Sunday, March 19, 2017

Beauty and the Beast 2017: Something There that Wasn't There Before

***Disclaimer: May contain spoilers for the new film**

The story of Beauty and the Beast has always held a special place for me. I remember watching it as a little boy and my imagination ran wild at the idea of an enchanted castle with objects that were alive. It became more special for me 10 years ago when I was lucky enough to play Lumiere as a senior in my last high school musical. Hearing any portion of the music today brings a smile to my face and many happy memories of childhood and high school.

When I heard that Disney would be producing a live-action version of this beloved fairy tale, I was super excited but very hesitant. I couldn't stand the thought of such a beloved story being produced at a level of quality that was less than stellar.

My expectations were high and I kept a close eye on the cast list as roles became official for many beloved actors. And as casting began to be finalized I was excited to see many favorites from other franchises as stars of the show. I was amused at the thought of young Obi-Wan Kenobi (Ewan McGregor / Lumiere) and Gandalf (Sir Ian McKellan / Cogsworth) working together to help Hermione Granger (Emma Watson / Belle) fall in love with Matthew Crawley from Downtown Abbey (Dan Stevens / Beast).

Even with high expectations and a rock star cast, I was nervous as I walked in to the theater last Friday. And while imperfect as all films are, the live action re-telling directed by Bill Condon delivers a modern masterpiece that preserves this incredible story for another generation.

While the plot largely remains the same, the storytelling itself is where this film stands apart from the animated film and Broadway play. The audience gets more insight into Belle's childhood and more is revealed about Belle's mother, and even the prince's upbringing and the circumstances that led him to turn the old woman away on his last night as a human.

What also stands apart is Emma Watson herself as Belle. Belle is "a beauty but a funny girl," but in addition to the qualities that anyone playing Belle can bring, Watson brings out a strong side of Belle that I haven't seen before and I found fitting and worthy of her character. In addition to her beauty, love of books, and general goodness, Belle is shown as an intelligent, progressive, independent woman ahead of her time. One of my favorite scenes in the new film is when Belle sits down with another girl much younger than her and teaches her how to read. With our increased understanding of Belle's and the Prince's parents, it is easier to see how this spunky farm girl from the heart of France can fall for a creature with two horns growing out of the side of his head.

While most who play Beast are able to portray the angry, brooding character well, I found that Dan Stevens brought a level of depth to the character that I also hadn't seen before. As Stevens sings a new song to the story "Evermore," I couldn't help but feel the longing in his voice and the love he was beginning to feel for Belle.

The show is supported by a strong cast of talented supporting actors and actresses; it tugged at the heartstrings as the last petal fell and these beloved characters one by one turned into objects. The most interesting and compelling addition of supporting actors was that of Agatha, the Enchantress, and her careful placement in key parts of the story.

After having seen this story countless times on stage, I feel that it is easy for Lumiere and Cogsworth to steal the show with their back-and-forth humor, and with the fun that comes with "Be Our Guest." I was pleasantly surprised to see that Belle and Beast stole the show this time around. The strong storytelling, the unforgettable performance by Emma Watson and Dan Stevens, and her character choices help accomplish what I never was quite able to believe in previous tellings of this story -- that these two characters could really and legitimately fall in love.


From a musical perspective, I loved the orchestration of Alan Menken's brilliant score, and the vocals of Emma Watson and Dan Stevens were stunning. New songs are quickly becoming memorable favorites and I've already listened to the album a few times in the car on Apple Music. My only disappointment is that the film did not include two of the more moving selections from the Broadway play -- "If I Can't Love Her" and "Human Again."

At the end of the day, the live action interpretation of this favorite fairy tale stands on its own as a storytelling masterpiece and perhaps the best live-action interpretation that Disney has produced yet.

Tuesday, February 28, 2017

What You Missed-Daredevil Season 1

Matt starts out as the Masked Man
I thought it might be time to start a new series I'll be calling What You Missed, where we'll go into explaining some of the parts of geekdom that doesn't keep to the PG rating. Basically, think of this as Clean Flicks, the blog.

Let's start with Daredevil

The Dark Marvel

The Marvel Universe isn't always family friendly. Some of these characters though have fan followings of their own and the characters are part of the same universe as the family friendly Captain Marvel and Iron Man. Disney has taken to telling the darker stories as episodic series on Netflix and tend to keep them separate from the rest of the Marvel Cinematic Universe-at least for now. Rumor has it that the Netflix heroes will make a cameo in the upcoming Infinity War movies, so its best to get familiar with the characters just in case.

The Man Without Fear


Most of Daredevil's story lines take place in New York's Hell's Kitchen, a small district in New York City. I won't bother explaining what they changed from the comics or not because with all the ret-cons and alternate tellings it's just a waste of time.

Matt and Foggy-BFFs
Once upon a time a young Matt Murdock lived with his dad, a professional boxer because when you're Irish and in New York it's either that or mob boss according to popular fiction. One day while walking down the street Matt pushed an old man out of the way of an out of control truck and accidentally fell into the trucks cargo of toxic chemicals. This resulted in Matt becoming blind, but since it was toxic waste it also gave him super senses because that's how comic books work. Matt's father is killed around a year later because he wouldn't take a fall during a boxing match for the mafia, and Matt is left orphaned.

Matt meets another blind man, named Stick, who teaches him martial arts for about a week before disappearing mysteriously. We find out later that Stick is in some sort of war that comes up more in the second season.

Years later Matt graduates top of his class and becomes a lawyer with his buddy Foggy and starts a law firm called Nelson and Murdock in Hell's Kitchen in order to help their former neighbors, all the while Matt is running around the streets at night wearing black Under Armor and a mask. Foggy is the comic relief of the show, except for an episode where he finds out Matt's secret and he's shown to be one of the emotional cores of the piece, representing the damage Matt's secret life and the lies he has to tell to maintain it causes to the people he loves.

Enter Kingpin


Bad guys are scarier when they're bald. 
The villain of the first season is Wilson Fisk, AKA Kingpin to comic fans. He's working with the Chinese and Russian mafias as well as the Yakuza to take over Hell's Kitchen (Okay what is in this town that is worth fighting for exactly?). Wilson is a fearsome business man with a cool calm demeanor that hides a massive temper that leads him to eliminate anyone in his way. He's an effective villain not for his vague motivation but for his intimidating presence and the actor's skill with the character. Throughout the season he courts the beautiful art dealer Vanessa, who despite showing trepidation at first to dating a crime lord, eventually warms up to the idea and even becomes his fiance by the end.

Law and Order: Super Heroes

The first season has Matt and Wilson butting heads indirectly through a series of superhero fights and court cases that crosses Matt's desk. The first case gets us Karen Page, a sweet young lady who finds out the company she's working for is secretly corrupt...somehow... and she exposes them to the press which puts her in danger. If this part gets a little vague it's because, to be honest, a lot of the story line in the first season is about Matt and his buddies trying to stop Wilson through the legal system and Matt putting on his mask and beating up his goons. A lot of the lawsuits are about trying to force people out of their homes and trying to trace money back to Wilson, but it's honestly just an annoying complicated mess. Suffice it to say that the series emphasizes the need for both the legal system and vigilante justice.

Claire- The Hero Doctor


Claire-one of the best characters in the Marvel
Cinematic Universe. 
At one point Matt finds himself unconscious in a dumpster and bleeding to death (something Batman has probably had to do early in his career) and is rescued by Claire, a nurse from a local hospital. Claire becomes Matt's on-call doctor whenever a battle has left him particularly injured, and they try to start up a romantic fling for an episode only for Claire to decide that she's better off not becoming someone else's Lois Lane.

Claire is an interesting character to bring up because she appears in all the other Marvel Netflix shows, tying all the shows together. She becomes an audience surrogate character since she is just a normal person in a normal person job.

And The Winner...

Daredevil gets a snazzy new suit-complete with horns. 
After all the fighting and legal maneuvering, by the end of the season Matt gets Wilson arrested, but not before finding Wilson's secret tailor who makes him his snazzy red Daredevil suit. I called him Matt through the piece because it's not till the end that he actually becomes Daredevil by name and outfit, which is a nice touch since few self-respecting human beings would try to go around town calling himself something from an Evil Kanevil ad. In the process Matt also managed to drive the Chinese, Russians and Yakuza out of Hell's Kitchen, keeping it safe for all the crack heads and purse thieves already living there.

While being the first attempt at bringing the cinematic universe into a darker world, the show isn't that bad considering how bad it could've been. The violence is over the top which keeps it out of the kid friendly zone, but despite that and the long courtroom drama stuff, the show is a good start to the Marvel Netflix series.

-JOE






Monday, February 27, 2017

Digimon Adventure Loose Ends

I’ve made it no secret on here that I’m a little bit of a fan of Digimon. Some of my close friends even affectionately call me the Digimon King. This weekend the fourth movie in Digimon Adventure Tri was released in Japan. Now it’s been released with English subtitles. As tempting as it is to watch it now (especially after how heart wrenching it was to rewatch part 3 this last week), but I’ve committed to watch it with a friend this coming weekend.

In the meantime, I’ve been thinking of loose ends of plots that never got finished from this Digimon universe (seasons 1 and 2). As much as I’ve talked Digimon up, no show is without its shortcomings. There were many things just left dangling in Seasons 1 and 2. With this movie and two more to go, this would be the perfect time for them to address some of the loose ends that exist (although unlikely for some of them). No spoilers for part four of Tri, but there may be some spoilers for parts one, two, and three.

Dragomon in the Dark Ocean: So in episode 13 of Season 2 (“His Master’s Voice”), we got introduced to a whole new world, parallel to the Digital World and the Real World. After Kari got pulled into this world and TK went in after her, we see a very cryptic Digimon in the ocean as the cliffhanger. This Digimon, Dragomon, is never seen again. We see the Dark Ocean again in Ken’s origin story and when Daemon appears, but Dragomon never appears again. Could we see this again in Tri? Yes. Do I expect us to? No. Not a bit.


Gennai and the Black Sphere: In Season 1 Episode 45 (“The Ultimate Clash”) we get the explanation as to why the Digi-Destined were chosen and how their Digimon, Digivices, and Crests were all put together. In the struggle that ensued when Piedmon tried to steal everything, Piedmon pushes a little black sphere into Gennai’s neck. We are never told what the consequences of this are. Is that why Gennai aged? Or is it why we have a dark Gennai lookalike in part 3 of Tri? In one of the audio dramas, Izzy mentions a black bead, but other than that we know nothing. Since we’ve got some dark Gennai, it’s possible we could learn something about this.


Homeostasis: Twice now Kari has been taken over by a mysterious force. We know that it was Homeostasis in Tri but it would make sense to assume that it was the same in “The Ultimate Clash”. Since we’ve already seen Homeostasis once in Tri, it wouldn’t be unreasonable to see her again.


The Original Digi-Destined: As Season 1 came to a close, we were told about some Digi-Destined that existed long before Tai’s group. “Now Apocalymon” shows them as the silhouettes of five of the kids and their Digimon. I had hoped at one point that season 4 or 5 would be about the original Digi-Destined and their adventures. Obviously, that didn’t happen. Now that we’re back in the original continuity, we can learn something about them. I’ve always thought that TK and Matt’s dad was one of them, because of his knowledge of Gabumon in “Flower Power”, but the line in question didn’t exist in the Japanese. However, despite him being out of the running, I have read theories about Himekawa being one of the original Digi-Destined. I guess I’ll find out when I watch part 4.


The Digimon Sovereign: Azulongmon appeared in “Kyoto Dragon” in Season 2 and it was implied that there were three other divine Digimon like him. We see all these Sovereign Digimon in Season 3, but seeing as that’s a different universe, it doesn’t really count. Though I’d consider it unlikely, I’d be interested to see Ebonwumon, Baihumon, or Zhuquiaomon in Tri.


Missing Digi-Destined: Finally, there’s the thing of missing Digi-Destined in Tri. We know at least four of them are missing and no one is really questioning it. That’s weird, right? No one even thought to check on Ken until whoever that was showed up at the school festival. And no one really said anything about Ken’s D-3 appearing. I know Season 2 wasn’t as popular, but I’m hoping they don’t leave that hanging. I mean, all fourteen of the kids appear in the Season 2 epilogue, right?



Well, I guess in a week I’ll know more about all of these loose ends… or not… I guess we’ll see what Digimon Adventure Tri “Loss” has for me.

Friday, February 24, 2017

Video Game Bro Trip

Man I’m talking a lot about my guy friends lately.

I’m not usually one for multiplayer games, truth be told. While I have dabbled in World of Warcraft I’m more of a solo player, like Osaka from Sword Art Online. This habit however quickly drifts away whenever I can get a buddy in the same room to play the same game with me, an occurrence which has been happening more often these days.

A Tour of Sanctuary 
Lately this all started when my friend and I both realized that we were both fans of the Diablo series. He had only got as far as Di
ablo 2 though, but was delighted to find out that Blizzard still had their servers open and sold the game digitally for $20. After a quick download he and I were happily tearing through Sanctuary hot on the heels of Diablo and his brothers. Despite it being purely co-op the competition to collect the most gems quickly blossomed, making the game two parts adventuring and one part Dining Dash as we try to click on the shinies as fast as possible. We eventually moved into Diablo 3 where there’s less competition for the loot and more competition for who gets to kill the monster.

Pre-Disney Avengers Adventures

Before Marvel had its own cinematic universe, a few games came out in the early 2000s that capitalized on the idea of a super hero group beating up the baddies. These came in two flavors: Marvel Ultimate Alliance 1 and 2 and X-Men Legacy 1 and 2. While wrapping up a game of Dungeons and Dragons I started perusing the PS4 store when I came across an Ultimate Alliance bundle pack for $60. My buddy let out a squee and offered to pay for the thing so long as we got to play it together. Before long our team consisted of Dr. Doom, Deadpool, Hulk and Invisible Woman and we were laughing so hard our sides hurt for days.

Heroes of the Storm and Final Fantasy Roadtrip

 Most of my bro games were made when I was a kid, or teenager, but a few like Diablo 3 can easily become bro trips. It seems that recently game developers have acknowledged the fun of having a bunch of guys go on an adventure. Final Fantasy XV was a game I originally wasn’t keen on playing because it looked like Entourage: The Game, but after some coaxing and watching the Honest Trailer I decided to give it a try. While I wish that the traveling companions were actual players and not AI dressed for an Evanescence concert, I am having fun enjoying their friendship and adventure with them.

 Blizzard pops up again with their latest promotion on Heroes of the Storm. If you play 15 games with a friend as a World of Warcraft character, you can unlock a special mount in the game and in WoW, thus encouraging friends to play together. My buddies and I have been having fun smashing AI while my wife practices, and I’ve learned the wonders and delights of being a Fairy Dragon. At the end of the day, video games are fun but like anything else they’re more fun when shared with others, especially if those others are friends who can help you beat the bad guy and laugh with you along the way. If you haven’t had a bro-trip through a video game world I suggest picking up something (Probably from Blizzard), grabbing a friend and having an old-fashioned video game adventure. -JOE

Wednesday, February 22, 2017

Happy 55th Birthday Steve Irwin

Today Steve Irwin, the Crocodile Hunter, would have turned 55. That’s a young age (especially for those of us who recently passed 30), but it feels even younger knowing that he passed away over 11 years ago.

The Crocodile Hunter

Steve Irwin (Left) holding crocodile (Right)
For those who didn’t grow up with him, let me fill you in. Steve Irwin was the host of several Animal Planet shows back when they still had shows about animals. As his name earlier suggests he specialized in crocodiles but also dealt with all manner of deadly and exotic animals, mostly in his home in Australia. He was unique in that instead of just filming the animal then doing a commentary over the video he would actually interact with the animals, at time risking life and limb in order to give us, the audience, a unique perspective on the creatures we may’ve never had a chance to see. His wife and daughter became part of the experience as well, though they didn’t showcase as dangerous of animals.

End of an Era

Sadly, though, Irwin passed away before his time due to a freak encounter with a manta ray while filming another episode of his show. For those of us who were fans, this came as an extreme shock to us. While he did flirt with danger (Including one episode where he received a snake bite that made a young Joe cringe into the couch), he was always respectful of animal boundaries and limitations. He was a huge advocate for animal rights, and made sure to let those of us watching what not to do when encountering dangerous animals in our own back yards.

Animal Rights 
It’s interesting to me how much of an impact Irwin had on me both as a child and now as an adult. I find myself when visiting zoos and other animal attractions looking at the conditions the animals are in and wonder if they’re happy there. While I grew up in a family that loved and respected animals, I think it was watching Irwin that helped cement in me the need to steward these precious creatures wherever they are. I think it’s also why I get so outraged when I find out that an animal is abused or neglected.

A Sad Orca

Newborn whale at Sea World seen through murky water.
The one time I visited Sea World I remember how excited I was to finally see the whales. These beautiful orcas I’d seen in movies and read so much about. When we got to the tank between shows though, I noticed one of the males floating vertically and idly bumping his nose against the bottom of the dingy pool. I asked the attendant what he was doing and she said it was a sign of boredom. To me it looked like a sign of extreme depression if anything, but to me the fact that the whale was that bored was a sign that his enclosure was not suited to his needs. I was outraged. I have yet to be back, though I was relieved to hear that they have liquidated their orca program.

When it comes to childhood heroes there’s no telling what shape or size they come in. To me Irwin was a hero because he had a passion fo

r some of the most extraordinary creatures in the world, and he did what should be a goal for everyone: he died doing what he loved.

-JOE

Saturday, February 18, 2017

Dear Evan Hansen and Guy Friends


From the Playbill
Recently I was introduced to the musical "Dear Evan Hansen". A brief synopsis of the plot is that a socially introverted high schooler is assigned to write positive letters to himself by his therapist. Another social introvert and drug abuser finds one of his letters that mentions his sister and takes the letter. A day later the stoner kills himself and the letter the introvert wrote is believed to be the kids suicide note. The parents believe that introvert was their son's only friend, and so as not to add to their pain, introvert plays along and fabricates a relationship with the stoner.

The Liar Revealed 
Friends who cosplay together stay together
Its your basic liar revealed story, in the company of Aladdin, the Beautician and the Beast, and The Talented Mr. Ripley, but the thing that I keep thinking about is this one song in the play titled "For Forever". At this point Introvert is trying to explain his secret friendship to the stoner's parents, so he gives an example of the perfect day he had with the stoner. Usually this is the point in the story where the liar has to make up some lies on the spot in order to keep from being caught and is usually played for laughs but here it’s done in a different way. Earlier we found out that before the story started the Introvert broke his arm climbing a tree, and so throughout the play he is seen in a cast. In his story to the stoners parents, he talks about wandering the woods with his best friend and them climbing the tree together and him accidentally falling with his friend immediately finding him and being there. The song paints the picture of a beautiful day between two guy friends. This was the first song I heard from the play, and at the time I just thought it was a beautiful song about two male friends, something rarely heard anywhere in music without the undercurrent of “No Homo”.

An Imagined Friendship
Nothing is better than a summer day with a friend
The idea of this imaginary friendship painted so beautifully intrigued me.  It’s revealed later in the play *SPOILER WARNING* that Introvert didn’t fall out of the tree, but actually jumped in his own attempt to commit suicide. So here we have him telling a story about this perfect day with a friend and in the process changing the narrative of his own real life story from being one of desperation and sadness to one of boyhood adventure. It makes me believe that the lie isn’t just to pacify the parents but is the kind of relationship Introvert actually wants. He wanted a perfect day. He wanted to be found in the woods by someone who loved him.

What Every Man Needs


Former MG writer and I
I wonder what the story would’ve been if the two characters had been friends in real life. If they’d looked past their differences and saw each other as two lonely young men in need of a true friend, a person to talk to, a shoulder to cry on, or even just someone to spend time with. I look at my own life at all the people I met in passing and judged them to be out of my league as far as friendship is concerned, or even worse, below me. I remember the imaginary friendships I made the times I was lonely and wonder if anyone made those imaginary friendships with me. It makes me want to take a good hard look at my world and ask “Who’s missing? Who needs to be found?”
Even Aang gets photobombed
#youwillbefound

-JOE

Thursday, February 16, 2017

I'll Make a Man Out of You

(This post was originally posted on my personal blog in July 2011)

This blog post has been coming for a long time. It’s just been hard to put it into words. Many of my friends from Hill Cumorah Pageant will remember belting out “I’ll Make a Man Out of You” during karaoke on Hobart Day. There is also a Youtube video that Garrett showed me of him belting out this song (big mistake, buddy, haha). I also have memories of my friend, Michele Smith (who is now on her mission in Japan), playing this song whenever we (me, her, Melissa, and Eric) were going somewhere in Eric’s car. I absolutely love this song. It is such a goofy, weird, and strangely spiritually inspirational song.


The day my district left the MTC for Toronto, we were walking across the MTC campus in the early morning, this song was going through my head. Maybe it was because we were up so early… maybe it was because we’d spent three weeks straight trying to train ourselves to think spiritually… maybe it’s just because I’m weird… I started to analyze this song spiritually, in regards to a mission, so here we go:

The biggest point of this song, spiritually, that I saw came from a conversation I’d once had with Juliana about guys and missions. The point of the conversation had been that missions turn boys into men. In other words, the mission will “make a man out of you.” Get it? ;) A mission (hopefully) will teach a young man to follow the Spirit, to learn the gospel, and what is most important. Even after only the three and a half months I was out, people could see this in me.


I’m sure I could break down most of the lines of this song to have some spiritual meaning, but there’s one part that means something to me particularly right now as I come closer to finding out about returning to my mission (even if I don’t know exactly when I will find out): “You’re unsuited for the rage of war. So, pack up, go home. You’re through. How could I make a man out of you?” I mentioned the spiritual application of this part to Garrett in one of my letters. Oddly enough (or not oddly, for anyone who knows me and him) he had been thinking of a spiritual application to this song too and he’d gotten stuck on this line. My spiritual application that I told him was this: the line is Satan telling us we’re no good, we can’t make it the rest of the way, and we can’t do it. If you remember from the movie, though, this line in the song is said and Mulan is about to leave. She turns around, sees the pole, arrow, and medals from the original challenge that Shang had given them. She goes back and makes it up the pole.


Life seems to get hard just before something good happens (so I’m expecting something good pretty quick). Satan tells us we’re not good enough or strong enough to make it through the trial. If we give up when he tells us to though, we’ll miss out on the prize that our Heavenly Father has in store for us.  He will never ask us to do more than we can handle (1 Corinthians 10:13; 1 Nephi 3:7). When Joseph Smith was in the Sacred Grove, the adversary attacked him. By his own account, Joseph Smith was just about to give up, when the light of Heaven began to appear (JS-H 1:16). He will rescue us in our darkest hour. That I know for certain.