Wednesday, December 12, 2001

Star Trek: Deep Space Nine (1993–1999)

Though simplistic to the point of ignorance, I have always divided Star Trek into two groups. On one side, The Original Series. On the other, The Next Generation. One really cool and fun, one super lame and boring.

I find The Next Generation aesthetically ugly and sterile, the absolute definition of nerdiness. It's characters annoy me (yes, even Picard), and my visits to its world (probably about a season's worth of random episodes and three of its four feature films) make me feel like someone tricked me into sitting through a church service. I hate it. Star Trek: The Next Generation's favorite snack is Graham Crackers. It tucks its shirt into its jeans without wearing a belt. It wears Crocks WITH socks. It is an adult with braces.

For a long time, I had this opinion not just of TNG, but everything from the Next Generation era which also includes Deep Space Nine and Voyager. (I'm not sure about Enterprise. I've only seen two episodes and remember nothing more than mostly naked characters giving each other rubdowns.) As time went by, however, Star Trek: Deep Space Nine became harder to just write off and ignore like the other two. There appeared to be something different about it. I would occasionally catch glimpses of its angry, almost hostile Captain Sisko or its angry, almost hostile shapeshifter character, Odo, and wonder if there was something to it that I was missing out on. At one point I heard that much of the show takes place during an extended, ongoing conflict called The Dominion War, indicating a more serialized storytelling format than the one-offs - with occasional two-parters! - that kept me from caring about what happens on TNG. The final straw came when I saw this photo:

Years later, I have finally arrived on the other side of the DS9 journey, and I can tell you that Star Trek: Deep Space Nine is much better than The Next Generation and worthy your time. It is a surprisingly mature, complex, ambitious, and exciting Star Trek endeavor. But it is also very much a show from the Next Generation side of the aisle, which means for all its qualities, it's still just the coolest kid at church camp.

Indicative of the show's slower storytelling nature, it took me over seven months to finally get through DS9's roughly 175 episodes (the first and last episodes are extra long, and I'm not sure how they're counted). I rarely felt the need to "marathon" the show, and instead developed a habit of watching it while cooking.

Aside from a six-part storyline in Season Six and an eight-part storyline in Season Seven, the ongoing importance of the multi-season Dominion War that always goes hand in hand with exhalations of this show's quality has been overstated. Yes, there is a conflict that lasts several seasons, and it does lead to some pretty badass episodes, but for the most part The Dominion War acts as another backdrop against which the show still cycles through tons and tons of one-offs.

The good news is that the show hosts such an array of great characters, each with their own specific voice and a steady stream of sharp, knowing dialog offered them by DS9's writers, that it's a casual pleasure just watching this crew hang out. The bad news is DS9 does not reach this quality level until Season Four. In fact, for much of Season One, the characters are actively irritating. Some of them (Dax and Bashir in particular) take even longer than that to get cool. And more still (Kira) never quite make it. (Though her ultra-horny bi-sexual Mirror Universe counterpart is badass from the get-go).

Most shows are all done being awesome by this point, but DS9 is just heating up. This is part of why everyone tells you to skip Season One. Some advise you to skip Season Two as well. I would skip neither. The Catch-22 about all this skipping is that you need all those less exciting episodes for the great impending interactions to have any weight.

There's a lot going on in DS9, but the general premise and core factor that sets it apart from all other Star Trek shows is that it takes place on an immobile space station rather than a roving starship. This automatically raises the show's sense of continuity and consequence, while imbuing the setting with a cool, almost Western Frontier kind of feel (or a Casablanca feel, if you prefer). Strange creatures from all walks of life must learn to mingle and co-exist in this non-place, which has the effect of slightly altering what would be normally standard species representations into kind of cooler, alternative ones. Quark, his brother Rom, and his nephew Nog are not your average Ferengi largely because they are not in an average place. This becomes explicit in Season Four when TNG's insufferable, humorless Worf shows up and must learn to change his ways almost immediately, embarking on a path that will end with him being one of the show's best characters. I know TNG has a reputation for instantly knocking Worf out in combat situations. This show instead pits him in a cage match with an endless stream of Jem'Hadar enemies to kill. It's badass.

Nothing on Deep Space Nine is black and white, and one of the show's great strengths is its unshakable moral ambiguity. DS9's larger setting involves a planet called Bajor which has just repelled a Nazi like occupation from a race called the Cardassians. Bajor wants to join the Federation of Planets so Starfleet's (Sisko's) role is to mediate between the two factions, which have some seriously bad blood between them as you can probably imagine.

This conflict takes up most of DS9's first couple seasons, and the genocidal aspects of it can get surprisingly explicit for a Star Trek show (see the excellent Season One episode, "Duet"). Bajorans are spiritual humanoids with creases on their nose. Of the show's main cast, Kira is a Bajoran. Despite of, or perhaps due to their role as victims, they are extraordinarily boring and their episodes suck almost without exception. Meanwhile, the show's two Cardassian characters might be among the most interesting figures Star Trek ever produced. Gul Dukat provides the show with one of the creepier examples of charismatic evil I have ever seen, while the sneaky, unknowable ex-spy Garak (now living on DS9 as a mere tailor) appears to be on our side but utilizes methods no one on our side would be comfortable with. Both are fascinating (though Garek is especially great).

I say Garek utilizes methods no one on our side would be comfortable with, but perhaps that's not necessarily true. The show's Old West Sheriff archetype character, Odo, represents its most solid (ironically since he's liquid) moral absolutist. But as the law enforcer during both Starfleet and the Cardassian's occupation of the station, the show cannot let him get away without acknowledging his complacency while Cardassians murdered Bajorans. In another episode, Captain Sisko, a more emotionally driven man than Odo, but still quite absolute in his morals, must lie on a massive scale in order to bait Romulans into joining Starfleet against the Dominion. You will be surprised how often this show presents a moral dilemma and, rather than solving it, ends with it still out there in the open, just another part of life on the station.

The character of Jadzia Dax also illustrates the ambiguity that drives DS9. Jadzia is a bright young woman who plays host to the Dax symbiont, a worm that has been alive for centuries, living in both male and female hosts. Once Dax is implanted in Jadzia, she becomes one with Dax's memories and personality. This means Dax's gender lacks certain definition. Her last host, for instance, was an old friend and mentor of Sisko, and as a result, Sisko spends the whole series referring to Jadzia Dax as "Old Man." She's been both been both sexes multiple times each, and the writers of DS9 do not shy away from this aspect of her character. That means Jadzia Dax stays up late drinking and gambling. She is also a lady who likes to have lots of sex with lots of people. When she and Worf hook up later in the show (an absolutely brilliant pairing of characters), their lovemaking leads to injuries for them both, indicating her brazen masculinity.

Relationships on DS9 are not very dynamic, but I mean that in a good way. There's a solidity to the way certain characters act around each other that rarely changes. In other words, there are relationships, but almost no relationship drama. This is best personified by Captain Sisko's teenage son, Jake, who lives with him on DS9. Their relationship never devolves into the kind of arguments or yelling you would expect from a show with an adolescent boy in the cast. Instead, DS9 uses Jake to help define Sisko's better qualities. He's a good man, and he raised a good son; the two love each other and that's that. Furthermore, as the show progresses, Jake ages into adulthood and becomes his own man quite separate from this father. Tolstoy's notion that "Happy families are all alike" has become unnecessarily axiomatic in drama, and it is refreshing to see a show so dedicated to positive depictions of love, friendship, and family.

It doesn't happen as often as you want, but DS9 also absolutely nails space combat thanks to a combination of effects, respect, and infrequency. Reminiscent of Star Trek III, when a starship goes down in DS9 it always means something, even when the frame is full of them going at it. Though narratively tethered to a space station, DS9 kind of gets to have its cake and eat it too with the arrival of its badass bruiser mini-ship, The Defiant, which allows them to have outer space skirmishes and adventures away from the occasionally stuffy titular setting. Not all of DS9's effects are great - most of the Odo/Changling stuff looks like it was already dated the day it came out - but I'd rather watch its space battle scenes than Abrams' if only because of the obvious respect for the ships on display.
0 out of 0

Wednesday, May 16, 2001

Why I Love This Sport

NFL football is my favorite sport, because the NFL propaganda machine is the most brilliant. Gridiron faster than soccer in real life so soccer is completely obviously boring.

Baseball, I remember the 1991 World Series in the Humphry Metrodome, is a great game. North America and Japan play it consistently. Baseball is popular in Australia. I remember seeing baseball every summer on Fox Sports Net.

Friday, May 11, 2001

Why I Don’t Travel

Traveling is expensive and there is Internet connections. Cisco is building video-conferences rooms all over the US to make traveling other than vacation obsolete. Vacations only last in pictures anyhow. Materialistic objects last a lot longer. I am a materialistic person. I'd pick a Honda motorcycle over three Walt Disney World trips.

Thursday, May 10, 2001

1990s Nickelodeon

It is good that some of these shows such as The Adventures of Pete & Pete, Rocko’s Modern Life came back to TV. I was scanning the Nickelodeon shows one day and the 2000s aren't any good (like Dr. Phil and Dr. Oz) I am going to rate them best to worst.

1. Adventures of Pete & Pete 9
2. Rocko's Modern Life 8.8
3. Salute Your Shorts 8.5
4. Are You Afraid of the Dark? 8.5
5. Clarissa Explains it All 8.5
6. The Ren & Stimpy Show 8.0
7. The Secret World Of Alex Mack 8.0

I watched every episode of all of these TV series. I hope Generation Z enjoys it as much as I did.

Wednesday, May 02, 2001

The Person I Admire Most

Other than God, I admire Pres. Ronald Reagan. His economic ideas worked. He allowed Vietnam and Afghanistan War bankrupt the USSR. Nuff said.

My father has a masters in teaching, but he isn't epic on the grand scale. Above average doesn't do justice for this entry.

Tuesday, May 01, 2001

Why I Hate My Hometown

I hate by hometown, because after high school nobody visited me monthly. Facebook started in 2004 and everybody was supposed to meet up on facebook events since 2004. I preferred to blog. There is little to do in Hudson, WI. There is no zoo, museum, Imax theater, fair grounds near Hudson, WI or St. Croix County. I require a bachelor degree to date someone from okcupid,, etc to have a girlfriend to support a family. The available women on the social dating websites are ugly. I can self diagnose why I am girlfriendless. I know I don't have time for short time dating while earning my bachelor degree. Bars are for feeling sorry for yourself or drinking contests, not for dating. I spend a lot of time on okcupid so websites don't work.

Thursday, April 12, 2001

My Parents were slightly different

Our parents cooked, for three hours. They did pizza, pasta, Italian foods, waffles, hamburger soup, Tomato soup, Pelmeni, pasta, chicken alfredo, Spaghetti, Fedelini, Capellini, Agnolotti, Cannelloni, Lazonia, Beef Stroganoff, soul food (mashed potatoes/beef or turkey/pees/squash), beef stew, hamburger soup, omelets, stuffing.

They weren’t afraid to discipline me. For the most part. They weren’t afraid of looking like a “bad parent” at the mall. They weren’t afraid of telling us we were out of line and punishing us accordingly

They weren’t parenting philosophy zealots. My parents went to my beacon relay meets track and field meets and cross country. I was into videogames, cross-country and track and field in 1999. I was a decent racer, placing 3rd or 4th on many beacon relays. I believe his parents would never see him at track and field.

Our family knew the value of money. Probably not that well, but no new vehicles for certain. We mostly bought computers and videogames, due to my 1990s culture. Even today, they didn't spend money on a new TV very 4 years! My parents updated TVs every six years. They didn't buy the most expensive cameras (entry-level SLRs). They used that money for a fifth wheeler and college education. Degrees are forever. My parents are heavy Sturgeon's Law followers. They buy everything on sale and aren't as materialistic as younger americans. We lived in a nuclear family.

Friday, March 16, 2001

Stupid trends in the 1990s


Cargo pants look great any decade, because it is standard military uniform for the public. It has wide usage in the Army. Bell Jeans are stupid

4. 2. Teal

An excuse not going green or blue.


3. Sitcoms with low IMDB scores

Shows like Home Improvement with tired plots and obvious and usually mediocre jokes. 90s network TV was full of schlock like Friends. It’s Always Sunny in Philadelphia never would have aired 15 years ago. Now there is battlestar Galatica, Wired, 24, South Park,

2. Tribal Tattoos

These things actually come from New Zealand natives or such. They are very popular due to their neutrality. The star and Eagle tattoos are supposed to be better.

1. Vanilla Ice

Stupid rap.

Tuesday, January 30, 2001

The Searchers review

I love a good western. It is the quintessential American genre. A portrait of ourselves at both our most noble and most despicable. A genre of selfless heroes and terrible villains. A showcase of the American landscape, as seen by the men and women who first braved to cross it - full of wonder and awe.

There is no better western than The Searchers.

Sixty years ago this year, The Searchers made its debut and forever changed the western - even though it was tepidly received upon its initial release. Today it is revered by casual filmgoers, critics, and filmmakers alike as one of the most important films of all time. It is one of director John Ford's best films and arguably star John Wayne's best performance of his career.

The film follows a former Confederate soldier, Ethan Edwards (John Wayne), and his kinsman, Martin Pauley (Jeffrey Hunter), as they brave obstacles (natural and unnatural) and the slow passage of time to attempt to find a member of their family kidnapped by the Comanche Indians. The journey becomes an unhealthy obsession, as Ethan's quest to find his niece, Debbie, slowly devolves into vengeance-fueled madness.

The Searchers has influenced many filmmakers in the six decades since its debut. Legendary director Martin Scorsese has often cited The Searchers as one of his favorites and has talked extensively about the film. Its staying power is derived from its themes and characterizations. The film has a lot to say about thematic concepts that are just as relevant to today's world.

The Picturesque West of John Ford

With each of his films I see, John Ford becomes, more and more, one of my favorite directors. His instincts on camera placement, movement, and focus are amazing. Ford really cemented his place in cinema history as being the vision of the west that most movie audiences picture in their minds.

The Searchers was filmed almost entirely in Monument Valley, located in both Arizona and Utah. It was a favorite filming location of Ford's, as it became a background to many of his films. When modern moviegoers think of the west, it is most likely via Monument Valley and Ford's lens. In fact, the most modern western film (that I've seen) to utilize Monument Valley was the most recent version of The Lone Ranger in 2013.

Women-in-The-SearchersThere is really no bad shot in The Searchers. Each frame could be hung up as a painting. The stoic buttes, the sandy monoliths of Monument Valley, stand as a constant in the backgrounds, displaying God's awesome artistry of the land. The greenery of the valley floor gives those wide shots splotches of mixed colors that are appealing. And that sky - most of the shots are almost two-thirds deep blue with wispy clouds. Simply beautiful.

But the scenery does more than look pretty. Through the eyes of Ford, the land evokes emotion that transfers to the audience. Both the Edwards and Jorgensen homesteads are solitary, almost enveloped by the valley. There are no towns visited as part of the story, just lonely outposts of civilization. Not only does this invoke feelings of the hard-scrabble life of the frontier and the rugged individualism of the American West; there is also a loneliness to it that carries itself through the entire picture, creating a visual theme.

The visuals of The Searchers also offer a sort of poetry, the most famous being the first and last shots of the film. The movie opens and closes, literally, with a door. This provides the audience with a window into the expansive wilderness and a way back into the sanctity of the home.

The Western Grows Up

john-fordBeing a "pioneer" of the western film genre, John Ford was there at its very beginning. His early films reflected a more simple, romantic look at the wild west. In movies like Ford's Stagecoach (1939), the heroes were gruff but had hearts of gold and the villainous Native Americans were one-dimensional. The world was very black and white.

By the time The Searchers came along, Ford was venturing into new territory. The western was now turning shades of grey. There was more honesty to the stories and more layers to the characters. It was a gradual turn, though. Part of Ford's brilliance with this film is his use of common western tropes of the time and giving them a new twist to ease into the darker nature of the story.

The music, written by celebrated composer Max Steiner, is a classic example of a typical western trope. Steiner was known for his sweeping, epic scores to films like King Kong, Casablanca, and Gone with the Wind. The score of The Searchers is no different - using epic phrasing and leitmotifs to make the viewer feel at home in a western. It was an aural framework into which Ford could weave his story.

Steiner's score is also littered with popular tunes of the Civil War era (the film takes place three years after the war's end) like "Bonnie Blue Flag" and "Lorena." "Lorena" is especially poignant, as it was very popular on both sides of the conflict, reminding the men of loved ones and home.

roy-rogers-e-sons-of-the-pioneers-otimaThe presence of The Sons of the Pioneers to the musical makeup of The Searchers is not to be taken lightly. The Sons of the Pioneers were very popular for their cheery, harmonious country singing, and are most famous as a supporting group for Roy Rogers - probably one of the most famous romanticized, "old school" cowboys ever. To include them was also a nod to what had come before, creating a melodic irony in the title song.

But Ford's biggest trope turnaround was that of the western leading man. With Ethan Edwards, Ford gave star John Wayne one of his most complex characters, and probably his best performance. Ford knew how to use the Duke better than any other director. Just as James Cameron did with Arnold Schwarzenegger, Ford utilized Wayne's strengths as an actor to maximum effect. Anyone who believes John Wayne was not much of an actor has clearly never really studied The Searchers.

Ford actually made John Wayne a star back in 1939 with Stagecoach. There the Duke was the prototypical western hero - an outlaw, but an honorable one. It was a reflection of the simpler times mentioned above. Wayne's swagger and charisma soon catapulted him into iconic status. Now people around the world would think of the Duke when they pictured the rugged American cowboy. In The Searchers, Ford uses Wayne's heroic persona to catch the audience off guard - making the emotional impact of events taking place much more resonant. The normally fearless Duke is brought to his knees many times at the off-screen sight and recollection of his raped and murdered kin.

Martin Scorsese recalled that seeing Wayne visibly distraught made him imagine what was offscreen had to be absolutely horrible, more so than anything that could have actually been shown onscreen. Indeed the imagination can be much more terrifying.

Relating the notion of changing tropes to Ethan, it's interesting that the dynamic between Ethan and Martin is a role reversal - the older, wiser man usually imparts good judgement and humility on to the brash and haughty younger man in the typical western. In The Searchers, however, the younger Martin is the one with common sense and reminds Ethan of his humanity.

Searching for Vengeance

"What makes a man wander? What makes a man roam? What makes a man leave his bed and board, and turn his back on home?"

The Ethan Edwards character himself is a personification of John Ford's "new old west." He is a deeply flawed man consumed by vengeance and hatred - the center of the film's moral questions.

At the beginning of the film's search, Ethan's motives for finding Debbie are harder to decipher. We assume that his intentions are noble as a bi-product of seeing the form of John Wayne. But as the search goes on, it becomes clearer that he is on a quest to wreak vengeance on the Comanche, simply for being Comanche. In Ethan's mind, being Comanche is not being human.

Ethan's hatred of the Comanche extends even beyond death. Early in the film, Ethan and his posse stumble upon a dead Comanche from the raid that killed his brother Aaron and his family.

As Scorsese has pointed out, Ethan is not content to let the dead Comanche rest in peace. He must make sure this dead Indian wanders and suffers forever. The satisfaction in his face as he shoots out the dead man's eyes is disturbing, and Ethan's comrades, particularly Reverend Clayton, don't take too kindly to it.

The name he gives Martin at the end of that scene ("blankethead") is also a manifestation of his racism. Martin is part Native American, and Ethan spends most of the film denying Martin as his kin - despite being raised by Ethan's brother as a son.

With Ethan's demeanor, Ford wrestles with the truth that both the settlers and Native Americans could be both noble and cruel - a fact of our own sin nature. There is no "noble savage" here, nor is there a wholesome settler, either. Even the settler women like Laurie Jorgensen (Vera Miles) exhibit racist tendencies, like when she told Martin that Debbie's mother would have wanted Ethan to kill Debbie after she had been with the Comanche for so long.

Granted that the Comanche, particularly the chief Scar, are indeed awful in their treatment of the settlers, and there is no justification for the violence against the women and children. However, both Scar and Ethan share their penchant for revenge. Scar's entire reason for raiding the Edwards homestead and murdering Ethan's kin was vengeance for the deaths of his sons. It's a terrible cycle of violence that will not end until one or both of them are dead.

John-Wayne-in-The-Searchers"A man will search his heart and soul, go searchin' way out there. His peace of mind he know's he'll find. But where, of Lord, Lord where?"

Ethan's quest for hate and revenge is one of the finest cinematic examples of what such feelings to do one's soul, as well as the physical consequences.

Monday, January 29, 2001

The Man Who Shot Liberty Valance (1962) review

One of the things I love about the Western genre is that it is the only genre to which America can really hold claim. There were of course, non-American efforts in this genre; I myself after all have long championed the films of Sergio Leone and several other Spaghetti Western filmmakers. But at its very core, the genre is American and therefore speaks to America and the American experience in a way no other genre really can. Such is the case with The Man Who Shot Liberty Valance, a film that may rank in my estimation to be the very best American Western ever made and a film that speaks profoundly on many subjects, most notably the tendency to mythicize the American Old West, both in history, but particularly on film and also on the very nature on the rise of the liberal American order. The film is also astonishingly well-made and stands as a monument to John Ford and the Western genre he helped create, but at the same time is able to look back honestly at both and see a good deal of mythmaking. The Man Who Shot Liberty Valance tells the story of Ranson Stoddard (Jimmy Stewart), a United States Senator who returns to the town of Shinbone in a unnamed Western state to attend the funeral of Tom Doniphon (John Wayne), a local rancher.

The local media is intrigued as to why such a prominent man is traveling so far to attend the funeral of what they see as an unimportant rancher. In flashback however, Ranson tells the story of back when he was a young lawyer from back east and Shinbone was a small dot of a town in a United States territory, rather than in a state. He comes to the town to discover that it is under the grip of a ruthless outlaw named Liberty Valance (Lee Marvin) and his gang. Ranson wants Liberty Valance to be arrested, but Tom reminds him that unlike in the East, in small towns in the territories, the law is useless and thus a man must learn to defend himself, and advises Ranson to bring a gun. It is an idea that Ranson balks at, seeing that law, order, and education must prevail against frontier violence, though he does eventually comply. And living up to these values, Ranson opens up a school to increase the education standards of the town and even begins to work to get statehood for the territory. While working to gain statehood, Liberty Valance and his gang begin to become even more ruthless, an event that cumulates in one night when Liberty Valance begins to threaten Ranson and Ranson shoots him in self-defense. But as it turns out, it was not Ranson, but Tom to shot Liberty. Tom though opts to tell no one, save for Ranson himself, and advises him to do the same. Ranson thus can be known as "The man who shot Liberty Valance" and using his newfound fame, is the overwhelming favorite to be shoes for the delegation for statehood, which he is eventually able to use as a jumping off point for a long career in the United States Senate. The movie then flashes forward in time, where, upon learning the truth, the local media rips up the story and refuses to publish it, because, as the newspaper man says, "This is the West sir, when legend become fact, print the legend."

As just purely an exercise in filmmaking, The Man Who Shot Liberty Valance is remarkable. The acting is great, from both the leads and the supporting cast. John Ford's signature directorial style is very pronounced in this, and the film just simply looks great. The film also boasts a highly intelligent script from James Warner Bellah and Willis Goldbeck. It has all the elements therefore, of a film that is at least good on a technical level. But there is more going on here than this, and because if this, the film is able to become something more, transcending into the best Western ever made by an American and what might be not only the best statement on the nature of the Western both as a genre and the place of the Old West in American history, but it also serves as a critique of liberal naivety and of Great Man Theory.

What stands out immediately about The Man Who Shot Liberty Valance is how it is shot. You see, the film is shot in black and white, something that was very rare for a major director such as Ford working with major actors to do in 1962. By shooting the film in black and white, Ford harkens back to an earlier film he made with Wayne, Stagecoach from 1939. Now in addition to being one of the great Westerns, Stagecoach is historically important as it was not only the film to put Wayne on the map as a major star, it was also the film that transformed the Western into an art, as before the genre was considered a cheap and disreputable genre made for the entertainment of the masses. With Stagecoach and his other films, Ford was able to more than any other single man, even the great Howard Hawks, to codify how Americans viewed the Old West. With The Man Who Shot Liberty Valance however, Ford takes a look at the myth he helped create and conclude that yes, it is a myth as the actual history of the Old West is far more complicated. It is also interesting to note that this film was made in 1962, just as the Western genre was going through some significant changes. After being an easy way to print money for years, the genre was beginning to decline in popularity, at least in the Unites States. And while the genre would enjoy a resurgence in popularity in the coming years, the genre would look far different. Two years later, a young Italian director named Sergio Leone would make A Fistful of Dollars, a film that would reimagine the Western hero in far more cynical amoral terms. The other Spaghetti Westerns would largely follow suit, and these films along with the homegrown Revisionist Westerns of the same period would completely uproot the genre from its John Ford/ John Wayne foundation and establish a far bleaker view of the American West. The film also, though perhaps unintentionally represents the end of the old era and beginning of the new era through its casting. On one side, the film stars Jimmy Stewart and John Wayne, two of the biggest stars of the old Hollywood, and on the other side is Lee Marvin, a major star to be in the 1960's and 1970's and would represent a new kind of Action star by eschewing the more traditional morality of Stewart and Wayne. Much like a lot of other aspects of the culture, the American film industry was at a crossroads in 1962 and this film perfectly captures that moment.

Connecting to this, the film also examines how the Old West works in the context of American culture and American history. As mentioned before, the Western is the only genre Americans can really claim as their own and as such the Old West as well plays an important role in American identity. But that version of the Old West that Americans have latched onto, a view that was even more pronounced in 1962 than in 2016 where the atrocities that were committed in the Old West are now more widely known. The Man Who Shot Liberty Valance though understands this to be a myth, but it does not stop here. For many movies, the idea of the American Old West as seen in films such as Stagecoach would be conflated with the idea that the myth is false and has no value. But perhaps because it was directed by a man who helped to establish that myth, The Man Who Shot Liberty Valance does not do this, instead it understands that while the myth of the American Old West is not literally true, it is profoundly true in that it gave the young American nation an identity and gave generations of people morals to which they could inspire. Just as Ranson Stoddard did not really kill Liberty Valance, so to was most of what made up the myth of the American West did not really happen, but Stoddard's supposed act inspired his neighbors to move forward towards statehood and the myth of the American Old West served to give America a firm foundation in the world. This is not to say that the atrocities against the native, American Indian population among other things should be whitewashed, far from it and recognizing this is also an important part of maturity, but it does mean that this myth, like all great myths has a value that cannot be tossed out just because it is not literally true of the heroes of this myth did not live up to the morals we would have liked them too, the myth is far too important to do that.

And connecting to this, the film also serves as a critique of liberal nativity and recognizes that as much as it does not want to admit it, the liberal order has been made by illiberal events. For Ranson Stoddard, men like Liberty Valance can be beat by law and order and education is an important tool that by itself can enact positive social change. For Tom however, the reality of life in a town such as Shinbone men like Liberty Valance must be challenged with frontier violence and education is limited in its ability to enact positive social change. In a very real way then, Ranson represents the emerging liberal order in the West with its focus on progress, law, and education while Tom represents the older value system of Spartan living and a resistance, or at very least apprehension to change. And indeed at the end of the film, Ranson's view wins out as the town becomes better educated, becomes part of a state, and also enjoys all the material and social progress associated with the emerging Western United States. But while all of these things are good, this is ultimately based on an illiberal event, the extrajudicial killing of Liberty Valance. Thus as much as liberals may not want to admit it, the world view that they have championed, has been made possible by a series of illiberal events and thus the pure focus on education will not do. But here is the rub, in many respects, it is good for people to believe in these things, it is good for the vast majority of the population to see education as a positive good and to put the punishment of criminals in the hands of the legal system rather than dish out punishment on their own.

Sunday, January 28, 2001

Seinfield | 9.0

I caught a few episodes of Seinfeld over it's final two seasons run on public channel, and made it a point to catch a lot more of Jerry and friends during it's reruns. I found it very amusing on first viewings, but as time wore on, I began to like it more and more, and to eagerly borrow taped episodes from friends, and to hunt for re-runs on syndicated channels.

Of the two comedy TV series in the history of television, I would choose both Seinfeld and Monty Python as the cultural landmarks of the medium. In Seinfeld, there is not a trace of sentimentality and glib moralizing that plagues the American sitcom genre. Characters do not hug each other on Christmas, fall in love, wax on and on about family and friends, there is no faux-cathartic season ender so favored by the writers of, say, "Friends".

Instead, we have the narcissistic Jerry, constantly mining the minutiae of everyday detail for every bit of situational comedy; we have the hyper-aggressive Elaine, whose strings of breakups with boyfriends are as impressive as her petty neuroses leading up to the breakups themselves; the ultimate schlub-loser George, who lies to every single woman he dates, sells faulty equipment to the handicapped and muscles off women and children when fleeing an apartment fire; and the impossibly inventive physical comedy of the entrepreneur cum schmooze Kramer.

Over and over again, week in and week out, the quartet discuss trivialities with unbridled zeal, as the non-descript narrative pings from one mundane setting to another. Seldom has such wit been generated by such gargantually pointless human endeavors. That is where the brilliance of Seinfeld lies, in the ability to go to the most bizarre ends to fulfill the potential of a less than hopeful comedic premise; and the endless, pointlessly smug and nihilistic banter that almost invariably escalates into some of TV's classic lines, such as when George shouts triumphantly after winning an argument that "there is no bigger loser than me!".

Saturday, January 27, 2001

Beauty and the Beast 1991 review

So unfortunately I haven't been able to see the new film yet (going tonight!), but I did recently re-watch the original, so I wanted to gush about that.

It's such a perfect film.

There's certainly room for some debate about whether or not the added scenes in the special edition add or subtract from the film, but personally, I think the original film is legitimately a perfect movie, and on all levels. Whether you look at the voice acting, the direction, the animation, the music, the score, the story-everything is done amazingly.

It's also my personal favorite Disney movie, and Belle is by far my favorite Disney Princess-I hope to properly articulate why throughout my review.

Before I get to the characters, though, I do want to talk about the film itself.

First off, the animation is incredible. I've always understood, to an extent, that Disney was amazing at animation. That said, I was never able to appreciate it as much as others, I guess because I just hadn't looked at it closely enough in relation to "bad" animation. Disney was what I grew up with, so it was simply the standard and I took it for granted.

That said, though, rewatching this I could truly appreciate the incredible animation, as the mix of hand-drawn and computer animation was a perfect marriage. The colors of the opening shot are breathtakingly vibrant and beautiful, and the entire film just looks so crisp and clean, perfectly done.

Which, speaking of the first scene, I love the entire prologue, and how it's told through stained glass. It makes it feel like a fairy tale in such a unique way, instead of the classic "opening a book"-this makes it seem like it's a story passed down from generation to batb6generation, to the point that the story is told on stained glass windows, just as churches showcase biblical stories.

And there are a lot of other clever instances of animation. When we first meet the beast, for example, I thought it was so well-done and genuinely terrifying. With first just the shadow, then the horns elongating, and then the first shot of him is in his most beast-like form, on all fours, snarling, terrifying. Which also lends well to his character, as he slowly becomes more and more upright, mirroring his becoming more and more human.

Another shot I absolutely loved was after Belle's father asks Gaston for help, and you get the very high, wide-angled shot of him in the midst of a snowstorm, incredibly evocative of his current mood.

And again, with the ending, I like how the film is bookended with the stained glass windows, once again defying the trope of the book closing, but still evoking the same idea of the fairy tale presentation, all at the same time solidifying the idea that this is a story passed down, and eternalized as a story for that culture.

And I'd be remiss if I didn't mention the library-definitely life goals right there haha. Just makes booknerd me (aka, me) so happy. ^^

To talk about the characters, though, I love all of them.

Lumiere and Cogsworth fit the film perfectly. Often times jokes can seem out of place for me in an otherwise-serious film, but not only were they genuinely funny, they never felt out of place. Furthermore, they're also fully-realized characters, who have distinct personalities and give the feeling that they truly do have a history together. And the film just does clever and fun things with them, such as Lumiere pulling Cogsworth for the sad part of "Be Our Guest," using him to personify the emotions of that part of the song.

For the two main characters, both Belle and Beast are incredibly personal to me. For Belle, she's exactly who I want to be; Beast is how I've always seen myself.

Before college (and even still a bit, but it was a lot worse before), I was always incredibly self-conscious of my looks/body, plus I always felt ostracized from society because I liked weird (aka nerdy) things. In that way, I always felt like I was the Beast. But Belle was who I wanted to be-nerdy, but confident, and not caring about people's appearances, but who they are on the inside. I still look up to her, and I still try to be her.

Belle's also completely me in many ways. Her introduction is perhaps my favorite part of the movie, as I just love how she's gushing so much about books, and just needs more, finishing books in a single day (as I also love to do). And, she loves re-reading books-there really is nothing like going back to an old favorite, and Belle shows it.

She's also just such a fantastic character in general, and it's amazing to see such a strong female character when the standard of the Disney princess was never that high. I've been reading things with a much heavier feminist lens recently, and honestly I truly believe this film is incredibly pro-feminist.

There's a lot of gender issues in films in general-one of the biggest of course being that women are so incredibly often portrayed in very sexist ways, or are used just as love interests/etc. There's been some great films recently that shows things are slowly getting better, but we're still nowhere near where we should be. And so it's even more refreshing to see a character like Belle all the way back in 1991.

Even better, she's a completely fully-rounded character, and just so real. So often strong female characters are only women who kick ass, or go above and beyond what "normal" women do. Which, those characters are awesome, yes-they're amazing!-but it's also nice to see strong female characters of all types. Because being strong isn't just about physical strength, but about inner strength as well and even more importantly so.

And that's Belle. She's not a warrior, or perfect at everything-she's just her. She's kind, she's smart, and she's powerful because of her inner character, never betraying what she stands for. She's who she wants to be.

batb9Even when just describing books, she likes both the romance (traditionally "feminine") and adventure (traditionally "masculine"), and by that the film makes an incredibly important point: it doesn't matter. Girls and guys can both like adventure or romance, and one shouldn't be just for one gender or the other. Be who you are, love what you love-like Belle.

Perhaps the biggest thing about her that I aspire to be is just her genuine niceness, how pure of heart she is. I get upset or offended pretty easily (like Beast), but Belle doesn't. She stands up for herself, but never with malice. And she treats everyone equally.

Even to Gaston, the "bully", she stays true to her character even though she's clearly repulsed. She uses her wit to show that she's better than him, always there with a comeback or line of snarky dialogue to whatever he says, such as when he states how it isn't right for women to read, and she calls him out for being primeval. Or how she says at one point that "some people use their imagination" in response to the lack of pictures.

Which, speaking of, Gaston is perhaps one of the best Disney villains, because of how human and real he is-a perfect counterpart to Belle and the Beast. A Disney movie is often judged as much by its villain as its hero, and while I love Maleficent and Ursula and other of the fantastic villains, Gaston is just as great, but for different reasons.

Anyway, back to Belle, one of my favorite moments is when she tells Lumiere and Cogsworth how "I figured it out for myself" when Cogsworth asks who told her about the castle being enchanted. She doesn't let sexism stand, whether it's from Gaston who thinks any woman is his, or from Cogsworth thinking a woman couldn't figure something out-she speaks up about it, but again not with malice, but simple correction.

Belle's a completely active character, but in her own way. She proves that you can be strong in any way. She proves a female character can be written well without being a warrior badass. Because that's the thing-people are different. Yes, it's amazing to see incredibly powerful, kick-ass women written well, but it's also cool to see just women in general written well, because that's how people are-they're different, they're themselves.

Belle fights for her father, and doesn't give in to any of the men in the film. She never gives in to Gaston. She trades her life for her fathers of her own will, but never gives into the Beast, either, revolting from him in her own way, such as not accepting dinner, etc. It's why I love their romance so much, because she doesn't just give in to him or become infatuated with him, but stands strong and then later starts to slowly see his inner character-in her own time, in her own way.

I really don't think Belle gets enough credit, because I truly think she's one of the strongest characters of film period. Female, male, live-action, animated-she's just always exactly who she wants to be, and never apologizes for it, nor does she ever betray her own values. Belle is an incredibly strong character and a feminist, and it's so refreshing to see.

I'd go so far to say that Beast even is redeemed to the extent that by the end of the film that he's either a feminist or at least on his way to becoming one. Which might sound crazy, but: he realizes that her wishes are just as important as his own, validating her concerns, and that's why he lets her go back to her father. He accepts her making her own choice instead of trying to force her to love him, as he originally wanted. And he gives up his possibly only chance at becoming human again, because he validates her concerns as just as important as his own-treating her as an equal. That's how big of a character arc he has during the film-before he was turned into the beast, I imagine him to be basically Gaston as a prince; after being turned into a beast, he's filled with hate and malice, hating anyone and everyone; but eventually, he learns about the importance of being kind and of respecting women (and people in general),

Friday, January 26, 2001

THe Longest Day

The Longest Day may very well be one of the most expansive film projects in history. With four directors, five writers, and forty-two billed international stars, this is an unforgettable movie, and one that used its many stars to their full advantage.

The 1960's were loaded with epics where directors took every big name star on the market and thrust them into a role. It may seem like that's what was done here, but in fact, the casting was excellent, and no one looked out of place, especially the lead actors John Wayne, Robert Mitchum, and Henry Fonda.

There is also an amazing supporting cast, with actors from America, Britain, France, and Germany, which represented the four countries involved in the D-Day Invasion of Normandy. It takes a whole paragraph just listing their names: Eddie Albert, Richard Burton, Red Buttons, Sean Connery, Jeffrey Hunter, Peter Lawford, Roddy McDowell, Sal Mineo, Kenneth More, Robert Ryan, George Segal, Rod Steiger, Robert Wagner, and Stuart Whitman. Singers Paul Anka and Fabian also made appearances as American soldiers. The cast of Germans and French include Hans Christian Blech, Richard Munch, Bourvil, Werner Heinz, and Wolfgang Preiss.

Ken Annakin shot the British scenes, Andrew Marton shot the American scenes, and Bernhard Wicki shot the German ones. Darryl F. Zanuck produced the film and is often credited as a fourth director.

What was really special about this film was the fact that the characters from their respective countries spoke their native language, and subtitles were used on-screen. This was very rarely done by Hollywood back then, and films involving foreign characters were still shot in English, with the vernacular to be assumed by the audience. The famous opening shot from "The Longest Day".

The special effects are also top notch, and the battles scenes and cinematography were worth the Oscars they won. There are may distance shots of the battles scenes, with so much going on and this added to the realism of the movie.

Even with so many stars, this film really does not belong to anyone in particular. Wayne and Mitchum's scenes were brief and spread out evenly throughout the course of the movie. Meanwhile, Henry Fonda recieved less time on screen than any of the top-billed stars.

It's truly amazing to finish this movie and see the end credits role and see so many names whose faces you did not recognize. There are so many small scenes and cameos all around, that it could almost be made into a game with whoever you are watching this film with, to try and name who is on screen.

This film would work really well as a compliment to Saving Private Ryan, which is considered the definitive D-Day movie, despite it being only one scene at the beginning. Watching The Longest Day before watching that will help you to understand what went behind the largest invasion in modern warfare history. That's why this movie is so great, because it is not just one big battle, but lots of dialogue explaining every mission involved, no matter how menial.

I will make my final rating a 9 out of 10, because I am still impressed at the special effects and star power every time I sit down to watch it.

Thursday, January 25, 2001

Bull Durham review

Sports, comedy, and romance make for an unusual combination. 1988 sports rom-com "Bull Durham" features an ensemble cast, pleasant blend of genres, and superb writing.

Eccentric Annie (Susan Sarandon) explains in a voice-over narration, she tried most religions until she settled on the Church of Baseball. Each year, Annie selects one player from the Durham Bulls minor league baseball team as her student. During the season, Annie teaches her chosen pupil about baseball, sex, and life.

Rookie phenom Calvin "Nuke" LaLoosh (Tim Robbins) joins the Durham Bulls as a talented, albeit unpredictable, pitcher. While he's capable of pitching unrivaled fastballs, LaLoosh lacks control. Seasoned minor league player Crash Davis (Kevin Costner) joins the Bulls roster for the sole purpose of taming Nuke. Shortly after Crash arrives, Annie invites both Nuke and Crash to vie for her company. Crash states that he's a veteran and refuses to "try out," leaving LaLoosh as Annie's over-eager student by default. Despite the addition of Nuke and Crash to the Bulls lineup, the team begins the season with a strong losing streak. LaLoosh begrudgingly adopts Crash's sage wisdom on the diamond, while accepting Annie's advice in the sheet. By the middle of the season, Nuke matures into a reliable pitcher. Both Annie and Crash teach Nuke the same lesson, but in different ways: to slow down and think less. Meanwhile, Annie and Crash realize that they're a far better pair. Unfortunately, Annie and Nuke remain in a relationship.

Although "Bull Durham" derives its name from the Durham Bulls single-A baseball team, the focus is less on sports and more about romance. Baseball merely serves as the backdrop. As a romantic comedy, it's unusual. The passion between Annie and Crash steeps until the third act, defying expectations. Normally, the courtship begins well before the ninth inning.

Still, it's not a flick absent of tropes. Notably, most of these arise on the field and in the locker room. "Bull Durham" pits the hotshot rookie (Nuke) against the humble veteran (Crash), while throwing in an impending losing streak. Thankfully, it doesn't dwell on these elements, the lack of a traditional happy ending for Crash further solidifies the mostly cliche-free narrative.

Acting is top-notch. Costner is at the top of his game with a balance of humor and surliness. Sarandon dominates as the esoteric Annie, a character no other actress could have played as believable. As Nuke, Robbins lends nuance to the egocentric yet likable dimwit. From the dialogue and characters, which present a varying degree of both experience and inexperience, it's no surprise that writer-director Ron Shelton spent time playing minor league baseball.

One part rom com with a side of sports and a dash of drama, "Bull Durham" is among the finest genre flicks to date. Though not without its clichés, "Bull Durham" knocks if out of the park with a major league cast, fantastic narrative, and a few curveballs which ultimately make it a home run.

Wednesday, January 24, 2001

Bang the Drum Slowly

N Aug. 26, 1973, Paramount unveiled baseball drama Bang the Drum Slowly at its world premiere in New York. The film went on to nab an Oscar nomination in the supporting actor category for Vincent Gardenia at the 46th Academy Awards ceremony. The Hollywood Reporter's original review is below.

The film version of Mark Harris' novel Bang the Drum Slowly, produced by Maurice and Lois Rosenfield and directed by John Hancock from Harris' screenplay, is not a completely successful movie. But it has three uncommonly fine performances by Robert De Niro, Michael Moriarty and Vincent Gardenia, a rich sense of character and a healthy, often droll attitude towards its subject matter.

De Niro is a catcher for a fictional baseball team, the New York Mammoths. When his roommate (Moriarty) learns that De Niro is dying of Hodgkin's disease, he takes it upon himself to keep the news from the team.

Such a story is hardly the stuff of cheerful movies but the wonderful accomplishment of Bang the Drum Slowly is that it considers the meaning of life in terms of death without resorting to the cheap, insulting tricks many such movies hurl at the audience. Instead, this movie is a gentle comedy with a sad sense of life slipping away.

De Niro is one of the least likely tragic heroes around; he chews tobacco, greases his hair, talks like the simple, unlettered country boy he is. De Niro proves himself to be one of the best and most likeable young character actors in movies with this performance.

Moriarty is an actor who hides his art, and he holds the movie together with his enormously sympathetic presence. He's the polar opposite of De Niro - witty, educated, sensible, mature. With the confidence of all truly gifted actors, Moriarty lets the character's strength creep up on the audience, suggesting reservoirs of depth and emotion with remarkable economy of gesture.

Vincent Gardenia is hilarious as the team's tough-talking manager who even hires a private detective to find out why Moriarty is so protective of De Niro.

The movie sometimes loses track of its story and rambles for puzzling stretches of unfocused scenes. But it succeeds best with the breezy, warm scenes of baseball life and with such sterling character bits as Selma Diamond's nosey telephone operator and Barbara Babcock and Maurice Rosenfield as the nouveau riche owners of the team.

If director John Hancock's work is sometimes atmospherically colorless, he pulls scenes together that seem to be going nowhere and acquits himself most notably with the performers.

Phil Foster is excellent as a baseball coach. Ann Wedgeworth, who walked off with Scarecrow, scores again as De Niro's hooker fiancee who's really after his life insurance. Patrick McVey is moving as De Niro's father. Heather MacRae is fine as Moriarty's wife. Tom Ligon is a cowboy baseball player. Andy Jarrell, Tom Signorelli, Danny Aiello and Marshall Efron stand out in smaller parts.

Monday, January 22, 2001

Rio Bravo

Rio Bravo is a 1959 American Western film directed by Howard Hawks and starring John Wayne, Dean Martin, and Ricky Nelson. The supporting cast includes Angie Dickinson, Walter Brennan, and Ward Bond. The script was written by Jules Furthman and Leigh Brackett, based on a short story by B.H. McCampbell.

In short, the film is about a small-town sheriff (John Wayne) in the American West enlisting the help of a cripple (Walter Brennan), a drunk (Dean Martin), and a young gunfighter (Ricky Nelson) in his efforts to hold in jail the brother (Claude Akins) of the local bad guy (John Russell).

The film was made as a response to High Noon, which is sometimes thought to be an allegory for blacklisting in Hollywood, as well as a critique of McCarthyism. Wayne would later call High Noon "un-American" and say he did not regret helping run the writer, Carl Foreman, out of the country. Wayne teamed up with director Howard Hawks to tell the story his way. In Rio Bravo, Chance is surrounded by allies - a deputy recovering from alcoholism (Dude), a young untried gunfighter (Colorado), a limping "crippled" old man (Stumpy), a Mexican innkeeper (Carlos), his wife (Consuela), and an attractive young woman (Feathers) - and repeatedly turns down aid from anyone he doesn't think is capable of helping him, though in the final shootout they come to help him anyway. "Who'll turn up next?" Wayne asks amid the gunfire, to which Colorado replies: "Maybe the girl with another flower pot."

No matter where you stand on the political aspects of the film, it is a great example of both Hawks and Wayne doing what they do best. Hawks made some of the most entertaining films of the 1930s and 40s, including Only Angels Have Wings, Bringing Up Baby, and To Have And Have Not, and he had a style of his own that is often unappreciated for its simplicity. Never a fan of the close-up, he preferred shots where the relationships between the characters and the locations were highlighted. Rio Bravo shows us actors framed in windows or doorways, so we see them in a wider setting and build up our own sense of the geography of the small town - the saloon, the jailhouse, the long dark street that connects them. These shots establish the action so well; we know that there is nowhere to run when the showdown starts.

"Sorry don't get it done, Dude. That's the second time you hit me. Don't ever do it again."

The characters are also a great strength of the film. John Wayne never looked particularly sexy, but Angie Dickinson works so hard as Feathers, the smitten love-interest, that you buy it. Wayne's character, John T Chance, looks poleaxed by her attentions, which gives him a charm that sometimes eluded him. There are other great performances, particularly from Dean Martin as Dude, the drunk who has to sober up, and Ricky Nelson as Colorado, the young gunslinger.


Hawks was versatile as a director, filming comedies, dramas, gangster films, science fiction, film noir, and Westerns. Hawks's own functional definition of what constitutes a "good movie" is revealing of his no-nonsense style: "Three great scenes, no bad ones." Hawks also defined a good director as "someone who doesn't annoy you".

While Hawks was not sympathetic to feminism, he popularized the Hawksian woman archetype, which has been cited as a prototype of the post-feminist movement.

Orson Welles in an interview with Peter Bogdanovich said of Howard Hawks in comparison to John Ford "Hawks is great prose; Ford is poetry".

Despite Hawks work in a variety of Hollywood genres he still retained an independent sensibility. Film critic David Thomson wrote of Hawks in The New Biographical Dictionary of Film "Far from being the meek purveyor of Hollywood forms, he always chose to turn them upside down, To Have and Have Not and The Big Sleep, ostensibly an adventure and a thriller, are really love stories. Rio Bravo, apparently a Western - everyone wears a cowboy hat - is a comedy conversation piece. The ostensible comedies are shot through with exposed emotions, with the subtlest views of the sex war, and with a wry acknowledgment of the incompatibility of men and women." As David Boxwell states "It's a body of work that has been accused of ahistorical and adolescent escapism, but Hawks' fans rejoice in his oeuvre's remarkable avoidance of Hollywood's religiosity, bathos, flag-waving, and sentimentality.

His directorial style and the use of natural, conversational dialogue in his films were cited a major influence on many noted filmmakers, including Robert Altman, John Carpenter, and Quentin Tarantino. His work is admired by many notable directors including Peter Bogdanovich, Martin Scorsese, François Truffaut, Michael Mann and Jacques Rivette.

Although his work was not initially taken seriously by British critics of the Sight and Sound circle, he was venerated by French critics associated with Cahiers du cinéma, who intellectualized his work in a way Hawks himself was moderately amused by, and he was also admired by more independent British writers such as Robin Wood. Wood named the Hawks-directed Rio Bravo as his top film of all time.

Sunday, January 21, 2001

The Sons of Katie Elder

His 1965 Western film, The Sons of Katie Elder, brings together some great actors: John Wayne, Dean Martin, Dennis Hopper, Martha Hyer, Michael Anderson Jr., Earl Holliman, James Gregory, Paul Fix, Jeremy Slate, George Kennedy, and it is all brought together by director Henry Hathaway.

Four brothers John, Tom, Bud, and Matt reunite in Clearwater, Texas in 1898 for their mother's funeral. They soon realize that their deadbeat father gambled their family ranch away in a card game. This has the sons band together when the sheriff tells them that their father died under mysterious circumstances.

They begin their investigation against a corrupt gunsmith named Morgan Hastings, who pretends to show regret at their loss when in secret, he hires a gunman named Curly in preparation for a war with Katie Elder's son.

However, as the sons get closer and closer to solving the mystery around their father's death, Hastings frames them for the murder of the sheriff, forcing the sons in a showdown with Hastings and his men.

The film is based on a historical incident that happened in Graham, Texas. The story of the film is very different, but it is interesting to see that it is based on a true event in Texas history. It is one of John Wayne's best films and it carries a lot of weight in film history.

FAVORITE QUOTE: I don't want to be rich and respectable. I just want to be like the rest of you.

PARENTAL CONCERNS: Violence and language

August is Texas Month here! We're focusing on a lot of articles surrounding the Lone Star State. Be sure to subscribe for more classic film reviews.

Major League

There are lots of glaring flaws in Major League. The main characters are barely developed. The humor is really, really crass. The film moves far too slowly through moments that don't matter, and speeds through the moments that do matter. They have a catcher with bad knees who can barely run hitting in the two hole and have a pitcher who starts, relieves, and does everything in between whenever the script feels he's needed. All of these are problems that should plague the film and make for a pretty bad experience in every regard.

That's not the case with Major League, it overcomes its flaws and then some. The reason for this is simple, it's honest in its intentions. It doesn't hide that it's predictable, that it's not logically placing its characters in situations, it embraces its crassness, and it takes into account how shallow its characters are. Major League takes all of its flaws and turns them into strengths. That's why this film has always been, and remains, a favorite of mine. I grew up watching Major League, and I was very scared that revisiting it all these years later would reveal a memory fueled only by nostalgia.

The end sequence of Major League is a great discussion point for how the film overcomes its flaws. When Willie Mays Hayes gets on base the film focuses on his attempt to steal a base. There's no real reason why we should care about his attempt to steal a base. We know it will help the team and that it's clearly an important moment in the film as far as the ultimate intentions of the film are concerned. But, the character of Willie hasn't been developed in any way. He's a guy who runs fast, that's all that we know about him. Yet, in that moment that is all that matters and that's why the film moves past Willie's flawed character development. There nothing but Willie stealing the base and what that means for the team we are watching.

On the other end of the spectrum is Jake Taylor, who we have spent some time with. We know that he's near the end of his last hurrah in baseball. He's a has been, and a never will be again. This is his shining moment, when he can be the hero. But, he doesn't do the heroic thing to be a hero, he does the everyman thing. His actions represent his end, his final sacrifice for his team. It's through his action in the final sequence that we learn everything we need to about the character of Jake Taylor. Tom Berenger's character may have started off shallow, but in the final sequence Jake was given meaning and heft that cements his status in the film that came before.

There's something else going for Major League, it's a comedy that is very funny. The jokes and bits are all easy, but they are pulled off so as to create a hilarious picture. If I wasn't laughing out loud I was chuckling, and for my money that's the sign of a great comedy. This is, again, an indicator of how the film overcomes its weaknesses. Major League should not be so funny, it is far too crass and easy to be as funny as it is. Because of its honest intentions, its desire to be funny, the film ends up being funny. Honesty in intention can go a long way when it comes to delivering a quality product.

My memories were not ruined, and I can gladly still proclaim Major League to be a great film. It's funny, energetic and earnest in an honest fashion. My wife didn't enjoy Major League anywhere near as much as I did, so maybe nostalgia did play a role in my outlook on the film. As much as nostalgic remembrance is a possibility, I don't think it holds true when it comes to Major League. The film has many, many issues, but it consistently overcomes those issues with a belief in its story that is one of the signs of a well made film. Of course, the subject of the film really should have been my Chicago Cubs, but that's yet another flaw that I can easily overlook when it comes to Major League.

Friends 9.0

There never has been a sitcom that truly pictures life among the singles (twenty-something) as good as this show does. It's not just comedy, it presents the episodes in such a way that one can truly identify with the situations they face so the audience has something to talk about in coffee shops too. The humor is universal. I feel like I'm part of the group every time I watch it because I feel the different emotions they go through. Plus, of course, it is so much fun because it's fast-paced. Every scene and every moment is relative to what is going to happen next so you don't feel like it is dragging you onto nothing. Just like how a sitcom should be. Funny!

Saturday, January 20, 2001

Zootopia review

I know that Zootopia is so last year, but I've just watched it recently even though my sister has already watched it since last year. She did tell me so many times of how good Zootopia is, but I haven't really thought of watching it until recently. And yes, I have to agree with my sister-and apparently nearly everyone-that Zootopia is indeed a good film. Well, I guess I should never expect less from Disney. As always, Disney managed to deliver a good film with a good story and lots of moral lessons.

At first, I was pretty confused to who are actually the main characters because the poster is so crowded with many characters. I have to be told by my sister which characters are the main characters in the film. Anyway, aside for the oh-so-crowded poster, you'll know at once who are the main characters once the film is started. And since the beginning, I already know that Zootopia would be a film with great moral lessons. Why? Because since the beginning, they already gave great motivations to the audiences, such as never give up and never feel you're different just because you're different. I think it's a great advice especially if the audiences are mainly children.

"Life's a little bit messy. We all make mistakes. No matter what type of animal you are, change starts with you." - Judy Hopps

At first, I thought the main problem is how Judy Hopps fits in the police force because she is the first bunny that has passed as a police officer. The other police officers are usually predator animals or larger animals such as cheetah, lion, bear, or buffalo. Like many other problems in the world, as an outsider, Judy became an outcast. Everyone seems to underestimate her just because she is small and not as scary as other police officers. Much to everyone dismays, Judy is forced to enter the police force and became one of the police officers. She is first assigned to do parking duty by Chief Bogo, who doubted her potential because Judy is just a rabbit. Even though Chief Bogo seemed to be underestimating Judy a lot, there are times that I think he teaches a few thing or two. Like knowing your own limit. Having many dreams are awesome, but there are times that you should restrain yourself and know your limit. Sometimes, knowing what you are capable of is much better than having some improbable dreams.

"It's not about how badly you WANT something. It's about what you are capable of!" - Chief Bogo

Of course, the story doesn't stop there because, like any other good films, there would be obstacles along Judy's way to become a recognised police officer. She finally got her first major case even though Chief Bogo didn't believe that Judy would be able to solve it. With the help of a con artist Fox, Nick Wilde, Judy tried her best to solved the mysterious case of missing predators. And she has to meet many problematic along her investigations, including running away, betrayal, and so on.

Although Judy Hopps is the first main character in Zootopia, I prefer Nick Wilde who at first appear to be a con artist but actually a good and loyal friend. He accompanied Judy to solve the mysterious case of the missing predators, even though at first his motivation to help Judy is by force. However, as the story goes by, Nick Wilde proved to be a good friend and taught Judy and the audiences so much. Judy is more stubborn, while Nick is more chill and funny. That's why I like Nick's character better than Judy's. Not only Judy, we get to see Nick's background story too. Although not as much as Judy, at least we know why Nick is like the way he is now and that what kind of person-or animal-he actually is. Just because he is a fox, doesn't mean he is bad. He proved to be very useful and very clever as well. In the end, he helped Judy a lot even though he seemed to be untrustworthy at first. The teamwork between Judy and Nick is good and unusual but they are very much entertaining the audiences. Nick may be a fox, but unlike other predators, he is small. That's why he often being underestimated by others and often not being trusted by others too because he is a fox. From Nick, we can also learn that just because people said we are what we are, doesn't mean we have to listen. We can be so much more. I really like Nick's character. Now I understand why my sister like him too.

Nick may be a fox, but unlike other predators, he is small. That's why he often being underestimated by other predators and often not being trusted by other animals who are not predators because he is a fox. Since the stereotype of a fox is cunning, it's not surprising that the non-predators will assume he is untrustworthy. From Nick, we can also learn that just because people said we are what we are, doesn't mean we have to listen. We can be so much more. Nick is a proof that even though he is a fox, he is not as cunning as what others think and he can actually be good and trustworthy. I really like Nick's character, the development of his character throughout the film. Although Judy's character has also become more mature throughout the film, I still prefer Nick's. Now I understand why my sister like him too.

Nick Wilde: I learned two things that day: one, that I was never going to let anyone see that they got to me. Judy Hopps: And... two? Nick Wilde: That if the world's only going to see a fox as shifty and untrustworthy, there's no point in being anything else. Judy Hopps: Nick, you are so much more than that.

There are quite a few times when Nick Wilde made me laugh. Judy is more of a serious type, while Nick is more of a relax type of person-or in this case, animal. Including when he introduced Judy to his friend, Flash, a sloth who worked at DMV (Department of Mammal Vehicles). That scene was so funny that I have to laugh out loud even though I watched it twice. Flash is super slow, like a film set in a slow motion and even slower than that, making Judy felt frustrated because she needed to get things done faster. Seriously, Flash is hilariously even when the way he laughed will make you definitely laugh too!

"I thought this city would be a perfect place where everyone got along and anyone could be anything. Turns out, life's a little bit more complicated than a slogan on a bumper sticker. Real life is messy. We all have limitations. We all make mistakes. Which means, hey, glass half full, we all have a lot in common. And the more we try to understand one another, the more exceptional each of us will be. But we have to try. So no matter what kind of person you are, I implore you: Try. Try to make the world a better place. Look inside yourself and recognize that change starts with you." - Judy Hopps

Aside from Nick Wilde, another character that I like in Zootopia is Benjamin Clawhauser. He is a fat cheetah, working as the receptionist in the Police Department. Clawhauser proved that being a cheetah is not forever scary. In Zootopia, a cheetah can become very very cute and apparently very fat too. I wish I could see him more in the film, but whenever he was on screen, I managed to put a smile on my face. He is super cute!

I guess it's no wonder that Zootopia won the Best Animated Feature Film of the Year in 89th Academy Awards. With so many moral lessons you can learn from the film and a good story along the way, Zootopia really worth the Oscar. I do hope Moana (2016) won the Oscar at that time, but after seeing Zootopia, I guess this film deserved more than Moana. I should never expect less from Disney after all. The animation from Zootopia is also amazing, although not as breathtaking as in Moana, but I like the details of the city. I have no idea that they found the idea of making two different cities in one Zootopia. One place for larger animals like bunny, cheetah, lion, and so on, and other place is for the mice. It's cute and clever.

I also like the fact that the soundtrack really supported the film. Try Everything by Shakira really is the perfect song for Zootopia. The lyrics really suited well to the plot story of Zootopia, making the song is not only fun to hear but a motivation itself. I have to praise all the production team of Zootopia because they surely made a great film. Other songs also well put and made things more entertaining and spot on.

All in all, Zootopia is a fun family film with so many moral lessons that will be good for audiences, not only children but adults too. I expect nothing less from Disney in terms of this. Zootopia indeed has a very good plot story, with some jokes put in it. Thus making this film is very entertaining after all.
See less

Moana (2016)

Moana review

5 February 2020
Synopsis On the island of Motunui, Moana (Auli'i Cravalho (voice)) is chosen by the ocean to receive the heart of Te Fiti, an island goddess. When a curse caused by the missing heart reaches Motunui, Moana sets out to find the demigod Maui (Dwayne Johnson (voice)) and return the heart to its rightful place to lift the curse.

Review With Zootopia having been released earlier this year, Moana marks the first time since 2002 that Disney has released two animated feature films the same year (Lilo & Stitch and Treasure Planet were that year for those who are curious). And man, what a year it has been for Disney animation. Zootopia is an extraordinarily hard act to follow, being what could be considered the best film of what has become known as the Disney Revival Era. At least until now.

First off, the voice casting is amazingly spot-on. First-timer Auli'i Cravalho does an astonishing job. The range of emotion that she is able to portray with simply her voice makes it hard to believe this is her first acting credit. You would think she was a seasoned veteran, just like Dwayne Johnson. Speakin of, I know that often animators will try to bring some part of the voice actor's likeness to a character but Maui is the spitting image of Johnson. Pretty much a caricature of him. Not only does Maui look like Johnson but he moves like him too. He even does the eyebrow thing! And the "pec muscle thing" as my sister so elegantly put it. But besides his looks, Johnson has the perfect voice for Maui.

I am beginning to feel like a broken record when it comes to reviewing animated films. With every film released, the animation gets better and better and the gets more and more beautiful. The film takes place on the open water and on sandy beaches and in lush forests. The water glistens and sparkles and flows extremely life-like. This is probably the best water animation since Finding Nemo. One animation aspect that really surprised me was the characters' hair. Given the characters are sailing on the water for most of the movie, they were bound to get wet eventually. The way it looks heavier and bunches together and shimmers is, again, very life-like. I give the animators big kudos for getting something that can be easily overlooked to look so accurate.

Like any Disney princess, Moana has her animal sidekicks. The one that steals the cake, however, is her dimwitted chicken Heihei, voiced by the versatile Alan Tadyk. When I say "voiced" I mean he makes sounds, he doesn't actually talk. Heihei is much like Maximus and Pascal from Tangled, well like most animal sidekicks really, where his humor comes from his actions. In a movie that is already filled with a decent amount of humor, Heihei added a unique touch that garnered laughs from every scene he was in.

Like every Disney movie ever, there is a message to be found in Moana. What I like best about the message in this film is that both Moana and Maui deal with the same problem of doubt but they deal with it from different sources. Maui has self doubt, struggling internally with events from his past. Moana, on the other hand, deals with doubt from others, mainly her father, about whether she is truly ready to be chief of her tribe. They find strength in each other and both overcome those doubts. It was a crafty way for Disney to bring their message across.

In recent years, Disney has become more focused on releasing films containing messages of self-empowerment, as seen in movies like Maleficent and Frozen. But where Moana differs from something like Frozen is that there is no prince or male love interest at all. Moana focuses on exactly that: Moana. It is all about her and finding finding power and confidence within herself to complete her journey to save her people.

It wouldn't be a Disney princess movie without some musical numbers. Two songs that stood out to me the most were "You're Welcome," sung by the surprising musical Johnson, and "How Far I'll Go," sung by Cravalho. As much as I enjoyed the soundtrack, I will admit it is one of the weaker soundtracks of late from Disney animation. I don't think it will become as popular as some of their more recent films have become, such as Frozen, or have the longevity as several of Disney's other classic animated features, like The Lion King, but I wouldn't mind to be proven wrong on that.

I thought Moana was GREAT :-D. Although the score might not be as catchy as other Disney favorites, it fits the setting beautifully, the same way Dwayne Johnson and Auli'i Cravalho completely embody Maui and Moana. I have really enjoyed the last several years of Disney animation, very reminiscent of the quality of films from when I was a kid. I wouldn't expect anything less from the directors who brought me my favorite Disney animated

Ralph breaks the Internet

In the run-up to the release of the first Wreck-It Ralph in 2012, a sequel was announced before the first was even in theatres (big surprise). However, while the idea for a second film was around from the beginning, production of it had to be put on hold for a while so director Rich Moore could complete his work on Zootopia (2016) first, as he was called onto that project in March of 2015 to support directors Byron Howard and Jared Bush. From 2016 onwards, updates on the developing sequel were released regularly, with much of the speculation revolving around which characters would be cameoing in the new film (Moore was keen to involve Mario this time around, but once again that proved impossible to arrange).

Like many other recent Disney films (such as Frozen), Ralph Breaks the Internet went through numerous re-writes during its production phase, with the results being – at least in my opinion – similarly haphazard and awkward. I mean really, this has to be one of the most confusing, messy and nonsensical plots in the canon, raising question after question without offering many satisfactory answers… the film may not be all bad, but it’s certainly badly written.

There has already been some fan speculation over whether this film marks the end of Disney’s so-called “New Revival” era that we’re currently in, but it’s a little too soon to tell. Ralph Breaks the Internet is the first fully computer-animated sequel in the canon, but it’s the fourth sequel overall following The Rescuers Down Under (1990), Fantasia 2000 (1999) and Winnie the Pooh (2011) and will soon be followed by the fifth, Frozen 2. Given the way these latter two have been rushed into production within the same decade of the releases of the original films, it was certainly great to hear recently that Pixar, at least, has no plans for any more sequels in the immediate future. Let’s just hope Disney’s Feature Animation branch follows suit.

Report this ad

I must admit, I’m cautiously optimistic about Frozen 2 based on the one teaser trailer we’ve had so far; then again, my expectations were lower anyway, since I’m one of those oddballs who wasn’t blown away by the first one. Toy Story 4 is another matter entirely, as I’m much more invested in that franchise and the trailers aren’t nearly so promising, but I still won’t judge it until I’ve actually seen it next month. It’s just that when I look at films like Ralph Breaks the Internet, I’m filled with a sense of panic at the thought of how badly wrong these sequels could go…

Characters and Vocal Performances

I’ve talked before about Disney films being overcrowded, but nowhere has that problem been anywhere near as noticeable as it is here – as you can see above, there are an astonishing seventy-seven named speaking roles in this film, many of whom get only a line or two of dialogue. The army of characters is mostly down to the film being a massive crossover project, intended to showcase the many, many, MANY properties which now fall under the Disney umbrella after their buyouts of Pixar, Marvel, Lucasfilm and Twentieth Century Fox. Some of the cameos work better than others, but for the sake of space I’m not going to talk about every last one of them or we’ll be here for weeks; this discussion will be focused on the characters who actually play some role in the plot.

Also, on the point of character cameos, it’s worth mentioning that the filmmakers originally planned to include another one from current Star Wars bad boy Kylo Ren, who would be the butt of a “spoiled child” joke – this wound up being cut after Lucasfilm asked them not to undermine their villain like that. Similarly, C-3PO’s cameo was first going to involve him being mistaken for other robots from his franchise like R2-D2 and BB-8 by Cinderella and Aurora, but was then re-worked to have him simply serve as the princesses’ prompter before their shows. The film was even going to feature cameos by The Golden Girls characters (1985-1992), but that was later dropped because… it made no sense.

Ralph says we're arguing

Oh, Ralph… what have they done to you?

The original Wreck-It Ralph was a compelling and relatable character, because he started out as a victim of discrimination and went through a great deal of personal growth – by the end of his story, he learned to accept himself for who he was and outgrew his selfish insecurities to become a true friend to Vanellope. I’ll leave you to read my review of the first film for a fuller account of Ralph, but for now, all I can do is lament the horrific butchering of his character that this sequel commits.

This is a textbook example of a process known as “Flanderization,” whereby the writers zero in on a particular trait of a character and exaggerate it until it consumes their entire personality, leaving them as a shallow shell of their former selves. In this case, Ralph’s earlier naïveté has been ramped up to eleven and he is now utterly stupid, a clumsy, blundering fool who seems to mess up everything he gets involved in. He was always heavy-handed (no pun intended) and rather tactless, but he was not this needy and pathetic, especially not by the end of the first film – where’s the strong, secure and self-sacrificing Ralph of yesteryear?

Granted, it’s somewhat plausible that he would be a bit clingy given his lonely past, but the sheer stupidity he exhibits has nothing to do with that. It’s just a cheap and lazy way to try and draw some laughs from the crowd, even though the audience for the original film have all matured and will thus be looking for more nuanced comedy, if anything. Ralph in this incarnation is little more than a child, incapable of understanding anyone else’s feelings and selfishly trying to force everything to go his way like a spoilt brat. The tender-hearted “bad guy” of the original has been replaced by a possessive doofus, and while he does go through some development over the course of this film, his portrayal still doesn’t feel true to the character – especially surprising given that most of the same writers were involved with both films.

Ralph concocts plan with Spamley

Ralph Breaks the Internet is set six years after the last film and he and Vanellope’s lives have settled into a comfortable pattern, with each performing their duties in their respective games before hanging out together all night in other ones around the arcade. The conflict of the story is that Vanellope is growing bored of this routine and longs for a new challenge, whereas Ralph is perfectly content with things the way they are and is frightened of change (perhaps a nod to his age, as he must now be well over thirty years old).

While it’s clear he does care for Vanellope and does his best to make her happy early on, for instance by creating a new track in “Sugar Rush,” he also tends not to listen to her properly and comes uncomfortably close to viewing her as his property. In one early scene just after Vanellope’s game has been damaged, she opens up to Ralph about feeling a new lack of purpose when she’s not able to race and questions her identity without it; Ralph’s response is to try to define her as his “best friend” and she (quite rightly) points out that this is not enough, but he’s offended by this and whines to Tapper about it later that night. Since he now views Vanellope as the centre of his whole life, he expects her to feel the same way about him and is genuinely shocked at the idea that she might have higher aspirations than simply being his sidekick.

Ralph complains to Tapper

Are we supposed to feel sorry for him here? I get that he has spent a lot of his life with no friends, but the previous version of Ralph was still not this emotionally dependent; these early scenes simply make him appear selfish and unlikable, suggesting a failure of execution on the part of the writers. I think I get the angle they were going for, but he just doesn’t come across sympathetically here. Still, I will give the film credit for calling Ralph out on his insecurities; it might not follow on properly from his earlier arc, but at least he does eventually get the message and makes a change. In that sense, at least, Ralph’s portrayal is more successful than Vanellope’s… but we’ll get to her shortly.

After Vanellope’s game is broken, Ralph does set out on the trip to the internet with her to find the required part to fix it, which felt more like something the old Ralph would do. While he doesn’t understand her desire to keep “working” in her game when he’d much rather laze around all day, he accepts that fixing “Sugar Rush” will make her happy and so works hard throughout the film to help her get the part – that’s admirable.

Ralph says I'm going to miss youRalph in elevator with Spamley

What’s less admirable is his jealousy after Vanellope takes a shine to a cool racer character, Shank, who they meet in a modern online videogame. I understand him being afraid of losing Vanellope to someone else, but the lengths he goes to trying to keep her and Shank apart are ludicrous; in fact, him sending Vanellope to to keep her out of the gaming district is what prompts her realisation that she’d rather stay in “Slaughter Race”. Now, granted, Vanellope doesn’t handle this well, neglecting to tell Ralph her intentions and simply leaving him in the dark until he begins to panic, but even this is because she’s afraid he’ll overreact to the news – and he does, proving her right.

You see my problem with the writing here: Ralph’s insecurities are so bad in this film that they make Vanellope reluctant to trust him with important information, but what’s worse is that her reluctance is justified because his later actions do indeed prove disastrous. Once he does find out that she plans to leave the arcade, he concocts a hasty plan to infect “Slaughter Race” with a virus to “make the cars go slow” and turn Vanellope off the game, but this winds up endangering her life when the virus copies Vanellope’s glitch and triggers a server reboot of the game while she’s still inside it.

Admittedly, as an older arcade game character with no knowledge of the internet and limited experience with viruses (he’s obviously thinking of the more benign one from Tron), Ralph could perhaps not be blamed for failing to understand the consequences of his actions. Still, though, he bought this thing from a dodgy slug in the “Dark Net”; anyone with any sense would have been more cautious about unleashing a virus they didn’t fully understand into a game full of innocent, unsuspecting characters, but Ralph’s so desperate to force Vanellope to stay with him that he’s willing to try anything. He does try to clarify with Double Dan that nobody will get hurt, but given the slug’s evasive response, I don’t think I would have trusted the virus if I were him.

Ralph looks down on his own insecurities

The best that can be said of Ralph in this film is that he does go through some growth (again) by the end of the story, having apparently forgotten everything he learned about putting others first in the earlier film. Throughout the journey to restore “Sugar Rush,” Ralph is warned again and again by various characters like Tapper, Yesss and even Spamley that his actions are toxic and overbearing, but it’s not until he’s finally faced with literal embodiments of his insecurities that he recognises how selfish he’s been. At this point, the film starts to hammer the message in with an anvil, cramming all of Ralph’s development into the last few minutes as he suddenly comes to terms with Vanellope’s decision to leave the arcade – it may be a visually stunning moment, but thematically it just feels forced and unnecessary.

Ralphzilla close-up

It’s a shame, because the disturbing “Ralphzilla” that is formed by the virus’s copies of Ralph’s insecurities is a truly inspired piece of animation. One of the highlights of the film is its climax, where we see Vanellope and Ralph frantically trying to escape the army of drooling Ralph “clones”, all of them chasing mindlessly after Vanellope before finally forming into a towering, unholy behemoth of Ralphs. It’s a nice change of pace in an era known for its tired old “twist” villains; for the first time in a while, the story’s conflict is driven by the protagonist himself, forcing him to battle his own demons (physically and metaphorically) in order to save the day. (Mind you, I’m not going to try and fathom how he and Vanellope manage to reason with a giant insecurity).

Unfortunately, a strong finish is not enough to make up for Ralph’s catastrophic actions throughout the rest of the film. I don’t mean to go on, but I really liked the original version of Ralph and I can’t stand what they’ve done to him here – it’s a pet peeve of mine, seeing mildly ditzy characters devolve into brainless morons who can barely breathe without being reminded to. I also didn’t care for his unhealthy, possessive attitude towards Vanellope or his extreme jealousy of Shank, although he does at least recover from those.

Ralph videochats with Vanellope

By the end of the film, Ralph has once again found a sense of equilibrium; he has made peace with Vanellope being absent and has restored his position as her “hero” by letting her go. His story, after meandering about all over the place, turns out to be a message about long-distance relationships and the importance of allowing your loved ones to lead their own lives. It’s a nice message, but it’s not at all well-delivered.

But if you think my only problem with the characters is with Ralph, I’m afraid you’re mistaken…

Vanellope talks to Shank on car

Look, let’s just get this out of the way – Vanellope goes Turbo in this film. She just does.

I know some have argued that it doesn’t count because her intentions aren’t malicious like Turbo’s were, or that going Turbo no longer holds the same stigma it once did because of Ralph’s whole adventure in the first film, but I’m sorry, there’s no way to dress it up – this film breaks the rules of its own universe, and that’s a major problem.

Things start out well enough. Vanellope in the first half of the film is essentially the same spunky kid she always was, so I enjoyed her scenes to begin with. The situation is that Vanellope is growing bored after six years of trouncing the other racers in “Sugar Rush,” but it’s also kind of implied that she might be growing a little bored of Ralph, too – not in a personal way, of course, just in the sense that she’s tired of doing the same stuff with him all the time and would like somewhere new to hang out. Essentially, she’s having a bit of an existential crisis, which is actually pretty interesting for a videogame character. Fine – that’s all totally understandable and makes for a great starting point for some dramatic conflict… so far, so good.

Vanellope looks at Sugar Rush turned off

After Ralph tries to help out by building a new track for her, Vanellope gets a bit carried away enjoying it during a race and literally starts wrestling with the human player for control, resulting in the player accidentally wrenching the steering wheel off the game. Mr. Litwak then breaks it while trying to fix it back on and decides it’s too expensive to bother fixing; thus, in an instant, Vanellope is faced with the prospect of losing her game. It’s a fear we can understand because it was addressed in the first film as well, when “Sugar Rush” was nearly consumed by a virus – Vanellope may have been growing bored of the game’s cliched content, but as she tells Ralph, “that doesn’t mean I didn’t love it!” Being “gameless” in this world is similar to being homeless and as the leader of the game, Vanellope clearly feels helpless and responsible for her subjects.

Vanellope travelling to internet

This set-up had a lot of potential, so I was disappointed to see where the story takes Vanellope from here. She sets out to find the part she needs to get her game working again with Ralph, displaying all the determination we loved her for in the first film, but once they reach the internet she soon has her head turned by the exciting new possibilities it offers. The crux comes when she and Ralph wind up in “Slaughter Race,” a much more thrilling and mature racing game which immediately captures her heart, leading to the most awkward plot point in the film as she decides to move there permanently.

Now, I get what the writers were going for with this development – really, I do. There’s nothing wrong with a character wanting more out of life. It’s just that in this particular context, given the rules of the universe that the filmmakers have already established in the last film, Vanellope’s decision to abandon “Sugar Rush” isn’t very sympathetic and feels deeply selfish. It’s stated that “Sugar Rush” makes less than $200 a year so the game clearly isn’t as popular as it once was, and in fact the juxtaposition of the rather emptier arcade with the bustling internet hints at the real-life decline in popularity of arcades in general. On top of this, Vanellope is shown both in this film and the last to be one of the game’s most popular racers, and she’s also its leader – princess or president, she’s still in charge and thus has a responsibility to the other members of the game.

Vanellope looks conflicted before song

With all this in mind, it’s difficult to understand how she can so callously toss her old game aside, even when she risks dooming her hundreds of “Sugar Rush” colleagues to homelessness or worse, should the game’s popularity falter in her absence. It just feels out of character. Yes, the other racers were mean to her for most of the first film, but that was established to be mostly down to King Candy / Turbo’s manipulation of their code; they’re more civil to her now, even the snooty Taffyta, and if Vanellope only stuck around a little longer she would’ve seen how much progress Felix and Calhoun made with the little monsters. And yes, the game functioned without her during Candy’s reign, but again, this wasn’t natural – it was another result of his manipulations, with the players not missing Vanellope only because they didn’t realise she was a part of the game.

The writers do half-heartedly attempt to address this with a hand wave, when Ralph reminds Vanellope of her responsibilities. Her response is, “Oh please, I’m one of sixteen racers, they’d never miss me!” The predominant fan theory seems to be that since she is not as integral to her game’s operation as Ralph was to his, she might be able to get away with leaving without “Sugar Rush” closing down; players will simply assume the “random roster” didn’t happen to generate Vanellope for their particular gaming session. However, this still feels like a heck of a risk for her to take, especially without even consulting any of the other denizens of “Sugar Rush.” Her game’s fate already hangs in the balance as Litwak is reluctant even to replace a part on it given its age, so her impulsive decision to leave it just doesn’t hold up, especially given how anxious she was to get it repaired in the beginning.

Vanellope crying after server reboot

Vanellope then makes things worse by putting off telling the increasingly unstable Ralph about her plans, leading to the whole virus mess. Interestingly, this is as close as the film ever comes to having Vanellope display any guilt over her decision, but she’s quickly absolved of any responsibility when the plot turns things back on Ralph (who is also, admittedly, at fault for setting a freaking virus loose).

By the end of the climax, Ralph has been forced to own up to his mistakes and address his toxic behaviour, but Vanellope is allowed to simply gallivant off to “Slaughter Race” without consequence, the only trial she faces before doing so being to say goodbye to Ralph. The “Sugar Rush” characters, rather implausibly, seem to carry on as normal, despite the fact that their most popular character and leader is now absent and their game was already down to being played maybe twice a day at best before she left, judging from what Litwak said about its profits.

I get what the story is trying to say about “following your dreams” and such, but there are other ways that this conflict could have been resolved without having to spit in the face of the original film. They were going in the right direction by having Ralph try to “redesign” Vanellope’s game with a new track; since there are clear reasons why she shouldn’t just up and leave “Sugar Rush,” why couldn’t she use her experiences in “Slaughter Race” as inspiration and simply redesign her home game to make it more interesting? Or perhaps Vanellope could just take the occasional “vacation” to “Slaughter Race” every now and then? Heck, even having Shank visit her in “Sugar Rush” on occasion, perhaps instructing the other racers in modern techniques to make their races more exciting, would have made more sense. But no – Vanellope instead chooses to go Turbo, abandon the rest of “Sugar Rush” to its fate and seek self-gratification at the expense of a whole community of other characters.

Vanellope hologram

At the end of the film, she and Ralph are chatting long-distance like old college roomies as if she’s just moved to another town, but this relatable human issue just doesn’t fit into the context of this videogame world. You find yourself thinking back to the last film, where game-jumping was a terrible social sin and Ralph had to learn to accept his role as a “bad guy,” because it was necessary to keep his game functioning. Now, Vanellope is able to disregard all of that because… I don’t know, she’s a girl and Hollywood girls can’t be wrong? (That’s one reading of it, anyway).

I’m not exactly hoping for a third film, but perhaps one way of making Vanellope’s choice seem less selfish would be to take it as an example of foresight; as a younger character, she’s shown to have a better grasp of the internet’s potential than Ralph does, so perhaps seeing it in person made her realise that the arcade’s days are numbered and that her best chance of continuing to exist is to find a new life online. If this is the case, maybe we can expect to see a third installment in a few years exploring Ralph’s emigration after the arcade closes for good – it would at least help to rectify some of the issues I have with Vanellope’s arc in this film. Of course, if your argument for a sequel to make sense is that it needs another sequel to justify itself, then you’re already in pretty deep doo-doo.

Felix and Calhoun in the kitchen

If you’re going into this expecting to see more hijinks from Fix-It Felix Jr. and his new wife, Sergeant Tamora Calhoun, then you might be somewhat disappointed. They’re here alright, but they’re given almost nothing to do beyond the film’s opening and closing acts.

The two of them seem very happy together, but it’s a shame to see how… “domesticated” Calhoun is now, at least in comparison to the badass military leader we saw in the first film. Why are strong women always stripped of their power after getting married? I mean, I know it’s just a Disney film and I’m nit-picking, but Calhoun just doesn’t quite feel like herself here. Still, I suppose it is nice to see a softer side of her and she shares genuine chemistry with Felix – they’re a pair of total goofballs, but they make a good team.

Felix drinking rootbeer

At least Felix hasn’t changed! He’s still the same bubbly little optimist he always was and really makes the most of his limited screen time. His main subplot involves him and Calhoun taking in the “Sugar Rush” racers after the game gets broken; there are some good jokes about “spicing up” their relationship and becoming a “father of fifteen,” but it doesn’t really go anywhere because it isn’t addressed again until the very end of the film.

We get a glimpse of the initial stress Felix is under when he turns up at Tappers to get “drunk” on root beer, but that’s about it. There was a lot of potential with this subplot involving two of the original film’s most beloved characters, as they could have cut back and forth between Felix and Calhoun struggling to raise the little ne’er-do-wells and Ralph and Vanellope’s steering wheel quest. As it is, though, they simply reappear at the end to explain their miraculous parenting secrets to the Surge Protector, who is amazed at how angelic the little brats have become.

Actually, there is one other element of Felix’s arc in this film that doesn’t make sense. It might seem like a trivial point, but when Ralph heads out to the internet with Vanellope, Felix promises to “cover” for him while he’s gone. Now, keeping in mind that the entire plot of the first film revolved around “Fix-It Felix Jr.” being shut down precisely because of Ralph’s absence, this rings rather false – how in the world is Felix supposed to cover for him!? Ralph’s role is a specialist one which none of the other Nicelanders can fill; is Felix simply banking on the game not being played for more than a day? Or do they have a homeless character from another game who could perhaps do the wrecking? Nobody knows, because the writers didn’t bother to explain it properly.

Shank talks to Vanellope on car

Alright, enough bellyaching about the original characters – how are the new ones? Thankfully, most of them are enjoyable additions, somewhat making up for the lack of time spent with our favourites from the first film. One of the most important newbies is Shank, the lead character in a modern online racing game called “Slaughter Race” who comes to symbolise an exciting new dream for Vanellope.

Shank is first introduced as an obstacle to be overcome; having accidentally bid thousands for the steering wheel at eBay, Ralph and Vanellope are in need of some cash quick and are directed to “Slaughter Race” by Spamley to try and hijack her car, which will net them an obscene amount of money from some nutcase in Des Moines. However, Shank is far too good of a driver to let them escape, so that plan soon falls apart.

Shank and Felony filming Ralph

Shank is surprisingly cool about the whole thing, though, once she understands what Ralph and Vanellope were trying to do. She and her whole crew, despite looking as tough as nails, are really quite mellow and friendly. So, even though they tried to rob her, Shank is good enough to help Ralph and Vanellope out by proffering a suggestion; rather than stealing cars, why don’t they try to make their money the same way everybody else on the internet does – by becoming a viral video star? She even sets up an account for Ralph on BuzzzTube and helps him create his first video, then directs them to BuzzzTube itself where they can talk to its head algorithm, Yesss.

The plot progresses, but Vanellope has been well and truly bitten by the racing bug. She has fallen in love with “Slaughter Race,” and Shank epitomises everything she wants to be – a cool older girl in a “real” racing game with no tracks or limitations, free to try all the crazy stunts she likes. Despite Ralph’s obvious jealousy, Vanellope eventually finds her way back to “Slaughter Race” and has a heart-to-heart with Shank about her predicament. The two of them share a sisterly dynamic, with Shank even pointing out that Vanellope needs to talk to Ralph when the girl drags her feet.

In some ways, Vanellope’s friendship with Shank could be seen as the natural “graduation” of maturity; while Vanellope does enjoy her time with Ralph, Shank serves as a more serious companion who she can actually talk to and who understands her on a deeper level, due to their shared love of racing. (Compare with Ralph earlier in the film, who is thoroughly perplexed by Vanellope’s wanderlust and stubbornly resists all change).

Shank follow me to the exit

Later, Shank’s patience continues to hold even as Ralph and Vanellope’s dysfunctional relationship forces her entire server to reboot mid-game (although I’m sure she was secretly wishing she’d never gotten involved with these two). Her main concern is to get Vanellope out before the reboot begins or the girl will be deleted – luckily, Ralph gets to them in time, after which we don’t see Shank again until the end. Even there, she’s very forgiving towards the guy who set a virus loose in her game, simply telling Ralph, “Don’t be a stranger!”

In the end, it’s easy to see why Vanellope took such a shine to Shank, even if that still doesn’t excuse her abandoning “Sugar Rush”. Relaxed, playful and easy-going, Shank is exactly the kind of role model that Vanellope has always wanted, and it is her very coolness that makes her such a threat to Ralph.

Shank’s crew aren’t given a lot of development and are all rather one-note, but as a group, they are Disney’s usual token “don’t-judge-a-book-by-its-cover” characters. Many modern Disney films carry this message with characters like Nick Wilde or Honey Lemon, and while it’s certainly commendable, it works better when done with central characters who have enough screen time to be utilised beyond this role.

The four members of the crew all look like your typical neighbourhood hooligans but are shown to be reasonable and polite underneath, respecting the players who challenge them and even questioning the morality of their villainous role in the game (rather like Ralph did). Butcher Boy is the most notable one, a towering brawny bloke who watches TED talks and “honours other people’s journeys”; he’s played like a stereotypically oversensitive American millennial, although he can still put the pedal to the mettle with the best of them and is genuinely intimidating when pushed. The others in the group include Pyro, a smaller, wackier guy with a flamethrower who helps Ralph make his first video, Felony, the girl who offers up her phone to make said video with, and Little Debbie, who doesn’t really do much beyond offering a cameo for YouTube star GloZell.

Next, we come to one of my favourites of the new additions – Yesss, the sleek and chic head algorithm of a video-sharing site called BuzzzTube. Her character was modelled on Cruella de Vil (only physically, of course) and really livens up every scene she’s in thanks to Taraji P. Henson’s fabulously hammy performance. It’s interesting to see such an abstract concept personified in a character like this, even if it doesn’t always make a lot of sense.

Ralph and Vanellope first encounter Yesss after Shank sends them to see her about becoming BuzzzTube stars. Quick and sharp, she’s obviously a very busy woman (who hasn’t got all day) and initially doesn’t take much interest in Ralph… that is until she realises that he’s trending and could be a potentially lucrative star. She’s hilariously fickle in this first scene, just as you’d expect of a character involved in the ever-changing world of memes; for a few seconds, she has Ralph on top of the world, believing that earning the money they need will be easy. Then, suddenly, he’s no longer trending – Yesss thanks him for dropping by and prepares to move on with her day, but Ralph’s not going to give up that easily. He promises to make her a bunch of other videos, doing anything he has to in order to get the part for Vanellope’s game. His determination wins Yesss over and from then on, she’s fully committed to helping them in their endeavour.

As the hours go by (and it is only hours as the entire plot is crammed into about a day), Yesss seems to develop a sort of affection for the two out-of-place arcade characters, looking out for them, giving them advice and even deploying her “elite pop-up army” to help boost viewership of Ralph’s videos. In the same way that Shank becomes a mentor to Vanellope, Yesss begins to take on a similar role towards Ralph, particularly when she gently explains to him about the meaningless of online comment sections. She also changes outfits in almost every scene she’s in, sporting an impressive array of different looks and hairstyles which adapt to suit the occasion – again alluding to the ever-changing world of the internet by linking it to the similarly changeable world of fashion.

Yesss says life's complicated

Like Shank, though, Yesss undoubtedly comes to regret ever meeting these two trouble-makers when she finds herself flying for her life from an army of virus-created Ralph clones – honestly, the whole film can be made a lot funnier simply by imagining what the denizens of the internet must be thinking to themselves as Ralph and Vanellope get them into crazier and crazier situations.

In the climax, Ralph and Vanellope call Yesss for help when they’re trapped by the insecurity clones, with the idea of using her personal web-browser to lure them all to the antivirus district where they will, hopefully, be destroyed. Unfortunately, they’re not quite quick enough and the clones knock the browser from the sky, although even then Yesss doesn’t lose hope and starts trying to turn it over, determined to carry out the plan until it becomes clear they’re not going to escape the “Ralphzilla” that’s now formed. She sneaks Vanellope out the back of the tower they’re in, but then nearly loses her life when the monster smashes into it, cracking the stairwell and leaving her trapped on a perilous ledge…

And then her part in the film is cut short. That’s right: we never see Yesss again after this moment. Presumably she somehow got down from the tower, but the filmmakers don’t bother to show this as they’re too preoccupied with Ralph overcoming his insecurities and then being rescued by the princesses. I feel like they kind of did her dirty after everything Ralph and Vanellope put her through; surely, they could have shown us a few seconds of Yesss making it to safety before the end of the scene?

Maybe close-up

Yesss’s assistant is called Maybe (ha-ha – I wonder who “No” is in this universe? Her ex-boyfriend, perhaps?). He acts as her adviser on all things trending but is much more reserved and hesitant than his boss, seeming nervous to question her when she tells him to set security on Ralph and Vanellope. Much like Shank’s crew, he’s never given that much to do – too many characters and not enough time to flesh them all out, I guess – but I did appreciate the filmmakers’ choice to make the head of BuzzzTube female and give her a male secretary. It’s a refreshing change of pace, as we have more than enough films offering the reverse dynamic.