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?!

Coming to Theaters in September: Smallfoot

 

What happens when you turn the myth of the abominable snowman on its ear? You get Smallfoot! Based on a book from the creator of the Despicable Me films, Channing Tatum stars as Migo, a Yeti who encounters a human (played by James Corden). The only problem is nobody believes him. because they don’t believe humans exist at all. So Migo goes on a journey to prove his village wrong.

“Smallfoot” stars Channing Tatum (“The LEGO® Batman Movie,” the “Jump Street” films) as the Yeti, Migo, and James Corden (“Trolls,” “Into The Woods”) as the Smallfoot, Percy. Also starring are Zendaya (“Spider-Man: Homecoming”), Common (“Selma”), LeBron James (upcoming “Space Jam 2”), Gina Rodriguez (“Jane the Virgin”), Danny DeVito (“The Lorax”), Yara Shahidi (TV’s “Black-ish”), Ely Henry (TV’s “Justice League Action”), and Jimmy Tatro (“22 Jump Street”).

“Smallfoot” is directed by Karey Kirkpatrick, Annie Award-winning director of “Over the Hedge.” The film is produced by Bonne Radford (“Curious George”), Glenn Ficarra (“Storks,” “The is Us,”) and John Requa (“Storks,” “This is Us”). Serving as executive producers are Nicholas Stoller, Phil Lord, Christopher Miller, Jared Stern, Sergio Pablos, and Kirkpatrick. The creative team includes editor Peter Ettinger, and composer Heitor Pereira.

 

The film is set to debut in theaters September 28, 2018.

 

Avengers: Infinity War―Where Do We Go From Here?

infinity war

This movie broke me. I’m not the kind of girl who cries at the movies. Heck, I haven’t cried at the movies since Les Miserables and then this movie comes along and gets me bawling by the time the end credits are rolling. This movie is not for the faint of heart and no matter how much you prepare yourself, you will not be ready for what’s to come. All I can say is that if it wasn’t for the fact that I know there will be sequels planned for this movie and for some of the characters, I would be inconsolable.

That’s not to say that this movie is bad. If anything, it really did its job. I wouldn’t be crying if it didn’t make me care about the characters. This has been the work of ten years of buildup, with movies that made us actually care about star-spangled spandex men and men in robot suits. If anything else, this movie shows that all the work that Marvel has put into their movies has paid off.

When people call this an event movie, they aren’t kidding. It’s a major crossover with a great villain. I am ranking Thanos up there with Kilgrave, Loki, Kingpin, and Killmonger as far as effective and compelling Marvel villains. He’s brutal, he’s got some aspects of his life that make him sympathetic, but make no mistake, he is not one to mess with.

Every character gets a moment to shine here, even the heroes who would be labeled as supporting characters or second string/B-team. I honestly wish there were more moments with the “second string” characters, but that would make the movie longer than it already is. The story is tragic in the best way possible (see my crying face), the effects are a spectacle, and the action is visceral. I felt like I was pulled out of my body for a while and then thrust back in, Doctor Strange style.

Overall, I want to give this movie and 8/10. It’s not absolutely perfect, but it is worth seeing, especially if you’re a fan of the Marvel Cinematic Universe. Congratulations, Russo Brothers. You blew us all away.

Now if you want to know why I don’t give this movie a 10, read below. Spoilers ahead.

Continue reading

Coco: Pixar’s Most Catholic Movie

coco

I realize that I’m late to the Coco party. However, with Divine Mercy Sunday around the corner, I decided that this would be a #FlashbackFriday type of review. I honestly think that Coco is the most Catholic movie that Pixar ever made and I’m not just saying that because the movie is inspired by Mexican culture. What makes this movie Catholic are the themes: family, forgiveness, and never forgetting to honor the dead.

Spoilers ahead for those who haven’t seen this movie yet. I highly recommend at least renting the movie. It’s available on Redbox. It’s definitely worth a watch.

The emphasis on being loyal to one’s family is established early on in the movie. It’s clear from the beginning that Miguel loves his family, in spite of the fact that his abeulita tries to keep music from their lives a little too much. Miguel is especially close to his great-grandmother Coco.

Side note, but I think this is the first Disney/Pixar movie to feature an entire family unit. Both of Miguel’s parents are alive and aside from the relatives who are living in the land of the dead, nobody in Hector’s family gets killed off. Not only that, but you see a family working and living together.

The conflict that drives the movie is Miguel’s desire to pursue music, even if it means ignoring or even outright cutting himself off from his family. It’s clear that he’s a great musician and for a while, it feels as though his family takes the anti-music stance way too far, especially when Miguel’s abuelita destroys his guitar. However, the events of this movie show Miguel that it’s important to stay connected to your family, especially when he learns that Ernesto got his fame by murdering his songwriter friend Hector.

I love the character of Hector, by the way. The movie does a great job at making you suspicious of Hector at first, but he slowly becomes more endearing, especially when he encourages Miguel and shows that he cares for him and is protective of him, even though Miguel is just a stranger.

The theme of remembering the dead is what drives the subplot of the movie: Hector wants to visit his daughter and be remembered or else he will disappear into oblivion. It’s never said where the souls of the forgotten go after the “Final Death,” but it compels the audience to take on a very Catholic tradition: to pray for those who have no one to pray for. In that way, no soul is ever really forgotten.

On a similar note, the land of the dead really reminds me of Purgatory, final death thing put aside. It’s not exactly heaven, given that a murderer like Ernesto is living there, but it’s not Hell, either. It’s a place for departed souls to live and there’s still a link to those who are living, even if it’s just one day a year.

One good thing that came out of the broken pedestal experience though is that Miguel finds out that Hector is his real great-great-grandfather. This leads into the second Catholic theme of the movie, which focuses on forgiveness. When Miguel and Hector are reunited with Miguel’s deceased relatives towards the end of the second act, his great-great grandmother Imelda is reluctant to forgive Hector for leaving her.

What makes the relationship with Hector and Imelda interesting is that Imelda never remarried. She cut Hector and her love for music out of her life, even though she loved both very much. When she confronts Ernesto, she berates and hits Ernesto for “murdering the love of my life.” In classical tsundere fashion, she still claims to be mad at Hector, but she at least loves Hector enough to know that he doesn’t deserve to be forgotten.

I love that forgiveness is shown to be a process. Imelda goes from hating Hector to defending him to finally allowing him to be in her life and her family. This is shown in the climax, when Miguel has to return to the land of the living. At the start of the movie, Imelda wants Miguel to promise her to never pursue music again when he returns to the land of the living. In the second attempt to get Miguel back, Miguel is actually willing to make good on that condition. The third attempt, however, is made with no conditions. Just the type of selfless love that seriously has me reaching for the tissues.

The two themes of family and forgiveness get tied together in what I feel is my favorite scene: Miguel plays “Remember Me” for Coco in front of his family. His abuelita tries to stop him, but his father allows Miguel to play. The song restores Coco’s memory and allows her to tell everyone in her family about all the mementos she kept from her father and how her parents both loved music.

One year later, Miguel’s deceased relatives, Hector and Coco included, get to spend time with the living on the Day of the Dead. Miguel and his family join in on a song and it’s shown that Hector is playing along with him. All is forgiven and music has returned to the lives of the Rivera family. I love the ending of this movie because it shows that pursuing one’s passion should never come at the expense of family.

One last side note: I love the animal sidekicks in this movie, especially Dante the Xolo dog. He’s a lot like Scooby-Doo in that he seems so goofy and is kinda cute even if he’s a hairless street dog, but he is also foreshadowed to be a true guide in the land of the dead, instinctively throwing Hector and Miguel together a lot. Plus, the name is very fitting as those familiar with The Divine Comedy or at least Inferno recognize the name from the protagonist of those stories, who literally goes through a journey through Hell, Purgatory, and Heaven.

This movie isn’t just great to watch for the Day of the Dead. It’s one I recommend watching for Lent and even now, in the Easter season.

Pray for the souls of those who’ve died, especially those who have no one to pray for.

 

Black Panther AKA The History of King T’Challa

27983137_10157122616613626_214281575019134391_o

I didn’t have high expectations going into Black Panther and while a lot of people, including the critics are praising this movie to the skies, there are some people who are experiencing what is known as “hype backlash.” This review is just going to express my opinion. So yes, I did like Black Panther. A lot. Is it the best Marvel movie ever? No. But it’s still a great introduction to a hero who is probably not as well-known as the other Avengers. And, aside from Thor, this movie has the most Shakespearean themes, which is a major treat for me.

So here’s the question: How is this movie Shakepsearean?

Minor spoilers ahead.

I can’t compare this movie to any one Shakespeare play. Shakespeare fans may compare this movie to the historical plays, such as any of the ones with Henry in the title. Instead, Black Panther‘s theme is about the responsibility of kingship. Thor’s movies are essentially about the journey to becoming king while Black Panther is about how kingship is carried out in practice.

One thing this movie has in common with the best of Shakespeare is that the movie has a strong supporting cast. The female characters are especially memorable. Shuri is by far everyone’s favorite, being the sassy genius younger sister. In the first part of the film, she is the Q to T’Challa’s James Bond, giving him all sorts of gadgets to use for a mission in Korea. At the same time, she can also hold her own in a fight and she is always a delight in whatever scene she’s in. (Side note: Please don’t ship her with anyone. She’s 16 years old and doesn’t need to be in a romantic relationship. If she shows romantic interest in somebody, ship all you want, but as of now, she ain’t interested in any relationship.) T’Challa’s love interest, Nakia, is thankfully nothing like her comic book counterpart, who was basically a Woman Scorned. She is a spy, whose experience in doing worldwide missions, advocates the idea that Wakanda should be more involved in the world. her weapon being reminiscent of Xena’s chakrams.

And, like the most memorable of Shakespeare plays, the villain is not only memorable, but sympathetic and has a personal connection to the protagonist. Even though Erik Stevens AKA Killmonger has the same motivations of previous Marvel movies (distribute powerful weapons, burn the world, etc.), but Michael B. Jordan puts a personal touch to Killmonger’s motivations. As a child orphaned and abandoned, he becomes a product of his time. Like many of Shakespeare’s villains, he is bloodthirsty and short-sighted, which becomes his undoing.

My one nitpick with this movie is something towards the third act. plot is nothing new and the themes may not resonate with everyone, but I still think this movie is worth watching so that you can make your own call.

Spider-Man: Homecoming-A Movie Review

 

It really feels like Spider-Man has, in fact, come home. Even though the Sam Raimi Spider-Man trilogy started off well, it ended on a sour note and while Andrew Garfield’s Spider-Man was cool, there were too many plot threads left hanging and The Amazing Spider-Man was trying too hard to be dramatic.

What makes Spider-Man: Homecoming the best Spider-Man movie so far, toppling all the ones that came before it? It kept itself grounded and wasn’t afraid to be funny. Similar to Deadpool, the movie has its own sense of self-awareness that gives a feeling of authenticity to the audience. Without going into spoilers, I will explain this sense of authenticity through the characters. It’s really because of the characters that the movie feels legit.

First of all, Tom Holland’s Peter Parker is the most adorkable little baby who needs to be protected at all costs. As a high school sophomore, Peter is eager to prove himself to Tony Stark, wanting to stand alongside the Avengers. Unfortunately, he constantly gets in trouble in school for missing classes or being late.  In spite of his initial mistakes, Peter is able to realize that he needs to be the “friendly neighborhood Spider-man” since someone needs to look out for the little guy. (Side note: It would’ve been nice if Defenders got a shout-out in this movie.)

One common complaint about Marvel is that there aren’t enough memorable or well-developed villains. Most of the good Marvel villains are either on Agents of SHIELD or the Marvel shows on Netflix. Aside from Loki, there hasn’t been a villain in the films that audiences found compelling. Until now.

Michael Keaton’s Vulture is a sympathetic antagonist, created from circumstances unique to the MCU. He starts on a road to hell paved with good intentions. He is willing to do everything just to make a living, even though it means developing a resentful attitude. But unlike every other villain, he doesn’t jump across the Moral Event Horizon. He’s more of an anti-villain by the end, thanks to an act of great mercy that I can’t go into further without spoiling the villain.

The supporting cast as a whole give the movie great levity and help the audience empathize with Peter. Peter’s best friend, Ned, acts as the audience surrogate. He’s excited about Peter’s new abilities and wants to be part of the action, but quickly learns the downsides of having a double life. Liz Allen is a surprisingly sweet popular girl, showing that she has brains behind her beauty. Even Flash Thompson provides some good levity and gets a small level of comeuppance for bullying Peter all the time.

Aunt May is great in this movie, but the granny glasses and frumpy clothes feel like a visual dissonance to her first impression in Captain America: Civil War. It could be argued that she’s dressing ugly on purpose because she’s not over what happened to Uncle Ben or not interested in having a relationship in general, but much like Calista Flockhart, it’s near-impossible to try and make Marisa Tomei look old or ugly.

Robert Downey Jr as Iron Man is the perfect mentor for Peter, especially when you consider how different the two of them are. It’s clear that Tony doesn’t want Peter to follow in his footsteps and end up alienating everyone, but all Peter can see is the hero he’s admired since he was a kid. Peter is the closest thing Tony has to a son and their friendship is a heartwarming one.

The only character who fell short in this movie is Michelle, played by Zendaya. While she had all the coolest lines, she didn’t do anything else. She was basically a Tumblr Snowflake. You know, those girls who complain about all the politically incorrect things wrong with history but still fangirl over Alexander Hamilton? In Michelle’s case, she’s got a crush on Peter, but instead of acting on her feelings or trying to just be friends or be more involved in his life, she’s just on the sidelines, snarking and reading a book. Give Michelle something to do, writers!

I highly recommend this movie to older kids who are probably the same age as Peter in the movie, as they will find themselves relating so much to him. Even though the idea of “great power” and “great responsibility” are still a prominent part to this movie. Peter deals with the consequences of neglecting his everyday responsibilities. Older Spider-Man fans will love all the nods to the overall Spider-Man mythos, too, and some shout-outs to a certain 80s movie.

I give Spider-Man: Homecoming a 9/10 for bringing Spider-Man into the MCU in a way that feels authentic and real.

The Importance of Being Mantis

mantis

What exactly makes Guardians of the Galaxy so beloved within the overall Marvel Cinematic Universe? Aside from the soundtracks, the real driving forces behind Guardians of the Galaxy and the sequel are the protagonists. Guardians of the Galaxy: Vol. 2 gives everyone character development that takes them from being “Space Avengers” to stand-out individuals. It also introduced Mantis, Ego’s adopted daughter, played by Pom Klementieff. Mantis is a unique character compared to the others in the movie and even in the larger scope of all the Marvel Cinematic Universe characters.

 

Up to this point, the female characters in the Marvel Cinematic Universe have either been very stoic and efficient in battle (Black Widow, Gamora, Daisy Johnson) or love interests that are relegated to supporting roles (Pepper Potts, Jane Foster). Mantis, however, is neither a love interest nor an action girl. Instead, she connects to the Guardians of the Galaxy by her empathic abilities. The fact that her character arc centers on emotionally connecting with others and sharing her social awkwardness is a breath of fresh air when considering how often people want women in the media to either be tough, strong, and stoic or the emotional damsel in distress or just act as fanservice.

 

Mantis is the first character from the Marvel Cinematic Universe that I could say is the character who is most like me. Given that the MCU has been around since 2008, it’s hard to believe that it took almost a decade for Marvel to introduce a character like her. It’s not to say that I didn’t like The Avengers or the Guardians or the Agents of Shield or the Defenders. I love all of them to certain extents. However, something that made Marvel comics appealing was that it introduced characters that felt relatable, like an average teenage boy from Queens suddenly getting spider abilities or an average Muslim girl from New Jersey suddenly being able to stretch and shrink her body. While Mantis is by no means an average human being, she was based on a half-Asian human character from the comics. What makes her relatable to me is her social awkwardness and empathic abilities.

 

In an interview with Carson Daly, Pom Klementieff said:

In Marvel movies, we’re used to seeing badass and strong female characters, which I love…But it’s cool to show something else, you know, to show someone who’s less self-confident, who’s a bit weird.

 

Throughout the movie, Mantis connects to the other Guardians, especially Drax (played by Dave Bautista). It makes sense, given that they’re both socially awkward. However, what really seals their friendship is when she uses her empathic powers on Drax as he reflects on the loss of his wife and daughter. She breaks down in tears while he looks out at the beautiful scenery with a smile. It’s not certain whether Drax is at peace with what happened or if he happy that he’s just starting to move on. What is certain is that Drax finally found a friend who understands his grief.

 

Of course, my shipping radar went off the roof with how Drax and Mantis interacted with each other. I find relationships based on emotional connection and attraction very appealing. However, it’s made explicitly clear that Mantis and Drax find each other physically repulsive and do not want to pursue anything romantic. This averts any ideas of the emotional, empathetic one being anyone’s designated love interest.  (Apologies to the Drax/Mantis shippers.)

 

In a world that’s trying to figure out the ideal heroic woman, having a character like Mantis is a step forward in the right direction. It’s important for young girls to know that there are times that call them to be strong, but they shouldn’t discard their ability to empathize with others. The purpose of stories is to create empathy for people we wouldn’t normally connect with. Mantis shows that there is a great strength in being empathetic. Having empathy allowed Mantis to find people who cared for her as a person, a new family beyond just Ego and her empathic abilities actually helped in the inevitable final battle. I seriously can’t wait to see what she does in the next movie the Guardians appear in!

Much Ado About Nothing (2012 Joss Whedon Version): A Movie Review

much ado

Did you know that after he filmed Avengers, Joss Whedon made a modern adaptation of a Shakespeare play? It’s not surprising when you look into Joss’s personal history with Shakespeare. The cast of Buffy would often talk about how during the summer, they would hang out at Joss’s house and read Shakespeare plays. (Incidentally, I would gladly eat a heart in the marketplace to be a fly in the wall for those summers.)

This adaptation of Much Ado About Nothing has a wonderful cast.  Whedon alumni actors include: Clark Gregg and Ashley Johnson from Avengers (Johnson was the cute blonde waitress that Captain America saved), Nathan Filion and Sean Maher from Firefly, Reed Diamon and Fran Kranz from Dollhouse, Tom Lenk from Buffy, and Amy Acker and Alexis Denisof from Angel. Angel fans, grab your tissues because this will be the only chance to see Fred Burkle and Wesley Wyndham-Pryce get the happy ending they deserve.

There are many interesting things in this adaptation, aside from the fact that it’s set in the modern era. First of all, the film was shot in black and white, giving it the feel of an Old Hollywood movie.  The beginning of the film showes that Benedick and Beatrice were involved, which would explain their coarse behavior towards each other. When Hero and Claudio meet, it’s implied that they knew each other before Claudio went off to war, hence why they rush to get married so quickly.

Speaking of the war, it’s never stated outright what kind of war Benedick and Claudio came from, but it’s implied that it’s a mafia war, as Don John and his cohort are seen being led to Leonato’s house in zip-tie handcuffs. The mafia war implication serves as a reason for why Hero allegedly sleeping with someone else before her wedding was such a big scandal. She was accused of sleeping with the enemy!

The film highlights the main story arc between Claudio and Hero, putting their relationship to the test. When Hero fakes her death, she is seen watching Claudio’s remorse at her funeral from a distance. In spite of the fact that Don John tried to ruin Hero’s reputation and relationship, Claudio was ready to atone for his idiocy. (They even have a joke that involves a black woman glaring at Claudio while he says “I’ll hold my mind, were she an Ethiope.”)

In spite of how people may perceive the play, this is actually the best adaptation I’ve seen. Putting my fangirl bias towards all things Whedon aside, there’s this tendency for people to think that Much Ado is essentially a romantic comedy. It isn’t. The implication that Benedick and Beatrice were involved, but never married is there in the text. When Don Pedro asks Beatrice about Benedick, she says:

Indeed, my lord, he lent it me awhile; and I gave
him use for it, a double heart for his single one:
marry, once before he won it of me with false dice,
therefore your grace may well say I have lost it.

It also serves as the reason why she can’t marry Don Pedro. It’s a back-in-the-day thing, but since Benedick and Beatrice were involved, he had to marry her in order to make their relationship legit. It’s not a “boy meets girl” romantic comedy. It’s about two relationships that fell apart and need to be set right. Of course, since this is a modern adaptation, it’s also clear that Beatrice and Benedick still have feelings for each other.

Did I mention, by the way, that I love Amy Acker in this movie? She is a wonderful Beatrice and the chemistry she has with Alexis Denisof sizzles. They both have scenes that involve slapstick, the characters hiding or jumping around to eavesdrop on their friends’ conversations. It’s hilarious to watch. They may not have the strength that Kenneth Brannaugh and Emma Thompson put into their performances in the 1993 film adaptation of this play, but you can argue that this adaptation feels more intimate.

Even though not all the actors in this film have the nuance and gravity of classically trained Shakespeare actors (looking at you BriTanicK), the major actors all gave memorable performances. My favorite is Nathan Fillion’s version of Dogberry, who comes off like Richard Castle meets CSI Miami. He says all his lines with perfect seriousness, which makes scenes like this all the more hilarious:

Marry, sir, they have committed false report;
moreover, they have spoken untruths; secondarily,
they are slanders; sixth and lastly, they have
belied a lady; thirdly, they have verified unjust
things; and, to conclude, they are lying knaves.

Overall, I highly recommend Shakespeare fans and Joss Whedon fans to watch this film. I also recommend to listen to the commentaries on the DVD. There’s with just Joss Whedon, who explains how they filmed the whole thing at his house. He is amazing with commentaries. Then there’s the cast commentary which basically has you laughing from start to finish.

Now, can we have an adaptation of another Shakespeare play with the cast from Buffy? Like say, James Marsters and Sarah Michelle Gellar in A Midsummer Night’s Dream?

Moana’s Vocation: An Analysis

Moana’s story is unique in many ways. While the villains may be lackluster, the music is amazing. My favorite thing about Moana, though, is how the movie portrays what it means to have a vocation. While The Crown shows how the vocation of queenship negatively affects the people in Queen Elizabeth’s life, Moana’s story is a more positive portrayal.

As I’ve stated before, many people figure out their vocation at a very young age. Moana’s vocation is twofold: She needs to be the chief of her people, but she is also called by the ocean to voyage out and return the heart of Te Fiti to where it came from. She quickly learns, thanks to her grandmother, that in order to truly be the chief of her people, she has to answer the ocean’s call first, because her people were descended from voyagers, but forgot about that part of their life because of how dangerous the ocean became.

Answering the ocean’s call meant leaving her family behind, much like those who pursue religious life do. Men go to a seminary or monastery and women go to the convent. In the process of becoming a priest, a nun, or a brother, they are required to learn a lot of things. Out in the ocean, Moana learns how to be a good wayfinder, thanks to Maui’s mentoring.

Throughout the movie, Moana is tested in her resolve to stick to her vocation. She first gets tested when she gets hurt on her first attempt to sail beyond the reef.  Maui constantly tests her patience.  She faces obstacles such as the Kakamora and Tamatoa. She even loses her resolve when Maui decides to leave after Te Ka nearly defeats them. In spite of all that, the spirit of her grandmother returns and asks Moana “Do you know who you are?”

“I Am Moana” basically summarizes what it feels like when a person discerns his or her vocation. A Catholic can interpret that “still small voice,” the voice that calls Moana, as the Holy Spirit, reminding her about what she needs to do.  When she decides to be the one to take the heart to Te Fiti, she goes back to the ocean and gets the heart back, restoring order to the ocean and her home and even giving Maui a new sense of purpose.

When Moana returns home, the people of Motunui become voyagers again and it’s clear, from how the movie ends, that Moana’s adventures are just beginning. It shows that a vocation is something you have for life. For Moana, that means continuing the tradition of her voyaging ancestors and being the a good leader to her people.

I highly recommend Moana because it’s an excellent movie with a positive message for kids. It shows them that following your heart doesn’t mean being a rebel. It can mean becoming a leader and growing in wisdom.

Beauty and The Beast-A collaboration with Catholic Girl Bloggin

beauty and the beast

Author’s note: This is a collaboration with Catholic Girl Bloggin. Spoilers for the movie ensue. CBG’s stuff will be in blue, my stuff in purple.

Cue the music, Jay!  (Our friend Jay plays the Belle/Little Town theme)

CGB: (Walks out of little cottage) Huh, I didn’t know I lived in a cottage.  (Shrugs, smiles at quaint little cottage) I’m not complainin’.  Oohh, there’s tulips on the side of the cottage!  Well, anyway….(Begins singing) Little film, it’s a brand new remake.  All-star cast and some brand new songs.  Little film, starring Emma Watson.  Everybody says…

Critic 1: IT SUCKS!

Critic 2: IT SUCKS!

Critic 3: IT SUCKS!

Rad-Trads: IT SUCKS!

All together: IT SUCKS!

CGB: There go the critics with their gripes like always.

MsOWrites: Seems like they’re never satisfied.

Both of Us: Because way back when we were kids, Disney made a princess flick.  And it was one that we both loved.

Nostalgia Critic: Good morning, girls!

MsOWrites: Good morning, NC!

Nostalgia Critic: Where are you off to?

CGB: We’re doing a review.  It’s the remake of the classic Disney movie.

Nostalgia Critic: That’s nice.  But honestly?  It was meh.

CGB: Well, we haven’t even seen it yet.

MsOWrites: We might be in for a pleasant surprise.

Nostalgia Critic: It still sucks, though.

Critics: Look there they go, they’re just so optimistic.   Can’t they see that the original’s the best?

Critic 1: Emma Watson’s auto-tuned.

Critic 2: The supporting cast was underused.

Rad-Trads: And let’s not forget the token gay LeFou!

(Two hours later)

MsOWrites (crying): Oh, wasn’t it amazing?

CGB: Are you crying?  Because so am I!

MsOWrites: I never do…but yeah, I’ll make this exception.  There’s just so much of this film that’s good and true…

CGB: It would certainly please JP2!  Let us do a review, just me and you!

MsOWrites: We could show both the Catholic and secular world why it’s good!

CGB: Let us begin!

The Hits

CGB: So how did Hermione Granger do playing everyone’s favorite “most peculiar mademoiselle”?  My answer: Emma Watson is a wonderful Belle! This Belle is a lovely reinterpretation of the original character, mixing her trademark book-loving nature with an inventor’s vibe. I really appreciate that Emma Watson’s Belle actually feels different from Paige O’Hara’s Belle from the 1991 classic.  O’Hara’s Belle is dreamy, optimistic and overall innocent. Watson’s Belle is grounded, pragmatic and even bohemian in more ways than one.   

One of my biggest concerns was that Emma Watson would come off as an overly confident character, but luckily there’s a sweetness and humility to this new Belle.  Also Watson’s Belle has more agency in this film than she did in the original; locking herself in the dungeon while pushing her father away, telling the Beast that he has to stand so that she can take back to the castle and so on. Finally, I’m going to add brownie points for that one scene where she teaches a young girl how to read. Brilliant!  

The Beast’s character is pretty much the same as he was in the original; starts off as mean, coarse and unrefined, but ends up becoming so sweet and almost kind. Here, though, his temper is not as jarring as it was in the original. The sympathy factor of his character is shown in the prologue and continues throughout the movie so that we, the audience, are easily able to refrain from judgment before we get to know him. His pain and torment are palpable as his growing feelings for Belle begin to break down the inner walls he has placed around his broken, guarded heart.

Kevin Kline is a wonderful Maurice! I really appreciate that they dialed down his quirkiness big time and made him into a more complex character. He’s warm, gentle, thoughtful, though he’s a bit overprotective of Belle. I can just see him hoisting little Belle onto his lap and reading to her by the fireplace.

Luke Evans is aving the time of his life playing Gaston, and I had a great time watching his Gaston. The usual arrogance of the original character is still there, but we see his progression towards evil. Also I do like that he’s not impractically buff like in the cartoon, but that his toxic masculinity is displayed by his ignorance and overcompensation.

Now, given that I’ve brought up Gaston, you’re probably waiting to see LeFou mentioned here. Before MsOWrites and I get into the whole “gay LeFou” thing, let me talk about the character of LeFou in general.  Josh Gad’s LeFou  is definitely an improvement from the cartoon character.  His “hero-admiration” toward Gaston explains his loyalty to him and he is actually the smarter of the duo. In a way, he serves as a manifestation of Gaston’s effect on people; how Gaston is able to grab and hold the attention of women and men alike, which was always the point of Gaston’s character to begin with.

My favorite song from the movie? EVERMORE!  Oh my goodness, what a beautiful song!  It’s like someone took Augustine’s Confessions, some passages from the Book of Psalms and a hint of the Song of Solomon, then threw them into a blender and then somehow they just mixed into the most melodic purée.  Also the song really sums up a wonderful theme in this film: That people come into our lives who touch our hearts so much that when they leave us, just their presence will remain in our memory forever.  They illustrate this when Maurice is singing about Belle’s mother, but the theme comes full circle with “Evermore.”

MsOWrites: First of all, the opening scenes were stunning in their visuals.  We actually get to see the prince and the residents in the castle and watch the Enchantress cast her spell.  As much as we all love the stained glass narration from the original, the prince’s character arc is to learn what true beauty is, which is kind of the whole point of the entire story in the first place.

The scene with Pere Robert wasn’t as elaborate as the bookshop scene in the original, but there’s a good explanation. It wouldn’t make sense for there to be a bookstore in a town that doesn’t have that many people who can or even want to read.  However Pere Robert is a priest with a personal library. He doesn’t have as many books, but he generously loans the books he does have to Belle.

I appreciate the nuances that have been added to the story. For one, when Belle asks Monsieur Jean if he has lost something again, he responds, “I believe I have.  Problem is I can’t remember what!”  This is actually a small hint at how the spell on the castle also extended to the entire town. Yeah, her spell not only turned the now-adult Prince into a hideous CGI goat-man, but also did what the neuralyzer from Men in Black does to people.   It does feel like a convenient cop-out, but it works within the context of the story.

In defense of the songs, I thought these new versions of songs we all know sounded just fine.  They had a more Broadway stage vibe to them, which makes sense given that this is an event musical film.  The auto-tuning was necessary for the actors who weren’t professional singers and the background music of the songs are faithful to the original music.

The Misses

MsOWrites: So about that magic book thing…yeah, it kind of creates a plot hole.  If it can just transport the Beast anywhere he wants, then why wasn’t he using it all the time prior to Belle’s arrival? Also, why didn’t Belle use it to get back to the village and return to her father? The book is used once and then we never see it again.  What?

CGB: Remember how filled with wonder Belle was when she sang about the beauty of books to those sheep? What?  You don’t sing to sheep?  I do it all the time!  Alas, that’s not the point.  

The point is that Hermione–er, I mean–Emma Watson could’ve sung that part about, “Oh, isn’t this amazing?” with a little more enthusiasm.

Speaking of which, Obi-Wan Kenobi (from the Star Wars prequels) plays Lumiere, but there is a bit of a catch: Ewan McGregor himself has stated that he has never seen the original film.  GASP!  Anyway, once I learned that, his performance in this film kind of made more sense.  I’ve seen this movie twice and I didn’t really care for this Lumiere during either time I saw it.  In fact, I think because there was so much focus on getting Belle, the Beast and Gaston right, the supporting cast feels less colorful.

An Unexpected Theological Truth

Both of Us: We consider ourselves students of Mother Teresa.  Throughout her ministry to the poor in Calcutta, she deemed every person she helped as, “Jesus in His most distressing disguise.”  That credo is on display in this film and in the original, as well.  We are going to focus on this film for the sake of argument.  While the Beast most certainly doesn’t act Christ-like in the beginning, Belle does when she chooses to bring him back to the castle after he rescues her from the wolves.  As their relationship develops, he begins displaying Christ-like characteristics such as mercy, understanding and kinship.  One of the many, many beautiful realities of Jesus is that when we follow Him, He brings out the best in us even during difficult times.  With this in mind we see how once she begins ministering to him, Belle becomes the best version of herself and the same happens to the Beast in return.  There is a saying that difficult people show their need for love in unlovable ways and the Beast is a manifestation of that adage.

We challenge you to think of the “Beast” in your life and ask yourself if he/she is in need of mercy and forgiveness.  Sometimes Christ comes to us in the form of an unpleasant person who we can either wash our hands off and avoid at all cost, or show them compassion and forgive their faults just as Belle does with the Beast.

The Elephants in the Room

 

#1. This film has a gay agenda!

MsOWrites: Let’s address the biggest elephant in the room first. There was a lot of hype and backlash about a “gay scene” in this movie involving the character of LeFou. While it’s true that LeFou is shown to have feelings for Gaston, the actual gay scene is just two seconds long.

Neither of us are promoting gay marriage. However, we do agree with the idea of representation. We need to acknowledge that there are people out there who are attracted to the same sex and treat them as people instead of a stereotype.  This advocating of representation also applies to those who identify as asexual as well.  (I’m looking at you, Riverdale!)

Trust me when I say that Disney isn’t the only name in “children’s programming” to include a gay character.

CGB: While I already talked about this on my own blog and my Facebook page, but I’ll just rehash some of my thoughts here.

The original film makes it very clear that Lefou, as well as every woman and man in the entire village, is hopelessly enamored with Gaston. In addition, Gaston presents himself (quite loudly and boldly) to be THE ideal man, THE symbol of masculine perfection. Lefou, being Gaston’s right-hand man, would most likely be the one who gets the most sucked into the–I guess we can call it–the cult of Gaston.  It’s not just LeFou, it’s him and all of the village who are swept up in it, which explains why everyone immediately goes along with Gaston’s “let’s-kill-the-Beast” tirade with no questions asked.

Also, let’s look at Lefou himself. What does he personally gain from being around Gaston all the time? They’re not brothers or related in any fashion, and there’s no indication that Lefou owes him money or anything; in retrospect, Lefou has no real reason to associate himself with Gaston at all. One could make the argument that there is a social benefit to being around Gaston, but Lefou is never established to be a self-serving character who is trying to get ahead in society by being around the “right people,” so that wouldn’t hold up.

Simply having a character who happens to be gay in a film is not in and of itself promoting same-sex marriage.  How it is presented is what matters.  LeFou never actively hits on Gaston and there’s no gay wedding at the end.  There will be those who say, “You give [gay people] an inch and they’ll take a mile!”  However, that inch has to make sense.

You can be a faithful Catholic who staunchly defends the sanctity of marriage and acknowledge that there are LGBT people who are created in His likeness and image.  In fact, that’s basically what we’re supposed to be doing.  We are supposed to bring all people, gay or straight, to the Gospel, not chase them away from it by foaming at the mouth over a fictitious character who happens to be gay.  As Christians, we are called to rise above our outrage culture and be a people of the better way.  Love without truth is permissiveness and truth without love is brutality.  Only the truth spoken with love brings hope and enlightenment.

#2. This film is uber-feminist!

CGB: I’m pretty sure I’ve made it clear by now that I identify as a pro-life feminist (I would emphasize, but the label itself is pretty self-explanatory).  With this lens, I observed that the feminist undertones of this film were centered around the theme of the anti-intellectual village.  For one, notice how only the boys go to school and the girls are the ones learning to keep house. This establishes how Belle is the outsider woman who chooses the solace of books over the conventions of the little town. It is not wrong to use film to point to the very bleak reality that there are still countries in our world where girls are not allowed to read or even go to school.  I would argue that it would probably behoove American feminists to focus less on promoting abortion and more on calling attention to the injustice of depriving girls an education.

MsOWrites: The main issue that Belle has with the villagers is that they choose to stay in their simple, provincial ways. Belle is shown doing laundry by having a horse pull a barrel full of soap and clothes. When I heard about Belle being an inventor who created a washing machine, I actually expected to see her make some kind of steampunk contraption. The invention that Belle created was actually something all the villagers could use. But instead of being open-minded about a better way to do their laundry, they destroy her invention. They also berate her about teaching a young girl to read.

There’s a similar argument going around that Belle, her father, and even the local priest are members of a “literate caste.” Keep in mind that Belle and her father fled Paris in the midst of the plague and that priests are more often than not assigned to minister to small towns. And at the time, priests were well-educated. It’s not that these three deliberately kept their books away from everyone else. They have a school for young boys, but LeFou admits to being illiterate and they would rather side with the amoral war hero (Gaston) over the kind music box maker (Maurice). The townspeople chose to be ignorant throughout the film. You can basically argue that they’re Luddites.

#3. STOCKHOLM SYNDROME!  ARGH!

CGB: Do keep in mind that Belle voluntarily takes her father’s place with no pressure from the Beast to do so. Also, a person with Stockholm syndrome would NEVER argue with their captor

MsOWrites: Belle is a willing participant in her own captivity.  The Beast never truly has power over her, even when he tries to flaunt his authority. Besides, they fall in love after they spend time together and learn more about each other. Here’s a video that goes into more detail. Short version: No, Belle doesn’t have Stockholm Syndrome.

In short, my best friend and I love this movie. Families, go out and see it for yourselves. If you feel more loyal to the original, it is available to buy now. And for anyone who wants to compare this live-action movie to the live-action version of Cinderella, I want to end this blog post with a song, featuring my favorite actress, Sarah Michelle Gellar!