Aladdin (2019): An Arab-American’s Perspective (Guest Post by Sarah Crickard)

Sarah Crickard is a Catholic wife and mother living among Ohio’s beautiful and infinite cornfields. When she is not working with low-income seniors as a caseworker, she enjoys writing fantasy, sewing, running and posting pictures of her food on Instagram. She is fluent in Arabic and sarcasm. Instagram: @SarahCrickard

Much to my loved one’s annoyance, I have had a very public and long-winded problem with the 1992 Disney movie Aladdin for…ever. So much so that when I finally went to Disneyworld at the tender age of 26 I had to get a picture of myself “fighting” with Jasmine, and my husband truly wondered if I might get us kicked out of the park if and when we ran into that particular princess. It was on the “do not play” list among my middle school and high school friends because they all wanted to avoid having to listen to my analysis of the movie’s many flaws for several hours.

Disney announced their live-action remake of Aladdin, scheduled to come out on my birthday in 2019 (Oh, the irony). I don’t have much time to go to the movies, so I waited for the film to become available for purchase, and bought a digital version to watch at home. And watch it I did…last night. So clearly I have to write up my thoughts right now. I’ll begin with my problems with the original, the 90s version. Once we get those out of the way I can get to raving about how much I loved the remake.

Aladdin is set in the imaginary kingdom of Agrabah. If I had a nickel for every time someone stressed to me that it was an imaginary place, as an excuse for the film’s overall cultural insensitivity…I’d have a lot of nickels. The movie opens with “Arabian Nights“, a musical narration of the setting. The song makes it very clear that this is an Arab country, even if it’s an imaginary Arab country. The song also contains gems like “Where they cut off your ear If they don’t like your face. It’s barbaric, but hey, it’s home.” In Disney’s defense, when the song was poorly received in 1992, they re-released the song without these lyrics, but my family had already purchased the original on VHS and these are the lyrics I, and many, grew up with. 

The song essentially starts off the movie with two points: It’s hot and sandy here because this is the middle east, and the people are barbarians. This, while we are given aerial shots of a very Taj-Mahal-like palace, and women in saris walking the streets. The rest of the movie continues like this with random references to Islam and Arab culture sprinkled throughout in the hopes that no one will notice that what they’re looking at really looks a lot more like India than the Middle East. If Disney set out to make up a fake culture, they utterly failed. What they did end up doing is poorly representing two distinct and rich cultures by mashing them together and portraying them entirely in stereotypes. The 2019 remake also doesn’t seem to distinguish Arab and Indian culture, but I’ll talk about why it’s okay in the remake in a moment.

The issues continue as we meet our two main characters Aladdin and Jasmine. These were supposed to be the Arab prince and princess I could look up to as examples as a young Arab-American girl growing up in a very white mid-west. 

Aladdin, instead, is kind of stupid. He is smart enough to escape the blundering mooks that serve as guards but is immediately bested the moment he faces a semi-competent nemesis in Jafar. In fact, all his victories seem to happen simply because everyone around him got a little stupider while he was there, or because he has a magical servant who can actually snap his fingers and fix it. Aladdin’s arc is simply one of a man who starts off a liar and thief, and then in the last five minutes of the movie learns to tell the truth. This lesson is learned very quickly and without much in the way of consequences. He basically apologizes for lying once and is given a bride (who comes attached to a future kingship). 

Jasmine is even more of a letdown. She’s introduced as some sort of feminist icon, who wants to be free to choose her own future. Her struggle throughout the movie is that she does not want to marry for political gain, but for love. At first pass, this seems good, but if we really think about it, she only reinforces the problems she is facing. She rebels against the notion that she should marry in order to give her kingdom greater security but instead wants to find someone who gives her butterflies. This culminates in her choosing the man who’s been lying to her for the duration of the movie. So she uses her “freedom” to make, arguably, a very silly choice. The 2019 remake addresses both of these characters’ flaws as well as the cultural setting they are living in. 

Aladdin, when we meet him in the 2019 version, is being chased by guards just like in the original. We’re shown immediately that this new Aladdin is able to outrun the guards, not because they are bumbling idiots, but because he’s smart. When he realizes he is going to be caught, he creates a decoy, and promptly escapes in the other direction, leaving the guards puzzling over where he’d gone. Then, he and Jasmine have a discussion about the fact that Abu, Aladdin’s pet monkey, steals indiscriminately, while Aladdin himself only steals what he needs. Jasmine’s bracelet goes missing and she believes Aladdin has lied, although we can see it was really Abu who took it. Aladdin then sets out to return the bracelet and prove he’s not a liar. This, among other things, is a drastic departure from the 1992 Aladdin who really did just steal and lie because he didn’t seem to know any better. Our 2019 Aladdin steals and lies, but he spends the movie grappling with his own greed, eventually choosing the right thing multiple times in the last half of the movie, even when it gets him into worse situations.

Jasmine, too, is much improved. We’re shown that her desire to marry is balanced by a desire to rule. Isolated in the palace, she’s spent her life studying politics and maps. She wants to marry for love, not so that her loving husband can rule her kingdom, but so that she can rule with someone supportive by her side. We are shown that all the men in her life find her annoying. Then Aladdin steps in and believes that she is capable of making good decisions with or without his help. These two character arcs are worlds better than the 1992 version and give us two real people we can struggle and feel with.

The other improvement is the wider setting of the movie. In the 1992 version, we see silly things in the background like “Hakim’s discount fertilizer” a cart of manure that Aladdin flings a guard into. Aladdin also comically injures a sword swallower, snake charmer, and a man on a bed of nails. The cultural notes in the background all serve for comedic moments, and there’s no concern given to what snake charmers, sword swallowers, spice merchants, camels, etc. mean to the people in this culture. 

I’ve been to an Arab Bazar in Bethlehem and it was the single most dazzling experience of my life. This is captured in the 2019 version of “Arabian Nights” which has been rewritten as a celebration of the mingling of Eastern cultures in trade centers. Lyrics like “Where you wander among every culture and tongue. It’s chaotic, but hey, it’s home” the song tells us that this a fantasy land before going on “As you wind through the streets at the fabled bazaars with the cardamom-cluttered stalls. You can smell every spice while you haggle the price of the silks and the satin shawls. Oh, the music that plays as you move through a maze in the haze of your pure delight. You are caught in a dance, you are lost in the trance of another Arabian night.” 

I began to cry (and my husband will attest it takes a lot to make me cry) when the movie opened on these lyrics. I turned to him and said “This. This is a celebration of my part of the world.” “Arabian Nights” is still the musical orientation of the movie’s setting, but this time we’re told that Agraba is a place where cultures come together and mix. It’s an imaginary kingdom where the best of India, the Middle East, and the East, in general, can come together in a dazzling display of human creativity. The movie continues as a showcase of this as we see traditional and modern dancing, spectacular costumes, and beautiful architecture. None of the cultural notes are played for comedy. This is why the 2019 version is able to get away with mixing together cultures. It is a celebration of the East and not a sloppy mockery of it.

I grew up feeling very out of place. I knew from a young age that “Arab” was a large part of my identity, even though, at first glance, I don’t necessarily look like a person of color. In the 90s and then even more so starting in 2001, Arab was not a very popular thing to be. I was proud of my heritage, and I never wanted to be anything else. The problem was showing others that. I often interacted with people who felt I should be apologetic for what I was or at least try to be a little more discrete. I grew up in the habit of being a translator for my family members. I became used to the looks of disgust when someone would tell me, a perfectly ordinary American child, something and I would turn to my grandmother and repeat it in Arabic, then relay the response. It was clear to me from a young age that my hair and skin were too dark, my language sounded too angry, and that my beautiful culture made people uncomfortable.

1992’s Aladdin being Disney’s “Arab movie” only reinforced that we were the wrong sort of people. I have always known this to be untrue, but there’s something especially painful about seeing that lie in technicolor on the big screen. The 2019 remake has taken that lie and transformed it into a celebration, and I for one, am here and ready to party. 

Now excuse me while I rock out to the song Speechless for the hundredth time today. 


Gratitude In the Moment

We’ve all heard how important the practice of gratitude is when it comes to our emotional health. It’s easy to feel grateful when everything feels good and we’ve all made an effort to count our blessings at one point or another. But here’s a perspective of gratitude I don’t think you’ve heard before: Choosing to be grateful in the present. Not just think about the food you have or the clothes that you wear, but gratitude for whatever you’re experiencing right here, right now, even when things don’t go according to plan.

I know it’s sounds a lot easier said than done, especially if you’re going through something you don’t want to wish on anyone else. But how often do we think about the past and what we want to change? How often do we think about the uncertainty of the future? There’s so much in this world that’s outside of our control. Gratitude in the moment puts us right in the present.

You could see it as an extension of mindfulness, being more aware of what’s around you. It can be something as small as being grateful for the weather or the smell of a nearby flower or the sound of the birds. If you’re in a city, pay attention to the architecture of the buildings or whatever catches your eye. These are all things to be grateful for.

One other benefit of being grateful in the moment and mindful of our present surroundings is that, ideally, it compels us to put down our phones and actually pay attention. In spite of everything going on in the world, I sincerely believe we are lucky to be alive right now. I’m not saying the world is perfect, but I think being grateful for where we are right now can help us detach from the endless cycle of online debates and news of things that are out of our control.

Being grateful in the moment is a small drop in the bucket in terms of taking care of ourselves emotionally. Try practicing it today and see if it makes any difference. Put aside all regrets of the past and anxieties of the future. Be here now.

Lover: A Track By Track Review

Everything is Taylor Swift and nothing hurts. This was literally the album I have been waiting for. And I LOVE IT! Taylor’s sixth album, reputation, did grow on me over time. However, Lover ranks up there with 1989 as my favorite album so far!

Time to go into a deep dive, track by track review. Every song will be ranked on a scale of 1-13, 13 being the best.

  1. I Forgot That You Existed: This picks up right where reputation leaves off. Any Swiftie worth their salt knows who this song is about, but I won’t name names cuz Taylor doesn’t! I related to this song as soon as I heard the chorus. It reminds me of that time in my life when I finally let go and forgave the people who put me in a bad state of anxiety for years. I was waiting YEARS for this song! But Taylor is so right. Forgiveness can sometimes be indifference. And I LOVE IT! Favorite lyric: “I forgot that you existed/It isn’t love, it isn’t hate, it’s just indifference.” 12/13
  2. Cruel Summer: This song is a definitely a bop that takes you to Bridge City. Definitely a summer love track with the beat. Think “Blank Space” meets reputation at the beach. It describes falling in love in spite of dealing with hard times. I wouldn’t be surprised if Taylor makes this a single as she has been dropping the title of this song as an Easter Egg in a few places. Definitely like the song, but LOVE the bridge because it captures Drunk Taylor in love! Favorite lyrics: “I don’t wanna keep secrets just to keep you…And I screamed for whatever it’s worth/’I love you.’ Ain’t that the worst thing you ever heard?” 10/13
  3. Lover: Can I slow dance with someone to this song, please? This is such a beautiful 60’s style doo-wop ballad. I can easily see people dancing to this at a wedding or at prom. And the music video captures the story of the album as a whole. Love is shown as imperfect, but it’s still beautiful and worth fighting for. Side note: Can we just appreciate that Taylor FINALLY has someone she can celebrate her birthday and Christmas with? Favorite Lyric: “Ladies and gentlemen, will you please stand?/With every guitar string scar on my hand.” 12/13
  4. The Man: THE SHADE OF THIS SONG! This is definitely a feminist anthem. As harsh as the lyrics sound, I have seen this kind of double standard. Nobody blinks an eye at say, John Mayer or Adam Levine when it comes to their love lives and writing songs about their exes, but Taylor Swift’s dating life has been scrutinized and questioned. I also think this puts the whole Scooter Braun deal in a new light, too. If Taylor was a man, I don’t think Scooter Braun and Scott Borchetta would shortchange her. Favorite Lyrics: “They’d say I hustled, put in the work/They wouldn’t shake their heads and question how much of this I deserve” 12/13
  5. The Archer: This is one of my personal favorites. I loved this song as soon as I heard it. For me, it captures how I feel when I deal with anxiety and how I try to ground myself down. Favorite lyric: “Help me hold onto you.” 13/13
  6. I Think He Knows: Another 60’s style summer love bop. I swear this could be sung by a girl group, especially with the chorus. Postmodern Jukebox, GET ON IT! I can literally dance and skip down the street to this song! (Incidentally, this picture from her Vogue photo shoot comes to mind.) Favorite Lyric: “He got my heartbeat/Skipping down 16th Avenue”13/13
  7. Miss Americana and the Heartbreak Prince: Imagine if “You Belong With Me” transitioned into “Dear John,” blends with “I Know Places, and “Wildest Dreams” and meets the beat of “So It Goes.” The girl in the dress cries the whole way home and finds love in the midst of the scary times of 2016. Basically, this song captures Taylor’s past six albums in four minutes and I LOVE IT. Can there be a music video for this song, please? Favorite lyric: “The whole school is rolling fake dice
    You play stupid games, you win stupid prizes” 13/13
  8. Paper Rings: A throwback to Grease’s “You’re The One That I Want.” I could dance all night to this song. Incidentally, this song personally makes me think of the main characters of one of my WIPs. Yes, this is another 60’s summer love BOP with lots of awesome little details that takes you to Bridge City again. Favorite lyric: “I hate accidents except when we went from friends to this.”
  9. Cornelia Street: This sounds like a sequel to “Delicate” and there’s evidence that ties Delicate to this song. It also has Red vibes with verses that remind me of “State of Grace,” “Holy Ground,” and the autumn aesthetic. Favorite Lyrics: “And baby, I get mystified by how this city screams your name/And baby, I’m so terrified of if you ever walk away/I’d never walk Cornelia Street again.” 12/13
  10. Death By A Thousand Cuts: This is a classic case of lyrical dissonance (sad lyrics, happy beat) a la “The Story of Us.” According to what I gathered, Taylor was inspired by the Netflix film Someone Great. Unfortunately, I never watched that movie. I can see Taylor going crazy on the piano with this, though. I definitely like it, but it’s not one I particularly relate to and I know for sure that it’s not where Taylor is now. Favorite lyric: “You said it was a great love, one for the ages
    But if the story’s over, why am I still writing pages?” 10/13
  11. London Boy: Do I care if this is probably inaccurate to actual London geography? NOPE! Because all I can think of is a British guy I have a crush on with killer cheekbones and how much this reminds me of said hot British man with his blonde Slayer. SPUFFY FANS LISTEN TO THIS STAT! Favorite Lyrics: “He likes my American smile, like a child when our eyes meet/Darling, I fancy you.” 12/13
  12. Soon You’ll Get Better: This tearjerking track throws everyone back to the Fearless era and talks about Andrea Swift’s battle with cancer and Taylor’s fears of possibly losing her mother. The thing is, though, this can apply to dealing with any loved one who’s battling a disease or even losing them. Favorite lyrics: “And I hate to make this all about me/But who am I supposed to talk to?/What am I supposed to do/If there’s no you?” 11/13
  13. False God: Sorry, Taylor, but this is a track I’m skipping. Tying in religious imagery with sex or making your relationship your idol always turns me off, personally. I understand why some people would like this song cuz it kinda throws back to “Don’t Blame Me.” It sounds nice, but the lyrics unfortunately rub me the wrong way. Lyrics I liked: “Hell is when I fight with you/But we can patch it up good/Make confessions and we’re begging for forgiveness.” 5/13
  14. You Need to Calm Down: Taylor’s most blatantly political song aside from “The Man.” Taylor covers a lot of different stuff people deal with in this song and I definitely like the music video. Seriously wish people could stop saying Taylor is anti-Christian, though. Yes, she swings left and she includes anti-gay protestors in the music video here. I don’t agree with all of her politics, but did we just forget that Westboro Baptist Church exists? Favorite Lyrics: “I’ve learned a lesson that stressin’ and obsessin’ ’bout somebody else is no fun/And snakes and stones never broke my bones” 10/13
  15. Afterglow: Taylor hinted in her “Lover” music video that this song ties into “King of My Heart.” And I can hear the connection. This is a relationship making-up song. What comes to mind for me is Spike and Buffy towards the latter end of Season 6 and all of Season 7. This song points out that relationships can fall apart and that Taylor can own up to her mistakes. Favorite lyrics: “I’m the one who burned us down/But it’s not what I meant/I’m sorry that I hurt you.” 11/13
  16. ME!: I loved Taylor’s first single as soon as I watched the video! The aesthetic alone was just beautiful. And I love that it’s an anthem to loving yourself as you are. Favorite Lyric: “I’m the only one of me. Baby, that’s the fun of me.” 12/13
  17. It’s Nice to Have A Friend. Is it just me or does the music sound Chinese/Japanese? I know that steel drums are used, but the song just gives me shojo light novel anime vibes. It’s the most innocent song on the album. No lyrics stand out to me in particular, though. I like it, but I don’t love it. 7/13.
  18. Daylight. As soon as Taylor shared an Instagram picture with the caption: “Step into the daylight and let go,” I knew I would love whatever song the lyrics came from and I was right. This is the song I relate to the most on here. The chorus and the outro are the best parts and, arguably, the most important thing Taylor ever wrote, IMHO. 13/13.

I wanna be defined by the things that I love
Not the things I hate
Not the things that I’m afraid of, I’m afraid of
Not the things that haunt me in the middle of the night
I, I just think that
You are what you love

A Voice From The Dark

Back in my college days, I discovered a website full of reviewers. I went to this website everyday, falling in love with the community that came from such a unique group of people. Unfortunately, that community has fallen apart recently. The content creators have moved on, making their own videos on YouTube. However, there was still a part of me that misses the old camaraderie.

One month ago, Linkara, one of the biggest former content creators of the website I used to love, released a trailer for a project he’d been working on:

Now usually, I’m not into audio dramas. I could never get into Welcome to Nightvale because the show was way too absurd for me. However, the trailer was enough to get me interested. The first episode was released onto YouTube on June 17. I decided to blog about this in order to help promote the audio play.

Right from the start, the story immerses the listener into this creepy, atmospheric haunted house. The premise is simple enough: about a couple dozen content creators have gathered in Scarsdale Mansion for what they assumed would be some kind of escape room style party. Unfortunately, things start to go wrong right away as the house collapses and splits the producers into four different groups. The next few parts of the series unfold a nefarious plot involving some kind of monster called The Voice.

I tend to be picky when it comes to horror. One thing I can say is a benefit of this audio play is that it’s not really that gory. For one thing, it relies solely on pictures of the characters so that you know who’s talking, so there’s no visuals of blood or torture. There’s a room full of corpses that gets mentioned, but that’s about as gory as this story gets. It also plays on a lot of familiar horror tropes, such as the mad scientist, ghosts, and zombies.

What I love most about this audio drama, however, is the added catharsis factor. A lot of grievances get aired and it filled me with bittersweet longing for those happier times. (I’m actually kinda tearing up just thinking about it.) However, I do realize that the catharsis factor is a personal one for me.

With all that said, A Voice From The Dark holds really well on its own and I don’t think you don’t have to know all the details of what happened in order to fully enjoy it. If I was gonna recommend this to someone who had no clue who anyone was, I would say that this audio drama focuses on a group of people who used to work together and suffered from losing their sense of community.

The conclusion to this horrific tale will be uploaded to YouTube tomorrow. Have fun listening, but proceed with caution. You do not want to listen to all of it in the dark with the lights off.

Six: The Musical – The Tudor Ladies Tell Their Tale

Ladies and Gentlemen, from across the pond in London and currently showing in Chicago, we bring you a musical revue where the wives of Henry VIII take the stage!

I love finding new musicals through the Internet. Even though I don’t have an obsession with medieval history and only a vague knowledge of the Tudors, I fell in love at first listen with this album.

The premise of this show is basic: The six wives of King Henry VIII (Catherine of Aragon, Anne Boleyn, Jane Seymour, Anne of Cleves, Catherine Howard, and Catherine Parr) are updated into a modern day all-girl group with each of them having a song about their lives and their marriage. It’s basically Hamilton crossed with Chicago.

Since the musical only just came to the US, I’m gonna give y’all a track-by-track review/analysis.

  1. Ex-Wives: It starts with the famous rhyme “Divorced, Beheaded, Died, Divorced, Beheaded, Survived.” This introduces the six ladies and gives everyone a sneak preview of what each lady is like. This is where all the comparisons to Chicago comes from.
  2. No Way: Catherine of Aragon, a woman of integrity. Her track is basically like if Beyonce collaborated with Gloria Estefan to make a break up track. From what little I know about the actual Catherine of Aragon, I think it captures her spirit quite well.
  3. Don’t Lose Ur Head: This track became very popular through the app Tik Tok. It’s a party girl song with a Brit Pop beat. Anne is an opinionated lady, but her opinions and alleged flirtations with other men led to her eventual beheading. But she is #sorrynotsorry.
  4. Heart of Stone: Jane Seymour’s track is very reminiscent of an Adele song, a heartbreaking ballad about how she will be strong no matter what. The fact that she dies after giving birth to Edward just makes this song even more heartbreaking.
  5. House of Holbein: A Eurovision style track about how Anne of Cleves gets a cosmetic makeover for her portrait. It’s a total mood whiplash after Heart of Stone, but it’s also a great commentary on how women got prettied up back in the days before Photoshop and plastic surgery.
  6. Get Down: First of all, Genesis Lynea sounds exactly like Estelle. (In the very slim chance that Estelle reads this…You need to do a cover of this track!) This track gets compared to female hip hop acts. There’s a bit of Beyonce, a bit of Lady Gaga, a bit of Nicki Minaj, Charlie XCX. It’s a very fun track, capturing the vibes of modern day trap mixed with hip hop and techno.
  7. All You Wanna Do: My inner Britney fangirl is in love with this track. But this “Womanizer” track goes tragic fast because you quickly realize that Katherine Howard was used by men throughout her life all she wants is to be loved for her, not for her body. What REALLY hurts is that there are probably a lot of girls out there who can relate to this.
  8. I Don’t Need Your Love: Catherine Parr was in love with someone before she married Henry and she’s been married twice before. But aside from her marriage, Catherine Parr has her own legacy, writing her own reflections on Scripture (which is actually true). This becomes a bridge to the ending, with all the ladies realizing that they can define themselves separate from their marriage to one man.
  9. Six: The title track and my personal favorite. Taking the sound to modern day pop, the six ex-wives rewrite a happy ending for themselves. Catherine joined a nunnery and became a gospel choir singer. Anne Boleyn remixed “Greensleeves” and now collaborates with Shakespeare (Historically inaccurate given their age difference, but if you imagine an afterlife AU, it works). Jane Seymour gets a huge family and makes a band with them. Anne of Cleves takes up with the artist that painted her portrait and goes on tour in Prussia. Catherine Howard becomes a singer, foregoing the musician who took advantage of her. Catherine Parr brings the band together.

Yes, this musical is a feminist revisionist history thing. But it WORKS. It gives you a glimpse of the lives of the wives beyond how their marriage with Henry ended. They deserved a happier ending and in this musical, they finally get it.

If you live in the Chicago area, Six is currently showing until June 30 at the Chicago Shakespeare Theater. For now, I’m just gonna play this album on repeat!

Cells at Work and the Body of Christ

A popular anime/manga series that swept the internet recently, Cells At Work is basically if Osmosis Jones (and/or Ozzy and Drix for those who remember that show) got an anime upgrade and was written by someone with some serious med school education. The anime has become so popular that fans feel inspired to at least try and take care of their health. Not to mention that the characters were used in a recent ad for blood donation in Japan.

Some fans wonder what kind of world the Cells at Work really is because of how the cells are created and the unusual way that the show portrays diseases such as cancer. The world of Cells at Work is, to quote a video from YouTube “rigidly utilitarian” and some people comment that it borders on a dystopia.

Pump the brakes, otakus. Keep in mind a few things:

1) This show’s characters represent the human body, which functions differently from Western society as a whole.

2) The manga writer/illustrator is Japanese. Sociologically speaking, the Japanese (and Eastern society as a whole) tend to emphasize the collective needs over the individual. (For an example of the cultural difference, watch Crazy Rich Asians.)

3) The best way to reconcile this view is looking at the body of Christ and the Catholic view on how God’s will and mankind’s free will can work together.

“For as in one body we have many parts, and all the parts do not have the same function,  so we, though many, are one body in Christ and individually parts of one another”- Romans 12:5

(There’s also a really long passage from 1 Corinthians 12, but I’ll use the verses as I go along.)

To start with, all the cells in Cells at Work were created with a purpose. It ties into the verse in the first part of 1 Corinthians 12 about spiritual gifts. Every person on Earth, as crazy as this sounds, was given a purpose even before they were born. The cells in this anime were just created knowing their function from early childhood. Sometimes, such in the case of Red Blood Cell aka AE 3803, it takes people a while to do well with their gifts.

AE 3803’s character arc centers on her navigating her way through the body. She gets lost all the time and runs into her share of trouble. Thankfully, she usually has people who help and in one episode, she does manage to make it through the circulatory system all on her own (for the most part). And even though she can be a bit easily distracted, she really came through on the cancer 2-parter when she realizes that something is very wrong and alerts the entire immune system team.

1 Corinthians 12: 22 applies to the adorable platelets (“the parts of the body that seem to be weaker are all the more necessary…”) who seem small and vulnerable, especially since they look like kids and in real life have short lifespans. However, these platelets are very important in repairing the body, healing scrapes and cuts and probably whatever interior damage the body takes. Not to mention, they provide a breath of relief and are adored by a good portion of the fanbase. (They also make a great case for platelet donation.)

One thing fans of the series overlook is that the major characters have a personality and free will to a certain extent. After all, White Blood Cell (aka U-1146) chooses to be friends with AE 3803 even though Killer T Cell discourages the idea. Killer T, however, has his own insecurities, as he has this combative friendship with Helper T cell and a belligerent relationship with NK Cell. Poor Killer T needs to watch his salt intake.

So if all the cells (and by extension all humans) are created with a purpose, how does that explain cancer and the other diseases that harm the body? The nature of sin. Due to original sin, our bodies aren’t created perfectly, so we will be vulnerable to sin from outside forces, just like how the body can be vulnerable to diseases.

Cancer, however, comes from our own bodies. And in the show, the cancer cell was portrayed with a somewhat sympathetic past.

In my opinion, cancer cells represent people who are corrupted by a sin within themselves. In Doctor Ed Hope’s words, cancer is essentially a cellular psychopath. It’s true that there are people who feel like they were born wrong or feel like a mistake and they have to realize that they were created to be good. Unfortunately, due to the nature of sin, some people choose to basically corrupt and destroy the people and the world around them. “If one part suffers, all the parts suffer with it.”

The only way to deal with sin is to fight it and cut it at its root. This is why the scene where the entire body comes together to fight the growing cancer is one of my favorite moments in the whole show. And while the cancer cell may have some sympathetic moments, it crosses the line by trying to destroy the body. In the manga, Cancer Cell makes a scary comeback and even manipulates a Negotiator T Cell into protecting him, taking advantage of an actual blind spot.

If you or someone you know has suffered or even died from cancer, don’t see the Cancer Cell as a symbol of your despair. Cancer is one of those things in this world that doesn’t make sense. It’s hard to understand the nature of evil. We just know it when we see it and all we can do is fight it.

So if you’re into anything relating to the medical field or want a nice anime that’s relatively lighthearted and has some surprisingly deep meanings, check out Cells At Work on vrv or wait for the English dub via Aniplex. And yes, the English dub cast is singing the theme!

Shazam: The Die Hard of the DCEU– A Movie Review

I’m only a casual fan of superhero movies in general, especially the DC movie lineup. I wasn’t really familiar with the character of Shazam beyond snippets of the superhero in shows like Young Justice. So it came as a surprise to me that not only was this movie entertaining and a breath of fresh air compared to the preceding DCEU movies, it had heart and a theme that many Catholics are familiar with: the importance of family and the battle of sin versus virtue.

Also, I’m calling it now: Even though this movie takes a lot of cues from Tom Hanks’s Big, I can already see this movie becoming the Die Hard of the DCEU: An action-packed, somewhat family friendly movie that people will watch as part of their Christmas movie marathon alongside Gremlins and Home Alone.

There’s gonna be spoilers from here on out, so if you just want my two cents, I will say that I highly recommend families see this movie. Just keep in mind that kids younger than, say, 10, might pick up on the bad language and have nightmares for weeks. The director has a background in horror movies and it really shows at times. You have been warned!

Yes, this movie does take place during the Christmas season, which calls into mind the main theme of family. Billy Batson’s main goal throughout the movie is finding his birth mother after the two of them got separated at a carnival. At the same time, he cuts himself off from really connecting with any foster family, including the group home he gets placed into. He would rather look out for number one because to him, as long as he has his mom, he won’t need anything else.

The foster family is awesome, even if I kinda wish they had more screen time so that the bond Billy develops is more believable. The main sibling that Billy connects with is Freddie, the genre-savvy superhero fanboy with a disability. He walks with a modern day crutch a la Tiny Tim. The good news is that he’s not a fragile flower the way Tiny Tim was. Instead, he helps Billy out with figuring out all the Shazam powers.

In the villain corner, we have Dr. Thaddeus Sivana. A lot of critics are saying that his character is unfortunately lacking in depth and I will agree that he doesn’t get any parallel journey the way, say, Killmonger did in Black Panther or even a personal connection with Billy other than knowing the power-granting wizard. However, Dr. Sivana does act as a foil to Billy in a thematic sense. Billy is given the powers of Shazam because he has a pure heart underneath his standoffish demeanor. Also, while Shazam is seen as a hero for the people, Dr. Sivana is literally possessed by the Seven Deadly Sins.

I mentioned before that the director’s background in horror films is alluded to in the movie. The Seven Deadly Sin demons are mostly where it shows. Even though these monsters are CGI and don’t get a lot of screentime, their grotesque, gargoyle-like appearances are the stuff of nightmares.

One thing that gets pointed out towards the third act of the movie is that Dr. Sivana’s primary demon, the one he never lets out, is Envy. Dr. Sivana’s envy is more than just a green-eyed monster. He hates the success of his abusive father and the fact that Billy got the wizard’s powers and seeks their ruin.

The “lively virtue” that combats envy (according to Catholic tradition) is kindness. Billy doesn’t start out as being a kind person all the time. But he’s kind when the situation calls for it, when it matters most. Also, Billy is surrounded by kindness in the form of his foster family. The foster parents unconditionally love him. They’ll discipline him for acting out, but at the same time, they always give him a seat at the dinner table. The siblings also help Billy find his mom.

It only makes sense that the way these demons are defeated is through Billy and his foster siblings. My favorite part of the movie was when Billy shared the wizard’s powers with his family because he trusts them enough to know they can help him fight. It was an awesome sight to see Freddy, Mary, Eugene, and Darla do battle with all the Seven Deadly Sins.

By the end of the movie, kindness wins over envy and Billy finally finds a sense of belonging that he used to push away. It cannot be any more “Christmas” than that aside from having a Nativity play!

Captain Marvel: A Conversion Story (And A Movie Spoiler-Free Review)

Higher. Further. Faster.

This movie is worth the hype. Even though the marketing behind this movie was a bit on the pushy side, causing a lot of political controversy, I am gonna be judging this movie on its own merits.

When I first saw this trailer, I knew this movie would have me the moment that Captain Marvel fell through the roof of a Blockbuster. What I didn’t expect was that this movie was actually a conversion story a la Saint Paul.

Hear me out.

Saint Paul started out fighting on the wrong side of things. Back when he went by the name of Saul, he took his hatred of Christians to the extreme, going on missions to kill innocent people. Those who’ve seen Guardians of the Galaxy and Agents of SHIELD know that the Kree are a bunch of radicals bent on galactic domination and kill anything and everything that won’t bow down to their will. The problem is that the Kree have brainwashed Captain Marvel into becoming their personal living weapon.

When Captain Marvel ends up on Earth, she starts to learn the truth about her past and about the Kree. Once she reconnects with who she really is, she starts fighting for the right side, just like how Paul (once the Truth was revealed to him) became a missionary for Christ.

There are so many wonderful moments I loved in this movie. The first thing I’ll mention are the two, yes two tributes to Stan Lee. Right at the beginning, as the Marvel Logo played, I watched a montage of Stan Lee’s cameos playing in the letters. I started tearing up and the movie didn’t even start yet. Later on, Captain Marvel smiles at Stan Lee as he’s memorizing his lines for the Kevin Smith movie Mallrats. Even though I know Stan Lee didn’t really have a hand in creating Captain Marvel, the captain’s smile was heartwarming as she chose not to smile for a catcaller on a motorbike.

I also loved seeing a softer side to Nick Fury. Some people were complaining about Fury not being his usual badass self. I would like to remind everyone that some of the most popular moments in the MCU were the moments when the heroes were cutting loose. Think of the scene where all the Avengers were playing with Thor’s hammer in Age of Ultron or the cute Homecoming prep montage in Spider-Man Homecoming. We do not get enough moments of the heroes being chill. Also, Goose is the real star of the movie. Nuff said.

One other thing I loved was all the 90s aesthetic. I was born in 1990, so I count myself as a 90s kid. My ears perked up every time I recognized a song from my childhood and in a lot of ways, Captain Marvel reminds me of Buffy, too.

So speaking of feminist heroes, I will address the political aspect of this movie. In my honest opinion, the feminism was done just right. Not all the men in this movie were evil or condescending to Captain Marvel. In fact, Fury basically becomes a “buddy cop” with Carol. The sexism Carol experienced in her past felt realistic. After all, the US Air Force, at the moment, is only 20% women. Best of all, the movie held its own without the need for a forced romantic subplot. (Although if Avengers Endgame follows the comics and shows some ship tease with Captain Marvel and Rhodey, I am more than ready to ship it!)

Basically, I’m saying that politics aside, this movie is amazing. Whatever issues I have with the movie are spoiler-related minor nitpicks at best. I cannot wait to see Captain Marvel and the Avengers kick Thanos’s ass in April.

But I’m still not ready for it, okay?!

The Play’s The Thing: How to Let Characters Drive the Story

All the world’s a stage,
And all the men and women merely players;
They have their exits and their entrances,
And one man in his time plays many parts.

-William Shakespeare

I have heard a lot of conflicting writing advice in my years. But one big conflict that I’m still having trouble getting over is the issue of plot versus character. In the past, I was very character-driven. However, in trying to fix myself, I have now leaned way too hard on plot and keep getting feedback about my characters feeling more like chess pieces.

So how the heck do you resolve this issue? When a character takes over the story, the plot basically becomes like a black hole, revolving all around them and dragging everything else along with it. When the plot is driving the story, the characters feel boring.

As William Shakespeare said in Hamlet, “The play’s the thing.”

I used to do theater in high school and college. Even though I don’t have a lot of theater experience, I still learned a lot from memorizing monologues and acting out scenes in class. When you’re acting you (quoting Lizzie Bennet Diaries here) “open yourself up to inhabiting another person or letting another person inhabit you.” Actors put a lot of thought into embodying the character they play, no matter how small the role may be.

Emotion is really the driving force behind a good story. The reason why a majority of the Marvel Cinematic Universe movies have worked is because there are always emotional stakes behind all the action scenes. We care for the characters. The same applies to My Hero Academia. It’s a series with a perfect balance of plot/action and character-driven moments and you slowly start to see the characters develop in between all the fights or even as the action is happening.

Basically, creating a novel is basically like putting on a one-man show where you play all the characters at once. No matter how crazy it may seem, every character you create is a part of you. Some characters will feel more like you than others, but every character comes from something inside you, even if it’s the worst part of you.

What does that all mean when it comes to plotting a story?

Plot is created by decisions the characters make and the consequences that result from those actions. You might have the characters react to things at first, but there needs to be a point where the characters take initiative.

How the heck can we figure out how to make sure our characters drive the story without getting lost?

Aside from taking an acting class, I recommend looking into musicals and studying Shakespeare plays. The most memorable musicals have character-driven moments that still move the plot along. I think of musicals like Hamilton, WickedThe Great Comet of 1812, and even the Heathers musical. Check out this essay as to why:

 

I hope that you take some time to get in touch with your inner actor.

14 Reasons Why You Should Watch Signed, Sealed, Delivered

 

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I’ve talked about this show on my blog before a bit, but for those who are new, Signed, Sealed, Delivered started out as a series on Hallmark Channel before becoming a series of movies on Hallmark Movies and Mysteries. I fell in love with this series back when it came out in 2014, but I’ve lost touch due to the network jump because cable is expensive and it’s unfortunately not free to stream anywhere.

There are a few times in the year when I really crave the cheesy Hallmark channel stuff. Two of these occasions are the Christmas season and Valentine’s Day. So, with Valentine’s Day coming up this week and in anticipation for whatever new installments this series gets this year, I want to talk about 14 reasons why you should start binging Signed, Sealed, Delivered for your romantic comedy fix.

 

Reason #1: This is a genuinely family-friendly series.

I honestly feel like I can recommend this show to anyone who’s willing to give it a chance. The premise is high-concept, but it’s also something anyone can relate to: a group of people who make sure that everyone can communicate what they really want to say to each other. Everyone can relate to the struggle of figuring out what to say or the many, many ways that we can misunderstand each other. And yet, when we finally get the words out, there’s a feeling of relief.

Some of the stories revolve around getting a sense of closure to things while others center on forgiveness, which are all things we have to learn. The plots of every episode and movie are all things we can relate to. As someone who’s inundated with commercials about shows centering on soap opera drama and “first world problems,” Signed, Sealed, Delivered is much easier to follow and really makes you believe in the characters and the things they go through, which leads me to reason number 2.

 

Reason #2: The Characters

The main characters (Oliver, Shane, Rita, and Norman) are all quirky in their own way, but never in a way that comes off as annoying. Instead, they’re all endearing and sweet and you really feel for them. Oliver is a man who likes to cling onto the past and doesn’t like technology, but he’s also someone who’s compassionate. He’s a man of integrity without having any toxicity. In short, he is a genuine gentleman who has problems spitting out how he feels verbally. It’s quite a contrast from Eric Maibus’s more famous role in Ugly Betty.

Shane is the skeptical tech-lover who really helps the group in finding the things they need in order to get the job done. However, she has a lot of emotional baggage and hates the idea of being vulnerable. I can relate to Shane’s fears of falling in love. After being abandoned by her father and having a relationship with a man who constantly kept secrets from her, it’s no wonder she is thrown off guard when she has to work with people who are authentic, honest, and just a bit quirky.

Rita reminds me a lot of myself. She’s a shy, awkward, bookish woman who has photographic memory and is a hopeless romantic at heart. She’s also drop-dead gorgeous, but prefers rocking the librarian look with an owl motif. There was a subplot in the series of her writing an extremely long romance novel and she pours herself into it in a way a lot of amateur writers can relate to. She also gets into the world of beauty pageants and it’s clear that her heart is what really makes her beautiful.

It’s no wonder that Norman Dorman, another quirky postal worker, is head over heels for her. Norman was a foster child who loves collecting stamps, knows the history of almost everything, and has a lot of cousins who often contribute to the plot of the episode or movie. Norman is still trying to figure out his life and his identity along with his relationship with Rita. I love how he makes friends with almost everyone and how easily people open up to him. In spite of his awkwardness, he’s a genuine, honest soul.

 

Reason #3: The Show is Political Without Taking Sides

I have watched way too many shows that talk about their political beliefs with all the subtlety of an Ayn Rand novel. It’s my personal belief that when it comes to politics, fiction needs to be a lot more subtle and make people ask questions instead of just telling the audience what they should believe in. Signed, Sealed, Delivered takes a different approach by talking about issues we can pretty much all agree with. I’m very certain that both sides of the aisle can relate to making sure all our soldiers are taken care of and adjust to getting home from war in the best way possible. The show emphasizes a lot of things on a personal level, which makes the politics a lot more believable because we can empathize with all the characters.

 

Reason #4: The Morals are Clear Without Being Preachy

A long, long time ago, I remember watching Touched by an Angel back when they syndicated the show. It was by no means a perfect show, but I still liked it a lot. One criticism that the show got, though, was, well, how preachy it was. Similar to the politics, Signed, Sealed, Delivered helps us understand the morals of every episode and movie without feeling heavy handed because they show the morals through an emotional story arc or experiences that feel relatable.

Since the main characters’ job is to basically deliver mail that, for one reason or another, didn’t get to its destination in time, one thing we learn throughout the show and the movies is that timing is a funny thing. Whatever mistakes we make in the past can be repaired if given the right thought and consideration.

One of my favorite examples is from the episode “Dark Of Night” which teaches about the importance of forgiveness. The POstables stop a man from going to extreme means for the sake of revenge, saving three lives in the process. The moment is intense, but what happens afterwards is a huge sigh of relief and leads to the team earning the highest honor: The Dark of Night Award. The morals play out in a way that makes us really hope for the best outcome possible.

 

Reason #5: The Uplifting Mood

Even though a lot of drama happens in this series, there’s usually a happy ending and these endings always feel earned. Every ending progresses the character arc for the main characters in some way. They’re always moving forward in their lives, but in a way that feels natural. Sure there are some cliffhanger endings, but they never feel as frustrating because there’s still that hope that everything will work out for the best.

In a world where it seems like some people are just waiting for the apocalypse to happen, Signed Sealed Delivered reminds us what authentic hope looks like in a scene where Norman talks to his grandmother about a dark time in his life:
“When I finally gave up, I laid down on the ground, and that’s when I saw it… a sliver of light. I hadn’t noticed it before. That’s when I knew everything was gonna be okay… I like coming down here. It reminds me that, no matter how dark it gets, light will always find a way in.” 

“Now hope that is seen is not hope. For who hopes for what is seen? But if we hope for what we do not see, we wait for it with patience.” (Romans 8:24-25)

 

Reason #6: The Wonderful Guest Stars

Not only do we get cameos from former Touched by an Angel cast members Della Reese and Valerie Bertinelli, but we also have guest stars from Broadway and classic television. Valerie Harper, for example, is the enthusiastic supervisor who pursues her dream of being in theater. Carol Burnett is perfectly cast as Norman’s grandmother. Happy Days actress Marion Ross and Melrose Place actor Rob Estes guest star in the Christmas special. Fans of the M.A.S.H. spinoff Trapper John, M.D. will recognize Gregory Harrison in later SSD movies in a very surprising, but wonderful role.

I’m pretty sure the #POstables community can name many more awesome guest stars, but it’s definitely fun to watch just to see who might pop in.

 

Reason #7: The #POstables community

To quote Melinda May from Agents of SHIELD, the #POstables on Twitter and Facebook are a small, but active fanbase, especially when you consider that it doesn’t get much hype compared to When Calls The Heart or The Good Witch. When I got back into the series during Christmastime last year, I tweeted about it and my Twitter notifications blew up like crazy! Everyone is loving and supportive of each other and they helped me catch up on everything I missed.

On top of that, the cast of Signed, Sealed, Delivered interacts with the fandom on Twitter. I mentioned Crystal Lowe (who plays Rita) on one of my Tweets and she liked it! I can literally only name one or two other fandoms where the celebs really notice their fans like this.

 

Reason #8: The Music

Aside from the title song from Stevie Wonder, this series used to have a wonderful theme song:

 

Most fans will instantly recall Billy Joel’s “And So It Goes” as the background music for Shane and Oliver’s dance in the series. The YouTube channel Alameda and Downing has collected the score from every episode and movie in this series. The music always fits whatever is going on.

 

Reason #9: It Pays Attention To The Little Things

Before I watched this series, I had no idea that there was a National Postal Museum in Washington, D.C. This show makes me want to see that place for myself. And that’s only one example of how this show makes small things feel important. One episode centers on getting a child’s letter to his grandmother and it sounds so silly, but that letter becomes important in the context of an ongoing investigation and a criminal who’s still at large.

In all honesty, the whole premise of the show is about paying attention to the little things. This show makes everything from a book of collectible stamps to a bottle of Yoo-Hoo feel important. And the characters aren’t flashy or cosmopolitan, but they still feel as real to us as our actual postal workers.

 

Reason #10: It Inspires Old-Fashioned Letter Writing

This series is honestly made for the Hallmark brand because it emphasizes the importance and beauty of written communication. Letters or lack thereof can become a legacy. (Just ask anyone who’s frustrated at the fact that Jane Austen’s sister burned a lot of her letters or listen to “Burn” from Hamilton sometime.) The written word is a powerful thing, as any author would know, and these words on paper cause so many things to happen and for some reason, words that are actually written feel more important and personal than text messages and emails.

Have I mentioned that I am just ecstatic that there will be more movies to come this year?

 

Reason #11: The Realism of the Relationships

Communication issues in relationships is a common theme in Signed Sealed Delivered. And as contrived as some of the misunderstandings can be, I think we can all relate to the problems our POstables have when it comes to communicating with each other. Real relationships take a lot of work and even though I don’t agree with the show’s stance on “one true love” and “soul mates,” I do believe in the importance of setting boundaries and being clear on where you stand.

Shane, Oliver, Norman, and Rita all have problems with communicating and their struggle to make sure everyone understands each other is honestly one of the most believable things about this show. (It’s also one I relate to because I have autism and communication is very important to me.)

 

Reason #12: Respecting the Dignity of Every Person

One episode that stands out to me is “The Future Me,” which features two young actors who have Down Syndrome. Even though the characters are teens who are almost adults, it’s a real struggle for their parents to get their heads around the idea that they want to marry. But thankfully, these two young adults get their happy ending because it’s clear that they can take care of themselves and each other. They see each other as people, even with the extra chromosomes.

Norman connects with all sorts of people throughout the series, such as an old woman who bequeathed him her stamp collection and in the movie Truth Be Told, he connects with a young girl named Phoebe, who gets bullied because she’s still waiting on her military mother. He gives Phoebe advice on how to deal with the bullies and helps her get a sense of closure. The best part is that these people don’t see Norman as a “weirdo” like some might label him to be.

It’s true that these characters may come off as weird to some, but every character feels like a genuine real person, at least to me. Even the slightly ditzy postal worker Hazel and the very grandiose, flamboyant Ramon. And I love that everyone is treated with the respect and dignity every human being should be given.

 

Reason #13: How They Define Themselves

Oliver, Shane, Norman, and Rita all struggle with identity issues to some extent. They all have family issues, but have also created a “found family” unit with each other. Without spoiling the series or the movies, they all learn that they can find stability in knowing who they are and value those who love them as they are. What they do is important and the stuff they do is important, but we wouldn’t love them if they were any different. Who they are as people matters.

 

Reason #14: The Bigger Picture

Much like Touched By An AngelSigned Sealed Delivered reminds us that we put our faith in things we don’t see all the time and that for some reason, even when we receive something that was a day or five years “late,” the timing is somehow still perfect. Even if you’re not someone who believes in God, there’s this intangible factor in the show that really makes you believe that everything happens for a reason and that there are stranger things between heaven and earth that are beyond what we can comprehend.