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!

Ghost in the Shell-A Guest Review by A.R.K. Watson

ghost in the shell

Author’s note: This is a review of Ghost in the Shell written by my friend A.R.K. Watson. She’s a huge fan of Ghost in the Shell as a whole and is an anime fan like me. She’s not Japanese, but she did study abroad in Japan for a year and considers herself a fellow Japanophile. So believe me when I say she is the right person to talk about this movie.

Ghost in the Shell is the latest cyberpunk movie to hit the big screen. It is also one of the first western adaptations of a manga and anime since the atrocious Dragonball Evolution movie. It sits in that golden trifecta of reaching anime, cyberpunk, and action movie audiences. It has the potential to be great and also the potential to bomb.

So does it bomb?

No. I am happy to report that it does not in fact bomb.

But you, dear reader, don’t care so much about whether the hoity-toity reviewers will like it. You want to know if you would like this movie.

The answer: it depends on your expectations.

If you are a massive fan and have seen the 1995 movie, read the manga, seen the TV show Stand Alone Complex or other combination of sequel movies and TV shows

This movie was made for you. Right down to some adorable scenes with Batou and basset hounds. Go see it and squeal politely into your hand in the theater so as not to disturb your neighbors. The biggest drawback is while the Tachikoma do make a cameo appearance, their delightful personalities get no screen time. If the movie gets a sequel, we can hope that our dear little spider bots will get a chance to rise up and take over the plot.

If you have never even heard of the original anime or manga until this movie came out Get ready for a beautiful film that draws and improves upon the atmospheric beauty of Blade Runner, with the themes and ambiguity of Total Recall and the cyberpunk aspects of The Matrix. Be warned that like The Matrix, Ghost in the Shell does not have very expressive characters. Unlike The Matrix where Keanu Reeves played the stoic hero, we get Scarlett Johansson instead. It’s not a bad trade off. In fact The Matrix is a good benchmark for discerning whether you would like this movie or not. If you liked The Matrix, you will likely enjoy this movie for its big concepts, beautiful scenery, and graceful action scenes. If you hated The Matrix then this might not be the movie for you.

If you are a fan of Ghost in the Shell ,but have only seen the 1995 movie

You probably won’t like it. Visually this movie often steals scenes shot for shot from the movie but the plot, the villains, the themes are all drawn from the TV show Stand Alone Complex. There is no puppet master or subsequent nirvana-like themes. If the themes and message of the 1995 movie are where your heart truly lays then you will be disappointed. Does that make this a bad adaptation of a movie? Some people will disagree with me, but I don’t think this is a bad adaptation. I cannot explain more, though, without getting into spoilers. If you still want to see the movie, you might consider reading my Spoiler Section below just to set your expectations in the right spot before seeing it. Suffice to say that the message and themes are still faithful to its Buddhist roots and the wider Ghost in the Shell universe.

Now, on to the actual review.

I. The World

Visually this movie is breathtaking. Scenes are taken shot for shot from the 1995 movie and from the Stand Alone Complex TV show. I was afraid this would make the scenes boring for me, a fan who has seen these scenes on multiple rewatchings. It did not. There were enough changes and alterations to keep me interested and thankful that I took the chance to see this film on the big screen where I could really appreciate it.

II. The Characters

Scarlett Johansson does a good job. Seriously. Hate her or love her, I cannot fault her acting in this. In the manga and anime, Major Motoko Kusanagi is not the most emotive, expressive, or empathetic character. She’s very stoic to be honest. I’ve read many a review that criticizes Johannson for this stoic-ness, but she couldn’t have done differently without her role feeling too different from the Motoko I know in the anime. There’s something about the strength in Johansson’s acting that compells me to the point that, at times, I felt more engaged by her character than the anime version.

Pilou Asbaek is perfect as Batou, the male lead in this movie. He did an even better job than Johannson. Pilou Asbaek conveyed Batou’s strength as well as his subtle emotional vulnerability. Also they gave an origin story for his cyber eyes that is tied to his secret/not-so-secret crush on Motoko. It was adorable and was one of the moments I had a hard time not making fangirl squee in the movie theater. (In case you can’t tell, I totally ship it!)

“Beat” Takeshi Kitano portrays Chief Daisuke Aramaki. He’s basically this movie’s version of Director Nick Fury from Avengers and he does an okay job. I liked that they have him deliver all his lines in Japanese, but there were a few times where Takeshi seemed too stoic. He almost looked bored when he delivered his lines. But overall, I think he did a decent job. He even gets an action scene, which was pretty cool.

The other characters are all very background though. I would have enjoyed seeing more of Togusa, Ishikawa, and Saito but I understand why they couldn’t fit everything in. I really hope there’s a sequel because I would love these characters to get more development!

About the Whitewashing

Yes, yes I know. You’ve heard this so many times you are sick of it I’m sure. But it needs to be addressed.

Yes, casting Johansson as the Major is whitewashing. It is bad. They should’ve cast a Japanese actress.

No, the approval of the casting by Japanese citizens does not make this okay. This isn’t just about doing justice to the original content. As the Japanese people in that video explain, a diverse casting is in keeping with the aesthetic of a lot of anime and Johansson does actually look like the Motoko in animation.

This is about the USA and the Hollywood version of a Japanese story. In Japan, the Japanese are the majority. Any westerner regardless of color or race is a minority and suffers the subsequent institutionalized inequalities that come with that. Anyone not racially Japanese, for example, can never gain the right to vote regardless of whether they become a citizen or not. So perhaps if Japan were to make their own live action version of Ghost in the Shell, it would be more appropriate for them to cast Johansson. Even then, it would still be a little creepy given how the Japanese often over idealize white people. Its almost exactly the same way some American guys just love Asian girls in that overly creepy way.

But Japan didn’t make this movie. Hollywood did. This is the same Hollywood in which Asian actors and actresses face greater hurdles to land roles, where they are usually the sidekick or best friend. This is the Hollywood where Asian actors are pressured to spend a ton of money on tutors to lose their accent and then asked to lean into that same accent on set in order to make the role more “ethnic.” It isn’t the Japanese citizens who are the final word on whether or not the casting is inappropriate—it’s American Japanese citizens who are.

By now I’m sure you are saying, but Watson, you saw the movie, are you saying I shouldn’t? Perhaps, but not before considering two more points.

  1. This movie is actually diverse. If it weren’t an adaptation I think people would notice that more. Of the named characters I counted six white people and seven persons of color, and that’s not even getting into the great efforts this movie took to involve Japanese crew. They even recast Ishikawa as a Black man. While I do still wish they made Motoko Japanese, if you boycott this movie solely based on whitewashing the main character, those many POV actors won’t get the acclaim they deserve.
  2. They do give a story reason for the whitewashing in the movie. I will tell you what that is in the spoiler section, but for now I can only say that the reason is in keeping with the wider themes explored in Ghost in the Shell and it made sense in the context of the story. Will the reason please everyone? No. I wasn’t particularly pleased myself, but it does leave a plot opportunity open to fix the issue in a sequel. Major Motoko is, after all, a cyborg. She is already emotionally disconnected to her body. Changing faces would be no problem and she is even given a plot reason to seriously consider doing so.
  3. Giving this movie no success at all will do about as much for encouraging more live action anime adaptations as if you decided to spend your ticket on an adaptation where all the actors were white and the writers clearly didn’t even read the original source material. I guess I don’t want this movie to have all the success. I just want it to make just enough money for Hollywood to realize that this is an untapped audience and that we might give them our money if they would take the time to get it right.

It’s because of this last reason that I decided to see the movie. I cannot say I regret going. Despite everything this movie truly is the big budget faithful adaptation of an anime that we’ve been waiting for.

Spoilers Ahead! Beware!!

Saw the movie? Awesome!

From here on out I will assume you know what I’m talking about and thus cut down on the summary. You’ve seen the movie and you know how you feel about it. I just want to take the time to point out two aspects you might not be aware of if you haven’t seen the other Ghost in the Shell media or if you’ve only seen the 1995 movie. The last bit is my final and very conflicted word on the whitewashing issue in light of the “twist.”

About the Villain

Peter Ferdinando’s portrayal of Cutter, the Hanka Robotics’ CEO ,was trite and boring. Also, how the hell did a white man start running an obviously Japanese company? Forget him!

The real interesting villain is Hideo Kuze, played by Michael Pitt. Kuze is inspired by the villain of Stand Alone Complex season two. I say “inspired by” because there are a lot of differences, but I think that this is where the live action movie actually improves the storyline.

What they got right—Michael Pitt does look a little similar to the Kuze in Stand Alone Complex (S.A.C. for short) ., if perhaps you mashed him with the rogue A.I. Roy Batty from Blade Runner. Just like in the original anime, he is going on a revenge spree and he does have a human created neural network, though in S.A.C., the network was very voluntary and much less creepy. It’s also never fully explained or explored; much like it is in this movie, so I suppose I can’t blame the 2017 movie for being confusing when the original content is as well. The TV show version also gives Kuze a backstory in which a personal connection to Motoko Kusanagi is implied, but we are given scant details and it never felt genuine to me. Apparently they were childhood friends who helped each other deal with being full cyborgs before he got shipped off to war and framed for war crimes he didn’t commit. The anime version of Kuze was definitely not a teenage runaway. Honestly though I prefer the 2017 backstory for Kuze. He’s a much more emotionally interesting character here than he is in S.A.C. and it makes him and Motoko all the more interesting for it.

The many lives of Motoko’s backstory

In the anime and manga, Motoko’s backstory has already gone through some subtle changes but in no version was she a teen runaway or a victim of human experimentation.

In the original story, Motoko was always someone who became a cyborg at a very young age and with the full consent of her parents or guardians. In the TV show Stand Alone Complex, her backstory is that she was the victim of a terrorist attack when she was in elementary school and suffered a coma. In order to have a normal life, she was moved to a fully synthetic body and grew up as a cyborg. In the more recent movie series, Arise, her back story was changed so that it was actually her mother who was a victim of a terrorist attack when she was pregnant with Motoko and one of the EMP’s on the scene saved the consciousness of unborn Motoko by transferring it to a cyber brain. In that version, she grows up with absolutely no memories of having a human body.

I think you can see where the 2017 movie got its idea for “Meera Killian’s” terrorist victim backstory can’t you?

I must say too I actually like the changes made to this version of Motoko’s backstory. Meera/Motoko still has lost most all her memories of having an normal body so if they make sequels to the movie they can still explore that body-mind dissonance that is so fascinating in the original story, but with the added drama that bringing her birth mother into it entails.

While it is implied in the anime that she had a normal childhood other than the cyborization, we never actually meet her parents, be they natural or adoptive. Motoko is very James Bond like in that she rarely shows deep emotion and serves more as the show’s unshakable noir-type investigator. I found myself more emotionally engaged by this version of Motoko than I have ever before. That scene where Motoko meets her mother is a perfect example of two actresses with some really good talent. Johansson did a great job but Kaori Mamoi, who played Motoko’s mother, blew everyone in that movie out of the water in just one scene.

Also I have a Catholic joke for you nerds out there. Motoko’s fake name in this movie was Meera—as in the Irish version of the name Mary. Did anyone laugh when our Marian cyborg said, “I was made for justice” or was that just me and my apophenia?

Again with the Whitewashing

For all that I still have problems with casting Motoko as a white woman, I also love the message that this movie sends against whitewashing. The exploration of the way that the cyborization is inhuman is pure cyberpunk. By casting Motoko as white and calling to attention her stolen memories and stolen race, the movie makes it very clear that treating a person as just a mind or disembodied soul is disrespectful. Cyborization is itself the ultimate white washing, and it isn’t just that it would be less common for companies to issue Black cyber bodies—even the so-called Arian model cyborgs would likely be the idealized version instead of the reality. Body diversity even within the white population would be erased and replaced with whatever the current fashion says is the ideal body type. Full cyborization is a tragedy. The original manga and show knew it and so does this film, most of the time. Even when the original content portrayed Motoko as someone whose life was saved by cybertech, the grief Motoko experiences for her dead body never really leaves her and I’m glad that the live action movie found a new way to explore the same theme.

Then again, if they don’t recast her as Asian in the sequel that whole message will mean nothing won’t it?

Regardless, I am not sad I saw this movie. It truly was the big budget Hollywood adaptation of an anime that Japanophile nerds have been waiting for. So I did it. I went. I gave my money and I even sort-of recommend it. But, hey if the amount of racist stuff in this world is getting you down it’s totally a worthy move to take a day or moment off and just save yourself the mental health. If that’s the case do yourself a favor and go see Moana.

Now it’s up to Hollywood. Give us a sequel and/or different adaptation and give us a Japanese casting already!

Power Rangers: A Movie Review

When I was a kid, I loved watching Power Rangers. No matter how many times the teams changed, one thing almost always remained the same: The rangers always have the will to fight and will always the right thing even when the odds are against them.This film, while not safe for the average five-year-old, is definitely the modern, grown-up Power Rangers that I could see my younger self watching.

I was really worried that the film might be similar to the Transformers franchise, but a better comparison would actually be The Breakfast Club meets the Marvel Cinematic Universe. Like the iconic 80s movie, the Power Rangers team in this movie consists of an athlete (Jason Scott, played by Dacre Montgomery), a brainiac (Billy Cranston, played by RJ Cyler), a basketcase (Trini, played by Becky G), a princess (Kimberly Hart, played by Naomi Scott), and a “criminal” (Zack, played by Ludi Lin). Billy, Kimberly, and Jason first meet when they have to take Saturday detention together on a regular basis. Jason’s in detention due to a prank gone wrong. Kimberly and Billy’s reasons for being in detention get revealed later on.

When Jason defends Billy from the school bully (sadly not named Bulk or Skull), the two of them strike up a friendship that eventually leads them to the town quarry. There, they run into the three other teens. Billy often goes to the mining quarry to remind himself of his deceased father. The latest excavation leads the five teens to finding Zordon’s Power Coins. Around the same time, Jason’s dad pulls Rita’s body from the ocean, unwittingly setting the course of events in motion.

How is This Different From Every Other Origin Story?

Origin Story Movies these days are a dime a dozen, especially in the Marvel Cinematic Universe. While I love Marvel, I understand the complaints behind how the movies are written. Doctor Strange may have trippy effects, but the story is essentially the same as Iron Man, especially considering how similar the protagonists are.

What makes Power Rangers different from the other Origin Story Movies is that first of all, it’s an ensemble origin story. Much like Guardians of the Galaxy, all the rangers have a backstory and play an essential role in the movie. Jason leads the team, Billy is the heart, Kimberly keeps the team spirit, Zack is the first to try out the megazords, and Trini helps the team find Rita.

The process of them becoming Rangers also creates a bond between these five teenagers and in turn, they help Zordon find closure in regards to his past. In spite of the odds, this ragtag bunch of misfits become fire-forged friends.

The Importance of Representation

Some people would accuse this film of using “tokenism” or using different ethnicities and other “tokens” in the name of political correctness. First of all, Power Rangers was always diverse, even though they unintentionally cast an African-American as the Black Ranger and an Asian woman as the Yellow Ranger during the first season of Mighty Morphin. In this movie,  there’s been press about Trini being gay and Billy being on the autism spectrum.

Billy’s portrayal of being autistic shows him as pretty high-functioning, since he goes to high school and is able to interact well with his friends. He doesn’t understand sarcasm or humor, but his quirks made him able to help the team out and it’s clear that he is the glue that holds the team together, even though he mostly interacted with Jason. He starts out being uncomfortable with being touched and scared to take risks beyond sneaking into the mine, but by the end of the film, it’s clear that he’s embraced his new role as a hero. Overall, Billy has become my favorite character in this film, especially since I’m on the autism spectrum myself.

Parents will probably more concerned about Trini being gay, but thankfully, she’s not a stereotype, either. She doesn’t dress like a butch or flirt with every girl. There is a scene where she playfully fights over the last doughnut with Kimberly, but it’s part of the “team bonding montage” and can be interpreted as just friendly playing. The most we ever see or hear about her sexuality is when she tells the rangers during a campfire scene about how she doesn’t feel like she’s conforming to her parents standards. She never says that she’s gay, but she’s definitely questioning her sexuality, which is actually very realistic.

Zack isn’t even the token Asian, either, as he isn’t the brainy dude or even wealthy. He lives in a trailer park with his sick mother and is scared of losing her.

Don’t Try This At Home!

One thing I need to address is that this film has CGI, but the command center is an actual set and there are scenes that show the rangers in their suits, so it’s obvious that they’re not wearing any capture-motion suits. That said, the teenagers get into a lot of dangerous situations even before they become Rangers. This isn’t a deterrent, it’s just something I want parents to think about.

I also like that Kimberly’s backstory involves a modern hot-button topic and it’s not something debated or central to the plot, but something that informs her character. She did something bad to one of her friends, but the fact that she’s trying to atone for that makes her worthy of being the Pink Ranger.

Minor Nitpicks

The humor in this film is definitely on par with the usual ridiculousness from the Power Rangers franchise, but it never crosses the line of being overly stupid. I only have two minor nitpicks with this film. One is that I wanted a Bulk and Skull archetype in this film. While the film has a bully, he’s not exactly the same as the bumbling buffoons from the original. The characters that come the closest to being the Bulk and Skull of the movie are Kimberly’s former friends from the cheerleading squad. I understand that the humor mostly comes from Billy, but given the more grown-up tone of the film, having a Bulk and Skull would’ve provided some much-needed levity in the scary situations.

The other minor nitpick I have is that while it was awesome to hear the original theme, I wanted to hear it two more times: during the Megazord fight and during the end credits. And I should also mention that they used the theme from the original 90s Mighty Morphin movie and not from the show. It would’ve been a total nostalgia trip to hear the entire original theme again.

Final Verdict

While I don’t recommend this film to everyone, I still love it. I think that the film is good for kids who are ten and older and know that while they can’t get into the dangerous situations the Rangers do, they can learn to bond with people outside of the social norms and to never give up, even when the odds are against them.

For fans of the original franchise, I want to say that this film is thankfully not as dark as Daredevil nor as stupid as the Transformers series. And while the teenagers don’t get their suits until the third act, it’s clear that even before they morph, they are still worthy of becoming Power Rangers because the want to do the right thing and fight even when the odds are against them, even when they don’t have their armor. Having the courage to fight without armor? That’s what makes a hero.

St. Martin of Tours, pray for us.

 

In Defense of Silence

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To quote The Dark Knight: “You either die a hero or you live long enough to see yourself become the villain.” Silence shows both sides of this statement.

People who are familiar with the movies from Martin Scorsese are familiar with his themes on guilt, redemption, pride, morality. And usually these themes are portrayed in a gritty, dramatic, and even tragic light. There’s a controversy surrounding Silence because many people, including Bishop Robert Barron, mistakenly believe that the movie promotes apostasy. They forget that the story is historical fiction and that the story arc of Fr. Sebastian Rodrigues isn’t a heroic journey, but a tragedy.

Spoilers for Silence ensue.

I think people forget what a real tragedy is supposed to do. Many people love watching shows like House of Cards, How to Get Away with Murder, and Suits which all have villainous protagonists and the show essentially sides with them even as they endure lots of drama. The protagonists of these shows are not to be admired or imitated or even mourned over if they ever lose the power they gain.

A real tragedy, however, can be found in plays such as Hamlet or Macbeth and even in characters such as Iron Man, who lost his friends and loved ones due to his own hubris and paranoia. The character of Sebastiao Rodrigues is an authentic example of a tragic hero. We aren’t meant to imitate him, but mourn him and learn a lesson from his bad judgment.

In traditional tragedies, the central character has a tragic flaw. Macbeth’s is ambition, Othello’s is jealousy. Sebastiao Rodrigues’s flaw in the movie is implied to be vanity. There’s a moment in the movie where Fr. Rodrigues sees his reflection in the water and sees Jesus’s face as his own. His old mentor, Fr. Ferreira, berates him for daring to compare himself to Christ. Now while having a God complex is never a good thing, I think that Fr. Rodrigues was just trying to act in persona Christi. He had such a devotion to the Holy Face of Jesus that touched my heart.

I think Rodrigues’s real tragic flaw was an interior struggle with a spiritual darkness. This darkness only grew as he watched the defenseless villagers offer themselves up to protect him, to the point that many of them are tortured and eventually die for their beliefs.

When I looked up the era that the novel took place in, I learned that at the time, there weren’t many saints or texts outside of the Psalms that talked about spiritual darkness. It’s possible that Rodrigues didn’t know how to deal with the darkness because he never learned of anyone else who dealt with it. I’m also surprised that Psalm 88 isn’t mentioned, as I think that the Psalm captures Rodrigues’s interior struggle.

In his video review of Silence, Bishop Robert Barron compares the apostate priests to soldiers who defect to the enemy. I think what Bishop Barron forgot, however, is that many soldiers in real life suffer from PTSD. I think that the psychological torture Rodrigues was put under led to him developing a spiritual PTSD. He let himself be consumed by the darkness and apostatized out of a distorted attempt at heroism. 

Rodrigues and Ferreira suffered a fate worse than death as a result of their apostasy: they became what they hated the most and make sure Christianity is not brought into Japan anymore. They are mocked by the children and are ordered to take on a new name. They also take a wife, but it’s never shown if they have any relations with the women they ended up marrying.

It’s shown that even after he apostatized, Rodrigues is still put under great scrutiny. He never completely wins over the trust of the Japanese overlords. In the end, Rodrigues’s entire identity as a Christian completely eradicated as he is given a Buddhist funeral and buried under the name that the Japanese overlords gave him. The only evidence of the man he once was is the crucifix that is shown in his hands as his body is burned.

I don’t think that these events glamorize or promote apostasy. Rather, they show the consequences of sin, in this case, the apostasy: separation from God and loss of self. The film shows the brutality of martyrdom, but giving into spiritual darkness is equally tragic.

I highly recommend Silence to those who want to see a good example of a modern tragedy and I think it’s even a good film to watch for Lent because of its look into spiritual darkness. Just bring tissues and ice cream. You’re going to need it.

Saint Mother Teresa of Calcutta, pray for those who apostatize and struggle with spiritual darkness.

Image is used for editorial purposes only.

The Tragedy of Rogue One

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I’ll be the first one to say that I’m a casual Star Wars fan at best. I respect the films for the impact they made on culture and I like the overall story of the original trilogy and the themes of the prequel trilogy. The Force Awakens was also one that I really liked.  What makes Rogue One different from all the other Star Wars movies I saw was that it made the biggest emotional impact on me.

What I Liked About Rogue One

Why do I love Rogue One so much? It’s honestly the characters.

Jyn Erso (played by Felicity Jones) starts out the movie with a lot of understandable cynicism towards both sides of the war. Cassian Andor (played by Diego Luna) took a while to grow on me because he was an intelligence officer who will do whatever it takes to defeat the Empire, even if it means doing morally questionable actions.  The comic relief robotK-2SO (played by Alan Tudyk) proves to be a useful ally when the situation calls for it. Bodhi Rook is a former Imperial pilot who contributes his knowledge of protocols and technology to the mission.

Baze Malbus (played by Jiang Wen) and Chirtrut Imwe (played by Donnie Yen) are the characters who steal the show for me. I love their backstory of being former temple guardians. Baze is the weapons expert whose gun is just made of awesome. He also shows to have a big heart underneath his harsh exterior. Chirrut, on the other hand, is the devout, blind warrior monk who dodges Stormtrooper blasts with ease and provides some nice levity to this otherwise heavy movie. His mantra is also my favorite line from the movie: “I am one with the Force and the Force is with me.”

Orson Krennic (played by Ben Mendelsohn) is an intimidating villain and he almost wins in this movie if not for Jyn’s determination. And seeing Darth Vader again sent chills up my spine.

What really sticks in my mind, though, is the third act. Without going into spoilers, the way that the movie ended had me crying legit tears. It shows that wars are not won without sacrifices.

A Tangent on Faith/The Force

Although the religion of the Jedi/The Force is mostly inspired by the monomyth of Joseph Campbell’s Hero With A Thousand Faces and has aspects that aren’t compatible with Catholicism, I’m glad that the Force acts as more of a metaphor for faith in this movie and not as a deux ex machina that provides the characters with superpowers. Chirrut can’t levitate anything or control lightning. He relied on his heightened senses, his martial arts skills, his staff, and on Baze having his back. And yet his faith in The Force gives him courage to endure the battlefront.

 

Minor Nitpicks

The rest of the Rebel Alliance, though, is kind of disappointing. I understand that they are at a low point and have to rely on mercenaries and assassins to make up their task forces, but their lack of trust in Jyn is what leads to the Rogue Squad’s eventual downfall. I also didn’t like that Saw Gerrera was only around for the first act. I heard that he has a larger role in the animated series, Star Wars: The Clone Wars and Star Wars Rebels and I wanted to see him growing with Jyn.

Carrie Fisher

I’d also be remiss if I didn’t mention seeing a digitally remastered young Carrie Fisher at the end of the movie. Rogue One ends with a clear transition in which Princess Leia gets the information that the Rogue Squadron worked so hard to get. Even though I’m only a casual Star Wars fan, I felt numb when I heard the news of her passing. I knew she was a woman who struggled with a lot of things that contrasted with the character of Princess Leia. And yet, Fisher was able to eventually have a good life. I loved that she went back into the role of General Organa for The Force Awakens and wonder how the heck they will handle the character of Princess Leia in the sequels.

I will probably be like a lot of Star Wars fans and remember Carrie Fisher as Princess Leia. Right now, though, the last lines from the movie will be the ones that will echo in my mind the most:

Captain Antilles: Your Highness — the transmission we received. What is it that they’ve sent us?
Leia Organa: …Hope.

May the Force be with you, Carrie.

 

Kubo and the Two Strings: Collaboration with Catholic Girl Bloggin

 

kubo movie poster

If you must blink, do it now…

Kubo is a young boy who lives with his sometimes-catatonic mother in a cave by the sea. Every day he walks down to the village and entertains the villagers by telling stories using origami that comes to life when he plays his shamisen (a Japanese three-stringed instrument). There is a catch to Kubo’s existence: He must never ever stay out after dark. He soon figures out the reason when he stays out past dark and his evil spirit Aunts come to take him to his “grandfather” the Moon King, who intends to take Kubo’s remaining eye. With the help of a monkey and a beetle, Kubo must find his deceased father’s armor and defeat the Moon King.

This is another collaboration with my awesome friend Amy aka Catholic Girl Bloggin. My friend Amy’s writings will be in blue and my stuff will be in purple.

CGB Hits
I absolutely adore how imaginative this film is! Like the titular character, the world we are introduced to is brimming with creativity. I have always had a soft spot for Asian culture, so I appreciate that the story takes place in ancient Japan.

The first ten minutes has the best use of “show-don’t-tell” that I’ve seen in a long time. Yes, there is some opening narration from Kubo himself, but his dialogue is not an exposition spiel; rather the visuals are allowed to do all the talking. Any time the movie does resort to expositional dialogue, it is kept brief. Speaking of the visuals, the animation is–holy cow–just breathtaking! I turned to the friend who accompanied me and said, “Dude, that looks like real water!” There’s an impressive painting-come-to-life feel with the color palatte and the design of the locations that make the film a beauty to behold.

The story itself is truly inspired! Granted, the “adventures-of-a-half human-half celestial-child” story has been done before, but having him be a gifted storyteller who can bring origami to life with a musical instrument is quite an impressive twist. The most admirable quality of the film are the morals. I really like how Monkey tells Kubo, “Your magic is growing stronger. You need to learn control. But when we grow stronger the world grows more dangerous.” Trust me when I say that her statement holds a lot of truth.

Earlier this year, I reviewed the Jungle Book, in which I pointed out how the film reminded me of something a friend said to me, “Let the angels and the saints deal with the devil. They know what they’re doing.” Kubo and the Two Strings also brought those words to mind! Similarly to how our guardian angels tackle the evil one when he tries to mess with us, any time the hawkish evil spirit aunts come to harrass Kubo, Monkey and Beetle are there to fight them off while Kubo either accomplishes a task or seeks refuge. It is with their help that Kubo becomes strong enough and fully-equipped to finally take on the Moon King himself. Also, the climactic confrontation between Kubo and Moon King does come with an Eden-style temptation. Basically it’s the “join me and you will become like gods” thing, much like how the old serpent told Eve that if she ate the apple, she’d become like God. Between this and the Jungle Book, I’m pleasantly surprised to see that kids films come with an interest in the mysterious spiritual world.

MsOcampoWrites Hits

It’s so refreshing to find a movie for general audiences that has a completely original premise. My brother and I were obsessed with Japanese culture since we were kids and we were both looking forward to seeing this movie. It lived up to the expectations I had and then it blew me out of the water.

The animation is stunning, the characters are all enjoyable, and the writing is a breath of fresh air amongst the remakes and reboots out there. The movie does not play things safe and yet I would totally recommend this movie to basically everyone.

The central themes of this movie are about the importance of family and the power of a good story. Kubo goes on a journey to finish what his father started: to find the armor that will help him defeat the Moon King. Monkey, Beetle, and Little Hanzo all made for excellent travelling companions.

The Sisters were intimidating, frightening villains as well. I also love all the action sequences because there was a variety of them. The townsfolk play a great role as supporting characters who do more than just act as bystanders. I love that they accept Kubo’s gift and don’t treat him like an outsider like other movies would.

CGB Misses

The friend who came with me to see this movie had some questions about Kubo’s scary aunts. “If his grandfather is the Moon King, then are his aunts supposed to be stars or something?” This is just one of the film’s unanswered questions.

Also, is it just me or is the danger Kubo faces at the hands of his tyrannical grandfather lacking some weight? Let me explain: So essentially, if Kubo is caught by the Moon King and the hawk-women, then they will take his remaining eye…and then what? Are they gonna just leave him blinded on earth? Is he going to be made into a freaky spirit person like them? Also, other than being the product of his mother’s disobedience against the Moon King, why is the Moon King threatened by Kubo’s existence? Does the Moon King believe that Kubo being half-human, half-celestial mean that he [Kubo] will try to overthrow him? Now, to be fair, in their final confrontation, the Moon King does offer to take Kubo with him and make him an infinite being, but still, I think that if the threat had been written as “the Moon King’s gonna snatch Kubo’s other eye and enslave him,” or something like that, it would’ve helped.
Speaking of the Moon King, here’s my issue: I totally understand why he is a threat to Kubo, but the movie doesn’t make him seem like a threat to anyone else. The Moon King doesn’t seem to be feared by anyone else in the movie’s universe. In Harry Potter, Voldemort was a threatening presence regardless of whether or not Harry was around; it just so happened that he had his sights set on The Boy Who Lived and anyone associated with him. Here, though, it would have helped to see the Moon King burn down a village or require insane sacrifices or something; anything to raise the stakes of his existence.

MsOcampoWrites Misses
While I will say that all the actors did a great job in this movie, I wish that George Takei had more than just a cameo role. I also think that this movie could’ve been even better with Asian actors in the main roles. Matthew McConaughey’s acting is uneven, albeit has its own interesting brand of charm.
Elephant in the Room

MsOcampoWrites:
Right before we did this collab, one of my Facebook friends sent me an article from a well­ regarded Catholic news source that dismissed this movie and said that it promoted “neo-­Pagan values.” As somebody who grew up watching Charmed, reads Harry Potter, and still watches Buffy, I think that the themes in this movie are just as Catholic as any Bible­-based movie. For one thing, the central theme of this movie is the importance of family. While the main villains are Kubo’s grandfather and aunts, it’s reminiscent of Luke 12:53 “They will be divided, father against son and son against father, mother against daughter and daughter against mother, mother-­in-­law against daughter-­in-­law and daughter-­in-­law against mother-­in-­law.” The Moon King and his daughters are arrogant because they fail to comprehend things such as compassion and selfless love. Without going into spoiler territory, the ending of this movie shows justice and mercy rendered unto the Moon King, so the movie ends up teaching something that relates to the Year of Mercy as well.

Catholic Girl Bloggin:
Yes, I did see the article about Kubo promoting the occult and I will tell you that I didn’t see a single ouija board, tarot card, voodoo doll or anything occult-like in this entire movie. In fact, the villains were reminiscent of demons while Monkey and Beetle were basically Kubo’s guardian angels. If anything, the story borrows heavily from Greek mythology with hints of Shintoism. For the record, Shinto is a Japanese religion and given that the story does take place in ancient Japan, it only makes sense to borrow influence from a Japanese religion. So fear not, guys and gals, Kubo and the Two Strings is NOT pro-occult propoganda. Frankly, I don’t think the devil really cares about stop-motion animation and the film’s pro-family message would probably have him tripping over himself as he tries to flee.

I don’t think Kubo is in theatres now, but if it’s still showing, I highly recommend families with kids of all ages to check out this movie. If not, rent it from a Redbox or an on-demand streaming service when it comes out on DVD. It’s a great, original adventure that will take your breath away. And on top of that, it emphasizes the importance of family when dealing with a problem that’s more than a child can handle.

Venerable Takayama Ukon and Saint Paul Miki, pray for us.

Star Trek Beyond: An Interstellar Phenomenon

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For those who don’t know, I am neither a die-hard fan of Star Wars nor of Star Trek. I am a Browncoat first, thank you very much.

However, I do like the new Star Trek movie series, for the most part. The first one was a very accessible movie, as it introduced me to the world of Captain Kirk, Spock, and Starfleet. I didn’t like the second one as much, however, because it tried too hard to be (essentially) a remake of The Wrath of KhanStar Trek Beyond, however, blows the other two movies way out of the water. I’ll admit that I was skeptical at first because of the trailer, but this film is definitely a thrill ride from beginning to end. I haven’t felt so breathless after the end of a movie since Avengers: Age of Ultron.

The theme of the movie returns to the themes of the original series: Growing up and dealing with life in a seemingly endless journey towards discovering the unknown. I’m hoping to keep this review as spoiler-free as possible because I went into this knowing next to nothing about what the movie was about beyond what I saw from the initial trailer.

Captain James Tiberius Kirk, played by Chris Pine, records a very contemplative captain’s log. He feels that the five-year voyage has become “episodic” and he wonders if there’s any meaning to it all. This newfound maturity is a breath of fresh air compared to the immature attitude he had during the previous two movies. He’s also celebrating his birthday. However, unlike the original Kirk, he’s not scared of getting old. He’s realizing that he’s one year older than his father, who died at the same time that he was born. Chris Pine, btw, is 35 years old. He does not look it, obviously, but I like that Kirk’s character arc is centering on defining himself beyond his father’s legacy.

Speaking of legacy, Spock’s character arc centers on what he thinks is the logical choice for the continuing of his species and following his heart to keep his relationship with Uhura intact. His contemplation to leave Starfleet would also mean not seeing his best friend. He gets a change in his logical plans when he learns of the death of Spock Prime, played by the late Leonard Nimoy.

While the previous two films could be argued as centering on Kirk and Spock too much, this movie is a great example of how to handle an ensemble cast. Even the so-called “supporting members” of the crew (Uhura, Sulu, Chekov, and Scotty) play major roles in this film. As Uhura says in the film, the strength of the Enterprise crew is the fact that they stick together, even when the odds are against them. Justin Lin has a lot of experience directing ensembles in movies such as Fast and Furious and TV shows like Community and it shows in this film when the crew gets stranded on a remote planet, with limited communications.

I don’t want to say how the crew of the Enterprise ended up stranded, but I will say that the journey of the first act is a crazy thrill ride. I was legitimately scared that any one of the characters could die, even knowing that they probably have plans for the sequel.

The crew gets separated after getting stranded on the remote planet, with Kirk and Chekov trying to handle a supposed alien damsel in distress. Uhura, Sulu, and the rest of the Enterprise crew are taken captive by the main bad guy, Krall, and his band of ravagers. Bones and Spock are stranded on another part of the planet and spend a lot of hilarious moments together, even as Spock deals with a wound he received from the Enterprise’s crash landing. And Scotty, stranded in yet another part of the planet, meets Jaylah, a young alien lady who’s familiar with the territory and strikes up a good friendship with the engineer.

One thing I loved about this movie is that the only romantic relationship in the spotlight is Spock and Uhura’s. Kirk has abandoned his playboy ways since, as captain, he doesn’t want to get entangled with any of the crew and cause unnecessary drama. (Incidentally, Dr. Marcus does not appear in this movie. Which is an honest relief for me because I didn’t like her to begin with. My headcanon is that she and Kirk had a fling and she eventually left the Enterprise after the fallout of said relationship. But I digress.) The character of Jaylah stands out as a great female character who’s managed to survive on the dangerous unnamed planet in a 100-year-old starship. She spends a lot of time bonding with Scotty, but the two of them are never romantically involved. Kirk also helps Jaylah, but doesn’t get involved romantically with her, either. My usual shipping radar drove me to expect Jaylah to hook up with somebody, but it’s a breath of fresh air that she is instead a great ally who doesn’t hook up with anybody. It’s implied at the end that she’s young enough to enroll in Starfleet and Scotty pulls strings to help her on that path. I hope I see her in the next movie!

Speaking of romantic relationships, I’d be remiss if I didn’t point out the fact that there was a short scene in this film that shows that Sulu is gay. There is a lot of controversy over it and understandably so. However, the point of Star Trek was to show that the citizens of earth lived in a future with no racial tensions and that anything was possible for them. I honestly thought that Sulu was gay in the original anyway, so it’s no big deal for me that his sexual orientation is acknowledged here. I’m just glad that the film itself didn’t make a big deal out of Sulu being married to another man and having a daughter.

The sad part of this film, though, is that it’ll be the last film that Anton Yelchin, the actor who plays Chekov, will ever be seen in, as he died in a car accident a week before the film premiered. Chekov played a huge role in this movie, helping Kirk search for the Enterprise crew. His sweet demeanor provides for great comic relief at times. Of course, Spock and Bones provide most of the humor in this movie. Again, though, the shadow of Spock Prime still lingers in this film. I started crying during the part when Spock looks at an old photo of the original cast.

I can’t talk much about the bad guy here, though, for the sake of spoilers. All I can say is that these bad guys were a legitimate threat. There were scenes with this guy that are the stuff of nightmares!

Don’t be deterred by the trailer because all the action actually serves the plot here, crazy awesome rock music and all. It reminded me of Guardians of the Galaxy, but with a touch of philosophy from the original series. Overall, I highly recommend you see this movie.

Star Trek Beyond is copyright to Paramount. Image is used for editorial purposes only.

Captain America: Civil War—Avengers, Disassembled

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Warning: Spoilers and feels ensue.

I was not ready to see this movie. All the fun and games from the first Avengers film have gone completely out the window.  Like Buffy Season 6, I knew this movie was going to hurt. And it did. A lot. But it hurt in a good way. The same way that a good tragedy hurts. Because in the end, that’s what Captain America: Civil War is—a tragedy.

I don’t want to go too much into the plot. What I will tell you is that the trailers and TV spots for Civil War are really clever in their misdirection. Don’t go into the movie thinking that you know what’s gonna happen. You will be shocked in the most genuine manner possible.

There are two major conflicts in this movie. The first conflict is this: The Avengers are divided on where they stand on what is called the Sokovia Accords, which registers the Avengers as a UN task force in order to hold the heroes accountable for the collateral damage they cause worldwide. Yes, in spite of the fact that the Avengers went out of their way to cause as little collateral damage as possible, a lot of people still died along the way and most people are blaming the Avengers for it, especially when Scarlet Witch accidentally kills dozens of Wakandans while doing a job with Captain America and company in Lagos, Nigeria.

Now one would expect, given the previous movies up to this point, that Captain America would be all for signing the Accords while Iron Man would be distrusting of the government. However, the events of  Iron Man 3 and The Winter Soldier have led to Tony being in favor of the Accords as a way to try and get some kind of accountability for everyone and Steve wanting the right to choose the battles he fights as opposed to using his abilities to further some politician’s agenda.

Both sides have a point. On the one hand, the heroes do need to be held accountable for their actions. On the other hand, the heroes shouldn’t be used as pawns for government organizations. Both Tony and Steve have very questionable actions throughout the movie as well. Tony reminds me of Angel from Buffy and Angel, trying to atone for his actions by doing what he thinks is best for everyone else whether they agree with him or not, but unlike Angel, Tony is doing so out of genuine grief and PTSD issues and not just from a curse. He’s also willing to admit when he is wrong. Of course, that doesn’t help any by the time Act 3 comes around. But we’ll get to that later. On the other hand, you can argue that Captain America is way too forgiving of Bucky, who killed hundreds of people under the influence of HYDRA’s brainwashing. (Reminds me of Buffy’s treatment of Spike during Season 7.) However, Bucky wants to atone for the things he did as The Winter Soldier and is making an effort to remember the things he did. Unfortunately, he gets implicated in a couple of terrorist attacks, forcing Captain to assemble a team to help him keep Bucky safe. On the other hand, Iron Man assembles his own team to get Captain America and his crew to side with the Accords.

This leads to the huge battle in a Germany airport that’s shown in basically every trailer. The teams are divided thusly:

Anti-Accords (Team Captain America):
Steve Rogers/Captain America (Chris Evans)
Bucky Barnes/The Winter Soldier (Sebastian Stan)
Sam Wilson/The Falcon (Anthony Mackie)
Clint Barton/Hawkeye (Jeremy Renner)
Wanda Maximoff/Scarlet Witch (Elizabeth Olsen)
Scott Lang/Ant-Man (Paul Rudd)
Pro-Accords (Team Iron Man):
Tony Stark/Iron Man (Robert Downey, Jr.)
Natasha Romanoff/Black Widow (Scarlett Johansson)
The Vision (Paul Bettany)
James Rhodes/War Machine (Don Cheadle)
T’Challa/Black Panther (Chadwick Boseman)
Peter Parker/Spider-Man (Tom Holland)

The most surprising characters in the movie are actually Black Panther and Spider-Man. Spider-Man is the picture definition of “adorkable” in this movie. With the latest reboot coming around soon, Peter Parker is back to being a teenage kid with an insanely hot aunt (played by the seriously-does-not-look 51-year-old Marisa Tomei) who received his spider powers about six months before the events of the movie started. In contrast, T’Challa is a diplomat and the new king of Wakanda. He’s also a very powerful, experienced fighter in contrast to Peter.

A lot of Peter’s life (from what is seen in the movie) feels the most authentic compared to the previous film incarnations because he’s in way over his head. He provides a lot of humor to this very serious movie. It makes sense that he’s the most chatty of the heroes because he’s just getting into the hero scene. Spider-Man is used to exchanging witty banter with his enemies, but the other Avengers (even his fellow teammates) found his chatter a bit excessive. He also makes the other Avengers feel very old when he drops pop culture references. However, in the end, Spider-Man is just an extended cameo compared to the other new kid on the block.

Black Panther joins up with Iron Man with vengeance towards The Winter Soldier on his mind. What surprised me the most about Panther, however, is that while he is awesome at kicking ass, he’s also very wise. Towards the end of the movie, he confronts the true villain of the movie, Zemo, and realizes that everything has been stirred into motion by the cycle of revenge. He doesn’t kill Zemo and refuses to let Zemo kill himself. That is the closest thing to the Catholic version of justice that I’ve seen in this movie.

It’s during the third act that you realize that things are never gonna be the same. Without giving it away, Tony and Steve come to an impasse in terms of Bucky and the fight scene is as awesome as it is heartbreaking. The Captain America and Iron Man we knew are completely gone. What’s worse is that Hawkeye and Ant-Man have become fugitives and can’t return to their families. I feel especially bad for Scarlet Witch because she reminds me a lot of Willow, a powerful witch trying to figure out how to use her powers for the greater good. (Not to mention I totally ship her and Vision, but that is something I will save for Tumblr.)

Now while this movie is awesome, I have a couple of minor complaints. The first of which is that the villain isn’t really that involved in the movie. I barely even remember Zemo’s name and face. I understand his motivations, but in all honesty, he acts more like Eris, the sower of discord, in the sense that his only purpose in the movie is to sow the seeds that will cause the Avengers to turn against each other. The reason I compare this movie to Buffy Season 6 is that, in both cases, the villain was someone the heroes could’ve easily defeated if it wasn’t for the fact that the heroes have become their own worst enemy. I really want Zemo to get some kind of punishment for tearing the Avengers apart.

The other minor complaint I have is the “romance” between Sharon Carter and Steve Rogers. I’m not gonna jump on the Tumblr Bandwagon and be all “Steve is gay for Bucky/Tony,” but Steve barely had any development with Sharon. They flirted in The Winter Soldier and bonded at Peggy’s funeral, but that’s all the scenes they had together. For crying out loud, Steve had more chemistry with Black Widow than Sharon!

Aside from that, though, this movie is definitely worth seeing. If you are as invested in these characters as I am, be ready to cry. You also have to be familiar with the previous movies in order to really understand this one. This movie is gonna hurt, but there’s still hope that things will get better down the line.