Friday, December 2, 2022

Captain Kirk's Enemy Within


Today’s blog post is brought to you by Paramount Plus and Unicorn Doggo.

Recently, after finishing the first season of Strange New Worlds, I started watching the Original Series (logical place to go). It’s cheesy and the effects suck compared to 21st Century special effects. But the storytelling is timeless (I’ve said the same thing about Classic Doctor Who). Working my way through the first season, “The Enemy Within” caught my attention.


If you need a refresher, “The Enemy Within” features Captain Kirk being split in two during a transporter malfunction. We end up with a “good” Kirk and a “bad” Kirk. But naturally as the story progresses, it would be too straightforward for it to be a matter of good and bad. I mean just look at this conversation between Kirk, Spock, and McCoy:

Captain Kirk: What's the matter with me? 

Spock: Judging from my observations, Captain, you're rapidly losing the power of decision.

Dr. McCoy: You have a point, Spock?

Spock: Yes. Always, Doctor. We have here an unusual opportunity to appraise the human mind, or to examine, in Earth terms, the roles of good and evil in a man: his negative side, which you call hostility, lust, violence, and his positive side, which Earth people express as compassion, love, tenderness.

Dr. McCoy: It's the captain's guts you're analyzing. Are you aware of that, Spock?

Spock: Yes, and what is it that makes one man an exceptional leader? We see indications that it is his negative side which makes him strong, that his "evil" side, if you will, properly controlled and disciplined, is vital to his strength. Your negative side removed from you, the power of command begins to elude you.

Captain Kirk: What is your point, Mr. Spock?

Spock: If your power of command continues to weaken, you'll soon be unable to function as captain.

I wrote before about there being “grace in our failings” (as Vision put it), but I want to expand on that and relate it to Captain Kirk’s experience. As Alma taught his son Shiblon, “bridle all your passions, that ye may be filled with love” (Alma 38:12). As noted by Spock, Kirk’s “evil” side was driven, powerful, and passionate. But by reigning these traits in with his “good” side, he’s able to be a stronger leader. In fact, without his “evil” side, he had lost his ability to make decisions and lead the Enterprise.


Similarly, in an Animorphs book, Rachel got split in two and ends up with a “mean” side and a “nice” side. Like Captain Kirk, we’re kind of meant to feel that her “mean” side was evil. However, as the story progresses, it turns out neither side was evil. The “mean” Rachel has unbridled rage, anger, and drive… but she has no ability to act on anything but impulse. On the flip side, “nice” Rachel was too scared and timid to do anything, but she had foresight and was able to plan a battle like a war general. In our biggest vices often lie our strongest virtues. Can't have one without the other.

You can’t have the good without the bad. To quote Father Lehi, “it must needs be, that there is an opposition in all things. If not so, my firstborn in the wilderness, righteousness could not be brought to pass” (2 Nephi 2:11). So the drive we have to act, to take care of ourselves (even in unhealthy ways), and to live may feel in conflict with our divine potential. But to wish away our dark side, we just end up with more problems (just ask Regina after she split herself from the Evil Queen). Both sides are needed. By bridling the “dark side”, we’re able to use that drive and those passions (as Alma phrased it) to move forward the work of salvation, to serve our families, and change the world.

It's a good time for some self-compassion.

Wednesday, November 30, 2022

Wednesday - Mysterious and Spooky

Ugh I needed this. 

Right as everything started growing lights and every speaker started spewing songs with sleigh bells, a black hole of hope lead me through this dreary bright holiday season- and it was lovely. 

The Addams are back. 

New Take

For the uninitiated, The Addams Family franchise reaches back to the first TV series in 1964, where it was a satire on the nuclear family. The show portrayed the Addams as being odd, participating in then unusual practices of tending poisonous plants, keeping insects as house pets, participating in yoga, and training with martial weapons. The joke wasn't that they were weird, but that they were weird and happy about it, able to live in society as strange but harmless weirdos and not care what others thought. 

Fast forward to 1991 where they family is revived with two films, which modernizes the family. Here not only is the family weird but there's an air of slight danger to them, making jokes about bodies being in the house and hinting that murder might be on the table somewhere. This darker Addams family is the version most people are now familiar with, as it solidified Christina Ricci as the daughter Wednesday, Anjelica Huston as the mother Morticia and Christopher Lloyd as Uncle Fester. 

2019 saw another revision of the Addams in a cartoon movie, once again modernized for the current age. Here they introduced more magic elements like crystal balls, but toned down the murders for a younger audience. Despite it getting mediocre reception a sequel was made which was received with less than positive reviews. 

Okay now we come to Netflix's Wednesday and we need to ask: What are we bringing to the table this time. 

Tim Burton. We're bringing Tim Burton. 

Finally. 

Addams High

Wednesday follows the titular Wednesday Addams as she navigates her new school, Nevermore High (Think of a mix of Monster High and Riverdale). Where we've seen the Addams clan vs the regular world, here Wednesday has to confront the rest of the weird world and learn to find her place in it, all while getting tangled up in a murder mystery worthy of her hero Edgar Allen Poe. 

Wednesday herself is recharacterized as a sort of goth Daria, being an anti-social writer with a penchant for threatening her fellow classmates with violence. Even among the other outcasts she's seen as an outsider because instead of fellowshipping with those that don't fit into the mainstream she chooses to alienate them as well. 

The Daria comparison isn't just for the sarcasm and writing affection, it's with how the show Daria is set up as well. Without spoiling let's just say that despite herself Wednesday finds herself to be wrong, that maybe she does value others more than even she thinks. 

The sarcastic unhappy girl archetype is the voice we need to look at our modern world and call it out on the nonsense that it is. It started with Christina Ricci's Wednesday in 1991, moved onto Daria, then onto the Teen Titans Raven in the good iteration of the series, and now it's back to Wednesday here. We need someone who is willing to call us out on our vapid society, even if we don't change as much as the characters would want us to. 

Death, Violence and Black

Wednesday, unlike its recent family friendly predecessors, is definitely more for adults than for kids. While the blood and guts is not even as close as it could've been (They're are werewolves and yet nobody is disemboweled How disappointing...) and the show has no gratuitous sex or nude scenes. Despite the subject matter and genre the show leans more towards the 1991 films, which is a welcome change from most recent horror shows which I can only recommend to my most gore addicted friends and family. Wednesday is a fun and safe adventure into the darkness without needing to call your bishop about later. 

-JOE

Monday, November 28, 2022

Andor: Returning to the Heart of Star Wars

(Guest post by Ben)

The following article contains spoilers for Andor.

What makes Star WarsStar Wars? Is it the Force? Laser swords? Or perhaps it’s huge space battles with galaxy-wide stakes? Since Star Wars first came to us in 1977, we’ve been enamored with the Darth Vader, awed by the flashing of lightsabers in the heat of battle. We’ve also made the subconscious connection that these things are Star Wars. But it’s more than that. Star Wars is about high-stakes and triple salchows over molten lava, true, but it’s also about individuals. And in the Andor series on Disney+, we get to see just how important individuals are to the saga. It shows us that we don’t need mystics and space-magic to have a good time. It shows us that lightsabers don’t need to be brandished to stimulate awe and wonderment in the viewer. And, perhaps most importantly, it shows us that the Star Wars universe does some of its best storytelling when focused on the little guy(s). 

Smoke and Mirrors

The first season of Andor was a whopping 12 episodes which, by today’s standards, is nothing to balk at. Throughout those 12 episodes, we were able to see the inner-workings of the Empire and how it became necessary for ordinary people to push back and to join a cause many didn’t know they were joining. Part of the magic of Andor was seeing the day-to-day, routine lives of both Imperial supporters and those who wished they had not lived to see such times. What makes that important? We see the struggle, and it connects us to the characters.


With Jedi and Sith doing quadruple salchows and performing incredible feats, it’s easy to separate ourselves from those characters. After all, quadruple salchows are basically impossible for someone like me (so is just a single, but that’s beside the point). However, when it comes to the routine, to the heavy burdens and difficulties of life…we feel that. We live that. And so it becomes more real—and more important—for us.

Showcasing the Grandiose

And, yet, despite the day-to-day antics keeping things interesting, there is awe and there is wonderment in this show. The celestial event during the payroll heist. Cassian Andor’s backstory of how he left his home planet. The massive anvil that acted as a bell for the people of Ferrix. The worldbuilding in Andor was wonderful, and it helped pull the viewer in to the main events of the show as well. 


For the People

What made Andor so engaging, I think, is because it focused so much on the little guy. Cassian himself started out as not much more than a budding tribal warrior. But then there was Syril Karn, the former deputy inspector who fell from grace due to his over-zealous approach to apprehending Andor. Syril’s life went from something he believed in—the pursuit of order and justice—to a space-office worker. In a cubicle. Isolated. But his struggles are compelling. I mean, I’ve been there! Okay, maybe not been fired for trying to apprehend a known killer in his jurisdiction, but I’ve felt the monotony of work, the desire to be more, and the crushing weight of defeat when my professional plans didn’t work out. (But don’t worry, all is well now.) He is the Everyman, in a sense, of the Star Wars universe.

But let’s not forget Kino Loy, the vocal taskmaster of unit Five-Two-D on the impregnable prison-factory on Narkina 5. All he wanted was to work his days off until he would be released. No antics, no talk of revolt, just work and be released once his time was up. As we got to know him, though, we recognize that he’s torn. He knows he should do more, but his time is almost up, so what’s the point? Best not try and rig the system, right? But when everything falls apart, he’s the one that leads the inmates to overthrow their Imperial overlords. He fights tooth and nail to get his comrades out—as many alive as possible. However, once the mass of escapees reach the edge of the installation, it’s jump into the churning water and swim to shore—or remain on the floating fortress and be tortured before being killed. We recognize Kino’s deep sacrifice when we learn he can’t swim. From his all-in performance in this role, Kino pulled at our heartstrings time and again, then ripped them right out when the truth dawned on us, the viewers. Kino knew—all while leading the charge and getting everyone out—that he would not make it out. He knew this fight was 100% for others, and that he had to sacrifice himself in order to free the (likely) innocent inmates.


Kino’s final episode, “One Way Out,” is, perhaps one of the best Star Wars moments we’ve seen yet. Heart, grit, and emotions through the roof. There were no mystical powers doing the rescuing, no laser swords for show, and not even a mention of higher stakes. It was an individual level, with characters using their own instincts and knowledge to escape. The stakes were high, yes, but we didn’t need to know they were helping build the Death Star to give us a reason to cheer for them as they escaped. The truth is, it was the individuals we were cheering for, with or without any knowledge of a planet destroyer in the works.

There are countless others I could mention that played a huge role in my love for Andor: Cassian’s mother, Bix, Lonni Jung (the Rebel spy in the ISB), and Karis Nemik (the rebel idealist part of the payroll heist). Even the higher-ups in the organizations Each one of these individuals sheds additional light to the inner workings of not just the Star Wars universe as a whole, but to the deeper reasons why people fight, why they live, and why they die. 


In Review

Gosh, I love Andor. The episodes are engaging, even when it’s mostly just different parties talking with each other. Everything feels so tense, like every word matters. Come to think of it, I find the dialogue so tightly written that every word likely does matter. The dissonant music adds to that tension, and the action is everything I love in a Star War. From beginning to end, Andor is a storytelling masterpiece. Sure, it might veer from the traditional Star Wars as we have come to know it, but everything combines to create a five-star visual meal that demands coming back for seconds. 

Friday, November 25, 2022

The Tales of Flynnigan Rider

When Disney Plus first came out, I thought it would be fun to watch the Tangled TV series entitled Rapunzel’s Tangle Adventures. I remembered watching Aladdin, Timon and Pumbaa, and other Disney cartoons while growing up, so I expected a low-key Disney kids show to watch with my newborn. What I got was much more than a kids show. In fact, some of the scenes were dark enough that I was kind of surprised it was for children. 


The story follows Rapunzel and Eugene following the movie Tangled. It goes into this deep mythology of where Rapunzel’s powers came from and what her destiny would entail. However, as intriguing as the mystery of the Sun Drop was, I was more interested in the development of the conman formally known as Flynn Rider. 

In addition to the backstory of Gothel’s magical flower, we got some backstory on our beloved rogue. Before he was Eugune or Flynn, he was Prince Horace of the Dark Kingdom. Without giving too much away, baby Prince Horace was sent away from his father for his protection and was raised as an orphan named Eugene Fitzherbert. 


Now I could take a super cheesy twist on this and create an analogy of Eugene as a prince with no knowledge of his heritage being like us in mortality… but instead I’m going to focus on how agency is involved with his story.

When we first met Eugene in Tangled, he was a low life thief who was only out to help himself. By the end of the movie, he’d found something (and someone) he wanted to fight for. Throughout Rapunzel’s Tangled Adventures, he spent the years following making a name for himself in Corona, as the princess’s boyfriend and as a reformed man.

Later when he found out his true heritage as Prince of the Dark Kingdom, it could have been easy for him to get wrapped up in that. With this pride, he could have gotten a big head about being a prince, when he always believed he was a lowly peasant. He could have demanded respect from the castle staff because of his title. Alternatively, with how mad he was at his father, he could have let his pride swing him to the other side of the pendulum and forget what he learned in the Dark Kingdom. 


Instead, he kept being Eugene. He didn’t let the way he was born or the circumstances of his life define his life. I mentioned this before in reference to Rise of Skywalker, but who we choose to be has little to do with our genetics or our upbringing. Your family name only speaks to your history, not your future. And just like Eugene left behind the names Prince Horace and Flynn Rider, there’s a future, change, and progression for all of us.

Contrast Eugene’s experience with Cassandra. When Cass found out the identity of her birth mother, it sent her spiraling. She let her history and her mom put her into a dark place that pitted her against her closest friends. Because she craved her late mother’s love, she became like her mother, instead of forging her own path like Eugene and his smolder.

Wednesday, November 23, 2022

It’s (an Attitude of Gratitude) Charlie Brown!


Thanksgiving this week has brought up the time to ponder and think a little on gratitude. Earlier, we looked up “Thanksgiving” on out tv, looking for a movie that sort of related to it, and lo and behold, what popped up was The Peanuts Movie, the 2015 film created by Blue Sky Studios and Charles Schulz’s son and grandson Craig and Bryan Schulz. This wasn’t something I had thought would be very much on the theme of Thanksgiving, and having considered myself a fan of Peanuts for pretty much my whole life, I was kind of shocked that I hadn’t seen the movie yet. My daughter and I managed to finish it, and we both really loved it! What came of the movie was a wave of nostalgia and enjoyment that was both poignant and timely, and I just had to write about it, including how I think it really does relate to gratitude.

The Peanuts Movie is very true to the comics and the history of Peanuts. It’s well thought out, well-considered, and is faithful to Charlie Brown (voiced here by Noah Schnapp of Stranger Things fame), Snoopy, and the whole cast of characters, including the kit-eating tree. The Peanuts adaptation into 3D was a genius homage to all the animation that came before it, and must be seen in motion to appreciate fully. The film is a little less melancholy than some of the specials I’ve seen in the past, but it isn’t without those moments. It does end on quite a happy note, but it is still all very real in the way it does; I hope I don’t spoil it too much (for those, like me, who slept on this one) by going into some detail there…


With past specials like Arbor Day, Valentine’s Day, or Christmas, they all involve some level of Charlie Brown failing to an extent: a storm rains out the game that they were starting to win, or the only valentine Charlie Brown gets is a previously used one, or the Christmas tree for the pageant can’t even hold  up an ornament—these all are just screenshots of some of the moments that Charlie Brown feels like he hasn’t succeeded. It’s in those moments that I think we all can relate, even if it’s sometimes on a more “serious” scale as we grow into adults, and it’s not something I fully appreciated as a kid. Life was easier and simpler then, and now it’s full of setbacks and challenges. I think it speaks to good writing when stories written for kids can touch us as adults too. In the movie, the formula for failure is turned on its head: here, Charlie Brown actually gets 100% on a standardized test, the first kid in the school to do so, which propels him into immediate fame, and was given an award for it, along with an honorary “Charlie Brown day” at the school. Earlier, He had failed to get the attention of the Little Red Haired Girl at the dance, and he had embarrassed himself at the talent show, and so this was the thing that he had held onto to buoy his self-worth. In a twist, at the award ceremony, he is given the perfectly scored test, and realizes it wasn’t his! He can’t accept the award, and he leaves the stage emptyhanded. To top it all off, a beautifully written essay on War and Peace that he wrote is accidentally shredded by the Red Barron wind-up biplane. He feels dejected.

Following a powerful allegory of Charlie Brown’s inner conflict portrayed by Snoopy’s battles with the Red Barron, Charlie Brown is asked by a random kid in a park if he can help him fly a kite. He ends up giving the kid advice, and it flies beautifully! Even when he couldn’t get a kite to fly, he was able to see and appreciate the good in other people, and says: “You can do it, don’t give up!” This plants the seed that he isn’t a terrible person, and a pep talk from Linus gives him the strength and courage to realize that maybe he can succeed, and he finally speaks up and talks with the Little Red Haired Girl before she leaves for summer camp. Their conversation is insightful, as she greets him by name:

“Oh, hi Charlie Brown!”

“You remembered my name?”

“Of course I did!”

“Before you leave, there’s something I really need to know: why, out of all the kids in our class, would you want to be partners with me?”

“That’s easy, because I’ve seen the type of person you are!”

“An insecure, wishy-washy failure?”

“That’s not who you are at all!”

“I liked the compassion you showed for your sister at the talent show, the honesty you had at the assembly, and at the dance: you were brave and funny! And what you did for me—doing the book report while I was away— so sweet of you! So when I look at you, I don’t see a failure at all: you have all the qualities that I admire!”

Charlie Brown is a good man, even if he doesn’t always see it that way. That’s one of the reasons I love this character, because I so often am not cognizant of my own good qualities, I forget to give myself a fair shake. You know how long of a time Charlie Brown was feeling sad for himself? All the way from winter to the start of summer break. I’ve experienced long stretches of time where I’ve dealt with failures and inadequacy: it’s easy to fall into that trap. Often the answers to my problems have been right there all along, I just needed to have listened. I just needed to see, to remember, to appreciate.

Which is really why I think this movie works as a Thanksgiving movie after all: because giving thanks and gratitude, it’s all about learning how to see good in the world, and showing our appreciation for how and why that goodness exists. We can thank our friends for who they are. We can spend time with them. We can remember names, and we can help them and be there for them, even when they’re feeling down. We can thank God for the goodness in our lives. Gratitude for all of these things is a springboard into greater appreciation for ourselves, and greater capacity to act as well. We can continue to be there and to offer advice, as Linus did at the beginning of the movie:

“Remember, it’s the courage to continue that counts!”

And later, Linus gave this crucial advice:

“Charlie Brown, it might be time to consider the wild possibility that you’re a good person, and that people like you!”

In the office of Dallin H. Oaks hangs a recreation of Maynard Dixon’s The Forgotten Man. It depicts a man sitting on the ground by the gutter as streams of faceless, careless people walk past him. His face is in the shadow, and the back of his head is illuminated by the sun. We can be that man, as Charlie Brown was, and feel like we have no contribution, or that we aren’t appreciated. Yet the Lord knows each of us. He knows the words and the balm that will heal us, and make us whole. Gratitude, an attitude of it and trying to give it not only to others but to ourselves, is part of that healing, and that understanding is why he hangs that picture in his office, to remind himself to who gratitude for what we have, and to show that gratitude by helping to reach out to those who are struggling. A huge part of gratitude is remembering, much like the Little Red Haired Girl remembered Charlie Brown, and a huge part of gratitude includes remembering to show that thankfulness:

“Verily I say unto you my friends, fear not, let your hearts be comforted; yea, rejoice evermore, and in everything give thanks; … and all things wherewith you have been afflicted shall work together for your good” (D&C 98:1, 3)


As then-President Uchtdorf said:

“May we ‘live in thanksgiving daily’—especially during the seemingly unexplainable endings that are part of mortality. May we allow our souls to expand in thankfulness toward our merciful Heavenly Father. May we ever and constantly raise our voices and show by word and deed our gratitude to our Father in Heaven and to His Beloved Son, Jesus Christ.”

And I would add, let us show that gratitude by being merciful and grateful to those around us, and to ourselves as well. Life is full of challenges, but we don’t have to let them overcome us! We can reach out, we can love, we can sacrifice, and we can be grateful, and it will work together for our good. Those are just a few of my thoughts after watching The Peanuts Movie, and so I hope you can get something from it too.

Monday, November 21, 2022

Wakanda Forever!


 (Guest post by Justin)

While I do not consider myself as someone with deep feelings and fandom for Hollywood, the passing of Chadwick Boseman shook me. I had loved the man for years as he powerfully portrayed many of my heroes such as Thurgood Marshall and Jackie Robinson in film. I assumed he would continue to carry the mantle of many of the phenomenal actors that came before him like Sydney Portie and Denzel Washington. He seemed poised to build on his phenomenal legacy for generations to come. But then, just like that, he was gone, leaving a massive hole in the hearts and minds of many of us – including the plot of a historic franchise. How do you replace a legend? You cannot. However, you can celebrate their life and you can honor them by building upon their legacy. That is what Ryan Coogler and the cast did in Wakanda Forever. Some of my impressions are below.

  • Losing someone is hard - There is no one way to deal with grief when you lose a loved one. The whole spectrum of grief is manifested by the family and friends of King T’Challa - Princess Shuri, Queen Ramonda, Nakia, Okoye, and M’Baku all deal with the loss in different ways. Ultimately, death and grief is hard and messy and processing it takes time. 

  • “Weeping may endure for a night but joy cometh in the morning." (Psalm 30:5) - As alluded to, the film shows how loss and grief is not a clean linear process (it takes more than a day), and it is something that will have resounding effects throughout one’s life. However, characters in the film still manifest joy at times as they process the grief that comes with losing a loved one (many manifest joy in King T-Challa’s funeral procession).
  • Black is beautiful, powerful, and worthy of emulation - This almost goes without saying, but this film, as well as the last, brings to light the beauty and power of black culture both in Wakanda & the US. Whether through traditional African ceremonies, language, clothing or pop culture, the experience and rich history of many in the African diaspora are centered and celebrated in ways rarely seen in traditional mainstream media.

  • Women are straight bosses - Whether it be some of Christ's most faithful disciples or the women in our own lives, we know who runs the show and makes the world go ‘round. The film celebrates and centers the power of black women – queens, princesses, military leaders and technological innovators who thrive in spite of the disproportion obstacles they have to face.
  • Imperialism has dire consequences - I know, shocker. We see in the film (and world history) the tragic consequences when colonizers move in and destroy civilization, leaving death and fear in their wake. The antagonism of Namor and his people is rooted in the abuse, subjugation, and displacement they endured. Imperialistic friction is also prevalent and exemplified by the efforts of other world leaders seeking to steal the resources of Wakanda.

  • “Villans” are people too - Although more of an anti-hero or antagonist than a true villain, like Killmongerer, Namor is a complex individual whose murderous actions are rooted in childhood trauma and a desire to protect his people. While you might not like the death and destruction caused, you can understand the “why” of his thinking and he comes off, dare I say, as sympathetic. 
  • Family is forever - As we saw in the first film, the Ancestral Plane in Wakanda Forever continues to reaffirm that family bonds are meant for more than just our mortal lives. Indeed, the communications from the ancestral plane provide key guidance for Princess Shuri and exemplify how loved ones continue to be invested in our personal well-being even when they are no longer with us physically.

For millions, particularly in the black community, Chadwick Bosemen, was viewed in the light of royalty for his iconic personae, life, and entertainment contributions. While not a perfect film (I’m hoping/expecting some of the plot holes to be filled by the next film), I believe it accomplished the nearly impossible task of mourning, celebrating, and building upon the legacy of one of the greatest entertainment icons of our time, while developing an engaging and sustainable storyline. (Remember, like everyone else, Chadwick’s death was a surprise to Ryan Coogler and the directing team and he had to scrap the already completed Black Panther 2 story/script and start again).


While I do not believe any of the characters in the film have the character strength and staying power of T'Challa (at least to this point) I think the runway is there for exceptional and engaging stories and characters as the franchise continues. While long (but not too much so for me), I see the film as preparatory, similar to Infinity War, that will allow for more exciting character and story exploration and development in future films 

While not present in the film and no longer living in this world, King T’Challa and Chadwick Bosman, respectively, will continue to have significant influence over the Black Panther franchise and individuals lives, including my own. In addition to his many other accomplishments, I am grateful for all that Chadwick brought to the franchise and his impact on the MCU and I am excited at what the future holds.

Rest in power, King.

Sunday, November 20, 2022

Once a Ranger, Always a Ranger: The Legacy of Jason David Frank

As I was about to settle in for a Sunday nap, I got a text from a friend that Jason David Frank, one of the original Power Rangers and one of my childhood heroes, died this weekend, reportedly from suicide. Normally celebrity deaths don't rock me too much (don't get me wrong, all their deaths are sad). However, I've met Jason David Frank and even after all these years he's still Tommy Oliver to me (even more since meeting him). 


He began his legacy in Power Rangers as the evil Green Ranger. After being freed from Rita's control, it wasn't long before he led the Ranger team as the White Ranger and later the Red Zeo and Turbo Rangers. But to those familiar with the franchise,  there's no  red to rehash his character's life story.

When I met JDF at Salt Lake FanX 2016, I was impressed by his love for his fans. He said he wanted the 100th person in line to feel just as important as the first. He's the standard to which I compare all celebrity meet and greet (Well, him and Catherine Tate). His legacy goes deeper than his long history as a Power Ranger. To many who treasure the franchise, he raised them when their parents were busy working or were otherwise unavailable. He taught kids to stand up for themselves and yet to still be kind. He taught how to be a leader and a mentor. It's strange to think there can be no more Tommy Oliver surprise appearances in the future of Power Rangers.


While still unconfirmed, it's rumored that he died by suicide. This pangs me even more… he gave to his fans and wanted them to feel special and important… yet he had internal anguish and pain that was never resolved. 

Suicide is very preventable cause of death… and men are four times as likely to die this way. I want to ask all men (and women) to step up. If you've contemplated or attempted suicide, I'm glad you're still here. If you are currently dealing with depressive, anxious, or suicidal thoughts, please reach out for help. The world has already lost one hero this week, we don't need to lose you too. 

To Jason David Frank, Tommy Oliver will live on in the hearts of Ranger fans forever. Once a ranger, always a Ranger!

Friday, November 18, 2022

David Tennant Returns as the Doctor!

🎵 Doc-tor's Back, alright! 🎵 (Tune of Everybody by Backstreetboys)

The 14th Doctor has been revealed and I believe this is the best choice for a franchise that has been slipping. David Tennant will return as the 14th Doctor for three special episodes that will be aired in November 2023. He will not be the only one returning to the franchise, Catherine Tate was also revealed to be reprising her role as Donna. In my opinion she is the best companion to the Doctor.

I liked the relationship of Rose and the 10th Doctor, but the dynamic of Donna and the Doctor was the best. One of the best scenes was when the Doctor was asking Donna to be his travel companion.









Doctor: “I just want a mate.”

Donna: "You just want to MATE!?"

The Doctor: “A mate! I want *a* mate!”

Donna: “You’re not matin’ with me, sunshine!”

Not only will David Tennant and Catherine Tate will be coming back for the 60th anniversary, but Russell T. Davies will return as a writer for this special. For those that do not know him he was the head writer for series 1 – 4 of Doctor Who. Some of the best episodes of the series were written by him. With this combination returning I am excited for this special.

The 10th Doctor was my favorite Doctor, and second favorite would be the 11th, played by Matt Smith. I am not the only person who believes this. In the figure above we see that David Tennant viewership increased as he played as the Doctor. When Matt Smith replaced Tennant viewership dropped but increased as his time went on. After Matt Smith the 13th Doctor played by Peter Capaldi viewership dropped and when Jodie Whittaker became the first female Doctor as the 14th doctor there was a huge spike of viewership at the beginning, but drastically dropped to an all-time low.

After seeing these analytics and observing how low the viewership became it was wise of the executives to bring back the highest grossing actor to play the doctor to save the franchise, as well as one of the best companions.

After all the drama with Rose and Martha, Donna(Tate) was a breath of fresh air. Gone was the moping and the franchise returned to it's tradition of exploring time and space---with a good friendship in the background. 

Here are 4 of the best moments that prove that Donna and the Doctor are the best. 

1. Partners in Crime

The first episode of season 4 finds Donna looking for the Doctor. But the best moment is the moment when the Doctor and Donna meet---separated by glass. What follows is the best conversation ever! Except that, because of the intervening glass and their desire not to be caught by Ms. Foster, it's completely silent. The lip-reading and the gestures are absolutely hilarious and worth rewatching a couple of times just for the shock in Tennant's face. 

2. Silence in the Library/Forest of the Dead. 

Often touted as the first time we meet Dr. River Song, people forget about Tate's magnificent performance here. She has moments when she thinks she is losing her mind, moments when she has everything she ever wanted (kids, husband, home), and moments when she is in the middle of losing it. Donna is one of the few companions allowed to grow as evidenced by...

3. The Runaway Bride. 

The Donna we meet in her first appearance with the Doctor(a Christmas Special) is a completely different one from the one in season 4. She's flighty, only concerned with her perfect fiance creating the perfect life, and very much concerned with ticking all the boxes set by society. Her world is thrown very much upside-down but, after a few shocks, she handles it like a champ. Though she refuses his invitation to join him as a companion, she still shows a lot of growth at the end of the special---willing to look a bit further than societal expectations for her happily ever after. 

 

4.  Partners in Crime

Ok, so I cheated. But that moment captured in the meme above is quite a good one. Donna proves herself to be just as strong-willed as the Doctor. "You're not mating with me, sunshine." The fact that it is preceded by her unloading of pounds of luggage is just as fun. She really is wanting to know more, broaden her horizons, and leave the dead-end life she has living with her nitpicky mother and grandfather. But not at the expense of who she really is and what she really feels. 


The only question I have is this: How is Donna going to remember who the Doctor is?

Wednesday, November 16, 2022

Music That Will Never Die: Super Mario Galaxy

 


If you want the full experience, you'll need to listen to the music as well... 


The music of Super Mario Galaxy is among the best you'll ever experience. The story it tells through the music is one of hope, adventure, sacrifice, and longing; and its emotions evoke inspiration, encouragement, tension, conflict, love, excitement, enthusiasm, motivation, sadness, joy, and even the bittersweet feeling of saying goodbye. While it may be true that this music was part of my youth, I can't underscore enough just how meaningful this music is just on its own. Relistening to it for this article has revived my love for it, and reminds me that this music is timeless. I couldn't possibly do it justice without sharing the videos with you, and you are in for a treat if you do listen to them! (You can even listen as you read...) Sure, it's in the film and video game score worlds of instrumental music that accompanies the action on-screen; even so, this is music that can not only accompany life and make it more inspiring, but is good on its own. The journey this music takes you on is really, truly, one for a lifetime. 

Journey's Beginning

We can talk about all the stuff that you do as Mario, all the minutiae, but I want to take you on a whirlwind (maybe even a gusty) journey through the adventure and the emotions of Super Mario Galaxy. Of course, where else to start but the beginning? 

Or well, near it anyway. The beginning of the game starts with Mario going to the Star Festival, and exploring the town, when our nemesis Bowser crashes the party, erupting all into chaos, and steals not just Princess Peach, but her entire castle. Mario is then flung into space, where he must team up with small creatures named Lumas, and their guiding friend Rosalina, in order to rescue the princess, save the galaxies from Bowser, and bring back peace. The Good Egg Galaxy is the first galaxy you step into, and boy, what a way to start! This piece is such a good example of the majesty of this soundtrack. The driving melodic lines, the sweeping accompaniment, they really sell the idea of this being the adventure of a lifetime. It's so grand, yet still so hopeful and tender in the midst of its swelling orchestral lines that it really underscores the idea that you are at the start and have so much to do, but you are capable of making it through. 

Once past the first leg of your journey, you find yourself at Rosalina's Observatory. This is home for almost the entirety of the journey, as you'll be able to travel between different galaxies from here. (Galaxies are simply missions or places that you need to help in order to stop Bowser.) This is such a beautiful waltz melody, it just is so catchy. This piece comes in three variations: the first being more of a music box, and much simpler and quieter. The second, linked above, is more of a classic, gentle waltz, and it is so tender and sweet, I had to share this version. The third is more grand, as it's nearing the end of the game, and Mario is getting to a place that he's stronger, wiser, and more capable. One commentator has compared this to the music of the classic Disney princesses such as Cinderella or Sleeping Beauty, and I can't help but agree with the comparison. It's such a magical waltz, and I think it shows that Rosalina is her own kind of princess. 

Challenge and Shelter

The English and Americans among us will recognize this piece as the music for the "Melty Molten Galaxy," but I couldn't help but share the title translated from the original Japanese. As you might imagine, this is the music for a volcanic galaxy, and it shows some of the variation of the music. This isn't just a fun adventure or a transcendental waltz, this is a fight for the fate of the universe. Yet there is so much hope and variety in the music. The drums constantly strike in syncopated rhythm throughout, keeping us on edge, while a bass guitar throws down a jazzy riff, and synths and orchestra keep the melody adventurous and alive. 

In the midst of all that's happening, Mario can visit the library and hear stories Rosalina tells to the Lumas. This music plays here, among some other very emotional places. This is, of course, a complete 180 degree turn from the last piece. Super Mario Galaxy is able to capture the essence of bombastic, thrilling music, grand sweeping music, and quiet, calm song of peace. I feel this captures the nostalgia and wonder of childhood; appropriate, since the Lumas very much are like children, and Rosalina acts much as a mother figure for them. Lumas, (which look like stars) grow up to become planets and galaxies themselves, and the stories Rosalina tells them are both sad and uplifting, which I feel this music captures perfectly. 

Facing the Foe

Bowser's Lair might sound a little familiar in this game: that's because it's a remix of the original N64 version! They've added more drums, they've added some intro, they've added string backdrops, and cleaned up the synth audio. In general, I think it's really just a masterful remixing of the original: almost nothing is changed, except it sounds cleaner, everything is clearly audible, and the tiniest filler is added in the background. You feel as if you're on a march to face your nemesis, and it's both menacing and filled with hope. You know this isn't going to be an easy fight, but considering all else you've been through, you're ready! 

This one you have to listen to for at least a minute and forty seconds to get the full effect. Why? Because they brought in a whole men's choir just for the final fight with Bowser! Yes, this is the only time they have a proper choir (not synths) for the soundtrack, and it is simultaneously awe-inspiring and terrifying. This is the time that you finally face the enemy that has caused so much hurt and has stolen so much, and the music is both inspiration and set-piece. You understand the stakes, and you understand what you must do, but there is still uncertainty in the face of such power. Which is what the choir represents. Underneath is a droning in the cellos and basses that reminds us of Gustav Holst's Mars, The Bringer of War, and it is so appropriate. You fight Bowser across several planets, and even inside a burning sun. The punctuating brass lines add some driving rhythmic tension, and the choir and strings interchange roles in sounding out the motifs of Bowser's conquest or of this battle itself. (Listen for the "soup, soup" line for an example of the voice being used in a more percussive way.) 

Journey's End

Arguably my favorite piece from the entire game, Gusty Garden Galaxy's music is just... so good! It captures the transcendental joy of flying, of embarking on a meaningful and special odyssey-like journey, and in overcoming challenges. This theme was so good, it directly inspired the theme for Super Mario Galaxy 2, which I might even say is a variation of the Gust Garden Galaxy theme. Without getting technical, this is a magnificently orchestrated and filled piece. It takes some of the same beats as the Good Egg Galaxy, but it fills it with such a triumphant melody. This is such a contagious, it just sinks into your soul and makes you happy. The joy of the strings together with the brass and woodwinds playing that melody is just inspirational. One can hardly refrain from smiling upon hearing this music. The percussion and guitar keep the rhythm constantly going, and the strings even provide some droning and even some unbalancing sections that keep the tempo and the rhythm constantly alive. This piece does have its moments to ponder for a moment, but they are there to give us enough room to breath so that we can go back to that beautiful, inspiring melody. I couldn't say enough about this piece: needless to say, it's sooo so good, and so infectious.

This one starts with Mario welcoming a new galaxy. As a spoiler, you remember when I said Lumas become planets or galaxies when they grow up? Sometimes they grow up through specific means, like eating a lot, or being given important things. In the ending of the game, after Mario defeats Bowser, a black hole erupts that threatens to consume everything that Mario has tried to save, including all the galaxies, the observatory, and the kingdom. In order to prevent this from happening, all the Lumas sacrifice themselves by going into the black hole, which they then transform into a new galaxy made up of galaxies. So it is a sweet moment, but there is just enough of a tinge of bitter as well, because of the friends we lost. Of course, are they truly lost? They have changed into another state, and the sacrifice that allowed that change was inspired by love. This piano solo is so tender and emotional: it has both joy and sadness in it. This may not have been the staff credits, but this was a suitable and appropriate end. 

Conclusion

My heart loves this soundtrack. I had such a hard time narrowing down the selection, I ultimately had to pick out of preference after giving the whole thing a quick sampling. There might be a lot more pieces in the soundtrack you like more than what I shared: there are more than fifty tracks, twenty eight if you only consider the CD, and they are all so moving. I didn't even get to sharing the goofy pieces. The journey through this game is one with such highs, and even depths, but they all come together to write a beautiful adventure that inspires such joy. If you find yourself listening to instrumental music, give this a try, you won't regret it. It has given me a lot of enthusiasm for life, especially since this music is so powerfully stirring. It is a reminder that adventures and challenges are there for us to face. We can experience many emotions and still be alright. We can face the bittersweet and the joyful, and that even in "death," such as the Lumas's sacrifice, we never truly die: but we go on, changed. 

Monday, November 14, 2022

The Best Batman

Let me be transparent here: On this platform I've called Batman a Mary-Sue, uninteresting, and an example of toxic masculinity. And I still defend each of these positions, but I do have a blind spot in my Batman critique: 

Kevin Conroy. 

Every complaint I've ever had about Batman disintegrate in Conroy's portrayal. His recent passing has called me to reflect on the times he's portrayed the Dark Knight and how his performances over the years has shaped the character into something that is still worth championing for and why despite my own opinions he is still, in my eyes, a hero. 


Spoilers for a whole mess of Batman stuff. 

Batman: The Animated Series (BTAS)

BTAS was the first introduction to Batman for 90's kids (Unless your parents were cool like mine and let you watch the Michael Keaton ones). Painted on a black background, fighting a Joker voiced by Mark Hamill, Conroy gave us a human portrayal of Batman that was ahead of its time for children's cartoons. Here we got a Batman who could also be the millionaire playboy Bruce Wayne, one who felt things more than righteous anger, including fear and mourning. 

Two pieces stand out here: One was when he was doused with Scarecrow gas and was in a hallucination that his parents survived, and that he was not Batman. There's fear echoing in his voice as he quickly realizes that it's not real and fights to escape back to reality, despite knowing he'd be giving up a dream life he always wanted and deserved. It echoed an episode in Justice League: United when under the influence of the Black Mercy Superman had to make a similar decision. We get an example of Batman being in a situation where he has to fight with his mind rather than his skills, and how much it hurts to see everything he's going to lose. 

The second is the official appearance of Two-Face. Harvey Dent, the district attorney destined to lose half his face, was friends with Bruce Wayne in multiple episodes before he became the villain, including nearly being killed by Poison Ivy (He's still not over that one). Here Batman has a dream about letting Harvey down, and his parents being disappointed in him for failing to save his friend like he failed to save them. There's a humanity in Batman's voice that we rarely get, a vulnerability that reveals more about why he does it than a thousand "I am the night!" quotes ever could. 

Justice League/Unlimited

In the Animated Series spin-offs, Justice League and Justice League: Unlimited, Batman wasn't alone as he teamed up with six other great heroes. Conroy did not let the others overshadow the Bat though as he held his own with the booming bombastic action the show offered. 

In the Justice League cartoons, Batman was frequently the butt of multiple jokes about his inability to fly, not have powers and that he was a millionaire, all of which he had to grimace at and move on. He would occasionally quip back though, giving us another side to Batman we rarely see: a sense of humor. This is demonstrated perfectly in the Injustice Gang episodes where Batman is captured by the gang of villains, secured in a metal straight jacket, and kept under constant guard. Batman manages to manipulate each of his captors into turning on the others, sometimes with an inflection of his voice showing sympathy, and even seducing Cheetah (What is with him and cat-themed villains? It's like Cyclops and psychics). Under Joker's watch though he decides to make his move, giving them the slip and catching Joker by surprise, saying that he could've gotten out at any time but that "Someone needed to keep an eye on them". He also gets what is probably the funniest gag in the episode when he reveals that he paid the Ultra-Humanite to switch sides, demonstrating that yes, being rich is a super power. 


Now I would love to go over the Ultimate episode where he sat with Ace until she passed away, but the other scene I want to talk about is from the aforementioned episode where Superman was entranced by the Black Mercy, an alien plant that shows you your greatest paradise while it slowly saps the life out of you. Superman manages to lose it only for it to entangle itself around Batman, where we see that his ultimate dream is simple: He's back in the alley with his parents but his dad is beating the crap out of the mugger. The sequence itself has no Conroy, but it's after where the real hit comes. After he gets freed from the plant with the help of Wonder Woman and its used to imprison the villain that brought the thing to earth in the first place, Superman wonders what visions the plant is showing him, to which Batman replies "Whatever it is, it's too good for him.". The line delivery there is everything. It's barely restrained rage, its pain at having just found and lost everything all over again, it's knowing that this is the person responsible. In an already emotional episode, it's the perfect encapsulation of everything that's happened in one sentence. 

Beyond
 
Batman Beyond brought us a different version of Bruce Wayne most audiences weren't familiar with: Old Bruce Wayne. Shown in comics like The Dark Knight Returns and Kingdom Come, this is a Batman who has lost his crusade. Because he's only human, the years of fighting took their toll on Batman and at one point, after a heart attack mid-battle, he had to retire. Crime continued to happen in his absence without him being able to lift a finger to do anything about it, and he became a sad old man in his mansion, not even having the energy to stay on the board of Wayne Enterprises. He finds purpose in the new Batman, Terry McGuinness, who he trains and mentors, thus accepting that while Bruce Wayne may die, his legacy will live on. 


The episode that exemplifies Conroy's chops best is one where Bruce is dipped into the legendary Lazarus pit, bringing him nearly back to his peak performance. Conroy goes from an older and jaded Bruce to a younger and hopeful one effortlessly, and you can hear the difficulty in his voice as he has to choose to return to being old again knowing what the cost of the pit would be if he wanted to keep using it. 

Arkham
The Arkham video game series gave audiences what they'd always wanted: A more serious, darker Batman voiced by Conroy with some of the same emotional beats he had in the show. Here Batman gets to swear as he beats up the villains of Gotham City, but his emotional moments are all the more highlighted as the games could bring across the true darkness of his past and present in all the horrifying detail they could. 


Highlights for me include Batman being gassed by Scarecrow (Common theme here, Batman should think about hiring Scarecrow as his therapist) and having to relive his parents murder. The emotion that Conroy pours into his voice as his adult self transforms into his childhood version shows that deep inside Batman is just a scared little boy trying to save his parents. The second big highlight is during the finale of Arkham City where he pleads with the Joker to let him help him cure the mutation he's dying from, but instead Joker being Joker fights Batman and breaks the cure, and Batman has to watch this man die. You'd think this would be a triumphant moment, but it means that the Joker will never be brought to justice for the people he's killed and can never be redeemed, emphasizing the futility of Batman's mission. Batman says goodbye to him with this sadness, not over losing a friend but from watching any hope for this person die with them. 

Loss of a Legend

While a lot of the things I loved above can be equally credited to writing staff, animators and video game designers, I argue that the voice actors don't get enough credit for the jobs they do. Conroy was a better Batman than any other because he could portray fear and sadness right along with the anger we usually see Batman express (it’s a shame we only got to see him in live action once, during a subpar Arrowverse crossover). We had over 30 years of time with Conroy as Batman, and we were blessed to see how Batman should be done: As a well rounded character with flaws that we can connect to. 

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