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. 


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?

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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.

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Coco: Pixar’s Most Catholic Movie

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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

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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

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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.