Friday, July 30, 2021

Friday Creature Feature - Agumon

Just like Pikachu is the most iconic Pokémon, 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!

Wednesday, July 21, 2021

Sorting Animorphs into Hogwarts Houses

I recently got back into the Animorphs series, as I’ve been listening to the audiobooks on my commutes to work (yay! New job!). I enjoyed this franchise as a kid and let me tell you: I had no business reading any of these books or watching that television show as a first grader. They’re darker than I remembered! It’s some trippy sci-fi and I’m only seven books in right now! The characters are more fleshed out than I remembered too and I know it’ll only get better (and weirder). So as I’m starting this series again, it only feels appropriate to give them the Hogwarts house sorting treatment (as I like to do).

Jake - Gryffindor

He was their leader from the start; there wasn’t even a question about it. When they found Ax, he was dubbed Prince Jake. It’s because of Jake’s determination, nerve, and chivalry (all Gryffindor traits) that the Animorphs never gave up. He always seems to have a moral compass and a feeling of what’s right that the others don’t necessarily have. Maybe it’s because he was fighting for his brother Tom from the start? Maybe that’s just who he is? Either way, I think Jake would fit in well with Ron and Harry.

Rachel - Gryffindor

Nicknamed Xena warrior princess by Marco, Rachel was always the first to jump into action and the first to volunteer to do something crazy. Her daring, nerve, and relentless determination makes her as bullheaded as Harry going through the trap door, into the Chamber of Secrets, and through the rest of his adventures. And she showed her daring right up until the end.

Tobias - Ravenclaw

I’m tempted to pick another house for Tobias just to avoid it being the one with the bird. But Tobias, before he was a bird, wasn’t too different from Luna Lovegood. It were those Luna-like traits that made Tobias able to have compassion for Elfangor, long before he knew of their familial connection. Later on as a red-tailed hawk nothlit, we see the wit in his humor and we see his wisdom as he deals with the Ellimist. So despite perhaps being predictable, I’m putting Tobias with Ravenclaw.

Cassie - Hufflepuff

Putting Cassie in Hufflepuff shouldn’t be too surprising. Let’s start with her being a hard-worker at her parents’ farm, even before they became Animorphs. During their adventures it’s Cassie that tries to be the peacemaker, even when she was basically forced to become a caterpillar (I’m really looking forward to that book). It was all about fairness and kindness, taking the unpleasant steps to fight the war against the Yeerks.

Marco - Slytherin

He was the most reluctant of the Animorphs, but it was all about his family; he didn’t want to risk leaving his father alone. But once he realized his mother was alive he fought like crazy to get her back. That commitment to family and self-preservation are definite Slytherin traits. He’s also cunning and resourceful, just like his Slytherin snake morph.

Ax - Ravenclaw

He was a little Hufflepuff-ish about food and human speech, but that’s not where I’m putting him. Though not human, Ax showed the wit, wisdom, and intelligence typical of Andalite culture. Maybe that means all Andalites would be Ravenclaw. Even aside from that, Ax displayed Ravenclaw qualities not common to most Andalites, like acceptance, individuality, and creativity, as he joined the Animorphs and helped them fight against the Yeerks on Earth.

Now obviously I didn’t include David or the auxiliary Animorphs. Maybe I’ll touch on them when I get to those books, but I think it’s safe to say that David would be Slytherin. A very evil Slytherin. But that’s a story for when I get to those books. Now I trudge forward into Megamorphs. 

Monday, July 19, 2021

How Dungeons and Dragons helped my Elder’s Quorum

When my friend in the ward asked if I wanted to play Dungeons and Dragons with him, I told him a whole hearted “No way.” For some reason that was a line I’d drawn in the sand, despite flying the Nerd flag for most of my life. I think part of me was afraid that I’d like it too much. He kept asking until he eventually just planned a session and invited some men from the ward over. A few of them had played before, but most hadn’t. It took us a while to start to figure things out—The rules, the puzzles, just really how to play, how to understand what was happening in D&D Beyond, but we started having fun right from the start.

And now I sit with them, looking forward to it each time: A Rogue that is completely unpredictable in every way who sold his from the ground up business, a gnome who asks the right question at the right time that also knows how to fly planes, a DM that’s a Vice President, that one Paladin that was definitely somehow evil who does... well he recently switched jobs so I don't know what he does anymore.

Can I regale you about the time the rogue decided to free some giant weasels from a fire? Because they deserved to live, I guess. Nobody else thought so by the way they were snarling at us. The guy decides to jump over the fence (which he does with flying colors), then to do a flip over the weasels to open the gate on the other side with his sword. His roll isn’t so good the next time, and he falls in the flames catching his cloak on fire. He still managed to get the gate open, being on fire and all. I mean, that’s commitment, especially when I’m the one that set that imaginary fire… I mean, those things would for sure have attacked me. Wizards are squishy, too.

When people ask me about DnD, I like to tell them “Imagine sitting around a table and laughing with your friends for a few hours.” That’s what we did, once every other month or so. And guess what happened? We became friends. Not just the friends that say “Hi” in the hallway at church, but the friends that actually know each other.

I can’t tell you how many wards I’ve been in where I’ve heard men (and women) say “I just don’t have any friends in the ward.” Now, I know this isn’t everyone’s situation, but in a church where mom’s often stay home with kids and father’s go off to work, it’s sometimes hard for men to find time to make friends. But for my quorum, this little group found them because one guy wanted to do something fun. Thanks to him, I’ve crossed that line in the sand, then gone back and blew it up with a fireball because that's what good Wizards do.

 - Garrett

Friday, July 16, 2021

Loki - Wibbly Wobbly Timey Wimey

Wow, that was a long six weeks. 

Bla bla bla spoilers bla bla bla....

Beating a Dead Six-Legged Horse

Thought experiment: What is Loki about? Meaning if you were to pitch it to someone to watch who hasn't seen the last decade of Marvel movies, how would you pitch it? My answer is that Loki is about Loki, a deep analysis of Loki's character, his motivations, his flaws, his strengths and every other aspect of the character analyzed in excruciating detail like a grad student who thought it would be fun to write his thesis paper on him and ran out of things to say about halfway through. 

In-depth character analysis can be done well, ala Joker,  but that's if the character is shown making the decisions that lead them to where they are. Loki instead features characters telling Loki who he is and why he does what he does, with Loki arguing with them trying to defend himself. This gives us less character exploration and more character explanation, which leads to audience exasperation. 

Pacing Pacing Pacing

Stories tend to have a flow, one which allows the consumer to follow the story to its natural conclusion. One thing that can hinder the flow of stories is by having a massive cliffhanger at the end of every. Single. Telling. Cliffhangers can be a fine thing to keep your audience's attention and have them come back, it's a formula that soap operas have perfected, but Disney already had the Loki audience with the title alone. They could've ended every episode with a Sonic the Hedgehog style PSA warning people about playing with fire and people were going to tune in next week. Instead we got an unsatisfying heavy cliffhanger that would hardly be satisfied in the next episode. For example: episode 4 ends with a promise that everything will be explained, but the next episode is spent running around the Land of Easter Eggs and answers nearly nothing. It wasn't until the final episode, when we're with manic Kang the Conqueror that we finally get some sort of resolution to what's been happening over the entire show. 

Loki's Worst Crime

They talk about all the horrible thing's Loki has done in his life, and would still do on the timeline, but for me his worst offense was just how boring the show ended up being. Long segments of exposition and taking up time to have characters quip endlessly back and forth made each episode feel padded. Coupled with the high fantasy/sci-fi/time travel and all the British accents and I feel like I watched a season of Doctor Who cut down to just the filler episodes. 

Lokis in the Rough

While I am not a fan of Marvel's latest streaming series, they're were a few highlights I wanted to mention that shone above the dross. 

Miss Minutes: Adorable. Voiced by one of my favorite voice actors Tara Strong. Especially in the last two episodes where she added an air of creepiness to the narrative. 

Classic Loki: Played by the talented  Richard E. Grant this Loki gave me what I wanted the series to give me: The consequences of Loki's actions. Sadly it was once again all through telling instead of showing but at least his telling was worth hearing. 

The Destruction of Lamentis 1: Call me a psychopath, but anytime I can watch an apocalyptic event unfold in basically slow motion I'm a happy guy. 

Alligator Loki: I WANT ONE!!!


Wednesday, July 14, 2021

America's Witness for Christ

This past Friday the Church hosted a commemorative broadcast for the Hill Cumorah Pageant. It was a formative experience for Ryan and me when we were each young adults. We both said our piece when the church announced the end of Pageant (see Ryan’s post here and my post here), but I would feel incomplete if I didn’t say something now. 

It was a blessing to hear Pageant staff speak to us and reminisce and talk about the history of the Hill and their experiences at Pageant. Like any missionary work, it was a influential experience for all of us in the cast who loved it. Proselyting in the crowd each night gave us the opportunity to share our testimonies with member families from around the world and with non-members from the area.

But like Elder Christofferson said in the devotional, most members of the church and investigators will never visit church history sites. They’d never see the Pageant. So it makes sense to end the Pageant financially; the money and manpower that would have gone into rejuvenating Pageant can be put to use for full-time missionary work, temples, and other works of salvation. Even though the Pageant has ended, the work isn’t over.

“The Standard of Truth has been erected; no unhallowed hand can stop the work from progressing; persecutions may rage, mobs may combine, armies may assemble, calumny may defame, but the truth of God will go forth boldly, nobly, and independent, till it has penetrated every continent, visited every clime, swept every country, and sounded in every ear, till the purposes of God shall be accomplished, and the Great Jehovah shall say the work is done.”
--Joseph Smith

I remember memorizing the Standard of Truth when I was a ten-year-old boy at the Hill Cumorah, my first time in the cast. The words of the prophet Joseph are even more relevant now than any other time we said goodbye to the Hill. Each time, we said farewell to a Zion community and readied ourselves to return to the world.

Now, we’re back in the world and that Zion community won’t even be the same as it was at the Hill. Instead, it’s up to us to take what we felt at Pageant, as cast, crew, staff, or audience, to use them to help others to come unto Christ. As one Pageant cast alumni Andrea (in the cast 2017-2019) told me “It's our job to accurately document and share our experiences and how they strengthened our faith for future generations to read.”

We’ve left the Hill and Pageant has ended, but America’s Witness for Christ lives on in each of us (even if you don’t live in the United States). As members of the church, we are witnesses of Christ, just as the Pageant was for over 80 years. In a world that needs the light of the gospel more than ever, we have the privilege of being that light. Pageant testified on the truthfulness of the gospel and the Book of Mormon.

Now it's our turn.

For those who missed the Hill Cumorah Pageant devotional broadcast, the devotional will be available until July 23 and the recording of the Pageant will be available on the church's website.

Monday, July 12, 2021

Sever the Nerve

Warning: Spoilers contained for Black Widow. Duh.
Does it matter that Natasha Romanoff is already dead and this movie should have probably been made after Civil War? Nah, we are just excited to have a new MCU film released after a two year drought! 

Released in theaters and on Disney Plus with Premiere Access, Black Widow is, in some ways, a response to the very successful Wonder Woman, an earlier movie led by a female superhero. Black Widow takes the concept of the female superhero and supersizes it with the Red Room treatment. We learn that there is an entire army of "black widow" operatives, all made up of little girls who were viewed as "trash", trained to be super spies that could rival the super soldier program that produced Captain America.

The montage that is shown over the film's opening credits perfectly sets up the plight of women. Set to Nirvana's "Smells Like Teen Spirit" as sung hauntingly by Malia J, we see countless girls being taken into captivity and trained as operatives. It's sad and evocative and powerfully soul-stirring. 

Black Widow pits the idea of female disenfranchisement against the idea of toxic masculinity. The Black Widow Ops Program is an allegory for female sex trafficking, even sterilizing the girls against their wills (hilariously and horrifyingly described by Yelena). Enter David Harbor as Alexei "Red Guardian" Shostakov, a walking embodiment of toxic masculinity. He's past his prime, mansplains everything to his two very capable daughters, asks only about himself, and assumes Yelena's aggression is due to it being her "time of the month". I mean, Alexei even shares a name with the pig!

Black Widow is ultimately about family and relationships...

Natasha and Yelena are raised by a "fake family" of Russian operatives, and each walks away with a different view of the family: Natasha resents that the family was a cover and feels that it was never real, whereas Yelena still holds on to the warm memories of growing up with a mother figure and rejects the idea that the feelings were false. 

Natasha adopts the Avengers as her new family. That's not a new idea -- the Avengers have always been a a family of misfits. Alexei scoffs at this, asking where her family is now. He tries to show fatherly love, but he can only muster a story about urinating, and the lyrics to "American Pie". 

The black widow agents are a type of family too.  Girls stolen from their homes, and bonded together by abuse and terror. A sorority shaped by strife. Even when their brainwashing is broken, they still remain bonded as sisters.

The plight of women has its DNA all over this flick. Yelena sees the bruises on Natasha's back, a nod to domestic abuse victims. Ingrid forces Taskmaster to "smile", just as women are often told to do. Yelena makes fun of her sister's "superhero pose", the overly sexy pose that ScarJo often does, and which sometimes receives criticism for being sexist, degrading, and objectifying. And Natasha is even bound by a pheromonal lock, a parallel to the the Stockholm syndrome that abuse victims might experience with their abusers. 

In order to break free, Natasha must sever her olfactory nerve to overcome the pheromonal lock. Sometimes we have to get rid of toxic relationships. It can be painful and difficult, and we might not think we have the strength to break free, but when we "sever the nerve", we set ourselves on a path towards freedom, independence, and a life not bogged down by toxic connections. 

"I'm worse at what I do best, and for this gift I feel blessed. Our little group has always been and always will until the end."

Friday, July 9, 2021

The Good, The Bart and The Loki

 What in the world is Disney doing with the Simpson's franchise?!

Okay let me unpack that: 

The Good, The Bart and The Loki is the latest Simpsons shorts to premier on Disney+, standing out for A: Not being exclusively about Maggie and B: for having Tom Hiddleston voice his iconic character. The God of Mischief is banished to Springfield and finds a kindred spirit in Bart, and a father figure in Homer, both indulge his evil machinations for as long as they serve their own psychotic wants. 

It's hard not to spoil, not because the plot is so interesting but because the entire clip is four minutes long. It breaks down into an excuse to show multiple Simpsons characters as iconic MCU characters, though only briefly. The entire episode feels like an excuse for Disney to flex its franchise collection, and sadly little else. 

Being a Simpsons fan since episode 1 over 30 years ago, I can say that the show has long since run out of ideas, and Disney seems to agree. The main series has gone on without change since the acquisition, with Disney only releasing Maggie shorts in a Bugs Bunny style and now this thing, making the Simpsons feel like less of characters and more stand-ins for Disney to use to show off their other franchises. Granted, a show which frequently features child abuse as a running gag isn't a good match for a brand known for family friendly princess movies, but if Disney is going to own this thing they may as well do something with it. 

Circling back to the latest Simpsons crossover, one stand-out moment is a cheeky post-credit scene where Loki is charged by the TVA for not only his crimes as Loki but for the flaws in his current show, Loki. It was nice to see Disney admit that their latest MCU outing had some problems that was annoying fans, though it's one thing to admit to problems and an entirely different one altogether to actually fix them.

A full length episode of the Simpsons apologizing for Loki and letting us have some real fun with the concept would've been welcome. This sadly is just a taste of what could've been. 


Wednesday, July 7, 2021

Worth a Watch: Mighty Ducks: Game Changers

Evan Morrow in Mighty Ducks: Game Changers

"What you’ve said has moved me, I will be your wall."
-- Koob, Mighty Ducks: Game Changers

Predictable, formulaic stories are the staple of commercially successful shows. Most of the time, it makes for movies and series that catch enough viewers to make a profit, but don't teach lessons or explore new ground. They're generally throwaway media - produced to make a quick buck. Occasionally, however, a smart writer and director use the framework a formulaic main story provides to give space for the exploration deeper themes.

The original Mighty Ducks movie (and its sequels) was formulaic. They all follow the same kids' sports movie formula: In each one, an adult starts with a big head or gets a big head, the players start bad or get bad, and then something happens where everyone learns a lesson or two, things get better, they win the important games and finally beat the big, bad other team. Predictable, clean, and, often, boring for adults who want nuance and complex themes. It would have been easy for Disney at the time to make a quick buck, leave the story simple, and move on. However, the willingness of the writer and director of the original The Mighty Ducks movie to address serious issues turned what could have been a forgettable movie into a memorable one.

The high-level formulaic nature of the original movie allowed space for the exploration of serious themes such as divorce and aborted dreams, navigation and formation of friendships, disappointment, and the possibility of redemption. As a kid, it not only entertained me, it spoke to me in ways that other forms of media couldn't. It was one of my favorite movies. I must have watched it twenty times or more. 

Charlie and Coach Bombay in "The Mighty Ducks"

I still watch The Mighty Ducks occasionally. I identify with Charlie, the main character in the show. I want the same kind of courage Charlie had as he faced up to his coach and refused to cheat. I wish I had had as a kid the same kind of close relationship with a trusted adult that Charlie had with his coach. I enjoy watching Charlie enjoy that relationship. I love watching Coach Bombay learn some lessons about service and character. I identify with him as he addresses his childhood pain and how it has affected his life.

I love films and shows that explore things I struggled with as a preteen and teenager. They help me feel less alone, and give me a way to learn lessons now about relationships that I failed to learn then. I hunger for shows like that.

Disney+'s new series "Mighty Ducks: Game Changers" fits the bill. It is still formulaic - Gordon Bombay again hates hockey, there's a team of kids that really don't know how to play, and the team starts winning as lessons are learned by the adults and the kids. That formulaic nature again allows for the exploration of many serious themes.

Gordon Bombay in Mighty Ducks: Game Changers

There is something for everyone. Middle schoolers will find common ground with Evan Morrow, the main character, as he navigates rejection, breaks and rebuilds trust, and takes his first steps in directing his own life as he enters adolescense. Adults will enjoy watching Gordon Bombay reconnect with his love of mentoring youth (and adults). They will identify with Alex Morrow, Evan's mother and the team's coach, as she tries to raise her son with the constraints of an aborted career and an absent father. The show doesn't shy away from difficult family situations and how they affect the kids and the adults.

Nick Ganz and Evan Morrow, practicing on a frozen pond

I won't get into more details for fear of spoiling the show, but if you have time it is definitely worth giving the show a chance. 

Monday, July 5, 2021

Why Snape Is the Absolute Worst (Besides Umbridge)

When Deathly Hallows came out 14 years ago, we were kind of blindsided by the fact that Snape had a childhood friendship and a lifetime crush on Lily Evans Potter. Some people had predicted it, but I thought they were crazy. Over the years, his "always" (especially as portrayed by Alan Rickman) has become a go-to for Harry Potter fans and their love for the series or their love for their significant other. The deep affection he held for Lily has been romanticized by fans as a strong, undying love that we all wish to feel towards another human being. However, even though Snape died a hero, he was still a jerk and doesn't deserve all the praise he gets... He died a hero, but he wasn't a good person.

For a moment, let's not discuss whether it was true love or an unhealthy obsession (I've already stated my opinion on the matter). What matters is how he handled his emotions and how he treated others. I can understand the extreme bias towards his Slytherin students and even unfairly taking points from Gryffindor, Hufflepuff, and Ravenclaw. Short version, he was a selfish bully. Long version, here's why.

Let's start with his (mis)treatment of Harry. I know he looked like James, but he supposedly loved Lily right? He committed his life to protecting Harry and didn't want anyone to know... but did he have to be so awful? It would have been a good enough façade to express his distain for Harry by showing the bias he had against any non-Slytherin. But instead, he verbally abused the child. I could see the argument that it was Harry's fault that Lily died (although really it was Snape who told Voldemort about the prophecy to begin with...). 

Next up let's talk about Neville. Perhaps it's because Neville could have been the Chosen One. If Voldemort had chosen to go after the Longbottoms, Lily would never have died. So perhaps Snape blames Neville for Lily's death. Regardless, two years into Hogwarts, Neville was so terrified of Snape, because of his verbal assaults and abuse, that he saw him as his worst fear ever. Not spiders like Ron, or dementors like Harry, or the woman who tortured his parents into insanity. He saw his teacher. 

Finally, Hermione. Let's talk about how he treated Harry's best friend. Is it because she was his friend? Or perhaps because she was a muggleborn like Lily? Snape verbally abused the brightest student of Harry's year, constantly calling her names and putting her down.

Bullying is a serious problem. It comes in many forms. Looking back at where Snape came from, it makes sense that he'd be cruel. He was bullied by James and the Marauders and made to feel less than he was. You see it with people who are abused and bullied; they become abusers and bullies themselves. They use positions of power to make themselves feel better than those who seem inferior. 

It makes sense, but it's no excuse. We have free will. We can be better than where we came from. Look at Sirius Black: he came from a racist, abusive household and became a hero. Sure he made mistakes along the way, but he became better than where he started. On the flip side, Snape stayed prejudiced and only seemed to care that Voldemort was being evil when it affected a girl he liked... Snape didn't even care that Voldemort was a bad guy or that James and Harry could die. He just had a soft spot for Lily. Snape could have chosen to rise above the dark friends he found in Hogwarts... but instead he waited until it was too late... and even after Lily died he still didn't change, not really.

With all that said, I do have something positive to say about Snape. He was an amazingly written character. He was written so that you didn't like him, and we didn't. He was written to be anti-hero, and he kind of was. And his backstory chapter in Deathly Hallows was written to mess with our perceptions of him, and it did. He may not be a good person, but he's a good character.