Monday, August 2, 2021

Inside Bo Burham's Mind

Bo Burnham’s newest release Inside is one of the most unique pieces of media you’ll ever see. Netflix bills it as a comedy special, but it is definitely not that. “Whatever this is”, it’s equal parts introspective, funny, deep, awkward, catchy, disturbing, and sad. This is not a show for everyone. There are liberal doses of cursing, and topics that Bo covers include classism, capitalism, climate change … and “the other stuff”. But this is also a show that is unquestionably Bo. He did every aspect of this film himself, in his own room: wrote every word, sang every note, created every sound, conceived every idea, composed every shot, moved every light, zoomed every lens, edited every moment. This is all Bo. In one room. And the result is fascinating.

Bo called this film Inside, ostensibly referring to the fact that the Covid kept him quarantined inside his house. But the title Inside is also symbolic of being inside Bo’s mind. The room he’s stuck in is his mind. We are inside Bo’s mind as much as he is inside his own brain. We see the chaotic clutter alongside the intense organization. This mess plus structure equals Bo’s perfectionist creativity, and Inside gives us the best glimpse inside his artistry and mental health. Inside is a poioumenon that tells the story of a film’s creation, juxtaposed with the story of a man’s destruction. 

I have never seen a better depiction of what a year of lockdown feels like. Years from now when we tell our grandchildren about the pandemic of 2020, we will never really be able to fully express the grueling monotony or show future generations what it was really like to be quarantined for so long. Historians will look at art like Inside to create a full picture of the toll Covid took on all of us who were stuck in doors. 

On a personal level, my divorce took place during quarantine. My whole life evolved as the world changed. Like Bo, my mental health suffered, but I also grew and learned about who I was. I really related to the video game streaming bit where Bo had two main functions: cry, or find joy in playing piano. Or the surreal, clownish description of anxiety and depression in “All Time Low”. Or just the moment when Bo was lying on the ground surrounded by a tangle of cords and recording equipment, but still coherently expressing his concern for the younger generation. Inside tells the story of a man desperately trying to hold on to his sanity; the villain isn’t Covid, the antagonist is the Internet. 

Bo’s style of comedy and filmmaking won’t appeal to everybody. But this masterpiece definitely takes us Inside the mind of a person with crumbling mental health due to social isolation during quarantine.

Friday, July 30, 2021

Friday Creature Feature - Agumon

Just like Pikachu is the most iconic Pok√©mon, Agumon is probably the most recognizable Digimon. That’s why he keeps coming back. Over the course of the Digimon franchise and across the Digimon multiverse, there have been four distinct versions of Agumon in the anime. So in honor of the Digi-Destined’s anniversary of entering the Digital World for the first time, let’s explore the four iterations of Agumon.

Digimon Adventure

The most well-known of the four Agumon is Tai Kamiya’s partner. They met each other when he was a Koromon and then digivolved to Rookie against Kuwagamon with the others. He later became digivolved into Greymon to fight Shellmon, into MetalGreymon to defeat Etemon, and WarGreymon to face VenomMyotismon and the Dark Masters. Finally, as the next spring/summer rolled around, WarGreymon learned to DNA digivolve with MetalGarurumon to become Omnimon and fight Diaboromon. (And somewhere around here Tai and Agumon went to Digimon Fusion universe to fight Quartzmon.

As a new team of Digi-Destined joined the fight, Agumon took a back seat. But along the way he and Tai mentored Davis and Veemon as they learned to lead the new team. For a short time, he was captured by the Digimon Emperor and forced to dark digivolve. Later, after Ken joins the Digi-Destined, Agumon joins the frontlines again to fight in the Digimon World Tour and when BlackWarGreymon attacks Tokyo.

A few years later, Agumon and the others return to the Real World to fight the newly infected Digimon. Despite Tai having doubts about the fight, he and Agumon continue the battle, even when Agumon gets rebooted and Agumon and Gabumon have to destroy Meicoomon to save the world as Omnimon. Years later, Tai approached college graduation and Digi-Destined started disappearing. Agumon and Gabumon were the ones who digivolved to a new form and saved everyone. It meant they disappeared… but years later, somehow Agumon returned as Tai’s partner. We don’t know how, but he came back.

He's hot-headed and childish, just like Tai. This worked well when Tai was younger, but it was one of the things that possibly caused his separation from Agumon in Last Evolution. That being said, he's known for putting Tai in his place too. My favorite part about this version of Agumon is how thoughtful and insightful he is. In Adventure Tri, he never gave up on Tai returning. In Adventure 02, he philosophized with BlackWarGreymon about the meaning of life. Of all the Agumon we've met, the original will always be my favorite because he had depth.

Digimon Data Squad

The second prominent Agumon was partnered with Marcus Damon. They were rivals as much as partners when they joined DATS. This version of Agumon was obsessed with food. As he worked with Marcus, he was able to digivolve into GeoGreymon, RizeGreymon, and ShineGreymon to fight Merukimon’s forces, Kurata’s bio-hybrids. But his power-ups wouldn’t be complete until ShineGreymon reached Burst Mode against the Royal Knights and Agumon reached “Burst Mode” against King Drasil. The final battle would mean Agumon had to return to the Digital World permanently (but Marcus volunteered to go too). And this Agumon would also go to the Fusion dimension to fight Quartzmon with Marcus and the others.

Unlike the Adventure version of Agumon, Marcus's partner is more hard-headed when it comes to handling his boss's decisions. This was evident from the very beginning when Agumon got into a fist fight with Marcus at the park. He also refused to stay stored digitally in his digivice (kind of like a well-known Pokemon). Despite my assertion that OG Agumon is my favorite, the independence that Data Squad Agumon shows, unlike the original, is why I love him. It gets him and Marcus into plenty of trouble, but it's also why they work well together as a team.

Digimon App Monsters

Despite being just a video game character in this part of the Digimon multiverse, Agumon was brought to life in this world. Haru and his partner teamed up with him to fight Uratekumon. Haru’s connection with Agumon from playing the Digimon video game was strong enough that he was able to warp digivolve to WarGreymon to help with the fight of the day.

This version of Agumon is reminiscent of Tai's Agumon in the Adventure series, plus a little extra obsession with food. Brave and loyal, this Agumon had a strong bond with Haru, even though Haru hadn't played Digimon in years. With only a few flashbacks to Haru's younger age, I felt the connection between him and Agumon. Even though he only appeared in one episode, he was written better than our last Agumon, from the 2020 Adventure series. So I guess that's our next stop...

Digimon Adventure 2020

The latest iteration of Agumon is in the ongoing Digimon series. As part of a reboot of the original Digimon Adventure, this Agumon is very similar to the original Tai’s partner. His original digivolution line appears as Agumon digivolves into Greymon to fight Argomon, into MetalGreymon to fight MetalTyrannomon, and into WarGreymon to fight Eaglemon. Unlike the original Agumon, this Agumon also reached MetalGreymon’s Alterous Mode to fight Splashmon and BlitzGreymon to fight MetallifeKuwagamon. And along the way he accidentally dark digivolved into Machinedramon to fight DoneDevimon. As of now, the Digi-Destined have defeated ZeedMillenniummon and are searching for the meaning of the crests. Where this will lead Agumon in the last episodes we don’t know. But you can be sure Tai and Agumon will be there.

The Agumon of 2020 (as well as Tai) have been a center point of the criticism that the reboot series. A disproportionate amount of time seems to be focused on the two of them, as opposed to the other seven kids and their partners. In personality, he's very much like OG Agumon. The problem is that he isn't fleshed out like the previous versions of Agumon (even the one from Appmon). His connection to Tai has felt rushed from the start, but that honestly says more about how Tai was written, not Agumon.

Wednesday, July 28, 2021

My Favorite Shows on BYUtv

BYUtv has produced a lot of excellent new content in the last few years, and there's plenty to love on the channel. Best of all, all their content is free.

Here are a few of my favorites that are available now.

All-Round Champion

A show in the reality-tv competition genre, All-Round Champion pits ten youth athletes against each other as they learn new sports.

In each episode, one of the young athletes along with a famous adult athlete coach the rest of the youth in their sport. After three days of fun and practice, the youth athletes compete against each other. They earn points based on the competition results plus two "shout out" bonus points awarded by the adult coach that week. At the end of the ten weeks, the point totals determine who will be declared "All-Round Champion".

This is one of my favorite shows on BYUtv. It combines a few elements that I love in shows: kids trying new things and challenging themselves, making friends, and learning to work through interpersonal conflicts. It's a fun show for kids and parents to watch together.

Amelia Parker

Amelia Parker also has a twin show - The Parker Andersons. Both shows are in the scripted drama genre and follow a blended family as they navigate differences in custom and communication styles. Amelia Parker specifically focuses on one of the daughters in the family. Amelia is selectively mute due to trauma around her mother's death. It's a humorous yet serious series, probably best watched by older teens and their parents.

Dwight in Shining Armor

Dwight in Shining Armor is a fun scripted comedy/adventure series with five full seasons of mirth. Dwight is a modern teenager who finds himself dubbed a princess's "champion" after falling down a hole and "kissing" her, thereby bound by magic to defend her from her enemies. 

The show throws medieval Europe into modern America, providing plenty of opportunity for comedy and fun as Dwight tries to help Gretta and her Court Magician Baldric to navigate modern life. From self-me's to koffewalts, it is sure to provide fun for the tween and young teen set and their parents.

Wayne Brady's Comedy IQ

I'm a sucker for kids competition shows with heart. In the same spirit, though not at all the same kind of completion, comes Wayne Brady's Comedy IQ. Throughout the season, Wayne Brady teaches a group of teenagers the basics of comedy, then throws comedy challenges at them to see how well they have learned. We all get to see the teens' struggles, bonding, and downright funny comedy routines as they attempt to best each other in sketch and improv comedy. Do not miss this show.

The Chosen

Though very different than any of the other shows I've mentioned so far, this list wouldn't be complete without The Chosen. Billed as the first-ever multi-season series about the life of Jesus Christ, The Chosen takes an intimate look at the followers of Jesus Christ. It doesn't shy away from their doubts and confusion at times, nor at their struggles to follow Christ. Of the two seasons so far, the first is my favorite. The conversation between Christ and Nicodemus is beautiful and heartbreaking at the same time. The second season does not disappoint either.

Hopefully at least one of these shows caught your eye! Happy streaming!

Monday, July 26, 2021

What Loki Teaches about Self-Love

Partway through the Disney Plus exclusive series Loki, a "nexus event" occurs. Loki falls in love with Sylvie, a variant of himself. Let’s set aside any discussion about “selfcest” or “Loki-cest” or "Sylki" shipping. Instead, let’s focus on the symbolism behind the relationship between these two characters, who are the same but different. I choose to look at this as falling in love with ourselves.

No, not the romantic kind of falling in love, cuz ew. But just truly loving ourselves. Self-love.

Even though Loki and Sylvie are not the same person, we can interpret the relationship as a form of self-love. Loki depicts this self love developing amid chaos and turmoil in the episode “Lamentis”, a slower episode that focuses more on character development than action (despite that crazycool one-take scene), and pushes the idea that a relationship with yourself is more important than anything else going on in the world. When the pair finally let down their guard to become vulnerable and fall in love in the episode “Nexus Event”, we see that it has universe-shattering consequences. The very nature of Loki falling in love with somebody with similar character traits causes the timeline to literally start wobbling, and things change faster than Pietro Maximoff.

Our Heavenly Father wants us to love ourselves. Sometimes it happens after an amount of strife in our lives. But the act of loving yourself can have earth-shattering consequences. There are two types of loving oneself: being conceited, prideful, and arrogant thinking you’re better than everyone; and there is naturally loving yourself and accepting who you are and being thankful for what God made.

Growing up, I hated myself. I hid this self-hatred with humor and a gregarious personality. When I went to therapy and realized just how much I hated myself, I decided in a heartbeat that things needed to change in my life. Although the decision was made in a heartbeat, the process took a lot longer, and will probably continue to evolve my entire life. Some things I did to start loving myself.

  • I accepted myself for who I am. No more trying to hide or pretend or be somebody I’m not. I just accepted myself.
  • I found comfort in the “in-between”. I often don’t feel completely at home in any one culture or with any single identity. That used to bother me. But somewhere along the way, I found that I could be comfortable with a foot in more than one world. My home isn’t in any single world, but on the bridge between those worlds. I’m okay with that.
  • I developed a much more real relationship with Heavenly Father. Now talk with Him, instead of just saying prayers in my head. Sometimes I get mad at Him. Sometimes I disobey Him like a petulant child. Sometimes I walk with Him and take His advice. Sometimes I choose to do things my own way. But I learn from the way He loves me, and I love myself that same way.
  • I say “no”. In order to mask my own self-hatred, I became a colossal people pleaser. Wanting to make others happy isn’t a bad thing, but doing so at the expense of your own needs is toxic and self-destructive. I would amputate parts of myself just to please others, or in an attempt to get them to like me. Not anymore. Now I say “no” when I need to.
  • I am kind to myself. I am working to be more careful in the language I use about myself, both verbally and in my head. I try to talk to myself like I would talk to a loved one. I don’t cut myself down, I don’t call myself names, and I don’t criticize myself.
  • I practice self-care and self-love. I literally take time to go on dates with myself. This might include a warm bath, time at the gym, taking time to do hobbies such as geocaching, or clearing an evening so I can spend time with myself. This might be the simplest and most concrete thing on this list, but I found that in practice it was the hardest thing to actually do.

Loki and Sylvie are variants of the same person and they are not the same individual, but I still think there’s a lot to be learned from watching this symbolic depiction of loving yourself. And if along your journey of self-love, all you end up doing is loving alligators, then at least progress has been made.

Friday, July 23, 2021

Wanderlust… in a great big cavern full of bugs

Hollow Knight has been my current gaming obsession for the last few weeks. As I have traveled deeper into the realm of Hallownest, I have fallen more and more in love with the adorable yet dark and solemn Metroidvania title. I’m going to share some of the reasons why this game is a phenomenal experience, and completely worth your time and attention.

The Score: Anthems for the Soul

Anyone who knows me well will agree that music is my primary love language, even if it’s not actually one of the Five Love Languages… The soundtrack for this game is a love note straight to the heart. From the mysterious ambiance of Crossroads to the calming and healing melodies of City of Tears and ReflectionI was instantly hooked. The score is very effective in eliciting emotion, and paints a beautiful and complementary picture to the game’s stunning visual art. I actually listened to the soundtrack long before I played the game per a friend’s recommendation. While some of the tracks are a bit more intense (Nosk and Mantis Lords for example), I am constantly listening to the calmer songs while working or brainstorming. Great job, Christopher Larkin!

The Tone: Sadness and Hope

At first glance, one might be inclined to think of Hollow Knight as a cute little platformer with a brave little bug that hacks and slashes across the land. However, the story is quite melancholy, depicting a fallen kingdom filled with death, decay, and despair. I think the cute style brings a refreshing sense of lightness that helps to balance out the darkness, making the experience meaningful and uplifting. Lehi taught us that “there must needs be an opposition in all things.” I think Hollow Knight’s constant interplay between light and darkness is a reminder of this in a way. Even in the darkest of times, there can still be light and hope.

The Thrill of Discovery

 I won’t deny the fact that I consulted a walkthrough a few times while trying to figure out where the Mask and Soul Vessel fragments were... That being said, I had many moments of awe, when I would traverse a tunnel and accidentally stumble upon a new area I wasn’t expecting to see. Part of the allure I find in Metroidvania games is the experience of bursting through a hidden wall here, or falling down a secret shaft there. I think Hollow Knight does this exceptionally well. And the beautiful panoramas and backgrounds are overly sufficient to keep me entertained while wandering around the map for hours.

The Challenge

There are many challenging platformers out there (Spelunky and Celeste to name some others), and this is definitely one of them. I found the boss battles to be quite  difficult, requiring practice, patience, and observation to learn the enemies’ patterns and behavior. Thankfully, the bosses aren’t always required, at least not necessarily when you first encounter them. For example, when I first encountered the Mantis Lords, I had my little bug butt handed to me hard every time I challenged them, so I went back a different direction to gain some skill and strength first.

If you’re looking for something new to try and haven’t given Hollow Knight a shot, please do yourself a solid and pick up the game right now!