Voltron Is Back With A Vengeance

Spoiler warning!

When I last talked about Voltron (here) I pointed out how a lot of fans were starting to lose their patience with the show. Mainly, people were suspicious on how Allura, who’s supposed to represent a black teenage girl, looks and barely acts anything like a black person or a teenager. There’s also some frustration on how a Keith/Allura romance might end up being shoehorned in.

And, to be fair, I don’t think the second season was really that good. The first season was enjoyable, but the second season was kind of boring at parts because there was a lot of filler, and the plot could be a little hard to follow. I ended up skipping or skimming through most of the episodes. I know a lot of people complained about the lack of character development for Lance and Hunk, so there’s that.

But now that the third season has arrived, the fandom’s faith in the show seems to be fully restored. And I can definitely say I liked this season the best.

It’s only seven episodes long, which means that there’s less filler and better plot development and world building. The characters of Lance, Keith, and Allura all got more character development (from what I’ve seen online Pidge will be getting an arc next season) and we got some cool new characters as well.

Lotor is a great addition to the show. Suave, intelligent, and devious, he makes a competent and engaging new villain. I especially love his four female lieutenants. It definitely helps ease the show’s problems with a lack of female characters because now we have four new interesting ones who aren’t just stereotypes. My fave is definitely Narti, a blind (and possibly mute) female warrior that is allowed to actually look monstrous and uses a cat as a telepathic tool. I’m definitely looking forward to the new villains.

The Keith/Lance relationship has blossomed from constantly arguing and petty rivalry to true friendship. You can tell how much these two really care for another now; I especially love how Lance has become Keith’s right hand man. I don’t know if the Klance ship is going to become canon, but it’s nice to know that they genuinely respect each other now.

I got to say, though, the best episode is definitely the season finale. In it we go into Zarkon’s backstory and find out he was never truly pure evil so much as corrupted. When he was a young king, you could tell that he was a happy, friendly person who wanted what was best for his people and his wife, who happened to be Altean. But after prolonged exposure to Quintessence, their bodies and minds became twisted, leading to their downfall. It was ultimately love that spelled Zarkon’s doom, as the effort to save his wife led to him dying and coming back as a hollow shell of his former self that has lost all his virtues.

Unlike a certain other show, which has tyrannical, genocidal dictators but tries to make us like them because they happen to cry, this show actually succeeds in having us sympathize with the villain but still understand what he did was wrong and needs to be stopped. It’s hard to know what will ultimately happen, but I can definitely see and actually WANT to find a way for him to be redeemed in some way (either he dies doing the right thing or he atones for his crimes; at any rate, you want to see him restored to his old self).

I still have some problems with this show (Hunk is still mostly used as a comic relief character and something about how Allura is written rubs me the wrong way, it’s hard to explain it), but I can definitely say I’m gravitating towards it better now than I did before. I’m looking forward to what’s going to happen next.

In a Heartbeat vs Bad Animation Oversaturation

The 2010’s feels like the best and worst decade for western animation. While (CG) animation is more profitable and prolific than ever before and more people are finally realizing animation can be honestly amazing, it seems that the only people taking the craft seriously are Disney, Pixar, and, to an extent, Warner Bros. with their LEGO movies. DreamWorks, in the light of their falling revenue, has started to dumb down their projects to make a profit, and studios like Sony Pictures Animation and Illumination seem to see the medium as a way of making cheap entertainment squarely for children and nothing else.

This year, in particular, has not been very good, with films like The Boss Baby’s memery encapsulating why so many people don’t take animation seriously and The Emoji Movie becoming quite possibly the worst animated film of all time. Anything else this year has been met with a resounding “ho hum”. Unless Coco turns out to be a surprise hit, the only animated movie that seems to have had any positive impact is The Lego Batman Movie, and that came out much earlier.

But, despite animation not doing well in theatrical full length films this year, there has been one animated short that has captured the hearts of people all over the world.

That short is In a Heartbeat.

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When I first heard about the short as it was in development, I didn’t think much of it, but when it was released recently, I decided to give it a watch. And boy, am I glad I did. It tells a sweet, simple, but VERY powerful story.

In the short, Sherwin (the red haired boy in the picture above) is in love with Jonathan (the brown haired boy), but is in the closet about it. He prevents himself from pursuing his love, but his anthropomorphic heart decides to take matters into its own hands. What follows is something that will make you cry, but also warm your heart.

The short has amassed over 18 million views (and counting) on YouTube and, with the exception of hardcore religious and conservative groups, has gotten almost universal acclaim and an overwhelmingly positive reception. And it deserves it. The animation is very good (especially considering it’s a low budget college film), the music is excellent, and it tells an innocent but effective story that doesn’t rely on dialogue.

The makers of the film, Esteban Bravo and Beth David, are considering making this into a full length movie, and I hope it happens. Again, considering how there are so many animated films but only a fraction of them are really that great, we could use a film like this. One that doesn’t rely on low brow humour and cheap gimmicks and tells an emotional story about the love between two boys.

Please support this short any way you can. You can start by watching it below.

 

The New Planet of the Apes is a Modern Exodus Story

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Spoilers!

The new Planet of the Apes prequels are some of the most intelligent, thrilling, and emotional blockbusters I have seen in recent years. While I can never see the original 1968 film a second time (the first viewing just disturbed me too much), I can enjoy the new movies thanks in large part to the character of Caesar. He is one of the most compelling characters of all time, brought beautifully to life by the great Andy Serkis. And one thing I couldn’t help but notice immediate after watching War for the Planet of the Apes is that Caesar’s life has a lot of parallels to that of the Biblical Moses.

The first movie, Rise of the Planet of the Apes, parallels the origins of Moses. Both he and Caesar have tragic beginnings: they were born into slavery and would face certain death if it had not been for their mothers’ love. They are raised by their captors and live a very happy life for a long time. But then, the protagonists commit a crime to protect another, and are both exiled for it. It is during their exile that they discover their destiny to free their respective peoples, unleashing a plague upon their captors in the process.

The second movie, Dawn of the Planet of the Apes, references the Hebrew’s newly found freedom. They escape to greener pastures and build their own communities, with the law of ‘do not kill’. But conflict within the community rises (in this movie and in some film versions of the the Exodus story, it is stirred by a specific opponent) and the teachings of Caesar and Moses are rejected, and blood must ultimately be shed. The quest for true freedom for the apes and Hebrews are thus prolonged.

War for the Planet of the Apes has the most direct parallels. You see the apes being whipped and imprisoned and forced to work hard for their captors, building a stone monument. Caesar routinely begs for his people’s freedom, but the Colonel (Pharaoh) refuses, mocking him, instead increasing the workload of the slaves. The apes escape and the captors and would-be captors are wiped out by an avalanche, which echoes the scene of the Egyptian soldiers being wiped out by the Red Sea. Freed, the Hebrews and Apes both cross a desert to safety, to a Promised Land. In the end, both Caesar and Moses die atop a high place overlooking their people, knowing they are free. It all makes for a very intense story that kept me glued to the screen from start to finish.

Do you think this was intentional or just a coincidence? Did you spot any more parallels? Feel free to let me know!

POST Preparation for Moana Review #4: Treasure Planet

Shh let’s just keep the theme going for awhile. Anyways, here’s another review of a movie connected to Moana in one way or another: Treasure Planet (since they both have the same directors).

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Several decades ago, John Musker and Ron Clements pitched a unique idea to Disney: Treasure Island IN SPACE!!!!!! It was rejected a few times. Eventually, they got their wish: after completing Hercules, they were allowed to work on this film, utilizing some revolutionary animation techniques (the CG animation blends almost seamlessly with the hand drawn animation) and a lot of heart and soul. They marketed and hyped the film big time, and it even got an IMAX release. What happened?

It bombed. Very badly. To the point where Disney would give up on hand drawn animation altogether in a few years.

There are a few reasons it didn’t do so well. Up until the Pirates of the Caribbean franchise, pirate movies were box office poison. Plus a lot of people probably looked at the film and thought the premise was boring and/or stupid and decided to take their kid to the latest Pixar film, Lord of the Rings: The Two Towers, or Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets. I remember, very clearly, when I went to see it for the first time, there was hardly anyone in the theater!

I feel like this movie gets a really raw deal, because it’s honestly amazing.

First things first though: this is the type of movie you NEED to see on the big screen in order to fully appreciate. I tried watching it on my computer and had a little trouble staying focused. I decided to watch it on the big screen and BOOM I was hooked in. I think more people might be able to get into this movie better if they watched it in the proper format.

I love the unique world this movie is set in. It’s a traditional culture with access to advanced technology, creating a sort of Steampunk, anachronistic setting that works. It’s a very awesome setting with some truly beautiful scenes and shots. This movie is also really EXCITING, with some truly compelling action sequences and moments of peril.

But what makes this movie really great are the characters of Jim Hawkins and John Silver.

Jim is a well-written teenage boy character. He is sullen and doesn’t always like authority, and can be morally grey at times, but he is very clever and skilled and does develop empathy for others. He has angst issues (all teenagers do), but he’s not whiny, and he seeks to improve or is able to be comforted by Silver. He also has a clever character design: when we first see him, when he’s a delinquent, he wears a black shirt and jacket. When he’s ready to make a change in his life, he still wears the jacket, but is wearing a lighter colored shirt. He later ditches the jacket when he starts to step up into the role of a hero. Finally, when he has set out to make his own path in life, he is wearing all white. Overall, he’s a relatable, enjoyable character.

And Silver is incredible. Given how he’s both fat and disabled, it would have been very easy for the writers and animators to make him repulsive and pure evil. Instead, he can be harsh and authoritative, but can also be warm and comforting. He has loose morals, but doesn’t want to cause unnecessary violence or bloodshed. We sympathize with him because he has longed to have the treasure for what I can assume is most of his life and has made some sacrifices. And despite a rough start, he really and truly does care for Jim, to the point where he is willing to let Jim come with him to go on new adventures.

And that’s the heart and soul of the movie: these two and their bond.

Jim’s father left him, and Silver has no children. Jim sees in Silver a firm but kind father figure who is genuinely interested in him, and Silver sees a capable young boy who he grows a paternal attachment to. The desire for treasure nearly drives them apart, but ultimately, their relationship proves stronger than gold. In the end, they’re not quite as close as they were before, but they still have a strong mutual respect and affection for one another.

I can’t help but get a little sad over the ending though. Silver is free, but he has to say goodbye to Jim and Morph. Jim goes back to his mother and decides to become a respectable member of society but still clearly misses Silver. I like to think they get back together at some point. Either Silver becomes an active good guy, or Jim decides that being a ship’s captain is not for him and joins Silver on his adventures. There was a planned direct to video sequel that would have Jim and Silver teaming up again to fight an even worse pirate, but it was not meant to be. So I can only imagine.

The film still has a few problems. I don’t particularly care for Doctor Delbert (he can be a little too annoying at times) or Amelia (all she does is act prim and proper, yell orders, and gets injured; and btw, did you know at one point she had tentacles for hair? why didn’t they keep that in), and B.E.N., well, let’s just say he won’t be replacing WALL E or Baymax as anyone’s fave robot characters. And how did the crew get hired in the first place when it’s pretty obvious they’re up to no good? Like if you look at Scroop you can tell right away that he’s evil incarnate, why would you let him on a respectable voyage? Amelia points this out, but instead of doing anything about it, she just tells Jim and Doppler not to talk about the map in front of them. Really? And I suppose the story isn’t THAT original or groundbreaking.

But honestly? I absolutely love this movie despite all odds. It holds a very dear place in my heart, along Big Hero 6, Wreck-It Ralph, and The Hunchback of Notre Dame. This movie has a small cult following but I hope it will grow in stature and become a true classic. It really deserves it.

 

 

The Mother of All Psychological Horrors Is All Too Familiar

Hmm, it’s Mother’s Day and I haven’t written in awhile. I know! I’ll talk about Rosemary’s Baby!

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What have you done to it? What have you done to its eyes?

A dark parallel to the story of the Virgin Birth, what makes this film scary is that it lulls you into a false sense of security. The first two acts or so aren’t very scary so much as weird and off-putting. But as the movie progresses you realize how horrifying and hopeless the situation is and in the end you’re on the verge of tears over the plight of Rosemary.

The movie is several decades old but is hailed as a master of horror. It has very little blood and gore and no jump scares; instead, it gets under your skin by building up the feeling of dread and paranoia with ominous music and shots, culminating in a pretty shocking twist. But because the twist isn’t explicitly shown, it leaves room for some interpretations.

To me, though, what makes it scary even now is that it’s still pretty relevant. It presents the all too real plight of the lack of reproductive rights and justice.

When Rosemary is not pregnant, her husband dotes on her and she is quick to make friends and acquaintances. When she states her desire to become pregnant, though, attitudes towards her start to change. By the time she actually is pregnant, she is not treated the same. She is essentially treated as a brood mare, being withheld important information about her body, being manipulated by her neighbors, and being verbally abused and controlled by her husband. The one person she can trust, her old doctor, doesn’t believe her when she says what’s going on and immediately turns her over to her husband. When the baby is born she isn’t even initially allowed to see him, and does not receive a warm welcome when she comes to the congregation. Almost all the members of the coven disrespect or even outright show contempt for the mother of their savior.

Hmm…does that sound familiar?

What struck me right away is that the only people who are on Rosemary’s side are young women. Literally all the men (with one exception) and the older women see Rosemary as a walking incubator that has to be carefully controlled.

Rosemary herself is a really great character. Initially submissive and docile, her fierce love for her unborn child drives her to take action, seeking a safe place to give birth and get away from the coven. She is one of the few female horror movie protagonists to actually have character development, albeit development that is too late to save her.

The climax is especially horrifying. Imagine the baby you worked so hard to protect turned out to be an unholy demon, the product of a brutal violation. In the end, her motherly instincts kick in, but her smile seems a little halfhearted. Ultimately the viewer will have to decide the fate of her and her child.

This movie has a wide range of interpretations, ranging from calling it feminist to misogynist. I lean more to the feminist interpretation for a few reasons. The first reason is just how frank the movie is when it talks about periods, abortions, and childbirth, all topics that a lot of movies shy away from. Secondly, the whole situation, from the moment of conception to Rosemary’s acceptance of the baby, is seen as genuinely HORRIFYING, not as a cheap shock or drama.

Ultimately, this is a horror movie of something all too familiar and relevant: being a pregnant person having your bodily autonomy, rights, and dignity taken away from you. And that is something that will always scare you on a psychological and personal level.

Beauty and the Beast 2017 Review

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Warning: spoilers.

Let’s get the obvious out of the way: this is not as good as the original. As a movie on its own right, it got a mixed reception. People seem to either absolutely love or absolutely hate this movie. I was fully prepared to hate it myself…but I actually kind of liked it. I thought it was quite well made.

Now, I think the thing that really divides people on this movie is the portrayal of the classic characters. Personally, I really enjoyed most of them…but had one major exception.

Luke Evans as Gaston and Josh Gad as Lefou were great. Gaston is a truly chilling antagonist, and Lefou is funny and also a lot more layered. I like how in this version Lefou obviously loves Gaston, but eventually realizes that he needs to leave him. I think he needed a better conclusion (saying sorry to Belle and actually getting to kiss a man rather than just dance with one for two seconds), but overall, I think Lefou’s character was an improvement. I found myself dancing in my seat during the “Gaston” song, and engrossed at the Mob Song.

The household objects were also surprisingly good. Some of the character designs don’t work (the wardrobe and piano just look creepy), but they did manage to come to life better than I thought they would. I really did feel for them and actually got teary-eyed over them at some points. I just wish they didn’t look so realistic.

And I got to say, the hate for Emma Watson is so overblown. Yes, I hate what she did to the iconic yellow dress and some of her attitudes toward making this film, but the whole claim on how she’s cold and emotionless in the movie is uncalled for. She does emote. She does care. And I actually did like some of the changes she made to this character. I like how she’s a bit more proactive and practical, but still maintains her love of books and her family. Honestly, I kind of saw myself in Belle a lot. I feel like, if I was in her situation, I would behave exactly like she would.

So no, Emma Watson as Belle is not the problem with the movie. No, the major problem is actually THE BEAST.

Now, Dan Stevens did a good job (with what he’s given) and I’m not expecting his new design to perfectly mimic the original. But even with the new design, it does not look right. There are a lot of scenes where he looks fake as hell. The CGI gets very conspicuous, especially when he moves. He’s not very expressive, and whenever he does get to emote, he looks very creepy. Like something’s wrong. I can safely say while I may have been harsh on the household objects before, the design of the Beast is extremely uncanny valley for me. Honestly, I would have just given him makeup and prosthetics.

But what’s even worse is that a lot of the humanity the original Beast had is gone here. In the original movie, when he acts like an asshole, we see him visibly feel sorry. We get to sympathize with him in his darkest moments; when he imprisons Belle, we see that he feels bad and lets her stay in a nicer room. When Belle rejects him at first, we get to see him upset. When he chases Belle out of his room, he looks very ashamed before going to save her. He looks overjoyed when he gets closer to Belle, and when he has to let Belle go, he’s heartbroken, but brave, choking back his tears and stroking Belle’s hair as he gives her her freedom.

In the remake, though? Nope, that’s all gone! And when he and Belle have romantic moments it feels rushed, not letting them have enough time to develop real chemistry and attraction to each other. In the original, I know that Belle fell for him because he was revealed to have a soul. In this film? He’s cold and distant, really reserved. So he did not work. But the rest of the movie did, for the most part.

I’m not sure if the other remakes are going to work (there’s a whopping 19 planned so far, who knows how many will actually see the light of day), but I’m glad that this didn’t disappoint me too badly or ruin the original for me.

(POST) Preparation for Moana Review #3: Pocahontas

This was supposed to be a full series leading up to Moana‘s release in theaters but I only got around to making two. Whoops. So, let’s say these are reviews leading up to the Blu Ray release of the film (March 7). With that said..

Pocahontas Poster #2

In the early 1990’s, Disney Animation was on top of the world. With hits like The Little Mermaid, Beauty and the Beast, Aladdin and The Lion King, the studio was the undisputed champion of animated movies.

Until Pocahontas came out.

While it didn’t bomb, it made less money than its predecessors (The Lion King earned almost a billion dollars when it first came out; Pocahontas only earned about $346 million) and was not warmly received by critics and audiences. (To date, it is the only Disney Renaissance film to have a rotten rating on Rotten Tomatoes, with a score of about 56%.) This is particularly embarrassing as Jeffrey Katzenberg and the people behind Pocahontas were so hoping that it would get an Oscar nomination for Best Picture (like Beauty and the Beast did before). Instead, while it does have its fans, it will go down as one of Disney’s less beloved works (and for some people, the film that started the downfall of Disney Animation for awhile, and for hand drawn animation period).

So what happened?

Well, I think the thing that turned a lot of people off was the general tone of the movie. Whereas the movies before were light and happy with just enough of an edge, Pocahontas is overwhelmingly serious and adult. For some, it came across as too dark, for others, too pretentious. But I think the bigger reason it didn’t do so well was because it was released in 1995. You know what OTHER major animated film came out that year…

Yeah. I think you can tell which movie parents would rather take their kids to.

That aside, Pocahontas has its own problems. I’m not going to delve deep into how historically inaccurate it is (lots of people already have), and I’ve already talked about how I generally feel about the movie before (check my Pocahontas tag) so let’s focus on other issues.

For starters, it’s important to note that this movie was directed by Mike Gabriel and Eric Goldberg. If you’re a Disney aficionado (or if you look them up on IMDb), you’ll notice that they’re prominent animators, not directors, writers, or story artists. Mike Gabriel had some prior experience with directing in The Rescuers Down Under, but Eric Goldberg did not. (After this film, they directed pretty much nothing else besides shorts.) As a result, the film LOOKS nice, but the story needs some work.

The character design is hit and miss. Chief Powhatan looks great: you can tell he’s a mature, strong, competent leader and a caring father. You can tell Nakoma is meant to be an Average Jane type person. Kocoum looks very strong and stern. But the main leads don’t look as great. John Smith just kind of looks boring and generic (his hair is not helping at all), and while I can’t totally hate on Pocahontas’s design, it has issues. Her nose is practically invisible when viewed on front (but it’s visible in profile), she has Barbie doll proportions, and despite being Native American, she was inspired not just by Irene Bedard (her voice actress), but by Naomi Campbell and Christy Turlington, neither of whom are Native. Why? Irene Bedard is gorgeous!

The worst offender is Governor Radcliffe: he’s every negative stereotype rolled into one character. Obese? Check. Hooked nose and dark colourings? Check. Pink bow ties and effeminate mannerisms? Check. There’s a way to distinguish a character as the villain without relying on offensive stereotypes.

And while I didn’t fully realize it before, it turns out this movie really is disrespectful.

HERE and HERE are posts by a Native American blogger detailing their problems with the movie, but basically, for a film that preaches against racism, there’s a LOT of anti-Native violence depicted in the film. While it makes sense for Radcliffe to be calling the Natives savages and wanting them dead since he’s the villain (and therefore we’re not supposed to like him or agree with him), a lot of the violent language is uttered by characters we’re supposed to like. John Smith learns the error of his ways, but the others don’t. They decide not to fight because they realize the Natives aren’t interested in fighting. Their main reason for not colonizing the shit out the place is because Radcliffe shot John Smith (but not because he was ready to commit genocide). The fact that this is a revision of a very horrible true story (the real Pocahontas faced a lot of racist and sexual abuse before dying at a young age) makes it worse. You can see why I don’t like it when people snark at the movie or dismiss it as ‘heavy handed’ or ‘boring’ (though it can be slow at parts).

I think the final nail on the coffin is that Pocahontas is the only official Disney Princess that doesn’t really get a happy ending. Mulan brings honour to her family and has found a friend/love interest in Shang. Tiana opens her dream restaurant. Jasmine found true love and freedom. Pocahontas has to watch her prince leave her, maybe forever, while the threat of colonialism looms overhead. You know how I say Tiana shouldn’t be the only black princess because she was a goddamn frog for most of the movie? Well, Pocahontas shouldn’t be the only Native one either.

So, now you know the real story of Pocahontas. But maybe you still want to be able to enjoy the movie. After all, it does look nice, Colors of the Wind and Just Around the Riverbend are good songs (Judy Kuhn is an amazing singer), and it has some really epic moments. And damn, I just can’t bear to dislike Pocahontas herself. She was important to me growing up.

Maybe think that this is the story of a DIFFERENT Pocahontas and a DIFFERENT John Smith. Or maybe this is a tale showing what the world could have been like if peace, not hate, won out in the end. But don’t forget the story of the real Pocahontas, and make sure something like it never happens to Native people ever again.