Wednesday, December 30, 2020

The Soul of Pixar

Although this review is ostensibly about Pixar's latest masterpiece, Soul (spoilers ahead), it's really about what makes Pixar so special. The studio has had success after success ... okay, well if we ignore Cars 2, of course! Pixar never shies away from deeper, more complex themes. Losing loved ones (Onward). Autism (Loop). Gender Equality (Purl). Accepting atypicality (Float). Sexuality (Coming Out). It's hard to pin Pixar as just a "family studio", for the studio makes art that is not easily classified as family fare. Sure, their films are always appropriate for children and adults alike, but the topics are hardly considered standard family fare. And here's what makes Pixar so genius: the films genuinely and sincerely tackle very mature subjects, without pandering to children, and without boring the adults in the audience. 

It's amazing to watch a film like The Incredibles, to enjoy the superheroics and the crazy-fun action, yet to realize that the movie is really addressing heavy topics like aging, parenting, and infidelity. Coco doesn't shy away from heavy themes like familial responsibility, mourning, and one's very own existence. Inside Out beautifully wrestles with not just the existence of, but the absolute necessity of tough emotions like sadness and fear. These films talk about the hard things in life, and they do it with grace and beauty, never dumbing things down for the kiddos.

Soul is no different. This gorgeous film tackles death and the afterlife head on. And more interestingly, the movie depicts the premortal existence. Along the way, Soul explores the purpose of life, what it means to be alive, and what happens both before and after our mortal existence. The film is beautifully animated, on par with every other Pixar creation. The acting is on point (though Jamie Foxx is the main star, this is Tina Fey's movie). Soul unfortunately garnered some racial criticism, but I only have respect for this work of art. A movie with a line that describes a character as "the coming together of all quantized fields of the universe appearing in a form the feeble human brain can comprehend" (and meaning that completely seriously) is not usually a movie for kids. Unless it's a Pixar movie. 

So how does Pixar pull off a truly existential film like Soul? Well, Pixar has one major trick up its sleeve. It's the same trick that your favorite teachers growing up had. It's the same trick that made you and your best friends get along so well. And it's the same trick that make the most impressive parents so successful. The trick is this: Pixar treats its audience with respect, as humans who are experiencing this thing called life. It doesn't matter how old the humans are, they are still human. And Pixar simply works to explain what it is to be human. That's the trick. That's the soul of the most creative film studio ever. That's the real magic behind Pixar: they aim to explore the human experience. 

Just ignore Cars 2



Monday, December 28, 2020

Wonder Woman 1984 - A Blast From The Past (No Spoilers)

 Wonder Woman 1984 released on HBO Max and in theaters on Christmas day, but since HBO Max isn't as prevalent as say Disney+ and movie theaters are still problematic, I'm doing a spoiler free review. 

So back into the life of Wonder Woman we go, only this time we're doing it 80's style. 

Totally Tubular

Wonder Woman 1984 takes place in the time between Diana first entered man's world in Wonder Woman but before she stole the show in Batman Vs Superman: Dawn of Justice. The first half of the film is an 80's comedy throw back, complete with the girl who we have to pretend isn't hot because she wears glasses but gets a makeover, the nonsense McGuffin with magic properties that moves the plot, and the rich yuppie dressed like someone the Golden Girls would date. After this initial style nod, the film quickly transforms into the superhero movie we expected from Wonder Woman, who, admittedly, has become the gold standard for DC superhero films (Sorry Harley Quinn-you're a close second!)

Villains Done Right

It's hard to talk about the villain without spoilers, but I can at least say their names since Lego spoiled it six months ago. What we get are Wonder Woman's other two villains besides Ares, Cheetah and Maxwell Lord. While these could've easily become standard CGI or mad laughing mastermind but here, the villains are humanized to the point of sympathetic, even when the laughing and CGI comes out. Wonder Woman doesn't have a ton of villains because it's hard to find a constant villain that a warrior demi-goddess wouldn't either compassionately rehabilitate or just decapitate. Cheetah and Aries have been standard for decades, with Maxwell joining in about a decade ago after he was mind controlling Superman. Wonder Woman solved Maxwell's issue by twisting his head backwards in the comics, and while I was fully expecting that to happen in DC's darker superhero universe, the twist we got was a pleasant surprise. 

All That Glitters

The biggest headline for Wonder Woman 1984 was Wonder Woman's golden armor making an appearance. Introduced in Alex Ross's award winning Kingdom Come, when the armor was first revealed in trailers DC nerds collectively squeed with delight. The film gives the armor a backstory, that it was worn by an Amazon hero left behind so the others could escape (Not plot important so calm down). When the armor makes its appearance in the film for the climax, it was worth the hype. Wonder Woman uses her winged armor to its full potential, giving all the Alex Ross fans more to squee about. 


Overall Opinion

The film itself is an absolute delight to watch, despite some moments of "Wait, what are they doing?" The villains, while well established, do become a bit muddled near the middle but the film pulls together by the climax. Overall Wonder Woman 1984 is the perfect way to start a new year, full of hope, potential and a hero we can root for. 

Wednesday, December 23, 2020

Every Good Gift


“Behold, I would exhort you that when ye shall read these things, if it be wisdom in God that ye should read them, that ye would remember how merciful the Lord hath been unto the children of men, from the creation of Adam even down until the time that ye shall receive these things, and ponder it in your hearts.” (Moroni 10:3)

As we finish off the year and celebrate Christmas, it was perfect timing to read Moroni 10 with the Come Follow Me reading schedule. I was impressed this year by the phrase “every good gift”. It’s easy to think of Christmas presents when the word “gift” comes around, especially at this time of year. However, the gifts of God are innumerable.

“And I would exhort you, my beloved brethren, that ye remember that every good gift cometh of Christ.” (Moroni 10:18)

In this final chapter of the Book of Mormon, Moroni talks specifically about spiritual gifts (i.e. gift of healing, gift of teaching, gift of tongues, etc.) but I believe he’s also referring to everything that the Lord blesses us with. 


It’s been a challenging year for many people. I’ve been blessed that all this quarantine and home time has given me extra time with my daughter as she’s spent her first year getting acquainted with mortality. Besides the fact that my schoolwork went online instead of on campus, my life has remained relatively stable. That being said, I know not everyone has been so blessed.

But as President Nelson counseled us before Thanksgiving, we can #givethanks and feel the blessings of Heaven more fully in our lives. Pessimism never blessed anyone, so I’ve come to truly believe in the power of counting our blessings. So as we spend Christmas together with loved ones (even if it’s limited to virtual time this year), let’s be grateful for the gifts that our Father in Heaven has given us. Every good thing comes from God, so let’s be grateful for it. 

“And again I would exhort you that ye would come unto Christ, and lay hold upon every good gift.” (Moroni 10:30)

Monday, December 21, 2020

The Mandalorian Season 2 Review (Spoilers!!!)

Yup, there are spoilers. 

You've been warned. 

This is just a highlight reel from the geek world's current flavor of the month: The Baby Yoda and Friends Show! Let's go over the highlights of the last season! 

Side Quests

For the first half of the season Mando kept getting embroiled in other people's problems while trying to fulfill his overall goal of finding The Child's people. Notably he had to take the Frog Lady to her husband so they could propagate their species. This particular adventure sparked some momentary controversy as the Child ate several of Frog Lady's eggs, though it was quickly forgotten after the proceeding episode when he was shown playing with a newly hatched frog spawn. 

Cameos

For veteran Star Wars fans this season was a skip down memory lane as familiar characters from across the Star Wars universe popped in to say hi. For the traditional junkies we were treated to a return of Boba Fett, who somehow escaped the Sarlaac pit, though not without losing some hair and armor in the process (presumably he crawled out in his underwear).  We got another cameo, but I'll save that for later.

Fans of the Clone Wars were treated to Ahsoka Tano, the once unofficial apprentice of Anakin Skywalker. Played by Rosario Dawson, this Jedi was working on tracking down an old enemy when she crossed paths with the Mandalorian. Her biggest contribution though was giving the audience the Child's name, Grogu, from her ability to speak to him through the Force. We also learn that Grogu was at the Jedi temple when Anakin went all Sithy and barely escaped the murder of the younglings. 

Deep Star Wars lore enthusiasts were treated to the ice spiders, called the Krykna in the Frog Lady episode. First appearing as far back as the old extended universe books in the 90's, it was fun to see the wanna-be Xenomorphs pop in, even if they nearly killed Grogu. Personally I still want to see the Rancor's home planet where they're ridden by witches. 

Crew Up

While the first half of the season focused on finding Grogu's people, the second half focused on getting Grogu back from the Empire. We found out that the Empire is using Grogu's blood on some sort of cloning project (Theory: It's Snoak), so the Empire take the Child for more tests. Mando does a quick lap around most of the planets he's visited and gathers a crew to rescue Grogu. The team Oceans 11's their way onto the ship and the battle is on. It was nice to see that Mando can make friends that are not infants, and the balance of strong female characters, none of which were in chainmail bikinis, shows that Disney is thinking progressively. This was a nice touch. 

I Am A Jedi

Of course the biggest moment of the season was when, trapped on the bridge of the enemy ship, an X-Wing docked and out popped a cloaked figure sporting a green lightsaber and a glove, who fought his way towards Mando and his team. The big reveal comes when it's none other than a CGI puppet of Luke Skywalker, voiced by Mark Hamill, accompanied by R2D2! Because of a Jedi... thing... earlier in the season Grogu called out to Luke for some training, and Luke delivered, recruiting him to his new Jedi order. 

The heartbreaking piece was when Grogu, through Luke, said that he wanted Mando's permission to go train with the Jedi. The relationship between the Child and Mando has been the heart of the series, elevating it above most Star Wars properties. Saying goodbye, Mando removes his helmet in front of the Child and everyone else on the bridge, letting the Child see the face of the man who has been surrogate father since he was found. Of course Mando's code clearly states that "If you take off the helmet, you can never put it back on,” meaning Mando, his quest complete, has potentially given up his creed. 

Predictions and a Fan Theory

Now I've been on record stating that I haven't been a Star Wars fan for years because I thought the entire thing was a bloated fan-driven mess of nonsense, but I can now state that I'm a fan of Star Wars again. Well, at least I'm a fan of Grogu and Mando. For me personally as much as I loved The Mandalorian, I don't want any more of it. I feel that the story has been told, that the characters are done and that adding more to it would just ruin a beautiful thing. Disney has already announced a handful of new shows coming out this year in the Star Wars universe, including a spin-off with Boba Fett, to which I can only look at with skepticism and hesitancy. This is what turned me off Star Wars to begin with, the oversaturation of content, and my prediction is that with resources stretched across multiple shows the quality is going to go downhill pretty fast. 

Now if that didn't get you down after a fairly positive post this is sure to do it: People have wondered what happened to Grogu between Mandalorian and The Force Awakens and I've got some bad news: Remember how Ben Solo went crazy and killed all of Luke's trainees, thus reducing the Jedi to just Skywalker? 

Killed all of Luke's trainees. 

-JOE

Friday, December 18, 2020

Arkham Adolescence Kickstarter - The Villains We Deserve

 Unpopular opinion- Batman is not as interesting as his villains. Let's be honest here, once you get passed the "I now dress as a bat to fight the superstitious and cowardly lot" he becomes a cracker. Quite good, yes, but he exists to deliver something far better to your face. 

Enter the villains. 

Arkham Kickstarter

Before we go any further, watch this video.  Take your time I'll wait. 

Watched it? Great. 

Arkham Adolescence is a fan interpretation of Batman, Joker and Harley Quinn, focusing on their childhoods and how trauma made them all the emotionally stunted people we love today. This dark interpretation is currently looking for funding on Kickstarter, with the hope to earn enough to fund the series. 

Mask Up

Being a fan of the Arkham Gang, I've seen dozens of reinterpretations of the characters, including my own gender bent cosplay Harvey Quinn. Despite this concept not being new, I love the aesthetic the trailer is going for, a feeling somewhere between Joker and The Purge. The use of masks is a perfect touch, considering the last year, lending more authenticity to the piece than most interpretations can offer. I truly hope the creators make the masks available for purchase sometime down the line. 



A Dark Knight

I've heard people complain that in recent years Batman et al have become too dark, making them harder to watch. My argument is "Yeah you're right.".

Okay it's not much of an argument. 

But if we were going to filter these characters into a reality close to ours the only interpretation for them while keeping true to the characters is to bring in the shadows. The few times Batman ever gets interesting is when he has to confront the darker sides of himself, like his code not to kill or his extreme paranoia ruining the relationships around him, thus keeping him forever alone. Whenever a dark interpretation comes around I'm always excited to see how the characters are interpreted, and what new insight we can get from the new interpretations. 

So if you've got a buck and an interest for the dark side of Gotham, start kicking some over to Arkham Adolescence, and show the world that the characters we deserve are the ones that are well written. 

-JOE

Monday, December 14, 2020

Four Harry Potter Theories That Didn't Pan Out (and One That Did)

Do you remember back when JK Rowling was still releasing Harry Potter books every few years? The theories floating around the pre-social media internet still made their rounds. Plenty came true, but there were a few awesome ones that never panned out (and some weird ones that turned out to be true)


Dumbledore had a horcrux

After his untimely death in Half-Blood Prince, the internet was buzzing with theories about his death. I remember there was a whole website dedicated to proving he wasn’t dead. One that I thought was interesting was the idea that Dumbledore had a horcrux. We knew he’d defeated Grindelwald (and at the time we presumed Grindelwald was dead) so he could have theoretically created a horcrux after that death. The best part was the idea that Fawkes was the horcrux, so he couldn’t be destroyed.


Mrs. Figg is a witch

We knew going into Order of the Phoenix that the Defense Against the Dark Arts teacher would be a witch, not wizard. There was speculation that Mrs. Figg (who’d only appeared in Philosopher’s Stone at that point) would be revealed to be a witch and their new Defense Against the Dark Arts teacher. Well, she did come back, but not as a witch. Instead, she became our new favorite squib (though her only competition really was Filch… so yeah).


Harry 
is the heir of Gryffindor 

Technically this was never disproved, just never relevant enough to address I suppose. Between the Sword of Gryffindor in Chamber of Secrets and the red and gold sparks when Harry got his wand, it was speculated that Harry was the heir of Gryffindor. That would mean the battle between him and Voldemort would have also been the heir of Slytherin against the heir of Gryffindor. In the end, it wasn’t important. *shrug*


Crookshanks is an animagus

Before Order of the Phoenix came out, I remember there being speculation that Crookshanks was an animagus. In fact, I remember reading an Order of the Phoenix fanfiction where Mrs. Figg was Crookshanks and the Defense Against the Dark Arts teacher. It would have explained how Crookshanks was so clever. Instead, post-Deathly Hallows, it was revealed that Crookshanks was part-Kneazle, which is why he was so intuitive. 


Snape loves Lily

I saw this theory before Deathly Hallows and I thought it was the dumbest thing. After all, Snape had called her a mudblood in Order of the Phoenix. Couldn’t imagine how they’d rationalize him being in love with her if he was that big of a jerk. Well, he was still a big jerk to her, but in the end he did love her… it was an immature, unhealthy love in my opinion. But that’s still a form of love I suppose.

Do you remember any good Harry Potter theories from back in the day? Or any good Harry Potter headcanon now. I’m always up for a good headcanon.

Thursday, December 10, 2020

Rosario Dawson is a Queen

Can we all just agree that Rosario Dawson is a queen? I mean, besides literally playing the Queen of the Underworld, she's the Jedi Ahsoka Tano, she's Claire Temple, she's Wonder Woman, she's Batgirl, she's Jane the Virgin, and she's Josie (without the Pussycats). This is an actress who has been in SpongeBob, Men In Black, Sin City, Zombieland, and my favorite, Rent. I saw Daphne Rubin-Vega as Mimi in the original cast of Rent on Broadway; I was so glad that Rosario Dawson replaced her for the film. What an improvement!

Disney recently announced that Queen Rosario will be starring in a limited spinoff series that's being developed by Jon Favreau and Dave Filoni (thank goodness!) and set to air possibly by Christmas 2021. Rosario made a huge impression when she first appeared, cloaked, and lit by lightsabers, in the incredible second season of The Mandalorian. She was covered with makeup and prosthetics, and many of her scenes were done by a stunt double. But it didn't matter. Queen Rosario had made her entrance, and she secured herself a firm place in a galaxy far, far away.

But Dawson is so much more than just a well cast actress in a highly anticipated role in a wildly popular series with a rabid fanbase. She's fun and silly in LEGO Batman. She shows her acting chops in Jane the Virgin. She is flirty and has great musical chops in Rent. She hams it up in Percy Jackson. She lends stability and consistency to the Marvel Netflix series. This is a woman who can really do it all. Even while talking to an animatronic Baby Yoda. 




Monday, December 7, 2020

Unpopular Opinions: Friends

Friends is a consistent feature of our home. When Netflix took down Friends and it went to HBO Max, we ended up buying the complete set of DVDs from my brother. Consistent with our love of Friends, we definitely have some opinions about the series. And some of them definitely fit in the “unpopular opinions” category. 


Ross and Rachel weren’t good together

They were cute at the beginning of their love story; it was intriguing and engaging watching them pine for each other… but then they both got insecure in turn. Insecurities happen in new relationships, but then things got out of hand. I honestly don’t even care about them in the last episode because I’m not convinced they could survive as a couple after the series finale. They weren’t the core couple of the show; Chandler and Monica were. 


Emily wasn’t a bad person

Look at it from her perspective. Your fiancĂ© says his ex-girlfriend’s name at the altar and then he gets on a plane headed to your honeymoon destination. Awkward. I think it was a totally reasonable request for him to not hang out with her. I would have a hard time with my wife hanging out with an ex-boyfriend too. That being said, I judge Emily for going through with the wedding when she knew she was going to freeze him out. Also, I think it was unreasonable to expect Ross to move across the city and never see Rachel (she was his sister’s roommate; they were bound to bump into each other). So her expectations were skewed, because she was upset. Honestly she needed a chance to calm down and definitely some couples therapy.


Janice was the best!

If I knew her in real life, Janice would drive me nuts as a friend (my wife has said I’d feel the same way about Phoebe, whom I love). But as a character on the show, she’s amazing. She’s genuine, loving, and forgiving. She made the mistake of cheating on Chandler, but she even tried to make up for that. That’s admirable! When it came down to it, she genuinely cared for and loved Chandler, which he didn't have much in his life before her.


It didn’t matter if they were on a break

The ongoing discussion twenty years later is whether Ross and Rachel were on a break. It doesn’t matter! If Ross were right and they were on a break, he slept with someone two hours later. How insensitive and awful is that. Also, Rachel and Ross needed a proper conversation about the whole thing, instead of Rachel’s eighteen page letter. Maybe even a long term therapist if they wanted to stay together. That kind of hurt (whether you label it as infidelity or not) doesn't go away from just one conversation.


Ross was the worst

He is absolutely insensitive, rude, and obnoxious. Ross was so good during season one, silently pining after Rachel. But then after that he went utterly die hit. Example: while he was dating Julie, he was obnoxiously cutesy with her in Rachel’s face. Even though he didn’t know Rachel liked him, why would you be flaunting your relationship in her face?


Rachel and Joey were good together

I’ll admit their chemistry as friends was better than their chemistry as a couple. However, Joey treated Rachel so much better than Ross did. She was the first girl he’d ever really been in love with and he treated her as such. That's amazing! Their story was out of nowhere and I’m totally fine that they didn’t end up together. However, they were good to each other and that’s one of the most important parts of any relationship. 

Friday, December 4, 2020

Pokemon Workout


Welcome to December and the end of 2020. As much as I dislike New Year's resolutions, I know plenty of people will be starting fitness and health related resolutions next month (and clogging up the gym... grr...). So if you're starting new fitness goals this year, why not pair it with watching some Pokemon? The series has 1000+ episodes, so if you do one episode per workout, you won't even make a dent this year. So throw a Pokemon episode on Netflix, Hulu, or Pokemon TV.

  • Theme song - Wall sit throughout
  • Brock hits on a girl - 15 reps triceps dips
  • Team Rocket show up disguised - 15 crunches
  • Someone sends out a Pokemon - 10 reps push-ups
  • Team Rocket’s Meowth balloon - 10 reps incline push-ups
  • Ash turns his hat - 10 reps decline push-ups
  • Pikachu uses an attack - 10 reps jumping jacks
  • Team Rocket motto - Calf raises throughout
  • Someone catches a Pokemon - 20 reps air squats

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