Friday, April 16, 2021

To Love a Kaiju

Remember when you were little and a sibling would build a little town made out of Legos and you'd take your stuffed T-rex and rampage through it, destroying everything while they went crying to mom? 

No? Then you were probably the younger sibling. 

Either way, from that time to the latest Godzilla Vs. Kong to hit theaters, there's always been something appealing about a giant monster destroying a city, causing untold property damage just by taking a single step. 

Why is that? 

Defining a Kaiju

Kaiju (Japanese for "Strange Monster") is the franchise featuring giant city-leveling monsters. This can range from the aforementioned and arguably the granddaddy of them all Godzilla to Rita Repulsa's monsters destroying Angel Grove in Mighty Morphin Power Rangers to even moderately sized monsters like the rampaging rex in The Lost World: Jurassic Park. I'd even argue that Clifford the Big Red Dog's shannegains counts as kaiju action, especially if you're the guy working for the city who has to clean up after Clifford goes walkies. 

The genre isn't just defined to action movies like the Godzilla franchise or Pacific Rim, they appear in horror films like Cloverfield, family comedies like Honey I Blew Up The Kid, anime like Neon Genesis Evangelion  and  Attack on Titan and even heartwarming animations like The Iron Giant. 

Why do We Like Them

Kaiju have the same appeal as zombies where they act more of a force of nature than something that can be reasonably defeated. When encountered, typical humans can only run away and hope that the thing passes without them getting stomped flat or eaten. Unlike disaster films though, the kaiju is a living being, which means that it's driven by want and need, and thus the disaster itself can become a character in the film. Sometimes that character is sympathetic, since it didn't choose to be a 300 foot tall gorilla, sometimes it's beyond our comprehension and whatever it wants we have no way of knowing, and the thing decapitating the Statue of Liberty is just its way of venting frustration. 

The kaiju film gives us the cathartic sense of wanton destruction with the empathetic connection we get from seeing another living being, which can either be turned toward identifying with the creature or being repulsed by the creature, depending on what the film is trying to accomplish. We feel terror at the Cloverfield  monster because we don't see it and therefore don't know what it is or what it wants. We fear Godzilla because he's destructive but also root for him when he destroys other, more intentionally destructive beings. We sympathize with the Iron Giant because he's trying to be human despite being a giant space robot. 

We're Not Here For The Humans

Quick question: While watching Mighty Morphin' Power Rangers were you most eager to see: 

A: The teens sitting at the juice bar discussing their Full House level problems

B: Bandai's intercut action scenes where hitting someone resulted in a firework going off

C: The heroes piling into robot dinosaurs and wrecking a guy in a Styrofoam costume

If you're answer was C you get my point but for those who it wasn't let me hit a point. 


When I first saw 2014's Godzilla  I was disappointed when a majority of the run time was taken up by the tragic love story of a soldier trying to get back to his wife and kid after being separated by Godzilla. Whenever everyone's favorite radioactive lizard was on screen the camera would pan to people reacting to him or cut to footage of the monster wreaking havoc on a TV in the background while we saw characters try to figure out how to stop him. 

I nearly walked out of the theater. 

The human element is necessary to give us scale and context to the monster's destruction, but nobody's here for them. In some character driven dramas like Attack on Titan where they have time to flesh out the characters and show their reaction to living in a world where they are under constant threat of monster attack, that's a different story, but when you have two and a half hours to tell a story and the major pull is that giant monsters will be destroying cities, get your character stuff set up fast because we won't remember their names anyway. 

Here's a second question for you just to drive my point home: What is the name of Clifford's owner? 

When you have a kaiju in your movie, everything else surrounding them is a garnish, meant to enhance the presentation not overpower it. The kaiju is the Thanksgiving turkey of the table, a giant Thanksgiving turkey that will step on anyone in its way. 

-JOE

Wednesday, April 14, 2021

Caravan of Craptastic Courage

I think I watched the Ewok Adventure movie about a thousand times growing up. I loved it! I was 6 or 7 when the Star Wars spinoff movie came out in 1984. I grew up with Cindel and her cute little headband. I thought I identified with Mace and his struggles to want to be better. I loved the cute little Ewoks and I felt like I could be part of their tribe. I got so scared of all the monsters, and I would jump at all the jump scares, every single time. This was probably in my Top 5 favorite movies when I was a kid. I watched it so many times I wore out that VHS tape. In fact, upon rewatching it on Disney+ (just added to their lineup this month), I kept waiting for the wavy VHS lines to distort the Gorax's face, but the digital remastering restored the the film to its original glory.

Ah, glory.

The Ewok Adventure's title was eventually changed to Caravan of Courage: An Ewok Adventure. Okay, fine. So I put on the show with my family and decided to give it a go, the first time I had seen it in about 30 years. Wow, what a blast from the past! It truly felt like I was watching something from a long time ago in a galaxy far, far away... 

Upon rewatching it, I was struck by a few things:

  • As a kid, Cindel was my favorite. She was cute, sweet, and I really loved her. But no, in 2021, it's just bad acting. I can forgive it though, the girl is like five years old. It's fine.
  • Mace is so bratty. If you thought Luke Skywalker was whiny complaining about power converters, or Anakin Skywalker was a grouch moaning about sand, well Mace is on a whole new level. He complains, he's grating, and he's just kind of a jerk. (Maybe he really is a Skywalker!) He even disgustedly throws away a magic rock, which pretty much dooms the entire group. Talk about selfish!
  • And on the subject of magic, where does this element come into the Star Wars universe? The closest thing there is to magic is The Force, the parameters and mechanics of which are explored in great detail over several movies. But here sits this old made-for-TV-movie about Ewoks, and they suddenly have a magic walking stick, a magic rock, and a magic candle? As an adult watching, it just doesn't feel like Star Wars
  • The writing is poor. It doesn't help that the majority of the movie is "acted" by children, monsters, and creatures who don't speak English. If you thought the first nine abrasive minutes of the Star Wars Holiday Special were bad listening wookiees grunt and growl and gesticulate, just wait for an entire movie of Ewokese "spoken" by characters who aren't as cute as the producers think they are.
  • The story is just ... just not great. All the tools needed to be successful are given to the group early on the in film. There's no question about how the story is going to end. In fact, the biggest surprise is when the Gorax falls down the giant pit, but then hangs on to the side and is still alive! 
  • And speaking of the Gorax, I really felt badly for him! He wasn't evil, he wasn't bad, he was just doing Gorax things. Heck, he didn't even kill Cindel's parents, and it didn't look like he was going to. Watching the show now, I see the Gorax as a big intelligent being who found some helpless "animals" in the woods, and brought them back to his home to take care of them. And then the the animals' family broke into the Gorax's home, destroyed his property, and murdered the big guy. Not cool. 
  • I also watched the sequel Ewoks: The Battle for Endor, which was just as bad. I'm not going to go into details, but my takeaways were: Did they really kill Cindel's entire family? When did Wicket learn English? And isn't Endor the planet, and not the moon where the Ewoks live? (But that's the geek in me coming out.)

However here's the good news: I watched this with my kids, and we really enjoyed it! Yes, we laughed at some of the silliness, and we rolled our eyes at the campiness. But we enjoyed a fun bit of Star Wars spinoff, and we had a good time giggling at the special effects (which yes, one a Emmy back in the day). Sure, Caravan of Courage is no Candle of Pure Light, but it certainly is not some ceremonial rock that should be tossed aside!

Monday, April 12, 2021

Samwise Gamgee: The Greatest Hufflepuff


Just finished up watching Lord of the Rings for the first time in tens years (I know, I’m a bad geek; so just slap my wrists and let’s move on). As I watched the trilogy again with ten more years of life experience, I have one big takeaway: Frodo sucks.

You know who doesn’t suck though? Samwise Gamgee. Repeatedly throughout the series Frodo treated Sam very poorly and Sam just took it. Seriously, is there a character in fiction or reality more loyal than Sam? To put it in Potterhead terms, if any hobbit were a Hufflepuff, it would be Sam.

This point was driven home to me after Gollum destroyed the elven bread and framed Sam. Instead of siding with his best friend of countless years, Frodo decided he’d believe the scrawny little imp that was really planning his death. 


I think many of us have been there before. We’ve been betrayed or disappointed by people we trusted. Maybe it was a parent, a childhood friend, or a significant other. How could someone we loved so much take the other person’s side instead of ours, right? Whatever your situation, that kind of sting is hard to recover from. And yet Sam’s love for his friend was more powerful than that sting. He didn’t give up on Frodo, even when Frodo continually told him to leave.

In the end, it was only because of Sam that the Ring of Power was destroyed. They say the meek will inherit the earth (Matthew 5:5). Meek meaning gentle, submissive, long-suffering, modest, humble… a list of traits all describing Samwise Gamgee. It was necessary for Middle Earth’s hero to be so humble and gentle… I don’t think anyone else could have given up the Ring so selflessly.


It’s even said that Tolkien himself considered Sam the chief hero of the series (though I can’t find a source confirming the comment). So the next time someone tells you that you have to be like Iron Man or Harry Potter to be a hero, tell them about Samwise Gamgee, the greatest Hufflepuff there is.

Friday, April 9, 2021

Janeway: Trek's Best Captain?

(Guest Post by Ken)

Among Trekkies, one of the most commonly debated questions is the classic Captain preference question: Kirk or Picard? While there is an ever-growing pantheon of additional captains in the Star Trek Universe, certainly not all deserve to be default options to the question and certainly Kirk and Picard, as the most famous of the club, have earned their place there. But I would contend that one additional captain at least deserves a place in the running alongside these two: Voyager’s stalwart Captain Kathryn Janeway. Hear me out on this.

Kate Mulgrew as Captain Kathryn Janeway

Janeway, expertly portrayed by Kate Mulgrew, is a great example of everything Starfleet looks for in a Captain. Above all, her defining trait is her commitment to her standards. While confronting captains with difficult moral dilemmas has always been the most consistent premise of Star Trek from the beginning, no show has challenged the integrity of its captain as much as Voyager did (okay, you can maybe argue that Discovery Season One challenges Captain Lorca more, but in that case he roundly failed the test!). Indeed, the entire premise of the show hinged on Janeway’s commitment to principle in the first episode when she makes a choice to protect an alien race, but in doing so strands her crew on the far side of the galaxy, along with a crew of Federation ex-patriot outlaws, who she mercifully decides to integrate into her crew as they face a daunting 70,000-light year journey back to Earth.

Along the way her principles are continually challenged. She has to grapple with the consequences for her crew of her initial choice, while along the way having to continue to apply civilized principles to a far more uncivilized area of the galaxy. Numerous times she faces the prospect of shortening her trip or ensuring her crew’s safety if she’ll just compromise in the smallest way, but she ultimately sticks to what she believes is right, even in some truly muddy lose-lose situations. And she isn’t motivated by rules-obsession. She acts the way she does not because Starfleet rules tell her to, but because she believes she’s doing what it right. Indeed, on several occasions she shows no hesitation breaking a Starfleet rule if it conflicts with doing what is right (her humorously consistent disregard for time-travel rules being a frequent example). 

One attribute that really sets her apart from other captains is her level of personal care for her crew. No doubt Janeway runs a tight ship, but she also cares deeply about the personal needs of each member, regardless of how they joined the crew, whether as original crew, the integrated renegades, random alien species who join along the way, a fully deputized medical hologram, or even a severed Borg drone. While Kirk often seems aloof in regards to crew members beyond his core officers, while Janeway goes out of her way in one episode to take her lowest ranking and worst-performing officers on an away mission so she can better know and help them. Picard often showed some individual concern for his crew, but also had a tendency to publicly rebuke even teen cadets in front of their mothers (“Shut up, Wesley!”). Janeway could certainly get angry with her crew, but she tried to correct in private first when possible, as demonstrated by one of her most common catchphrases, always delivered with a seething glare: “In my ready room.” That phrase meant you were in trouble, but Janeway wasn’t going to give you your lashings in front of your peers. 

Image result for janeway angry on bridge
The Janeway death-glare

Of course, at the time Voyager began, what really set her apart was simply that she was a woman. Some people at the time actually derided Voyager as only existing for Trek to wave a diversity flag by offering a female captain. Others have maligned her as a character clearly written as male but played by a woman. I disagree on both counts. 

To the first misconception, I’d argue that Voyager exists as great storytelling with a fully diverse ensemble cast beyond just Janeway. It has a very unique story, in many ways the franchises first trek (pun intended) into a more serial story-arc. There is a single continuing plot which carries the entire seven season show, which distinctly broke from the other three series before (okay, four if you count the Animated Series, which no one does). 

To the second point, one thing I love the most about Janeway, and especially her portrayal by Mulgrew is that she can be a bold, brave, hardened captain, but also is so distinctly allowed to be written as a woman who shows some distinctly feminine strengths and traits. Previous Captains were males written too tough to have committed love stories (the exception is Benjamin Sisko, but even he is already widowed by the time DS9’s story begins). Janeway, on the other hand, is engaged as Voyager begins, and gets separated 70,000 light years from her fiancĂ©. She holds out faithful to him and doesn’t learn until the fifth season that he has moved on and married another woman. She shows great personal struggle in her desire for companionship, knowing it is inappropriate to have a romantic relationship with any of her crew members, but stranded away from any other people who could be otherwise permanent in her life. At one point she even falls in love with a hologram. These stories are shown not as weakness, but character fulness, and you never got to see the male captains this way. It was refreshing and made her so very human.

We also get to see her maternal instincts fully on display through her role as substitute mother to Kes in the first three seasons and to Trek’s most famous Borg, Seven of Nine, through the latter four seasons. We definitely got to see glimpses of paternal instinct from Picard on occasion, and Sisko was actually a dad in DS9, but Janeway brought an unprecedented feeling of nurturing to her role as Voyager’s commanding officer.

See the source image
Janeway and Seven of Nine

And let’s also not forget: Janeway figured out how to seriously kick some Borg butt unlike any other hero in Starfleet history, and also defeated Species 8472, the only aliens even the Borg were terrified of. And she did it all with just her one ship and crew and no Federation armada to back her up.

So, what do you think? Does Janeway deserve to have her name alongside Kirk and Picard in consideration for greatest Trek captain? Apparently the creative staff at Paramount believes so, as she’s about to join those two hallowed names as the third captain (after the two aforementioned greats) to get incorporated into a new Trek property apart from her original series. Janeway will be joining the upcoming animated series, Star Trek: Prodigy later this year as a principal character.

Animated Janeway from the upcoming “Star Trek: Prodigy.”

Wednesday, April 7, 2021

Why #RestoreTheSnyderVerse

The Marvel movie ends, the post credit scene finishes and the crowd of fellow geeks turns to me expecting me to answer their probing questions, like who Thanos is or what an Infinity Stone is. While I am the "That Guy" of my group of friends, Marvel was never my main wheelhouse. I even skipped the first Iron Man in theaters because I just didn't care. My house is a DC house, and for 13 years I've been living in the wrong universe. 



The Snyder Cut

The release of the Snyder Cut of Justice League gave us a glimpse of an alternate universe, one where the DC franchise was the big superhero franchise, the one that raked in the billions, and the one on everyone's lips. Don't get me wrong, I love the MCU. Every character is a treat, and even the worst movie is still well executed, but nothing compares to my excitement when a new DC movie is announced. Justice League gave my DC heart everything it ever wanted, all my favorite characters with hints of more. I feel we got a glimpse of what could've been, or more specifically, what should've been. 

DC vs. Marvel

Non-comic fans may want to know what the big deal is, since they're both superhero franchises just with different characters. That's just it though, it's the different characters. Unless you grew up with an incredible amount of free time and disposable income, as a comic nerd you had to pick one universe to follow over another. Growing up I picked DC, the bright colorful heroes who always did what was right no matter what appealed to my young sensibilities more than Marvel's darker real world undertones. Ironically the franchises have since traded tones since DC made an R rated Joker movie and the MCU now exists next to Mickey Mouse, but I digress. It all boils down to a mayonnaise vs Miracle Whip decision. A boxers or briefs decision. A PC or Mac decision. It's a personal preference thing, and you can like elements of both without having your ethics brought into question. My preference though is DC. 



The Stories We Lost

Without DC becoming the mega franchise, here is but a small list of things we probably will not get to see on the big screen, compiled by yours truly with an ache in his heart. 

Justice League Dark

The Killing Joke

Death In The Family

Crisis on Infinite Earths

Reign of the Supermen

The Flashpoint Paradox

Hikeitia

The War of Light

The Judas Contract

Villains United

Identity Crisis

Fourth World

Gotham City Sirens

Kingdom Come

My point is that we are missing a lot of great stories that could be explored because the Snyderverse was cancelled. 

Hope Remains

Will DC restore the Snyderverse, salvage the DC films and create something great? Only time will tell. It's hard to blame them if they don't, since it would be an expensive undertaking and will now not only be compared to the MCU directly but back to its own past failures with critics and trolls constantly looking for things to destroy, but maybe. The real good news, however, is that while Marvel loudly brought out blockbuster after blockbuster DC quietly created a library of animated features that can easily hold their own against their cinematic counterparts in both companies. Several of the aforementioned stories have been explored in animation and are incredible pieces of art, and all are streaming on HBO Max (Seriously, with as many times as I've mentioned them on this site they need to start coughing up royalties). 



If you are a DC fan realize that if we don't get the universe we want, we at least have several pieces of the universe we deserve, just animated. 

-JOE

Monday, April 5, 2021

The One Where Rachel Kisses Everyone

Flashback to the 90s and early 2000s. Friends was the big sitcom. In my opinion, no other sitcom can match up. I love Community and I appreciate Scrubs and The Office (How I Met Your Mother is another subject all together), but there’s something to be said about Friends lasting ten seasons. Never mind the longevity it had, it had some amazing continuity that was rare back then, before streaming services--not perfect continuity, but pretty good for the 90s. 

Of course with all sitcoms we have the comedy portion and a lot of character drama too, especially romance. In Friends, like most sitcoms, the two often overlapped a bit. The romance/comedy that I want to focus on is the sheer amount of kissing that happened between the six friends. Unless you count the implication of a single line between Ross and Chandler, only one friend has the “glory” (if you can call it that) of kissing the other five friends. That honor goes to Rachel Green. So let’s take a look at those five moments in her history.


Rachel and Ross

Obviously Rachel kissed Ross a lot over the course of the series. Their first kiss was when they did laundry together, but they also dated for over a year and were on and off for years after. Even after they broke up, they kissed at the beach, in the hallway, after Rachel’s Europe story, and when they finally got back together in the finale. I’m sure I’ve missed plenty of times they kissed, but I figured that covers them for our purposes.


Rachel and Monica

It never happened on screen, but Rachel and Monica did kiss. After being roommates for 3+ years, they lost their apartment to the boys. In order to finally get their apartment back, they played into boys’ lust and agreed to kiss each other in order to win back their place. So at least they got their home back in the end. Think it was awkward between them afterwards?


Rachel and Chandler

Their first on-screen kiss was all part of a ruse. As Chandler was trying to hide his relationship with Monica, he covered up kissing her by being “European” and kissing the other girls too. So it may not have been consensual (and Rachel definitely told him off for it pretty quickly) but that’s how it happened. However, later on, during a season 10 flashback, we learned that Chandler actually kissed Rachel back in college, to get back at Ross. 


Rachel and Joey

The first kiss that comes to mind for Rachel and Joey is probably the kiss in Barbados or their brief time dating in season 10. We definitely need to address those for this subject, but I’m actually going to throwback to New Years 1999. In an effort to hide Chandler and Monica’s relationship from the others, Joey schemed a way to make it work for them, by pairing up Ross with Phoebe and Rachel with himself. Who ever said Joey wasn’t smart? Even years before dating her, Joey knew how to get a kiss from Rachel.


Rachel and Phoebe

Always the dull straight shooter, Phoebe didn’t think Rachel would do anything so “wild” as getting drunk and kissing her sorority sister. After Rachel got Melissa to confess (by surprising her with another kiss), Phoebe surprised Rachel with a kiss of her own. It shouldn’t surprise anyone that much; Phoebe is probably the loosest one of the group, even compared to Joey. But here we are.

Which kiss was your favorite in Friends? And which was your favorite of Rachel’s boyfriends? Not Ross, they’re dysfunctional. Let me know for the next time we discuss Friends on the blog.

Friday, April 2, 2021

Friday Creature Feature - Greendale Human Being

Hello Greendale! I hope you had a wonderful March 32nd yesterday. In honor of this prank-free day at Greendale Community College, let’s talk about the Greendale mascot: The Greendale Human Being.

Back before Dean Pelton changed things, the school’s mascot was a grizzly. Fearing for the students’ fragile self-esteem, the Dean and Pierce Hawthorne created a new mascot to humanize the student body. In their attempt to make the Human Being as racially and ethnically neutral as possible, we ended up with (when you boil it all down) a man in a unitard and a creepy face.


Despite how creepy the Human Being looks, I think we all love him/her/it as fans of Community. Or at the very least we share an affection for our mascot. And throughout the six seasons of Community, we got several variations of the Human Being, making our time at Greendale even more endearing. So enjoy some of my favorite variations of the Greendale Human Being.

Dubbed the "Cupid Being" for Valentine's Day in "Communication Studies". 

The Human Being couple on family day during "Basic Genealogy".

A Rudolph Human Being for the holidays in "Comparative Religion".

I met someone cosplaying the Human Being at FanX 2019

And now I think we've enjoyed the Human Being enough for one day. Make sure you let us know your favorite Human Being moment in the series. I'll be watching for mine as I finish my current watch of the show. And in the meantime, here are some parting words from Dean Pelton.

Followers