Tuesday, December 31, 2019

Runaways: A Retrospective

It’s been just about a month since Runaways season three aired on Hulu. With all of Marvel’s television shows moving to Disney+, this show, like the Netflix series, finally got its cancellation. Now, I don’t know where it was in production when everything started getting asked, but this season did seem to have a better resolution than previous seasons. But I’ll get to that in a moment. So since I will be discussing Runaways today, obviously be prepared for spoilers through season three.

Season 1: Kids vs. Parents
Season one followed a fairly simple premise: the six kids chanced upon the information and the secret that their parents were part of an evil organization. I’ve never read the comics, but from what I understand, the writers for the Hulu series text some artistic liberty with the source material. Instead of being straight up evil, the parents became more complex and gray as the series went on. I’m not sure what the writers would have decided to do if it hadn’t been picked up for season two, but season one definitely laid the groundwork for the series. It included origin story on all of our hero Runaways, backstory on some of the parents, and mystery to lead into season two. Because of how it was set up, with suspense dodging their parents every episode, and stuff like that, season one was easily my favorite. It was the only season to include a single story arc. And they executed it well.

Season 2, Part 1: Runaways vs Parents again
Season two was the longest of the three seasons, by three episodes. And it was the slowest season of the three. So it’s a good thing it was divided into two story arcs. The first one, involves a lot of similar conflicts to season one. Except that now, the kids had finally run away. Hence the name Runaways. The kids explored their powers and worked on how to thwart their parents. But as the arc went on, even the parents began to be skeptical of their associate Jonah. And eventually the arc culminated in a fight between Jonah and the kids and their parents.

Season 2, Part 2: Runaways vs. Aliens
From early on in season two, we knew that Jonah was an alien. And as a result, that meant that Karolina was part alien. So with his ship destroyed at the end of the first arc, Jonah and his family took new hosts. A lot of the major excitement of this arc was still the parents versus the kids. But on the side, we had three of the parents blacking out and soon discovering that they’ve become host to Jonas family. We also got introduced to a new alien, Xavin, a shape shifter who believed she was Karolina‘s soulmate. The end of season two left us with the second cliffhanger season finale, so thank goodness we got a season three. The Runaways and the parents were all split up. And some of them were in life or death situations.

Season 3, Part 1: Runaways vs. Aliens again
The first arc of season three didn’t last very long. With everyone split up at the end of season two, the first order of business was to get the gang back together. At the same time, they discovered Jonah’s family inhabiting four bodies, not just the three that we had seen in season two. So as the fourth host was revealed, things quickly turned to final battle. A little bit anti-climactic, but I found it fulfilling all the same.

Season 3, Part 2: Runaways vs. Morgan
She was teased throughout the first arc of season three, but we didn’t get to actually see Morgan Le Fay in the flesh until the second arc of season three. This was the story arc that paid service to Marvel fans. It dropped Easter eggs from other Marvel series and tied it into the greater Marvel cinematic universe. Now, the finale left timeline issues involving Thanos’s snap, but so did Agents of SHIELD. So I’m willing to let that go even if I don’t like it. I feel like each of the Runaways got a fair shot at the spotlight during this arc. Even most of the parents did. It’s hard with a cast so big to give everyone decent screen time. But they did a good job.

As for MCU Connections, we got special guest appearances of Cloak and Dagger. That one was special, because it had been explicitly linked to the larger universe during its series before cancellation. In addition, seeing those two work together with the Runaways was amazing. It made me feel validated for re-watching their show again before Runaways season three came out. In addition to that, we also got appearances of the Dark Dimension from Doctor Strange, though it looked different this time, and the Darkhold from Agents of SHIELD. As much as I loved Runaways during seasons one and two, the big thing that was missing was the universe building. So this really made me happy.

In regards to how the series ended, I felt like it got a sufficient finale. However, it felt rushed. The last episode is a standalone story that was a bit convoluted. If Disney+ decides to do a season for later on, great. They can pick up some of these loose threads. But I’d honestly rather have the Runaways just appear in other series. They had their trilogy of seasons. They had a good run. They kicked butt. And now I think it should be done.

In the end, Runaways was what it promised: a teenage drama with superpowers. We definitely have the teenage angst and drama, but we also had the superheroics. I enjoyed the twists and turns and the distinct character development, despite having so many characters. I don’t know if we will ever see our Runaways again in the MCU, but I think it would be a waste just to let them sit and be forgotten. I would especially love to see Nico or Molly appear in some version of the Young Avengers or something. Can’t tell you how happy that would make me.

Sunday, December 29, 2019

Jumanji: The Next Level review

Ah, Jumanji. What started in 1981 as a really classy and artful picture book by Chris Van Allsburg (who also wrote The Polar Express), then turned into a decent 1995 movie starring Robin Williams, and was reinvented as a surprisingly funny and pretty darn good 2017 movie, is now being released as a popcorn sequel with some great moments and an insignificantly paltry plot. 

The only real spoiler I’ll give about Jumanji: The Next Level is the basic conceit of the movie, which is that many of the characters switch their avatars. This provides some really nice fresh takes on these characters. For example, it’s great fun to watch Kevin Hart (Franklin Finbar) slow down his speech considerably and channel Danny Glover. And then to switch to Martha’s character (normally played by Karen Gillan), well that was a stroke of genius. I could do without The Rock’s forced New Yawk accent, but he is really funny channeling Danny DeVito’s character: clueless, lost, and a bit senile. It’s neat to see The Rock poke fun at himself and play against character.

In addition to the great acting (Hart, Gillan, The Rock, and Jack Black make a great comedic team!), the jokes in Jumanji are nonstop. My family genuinely laughed throughout the movie -- and laughed loudly! There is good humor mined from the avatar switcheroos, but also from the action and some of the new “level up” aspects of the game. If you can walk away from a movie feeling like you did a bunch of crunches because your sides hurt from laughing so much, the film is worth the price of admission.

However, the movie suffers from a predictable plot, subpar character development, and just mediocre thematic concepts. Nobody expects Jumani to be particularly deep. Nobody is going to this movie expecting a deep character analysis, intricate themes, or even to be able to relate to the characters on a deep emotional level. The two new characters (old guys Eddie and Milo) have a side story that is hamfistedly explained, and equally hamfistedly solved. It’s unnecessary, and it’s kind of painful to watch. And maybe just a little disconcerting to watch the character development happen through no less than six different actors. That takes some skill that Jumanji just doesn’t have. Even though it’s the next level, it’s a step down from the surprisingly good Jumanji: Welcome to the Jungle from two years ago.

If you’re going to see Jumanji: The Next Level, expect popcorn and cotton candy: entertaining and enjoyable, but lacking depth and substance. The plot is not memorable, but it doesn’t really need to be. The characters are simple, and that’s okay. But the film is good fun and it’s got some great moments. And really, isn’t that enough from a simple movie about a video game fantasy?

Friday, December 27, 2019

The One With All the Resolutions

So among all the holiday episodes that Friends did, there are a handful of New Years Day/Eve episodes. The one that stands out the most to me today is “The One With All the Resolutions”. The Friends each pick something they need or want to work on and make a decision to change or improve.

Now comes the rant about New Years resolutions. How many TV specials make New Years resolutions a joke? They last for a few days or a week. Phineas & Ferb even made the joke that those New Years resolutions never even started.

I cannot tell you how much I dread January at the gym. It gets overly crowded (my gym is crowded regardless) and it persists for a month or so until the non-committed people trickle out. Every time I see Facebook posts about New Years resolutions, I roll my eyes.

That being said, if you have goals you want to work on, do it! If you want to grow and improve in a particular way, do it! But don’t make New Year’s Day your make or break. Everyone makes mistakes. Everyone hits plateaus. Everyone gets discouraged. But it’s the trajectory of our progress and the resolve we continually renew that matters.

Don't get me wrong; the end of the year is a wonderful time to make goals. People tend to get reflective and introspective about how the year went. It's a great time to decide to make a change in our lives. However, the stereotype with New Year's resolution is that once you slip on it once, you give up. But we're taught to repent and make changes on a daily basis. As such, daily reflection and changes will make a stronger, longer impact on a person's life. That's part of why we take the sacrament each week. Whether it's a daily reflection, weekly reflection, or whatever, we can always make changes and grow and become stronger through the Atonement of Christ.

In the end, even though Joey didn't learn the guitar, Rachel started gossiping again, and Ross's leather pants were awful, you can grow and improve each day, instead of waiting for an arbitrary day of the year to start. Every day, every week, and every semester is the start of a new day, a new start. Welcome to day one!

"Verily I say, men should be anxiously engaged in a good cause, and do many things of their own free will, and bring to pass much righteousness." (D&C 58:27)

Monday, December 23, 2019

Star Wars Holiday Special

There are some things in this galaxy that are so bad, they’re good. The Room. 5-Minute Crafts on YouTube. Rebecca Black’s “Friday”. My dad’s puns.

And the Star Wars Holiday Special. (If you haven’t seen it, you're really missing out. Check this link.)

Oh my goodness, I don’t think I’ve ever seen a piece of trash so glorious as this 1978 gem! Designed purely as a way to remind fans that there are toys and merchandise to buy for the holidays, this awful treasure is a mess from beginning to the end. Let’s break it down:
  • The show starts with nine minutes (yes, NINE MINUTES!) of grunting and growling. Not joking. We meet three “characters” (I guess you can call them that) who are clearly Wookiees, but none of them are named Chewbacca. And they purr and gesticulate and make Wookiee noises the entire time. No subtitles. No Han Solo to translate for us. Just three strangers “speaking” an unintelligible language. Sigh.
  • What I think is supposed to be comedy relief is just … weird drag queen freneticism. (Is that a thing? I guess it is now.) Chewbacca’s wife watches a cooking show starring Chef Gormaanda (ugh, the names), which is really just the actor Harvey Korman dressed as a Julia Child parody with 4 arms and a wig that begins to fall apart as she gets excited. The chanting she does is … well, you just have to see it to experience it.
  • Wookiee Cookies. ‘Nuff said.
  • Chewbacca’s son (yup, he has a son!) is entranced by a computer-generated performance of holographic circus actors. It’s out of place and strangely hypnotic. 
  • One of the most uncomfortable segments I can only describe as softcore VR Wookiee porn. Chewbacca’s skeezy father gets hooked up to a virtual reality machine, and Diahann Carroll appears in a very slinky dress. She promises the grizzled Wookiee that “we can have a good time”/ Even though the old dude is as gross and shriveled as Gary Busey, the virtual seductress
    tells him he’s adorable, and asks him in a breathy voice to “experience me”. The old Wookiee (named Itchy, ugh) moans and groans and twitches and seems to get really excited. The woman continues, “I am your fantasy. Oh yes, I can feel my creation.” And she giggles in pleasure. It goes on forever. And it’s really as bad as it sounds. Maybe worse. (Who greenlit this project?)
  • Jefferson Starship sings a song. I guess they had the word “Starship” in their name so they made the cut? Maybe Ziggy Stardust wasn’t available?
  • There’s a cartoon that features a mini adventure. Okay, this part really was pretty cool. Not only because it introduces the world to Boba Fett, but because it’s just a pretty darn cool cartoon. Why couldn’t the whole two hours be like this? Although I could have done without the fluidly bendy arms of the droids. And C-3PO blinks -- with eyelids! VERTICAL EYELIDS! Okay, nevermind. It might be the best part of the two hours, but it’s still just so bad!
  • Look, I love Dorothy from Golden Girls, I really do. But I’m not sure I wanted to see her dance with Greedo or pour a drink into some guy’s skull, or sing while tending bar at the Mos Eisley Cantina. Oh my goodness, guys, it’s just so cringy!
  • So the entire show revolves around the celebration of “Life Day”, which is a stand-in for Christmas, or Hanukkah, or Kwanzaa, or Festivus, or whatever other holiday you want to substitute. But the only thing I could tell was that Life Day consists of a bunch of Wookiees
    (literally wearing Chewbacca masks because the production ran out of money -- I’m completely serious) dressing up in red robes, grabbing light bulbs, and then -- get this -- literally walking through space into an actual star. Let’s not point out how utterly insane the ceremony is. Or the fact that they should all be dead. I guess it’s a Life Day Miracle!
  • I love Carrie Fisher, may she rest in peace. But I think her computer generated “performance” in Rogue One had more life than this drivel. I get it -- Fisher was very vocal about her drug abuse. And never was it more clearly documented than during her final song. (She can sing?!) The lyrics are gold: “We celebrate a day of peace, a day of harmony / A day of joy we can all share joyously.” Eek.

May the force be with you all as you enjoy some joyous joy this Life Day!

Check out the awful jewel that is the Star Wars Holiday Special in its entirety at this link.
Fire another trashy Star Wars side project, check out Caravan of Courage: An Ewok Adventure
And if you need some Life Day eye bleach, check out the Lego Star Wars Holiday Special!

Also check out our reviews for Star Wars Episode IX (Dark Side and Light Side)

Friday, December 20, 2019

Star Wars IX Review: The Dark Side

Image result for star wars 9
To see a more positive review of Star Wars: The Rise of Skywalker, click here.

**Minor Spoilers Ahead**

They say that the biggest Star Wars critics are Star Wars fans. And as one of the biggest Star Wars fans out there, I’ll be the first to admit that I had my issues with the latest Star Wars. This was a good movie: the acting was terrific. (Daisy Ridley was the best she’s ever been, and Adam Driver continues to be amazing -- they both provided the emotional heart of the film. And Oscar Isaac was just plain fun.) The movie was beautifully shot and the cinematography was complementary to the scope of the show. But while the technicals of the movie were all in check, the story overall had so many issues that a bit of good acting and photography really don’t make up for the pandering fan service. Let’s get into it.

Star Wars IX had a lot of the same problems that most of the Star Wars movies have: Rey can levitate, lift rocks, and hold entire vehicles in some scenes, but she can’t lift herself or her friends out of quicksand? Too many characters do nothing and are in the film for just a handful of lines. (Hello, Rose!) Alliances and relationships happen way too quickly and with very little development. (Rey talks about how important her friends are, but we don’t really see the personal connections advance throughout the course of the film.) Things happen way too conveniently. (A mysterious MacGuffin is suddenly found without any trouble. Rey happens to be standing in the exact correct spot to find a new location.)

But bigger issues abound. This film is supposed to be the culmination of 42 years of films. 9 of the biggest films in history. Films that have transformed culture and shaped countless lives. The end of the Skywalker Saga. But instead, this feels like the end of a smaller story about Rey and Kylo Ren. And it’s a decent ending for them, it really is! But calling the film “Rise of Skywalker”, and making Kylo Ren a Skywalker by blood (if not by name), doesn’t quite give the gravitas needed to end the Skywalker Saga.

The movie almost feels like a reaction to Rian Johnson’s divisive penultimate film, The Last Jedi. Fans were so torn about that film and its strong choices that the backlash was palpable. It’s almost like J.J. Abrams didn’t want to have any of that negative talk, so he chose safe routes so as to not upset the fans. It’s not a spoiler to say that Palpatine is back; but he is underserved, and seems more like a shadow of the menacing overlord he played in the past 42 years. Towards the beginning of the film, two characters die … for a few minutes, and then they don’t die. And even though we say goodbye (in more ways than one) to our favorite Disney Princess, death doesn’t really have much of an impact in Rise of Skywalker. Rey trains and fights and wins, but there’s almost no cost to her sacrifice. The deaths in this Star Wars don’t have much emotional hold, and don’t represent the price and sacrifice it takes to win.

Don’t get me wrong, this was a good movie. But it doesn’t feel like the epic saga conclusion it should be. It doesn’t really feel like an epic saga at all. There were great moments -- Rey in the desert, C-3PO’s Sith translation, the return of the great Billy Dee, every line by Poe, and anytime Rey and Kylo Ren shared the screen -- but there were so many missed moments and opportunities for greatness. J.J. Abrams played this one safe, and it made for a very good movie. But when I watch Star Wars, I don’t want “very good”. I want epic. And this was not.

To see a more positive review of Star Wars: The Rise of Skywalkerclick here.

Image result for star wars 9

Star Wars IX Review: The Light Side

To see a more negative review of Star Wars: The Rise of Skywalker, click here.

**Minor Spoilers Ahead**

Where do I even begin? WOW.

This is a movie I've waited for since I first watched A New Hope as an 8 year old back in 1997, when George Lucas re-released the original trilogy in theaters. 

I have to hand it to Disney and Lucasfilm -- they had the almost impossible task of creating a finale to one of the most celebrated and groundbreaking franchises in cinema history. And they delivered.

While imperfect, Star Wars Episode IX has a little bit of everything for even the most avid Star Wars fan. The most epic space battle in any of the nine episodes, fantastic lightsaber duels, a healthy dose of Jedi and Sith lore, cameos and Easter eggs, questions answered, identities revealed, redemption, triumph, comedy, moving scenes of loss and love, and (in my opinion) the best ending scene I could have imagined for the Skywalker Saga. 

What I Liked Most
  • Learning more of Rey's story and identity and her connection to the Star Wars universe. While not fully explained, her origin and connection to the Force makes so much more sense now.
  • The depth of character that finally came to Kylo Ren aka Ben Solo. I've really struggled with the character of Kylo Ren in Episodes VII and VIII, but his story in Episode IX was compelling, real, and meaningful.
  • Deeper understanding of Kylo's and Rey's Force connection first explored in The Last Jedi. This was kind of weird for me in Episode VIII, but I feel like it lent itself well to the story in Episode IX and makes more sense learning Rey's identity.
  • A story arc that actually made me care for the character of C-3PO
  • The films tribute to the original characters of Luke, Leia and Han. These three actors and characters defined the original trilogy and in my opinion led to much of its success.
  • Leia's farewell and presence in the film. Knowing Carrie Fisher is no longer with us, this was a particularly meaningful component of my viewing experience
  • The ending scene with Rey. Pure perfection.
I hope Disney continues to explore this universe and the wealth of story-telling opportunities it provides.

There are some answers I still don't have, but putting all of that aside (and leaving some to the imagination) The Rise of Skywalker takes its rightful place as a fitting finale to one of the greatest and most endearing stories ever told.

To see a more negative review of Star Wars: The Rise of Skywalker, click here.

Sunday, December 15, 2019

2020: Year in Preview

2020 is fast approaching. So as I watch the new episodes of Runaways, here are some of my thoughts on stuff coming in the new year.

Doctor Who Series 12 (January 1)
We got confirmation recently that Doctor Who series 12 would be starting with a New Year’s episode this year. We’re gonna see more of the Thirteenth Doctor’s personality and of her companions’ lives. I’m looking forward to the return of different enemies. Judoon, Cybermen, and Daleks are all slated to appear. We’ve also got historical figures like Nikola Tesla and Thomas Edison appearing. And an overall series arc, instead of just individual stories. It should be great!

Crisis on Infinite Earths (January 14)
The December portion of this year’s Arrowverse left us hanging in… well, the Vanishing Point. We’ve got two more episodes left (the Arrow and Legends portions). Confirmed characters yet to appear are short (most of the confirmed characters were in the first three episodes); we can still expect appearances from Stargirl, some of the Legends (probably in their episode), and parts of Team Arrow (probably in their episode as well). I was really hoping to see more of Black Lightning, Clark Kent-167 (from Smallville), Huntress-203 (from Birds of Prey), and Superman-96 (from Superman Returns). But perhaps, like the final battle in Endgame, we’ll get all the heroes back together for a final battle in January.

Digimon Adventure: Last Evolution Kizuna (February 21)
Premiering in Japan first, this new Digimon Movie later come to the United States in the spring. After the events of Digimon Adventure Tri, we’ll jump forward another few years. Everyone is slowly progressing towards their lives featured in the Adventure 02 epilogue. And finally we get the reappearance of the 02 kids! They were just silhouettes in Tri, but they’re back! It also looks like we might get a new Digivice (looks like a smartphone) and possibly a look at a level above Mega (previously only officially addressed in video games).

Onward (March 4)
Not a lot has been released about this new Pixar movie yet. We know it’s star-studded though: Chris Pratt, Tom Holland, Octavia Spencer, and Julia Louis-Dreyfus are all set to voice characters. The small amount that’s available tells us that we’ll be introduced to a world of magical creatures. However, it seems they’re losing their magic. I’m curious what the overarching plot will be. I’m looking forward to it.

Mulan (March 25)
Adding to the ever-growing list of Disney remakes, we’ve got Mulan coming in a few months. We’ve been told it’s going to be quite different from the cartoon. We won’t have the music, we won’t have Mushu, and we won’t have Shang. I’ve heard that it’ll be more accurate to the original Chinese legend. I’m honestly not sure how I feel about it (I loved Mushu and Cri-Kee) but I’m willing to suspend judgment until I see it.

Black Widow (May 1)
After years of waiting, fans finally get a Black Widow movie. As long as it’s not 100% fan-service, I’m sure I’ll enjoy it. We’ve got it set between Civil War and Infinity War. No indication that it’ll show us how she ends up with Cap and Falcon before Thanos’s goons come to Scotland. The recent trailer did show us that we’ll end up getting glimpses at Natasha’s past. Even if it’s not shown in explicit flashbacks, we’re likely to get some explanations at least. I’m hoping that we get some small tie-in to the future of the MCU. My brother had the idea that maybe there’ll be something with the Skrulls and SHIELD that’ll tie into the credit scene in Far From Home. I guess we’ll see.

Agents of SHIELD Season 7 (Summer)
No official release date yet, but we’ve got one last mini-season of SHIELD left. As the team blasted into the past, FitzSimmons were split up and Mack, Deke, and Daisy were brought in with May and Yo-Yo in critical condition. And on top of all that we got a Coulson Chronicom LMD joining the team. So into the early 20th Century we go, with different SHIELD personnel set to appear along the way. Since they had time to plan for this end, I’m optimistic for a solid ending.

Lizzie McGuire Reboot (???)
After almost two decades, Lizzie McGuire returns. Disney+ hasn’t announced a release date yet, but we have had some details of what to expect. We know that Lizzie and her family are coming back. Shortly after the reboot was announced, Gordo was announced to be returning. The part I’m looking forward to most is that animated Lizzie is coming back. Not adult animated Lizzie, but it should be teenage animated Lizzie, meaning she’s still a kid at heart (is that too cliche?). In the meantime, Lizzie McGuire and her movie are on Disney+ already.

Obviously not a comprehensive list, but just some things to get excited for. We know The Eternals and The Little Mermaid remake are set to release. What else are you waiting for?

Friday, December 13, 2019

Comedy Christmas Episodes

In years of Christmas past, I've shared my thoughts on different holiday specials (Disney, Doctor Who, and some others). This year I'm picking some (mostly) family friendly comedies. With a lot of crude humor in modern days, I like these for some classic Christmas humor and feel-goods.

Sabrina the Teenage Witch (Episode 3x11 - "Christmas Amnesia")
As a typical teenager, Sabrina found something to complain about. Despite her aunts trying to get her in the Christmas spirit, Sabrina only became more pessimistic. But in an It's-A-Wonderful-Life kind of way, Sabrina got to see what life would be like without Christmas, after accidentally deleting it. The heartwarming part is that Christmas didn't return until she stopped focusing on the "hooplah of Christmas" and started focusing on her family. PS: RIP Bobunk

Community (Episode 1x12 - "Comparative Religion")
My top Christmas episode for Community is easily "Abed's Uncontrollable Christmas", so instead I went with the season 1 holiday episode. It set the precedent to make fun of Greendale's excessive political correctness. In a subtle and sarcastic way, it also indirectly promoted religious diversity. Also, I enjoy the humbling that Shirley went through, learning to be a better Christian, something we could all do. On the flip side, Jeff learned to turn the other cheek (somewhat) at least out of respect for Shirley. "Oh Christmas Troy. Oh Christmas Troy"

Friends (Episode 7x10 - "The One with the Holiday Armadillo")
More or less every season of Friends has at least one holiday-themed episode, in addition to their annual Thanksgiving episodes. This is probably one of the more endearing Ross episodes. He genuinely wants to teach his son Ben about his Jewish heritage. But also, he got caught in a tough spot with Ben, in regards to Christmas. So in an attempt to find a Santa costume, Ross shows up in an armadillo outfit, who teaches Ben about Hanukkah. To supplement one of Ross's better moments, there are also some funny antics between Phoebe and Joey, which I always enjoy.

Full House (Episode 6x12 - "A Very Tanner Christmas")
As Full House does, this episode has dozens of mini-plots to include the whole family. I suppose it all has to do with personal expectations. Stephanie and Michelle expect tons of presents. DJ expects Steve to stay nearby for college. Becky wants snow. And Danny wants Vicky nearby. The best part for me is how Jesse goes to such extravagant lengths to bring Becky a white Christmas. I also enjoyed how they tried to teach Michelle and Stephanie what Christmas means, apart from presents. Something every kid should know.

Fuller House (Episode 4x01 - "Oh My Santa")
There were a few wonderful teaching moments in this episode (Ramona and Stephanie performing service at Christmastime) and funny moments (Tommy being the typical little kid, freaking out at Santa). The great part of this episode is how realistic Max's grief was. The holidays are hard when you've lost loved ones. I can't imagine that feeling. Whether it's a child taken too soon or a parent gone prematurely, the holidays are a hard time to miss the ones we love.

Boy Meets World (Episode 6x11 - "Santa's Little Helpers")
Amidst Cory and Topanga trying to get Shawn and Angela back together, my favorite part of this episode was Eric, Rachel, and Jack. They may have gone about things the wrong way (nabbing the family's Christmas presents) but there's something to be said for trying to make that Christmas special and amazing for others, especially those who don't have family. In the end, Eric became friends with a little boy named Tommy. And Tommy's life was never the same again.

Girl Meets World (Episode 3x18 - "Girl Meets a Christmas Maya")
As Riley encourages Maya to spend the holidays with her new family, they also enjoy Secret Santa with their friends. Despite her friends' apprehension, they found a way to have a meaningful Secret Santa. The gifts may not have been what they originally wanted or expected, but they got to see how much the others cared about them. That's my favorite part of Christmas presents, getting to see the thought put into a gift. Not even the gift itself. (Also there's sugar-buzzed Ava and that was really funny).

What is your favorite Christmas special to watch each year? Any others you'd add?

Also check out our thoughts on some Doctor Who, Disney, and other Christmas specials.

Monday, December 9, 2019

Sparkshorts Review: Purl

The first of Pixar’s SparkShorts, Purl explores sexism, toxic masculinity, conformity, aggression, and knitting. And all under 8 minutes! The spunky and fun Purl (get it? Purl?) is faced with being different in a world of conformity. She is an outsider. Quirky, fun, colorful. And she enters a world of conformity. Sleek, boring, black. And ladies and gentlemen, the pricks are definitely on the inside.

The story is not new. Working Girl and Nine to Five come to mind as stories about women in the workplace. But they didn’t have as many knitting puns! These stories share a common DNA, where women have to unfortunately prove their worth by being better at their job. That’s not fair, but it’s a lamentable part of the female experience. It’s interesting that the main character in Purl was chosen to be a ball of yarn, which essentially has the ability to become anything, just as women are sometimes pressured to do so they can fit in. And Purl does the same, literally transforming herself into the hardest, sleekest form of a man she can become, both physically and socially.

But something seems off. This cognitive dissonance is punctuated when Lacy (Get it? Lacy?) shows up and reminds Purl and the viewer that Purl is not really being herself when she is aggressive, tells dirty jokes and jumps up on the table to curse. (Yes, the main character mildly curses in this Pixar short.) And then Purl is faced with the choice we are all faced with at various times of our lives: do we turn away? Or do we work to understand?

Understanding. That’s really the heart of Purl. When we work to get to know those who are different than us, we find understanding . This isn’t just about masculinity and femininity, though Purl is definitely a carefully told allegory of feminism. No, this understanding is universal and can be extended to anybody "different". Those who view the world through a different lens. When we strive to understand the worldview other have, our own perspective opens up and we come closer to Christ.

If you don't walk as most people do, some people walk away from you, but I won't! I won't! I'll walk with you. I'll talk with you. That's how I'll show my love for you.” So Purl teaches us the important lesson that we are good enough as we are. But perhaps more poignant than realizing our own worth, we should learn that everybody else is good enough as they are. It is not for us to exclude, to demand conformity, to expect sameness. It is up to us to love one another as Jesus loves us. Just the way we are.

Indeed, Purl is just a really good yarn.

Also check out our review of Float

Monday, December 2, 2019

Frozen II Review

(Guest Post by Ryan)

Frozen II was recently released, and it tells an incredible story with beautiful music, earnest acting, and elegant animation. What a fitting sophomore story for such a behemoth of a success six years ago. Though a review could be written of the entire movie, I wanted to focus on one very moving scene that happens toward the mid-ending of the film. Though the scene is described in detail below, no major plot points are given away in the description. However, if you’re sensitive to these kinds of things, this is your official spoiler warning.

Elsa encounters Nokk, the water spirit who guards the sea to Elsa’s destination. The guardian takes the form of a horse made of water, as eerily seen in early trailers. The horse appears as a creepy, forbidding character, and Elsa is shocked, but undeterred. She pressed forward. The two engage in an epic battle: the horse is unrelenting, Elsa is determined. The horse jumps, kicks, and blocks. Elsa defends, parries, and counters. The battle continues with both entities using their epic powers: the water horse splashes, Elsa freezes, the horse drags Elsa to the depths of the ocean, Elsa fights back. Finally, Elsa creates a reign for the horse, and barely, just barely, defeats the guardian. She mounts the horse, tames him, and uses the horse to continue on her journey. In fact, the horse becomes an ally to Elsa for the rest of the film.

Our mortal lives are filled with challenges and obstacles and things that can potentially make us feel weak. Difficulties that leave us in the lurch. Conflicts that hurt. Trials that test us, try us, and stretch us beyond what we think we’re capable of. But God doesn’t test us beyond what we are capable of. We can stretch. We can grow. We can turn our challenges into strengths that will actually help us in mortality. We can rein in and tame our struggles, and actually use the lessons we learn to become strengths that we draw upon in the future.

“If men come unto me I will show unto them their weakness. I give unto men weakness that they may be humble; and my grace is sufficient for all men that humble themselves before me; for if they humble themselves before me, and have faith in me, then will I make weak things become strong unto them.” (Ether 12:27)

Wednesday, November 27, 2019

Friends Thanksgiving Episodes Ranked

Over the past few years, watching at least a portion of the Friends Thanksgiving episodes has become a staple in our home. Even my friend David, who doesn't typically watch Friends, will say that we need to watch them when he comes over for dinner. So, in honor of that and in honor of Thanksgiving, here are some of my thoughts on spending Thanksgiving with six of your favorite New Yorkers.

10. The One With the List
Bottom of the list for the simple reason that it's not even a true Thanksgiving episode. Other than Monica working on Thanksgiving-themed "Mockolate" recipes, there isn't even a mention of the holiday. Besides all that, Ross and Rachel's relationship drama always bores me. I know they're the main couple of the show, but I don't like their relationship. But that's a rant for another time.

9. The One Where Chandler Doesn’t Like Dogs 
I know I just said I didn't like Rachel's relationship with Ross, but I think I might like her relationship with Tag even less. But like Ross/Rachel, it's a discussion for another time. The redeeming quality of this episode is Chandler coming to let Clunkers stay in the apartment. But I'm a sucker for any dog.

8. The One with the Late Thanksgiving 
The three plot points in this one just don't interest me that much, compared to other Thanksgiving episodes. The baby beauty pageant, the game, and Chandler's cranberries. There are some great one-liners though. "Don't you put words in people's mouths. You put turkey in people's mouths."

7. The One with Chandler in the Box 
The triangle between Joey, Chandler, and Kathy just makes me uncomfortable (and after so much buildup, they break up so quickly anyway). Also Monica's date with Tim is awkward. Basically the relationships in this episode are just awkward to watch, but also plenty of good one-liners, so I can't hate it either.

6. The One with the Football 
In fairness, this is one of the only times I care about football. That being said, it's still on the lower half of my list because I don't care about the Geller Cup. And besides the Geller Cup, the only real plot point is the Dutch girl. Meh.

5. The One Where the Underdog Gets Away 
The antics of this episode are fun. And it sets up future years for future years of Thanksgiving fun. The best part I think is when Monica is so upset about being locked out that she starts squeaking during her cry.

4. The One With Rachel’s Other Sister 
Amy Greene is the character we all love to hate, I think. Despite how cringe-worthy her comments are, she's the best part of this episode. Because of her, we got the comical discussion about who would get Emma if Ross and Rachel died. In the end, despite doubts about Chandler's parenting before, he and Ross have a heartwarming moment about his parenting skills.

3. The One Where Ross Got High 
This one is probably in my top 3 because it has one of my favorite gifs. A few of them actually. I use them at work often. Other than the added dynamic of the senior Gellers joining the Friends, it's a pretty uneventful. It's definitely one of the many times that Ross bugs me. But that's another rant. Rachel's trifle and Phoebe's dreams are my favorite part. And Joey's "I WANNA GO!!!"

2. The One with the Thanksgiving Flashbacks 
I think the part I enjoy most about this episode is that it's full of mini-stories, straight to the punch(line). We also get Fat Monica, who is always one of my favorites. So despite her awkward seduction a year later, Monica makes this one #2 for me.

1. The One With The Rumor 
The comical twists and turns make this #1 on my list. Will and Monica's jokes about their previous weight help keep the tension light. We also have Phoebe's not-so-subtle crush on Will that will always make me laugh. And who doesn't love Joey's Thanksgiving pants?

Happy Thanksgiving!