Category Archives: Movies

The Real Progressiveness of The Beauty and the Beast

 

Judging by ticket sales numbers and the packed theater that we encountered Saturday morning, it seems that the majority of movie goers have chosen to ignore calls from ultra-conservatives to boycott Disney’s new live action remake of Beauty and the Beast.  If you missed it, the “controversy” surrounds villainous sidekick LeFou, played by the voice of Olaf, Josh Gad, Disney’s first openly gay character.  Apparently there are some that are upset at Disney for trying to push their LGBT agenda on our poor, unsuspecting children.

 

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Disney promo – Beauty and the Beast LeFou

 

My child was completely oblivious.  LeFou acts stereotypically effeminate, stares longingly at his good buddy Gaston (Luke Evans), and dances with another man for less time than it took me to type this sentence.  If I hadn’t been looking for it, it’s possible I would have been just as unaware.

To tell the truth, it wan’t even the gayest thing that we watched together this week.  During a recent episode of the cartoon Star vs the Forces of Evil, one of the characters looks around at a boy band concert to find that everyone else in the audience is part of a couple and kissing their partners, including two same sex couples. The main character in Nickelodeon’s The Loud House has a best friend whose parents are a gay, interracial couple.

One of the main story lines of this season of Supergirl has revolved around the coming out of Alex Danvers, adoptive sister of Supergirl Kara Danvers, and her relationship with policewoman Maggie Sawyer.  After watching the episode where they officially became a couple, it led to this conversation:

“Wait, girls can have girlfriends, not just boyfriends?”

“Absolutely.  People don’t choose who they love.”

“Oh, OK. Why isn’t Wonder Woman ever on this show?”

“I don’t know honey. That’s a great question.”

 

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CW promo ep 2.13

 

There is a moment in Beauty and the Beast that I think is important, one that matters precisely because it has evoked no controversy whatsoever that I have heard. When the curse is finally lifted and The Beast reverts back to his human form, so too do all his servants. This leads to joyous reunions between the wardrobe, Madame de Garderobe,  ( Audra McDonald ) and her harpsichord husband Cadenza ( Stanley Tucci ) and the candelabra Lumiere ( Ewan McGregor ) and his wife the feather duster Plumette ( Gugu Mbatha-Raw). Its a more romantic moment than anything that happens between the titular characters and departs from the cartoon by showing both of these couples to be inter-racial. This is something that shouldn’t be a big deal, but not very far in the past would have led to calls of boycott of its own.

As absurd as I find some of the things that people are still outraged by, our children are being exposed to more diversity than ever before, both on screen and off.  How they react to that diversity will be determined by how we react to it.  Sometimes the biggest sign of progress is when there is no reaction at all.

 

 

 

 

Two Harley Quinns

By now even the most casual reader of this blog knows that we are big fans of all things superhero in this house. The five year old dressed as Captain America for Halloween, the teenager accompanied me to our first Comic-con last summer, and I still spend way more money on comic books each month than I’d be comfortable admitting to my wife.

It was with great anticipation that I have been waiting for the release of Suicide Squad, the next movie set in DC Comics new extended universe after the extremely underwhelming Batman Vrs Superman.  A fan of the comics since the re-launch by writer John Ostrander in 1987, the premise is that government agent Amanda Waller puts together a team of incarcerated super-villains to undertake high-risk, black-ops type missions that more respectable heroes would balk at. Tiny bombs implanted in their necks deter these villains from trying to escape custody.

The movie follows this same narrative, and while not without it’s flaws, was overall very good.

It was also not meant for children. Although PG-13 and nowhere near as raunchy as Deadpool, this is still a very dark, very violent movie. There is more humor than there was in the dour Batman Vrs Superman, but I’d still consider the appropriate viewing age to be several years older than with the Marvel movies.

Most of the funny moments come courtesy of either Will Smith’s super assassin Deadshot, or from Harley Quinn, played brilliantly by Margot Robbie. This Harley Quinn is an unstable psychopath who was once the Joker’s psychologist at Arkham Asylum before falling in love with him, helping him to escape, and starting a new life as his baseball bat wielding paramour. She’s apprehended in one of Batman’s brief cameos. I still haven’t made up my mind about how I feel about Jared Leto’s  much hyped turn as the Joker, but his role in the film is significantly less than the marketing would have you believe.

 

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My problem is that there is also another Harley Quinn; one that attends Super Hero High School with Wonder Woman, Supergirl, and Batgirl, among others. She’s my daughter’s favorite character from the You Tube cartoon series and her favorite action figure from the toy line. When I stopped by my brother’s house last week, the first thing that my four year old nephew did was to show me his new Harley Quinn.

 

kids harley quinn

 

The two are obviously being marketed to vastly different audiences, and it makes good business sense for DC to try and capitalize on one of their most popular properties right now. The argument that parents are responsible for knowing the content of a movie before bringing their children is a valid one.

I also think that the comic book companies have enough heroes and villains in their catalogues  that there can be some characters that are left for children, while still satisfying audiences who like a more grown up action movie.  My daughter shouldn’t have to wait until puberty to be able to watch Superman, Batman, or Wonder Woman on the big screen.  She was already angry about being left home while the teenager and I went to the movies. If she had known we were going to watch a Harley Quinn movie, she would have lost her mind.

 

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Our Civil War

Talk to any parent long enough and eventually the conversation will turn to how quickly the time goes. How fleeting every stage seems in retrospect and how important it is to cherish and enjoy every moment. It’s the single most surprising thing about parenthood. I’m usually talking about our little one in these conversations, how quickly she has grown into this strong, independent little girl. How absurd it seems that she will be headed off to kindergarten in the fall.

These thoughts also hold just as true for the teenager, Lord willing entering into her final year of high school. In two weeks Alaina will be turning five years old, something that by itself is difficult to wrap my head around. It becomes even more so when I realize that this is the same age as Kayla when we were first introduced.

 

I considered all this as I drove home from a solo viewing of Captain America : Civil War, a movie that I typically would have seen with her. Without giving anything away, the movie revolves around repercussions faced after the mass destruction of the previous Marvel films. Tony Stark, AKA Iron man, is willing to accept that he may not always be right, ( he kinda created the bad guy from Avengers 2 ) and agrees to UN oversight of The Avengers. Steve Rogers, AKA Captain America, believes that he should be free to act as he sees fit. Conflict ensues.

Where the story more closely parallels our own is that it’s a lack of communication that causes the situation to escalate. Assuming that Stark would never believe what he discovers to be happening or understand his perspective, Rogers instead runs off with Bucky Barnes, AKA The Winter Soldier, a mentally disturbed former brainwashed assassin.

 

Recently there has been an increase in  communication and some warming relations with Kayla. She spent this past weekend at her grandmother’s and by all accounts it went well. She appears open to the suggestion of leaving her current accommodations and staying there full time, a compromise we have long advocated.

There’s still work to be done. While waiting for the movie to begin, I received a text asking if I would be willing to pick her up from school the following day, an early release day. Soon after my agreement a follow up text asked if I’d be OK with a friend coming along. I replied that I was looking forward to spending some time alone with her and would rather this friend find her own transportation. The lights dimmed, the previews began, and I told her we’d talk more in the morning.

I woke up to a cancellation of our plans. Apparently the friend was one that for various reasons she would not be seeing again for some time. They found another ride and I found myself again shaking my head at breakdowns in communication. Information that could have greatly affected my response not being provided until too late.

It’s now been just over six months since Kayla left, time that we will never be able to replace. Time that she and her little sister will never be able to replace.

 

The bad guys are of course defeated in the end. Differences put aside for the greater good. New characters such as The Black Panther and a new Spider Man are welcome additions to the Marvel Universe and I look forward to both of their solo films.

The movie ends with The Avengers cordial, but still estranged. Presumably they will stay that way until May of 2018, when the first part of Avengers: Infinity War is released. A lot will change in those two years. Alaina will be turning seven and old enough to take along with me. Kayla will be close to nineteen, her future impossible to predict.

What I can predict, what I know to be true, is that those two years will pass in the blink of an eye. Both kids will change a lot in that time. I will change a lot in that time.

How awesome would it be if we could all go together though?

 

 

 

 

The Subversive Brilliance Of Disney’s Zootopia

 

 

zootopia poster

 

Before they became tools for the marketing of branded merchandise, children’s stories were used for teaching. From Aesop’s Fables of ancient Greece to the fairy tales of Hans Christian Anderson, they were stories told to instill morality and values.

A typical animated movie takes three to four years to get from early story boarding to release but somehow Zooptopia manages to be the perfect movie for 2016. In a time of increasing xenophobia, bigotry, and political pandering to those that would return to the days of segregation and nationalist isolation, Disney has created the perfect modern fable.

The world of Zootopia is a place where animals have evolved from their baser nature and “predators” and “prey” are able to coexist peacefully. The minority predators, consisting of only 10% of the population, hold all the positions of power and influence, while the prey content themselves with farming and other subservient work. The assistant mayor of the central city, a sheep named Bellwether, is strictly a glorified secretary chosen by the lion mayor Lionheart to gain the trust and votes of the prey population.

The hero of our story, small town girl Judy Hopps, citing a desire to “make the world a better place,” challenges the expectations of her society and parents by pursuing her dream of becoming a police officer. The resistance and backlash she faces come not from being female, but because she is a bunny using the mayor’s new inclusion policies to become the first prey member of the force.

What could have been a simple movie about female empowerment and chasing your dreams instead aims much higher.  Delegated to meter maid duties, Hopps is forced to acknowledge and overcome her own prejudices by working with a fox named Nick Wilde to solve a series of predator disappearances. Without giving away any more of the plot, they uncover a conspiracy designed to use fear and inter-species mistrust to take control of the city.

The brilliance of Zootopia is how subtly the message of tolerance and inclusion is conveyed while simultaneously keeping it the primary theme. This is still first and foremost a computer animated movie about cute talking animals, with humor and catchy music, and most kids will be oblivious to the subtext. It was my four year old’s second trip to the theater and eventually I’ll probably have to admit that she enjoyed this more than The Force Awakens.

Her preschool class is very diverse and at this point everyone in it is her friend. It has never occurred to her that she should view somebody differently based on how they look, and I’ll do everything in my power to encourage that thinking.

But I’m not the only voice that she will hear. I’m not naive enough to think that a Disney movie is going to subconsciously make her a better person or that any parents left the movie and reevaluated how they view others, but history tells me that this movie is going to be watched over and over and over, in our house and many others. It might as well have a positive message.

 

 

zootopia promo

 

 

 

Deadpool’s Double Edged Sword

 

By now I think that most people have been warned not to take their children to see Deadpool, but just in case you missed it, don’t take your children to see Deadpool. It’s not a movie that purposefully tried to earn an R rating by throwing in a few F bombs and a quick topless scene at a strip club to try and prove that it wasn’t a “kiddie movie.” It’s an hour and forty-seven minutes of non-stop profanity, violence, sex, and sexual innuendos.

It’s also a great movie. Funny, well acted, and surprisingly moving at times. The jokes are crude, but never resort to lazy homophobia or misogyny.

 

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This isn’t the first time Hollywood has attempted an R rated comic book movie. 2009’s Watchmen was a brilliant movie based on one of the most celebrated comic mini-series of all time. Published in 1986-87, Watchmen proved that comics could be viably marketed to adults if a quality product was offered.

The Crow and Blade remain two of my favorite movies from the 1990s and were both successful, as was 2005’s Constantine and 2010’s Kick-Ass. V for Vendetta, 300, and Sin City were all based on comic books.

What most of these films have in common, however, is that they are all based on obscure characters or titles printed by other publishers than the “big two” of Marvel and DC.

Deadpool is a little different. He’s not a publicly recognized name like Spider Man or Green Arrow, but regular comic book readers, including younger ones, know who he is. First appearing in 1991’s New Mutants #98, Deadpool has been an increasingly popular member of Marvel’s X-Men universe for a long time. Some of his titles over the years have been clearly marked for mature audiences only, some have been for readers of any age.

 

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He has his own video game and hats and T-shirts with the Deadpool logo have been available at any Spencer’s or Hot Topic for years. He’s currently a member of an Avengers offshoot team and a bastardized version of the character was also played by Ryan Reynolds in the first Wolverine stand alone film. You may not have heard of him until recently, but chances are that your child has.

Kids have been sneaking into movies they aren’t supposed to see for as long as there have been movies to sneak into, but I wonder about what Deadpool’s success means for the future of comic book adaptions.

With 300 million in worldwide box office as I write this, it’s on pace to break all kinds of records for R rated movies.  Already a planned movie based on another X-Men spin-off, X-Force, and the third Wolverine solo movie are considering changing to more “mature” content and R ratings. As a forty one year old who enjoys these films, I’m OK with this. As the father of a four year old who loves superheros, I’m not so sure.

One of her favorite parts of going to see Star Wars was seeing Iron Man and Captain America on the big screen during the Civil War preview. She’s too young to understand the plot and violence of the PG-13 film, but I look forward to watching it with her in the future and making these movies a tradition, as it became with her older sister. I’d rather not have to wait until she’s eighteen because Bruce Banner is hanging around brothels as anger management or The Flash is now smoking weed to try and slow down his racing mind.

I’m not saying I wouldn’t want to see those movies, I just don’t want my kid wanting to see those movies.