Before Lin-Manuel Miranda created Hamilton, his biggest claims to fame were both related to Hispanic culture and theatre: Providing Spanish translated lyrics to the 2009 West Side Story revival and creating his own musical about the Hispanic-American culture–In The Heights. I listened to the original Broadway soundtrack every now and then and thanks to Howard Ho, I found a really good proshot of the musical and watched it in anticipation of the 2021 movie.
There’s a reason why this movie was always meant to come out in the summer. It’s the musical version of a summer blockbuster. What I’m gonna say, spoiler-free, is that this movie isn’t a one-for-one remake of the stage musical. And that’s honestly a good thing. For the most part. Minor spoilers ahead!
The big theme of In The Heights is the dreams that everyone has, symbolized by the phrase “El Suañito” which means “Little Dream.” Usnavi dreams of going back to the Dominican Republic, Nina has dreams of making it big at Stanford, and Vanessa dreams of becoming a fashion designer. Everyone in Washington Heights works hard and dreams big. Yes, this movie is basically slice-of-life with a bit of romance and a bit of drama. But the optimism of this film is very refreshing given how cynical and dark a lot of other movies out there have been.
Also, this is just me being petty, but this movie kicks La La Land‘s butt in terms of story and cinematography and having people who can, you know, actually sing. The actress playing Nina is by far the weakest singer, sorry to say, but she’s at least better than Emma Stone. Sorry not sorry!
Speaking of singers, though, Daphne Rubin-Vega was seriously awesome as Daniella. Most musical fans will recognize Rubin-Vega as the original Broadway Mimi from Rent. Rubin-Vega sounds a lot older now, but she puts so much spirit into her performance. Stephanie Beatriz is equally impressive as Carla, the ditzy salon lady. It’s very different from her signature role as Rosa from Brooklyn Nine-Nine. Daniella and Carla are an official couple in the film and their relationship is treated very nicely.
Vanessa also gets some much-needed fleshing out. Her dream is a lot more specific here: becoming a fashion designer. Similar to Usnavi, she realizes that (much like The Wizard of Oz or It’s a Wonderful Life) all that she needs to inspire her is already in front of her, in the barrio. And of course, Anthony Ramos as Usnavi is just perfect. He plays the role with charm but he’s also a major dork, especially around Vanessa, and he’s a lot more realistic compared to his friends. Lin-Manuel Miranda as the Piragua Guy is also really nice cuz he gets to really sing some great stuff, especially in “Carnaval de Barrio.”
Standout moments: Obviously “96,000” was a big moment! I was dancing in my living room (one advantage of watching a movie at home) during that song as well as “Carnaval de Barrio.” I totally felt the pride of everyone waving the flags of their home countries. I almost want a Philippine flag just so that I could join in! “Paciencia Y Fe” had me tearing up (not an easy job but musicals do this to me every time). And of course, the way the movie ended was just pure heartwarming.
Overall, I think the director really wanted this to be more of a lighthearted, optimistic musical and John M. Chu did a really good job of doing that. The framing device of the film (Usnavi telling the story of Washington Heights to a group of kids) really suits his character arc and the overall theme of just being heard in the world. I liked that they included topical events without being heavy-handed about it. The struggles feel relatable, but they don’t hit you over the head with it which is a lot nicer than I can say about other ways the whole ripped from the headlines trope can be executed.
There are other minor changes to the narrative that, to me, don’t really affect the overall story. But if you’re a diehard fan of the stage show, I’ll admit that some of the drama/suspense gets taken away.
Minor Nitpicks/Minor Spoilers:
Minor nitpick #1: I don’t exactly know why Cuca was added to the film, however. Minor nitpick, but it would have been an easy fix to just rename Cuca as Yolanda, since Yolanda gets mentioned in “No Me Diga.” Then again, that might have led to a minor catfight since Vanessa calls Yolanda a skank.
Minor nitpick/spoiler #2: I wanted closure for Nina, Benny, and Kevin. Yes, Nina might go back to Stanford, but what’s she gonna do with her education? Where are Benny and Kevin gonna go? It’s stated (minor spoiler) that Nina will use her education to try and help her community, especially the undocumented immigrants, but it would be nice to see it on-screen. My personal headcanon is that Nina follows through on her dream, finishing her degree. Benny and Kevin might find a career with traffic reporting and Benny could’ve moved to California (however temporary) to be with Nina. In relation, I also think that Sonny can definitely get involved with the community in a very grassroots kind of way and advocate for immigration reform in his own way.
Minor spoiler/Minor Nitpick #3: Okay, it’s implied in the stage show (maybe in a previous draft) that Sonny and Graffiti Pete could’ve been in a relationship. There was a chance for them to kiss in the stage production and maybe future productions can throw it in. But come on! If Daniella and Carla can be in a relationship, I want Sonny and Graffiti Pete to kiss, dang it!
Final thoughts: If you can, please see this movie in theatres! If you plan to dance along at home, though, make sure you have friends who can dance along with you. This movie is definitely as sweet as piragua! Watch this movie and enjoy the songs!
I joke with my friends that I basically live on the Internet. When I say that, I mean that I spend a lot of time watching people on YouTube. One channel I subscribe to and watch on the regular is Council of Geeks, who does videos critiquing episodes of various shows, mostly Doctor Who. The host of the channel, Nathaniel Wayne (who also goes by Vera), has given me an ARC of his debut self-published fantasy novel Dreams of Fire. In their second channel, Break Room of Geeks, Nathaniel says that Dreams of Fire does away with a lot of cliches associated with the fantasy genre.
One way that Dreams of Fire stands out amongst the current trend of fantasy novels is that it’s a straightforward adventure with no romantic subplots. Another thing that I think makes Dreams of Fire unique is that while Ferris is an elemental with the ability to wield fire, the ability feels more like a curse rather than a superpower. Ferris’s main goal through the novel is to avoid the Science Guild–an organization that’s been experimenting on elementals for as long as Ferris has been alive. Don’t worry. This review is spoiler-free.
Ferris is a very relatable character. He’s constantly in fear and he doesn’t plan too far ahead. All he wants is to find a boat that can take him to freedom, wherever that may be. Ferris doesn’t get any wise old mentor who could help him hone his gift. The closest thing he gets is someone called The Shadow Man who is more of an annoyance to him. The Shadow Man proves to be a lot more complicated than he seems to be. Ferris also meets a fellow elemental named Poena, who is able to wield lightning, and she proves to be quite formidable in a fight.
The settings in this book reminds me of The Legend of Zelda. There are scenes that take place in a dense forest that’s riddled with fey, who are regarded as dangerous creatures. Later in the novel, it’s clear as to why–the fey are at war with humanity and elementals are unfortunately caught up in the middle, not fitting in with regular people, but also scared of the fey.
Aside from Ferris, the book also has chapters that focus on Garion, a half-breed and the only character connected to the Fey. He works with the humans as a Marshal in searching for elementals. I love Garion’s character design as shown in the illustrations. Garion reminds me of a Hobbit in terms of size, but he’s completely cloaked, wearing a red scarf that obscures most of his face.
The other POV character featured in this book is Professor Raines, who teaches about elementals and is part of the Science Guild. In spite of the fact that she works for the people that Ferris regards as the enemy, she’s not a Big Bad. In fact, there isn’t any real “big bad” aside from the authorities who want to keep all the elementals off the streets. There’s also this subplot-aesop of messing with something that’s beyond their understanding: studying the fey and putting these creatures in labs. It’s no wonder that the fey might regard humanity as threatening to them.
I think my only problem with this book is that I didn’t want it to end. And the way the book ended was not exactly what I expected, but I understood what Nathaniel was going for here. This was never really a “standalone” novel as it was like the first season of a show that has the hope of a second season. (Thank you, by the way, for not ending this novel on a cliffhanger.) I am really hoping that there will be a sequel.
The power generator blew on my block. Without power aside from phone data, I decided to stream Rent because all the musical fans on Twitter were quoting it a couple days ago. (“December 24th, 9PM, Eastern Standard Time…”)
Rent was the first musical I ever saw on Broadway. I fell in love with the musical in a really unusual way. It was part of a recommended reading list and a library that I frequented back in California just so happened to have the Rent libretto aka “The Rent Bible.” This also happened to be the same year that the movie came out. Aside from Wicked and Phantom of the Opera, Rent became one of my first post-Disney musical loves.
I’ll admit that the show is not a perfect one, but I still love most of the music. What I didn’t expect was how the themes of the musical would resonate in a time when everyone started panicking about catching a certain virus and struggling to pay rent. So leave all your jokes about “they should all just get jobs” at the door, thank you very much.
The song “Rent” really hits different in the 2020s with how bizarre everything felt. I also related a lot to Mark and Roger, who were both trying to create something in the midst of all the craziness. The imagery of everyone burning their eviction notices is also very poignant and dazzling.
Something I learned about while I was diving back into my love for Rent was that there was a recent production of Rent in the Hope Mill Theatre (England) and one choice they did as part of their production was that the characters would rarely, if ever, touch each other. It’s not something that can be noticed from the clips. (And sadly, I missed my opportunity to stream it), but given that they were doing this production in 2020, the threat of COVID was looming just as much as the threat of dying from AIDS did back when this musical was originally written.
If there’s anything we can learn from Rent, it’s that nothing is guaranteed, to make the most of the time that we have. Whether it’s the early 90s or the start of the 2020s, people struggle with creating and finding meaningful things and the existential dread of dying from something outside of your control. And in the 2020s, when we’re not sure what the future holds, making the most of each day and measuring our lives by the love we have makes life just a little bit better.
After the emotional rollercoaster that WandaVision put me through, I went into The Falcon and the Winter Soldier thinking I was signing up for an action-packed buddy comedy. What I got instead was a really good continuation of the Captain America films, complete with politics that felt all too real!
Politics and Captain America going together is nothing new. The original Captain America comics started out as WWII propaganda and they were published before America officially got involved. Captain America: The Winter Soldier and Civil War also had political themes.
Now I usually don’t like political themes or “ripped from the headlines” type of writing. I’ve seen way too many cases of it being done badly. At worst, the characters are basically standing on a soapbox and preaching to the choir. In the case of Falcon and the Winter Soldier, however, the political message is woven in naturally with the show because it connects to Sam Wilson and his character arc.
When we last left Sam Wilson at Avenger’s Endgame, he received Steve’s shield. The problem is that he didn’t feel worthy of it. He never used the shield during that opening mission. So in Episode 1, he gives the shield to the Smithsonian Museum. Not only does Sam have to deal with the looming threat of the Flag Smashers (an organization that appears to be modern-day Robin Hoods), he also has to help out his family with maintaining the family business. I loved that Sam’s family gets introduced in this series in the form of his sister Sarah and his nephews. But the scene at the bank where Sam couldn’t get a loan hit hard. (I know that crowdfunding could’ve dated this series, but many fans were saying that Sam should’ve started a “gofundme.”)
Meanwhile, Bucky is trying to readjust to living in the real world, complete with sessions with a government-appointed therapist. He’s got a list of names written in Steve’s old notebook of people he has to make amends with, but so far, he’s just been getting back at some bad guys he helped put into power. This storyline feels familiar to me for some reason… Some people liked Bucky’s therapist, Dr. Raynor, but TikTok sensation and former Air Force Veteran Nicque Marina pointed outhow similar Dr. Raynor acted to VA therapists she used to see. Dr. Raynor was government-appointed and while I liked her in Episode 2, she was pretty abrasive and I’m glad that she didn’t overstay her welcome.
Anyway, Episode 1 basically establishes the character arcs for Sam and Bucky as well as their personal, real-world, real-life struggles. And it ends with introducing a guy who embodies a lot of the stuff that Sam and Bucky lack: privilege and prominence. Hello, John Walker.
John Walker has his share of fans who have sympathized with him a little bit more than he deserves, I think. In my honest opinion, John Walker is a complicated character. Unlike other MCU antagonists, he doesn’t start as an outright villain with charisma. He’s the chosen soldier for the government, perfect on paper but lacking in essentials (like being able to speak more than one language). It’s pretty easy to see John Walker as representing how the world sees the American military, for better and for worse. And while he isn’t a racist character, he’s very privileged. He’s surrounded with Black people who uplifted and supported him: A Black marching band championing him at his old high school, a Black wife, and a Black best friend.
My personal beef with John Walker is his entitlement complex. Yes, the government chose him to be Captain America and he knew that he had a lot to live up to. But he still acted like an entitled, inconsiderate brat in a lot of ways, like thinking he can just ask Sam and Bucky to be his sidekicks when they did all the work. I won’t discredit John Walker’s military accomplishments. It’s implied that he’s in Special Forces (by the green beret he wore in Episode 5). Sam and Bucky dealt with HYDRA agents, went on the run from the government, and fought Thanos’s army twice. John Walker couldn’t hold his own in a fight with the Dora Milaje.
The entitlement issues come to a head in Episode 4. The debate about the super soldier serum gets discussed between Zemo, Bucky, and Sam. Later on, Walker has a similar debate with his partner, Lemar Hoskins aka Battlestar. While Lemar believed the somewhat true statement that the serum would just emphasize whatever strength the user already has, he forgot Erskine’s explanation of how the serum actually worked. And I can’t believe that a guy like him never heard of the idea that “absolute power corrupts absolutely.”
Walker did not get enough comeuppance in the finale, especially given his actions at the end of Episode 4, but to me, him joining up with the ambiguously evil Contessa is exactly what he deserves. He thinks that he’s getting what he wants, but I’m hoping there will be an instance where the Contessa will ask him to do something he doesn’t feel comfortable doing. And if and when he realizes he got in bed with the wrong people, we’ll all point and laugh. For now, I’m just rolling my eyes at how basic and privileged he is. (Quoting Lincoln, dude? Really?)
Walker represents one of the many ideologies brought up in the series. Walker represents the government, white privilege, and extreme entitlement. On the other side of things are the Flag Smashers. On the surface, Karli and her cohorts come off as modern day Robin Hoods. They’re shown trying to redistribute vaccines to refugees. The problem is that the motivations of the group are kind of a mixed message. On the one hand, they want to have a more globalized society, with people being able to find jobs and housing and healthcare no matter where they reside. In essentials, it’s a good idea. But on the other hand, their desires come at the expense of literally half the world that was lost from Thanos’s snap. Karli is a teenager and it’s implied that the serum radicalized her into taking extreme measures. But her own followers were starting to get worried, especially towards the end.
I’m sad that Karli died at the end, but thematically speaking, I wasn’t exactly on the side of the Flag Smashers aside from their ally that spat in John Walker’s face. They represented extreme lawlessness, even with their best intentions.
A third ideology presented in this series came from Zemo, Sharon Carter, and Isaiah Bradley, who all represented various types of cynicism. Zemo’s cynicism is of the Ayn Rand/objectivist variety. He thinks that anyone who takes the serum is a supremacist and he’s not wrong, but Sam was quick to point out that Zemo’s viewpoints are just as extreme. (Side note: While I loved how efficient Zemo was in getting exactly what he wanted and his dorky dance moves, he still creeped me out when he was giving Turkish Delight to kids on the street. Dude broke the Stranger Danger rules from the 90s! Did nobody read CS Lewis?!) Sharon Carter is nihilistic and embraces her new chaotic neutral lifestyle, done with all the stars and stripes. She’s a burned spy and she has every reason to be nihilistic, but her taking advantage of that pardon at the end is opening a whole new Pandora’s Box of trouble! She is scaring me!
Finally, we have Isaiah Bradley, who’s cynicism is more than justified. His story is a mix of the comic Truth: Red, White, and Black and stuff from actual history like the Tuskegee experiments and Henrietta Lacks. This man was put in jail for essentially doing the same thing Steve Rogers did (only his brothers-in-arms ended up dying soon after they were rescued). It’s no wonder he lived a very solitary life with only his grandson for company. Bradley acts as a cautionary tale for both Sam and Bucky. All three of them were veterans who served their government, but were discarded after they were no longer seen as assets. (Side note: I am loving the conversations brought up amongst the veteran community.)
In the midst of all these conflicting ideologies, Sam is set on walking that narrow road, where he can define what the right thing to do is. He sympathized with the Flag Smashers, but cautioned against taking extremes. He understood Isaiah’s pain, but he chose to take a stand instead of falling into despair. I loved watching Sam’s journey throughout the series. I also loved that Sam didn’t get on a soapbox until the very end. For the most part, his actions speak for themselves.
The process of refining involves removing impurities from substances such as iron or silver. To me, Sam refined what being Captain America means and the ideologies behind the shield. His speech at the end really resonated with me because it felt timely and timeless. This series could’ve easily happened about a decade ago (complete with the politics) and it would’ve felt just as realistic because the struggle to find your place in the world and keep the powers in check is one that’s been around for a very long time. And like what Sam said “The only power I have is that I believe… we. Can do. Better.” Sam’s speech to Isaiah is equally relevant as he is defining how he is going to be Captain America. He wants to uphold the history of all the Black people who came before him, Isaiah included. I was so happy that Isaiah got a section of the Captain America exhibit dedicated to him!
My favorite thing about this series as a whole, though, was Sam and Bucky’s dynamic. They started out not exactly being the best of friends, but by the end of the series, Bucky was practically adopted into Sam’s community in Louisiana. Sam helped Bucky realize the difference between avenging and actual atonement. The time they spent fixing Sam Wilson’s family boat and the cookout in the finale will live in my mind rent-free. We do not get enough domestic Avengers!
Overall, I think this series is one that really reflects the politics of the 2020s. While there will sadly be people who won’t understand or refuse to acknowledge the lessons that this series has to teach, it’s gonna open a lot of discussions. And at the very least, it gives us a lot of insight into the struggles military veterans have to deal with and the importance of not going to extremes when it comes to politics or ideologies.
I was pretty hyped for WandaVision, but unlike most MCU fans, I was mostly looking forward to all the sitcom shenanigans. I grew up with sitcoms ever since I was a kid. I got even more hyped when I heard they filmed the first episode in front of a live studio audience and that there would be sitcom theme songs created by Kristen Anderson-Lopez and Bobby Lopez (aka the team behind Frozen). What I didn’t expect was that this show would become a study in grief. In my honest opinion, the real villain of this show was a mix of individual and collective trauma and grief, something that is very relevant in the 2020s and if nothing else, for a spoiler-free option, you seriously have to watch this!
For this blog post, I want to give my overall thoughts on the series from beginning to end, with short recap and my thoughts on each episode. I’ll also be ranking the episodes and the theme songs.
Spoilers for WandaVision!
Episode 1: Filmed Before A Live Studio Audience
This episode is a throwback to the days of The Dick Van Dyke Show. Dick Van Dyke was even consulted for his knowledge on sitcom sets, as the main living room and the kitchen are based from his show. The opening to this episode is hilarious, with Wanda being dropped at the door just as Vision phased through.
The entire episode plays the typical “dinner with the boss vs forgotten anniversary” misunderstanding plot very straight, but Elizabeth Olsen and Paul Bettany do an excellent job playing their sitcom roles. Their chemistry is charming and genuine. Bettany is a natural at playing a very awkward office worker. (He reminds me so much of Giles from Buffy, but that might just be me.)
My favorite thing about this episode is how much work was put into filming it. The behind the scenesvideos from Marvel’s YouTube channel show the stark difference between the 1950s/1960s color palette and how everything looked in black and white. I especially loved the costumes.
This episode is a great way to establish what the audience is signing up for: a throwback to old sitcoms with an underlying horrific mystery.
Episode 2: Don’t Touch That Dial
This episode is a throwback to Bewitched, but there are also elements of this episode that remind me of The Stepford Wives and Pleasantville. The plot revolves around Wanda and Vision trying to fit in with their respective groups. Wanda is meeting Dottie (played by Emma Caulfield) and the other ladies of Westview at a country club. There, she makes friends with Geraldine, who’s also having trouble fitting in. Meanwhile, Vision joins up with the local Neighborhood Watch and gets into some shenanigans when he gets gum stuck in his insides.
I loved the Pleasantville vibes of bits of red showing up around the episode (the toy helicopter and the blood on Dottie’s hands). Emma Caulfield was excellent in this episode as the Queen Stepford Wife. And overall, this episode was just fun to watch.
Episode 3: Now in Color
The theme song and overall aesthetic of this episode calls to mind The Brady Bunch and The Partridge Family, which fits the whole pregnancy plotline very well. The theme song is very bouncy and sweet and has a genuine, heartwarming vibe to it.
I’m pretty familiar with magical pregnancies in other shows, so it didn’t surprise me that Wanda’s magic went totally haywire and it was so much fun to watch the chaos. Wanda was honestly lucky that she didn’t have to deal with any actual pregnancy issues aside from contractions and labor pains, but that’s what happens when you go through 9 months in half an hour.
I also loved Geraldine/Monica in this episode. Her character reminded me of Mary Tyler Moore, a single lady working hard for a living. She becomes essential when Wanda goes into labor. The lady deserves a medal for being able to deliver twins without any proper medical training (as far as we know). It’s just sad that she ends up getting thrust out of Westview by the end, but it leads into the next episode.
Episode 4: We Interrupt This Program
What this episode lacked in typical sitcom format (like a theme song), it made up for with awesome characters. It also adds a layer to the overall theme of the series. Monica coming back from the “Blip” gives a glimpse of just how chaotic the aftermath of Avengers: Endgame has been for everyone.
This is the first time that I felt like Marvel was reading my mind. I mentioned on various social media platforms that I wanted something that focused on what SWORD was doing. I loved how Jimmy Woo mastered the card trick from Ant-Man and the Wasp. I loved how he and Darcy getting invested in the Wandavision show. The part where the SWORD/FBI agents identify Westview citizens felt very meta. Overall, this episode was great to watch!
Episode 5: On a Very Special Episode
This is when the decades and show references start to blend. The theme song is an 80s power ballad with an intro that’s a mix of Growing Pains, Family Ties, and Full House. The episode’s overall aesthetic is a throwback to 80s sitcoms, with the house reminding me a lot of Roseanne or the set of Who’s the Boss? Another sitcom trope also gets introduced: Wanda’s kids suddenly age up! Twice!
Billy and Tommy are adorable in this episode and I love both sets of child actors. The plot of the episode revolved around Wanda, Billy, and Tommy wanting to take care of a stray puppy that they name Sparky while Vision tries to figure out what’s going on with Westview, realizing that not everything is what it seems to be.
One small way that the decades of this episode blend is shown in Vision’s bit at his computer job: computers at work, email, surfing the internet, and Norm saying “cowabunga” feel a lot more 90s than 80s.
Wanda seems to show some signs of progress because she’s starting to talk about her grief, even if it’s just with her kids and dealing with all her uncertainty with Vision. But the chaos has started to close in. Which leads nicely into the next episode…
Episode 6: All-New Halloween Spooktacular!
Welcome to the late 90s and early 2000s! The theme song and the episode’s aesthetic is a full on throwback to Malcolm in the Middle. (Side note: The back of Agatha’s pants with a bedazzled “naughty” is so “Juicy Couture,” I can’t even.) This time, Billy and Tommy are narrating the episode, talking to the 4th wall about their uncle Pietro who came out of nowhere (played by Evan Peters) and worrying about their parents.
I really love the Halloween aesthetic and how adorable the kids were in their costumes. On top of all that, Billy and Tommy get powers! Tommy gets super speed and Billy gets telepathy and some magic-based powers.
Hayward goes full on jerk with an agenda mode and tells Monica, Woo, and Darcy that they’re out, but my favorite trio wasn’t going to go down without a fight! In Westview, Vision starts to explore how far Westview goes and things feel very Truman Show and Twilight Zone with how eerie things get. Even though Vision doesn’t remember anything about what happened before the start of the series, he is still an Avenger at heart!
Unfortunately, Vision trying to leave the Hex and failing forces Wanda to expand the barrier to save him, turning the entire SWORD encampment into a circus. The sad thing is that Darcy was part of the people left behind. Monica and Jimmy are running off to meet with people who will hopefully help them while Hayward goes off to set off another SWORD base.
Episode 7: Breaking the Fourth Wall
This episode that pays tribute to the mockumentary sitcoms of the 2000s and 2010s like The Office and Modern Family. Even the theme song is a good reflection of the aesthetic while also paying tribute to Happy Endings.
Wanda has taken a “quarantine-style staycation” and I’m so glad that she’s self-aware enough to know when to take a mental health day. Unfortunately, she has also sunk into depression, as she flippantly tells her kids that she’s starting to think that life is meaningless. I’m so glad the kids don’t hold what she says against her, but I can’t help but feel for Billy and Tommy.
Darcy and Vision carry on the “B Plot” of escaping the circus and getting back to Wanda. Their comedic timing is excellent. They work really well off of each other. The only downside is that Vision just leaves Darcy stranded instead of them just trying to off-road the truck or Vision flying with Darcy.
In spite of having a frickin tank at her disposal, Monica isn’t able to break through the Hex. So instead, she decides to break through on her own again and gains her Spectrum/Photon powers, which basically means that she is able to see different wavelengths of light amongst other things. She’s also able to find Wanda and tries to talk to her, but unfortunately, Agnes gets in the way.
Once Wanda gets to Agnes’s house, things get really spoilerific. If you don’t want to know anything major, please stop!
So I love Kathryn Hahn as Agnes. She has been excellent at playing the “nosy neighbor” while also making everyone suspicious about how much she really knows. By the end of the episode, it’s revealed that Agnes is actually the witch Agatha Harkness and in true Disney Villain fashion, she closes out the episode with her own theme song. Incidentally, this is the last theme song in the entire series. So kudos, Kathryn Hahn. You are officially a full-on Disney Villain now because you got the last song and it became the most viral sensation of 2021. *applause*
Episode 8: Previously On…
While I loved this episode for giving a lot of insight on Wanda’s past, I would have liked some scenes that checked on Jimmy Woo, Darcy, and Monica, especially since the previous episode had a post-credit scene that showed her running into “Pietro.” The best thing about this episode is that it provides a way for people to try and understand their grief in the form of Wanda just trying to piece past events together. Most therapy sessions start out with understanding childhood trauma (insert Freudian couch joke here).
I loved the part where Wanda watches Malcolm in the Middle with Vision. Watching sitcoms to deal with grief is a legit thing, you know. Friends became really popular after 9/11 because a lot of New Yorkers turned to that show for comfort, since it took place in New York and included shots of the Twin Towers. Best line of this episode: “What is grief, if not love persevering?”
While this episode isn’t as plot-heavy, it’s an emotional ride. I almost cried when Wanda saw Vision’s body in the SWORD base and said “I can’t feel you.” (A call back to Infinity War.) The part where Wanda drives around Westview and her breakdown at the plot of land that Vision bought for her also really hit me in the feels.
Some fun trivia: The episode of The Dick Van Dyke Show that young Wanda watches in her flashback (“It May Look Like a Walnut”) is an episode that parodies The Twilight Zone and sci-fi B-movies. It’s the perfect “easter egg” reference for this show that mixes sitcom and sci-fi horror.
Episode 9: The Series Finale
After all the buildup from the past 8 episodes, the finale of WandaVision was great for setting up what’ll happen in MCU Phase 4. I was overall happy that Wanda and Vision got their own chances to shine, had a bit of a “superhero team up” moment with their kids, and that Wanda was finally called out for how her grief-powered magic affected everyone. Vision’s use of “the ship of Theseus” against White Vision was a very Age of Ultron moment.
My only issue with this episode is a lack of closure. I wanted Darcy to get a proper send-off! I want Jimmy Woo to get made the new leader, maybe retooling SWORD and turning it into ATLAS. Monica Rambeau was also majorly underused in this ep. If she could’ve overtaken “Pietro” that easily and escape, she could’ve done it last episode!
But ultimately, this wasn’t about closure, at least not for the fans. It’s really about Wanda getting some sense of closure and becoming the Scarlet Witch. And she was able to get that, even if it lead to her isolating herself in the mountains, reading the Darkhold.
Grief is the Real Villain
There were two types of grief at play in WandaVision: Individual grief and collective grief.
Wanda, Monica, and Director Hayward all show different ways of coping with individual grief. Wanda goes through the five stages of grief and chooses to isolate herself. Monica’s grief centers on the loss of her mother and trying to figure out her life after being “blipped.” Director Hayward wasn’t blipped, but became authoritarian out of a desire for some sense of control.
The aftermath of the “Blip” and the power of Wanda’s reality-warping hex act as a form of collective grief. Westview was a dying town and people were trying to just get by. In Wanda’s point of view, they all seemed miserable. And while her sitcom reality reformed the structure of the town, it came at the cost of everyone losing their free will and living with Wanda’s nightmares. She was unburdening herself onto a lot of people without their consent. The grief was literally felt by everyone.
The reason I feel like grief is the big bad of the whole show is because grief and the way people try to cope drive the way that everyone acts in this show, especially in the finale.
My overall thoughts
I loved this show. I can see this show being studied in film/communication and psychology classes in terms of how a show comes together as well as how individual and collective grief has to be approached. It was a fun, emotional ride.
4.5 out of 5 due to:
Emma Caulfield being majorly underused. If you’re gonna make her a red herring, have her be more prominent in more episodes. I seriously love her as Dottie and I wanted her in the 80s and the Halloween episodes!
A lack of closure for Jimmy, Darcy, and Monica who became the unexpected breakout stars of this series. MCU, keep reading my mind. I need to see these guys again.
A Christmas Carol is a perennial Christmas classic with countless adaptations. What many people overlook, however, is the core moral of the story. It’s not just “be nice to the poor on Christmas,” but a call to action for those who are privileged to examine their consciences and to do what they can to help others year-round because at some point, we’ll die and be judged on our actions as well as what we neglected to do.
In other words, A Christmas Carol is a “Memento Mori” story. If you don’t know what “memento mori” is, Sister Theresa Aletheia Noble goes more into it. According to her website:
Memento mori or “remember your death” is a phrase that has been long associated with the practice of remembering the unpredictable and inevitable end of one’s life. The spiritual practice of memento mori and the symbols and sayings associated with it were particularly popular in the medieval church.
Fun fact: My family and I saw a production of A Christmas Carol in Houston’s Alley Theatre. They really played up the aspect of “Memento Mori” right at the start, with skeletons dressed in fancy clothes dancing around Ebenezer Scrooge’s bed, foreshadowing what’s to come.
All the ghosts that visit Ebenezer Scrooge compel him to examine his conscience, that is his past actions and how he neglects to help those in the present. Let’s dive into this story and see how.
Stave One: Facing Judgment & Punishment
with Jacob Marley
Even though Charles Dickens wasn’t Catholic and had some anti-Catholic sentiments, the imagery of Jacob Marley and the other ghosts calls to mind the souls of Purgatory, at least for me.
Quotes from Stave One to reflect on:
“Oh! captive, bound, and double-ironed,” cried the phantom, “not to know, that ages of incessant labour by immortal creatures, for this earth must pass into eternity before the good of which it is susceptible is all developed. Not to know that any Christian spirit working kindly in its little sphere, whatever it may be, will find its mortal life too short for its vast means of usefulness. Not to know that no space of regret can make amends for one life’s opportunity misused! Yet such was I! Oh! such was I!”
A Christmas Carol by Charles Dickens
The air was filled with phantoms, wandering hither and thither in restless haste, and moaning as they went. Every one of them wore chains like Marley’s Ghost; some few (they might be guilty governments) were linked together; none were free. Many had been personally known to Scrooge in their lives. He had been quite familiar with one old ghost, in a white waistcoat, with a monstrous iron safe attached to its ankle, who cried piteously at being unable to assist a wretched woman with an infant, whom it saw below, upon a door-step. The misery with them all was, clearly, that they sought to interfere, for good, in human matters, and had lost the power for ever.
A Christmas Carol by Charles Dickens
Similar to the souls in Purgatory, the ghosts in A Christmas Carol can’t really do much to help others on earth aside from intercession. If this is Charles Dickens’s idea of Hell, however, it’s a very good one. All the ghosts are faced with the suffering of humanity and are unable to do anything about it. Sure hits different in 2020, doesn’t it?
Stave Two: The Examination of Conscience
with the Ghost of Christmas Past
Ebenezer Scrooge’s trip down memory lane with the Ghost of Christmas Past is a mix of nostalgia and bittersweet memories, heavy on the bitter. While Scrooge had fond memories of his school days, the memory of his neglectful father and a lack of friends within the boarding school instilled an unhealthy sense of self-preservation in him. However, seeing the memories of his past also prompted Scrooge to think about things he neglected to do in the present, like how he should’ve been kinder to the boy who was singing a carol out in the street or how he keeps his nephew, Fred, at arm’s length even though Fred is the only living memory of his beloved sister.
A similar incident happens when Scrooge is taken to his first job at Fezziwig’s. The Christmas party is lively with dancing and music and merriment. Pay attention to the exchange between the ghost and Scrooge in this memory:
“A small matter,” said the Ghost, “to make these silly folks so full of gratitude.”
“Small!” echoed Scrooge.
The Spirit signed to him to listen to the two apprentices, who were pouring out their hearts in praise of Fezziwig: and when he had done so, said,
“Why! Is it not? He has spent but a few pounds of your mortal money: three or four perhaps. Is that so much that he deserves this praise?”
“It isn’t that,” said Scrooge, heated by the remark, and speaking unconsciously like his former, not his latter, self. “It isn’t that, Spirit. He has the power to render us happy or unhappy; to make our service light or burdensome; a pleasure or a toil. Say that his power lies in words and looks; in things so slight and insignificant that it is impossible to add and count ’em up: what then? The happiness he gives, is quite as great as if it cost a fortune.”
He felt the Spirit’s glance, and stopped.
“What is the matter?” asked the Ghost.
“Nothing particular,” said Scrooge.
“Something, I think?” the Ghost insisted.
“No,” said Scrooge, “No. I should like to be able to say a word or two to my clerk just now. That’s all.”
But while Scrooge is feeling pangs in his conscience, small instances of regret, he’s not completely ready to change because the wounds of his past still hurt, as evidence as he relives Belle breaking off their engagement.
Which brings us to our next ghost.
Stave Three: Inactions & Consequences
with the Ghost of Christmas Present
The version of this particular stave shown in A Muppet Christmas Carolis my particular favorite version because the Ghost of Christmas Present is a very heartwarming, joyful spirit. Michael Caine’s Scrooge actually forms a friendship with this ghost.
I also love that in this particular chapter, Scrooge sees how his miserly attitude and lack of compassion are regarded by others in his life, particularly Nephew Fred and the Cratchits.
Of course, there are some things that the Muppet version neglected to show. One particular segment was essentially a tract on Dickens’s part to advocate for a continuation of practices that helped the poor. Scrooge is shown how many people that he regarded as the “surplus population” still do their best to celebrate Christmas in spite of their poverty. My favorite rendition of this comes from this little known animated version:
Fun fact: GK Chesterton (Catholic writer and apologist) was a huge fan of Charles Dickens. In one edition of A Christmas Carol, he wrote an intro to the story that echoes the Ghost of Christmas Present’s call to action and asks the reader to examine themselves.
The answer to anyone who talks about the surplus population is to ask him whether he is the surplus population; or if he is not, how he knows he is not.
GK Chesterton in his intro to the 1922 edition of A Christmas Carol
As joyful and merry as the Ghost of Christmas Present is, the serious tone he takes on towards the end of his journey with Scrooge is a very sobering moment, especially when Scrooge sees the embodiments of Ignorance and Want. (See the animated version above for a reference.) But Scrooge doesn’t have time to let things sink in because once the clock struck midnight, the next ghost appears.
Stave Four: Facing One’s Death & Legacy with the
Ghost of Christmas Yet to Come
It was shrouded in a deep black garment, which concealed its head, its face, its form, and left nothing of it visible save one outstretched hand. But for this it would have been difficult to detach its figure from the night, and separate it from the darkness by which it was surrounded.
He felt that it was tall and stately when it came beside him, and that its mysterious presence filled him with a solemn dread. He knew no more, for the Spirit neither spoke nor moved.
A Christmas Carol by Charles Dickens
This description of the Ghost of Christmas Yet to Come often calls to mind how death is seen, usually as the Grim Reaper. This Ghost may not appear with a scythe and it’s not a walking skeleton (not even its outstretched hand is skeletal), but in my opinion, the Ghost is definitely an archetype of Death.
The reason why I see the Ghost of Christmas Yet to Come as representing Death is that when Scrooge explores the future, he sees how the people he’s familiar with (and even people he never really met but people that are affected by his actions) react to his death, namely that nobody really mourned him. Scrooge is in a major state of denial, but it’s because he’s afraid of facing his death. Most people don’t usually want to think about their death, let alone how people might react if and when that day comes.
When Scrooge finally does come face to face with his gravestone, everything finally hits him. The idea of dying alone and unloved and possibly facing an afterlife burdened by chains is all too much.
Michael Caine’s performance is the best version. His remorse feels the most authentic here. He realizes, now, coming face to face with his death, that he has to make the most of his life while he can. The future isn’t certain or guaranteed, but facing his inevitable death compels Scrooge to take action.
That’s essentially what Memento Mori is. Knowing one’s death and knowing that one will face judgment and end up in either Heaven, Purgatory, or Hell compels people to make the most of their lives while they can without going all YOLO.
Stave Five: Scrooge’s Conversion
It’s one thing to have an epiphany to change. It’s another to really take action and live out what one has learned.
When Scrooge returns from his magical mystery journey, he immediately starts making the most of his time by asking a boy on the street (possibly the same boy he turned away earlier) to go by the prize turkey in the poultry shop and return to his house, promising some serious coin for it. (A shilling would be the equivalent of 12 cents and half a crown is 30 cents, which was worth a lot back then.) Once the poultry man arrives, he tells the man to send the turkey to the Cratchits, but stresses him not to tell them who paid for the turkey.
After dressing up, Scrooge donates some money to a group of carolers and makes amends with the gentlemen who were at his office earlier, promising to donate an amount that astounds them with the promise of more donations in the future.
What really cements Scrooge’s conversion is when he makes amends with Fred and his wife. The next day, Scrooge tells Bob Cratchit that he intends to raise the latter’s salary and promises to help the Cratchits to the best of his ability.
But the way the book (and the Muppet version) finishes the story is my favorite part, evidence of Scrooge keeping what he has learned for as long as he lived:
Scrooge was better than his word. He did it all, and infinitely more; and to Tiny Tim, who did not die, he was a second father. He became as good a friend, as good a master, and as good a man, as the good old city knew, or any other good old city, town, or borough, in the good old world… and it was always said of him, that he knew how to keep Christmas well, if any man alive possessed the knowledge. May that be truly said of us, and all of us! And so, as Tiny Tim observed, God bless Us, Every One!
This post is an extension of my 15 thoughts on Gloria Chao’s new book Rent A Boyfriend which has been officially released today! If you’re a fan of fake dating, Asian-centric romantic comedies, and young adults in college surviving their sitcom-worthy embarrassing parents, give it a read!
I had the opportunity to ask Gloria Chao some questions about this book. Check out what she has to say!
1. What inspired you to write this particular book?
RENT A BOYFRIEND is inspired by a real practice that happens in some Asian countries where women sometimes feel so pressured to bring home an acceptable significant other that they turn to hiring a fake boyfriend from the classifieds or a company. I understand this kind of pressure and wanted to write a book that fictionalized this practice and brought it to America. I drew a lot from my own experiences feeling pressured to walk a certain path in life and being set up by my mother.
2. How familiar are you with the Palo Alto setting? Why did you choose that city as the main setting for the story?
I chose Palo Alto because I wanted a location with a large Asian American population to justify the existence of the boyfriend rental company, Rent for Your ’Rents, which caters to an Asian American clientele. I’m familiar with Palo Alto, so that felt like a natural choice, but of course the fictional community in the book is inspired by many different Asian American communities around the country with which I’ve had lots of personal experience.
3. Which character(s) do you relate to the most?
I relate to both Chloe and Drew in different ways. Chloe’s anxiety and her desire to please her parents while somehow walking the path of her choosing are taken from my experience. Drew’s voice, however, is closer to my own. And his backstory of his parents cutting him off for pursuing art is informed by my career switch from dentist to writer.
4. You’ve used Chicago as a partial setting for Our Wayward Fate and this novel. Have you ever considered setting an entire story in Chicago?
What a perfect question! I’m currently working on a story that is completely set in my hometown of Chicago! I hope I can share more about this project in the future! I love Chicago so much, and I hope that comes across when I write about it!
5. What would you say to young adults who are struggling to have a healthy relationship with their parents? (Especially Asian-American young adults)
You are not alone. And it is definitely not easy. There aren’t really any right or wrong answers, only gray and more gray. I’m realizing that the only thing I can control is what I do and how I communicate, which is both fortunate and unfortunate. Hang in there!
6. A lot of adults are still reading YA. What would you say to Asian-American adults who are reading this book while raising the next generation?
I don’t have kids so I don’t have any advice from experience, but I guess the least we can hope to do is not repeat the mistakes of the previous generation.
7. Do you think there could be a possible sequel to this particular book?
I am open to anything! But I personally think I would write a spin-off before I wrote a sequel. There are plenty of other possible Rent for Your ‘Rents stories to explore!
8. How do you think Chloe and Drew would handle living in our current complicated year? What would they do in quarantine?
Like a lot of us, I think they would be taking it one day at a time. In quarantine, I think there would be plenty of couch-snuggling, watching feel-good movies, and playing board games like Takenoko, Splendor, or Ticket to Ride!
Thank you to Hear Our Voices and NetGalley for giving me the opportunity to review this wonderful YA rom-com and including me on this Blog Tour!
To All the Boys I’ve Loved Before meets The Farewell in this incisive romantic comedy about a college student who hires a fake boyfriend to appease her traditional Taiwanese parents, to disastrous results, from the acclaimed author of American Panda.
Chloe Wang is nervous to introduce her parents to her boyfriend, because the truth is, she hasn’t met him yet either. She hired him from Rent for Your ’Rents, a company specializing in providing fake boyfriends trained to impress even the most traditional Asian parents.
Drew Chan’s passion is art, but after his parents cut him off for dropping out of college to pursue his dreams, he became a Rent for Your ’Rents employee to keep a roof over his head. Luckily, learning protocols like “Type C parents prefer quiet, kind, zero-PDA gestures” comes naturally to him.
When Chloe rents Drew, the mission is simple: convince her parents fake Drew is worthy of their approval so they’ll stop pressuring her to accept a proposal from Hongbo, the wealthiest (and slimiest) young bachelor in their tight-knit Asian American community.
But when Chloe starts to fall for the real Drew—who, unlike his fake persona, is definitely not ’rent-worthy—her carefully curated life begins to unravel. Can she figure out what she wants before she loses everything?
Gloria Chao is the critically acclaimed author of American Panda,Our Wayward Fate, and Rent a Boyfriend. When she’s not writing, you can find her with her husband on the curling ice or hiking the Indiana Dunes. After a brief detour as a dentist, she is now grateful to spend her days in fictional characters’ heads instead of real people’s mouths.
Her award-winning books have been featured on the “Best of” lists of Seventeen, Bustle, Barnes & Nobles, PopSugar, Paste Magazine, and more. AmericanPanda received four starred trade reviews, was a Junior Library Guild Selection and Indie Next Pick, was a YALSA Teen’s Top 10 Pick, and on the Amelia Bloomer List.
I love Chloe’s “mooncake points” aka her way of measuring her parents’ approval of either her boyfriend or herself.
I low-key love that Chloe sort of has this “dual identity,” a version of herself when she’s at home (Jing-Jing), but wants to be her authentic self (Chloe). Drew has a similar dual identity, acting as “Andrew” when he’s being a fake boyfriend and wanting to just be himself when he’s off the clock. Bonus: This book shows scenes in Chloe and Drew’s POVs, though the story centers more on Chloe and her relationship with her family.
I seriously wish that Chloe’s dad could’ve been more open and honest about how he regards Drew. He seemed very supportive of the relationship.
The guy that Chloe’s parents want her to marry is a serious douche canoe and the excuses Chloe’s mother makes for him are a sorry sight to read. Double standards abound within Chloe’s family and their Chinese community. Mr. All-Wrong-For-Chloe is a shining turd example of the patriarchy! (Insert patriarchy jingle from Buffering Podcast here.)
A lot of emphasis is put on one’s reputation within a community. I basically wanted to blast Taylor Swift’s “I Did Something Bad” during one particular scene centering on Chloe!
I seriously imagine Drew having an Instagram account devoted to his art. He could make some serious merch from the little cartoon sheep, similar to this Instagram account.
The word “verisimilitude” came to mind while reading through Chloe and Drew’s relationship. The word means “something having the appearance of truth.” It summarizes their fake dating perfectly!
I had to unpack my bias about the value of a college education because I wasn’t sure why Drew didn’t go to somewhere like the Art Institute and Chloe had to set aside her own biases.
I had a feeling that Gloria Chao really leaned into her previous career (she used to be a dentist) when she wrote the scene that centered on Chloe’s dad.
I don’t understand why studying economics is frowned upon in these strict Chinese families. I’m speaking as a Filipino, but economics leads to a career in business, which is equally as lucrative as law or medicine.
Mahjong is featured in this book. I was instantly reminded of the famous scene from Crazy Rich Asians (which incidentally is a movie-exclusive scene). Even though I’m Filipino, I have very vague childhood memories of the various aunts in my very expansive extended family playing mahjong for money, though I never played it myself.
Can this book have a sequel? No spoilers, but stuff they showed towards the end opens up the possibility of a majorly awesome sequel that centers more on Drew.
I like the way that Gloria Chao included Chicago as a secondary setting, both in this book and in Our Wayward Fate. As she considers that city home, Chicago is her equivalent of Pemberley from Pride and Prejudice or Brigadoon. I look forward to seeing an entire story set in Chicago someday.
If you want to know more, check out my review of this book on Goodreads and get this book! It’s such a fun read and perfect for early holiday season rom com feels without buying into the Hallmark bandwagon.
There’s something about Disney and fairy tales that still appeals to kids today. You might have heard some news stories on your feed about young children with autism having fun with Disney characters at the theme parks.
The most well-known story that’s been circulating around the news feeds is how Snow White comforted a young autistic boy named Jack Jack. Jack Jack and his family frequently go to the theme parks and his mother, Amanda, has documented their trips on her YouTube channel. In her other videos, you can see Jack Jack opening up to many more Disney characters.
Even Cinderella’s stepsisters get in on the fun. Recently, Jack Jack (the same boy who fell in love with Snow White) found a second love in Cinderella’s stepsisters. The most recent video shows him proposing to Drizella and Anastasia. Amanda says that they’re very hilarious and I think Jack Jack likes them for their humor.
Of course, Jack Jack isn’t the only one. Snow White has been shown comforting two otherboys with autism who were in the middle of a meltdown. And about a year or so ago, a young girl with autism mistook a bride for Cinderella and got to go to Disney World after the news story went viral. Modern audiences, who often criticize Snow White and Cinderella, will probably wonder why those two princesses appealed to these children with autism.
Personally, I have a theory. Snow White may not be a princess that appeals to the typical feminist, at least not at first. But look at the story: She escapes from a life of abuse and finds a safer place to live with people who genuinely like her. The reason I think she appeals to children with autism is because of how Snow White handles the dwarves. Even though they’re little men, they still act like children with exaggerated personalities. And keep in mind that one of the dwarves, Dopey, is nonverbal. If you want to know more about the appeal of the classic Disney princesses, I recommend reading Faith Moore’s Saving Cinderella.
But Disney doesn’t just appeal to children with autism. There’s a documentary currently on Amazon Prime called Life, Animated, which centers on the life of a young man named Owen whose special interest centers on all things Disney. He’s able to recall scenes from the various Disney animated movies. However, for him, he doesn’t connect to the princesses, but to the “sidekick” characters such as Timon, Iago, Sebastian. The documentary centers on Owen as he starts living on his own, adjusting to the world of adulthood.
It honestly doesn’t surprise me that Disney Princesses and sidekicks appeal to people on the autism spectrum. As Life, Animated stated, they have exaggerated expressions and emotions, but the stories and characters still tie to things in the real world. I’m really looking forward to the Disney + streaming service because it will include some of the classic Disney movies. My biggest hope is that these classic movies can gain a wider audience.
We’ve all heard how important the practice of gratitude is when it comes to our emotional health. It’s easy to feel grateful when everything feels good and we’ve all made an effort to count our blessings at one point or another. But here’s a perspective of gratitude I don’t think you’ve heard before: Choosing to be grateful in the present. Not just think about the food you have or the clothes that you wear, but gratitude for whatever you’re experiencing right here, right now, even when things don’t go according to plan.
I know it’s sounds a lot easier said than done, especially if you’re going through something you don’t want to wish on anyone else. But how often do we think about the past and what we want to change? How often do we think about the uncertainty of the future? There’s so much in this world that’s outside of our control. Gratitude in the moment puts us right in the present.
You could see it as an extension of mindfulness, being more aware of what’s around you. It can be something as small as being grateful for the weather or the smell of a nearby flower or the sound of the birds. If you’re in a city, pay attention to the architecture of the buildings or whatever catches your eye. These are all things to be grateful for.
One other benefit of being grateful in the moment and mindful of our present surroundings is that, ideally, it compels us to put down our phones and actually pay attention. In spite of everything going on in the world, I sincerely believe we are lucky to be alive right now. I’m not saying the world is perfect, but I think being grateful for where we are right now can help us detach from the endless cycle of online debates and news of things that are out of our control.
Being grateful in the moment is a small drop in the bucket in terms of taking care of ourselves emotionally. Try practicing it today and see if it makes any difference. Put aside all regrets of the past and anxieties of the future. Be here now.