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have largely aged awkwardly, with its weird blend of timelessness and edgy causing most of its output to feel either outdated (Ghostbusters), blatantly-offensive (Revenge of the Nerds, Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom), or over-compensatory for lacklustre storytelling (Labyrinth,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.

Sunday, October 22, 2017

The Copycat Cinematic Universe

*Sigh* Here we go again!

I often feel like I’m dancing in circles over The MCU, as if it’s a personal lifeblood. It’s irksome because, despite my constant defence of the franchise, I’m not its biggest fanboy. I enjoy what it has to offer, but, save Iron Man, none of the movies have transcended a 4/5 on my personal enjoyment scale. So frequently seeing people argue how it’s “destroying film” or “mediocre entertainment”, only to present weak or easily-rebuffed arguments in favour of their positions, is tiring. And, to be frank, I’m tired of responding.

However, for the sake of trying to extrapolate writing ideas, and because The Whitly-Verse hasn’t seen an entry for a month, I’ll do it again:

… (Courtesy of The Unintentional Fallacy.)

I’d like to apologize for getting to this video 5 months late. I subconsciously mark video essays calling Marvel movies a “problem” with red flags, so I usually avoid them like a plague unless I’m desperate. But there can be no holding back how pretentious I think the video is. I think it’s pretentious because it assumes, like most detractors, that MCU movies are solely created with the intent to pander for money, completely ignoring that they almost all function as films, and I think it’s pretentious because it assumes that said films don’t inspire individuals to be creative. I also think it’s pretentious because it assumes that Star Wars, a franchise the essayist holds in high-regard, wasn’t made for intertextuality, even though George Lucas acknowledged inspiration from Akira Kurosawa and the Flash Gordon serials of the early-20th Century.

However, the one area this video missed the mark in is in its insistence, perhaps indirectly, that Marvel’s responsible for the corporate, franchise-based model that modern-Hollywood’s vapidly abusing. Because it’s not. It’s not Marvel’s fault that Hollywood’s mimicking its formula without understanding why it worked. It’s also not Marvel’s fault that The MCU’s successful enough to warrant shameless copycats. And it’s not even close to Marvel’s fault that the films are adored by moviegoers, yet their imitators aren’t. How do I know this?

Because I’m a moviegoer.

I’m not much of a comic reader. I’ve read the odd issue here-and-there, and there are definitely stand-outs that I own, but for the most part it’s never been a medium I’d spend hundreds of dollars on a regular basis. Comics, despite being interesting, don’t fancy my interest. And Marvel Comics, a brand that’s been around for over 50 years, is guilty of constant interlocking and continuity nods spanning so far back that knowing where to start would give me a headache.

I am, however, a film fan. I enjoy some genres less than others, but I’m open to anything so long as it looks good. And The MCU, for all of its continuity nods and winks, captures my fancy because it deals with superheroes, whom I happen to really like and admire. Plus, the franchise can draw-and-pull from the best of the archives while ignoring the garbage. Captain America: Civil War, for example, drew from a largely-maligned event series, yet it was praised because it knew which ideas to keep and which to discard. That’s a luxury that film’s entitled as a medium.

This is why I respect Marvel despite not loving them. I also mention this to springboard from the above video on how Marvel’s opened the door for low-strung imitators that miss why they’ve been so successful. Not that some of them aren’t entertaining, I enjoyed Star Trek into Darkness and Spectre despite both being completely ludicrous, but when they mimic The MCU without knowing why it works-its commitment to characters and story-then whose fault is that? If the smartest kid in class inspires lazy copycats, would you criticize the kid for being smart, or the copycats for being lazy?

This is why the video bugs me so much: it claims the franchise is responsible for a corporate attitude toward filmmaking, all-the-while not recognizing the bigger issue of laziness. Is it a problem that so many franchises are attempting half-baked MCU replicas? Absolutely. Will it kill the film industry? Maybe. But is it solely The MCU’s responsibility? Absolutely not. Because Hollywood has always run after trends in an attempt to make quick money, not realizing until it’s too late.

Also, digging into the essayist’s reverence for Star Wars, keep in mind that there was resistance to that franchise in its early days too. The older crowd of critics doomed it as the “death of filmmaking”, and the franchise’s most-beloved entry, Star Wars Ep. V: The Empire Strikes Back, was met with lukewarm responses from many respected tabloids of the time. We look fondly on it now, but hindsight’s 20/20. Not to mention, Star Wars inspired its share of knock-offs too, such that Castle in the Sky, which I adore, wouldn’t exist without it.

I know it’s easy to point fingers at the flavour of the day for “ruining ice cream forever”, but it’s not fair to shirk the blame on populist tastes. Because The MCU isn’t an exercise in vapid entertainment. Could it be better-executed? Yes, but it could also be worse-executed. And until that level of self-awareness is understood by its detractors, then the real issue, a lack of effort from Hollywood, will continue to be ignored. And I think that that’s most harmful.

Monday, September 18, 2017

Sugar and Spicer

I don’t care for The Emmys. Not only do they not tickle my fancy, but I only have patience for one overly-long and portentous awards ceremony (The Oscars) a year. However, because I frequent Twitter, I absorb the snarky, cliff-notes version via everyone else. This year’s ceremony seemed pretty typical: surprises, disappointments and many political jabs at Trump. But there was one surprise that threw everyone off, and not for the right reasons: the inclusion of Sean Spicer.

To recap, Sean Spicer was Donald Trump’s second Director of Communications (he started as Press Secretary). He held the post from June 2nd to July 21st, when he resigned and was replaced by Anthony Scaramucci. Spicer’s legacy was racked with controversy, including a moment when he attacked The Anne Frank Centre. Spicer was so infamously hated that he was openly lampooned by Melissa McCarthy on Saturday Night Live, no doubt a highlight in the latter’s career. In other words, Spicer was the Squealer to Trump’s Napoleon, a fitting comparison given Trump’s authoritarian practices.

I don’t need to say that Sean Spicer was bad news, as it’d be redundant. Yet Spicer appearing on The Emmys is insulting. It’s insulting given what he represents, especially since his legacy stands for everything that The Emmys aren’t. If The Emmys are a celebration of progress and diversity, even if only in theory, then Spicer spits directly on that. He’s the last person I’d want on my show, and I’m disappointed that he was there at all. That the audience thought it was funny that he roasted Trump doesn’t help.

Think about it this way: let’s say a well-known bully came into power running on a campaign of hate. Said bully’s surrounded by a group of like-minded individuals, only to then be picked off one-by-one because they’re no longer deemed fit for service. Now, say one of these individuals is then invited to roast the aforementioned bully. Wouldn’t you be the least bit concerned?

That’s the problem with Sean Spicer. On one hand, you could make the flimsy argument that Spicer wasn’t the mastermind here. He was following orders, and should, therefore, not be held accountable. This is the defence that some people could possibly make for Spicer appearing at The Emmys, citing that his inside knowledge about Trump that could help to “defeat him”.

This is flawed logic for two reasons. Firstly, it’ll take more than Spicer to stop Trump. Trump has slipped by many constitutional violations in his short time as president, including his Muslim ban (which was struck down twice) and his transgender military service ban (which is currently up in the air). He has the backing of the GOP, including GOP leader Mitch McConnell and House Speaker Paul Ryan. His ties to Russian influence have been confirmed on multiple occasions, despite going nowhere. And, lest we forget, he fired FBI director James Comey for openly starting an investigation into said ties to Russia.

In other words, Trump’s gonna be tough to really “take down”. But even outside of that, Spicer’s not innocent. I know this’ll ruffle some feathers, but this same argument of “not being responsible” was used during The Nuremberg Trials by former Nazi officials awaiting execution. The claim of “following orders” was a red herring because Nazi soldiers were considered capable of making their own decisions. Said officials were, therefore, judged on their own merits.

It may not be exactly the same, but Spicer’s still complicit in evil. This is a man who openly claimed that Trump’s inauguration crowd size was purposely doctored to look smaller than Obama’s, despite evidence to the contrary. This is a man who openly called Syrian dictator Bashar al-Assad worse than Adolf Hitler for gassing his own people, despite Hitler having done the same in larger numbers. And this is a man who defended Trump’s decision to bar reporters from The White House during a press conference, which is a clear violation of the right to a free press.

Essentially, Sean Spicer has “blood on his hands”. So for The Emmys to ignore that and invite him anyway, well…that reeks. It’s one scenario when an individual with blood on their hands openly atones and spends years repairing open wounds. That’s not ideal, but if the sincerity’s genuine then I’m sure something can come from it. But Spicer has blood on his hands and has made no attempt at exonerating his guilt. He’s far from repentant, and he has yet to be held accountable. So why is he suddenly being treated like a celebrity?

It’s additionally worrying because Spicer’s part of a system that’s caused a lot of damage in the US. Not only has this system attacked Jews, it’s attacked Muslims, Latinos, blacks, queers, veterans, people with disabilities, the poor, the elderly, immigrants and women of all shades and colours. Trump’s administration has cut funding to programs like Meals on Wheels and Planned Parenthood, programs which have actively helped people in need, and he’s even caused the GDP to start shrinking. If Spicer was a part of this mess, then why’s he now off-the-hook?

I’m also miffed at celebrity culture for allowing this, even if only as comedy. It sure seems nice to have an insider make fun of his former-boss…until you realize that you’re poking fun at others’ suffering. I don’t care what you think of Trump, but others’ suffering is no laughing matter. If we’re really want to help make the US a better country, then this normalized nonsense can’t be tolerated. There has to be a line drawn somewhere.