Category Archives: Marge’s Favorites

Walter vs. Jimmy: Whose Fall Will Be More Tragic?

The entire premise of Breaking Bad was that life is like chemistry; changes happen all of the time, and sometimes they occur faster than you realize. A seemingly normal, likeable man snaps and becomes a cold, calculating, merciless crime lord, and yet you could also argue that maybe he was never that great of a guy in the first place. It could be that he was just waiting for the last straw to bring his demons out into the open.

It could also be a cautionary tale about society’s lauding of hyper-masculinity (and the derision of anything that differs form it), and how unchecked greed and pride can lead to bad, stupid choices.

Rewind now to the events of Better Call Saul. We saw a fully realized Saul Goodman in Breaking Bad (selfish, hollow, but immensely intelligent and crafty), and at the start of this prequel series, we saw Jimmy McGill, the man who will become Saul. Not the greatest guy, certainly, but still a likeable, charismatic, scrappy little defense lawyer trying to do what he thought was right.

Now, we are finally approaching the point of no return, as Jimmy’s disillusionment with his brother and society as a whole builds and he struggles to earn money and hold onto the love of his life, Kim, who is clearly stressed by the trial and Jimmy’s shady behavior. And in this week’s episode, right before the season finale, Jimmy does something that cannot be defended or spun in any sort of positive light: he convinces his former clients, a bunch of little old ladies, to turn against each other to force a settlement of their lawsuit, which gives him a quick and substantial payout.

Bob Odenkirk as Jimmy McGill; group†- Better Call Saul _ Season 3, Episode 9 – Photo Credit: Michele K. Short/AMC/Sony Pictures Television

“Fall” was the most painful episode to watch this season, other than “Chicanery.” Watching a sweet old lady get bullied by her friends as Jimmy played puppet master was, as another review put it, “like watching a puppy get kicked.” There was nothing noble about it whatsoever, and while the episode “Expenses” showed Jimmy at his emotional low point, “Fall” shows him at his moral low point so far. I feel bad for him, but that just makes this character degradation feel all the more tragic and wrong.

I watched the show entirely because of this eventual change, and now part of me is really regretting it. Not enough to quit Saul or denounce it, by any means, but I grew to really like Jimmy, despite his numerous flaws. Objectively, in just about every way, he was a better person than Saul Goodman.

 

Walter White, Jimmy McGill, and their respective criminal personas are intelligent in different ways. It’s clear that the two men could not switch places and succeed at one another’s jobs. They are also both brash and prideful, easily swayed by powerful emotions, and their sense of morality and justice often battle for dominance as they plan the way forward. Saul Goodman is a tamer but also more subtle kind of evil than Heisenberg; the latter breaks the law and hurts people directly and personally, while the former uses the law itself to his advantage. You can more readily guess and grasp at the consequences of Heisenberg’s actions, and yet Saul doubtlessly has his fingers (or ass, if you’d prefer) in way more pies.

Put that way, maybe Saul Goodman is worse than Heisenberg. How many criminals go free because of him? How many injustices are allowed to continue, all so this guy can make money?

For me, I think the tragedy comes from Jimmy’s fate already being known. Walter could have gone anywhere and done anything in Breaking Bad, and while his moral fall was inevitable, we couldn’t know to what extent or where it would ultimately lead him without following the show all the way to the end. We also saw how selfish he could be, and how minor snubs and hurts could lead to ridiculously stupid outbursts from him. Looking back now, I think Walter might actually have a lot in common with Chuck; maybe even more than he does with Jimmy.

 

But the audience of Better Call Saul has (more than likely) seen Breaking Bad, and knows what Saul Goodman is like. They may have liked his sleazy charm and the creative resolutions he had for various problems that popped up during Heisenberg’s reign, but now there is a sweeter, more naive version with a sad family backstory with which we can compare him. We have followed him as a protagonist, not a side character; we’ve seen his personal struggles, and identified with him on some level. His love and loyalty have been severely tested, and while you don’t want him to give up hope, you could conceivably understand why he’s losing the strength to care.

It’s genuinely hard to see Jimmy crossing over to the dark side in strides, and I didn’t realize just how hard it would be until Monday night. I’ve been losing track of things on and off throughout this series, because as I said, the fact that it’s prequel is not all that overt or distracting once you get into it. I knew from the very beginning where Jimmy would end up, both morally and the fate of his general person; I just didn’t know how or why, and I didn’t expect to like him as much as I do.

The tragedy of exploring the past is that you see, by various degrees, how it could have been prevented. By contrast, the tragedy of seeing the future is that you (but more relevantly, the other characters) can’t do anything to prevent it. The sensation fills you with helplessness, because the situation gains more depth, more meaning, in the context of the original story/character. It adds to the weight of the loss of a man who might have been an asset to society, had he not taken this path.

 

Contrast this with someone like Mike, a smart man who had every opportunity to help people as a police officer, but fell pray to a corrupt community and let his morals be corroded by greed and self-preservation. He toes the line between right and wrong across both series, but with his added backstory in Saul, I have no doubt that, above all else, he does whatever he thinks is necessary to protect himself and his family. He utilizes the training and knowledge from his previous life, but his personal pride generally knows when to take a back seat (unlike Walter’s, for example).

Neither Walter nor Jimmy had enviable lifestyles, but at least in the latter’s case, he had a woman he loved who supported and challenged him, and he could find some degree of passion, even as a low-rate public defender. He had stress and discontent, sure, but he also had a seemingly loving and supportive brother, despite Chuck’s debatable illness. Walter, meanwhile, needlessly drove all of his friends and family away, all because he was disappointed with himself, too proud to seek help, and rendered reckless by the first real excitement he had ever felt in his life.

 

Walter’s situation seems more tragic…but only because of the countless (seen and unseen) victims of Heisenberg. He may never have had the capacity to help people, because deep down, he was proud, bitter, and greedy. Jimmy was no peach back in Season 1, but at least he seemed to genuinely want to help people. And his less legal antics were mostly harmless; they either backfired, netted him some minor success, or they screwed over people like the Kettlemans, who seemed to deserve it.

 

Plus, in the end, Walter admits that he liked being a meth lord and was good at it. Jimmy didn’t want any of the nonsense that tore him and his brother apart.

Losing Kim will probably be the final push for Jimmy, whether it’s by her death or social departure from his life. I can’t say for sure how it will happen, but just the idea of the latter makes me think of A Christmas Carol, in which Ebenezer Scrooge lets his fiancé walk out of his life with hardly a protest, and he subconsciously regrets that choice for the rest of his life. That is the impression I get from the brief scenes of future Saul, as he quietly manages some middle-of-nowhere Cinnabon.

I’d rather not have Kim die, but if they don’t do that, I’m sure the writers will make it feel as painful as if she had.

 

I’m eager to see what happens with Mike, Gus, Nacho, and Don Hector – even Howard and Chuck, if only because I want to latter to get knocked down a few pegs further – but now, anything involving Kim or Jimmy just fills me with dread. How crazy will this season finale be?

Advertisements

In Defense of Cinderella

I’m not saying it’s the greatest movie ever made. I’m not even saying that Cinderella is that strong of a character. She isn’t, and that’s okay. Not every female character needs to be Gloria Steinem.

What I am saying is Cinderella (1950) and its eponymous character are not nearly as bad as people claim, and the 2015 live action remakes ultimately “updates” very little from it.

Keep in mind that I do still like the remake (for the most part), but much like with the new Beauty and the Beast, I think it gets praised more than it really deserves, especially in contrast to the hate heaped upon its predecessor.

To start off, let’s get a few things out of the way here:

 

Yes, the animated prince gets maybe 4 complete lines in the whole movie, one of which is, “Yawn.” And yes, he has no character.

 

Yes, the mice take up too much time. And yes, a female mouse does in fact say, “Leave the sewing to the women,” and isn’t that so anti-feminist?

 

Got that out of your system? Great. On we go then.

Here is my interpretation of animated Cinderella, backed up by quotes from the opening narration: Her father died when she was very young, and suddenly it’s revealed that her stepmother and stepsisters, her only remaining family, are self-centered, sadistic bitches; “it was upon the untimely death of this good gentleman, however, that the stepmother’s true nature was revealed. Cold, cruel, and bitterly jealous of Cinderella’s charm and beauty.” She is put to work as their house servant soon after, but their house still falls apart because the stepmother is too cheap to hire more help. To quote the movie again, “The chateau fell into disrepair, for the family fortune was squandered upon the vain and selfish stepsisters”.

 

So it can be reasonably inferred that Cinderella was brainwashed and manipulated from a young age. The fact that she hasn’t left home probably means that she can’t, as it would probably leave her homeless and starving (which can sadly happen to runaways in the real world as well, even in modern day). The movie supports this theory with its framing of shots, showing Cinderella constantly inside or at the very least confined to the surrounding property. Aside from the panning shot over the castle, town, and chateau during the opening, we virtually never see the rest of the land (unlike in the remake, if you’ll remember).

It surprises me how many people fail to see the logical flow of events like these. They would prefer to call Cinderella stupid or weak, but I wonder if they could comfortably say the same of abuse victims in the real world, especially children raised in such environments? Think about it.

Anyway, the next thing people love to criticize Cindy for is being boring and simple. A helpless waif with no character and no drive to better herself. Well, aside from referring you back to my interpretation above, let’s look at Cinderella in the movie. She is forced to do every chore in the house every single day of her life, but while she doesn’t let it twist her into someone bitter and truly unkind, she clearly strains her patience very often. Just look at how the animators drew her face, albeit in brief moments:

 

Cinderella doesn’t say much sometimes, and she tends to be pretty reserved, but much like Belle, she conveys a surprising amount through her expressions. You can also hear frustration and determination in her voice, such as when she’s trying to convince herself that the prince’s ball wouldn’t have been that much fun anyway.

I also like how she not-so-subtlety mocks her stepsisters’ performances at their music lesson.

 

See guys? She’s not a complete goody-two-shoes doormat after all. She just copes like every other woman does….quietly and bitchily.

The classic Cinderella moral has always been “work hard and be good and good things will come to you;” essentially “don’t give up.” But I think an even better lesson would be, “don’t let bad experiences change you negatively as a person,” which incidentally would have been a better moral for the new Cinderella as well, retroactively-speaking. Cinderella as a character doesn’t just work hard; she saves the mice, who are even lower on the social food chain than she is, and unlike the rest of her family, she treats those who are lower than her with respect and humanity.

 

She does try to argue with the stepmother (however futile that might ultimately be), so it’s not like she has no backbone. She’s trying to make the best of a bad situation, whether by trying to assert herself, trying to stay positive, or just being silly.

 

In a world of talking mice, horrible relatives, and fairy godmothers, what else can you do but yell at your alarm clock like it’s a person?

When Cinderella talks about the ball prior to going, at no point does she mention the prince or the opportunity to get with him aside from when she was reading the invitation. It sounds more like she just really wanted the excuse to put on a nice dress and have a fun night out. Even after she runs away at midnight, she doesn’t think that the man she danced with was the prince, and later, she is so startled by that revelation that she drops a tea tray.

 

Face it: Cinderella just wanted to get pretty and go to a party. She met a guy while she was there, somehow not realizing he was the prince, and that just made the evening better. Unlike in the remake, the writers don’t explicitly say that Cinderella has no chance with the man she danced with, but I feel like Cinderella would already know that and just have quietly appreciated the experience.

Then, the next day, when she finds out that not only can she be with him, but he’s the prince of the entire country, her first thought is to go clean up and make herself presentable. Her daydreaming blinds her to caution, sure, but she’s clearly elated to be able to marry the man she “fell in love with” (it’s a fairytale. Whatever) and escape her abusive, exploitative family.

And last but not least, do you remember her reaction when the stepmother locks her in her room? She gets upset. She beats on her door and tries to pull it open.

 

When she sees that her mice friends are coming to help and bringing her the key, she encourages them, and despite her usual policy of trying to be nice to Lucifer, she asks the birds to get Bruno the dog just to scare him away.

What was remake Cinderella’s reaction again?…Oh yeah, I remember. She twirled around her room daydreaming about the prince and the ball, singing to herself and totally not caring about what the stepmother might be planning to do to her. Because that’s really smart and empowering, right?

 

Remake Cinderella could ride a horse, speak several languages fluently, was an adult when the step family came into her life, and was shown numerous times to be able to leave the chateau and visit friends, who would probably take her in for a little bit if she asked them to. Hello! The filmmakers love to talk her up like she’s some feminist paragon, and by implication how backwards and weak old Cinderella is, but the climax of the movie completely ruins the image of the former for multiple reasons. The most relevant of which is that she doesn’t even try to get out or help herself, unlike the animated Cinderella. Just because 1950’s Cindy failed to get out on her own doesn’t negate the fact that she actually tried to.

 

That’s all I’m trying to say here. Both movies have their respective flaws and strengths, but the older version is not as bad for little girls as many people would have you believe. And as I always say, you could help your children understand context by watching it with them and talking to them about it, letting them know that it was made 70 years ago and lots of things change in all that time. It’s a little magical thing called context, and it works wonders.

Except maybe things don’t change much over 70+ years, because the remake updates so little and creates more issues than it ultimately fixes, all so that Disney could cash in on nostalgia and modern sensibilities simultaneously.

 

That’s what it’s all about; dress porn for little girls and girls at heart. At least 50’s Cinderella’s was less gratuitous…and way shorter. And less radioactive-looking.

 

You can still like something while admitting it has problematic elements to it. That’s how I can comfortably like both versions of this story. I just see so many people trying to pretend that one Cinderella is way worse than the other, when really, it’s two halves of the same whole. It’s too much selective outrage and modern sensibility, without actually addressing any of the problems they claim so deeply upset them.

Cindy’s not a bad person. Maybe all we need to do is see her in full light.

 

*None of the gifs or pictures in this post belong to me. They all belong to Disney. 

SaveSaveSaveSave

SaveSave

Guardians of the Galaxy 2: Even Better than the First

Two major spoilers below. Be warned. 

Guardians of the Galaxy 2 fixes a lot of issues I had with the first movie. Now that the origin story is out of the way, we can focus more on character development for more of the characters.

I like that Gamora has more to do beyond being the pretty tsundere arm candy for Peter, and that the nature of her relationship with Nebula is more fleshed out. I like that Nebula herself is made more “human,” giving a better explanation for her cold exterior and her desire for vengeance against both Gamora and Thanos. I like that Rocket has to come to terms with being a raging asshole. I even like that Yondu, a character that I barely registered or cared about in Movie 1, got a backstory that was just shallow enough to not take up too much time, but just deep enough that I actually really started to like him, and I actually cried when he sacrificed himself in the end.

I even like that the aliens look by-and-large more convincing this time around. They seem a lot less like humans in cheap body paint, because now they have expense-looking body paint. Probably a bigger budget for smaller-scale CG effects.

 

The only thing I like better about Guardians of the Galaxy (the first one) is the oldies playlist. This time around, it wasn’t quite as catchy and epic, but it was still pretty good. The regular soundtrack fit the scenes they were set to…I know that seems pretty basic and obvious, but is actually more commonly screwed up than you would think. It’s less deserving of special mention and more like showing up to work on time every day; expected, but appreciated, especially when others around you don’t do so.

Most of the jokes seem to come from Drax and his usual lacking comprehension of nuance and tact, but they always hit home runs. I can’t think of a single joke in the movie that fell flat or otherwise went unnoticed, and it was all-around a good time at the movies. It’s still not the deepest masterpiece of storytelling, of course (the villain’s name is Ego, for Pete’s sake!), but it’s good fun that doesn’t spend a lot of time talking down to its audience, and I really appreciate that. I like not having to go in expecting high art, but neither expecting cheap, boring, or insulting crap, and I walk away perfectly satisfied. It’s almost like watching a more serious Deadpool, which is great as long as the comedy and dramatic tones aren’t constantly at odds with each other.

Go see it. It’s really fun.

 

7/10

*None of the images in this post belong to me. 

 

Princess Mononoke: The Best of Studio Ghibli and Maybe Even the World

Princess Mononoke is one of the best movies ever made, bar none. It’s easily in my top 3, and I’m not just talking about animated movies here. I do not say these things lightly.

 

I don’t care if you think “cartoons” is for kids. I don’t even care if East Asian culture seems confusing and impenetrable to you. If you have any respect or love for movies, artistry, or storytelling in general, you should see Princess Mononoke at some point. You can even say you didn’t like it. I won’t be mad.

Hell, go see it right now, if you never have before. Don’t even read this review of it, because there are some spoilers and it’s more organic to come across them on your own.

  

 

In a time where we only seemed to get preachy environmental films and shows about evil man ruining the innocent planet with his mere existence (and I time when my younger self was personally growing tired of Disney-esque black-and-white world views), there was one little-known film from Japan that actually took a balanced look at the issues. Here, nature is a mighty force to reckoned with, and humans can be ambitious while still being caring and sympathetic. Everyone is struggling and clawing to survive, and they will do so by any means necessary.

Though it may seem mystical and fantastic, there are numerous shades of reality to be found there too.

Prince Ashitaka lives in a quiet, hidden village in the far east, the last of the native Emishi people. One day, a giant boar god-turned-demon attacks his home, and while he manages to protect everyone else from its rage and destruction, Ashitaka is cursed when the beast touches his right arm. He is told that it will fester inside of him, cause him great pain, and then kill him, but it also occasionally has a will of its own, and even grants him some of the boar god’s considerable strength.

 

Then, leaving his people forever, Ashitaka journeys west to discover what cursed the boar god and if his own curse can be cured. What he finds is the small but prominent human settlement of Iron Town battling the remaining gods for control of their land, and a plot to kill the heart of the forest itself.

 

The leader of the humans is Eboshi, an ambitious, intelligent, highly-respected, and capable woman. She bought the contracts of numerous brothel girls and gave them a better life working the bellows in Iron Town, and she also took in lepers, who in turn help her by building new guns and weapons. Despite her plans, she is not completely irredeemable. Eboshi is an equal opposing force to the forest gods, who are trying to survive and thrive and protect their own kind just as she does. Other humans desire the rich land that she has painstakingly fought for, and so she faces attacks on both sides, from her own kind and the animals.

 

On the side of the forest is San, the eponymous Princess Mononoke. As a child, she was abandoned by her human parents and adopted by the wolf god Moro. Eboshi believes that San’s soul was stolen by the wolves and is thus no longer human, and once the gods are killed off, she will become one once more. The head of the great forest spirit is also rumored to cure any ailment, so she seeks to claim it to cure the lepers under her care. Meanwhile, San sees Eboshi as greedy and evil, with no love or reverence for the forest and its powers, and seeks to kill her to stop the other humans from destroying more land and the noble gods protecting it. Without the forest spirit, it is also said that the animal gods will become “dumb beasts once more,” leaving humans everywhere with little opposition.

In addition to all of that, the Emperor of Japan believes that the head of the forest spirit will grant him immortality, and promises great wealth to the one who can bring it to him. This draws even more people to the stage, like the amiable but calculating monk Jigo (Jiko-bo).

 

Ashitaka, in his own quest to save himself, also tries to save these two groups from each other. He sees history repeating itself, so he becomes a bridge; not entirely different from San, but more neutral, fighting for both sides to live in peace and compromise.

What I like about this, in addition to the culture and mythology, is how fair and balanced this seems. Nature has divine elements to it, and the movie clearly shows why it is important to revere it. But it is not some innocent thing simply being trampled by man, and unlike in Nausicaa of the Valley of the Wind, it does not really care that there are some nice “men” trying to protect it. It is a force, plain and simple, and like a caged wild animal, it will fight to survive however it can.

 

Everyone in this movie is fighting to survive. Ashitaka is the last prince of his people, and for their sake as much as his own, he does not want to die. The forest gods are the last of their kind, and the forest is their home and a source of strength and vitality. Eboshi’s people were all scorned by society; she creates Iron Town as a safe space for them, and they thankfully, loyally help her achieve her own goals. I can understand and sympathize with them without always necessarily condoning their actions.

Let me put it to you this way: in The Lorax (the 1972 television adaptation), the Onceler asks several very important questions. “What do you want? I should shut down my factory? Fire a hundred thousand workers? Is that good economics? Is that sound for the country?” To which the Lorax replies, “I see your point, but I wouldn’t know the answer.” That is the only other environmental “movie” that seems to realize that there are two sides to every debate, and Princess Mononoke takes it even further by actual making the human “villain” a fully fleshed-out and sympathetic character.

A human being, so to speak.

 

The animation is gorgeous, as the rare bits of computer animation perfectly compliment the cel-shaded, traditionally hand-drawn and painted style. The amount of detail is astounding, especially in the background and scenery; every rock and blade of grass looks different from every other. The action scenes are fluid, making up for the fact that Ashitaka is a calm, relatively reserved character only occasionally prone to real anger.

 

The English voice cast is very well-chosen, and the English script, brought to us by Neil Gaiman, relays the story well without incorporating a lot of local references that would confuse an American audience. Sub enthusiasts might fight me on that point, but some changes have to be made when translating this to a different audience, and if you don’t like it, the original Japanese version is right there for your viewing pleasure.

The Japanese cast is stellar, of course, but I have to appreciate the effort it took to bring this movie stateside. However you feel about English dubbed anime and movies, you can’t deny that it serves as a fitting introduction to the genre for newcomers.

The music…what can I even say about it? It’s Joe Hisaishi. He scores most of Hayao Miyazaki’s movies, and they always seem to fit perfectly.

The plot is not eye-rollingly preachy and pretentious. It’s subtler than its friends and neighbors, especially those of the late 90’s; it doesn’t talk down to you or wag its finger disapprovingly, as it ironically kills God knows how many trees just to bring its message to life. It doesn’t give us a villain who is completely greedy and evil, sometimes just for the joy of being evil.

Jigo probably comes the closest to being a “typical” bad guy, but even then, he’s so likable. He is basically the Onceler if he had been a side character, rather than the main antagonist.

San is not the strongest or most commanding person, but she is young and trying to find her way in the world. Both she and Eboshi are fascinating, whether as female characters or characters in general, and they fight tooth and nail for what they believe in. Miyazaki sure came a long way as a feminist since Nausicaawho I would argue is more of an idealized Mary Sue and sacrificial lamb, rather than an actual character.

 

San and Eboshi are flawed, but extremely compelling and admirable.

This movie is just amazing to me, and it makes me sad that it is less known and less appreciated than something like Spirited Away. Granted, that is a great movie and definitely more family-oriented (Princess Mononoke, by contrast, features several men getting their heads shot clean off with arrows, and one unfortunate gentleman who loses both of his arms that way), but it’s not nearly as profound and compelling. It’s a pretty safe, tried-and-true story format with enough “weirdness” sprinkled over it to make it interesting.

Princess Mononoke‘s basic plot isn’t unknown to us either (man tries to save the forest…as well as the people trying to tear it down?), but it isn’t exactly here to make you feel comfortable. It doesn’t point fingers at you in the same way something like James Cameron’s Avatar or Kevin Costner’s Dances with Wolves would, but neither does it try to placate you and dumb down its message like the 2012 Illumination Entertainment abomination The Lorax. It simply presents an epic, interesting story with two equal and opposing sides, and more readily allows you to take away what you will from it. The conflict is on a smaller scale than some environmental stories, but it feels no less important to the greater world because of its potential consequences.

Nature should be preserved and tended, and not just because we benefit from its existence. Man should not be blind to the world around him. Hatred, rage, and arrogance don’t tend to solve all of your problems. Sometimes it is the simplest messages that need the most repetition, but they can be conveyed in ways that aren’t stale, boring, and completely predictable.

This movie is damn brilliant and beautiful and deep. To steal a quote from Pulp Fiction, “What happened here was a miracle, and I want you to f#$%ing acknowledge it!”

 

*9/10

Note: The images used in this article do not belong to me. Most belong to Disney and Studio Ghibli. Jeff Goldblum, uh, belongs to Jeff, uh, Goldblum. 

 

 

Shrek is a Big Fiery Ball of Rage and Hatred

 

Oh come on, guys! Don’t look at me that way! I’m sorry!

 

Damn it, Puss! You’re going to make me cry! This isn’t even your movie!

Don’t get me wrong; I still really enjoy this movie. It’s just not a particularly timeless parody, due in large part to the pure, vitriolic hatred of one jilted former Disney employee: one of Dreamworks SKG’s three founders, Jeffery Katzenberg.

Examples of this are rife from the very beginning; in the opening scene, Shrek reads from a children’s storybook, a clear reference to how Disney opened many of its early fairytale adaptations, only to then tear out a page and implicitly use it to wipe his ass.  Cue the Smash Mouth song (not particularly timeless either, and not even embracing the new decade), and  Shrek kicks open the door of the outhouse, looking very pleased with himself before the montage of grossness and credits.  Right away, you know the tone of the film: irreverent and mocking.

It’s funny in a shocking way, like a child-friendly proto-Borat, and you have to admit that Shrek makes a few good points. Disney is a company, after all, and one that is driven just as much by profit and marketability as it is by its “artistic” creations.

 

Hell, people have been pointing out issues with Disney’s format and branding strategy for years! How it doesn’t particularly challenge girls to make something of themselves, and how it paints pretty, young people as good but older and uglier people as evil, just to name a few.

So yes, Disney is by no means a perfect company beyond all reproach or criticism, but look at something like Frozen. While it was made by Disney, the characters frequently poke fun at old tropes from past movies while not heavily distracting the viewer. Anna, Elsa, and Kristoff keep their ribbing gentle and vague, not calling out any previous movie in particular, but it still works well, makes good points, and the jokes don’t take you out of the story and its own unique world. Believe it or not, that is pretty hard to do well.

 

Enchanted is similar to Frozen in some aspects, but it’s more flawed because, as you might expect of an earlier attempt at a loving parody, it goes out of its way to reference specific movies and characters. It’s too pointed; Giselle is not really her own person, but rather a mush of several different Disney Princess characters, most notably Snow White. She exists basically as a version of one of the older, more naive princesses, who will have her childish innocence taken away from her so she can then go live in the “real world,” which is harder but more rewarding.

So not only can it not really stand on its own, Enchanted is kind of confused in the message it wants to offer to its viewers. You can’t really be your own whimsical fairytale if you are constantly telling people they should grow up and live in the real world. Frozen stands on its own and is still a good fairytale story in its own right, and that is how you typically do a good, decently timeless parody: there has to be some love involved.

Shrek has passion, I’ll give it that, but it’s a passion devoted to tearing down Disney and taking a dump all over it. And while I sympathize with Mr. Katzenberg and think he was treated very poorly, after spending a while trying to copy and race the very studio that he left

 

he then decided to go the extra mile and give them a more definitive middle-finger in movie-form.

 

Take that, Disney! Here’s what Jeff thinks of you!

And like I said, it’s still funny…in the same way listening to little kids throwing insults at each other is funny. The insults are silly but hit a mark of some kind. The overall effort is misguided, but it seems cute and harmless enough. Plus, it’s got Eddie Murphy wanting to make waffles when he has no hands!

Shrek has a good message at the end about being yourself and loving it no matter what, but Shrek 2 is better in my personal opinion because it spent less time flipping off Disney and more time developing its own world and characters. It’s still not particularly timeless, but I think it’s funnier and the references are a bit less intrusive. It also further develops Shrek and Fiona’s chemistry as a married couple, beyond happily ever after, something that Disney usually doesn’t do (unless it’s a cheap direct-to-video sequel).

That, in and of itself, is a better overall critique of Disney than its predecessor was.

 

*5.5/10

Note: The images used in this post belong to Disney and Dreamworks. I own nothing.

Breath of the Wild: The Balance of Gameplay and Storytelling

Also known as “A Few Post-Game Thoughts.” As such…

Warning: This post contains spoilers for Breath of the Wild.

 

After finishing the main quests, does anyone else feel like starting a new file and playing through all of this again?

The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild is truly a unique experience in the series. I’d hesitate to call it my favorite entry, if only because I enjoy each of the 3D titles for various reasons, but it is certainly memorable, compelling, and most importantly, tons of fun.

A bridge between 2D and 3D Zelda is long overdue, and while the story suffers a little bit in conjunction with the open world exploration, realistically, it was to be expected, and it is not nearly as noticeable as I feared. While I, as a writer and consumer, am personally very story-driven, I understand when the plot must take a back seat in favor of engaging, immersive gameplay, and Breath of the Wild delivers on that front in all but a few of the puzzles utilizing motion control. And even then, the developers were smart enough to often allow for multiple avenues to complete said puzzles.

 

For example, in the Myahm Agana Shrine, the following puzzle shown above can be solved fairly easily by simply flipping the area upside-down and then catapulting the ball across with an even flick of the wrist.

 

This is easier said than done, however, and I will grant you that the motion controls can be downright infuriating at times. That said, I would argue that it is very difficult to create a challenge that does not have the capacity to become frustrating at some point. In my case, most of the time, I felt so satisfied when I finally completed the tricky shrines, and even more so if I managed to succeed in my first few attempts.

But back to the story. In this game, we have sacrificed any character Ganon (or in this case, Calamity Ganon) could have potentially had. Unlike in Wind Waker where, despite his crazed demeanor, Ganondorf did express concern for his people (as well as contempt and jealousy for the easy life that Hylians lived, thanks to the Goddesses), in Breath of the Wild, he has (off-screen) supposedly renounced his rebirths in insurmountable rage and hatred, in order to take revenge and destroy the land of Hyrule completely. This is still interesting, but a lot less personal, and it also demonstrates that this game would not be a good entry into the Zelda series for newcomers.

It’s simpler, in essence, but at the same time still quite nuanced and well woven.

Over the millennia, the various Link and Zelda’s deeds have become great legends, but to ensure that Ganon will always be defeated, the ancient Sheikah tribe built great technology – the shrines, towers, Gaurdians, and Divine Beasts, most prominently – to protect the land and stand against him, supporting the chosen heroes. In the last 10,000 years, Calamity Ganon was once again defeated, but the technology was left to break down or be buried, as the people grew more confident in their prosperity.

Much later, but 100 years prior to the start of the game, Princess Zelda threw herself into researching and recovering all of these technologies. She depended on them far more than any incarnation before her, because she greatly doubted her powers and her inner strength, considering herself a failure when she could not instantly understand and utilize them, as her mother and grandmother before her.

 

While Tetra will always be the “best” Zelda in my opinion, Breath of the Wild makes up for this version’s occasional lack of  “personality” (flat English dialogue delivery and reserved expressions) with much more dialogue, screen time, and backstory, developing her much closer to a fully-realized character. She grows on you after a while, assuming that you do go after Link’s lost memories.

If I had one genuine complaint about Zelda in this game, it would have been nice if she was a competent swordswoman, as was implied in Twilight Princess. I know that Link is ultimately the hero, but to see her stubbornly go off on her own and then fail to put up any kind of a fight when she is attacked is somewhat understandable, but still irritating.

 

At least try to defend yourself, woman! Don’t just pull a Frodo Baggins and fall to the ground like a helpless waif!

But it’s okay. She redeems herself in my book when she tries to force you to eat a frog on the spot, just to see what would happen. I’m not joking either. Look at this!

 

“Here, Link! Eat this frog I found! Be my test subject right here and now, because I’m a nerdy mad scientist with no understanding of what’s wrong with this scenario at all! Tee hee!”

I mean it. Zelda really grows on you after a while. She’s downright adorable, even when I (or Link, for that matter) should probably be mad at her.

Link is implied to have character…through journal entries. Also, I suppose, because why would any of the characters carry on talking to themselves so much if Link never responded at all outside of nods and head shakes? He’s apparently just solemn and soft-spoken, focused on becoming a knight like his father before him, and so Zelda constantly compares the two of them throughout the flashbacks, noting how Link never seems to question his destiny or waver in the face of very real danger.

It’s almost funny how Nintendo has lampshaded Link’s muteness without really affecting the seriousness of any given situation.

 

Calamity Ganon returns just as Zelda’s feelings of guilt and self-loathing peak to typical teenage levels, and only once half the kingdom has been murdered and Link is about to face a similar end does she find the strength to summon her powers.

…I’m not sure if this game is aware of all of the implications of Zelda’s angst and dependency on Sheikah technology for victory, but it’s certainly an interesting angle to take. It doesn’t paint her in the best light, but it’s interesting.

Incidentally, at one point, Zelda’s father mentions that there are gossip mongers who are putting her and the royal family down, saying she is “heir to a throne of nothing. Nothing but failure.” But what I don’t understand is this: with the amount of time spent reminding us (and Zelda herself) that she is a reincarnation of a very powerful goddess,  you would think people would think it unwise to mock her so openly.

…Who knows? Maybe, as with the ancient technology, most of them have forgotten that little fact, even if the royal family hasn’t.

 

I’m loving her new dress, though.

Despite the princess’s efforts, Link is mortally wounded and must be laid to rest in the Shrine of Resurrection until he has recovered enough to fight another day, and Zelda, with fresh confidence and newfound power, returns to Hyrule Castle and actively fighting Calamity Ganon for the next 100 years…huh. So maybe Nintendo was paying attention after all. Nice, because this helps us to keep sympathizing while still giving her a punishment of sorts for her arrogance, as well as the contempt borne of her frustrations with not being unable to unlock her power sooner.

Remember, kids: don’t mess with the plans of the Gods. It doesn’t bode well for you.

The champions of each of Hyrule’s respective races also have memories that you can find in the course of your journey. My biggest issue is with Mipha, the Zora champion, because in addition to her robotic voice acting, her backstory with Link and subsequently developed affections for him are hilariously rushed and unconvincing. I had an easier time believing it when Ruto grew feelings for Link back in Ocarina of Time. The player took an active part in her rescue, however begrudgingly, and despite herself, she appreciated that effort and commitment.

 

Yes, she’s a textbook Tsundere. Say what you want about her; Ruto had the most defined personality of any of the female characters in that entire game. That’s probably why so many people dislike her, because she dared to be more than just a blankly smiling pretty face for dudes to interact with and save.

But I digress. Again.

As I said in the beginning, the story is still fairly compelling, despite not being the major “drive” of the game. It’s rare for the 3D Zelda games, but no so much for their 2D counterparts, which had minimal story but tons of exploration. It’s a blend of the two approaches, so it obviously won’t be completely without its hiccups, but for a first conscious effort, I think Nintendo mostly succeeded.

I’m still enjoying the game a lot, and the main story has officially run its course. Now, my sole purpose in life is Korok seeds, taking obnoxious amounts of screenshots, and watching Link cook various, bouncy food.

 

Best time sink ever.

8.5/10

*The images used in this post are all owned by Nintendo. 

In Defense of Beauty and the Beast

This is my final rant on the matter. Cross my heart. After this, no matter how much the remake and its fans stalk me, I’ll just let it go. 

I just can’t stand being barraged with post after post about how much better Beauty and the Beast (2017) is compared to its predecessor, without offering at least some defense of the reverse.

And yes, I am definitely biased, but I wanted to like this new movie. You have no idea how hard I tried to give it a chance, only to be bored, irritated, and let down at almost every turn. It’s not the worst movie ever made, but it doesn’t deserve half of the critical praise it is receiving, or the credit for “fixing” the original film.

Doesn’t anyone else remember that Beauty and the Beast (1991) was the first animated feature film to be nominated for an Academy Award, because it was just that moving and beautiful and well-structured?
1) The Animation Supplements Where the Action Falls Short

Not enough lines of dialogue for you? Or maybe you’re just not crazy about their delivery? Just add animation!

Personally, I think most of the lines were decently acted, but the nice thing about having an animated story is that it can help carry a lot through fluid movement and even over-exaggeration of expressions.

Communication is about 95% non-vocal, and you would be surprised how much you can learn about a character by looking at things like posture, proximity, touch, and gesture, as well as facial expressions. While the remake adds a few good things such as Belle’s laundry innovation, which shows her as an inventor and innovator in her own right, Emma Watson’s flat delivery of lines and particularly her default to annoyance over fear in stressful, emotional situations makes her feel less human, whereas Paige O’Hara’s Belle and the other animated characters can be silly, but get across much more about who they are in simple gestures. The live-action cast (most of whom I have adored in other films) had a lot to convey, and probably not a lot of good direction, so when they fall flat, they really fall flat.

 

2) The Original Movie Featured Talented Singers

Emma Watson is not a singer, but that is fine if you can fake it or at least bring some character to the table. The filmmakers clearly had no confidence in her abilities, however, because they polished and autotuned all of the humanity out of her performance. She and the other actors constantly sound as though they are in a studio, not the world of the film itself, and that can be heard distinctly in the lack and diminishing of other sound effects going on in any given scene. They clearly wanted the main showcase to be the singers, so things you might hear like chickens, cart wheels creaking, and other normal town sounds are pushed to the very bottom of the master tracks, if they are even there at all.

Audra McDonald is an actual singer, and a very talented one at that, but she is relegated to “comical” narcolepsy half of the time, and her “song(s)” either get cut short or dial up the silliness that most modern listeners associate with traditional operatic singing.

While the animated singers are less polished to robotic perfection, their flaws provide character and relatability, and their voices are fitting and pleasant to listen to. Paige O’Hara is truly scandalized and outraged by Gaston’s marriage proposal at the start of her reprise, whereas Emma Watson sounds mildly frustrated, but also somewhat uncaring about the situation.

 

3) Subtlety and Symbolism (Yes, Believe it or Not, in a Cartoon)

Did you ever notice how Belle and the Beast are the only characters in the entire movie to wear the color blue? Particularly during the “Belle” musical number, when said protagonist walks through a town filled with reds and earthy hues? That was done on purpose to set the character apart visually from everyone else, which nicely compliments the song about how weird and different she is without being too overt. It also connects her to the Beast, a fellow outcast.

The new movie doesn’t seem to get that, because half of the townsfolk wear blue. It’s missing all of the nice, subtle little touches of symbolism like that, presumably because its creators either didn’t understand them themselves or assumed that the audience was too dumb to pick up on that.

Instead, it chooses to answer largely irrelevant questions, like how Belle got the Beast onto her horse after the wolf attack. Nevermind that in both versions, Beast probably should have broken Phillipe’s back.

Another example is the introduction of Gaston. He is shown killing a defenseless, harmless animal, for seemingly no reason other than that he could. Its body is then picked up by a slobbering lackey, and immediately after that, the scene cuts to Gaston standing confidently in the shadows, before he then swaggers out into the light. Film language is screaming at you that this guy is a jerk before you even hear him speak a full line of dialogue. He is subtle even in his utter lack of subtlety, and it foreshadows his latter cruelty.

Come to think of it…

 

4) The Old Movie was Dark and Scary

The Beast’s first speaking scene shows him as a towering, jagged, feral…well, beast. His early behavior and demeanor contrasts with who he becomes later on, as demonstrated when he starts walking upright, wearing nicer clothes, and attempting to eat in a polite, civilized way.

The other dark, scary visuals and tone convey a mean-spirited world that not only drives home the message and warnings to children, but also makes it more satisfying when the main characters emerge victorious and happy at the end. The bigger and more difficult a trial is, the better it feels when finally surmounted.

The new movie’s wolves are kind of scary….but that’s about it. The new Beast looks computer-generated, but not particularly intimidating. I almost don’t blame new Belle for not being even remotely afraid of him.

 

5) LeFou is Unambiguously a Bad Guy

So LeFou doesn’t live up to his name anymore…I’m not sure why we didn’t just rename him, that being the case.

I’ve said this before and I’ll say it again: how is this new version considered a positive LGBT portrayal? LeFou clearly knows right from wrong here; he’s not as ignorant and stupid as his animated counterpart. And yet his unrequited crush on Gaston makes it okay when he looks the other way, actively choosing to leave an old man to be murdered by wolves in the woods? And then again later, when he has a chance to defy Gaston and stop Maurice from being falsely imprisoned in the explicitly (directly stated in the movie) terrible and corrupt mental institution?

Maurice being rescued in the former case and Belle arriving just in time to stop the latter doesn’t excuse LeFou for his cowardice. Sure, Gaston is clearly unstable, but there is no explicit threat against LeFou and no given reason why he can’t put a stop to the proceedings. He just doesn’t because he’s in love, and therefore that makes it okay.

Nevermind that he backs out of the castle assault at the absolute last minute and thus gets rewarded with arm candy in the end, as if he were one of the good guys all along.

 

6) The Pace Doesn’t Drag Like a Constipated Elephant

Boy howdy, does the new movie drag on at times! The original was much shorter, but still utilized effective build-up and foreshadowing.

In storytelling, particularly in film, there is a set-up and a payoff for just about every major element. The remake introduces a magical book, as yet another item that the ridiculously cruel Enchantress gave to the Beast, but it is brought up and used once, only to disappear when it could have been useful. Instead of riding off on Phillipe in her medieval prom dress, Belle could have used the book to get back to town instantaneously. She and the Beast don’t even use it to find “adventure in the great, wide somewhere,” so what was really the point of introducing it at all?

There are some decent payoff moments in the new film, don’t get me wrong, but they tried to add too much to make the story fit the longer running time, and it just makes it feel flabby. The added scenes go by too quickly, and the scenes reminiscent of the animated feature constantly remind me that I could be watching the other movie. You know, the one I already own? The one that was perfectly fine by itself, but which people were apparently complaining that it didn’t cater to modern sensibilities enough?

…Sorry. There probably wasn’t a serious demand for this, but Disney manufactured one in their attempt to restock bank accounts and (hopefully) fund more ambitious, creative projects from the studio.

 

 

7) Dehumanizing the Villagers Actually Had a Good Point

The animated Beauty and the Beast has a sad but wonderfully poignant message about the importance of love and understanding in a world so full of cruelty and superficiality. To paraphrase Lindsay Ellis (the former Nostalgia Chick of Channel Awesome), Beauty and the Beast can be read as a story of great thinkers and innovators being othered by society, which instead chooses to idolize bullies, braggarts, and looks above all else. Seems a bit familiar, doesn’t it?
It’s not just a tale about seeing the beauty within; it’s also about how we as a society ostracize those who are differen from us, all because of fear and groupthink tendencies. It’s the basic tribal inclinations of “us vs. them” that all humans are guilty of to a certain extent. 

Gaston is attractive, so his behavior is not only excusable, but glorified, whereas Belle is barely tolerated because she is pretty. Her father Maurice is held in complete contempt by pretty much everyone in town, and throughout the movie, he repeatedly gets the short end of the stick. Gaston treats him as an irritating but necessary tool.

The remake has one scene where it attempts this point, when a younger girl is curious about Belle’s donkey-laundry contraption and Belle tries teaching her how to read, only to be yelled at by the child’s father. But a major conceit of the original story is that Belle is the only person to offer the Beast a serious, genuine redemption, in a world that completely shuns and reviles him. The new film goes out of its way to humanize the villagers, including Gaston and LeFou.

Now, that’s not necessarily a bad idea – I think that seeing a film where Gaston is actually the hero might be very interesting – but in the context of the original Disney story, it weakens the clear, unambiguous warning that bullies should be discouraged and intelligence and uniqueness should be accepted and celebrated. Because the curse is now specifically said to have caused people to forget the castle’s existence, the story hand waves away the villagers’ responsibility for their fear mongering and attempts to harm others, whereas in the original, they are driven away and never seen again.

It fixes one problem while creating and effectively ignoring another. I don’t think Belle was automatically dismissive of the villagers; no, clearly they dismissed and belittled her first, and she realized that she cannot change their attitudes. She can only persevere and be herself, and she wishes for a world where such a task is easier, but more exciting and challenging as well.

Who among us hasn’t felt misunderstood and left out at one point, left only with the option to try your best to blend in?

 

You see, when it comes right down to it, Beauty and the Beast (1991) is not without its flaws and problematic elements. But it was a quaint little story with well-paced and well-chosen scenes, which did exactly what was required of them and sometimes no more than that. Fairytales are meant to teach one or two basic lessons in creative settings and situations, but the animators and other filmmakers somehow managed to imbue their adaptation with so much more depth and meaning, far more than anyone would think possible.

The remake, meanwhile, is padded with logical indulgences, and “character development” that is brought up briefly and then never expanded upon, making it seem like superfluous details. The Beast’s tragic backstory and makings of his monstrous new attitude? Barely touched upon, and then forgotten. The significance of Belle’s mother? Not really relevant, and certainly not used to add some connection between her and the Beast, who also had a strained relationship with his parents.

When you watch a film enough times, you start to notice plotholes and logical issues that you once could have glanced over. A good movie is not one that has no issues at all, but simply one that can distract you from them effectively until a few more viewings. Was the original Beauty and the Beast really that distracting and terrible, or is it just that that we’ve all seen it so many times and done all of the jokes and criticism of it to death?

All of the questions that it tries to answer were being supplied by my imagination back in the day. Why was the castle staff cursed along with the Beast, when they technically didn’t do anything wrong? Probably because they kowtowed to his every whim and lead him to becoming extra spoiled and contemptuous of basic human worth when no title or status was attached to it. Why would the Enchantress curse a little boy for one mistake? Probably because people aged faster in the past and children were basically regarded as mini adults once they reached a certain age.

How did Belle get the Beast on her horse if he was unconscious? …Who cares. That’s not what the focus of the story is. It’s fun to crack jokes about, but in the grand scheme of things, it’s unimportant. What is important is that Belle saves Beast’s life, just as he saved hers, and they begin to act more conscious and considerate towards one another as a result. Belle is probably the one person in Beast’s life who has repeatedly said no to him and meant no, and he slowly grows to appreciate and respect that about her.

More than any of the previous remakes, Beauty and the Beast is trying to be the original film, when it clearly doesn’t understand half of what made it work. It’s also trying to update some elements, but not trying too hard, or else we might have had something different and new.

I have tolerated and even genuinely enjoyed some of the other live-action remakes thus far, but at the end of the day, this latest movie drives home what hollow cash-grabs they really are. In the case of the Disney Princess films in particular, they are just new vehicles for selling sparkly dresses and merchandise to little girls under the guise of strong, female empowerment.

Clearly nothing like their original iterations, right?