Saturday, November 18, 2017

Andi Mack: Mama Review

In this latest episode of Andi Mack: we get a story that while finally providing some great back story on the Mack family, also provides a tale of how holding on to one point of view without thinking about how others may see you, can lead to negative circumstances. The main part of the episode focuses on Andi and Bex helping Celia clean out the house. However digging through mementos of the past, causes memories of the past to fully resurface; most notably: memories of what led to Bex leaving Andi with Celia many years ago. The thing is though: both Bex and Celia seem to remember these events differently. Bex recalls Celia being extremely critical of every mistake Bex was being, while Celia remembers Bex being very irresponsible. The thing is though: despite these flashbacks seemingly being in conflict with each other, they actually do fit together.

There's been more than enough evidence in the series thus far to say that Bex does have a history with being irresponsible and not making the best choices. Thus, all of Bex's many irresponsible choices (most notably becoming pregnant with Andi before she was ready) would cause Celia to become very critical of her. This is especially true when you come to realize that for Celia: witnessing Bex making so many mistakes would undoubtedly cause her to question where she went wrong as a mother, and all that frustration would cause her to be more harsh in her interactions with Bex. So while the flashbacks Bex and Celia do have in this episode might have been skewed a bit, it's equally valid that both flashbacks did happen exactly as both remember them (but at different times).

However this does lead to a flashback moment that both Bex and Celia both seem to agree did indeed happen when Andi was just a few months old. When both Bex and Celia have an argument that goes on for over half an hour, it causes them both to forget where they had left Andi. And this causes both individuals, but perhaps more-so Bex to realize: that the two fighting constantly will only lead to Andi eventually getting hurt. And that's when Bex left. It was one major event, but it was viewed in two different ways. To Celia: this was Bex just being irresponsible again. But for Bex: this was a sacrifice. For Bex: she wanted to spare Andi the experience of being raised by both a mother who wasn't completely ready to be one, along with the experience of being raised by a mother who would be constantly told by her own mother that she was truly not up to the task. And seeing Andi actually say her first word: mama to Celia (and not her), just causes Bex who already feels completely irresponsible, feel driven away to leave Andi with the woman who seems more fit to be her mother.

And this is something that can realistically happen in our current culture today. Too often many people, even those with the best intentions, can become so obsessed with just their point of view that they fail to try to take others' points of views. And this isn't an issue of what is right or wrong. It's the issue of just taking a moment to think about how another person may be viewing you or the same situation you're witnessing, can greatly impact how you then interact with that person. In this story, we now realize that Celia simply had the intention to help give Bex and Andi a better life. But Celia's inability to see how Bex perceived her, caused her to unintentionally come across as rude and critical to Bex. And while Bex was indeed irresponsible during her teenage years, she still had every intention to try to be a good mother to Andi. But Bex's inability to try to see how Celia perceived her, caused her to feel disconnected from her own mother and feel driven to leave.

And this leads to the importance of communication. And not just shouting out your inner thoughts at people, but real communication. When you talk.... but also listen, and then reflect on what others have said and how they interacted with you. Another great example of this is in the side plot of the episode with Buffy playing cards with her elderly neighbor. Buffy's neighbor (like her) is obsessed with winning. But when Buffy realizes that her neighbor's obsession with winning caused her friends and family to not want to be around her anymore, it causes Buffy to finally reflect on what others have said about her in the past, and how they interacted. Which leads Buffy for the first time in her life walking away from a game, not caring if she won or not. Despite this episode of Andi Mack feeling quite short and not giving viewers as much flashback material as they may have wanted on the Mack family, it does still present great character drama and a great life lesson. For so long, Bex and Celia kept shouting their thoughts at the other without really listening to one another. But now that they are finally hearing the other out, hopefully the two will finally be able to help each other  more and grow in the future. And if you yourself are experiencing some sort of crisis, or helping some one else experiencing some sort of crisis, don't forget that communication.... is key.

Notes:
-The episode previous to this is "Friends Like These". The following episode is "The Snorpian".
-This episode is the first to feature flashbacks during the time when Andi was a baby. Aside from Andi, all of the actors played their younger selves with wigs and make up.
-The video version of this review is available here.

Sunday, November 12, 2017

Top 10 Ninja Turtles (2012 Series) Episodes | Blog Exclusive

This month, the Ninja Turtles (2012 series) reaches it's end on television. Despite having the shortest run of any animated Ninja Turtles series (thus far), it was still beloved by many fans mostly due to the fact that while the series was primarily created for children, it knew exactly how to keep adults entertained with it's fun characters, best of the best voice actors, engaging stories, and tons of references to classic TV shows and movies. Now despite adapting basic stories from past Turtles media, the series took the smart move of creating mostly original tales. This way the episodes didn't feel like reruns to long time adult fans of the franchise. Plus it allowed them to mash up many elements from past Turtles media. Such as bringing back elements and characters fans had longed to see from the classic 1987 cartoon, re-introducing characters made popular by the 2003 cartoon, and throwing in favorite moments from the classic 1990 live action film. On top of that: despite re-imagining many supporting characters, the show also succeeded at creating some very new memorable and beloved characters (Ice Cream Kitty, anyone?). Now despite how entertaining the series was, most episodes featured pretty simple plots that weren't begging to be re-watched. However, the show did have ten stand out stories that are definitely worthy of being checked out again and again by both hardcore and casual fans. Below is a list of those stories.

10. Monsters and Mutants Mini-Series (Season 5) - In the final season of the series: the shows' creators and writers following the first four episodes of the season, decided that rather than do a traditional Ninja Turtles season with simple story arcs and season long plots, opted instead to do a series of stand alone episodes and mini-series. One of the more notable ones is the Monsters Among Us mini-series which featured an epic time travel story featuring the Ninja Turtles having a crossover with the classic Universal movie monsters including Dracula, the Mummy, the Werewolf, and Frankenstein. Now over the years, most times these classic monsters are used in cartoons: it's either done as a parody, or their creepiness is so watered down they become more silly than scary to watch. However this crossover brings these classic monsters back to their full classic creepy glory, making it feel like the Ninja Turtles are having one of the most legitimate crossovers with the creatures of classic cinema. Not to mention: the mini-series involves tons of time travel. So you essentially have a fun mix of sci-fi with horror. It's tons of fun for young viewers that are new to classic movie monsters along with long time fans of the horror genre.

9. The Invasion (Season 2) - Now when the Ninja Turtles (2012) series premiered, it was beloved by fans. The characters were a lot of fun, the actors were great, and much of the humor was pretty solid. However despite using original stories for the majority of the series' early run, the episodes were starting to get to repetitive. Despite there actually being some character and plot development, some viewers were starting to question: how many times can you see the same characters battling in the same locations in New York City. Then the season 2 finale came along that involved the biggest shake up in the series thus far. The Turtles lose. Yes, that's right. They lose. Despite all their best efforts, they're beaten by their enemies and the evil Kraang aliens actually take over the city. The series also for the first time incorporates very specific moments and scenes from the Mirage comics including Leonardo's famous solo fight with the Foot Ninja and Shredder, along with the Turtles team having to run away to the old farm house. It was the first time in the shows' run where you finally began to care for these characters. Because even though you would predict they would eventually reclaim the city in the next season, this was the story that made you realize... the Turtle can lose.

8. Raphael: Mutant Apocalypse (Season 5) - Another stand alone story from the final season of the series. Now this can be viewed as an alternate universe story, a what if tale, or the true conclusion of the series. And the fun part is: all three alternatives can work in your head while watching this tale. The story takes place in the future. A mutagen bomb that went off years ago has killed all humans, the entire planet is a seemingly barren desert wasteland, and only a small amount of mutants are left. The only surviving Turtle is an aged Raphael whose only companion is a robot that contains the brain of his fallen brother Donatello. The entire story can be considered a huge homage to the Mad Max franchise. However at the same time, it also echoes stories from the Mirage comics that also made the future of the Ninja Turtles seem dark and depressing. However the final product ends up being a very unique entry in the franchise. It's essentially a story that acts as THE END of the Ninja Turtles story (at least this one). It's a strangely more dark Turtles tale that features plenty of surprises and lots of intense action for a very notable adventure.

7. Annihilation: Earth! (Season 3) - Another game changing season finale tale. Like the season 2 finale, this story too features aliens attacking the Earth. Only this time, it's the Triceratons (the famous menacing aliens that first appeared in the Mirage comics and later made much more popular by the 2003 cartoon). But they don't want to take over the Earth. They want to destroy it. The story suddenly becomes the biggest high stakes adventure in which nearly every character from this version of the Turtles cartoon bands together to save the planet. But the thing is (spoiler!) they lose. The episode ends with the entire planet destroyed. Only the Turtles, April, and Casey survive in a space ship. Everyone else is DEAD! Now several episodes later (more spoilers!) they use the power of time travel to undo the planet being destroyed. But for awhile, it seemed like the Turtles had truly lost. And despite time travel fixing it later, the fact is: they still at one point did fail. So it made the viewers realize now more than ever: the Turtles were still not perfect heroes, and the fact that they had made such a large mistake in the past, meant more mistakes could still happen in the future.

6. Buried Secrets (Season 3) - By far, the creepiest episode of the series. During the multiple episodes where the Turtles were recuperating from their big loss at the end of season 2, the heroes come across April's mother who has been locked away in a fallen spaceship. Now first off, there's some fun fan service with April's mother being voiced by the same actress who played April in the 1987 cartoon. However things aren't what they seem as it's revealed that Aprils' mother is really an evil monster that's devouring each character one at a time and even taking on their forms. Now words alone cannot describe this episode with justice. The look, feel, and pacing is pure horror. It's not a homage to famous horror stories. It simply is a horror story. Despite balancing the drama with a few comedic moments with Michelangelo and Ice Cream Kitty (which are actually really funny by the way), the episode pushes to the max how creepy a children's cartoon can get. It got to the point where many have questioned how the shows' creators actually got away with this episode. Somehow this show made a perfect horror story... for kids.

5. Trans-Dimensional Turtles (Season 4) - It's the famous crossover with the 2012 cartoon Ninja Turtles meeting the 1987 cartoon Ninja Turtles. Despite reusing some elements from the last time the 1987 cartoon Turtles were part of a major crossover (that being Turtles Forever), this crossover is designed not just as a fun multiverse crossover, but also an homage to the 1987 cartoon. In this crossover: they brought back as many of the surviving classic voice cast as they could from the 1987 cartoon. Plus, this crossover works to give the 1987 cartoon as much respect as possible (but still not without forgetting to remind us how goofy that series was too). A fun feature of the crossover is seeing the 2D and 3D animation styles being mixed together, along with a well done cameo by the original Mirage Comic Ninja Turtles. However, it's the fun interaction of generations colliding and homage to the classic cartoon that makes this so much fun. Now there was a second crossover with the 1987 cartoon during season 5 that was decent enough (and was very close to making it into this top 10 list). However it just retreaded a lot of ground and lacked the importance of this crossover since the different Turtles had already met previously. But both crossovers are still a must see for fans of the classic toon.

4. The Usagi Yojimbo Crossover (Season 5) - In the final season of the series, the Ninja Turtles had a crossover with the famous samurai rabbit: Miyomoto Usagi in the three part story arc: Yojimbo/ Osoroshi no Tabi/ Kagayake! Kintaro. For those that don't know: Usagi Yojimbo is an independent comic series created by famed comics legend Stan Sakai; whose famous samurai rabbit character lives in a land similar to Feudal Japan in a dimension separate from the Ninja Turtles. However, due to the friendship between Stan Sakai and Turtles' co-creators: Kevin Eastman and Peter Laird, it has led to the Ninja Turtles having various crossovers with Usagi in both the comics and every past Turtles cartoon. However unlike past TV crossovers, this tale was done with full involvement from Usagi creator: Stan Sakai. Resulting in him actually consulting, writing, and even doing some art work for this epic adventure. The entire story takes place in Usagi's world, and thus feels like you're watching a completely different TV series. However within three half hours, Stan Sakai and the Turtles TV team create a highly imaginative, fascinating, intriguing, and entertaining world. The story is essentially flawless given it's setting. This truly was one of the best adaptations of the Usagi Yojimbo world onto television, and the fact that it leaves you wanting more should be no surprise to anyone why it's on this top 10 list.

3. Lone Rat and Cubs (Season 5) - Despite airing in the final season, this is essentially Episode Zero of the show. It is a true prequel to the entire series and requires zero knowledge of any previous episode to understand and enjoy it. The story focuses on the early days of when Splinter first became a mutant rat man and had to take care of these little mutant Turtle toddlers that had come into his life. But with this being the early days of Splinter being a freak living on the run, he is still trying to figure out what he is to do for the rest of life along with what these little Turtle creatures mean to him. A very notable behind the scenes fact that has to be said about this story is that it was written by Ninja Turtles co-creator: Kevin Eastman. The fact that Eastman himself wrote this fleshed out origin on the Turtles and Splinter makes it all the more special. The fact that he wrote this TV episode makes this origin actually feel like THE most legitimate origin of the Turtles in animation. Top it all off with some of the series' best voice acting yet by actor Hoon Lee (who beautifully carries this entire tale since he's given about 90% of the episodes' dialogue) and you have one of the best stand alone Turtles stories ever.

2. Requiem/Owari (Season 4) - Despite not being the series finale, this story is definitely the emotional finale of the entire show. It's the final battle of the Turtles versus Shredder. Now first off: the show took an idea that was barely utilized from the second live action of a Super Shredder, and gave us a version of the Turtles' famous enemy that is more horrific and deadly than ever before. But things hit the hugely intense point when (spoiler!) Shredder kills Splinter. And there's no time travel to fix this. Splinter is killed in battle against his hated enemy. Again, the Turtles have lost. However after mourning the loss of their father, the four mutant brothers and their human allies decide to finally take the battle to Shredder. While the first episode of the series adapted elements from the beginning of the very first Ninja Turtles comic, this episode adapts elements from it's end. The Turtles have come to end this long standing feud. The Turtles in this episode have come to KILL SHREDDER! The fights are very fast pace and intense in this episode. Years of training and experience have come this one final battle, and you can tell the Turtles aren't holding anything back. And it all ends with Leonardo finishing off Shredder just like he did in their final battle from the Mirage Comics... by cutting off his head. And that is it. The Shredder is dead. Now it's unknown how this children's cartoon got away with both the death of a parent and decapitation of an enemy in this two-part tale. However all of these somewhat horrific moments don't feel forced in for the sake of shock value. Every moment in this story feels like this is what should naturally happen when it occurs. Even though every story in the fifth and final season was welcomed, if the show had ended here, it would've definitely been a perfect note to end things on.

1. Tale of the Yokai (Season 3) - This is it. One of the best half hours of the Ninja Turtles franchise, and possibly one of the best dramatic half hours of children's television ever made. It's the episode that features the full backstory of the Turtles' famous master Splinter, and their dreaded enemy: the Shredder. Despite not being a completely faithful adaptation to any previous Turtles media, this unique story will probably instantly become the definitive origin story of Splinter and Shredder for most viewers watching. Through the power of time travel, the Ninja Turtles actually get to observe from afar their former master when he was a young ninja known as Hamato Yoshi. However in this story, we learned Hamato Yoshi had an adopted brother known as Oroku Saki. But we learn Saki's evil parents were killed by Yoshi's family. Now even though Yoshi's family took pity on him and raised him, Saki has decided to take his full revenge all out on Hamato Yoshi as an adult. But why wait till now? Because Saki has also become insanely jealous since his adoptive brother married and had a child with the woman he was in love with. So Saki in a completely delusional frame of mind, thinks killing Yoshi and Yoshi's entire ninja clan will bring him happiness. But sadly his madness winds up accidentally scarring his face and ending the life of the women he loved. The story alone creates so much more dimension to both Splinter and Shredder. It makes you look at both characters in a completely different way every time you watch them after seeing this episode. But it's more than just a well done origin story for two famous characters from the Turtles lore. It's just a well done story, period. It's a tale of two brothers who let a simple feud grow too far. It's a tale of a man who lets his obsession for the unobtainable take him too far. And it's a cautionary tragic tale for how temptation and sinful actions can ruin and scar all of the lives around you forever. It is the Ninja Turtles story that anyone should check out.

*Note - This blog post featured many links to the TMNT Entity blog. An amazing fan blog that is designed to review every Ninja Turtles story ever. So go check it out sometime.

Friday, November 10, 2017

Andi Mack: Friends Like These Review

In Andi Mack's latest episode, we get a series of short stories that focuses on the theme of moving forward from the past; even if it can be difficult in the present. The most notable of these stories first involves Andi dealing with Amber being suddenly very nice to her and trying to figure out what this means. On one hand, Andi and friends have to deal with the possibility that Amber may not be over Jonah and is trying to get close to Andi so that she can in a deranged way: be closer to Jonah. However on the other hand, Andi has to deal with the possibility that Amber may indeed be trying to be a better person, and Andi may be allowing her emotions to not show kindness to a seemingly lonely person who is in need of a friend. By the episodes' end, it still isn't fully revealed where Amber's mind set in. Andi's however is when she shows a basic act of friendship with Amber.

Meanwhile, Cyrus has to deal with moving forward with where his mind and heart are when he has a date with Iris. Cyrus who had previously put a lot of time into his relationship with Iris, is having great difficulty at showing any desire to break up with her. Meanwhile at the same time: Bex is having great difficulty at admitting to Andi and acknowledging her past romance with a guy named Gabriel. Even though the details aren't revealed, it is clear to see that Bex doesn't want to put this guy's picture in her box of past boyfriends, because those are individuals she's put behind her and this mystery guy isn't. And just as it can be with many individuals, Andi predicts with Bex that one of the reasons she can't move forward properly with her own future is that she hasn't put the past completely behind her. Now the episode also features a side plot about Buffy trying out and making it on the boys' basketball team. And while it doesn't seemingly tie into the theme that the other stories feature, it actually sort of does.

You see: in any scenario where there isn't a precedent for what's come before, it can be hard to move forward with your objective. In this case, the school featured here has never had a girls' basketball team. And while that is rare for a major public school nowadays, it's still not unheard of. If no one steps up and starts one, there will be none. And sadly with preteens and teens, it can be difficult to be the first one to do something when it comes to anything. So even though Buffy isn't trying to work past difficulties she herself has faced in the past, she instead is facing preconceived notions that many other people have had about how things in the past should work. Overall, while this episode of Andi Mack acts more as a starter for several plot lines (rather than featuring solid full plots on it's own), it does continue to do one of the things that the series has always been good at; that being: tying seemingly separate plots together to the same themes. Thus showing viewers of all ages that whether you're a kid, teenager, or adult, we all deal with the same types of issues at all ages in life. And no matter what age you are: life will always have it's challenges, but don't forget that you don't have to deal with them alone.

Notes:
-The episode previous to this is "Chinese New Year". The following episode is "Mama".
-This episode marks the first episode of the second season that marks the absence of a main cast member, that being actress Lauren Tom as Celia.
-The video version of this review is available here.

Sunday, November 5, 2017

Pokemon: I Choose You Movie Review

Pokemon: I Choose You is the 20th movie in the Pokemon franchise that celebrates the legacy of the Pokemon anime series, with a retelling of the first seasons' adventures mixed with new material. But at it's heart, it holds true to the core concept of the anime series: that being the journey and the love between a boy and his best friends. Now just to be clear, this movie is designed for Pokemon fans first and foremost. Unlike the TV series, there is little time spent on battle mechanics, Poke-Dex entries, or exposition on how this imaginative world works. So just like the Pokemon movies of days gone past, any parents watching with kids who are not familiar with the Pokemon franchise will be left out of the loop. But that being said, this does work to the movie's strength; as time the movie could've spent on exposition of what different Pokemon are and how the world works, is instead used to tell an actual story with real emotion and heart.

Now many fans going into this movie (especially fans that loved the first season of the anime when it first premiered like myself) may have expected this to be Pokemon season one's greatest hits with a new spin. However that really only applies to about a third of the movie, with the rest of the film being a new take on how never aging: Ash Ketchum first got started on his journey and learned how to first love his Pokemon. That being said, the beginning of the film definitely retreads a lot of old ground. The first fifteen minutes is a retelling of the first episode of the TV series with just a few simple differences, and mainly the highlights of that first episode being re-shown. However, the animation in this retelling looks gorgeous and it's in this first section of the film that the movie has it's best comedic timing.

And just to take a step away from the story for a moment, the animation in this movie is completely beautiful to watch. While the character designs are average for children's anime; the backgrounds, movements, and action sequences are the best ever done in the Pokemon franchise. There are no flashy backgrounds or stiff movements. The Pokemon in this movie despite being 2D cartoon characters, feel like they could move in the real world. The animation alone in this movie brings so much life and excitement to this tale. The voice acting is decent enough, and the background music is okay too, but the animation really is the center piece to what holds this movie together.

But moving back to the story: after the first fifteen minutes, the rest of the movie is mostly a Pokemon road trip tale. Echoing closer to the feel you get from playing the video games, the movie is literally just Ash bouncing from town to town, and forest to forest, battling Pokemon, meeting new friends, and having quick adventures. Now some of these quick adventures involve short re-tellings of fan favorite episodes from season one, such as Ash's Caterpee becoming a Buterfree and then eventually having to leave him, along with how how Ash caught Charmander. However the majority of this road trip is filled with new material such as Ash meeting two new friends, and gaining a new legitimately very harsh and hate filled rival. Now while it would've been much more preferable to have Ash's original friends: Misty and Brock, along with his original rival: Gary be in this movie, the new characters work decent enough. They lack the fun characteristics of Ash's original companions, but they're serviceable enough for a movie.

However, having characters with more simplistic characteristics might have been used so the movie could focus more on just Ash and his growth. This movie is Ash's story first and foremost, and you never forget that. And since this is a barely experienced version of Ash we're working with again, he can now be allowed to make major mistakes again as a trainer. But rather than experience mostly comedic mistakes like he did in the first season of the TV series, this movie takes a more dramatic turn. About halfway through the film: Ash loses a Pokemon battle to a strong fire type. And after relying solely on strength and that feeling that he should win because he's destined to always win, he gets very frustrated. And because in this movie he didn't have a water type Pokemon, he actually wishes out loud he had a different first Pokemon than Pikachu. But sadly, he says this within ear shot of Pikachu.

Then the movie takes a turn into the most bizarre dream sequence ever done in the franchise. In which Ash dreams he's a normal 10 year old in the real world where he actually has to go to school and there are no Pokemon around to see or be friends with. And it's only after seeing this dreaded nightmare (the nightmare of the real world) does Ash regret what he said and comes back to Pikachu apologizing and the two strengthen their friendship. It's actually a very fresh and effective story that strengthens the emotional bond between the two. And without giving too much away, like the first movie: this story does have a major emotional climax where it looks like one of these two amazing friends may have just died. However, this film's climax works much more effectively than the first film for three reasons. One: it's a situation that mirrors the first time they were in a life threatening situation. Two: the reaction from when one of the characters' think the other is dead is done with some very well presented emotion that conveys a great deal of sadness and anger about the situation. And the final reason being: for the first time in the franchise, via some sort of physic bond they have, we actually get a moment where we hear Pikachu speak to Ash... in human talk... and it's done in a very emotionally moving way.

And that's the best way to sum up the movie's overall strengths; in that it relies on emotion just right. Like the rest of the franchise, there's very little intellectual and realistic sense that goes into this world. Kids can wander through the woods and talk to strangers, people make their pets fight for entertainment, and at ten years old you can leave home (although this movie at least features Ash's mom yelling at him over the phone for not calling for months which was actually very funny). But the scenes that revolve around love and attachment to loved ones is what the movie showcases well. And considering the movie was marketed to individuals that had a love for and attachment to this franchise from the beginning, it plays with the emotions of those individuals quite well. Overall, Pokemon: I Choose You is a must see for Pokemon fans young and old, and will give you a fun emotionally filled journey that you'll get great joy from.

Friday, November 3, 2017

Andi Mack: Chinese New Year Review

In the second episode of it's second season, Andi Mack delivers another solid step in both the series' overall story, and it's standard of quality family entertainment. The main part of the episode revolves around drama both family and friends experience on the day of Chinese New Year, along with the holiday itself. Now first off: just as the previous episode worked on one type of representation, this episode works on another; that being cultural representation via traditions associated with Chinese New Year. Now unlike some educational shows out there that try to hammer in the history behind a holiday or its' traditions via tons of exposition, this episode features the Mack family acting very matter of a fact and casual about everything since this is obviously nothing new to them. However when Andi invites Jonah to spend Chinese New Year with her family, through him: any audience members who are not Chinese or unfamiliar with that culture, are able to learn a few things via his loose educational journey.

Now while this is all going on, there's a side story in the episode about Buffy wanting to join the boys' basketball team at school (since there is no girls basketball team). Now there are many things that can be said about this situation. First off: one could make the argument that this story does a decent job at addressing gender equality and shows that girls should be allowed to do the same thing boys can do. But what this plot point also addresses are realistic complications that come from sports teams in schools. First off: the school in the story is said to have never had a girls' basketball team. And while this is strange to see in a large public middle school, it's not unheard of. And even more important, it's hard in any school to start a new sports team when there has been no precedent of it. And also: when it gets to middle school and definitely high school, having a gender mixed sports team is a tricky situation. On one hand, you do want to see gender equality. On the other hand: it can be difficult in a mixed gender sports game where players are constantly in such close physical proximity to each other, which can result in a situation where two players of opposite genders find themselves bumping into each other a lot, and that can result in either party getting uncomfortable or accusing the other of doing something inappropriate. However, going with the theme of the main part of this story: representation matters, and Buffy should be allowed to play basketball in some fashion. However the solution to helping her find some type of way to play basketball on some type of professional team is still going to be tricky.

Meanwhile the main emotional aspects of this episode focus on everyone dealing with the effects of Bex not wanting to marry Bowie. Now there's definitely a sadness to it all because not just Andi, but nearly everyone else seems to be very pro the two getting together. However, the story here reminds audiences that when it comes to marriage: it really is a choice that revolves around the decisions of just two people; in this case - Bowie and Bex. And while Bowie is very much on board with marriage, sadly: Bex is not. And for Bex: this is very understandable. Her life over the last few months has resulted in many changes. So for her: it's hard to want to let in a new factor that could result in even more changes. And as the end of the episode reminds viewers, Bex still hasn't told everyone the full story of what she's been through over the last thirteen years. And if one can't be honest about their journey in the past, then how can they properly move forward with a brand new one in the future?

Notes:
-The episode previous to this is "Hey, Who Wants Pizza?". The following episode is "Friends Like These".
-The pictures shown of Celia's ancestors were actually pictures of actress Lauren Tom's real life ancestors.
-This episode introduces Andi's great aunt and her son (Andi's second cousin).
-The video version of this review is available here.

Saturday, October 28, 2017

Andi Mack: Hey, Who Wants Pizza? Review

Disney’s new hit series: Andi Mack starts its second season off on a high note with a well presented hour long story that finds time to share the spotlight between its ensemble cast of characters, all the while continuing and improving upon the series consistent strength of showcasing true to life situations with excellence. The new season’s premiere primarily functions as a means to kick start multiple story arcs that feature major turning points for the majority of the characters. Now if there’s one word that can be used to describe the theme of all of the characters’ journeys in this premiere, it would be: confusion. The episode features many of the characters trying to take steps to grow into the next phase of their lives, but are all uncertain of how to do it right. However, this isn't showcased as a means to make the characters seem dumb or for the show to talk down to its' audience. Rather, it is done in a way that realistically shows how it can be difficult for many individuals of different ages and backgrounds to find the right way to take the appropriate next steps in growing up.

The first and most focused upon of these scenarios is the situation of whether Bowie will ask Bex to marry him. Bowie obviously wants to be a permanent part of Bex and Andi's lives but isn't sure of how to proceed with making it happen. But the other side of the situation is whether Bex would say yes to Bowie's potential marriage proposal along with the fact that not only is the audience uncertain of what Bex really wants, but Bex herself is still trying to figure out what she wants. And that is very understandable. She has only just started to get used to her role of being Andi's mother and primary provider. Now Bex like anyone probably wants a traditional happy family for herself and Andi one day, but it's obviously hard for her to want to bring in any other type of major change into her life right now since so much in her life has already been turned upside down. Which is probably why when the marriage proposal finally happens... Bex decides to say no to Bowie.

Meanwhile, the season premiere also features Andi and Jonah... finally becoming a couple. Seriously. Once broken up with Amber, Jonah finally sees the obvious light that both Andi and the audience clearly saw during all of season one. So after letting Andi know how much he really likes her (but without pushing her to like him back which was a nicely done move), he and Andi start the basic beginnings of a stronger relationship. Now for Andi, this would seem like a dream come true. However Andi quickly learns that getting this dream turned into a reality isn't what she expected. She finds herself even more nervous now, since the emotions that come from being someone's girlfriend are brand new to her and she isn't sure of how to handle them. It's a nice little nod to reality in the sense that for anyone: not all situations turn out the way we think they will in life.

And speaking of things not turning out the way anyone thought, Amber is back in this premiere and for the first time ever, she acts... nice. Now some new information about her is learned in this episode. Such as Iris telling the gang that Amber has always been insecure and Amber even revealing privately to Jonah that another part of the reason she's acted like a jerk recently is because her dad lost his job and has been out of work for some time which has obviously had a negative impact on the family. Now whether Amber is lying or not is still left uncertain by the end of the episode. Unlike the uncertainty that comes from what all of the other characters are going to do next in the series, Amber's true intentions and future actions are now the only true mystery the series has at this particular point. And thanks to both the writing, direction, and actress Emily Skinner's performance, it truly is very difficult to pinpoint what she's really up to and what's going to happen next. And that's exactly how good television story telling should be done. Things in the real world can be unpredictable at times and that's what this series showcases well.

And speaking of the real world, it's time to move onto... the big topic in this episode: Cyrus being gay. Now this revelation isn't just spouted out. What the show cleverly does first is give Cyrus what he's seemingly wanted for some time: a girlfriend who finally kisses him and shows him unconditional affection. But when Cyrus starts realizing that he's experiencing feelings of jealousy from seeing Andi and Jonah get back together, Cyrus only now starts to realize that he isn't sure that he wants Iris anymore, but rather wishes... he had Jonah. Essentially, just like many of the other characters in this episode: Cyrus is very confused about what he wants. But for Cyrus more than anyone else: his change in decision of what he wants has obviously resulted in a massive change in his identity.

Now obviously this major change in Cyrus' character has resulted in a massive response from many different types of people online. Some loving that this type of story is happening in a Disney show, some hating it, and some liking the idea but think it doesn't belong in a kids' show. But here's the thing. Andi Mack from the get go has been a series that showcases what real people (including kids) in the real world deal with. For example, the series from the beginning has tackled the topic of teenage pregnancy. Now one could easily argue this is not a topic that should be addressed on a television program that is being watched by millions of kids. But the thing is, this is a topic that millions of kids in the real world do deal with. They either are or know someone that is the child of a teen parent. It's not a thing that should be glorified, but it's a real thing that happens in the real world, and how to navigate through that type of living situation (and how to assist people you know going through that living situation) is a topic that everyone should be familiar with because unless you're going to be a hermit for the rest of your life, you will encounter someone in this situation at some point. So you should have some idea of how to react to it appropriately when it happens.

Similarly, encountering individuals who are gay is a part of the real world. To act like it isn't would make this show become more fantasy than realistic. And as much as some people might hate to admit this: not addressing the topic can do more harm than good. You see, not letting children know about what groups of people different than themselves or their family are like can cause very negative consequences later down the line. For example: if a child from a family of one particular religion is just told that all other faiths are wrong and nothing else, it can cause that child to grow into an adult that simply hates individuals that have different beliefs. However if that child is told of the differences and similarities different religions and faiths have, it can help them find ways when they're older to create simple friendships or at least find some simple common ground in building relationships with those of different backgrounds. The same can be said with getting to know people from different cultures and countries. You can't ignore the differences, but to ignore the similarities that can bring us peacefully together can be easily designated the greater crime. The exact same type of thing can be said with those that are gay and those that have no interest in being that.

Now this isn't to say that all lifestyle choices people make are right and should be glorified. To say that everyone is right and no one is wrong would result in a world with nothing but chaos and no order. However as Andi Mack showcases, the world is not going to get better by creating more conflict from people fighting over differences. First and foremost, we all need to love and help our neighbors. Maybe not help them in doing things we disagree on, but help them in things we have in common. This is definitely seen with the character of Cyrus. If he had just showed up in the first episode as the gay person that's only there to remind you he's gay, that could cause some audiences to dislike him. But from early on, that's not how he was presented. He was introduced as a supportive friend that finds creative ways to help people first and foremost. Thus: if you ever met Cyrus in real life but didn't approve of his crushing on Jonah, you could still appreciate him for being kind to his friends and the sports team he supported and find common ground to bond with him there. You can go through life not approving of everything your peers do, but can still find something to appreciate in them and even still find something to build some sort of friendship out of.

And these are the kind of conversation topics that can potentially come from families watching this series together. And yes, this is truly a show families need to watch together. Whether you approve of gay lifestyle choices or not, this is the type of show that could be used as a true opportunity to start spring boarding conversations parents have with their kids about if that type of lifestyle choice is right, or why it's wrong, or at the very least: how to appropriately go about interacting and still showing kindness to those that are different than you. Because to not do so, can result in many young people later down the line becoming uninformed individuals that make hateful or harmful choices that cause great damage to many people. So yeah, for anyone thinks Andi Mack is doing harm to young viewers with what they're showing, well I hope you don't mind that the real world is showing them pretty much the same thing. But in a confused world of flawed people, it is good to know that there's one TV show out there that is trying to make an attempt to show how a flawed world... can be a little better.

Notes:
-The episode previous to this is "Best Surprise Ever". The following episode is "Chinese New Year".
-This hour long episode was actually a combination of what was originally planned to be the final half hour episode of season 1, and the first half hour episode of Season 2.
-The video version of this review is available here.

Saturday, October 21, 2017

Casper (1995) Film Review | Blog Exclusive

Hey everyone. Captain Sean here. Back and ready to do a standard review for something fun and all age friendly. Now with Halloween approaching and the way it’s marketed today: it got me thinking. The way monsters and supposedly scary creatures are being marketed today has really changed. Once upon a time: almost anything with a creature of the undead was supposed to come across as somewhat creepy to kids. But now we’ve got girls doll lines that have re-imagined classic movie monsters in oh so fabulous outfits, and even a freaking preschool show about a cute little vampire now. Friendly monsters are now common place. But this has got me remembering a time long ago, back when there was only one friendly creature of the undead. And that would be… Casper. 

First released as a series of cartoon movie shorts in 1945, Casper the Friendly Ghost (like the title would suggest) is about a ghost who is friendly. The ongoing gag of every short was that this ghost kid would continuously be trying to make friends, but almost everyone would run away from him in fear. It was actually kind of a dark comedy. All this creature wants is a friend but he can never catch his luck at first. Now I will admit that I may not be completely objective in this review because Casper the Friendly Ghost was one of the first cartoons I ever watched. A special collection of the old theatrical shorts was one of the first VHS tapes I have any memory of watching as a kid and it did leave an impact on me.

But I don’t think it was necessarily because Casper was a ghost. It was because of two factors. One, the image of people judging Casper by his appearance and not getting to know him. Whether it was intentional or not, I was always saw this as an allegory for racism; which includes assuming the intentions of an individual before you get to know them, and having those assumptions based just on natural physical appearance. The other factor which I do think is more blatant however is Casper is a non-conformist. You see, Casper is part of a family and society of ghosts that just want to scare people. But Casper as polite as possible doesn’t want to confirm to the societal norms of the undead. He just refuses to go with the crowd or give into peer pressure. He’s completely focused on being a kind individual regardless of how his family and peers view that.
 
Meaning Casper was perhaps one of the most fascinating early cartoon characters ever… or I’m just reading too much into this. But regardless, there were attempts to bring Casper back to fame through various TV shows years later but nothing really stuck with pop culture. The only thing people really remembered and wanted to see related to Casper by the 90’s were those classic theatrical shorts which were released on VHS by that point by Universal. But apparently the sales of those old VHS collection tapes were good enough to make Universal realize that Casper had enough fame behind him to be re imagined as a multi-millionaire dollar movie. And so in spring of 1995, a live action re-imagining of Casper was released. Which will be our main focus today...
The Main Review
Now the movie starts out similar enough to the old shorts. Some kids are in a seemingly haunted house, they encounter Casper, and get scared by his appearance. However his appearance is really short and then the movie cuts over to two comical villain characters who are on a mission to find some treasure in the old haunted house they now own. And the movie stays with them… for quite a while. Yeah, I’ve gotta be honest. These two villains are not that funny. The main woman is just a really poor copy of Cruella De Vill. And the guy with her is just your standard dumb flunky. Now I will give a bit of a spoiler now and say: the majority of the scenes in this movie do not feature them, and the film does get much better later… but yeah, this film does not start off on a strong note. And I think this is what might’ve really ruined the movie for other people that have reviewed this film. When you start your film off so weak, it causes some critics to just not care at all for the rest of the picture. So anyway, the two not so silly villains learn that aside from Casper, there are actually scary ghosts in their mansion (that being Casper’s uncles) and decide to find a way to get rid of them. And of course anyone around with common sense would obviously tell them: if there’s something strange in your neighborhood...
Now that is what I call an awesome cameo! Actually, the movie has a lot of cameos by celebrities. They’re not bad. Actually by themselves, they’re pretty good. Although they do feel a bit forced and quick at times. Like they were supposed to be a quick gag in a cartoon but thrown into this movie.

Anyway, Casper who does want to help with the crazy situation going on, helps arrange for a ghost therapist: Dr. James Harvey, to come help deal with his scary uncles. And if the idea of a ghost therapist sounds crazy, well it’s supposed to. This is when the movie finally throws in some reality, such as new anchors and Harvey’s own daughter: Kat treating him how people in the real world probably would. But Dr. Harvey is still a compelling character. Without being too overt (but not too subtle either) it’s implied Dr. Harvey got into this profession out of a desire to find his wife who died several years ago. So we’ve actually got some deep and interesting story material here with this family.

Although it’s pretty much followed up with a whole bunch of wacky hi-jinks. Dr. Harvey and Kat meet Casper and there’s lots of screaming and running. Then the scary uncle ghosts show up, there’s tons of slapstick and silly gags that go on, and… it’s pretty much like a live action cartoon. But it makes you wonder: why was this a live action movie to begin with? Was it just to show off the special effects? Aside from some of the live actor’s reactions, this could’ve been in traditional Warner Brothers 2D animation and it probably would’ve turned out better.

However the movie gets much more interesting whenever it focuses on Dr. Harvey’s daughter: Kat and Casper interacting. Kat is a bit of an outsider and social outcast with no real friends. Something Casper can relate to. So they instantly become an ideal pair. And despite the fact that Kat would like some actual human friends, it’s Casper that she soon becomes the only real individual she can speak about her real thoughts and real feelings with. And you really have to give a lot of props to actress Christina Ricci here. She’s doing a great performance of a realistic middle school age girl having to react to an intriguing supernatural being, while in real life she was obviously interacting with nobody.

This is especially true when at about the half way mark, the movie takes a real deep emotional turn. Through a series of conversations that Casper and Kat have, the movie actually explores the ethical and supernatural concepts of what deceased individuals experience after the point of death, how little they remember about their old lives, and the emotional ramifications that come from remembering so little about their past. But it’s all said in a straight forward manner the way real kids would talk about this kind of thing. No, seriously. This actually sounds like a real conversation between a normal kid and an actual ghost of a kid. I know it sounds strange, but actress Christina Ricci and the actor who voices Casper: Malachi Pearson pull off some great interactions here. There’s a lot of heart here and despite the fact that this is a kids’ movie talking about death, they’re still able to convey so much innocence in their performances.

Even near the end of their long talk, when Casper tucks Kat into bed; it doesn’t feel creepy. You just get the sense that: these are two kids that innocently love each other but know they can’t be together because of societal norms and the fact that well… Casper’s a ghost. It’s really well directed, well written, and well-acted material here. But again, you have to wait through about half the movie which is mostly filled with cartoon slapstick to get to this good stuff.

Luckily the second half of the movie continues with more scenes like this. Including a bit where Casper finds childhood possessions from his past life and even has a very moving scene where he suddenly starts to recall his memories of actually dying and how it felt. It’s not too long but it’s a really uniquely written scene that looks at death in a way that can still be viewed as child friendly but still pretty thought provoking for adults. Then this is followed up with Casper and Kat discovering a machine Casper’s father made that can bring the dead back to life. Now the idea of giving the dead a chance to live again is a powerful concept by itself… but the movie wraps around this by bringing back the slapstick comedy with basic movie clich├ęs such as the villains doing typical evil stuff and then having to be defeated by the forces of good. Yeah, this movie just switches it’s tone a lot. Who wrote this movie anyway? 

Well the credits at the end of the movie say the writers were Sherri Stoner and Deanna Oliver; who at the time were well respected writers on Animaniacs. Well that explains all of the slapstick and cutaway gags. You see, fast pace slapstick and cutaway gags work great as cartoon shorts, where the gags can never get too repetitive and your setup doesn’t need to be too complex. But this style can feel really out of place in a feature length movie. However I do have to know: what inspired some of the more serious and emotional scenes. They just feel from a tonal standpoint: completely different. Was this given a quick rewrite by someone else? Well lets see, according to recent interviews: this film’s script was given an uncredited rewrite by… 

JJ Abrams! No, seriously. The only man that ever got to direct both the Star Trek and Star Wars franchises, actually helped write a Casper movie. Well this makes much more sense now. JJ Abrams has always been quite good at taping into basic human emotions and characteristics while finding a way to keep them fresh, and you can definitely feel that in this film’s script. My best guess is: Stephen Spielberg who was involved with producing this movie (seriously) saw the original script, and while he was a fan of slapstick cartoons (remember, he also produced Tiny Toon Adventures and Animaniacs) realized that a multi-millionaire dollar movie shouldn’t feel completely like a Saturday movie cartoon, and brought into Abrams to give the story some real heart. Thus, all of the good emotional scenes we can probably credit to Abrams.

So anyway, the movie has a bit of a climax with Kat’s father dying and Casper letting Dr. Harvey take his place in the machine and brings him back to life instead. It is a bit of a forced climax but it does assert that Casper is a very noble individual. Then the movie has… that ending. That ending that I know made tons of preteen girls sigh back in 1995 and probably still does now. You see, Kat’s mother who is now an angel appears before Casper and by the power of God is able to grant Casper’s wish of becoming human again, albeit temporarily until 10:00 that night. And then we get a human Casper approaching Kat who is all alone at a dance, and then… the two dance together.

And again… just like the previous scenes with them earlier the movie, the one word that can be used to describe this scene is… innocent. There is no ill intentions or mature undertones here. This is simply a boy and a girl who feel a special connection to each other just wanting to be together. And we even get a great scene with Dr. Harvey getting one last chance to see his wife as an angel. And it’s definitely his best scene in the movie here. Just like the scenes with Casper and Kat, this moment feels like a real person talking to a deceased individual. The emotions, dialogue, performances… it just feels so natural while still feeling so innocent…… and then it all ends with Casper becoming a ghost and everyone at the party screaming and running out like it’s a cartoon again. But… to be fair, it’s Casper. Of course they have to bring it full circle and end it like that.

So the question now might be: is Casper a good film? Kind of. Like I said, the comedy isn’t the best. To see funnier material by the two main writers of this movie, go watch Animaniacs. However the good stuff just cannot be ignored. The scenes with Casper and Kat are very well done, and they provide some deep material to think about while still somehow feeling innocent and child friendly. It honestly takes the bare concept of the original cartoons (that being Casper just wanting to find a friend without conforming to the way people think he should act) and actually transforms it into a very powerful and moving story. It’s easily a much better romance story than films that came out years later about girls building a bond with the undead, and it’s much more respectful to child audiences versus modern shows and movies that feature ghosts and monsters. I can’t say it’s the best Halloween movie ever, but the couple of scenes that are good in this movie are way too good to pass up watching, as they will leave an impact on you. Which is why the 1995 Casper film is something that I definitely recommend checking out.