, valuing money over dignity, and they’ll stop at nothing to obtain that precious green. Its stars, whom are incredibly-diverse and often insular, aren’t much different, with some of them even being bred into acting royalty from childhood/acting families. This isn’t to say that all of them are like this, but a lot of actors and actresses are, to put it bluntly, kinda spoiled. When you put that all together, it’s amazing what goes on behind closed-doors that we never hear about.

Two, rape culture is a serious problem that’s been going on for eons. We may not have started talking about it until fairly-recently, but it’s always been there. Women had learned not to talk about it in public, even, for fear of ostracizing and shame, especially if the perpetrator in question had power and influence, but it was there. And Hollywood, an incredibly insular industry, was especially guilty of it. It’s been so guilty of sexual abuse that there was even a code-word for it, one that porn has lovingly parodied on numerous occasions: the casting couch. If a woman wanted to get far in her career, then the casting couch was a great way for that to happen…even if it meant enduring acts that she didn’t want to endure in the first place.

Three, sexual abuse isn’t about sex. It never has been, and it never will be. I remember hearing a statistic that only 50% of rapists have erections during rape, and I’m assuming that sexual assault isn’t much better. Sexual abuse, like any other form of abuse, is about power and control. The power that one has, and the control that individual has over someone else. Therefore, chalking this up to “biological urges”, while cute in theory, doesn’t cut it. At all.

Four, that all of these allegations are against male predators doesn’t mean that society’s suddenly condemning men altogether. That’s not true. I’m a man, and I don’t feel like my manhood’s being threatened in the slightest by these stories that are coming out about “Hollywood’s biggest and brightest”. I’m actually relieved knowing that we’re discussing this sort of stuff, even if it’s a bit late, as it means that we’re putting our unrealistic expectations of our celebrity heroes in-check. In some cases, it’s also the only way for us to heal from this mess, irrespective of how deep the rabbit hole goes. It’s also somewhat ironic that our fickle celebrities are taking more accountability for their actions than our serious leaders, but politicians never take accountability for anything.

And five, this isn’t the time to be shaming individuals for not coming out sooner. Victims are victims for a reason, and the aftermath of abuse and rape can often be hard to cope with. I’m no expert in this area, but I can assure you that for every story that’s being shared, there are plenty more that aren’t being discussed at all. Simply speaking up at all takes courage, and that’s something to commend and applaud. It’s not something to shun and shame, though given that our attitudes toward victims is still pretty negative, it’s gonna take a lot of retraining to get this to change for the better.

I’m not sure how else to say this. It’s scary to think how dangerous and irresponsible we can be when drunk with power. All I can suggest is that we listen to the victims, punish the predators and hope for the best. In any field, not only Hollywood. Because that’s the only way we’re gonna fix this for the better.

I’ll be heartbroken regardless if Tom Hanks turns out to be a predator too. Because even I need something to hold onto every-so-often, people!

Tuesday, November 7, 2017

21st Century Disney?

Oh boy!

It seems like Disney’s trying to rule the world these days. It was only 30 years ago that, honestly, they were barely making ends meet. Now look at them: they’re a multi-billion dollar entity, absorbing everything they can get their hands on. Whether it’s their acquisition of The Jim Henson Company in the early-2000’s, their purchase of Marvel in 2009, their purchase of Star Wars in 2012, or their more-recent purchase of Indiana Jones, it’s like someone forgot to tell The House of Mouse to finish what’s on their plate before getting more food. Or, if someone has told them, they’re too busy being gluttonous to care!

I mention this in light of a recent development that broke. There’ve been many takes on it since, but it’s only fair to see the source: CNBC.
"21st Century Fox has been holding talks to sell most of the company to Walt Disney Co., leaving behind a media company tightly focused on news and sports, according to people familiar with the situation.”
To quote John Oliver from Last Week Tonight: HOLY SHIT!

This is a big deal. It’s a big deal because Disney’s a film-giant powerhouse in Hollywood, and it’s a big deal because Disney and 21st Century Fox are enemies in the world of film. To put it into perspective, when Disney purchased LucasFilm from George Lucas in 2012, for a mere $4 billion, 21st Century Fox held onto the unedited versions of the original films and immediately cancelled Star Wars: The Clone Wars out of spite. Fox has also stubbornly kept hold of the X-Men and Fantastic Four IPs, rushing out Fant4stic in 2015 to mess with Marvel’s ambitions of reacquiring all of its properties. So to see Fox talking to Disney, well…it’s huge.

Before we get carried away, allow me to clear something up. The big misconception is that this is official. It’s not; in fact, CNBC even mentions that “there is no certainty” that a deal has been agreed to yet. It’s still a big deal, but let’s not jump the gun. There’ll be plenty of time for that later.

I’m torn on this news. On one hand, this is exciting for film fans. Think of what this could mean: Fantastic Four getting a decent movie in The MCU! X-Men also joining The MCU! Disney getting The Planet of the Apes franchise! And, after years of begging, the unedited versions of the original Star Wars films can finally be ours in crisp-clear 4K! It’s a win for Disney!

On the other hand, I’m a little concerned, for a few reasons. For one, Fox is in serious trouble financially if this is happening. You might say that this a long time coming, but it’s sad that a studio in Hollywood is desperate enough that it’d come crawling to its rival for help. The implications are troubling if this is the case.

Two, Disney shouldn’t have a monopoly on film. I know they’re doing quite well for themselves at the moment, but I want them to continue to innovate too. History has shown that companies become complacent when they’re in the lead, and it’s especially bad when they have a monopoly. We always rail on companies like Fox for rehashing success stories, but their presence keeps Disney in-check.

Three, Disney won’t always be in top-form. They are now, but even as recent as the early-2000’s they were struggling. There was a time when their own animation studio was trying to stay afloat amidst the competition of Pixar and Dreamworks, and it showed in their output. Disney, in a nutshell, can always fail again. So to place all their eggs in one basket isn’t smart.

And four, I can’t help feeling like Disney’s biting off more than they can chew. This is the same corporation that’s launching two streaming services next year to compete with Netflix. This is the same corporation that also got itself into hot water this week with their decision to revoke The LA Times’s screening passes for future movies after they reported on one of their dirty secrets. Disney might be a giant, but they’re not infallible.

Besides, I feel uncomfortable with Disney owning everything. I can deal with The Muppets, Star Wars and Marvel being in their grasp, since they’ve done great stuff with all three, and Indiana Jones isn’t far-fetched either. But what would they do with X-Men that Fox hasn’t already done? Can they churn out an epic trilogy on-par with the recent Planet of the Apes movies? And if they ended up in control of Fantastic Four, something I’d be happy about, where would they take the IP?

I don’t mean to slam Disney. I like Disney. I don’t love them, but I like them. I like them enough to understand that they shouldn’t own everything simply because they can. That’s not success, it’s greed. And Lord knows we already have enough of that.

Still, like I said, the decision isn’t final yet, so there’s time to see what unfolds. Either way, I’m unimpressed, even though this appeals to my inner-film fan.

Tuesday, October 31, 2017

Trauma Town-5 Moments that Scarred Me as a Child

Ah, Halloween! A holiday I used to celebrate, but not anymore. I know it’s a cop-out to say that, as it detracts from the fun of the holiday, but I’ve kinda grown out of terrorizing people for candy. Plus, the concept of dressing up exists in Purim, a day dedicated to giving and not taking. So yeah, not a fan.

That said, I’m game for this trend that’s been floating around the internet since the Summer, in which people list traumatic moments in entertainment that scarred them as children. I know I’m late to the party, but seeing as it’s Halloween, and I’m ready to jump on the trend bandwagon, I figured why not? I have several moments that perturbed me growing up in the 90’s, and I guess I can share 5 of them with you all. You ready?

(Also, spoilers!)

Beginning this list is a moment that hasn’t aged well. Like, at all. Remember that really “beloved” Pokémon show that’s still going strong? Remember when said show had its first movie, and the hype was everywhere? I do, and I even dragged my uninterested mother to the theatre for it. I think it might’ve even been a birthday present, come to think of it…

Either way, I remember the film being pretty dark and scary at a few points, most-notably when Pikachu’s running from those shadow balls Mewtwo used to capture the Pokémon of the guests he’d invited to his sanctuary. But the moment that hit the hardest came in the film’s climax. I’m sure you know where I’m going with this, but it’s the scene where Ash intervenes in a match between Mewtwo and Mew because he can’t take their senseless fighting anymore. He stupidly runs in-between their attacks, gets hit by them and turns to stone. Pikachu tries shocking him back to life, but when that doesn’t work, well…he starts crying.

This scene got to me for the longest time. For one, despite being a reckless idiot, I liked Ash as a kid. Two, he looked like he was gone for good. And three, seeing Pikachu attempt to revive him unsuccessfully, then cry, was heart-breaking. It got to the point where I couldn’t watch the scene for years without bursting into tears myself. Of course, it’s stupid in hindsight, especially since Ash is revived with the power of Pokémon tears, but I was 9 years old.

Transitioning to an entry that’s aged much better, I can’t discuss Pokémon without mentioning Digimon. Digimon has plenty of traumatic moments throughout its first four seasons, most of them being, obviously, in Season 3 (Digimon Tamers for those outside of North America.) However, for nostalgic purposes, I’m sticking to Digimon Adventure, and its Myotismon Arc. Specifically, Episode 37, “Wizardmon’s Gift”, and its one moment that destroyed me. Even after the first season had ended its syndication, I went out to buy the VHS collection that featured this episode so I could prove that this was actually scary. Call me a masochist, perhaps.

The moment comes when The Digidestined are battling Myotismon atop the tower. Myotismon clearly has the upper-hand, being an Ultimate, and his only real opponent is Angemon. Even then, Angemon can only bruise him, not defeat him. With the kids’ Digimon unable to take him down, Myotismon plays dirty and aims an attack at Kari, who’s stuck at the sidelines and unable to join in the fight with Gatomon. It’s here that the wounded Wizardmon jumps in and takes the full blast. It kills him instantly, to the shock of Kari and Gatomon.

What makes this moment traumatic is that, similar to Pokémon: The First Movie and Ash, Wizardmon was a character I’d grown to love and care about. What makes this moment even more traumatic than Ash is that his death isn’t a fake-out. The reason is that the show had made it clear that Digimon who die outside of The Digital World don’t reincarnate as eggs, but rather stay dead. That this happened to Wizardmon, who was built up as a hero, made his death even more terrifying. Add in the music in the English dub, which was actually fitting for once, and you’re left with 9 year-old me scared pants-less.

Moving to Western animation, because I grew up on a diet of good and bad, Pixar had plenty of nightmare fuel when I was growing up. There were many terrifying and traumatic moments in their early works, and they all scarred me in some way, shape or form. Monsters, Inc., for example, had that heartbreakingly terrifying moment where Sully showed off his scream, not realizing that Boo was right there and got the full brunt. Finding Nemo was packed with scary moments, like when Bruce got a whiff of Dory’s blood and went on a rampage. And while I never saw the movie in its entirety until teenage-hood, anything involving that bird in A Bug’s Life scared me to no end.

However, I have to go with Toy Story here. I was the prime age for this movie when it released, so I was excited by toys coming to life when their owners weren’t around. I got so sucked in that witnessing one of them get blown up by child psychopath Sid was horrid on its own. As I watched that poor army soldier, complete with rocket attached to its back, get blasted to smithereens, all-the-while Sid laughing maniacally, I shrank in my seat. True, the soldier never actually was shown exploding, because kid’s film, but with the debris flying in the air, well…y’know.

This moment was so etched in my 5 year-old mind that whenever I saw the movie afterward, be it on VHS or TV, I’d get uncomfortable when it came up. Even now, as the movie’s visuals themselves have aged terribly, that scene is chilling. And yeah, it’s a movie, so it's not exactly real. But it’s pretty traumatizing regardless. (That poor soldier… *Sniff*)

Speaking of which, we can’t forget Disney, the master of childhood nightmare fuel, can we? There’s a lot to choose from, be it the Pink Elephants scene in Dumbo, the Chernabog skit in Fantasia or Shere Khan ripping Baloo to shreds in The Jungle Book, if I’m only considering the old classics. Even in The Disney Renaissance, you had Gaston fighting The Beast in Beauty and the Beast and the entirety of The Hunchback of Notre Dame, the latter of which I remember leaving the theatre because it was too scary. Still, I was initially gonna have The Cave of Wonders collapsing in Aladdin as my choice, but I chose not to at the last-second. It freaks me out even today, but this spot belongs to Ariel’s voice being taken away in The Little Mermaid.

I had a soft-spot for The Little Mermaid for years, to the point where my shock that it doesn’t fully hold-up actually scarred me in its own right. But “Poor Unfortunate Souls” hasn’t aged a day. Nor has the song’s conclusion, in which Ariel’s gasping for air with her new lungs, all-the-while Ursula’s laughing in the background, as she swims to the surface. I wasn’t a great swimmer when I was younger, so seeing the heroine nearly drown made me self-conscious. It eventually got better when she gasped for air for the first time, but that struggle, when mixed with the suspenseful music, was a nail-biter!

I guess, as a runner-up, I’d include King Triton blowing up Ariel’s collection with his trident. That’s pretty scary on its own, but it’s been knocked down over time because: a. I sympathize with Triton as an adult. b. Triton’s shown to have remorse afterward. c. It’s a cheap set-up for Ariel’s lowest point, and she immediately heads to Usrula following that. Ariel losing her voice, on the other hand, still creeps me out now.

In keeping with Disney nightmare fuel, I saved the best for last. Everyone loves The Lion King, or at least respects it. It’s easy to see why, as its ambitions are equally-matched by its storytelling. It may be easy nowadays to point out its most-obvious plot-hole, which occurs during its third-act confrontation with Scar, but no one can deny its most-famous scene. You all know what I’m referring to.

The worst part about the stampede is that, as a 4 year-old in theatres, I had no idea what was going on initially. The song about murdering Mufasa, for some reason, had eluded me. So seeing this moment, where an entire stampede of antelope nearly runs Simba over, came out of nowhere. I honestly thought Simba caused it himself by accident, hence being badly-traumatized by the time it was over and saw Mufasa’s dead body. That alone was enough to give me nightmares.

This moment gets the top spot because it hurts even more as an adult. It hurts more because I understand the full-context, and it hurts more because I appreciate why Simba was tricked. But, most-importantly, it hurts more because it highlights how evil Scar is, driving home the central conflict. It’s not even the saddest Disney moment I’ve ever seen, Dumbo being cradled by his caged mother is, but it’s definitely the scariest. That alone makes it worthy of the top spot.

So there you have it: 5 moments in TV and film that traumatized me as a child. Let me know what your choices are, if you have any, and have a spooky/fun Halloween.