Archive for the ‘Review’ Category

The Fault In Our Stars and My Own History with a Disability

Wednesday, June 25th, 2014

Based on a book of the same title, The Fault In Our Stars follows Hazel (Shailene Woodley), a 16-year old girl suffering from stage 4 thyroid cancer growing in her lungs. The story is crafted in a way that shows the life of a cancer patient through the cancer patient’s eyesight. What I mean by that is Hazel’s character doesn’t come across as suffering in the way some people — those who don’t suffer from a disability — might think she should be.

This is Hazel’s story displaying Hazel’s feelings, and it’s refreshing because so much of what we’re shown in the media pertaining to cancer or other disabilities is the struggle, the fight, the pain and suffering. What’s never ever spotlighted is the sub-par attitude of the sufferer, probably because “angst” isn’t a fantastic call to action.

One definition of angst, found on Urban Dictionary:

Angst is about downtrodden teenagers thinking they’re the only bloody people in the world who have it tough, and thinks that gives them an excuse to wallow in their own self-pity instead of actually doing something about their situation

I love that above definition because it expresses how we feel like we’re the arbiters of the happiness of others, even if we can’t empathize with them. But what does that have to do with The Fault In Our Stars?

Some of the criticism I’ve seen for this movie complains about how the ugly side of cancer isn’t shown, that an accurate portrayal would show the physical degradation to the sufferer and the pain it inflicts to those close to her. It doesn’t showcase all the nasty stuff that makes us emotionally attached to the idea of eradicating cancer. That teenage angst à la Bella Swan from Twilight doesn’t have a place in a movie about something as viscous as cancer. I might be overstepping, but those are views of people who don’t suffer from an illness or disability, but rather, suffer other people suffering.

The trick is to see things from a cancer patient’s point of view.

Hazel is in almost every scene of the movie, and so instead of seeing the widespread pain that cancer causes, we’re given a glimpse into the potential feelings of a person suffering from cancer. Scene after scene, what’s shown is what Hazel sees. We see Hazel have to lug an oxygen tank around, we see her repeatedly asked if she’s okay climbing stairs, we see her told she can’t leave the house yet because she has to eat. The only time we see Hazel happy is when she’s with her boyfriend (Ansel Elgort), a cancer survivor with a prosthetic leg, who makes her feel like the 16 year old girl she deserves to feel like.

Unfortunately some people have a problem with that, and maybe what’s perceived as angst (I hate that word) from the main character could be considered a response to ignorance from the supporting characters. Hazel’s attitude seemed real — to me — and I tremendously appreciated it.

I have a disability of my own, it’s called epilepsy — if it means anything to you, I’m diagnosed with tonic clonic seizures located in the temporal lobe. So while I don’t have cancer I’m acutely aware of what it’s like to have a disability, and my point of view is radically different than the people close to me who have felt pain when I had seizures.

If a movie was made about me before I accidentally became seizure free (the wonders of a fruitarian diet!), and it was told from my perspective, it would look similar to The Fault In Our Stars, just minus the romance. What would be shown would be my family and friends yelling at me for doing things like not sleeping, telling me what I can and can’t do as a person with epilepsy. You’d see me shrug off all of their nonsense and eventually grow into a bitter person, who often thinks of healthy people what Magneto thinks of humans. You’d see an angsty Montana!

I know for a fact that if a movie about my life was made, but not from my viewpoint, you’d see the damage that has been done to me physically and socially, you’d see the emotional trauma that the people close to me have gone through when I had seizures, you’d see a disability that deserves more research funding. If what you’re shown is an unappreciative, generally depressed-yet-self centered kid, you probably wouldn’t care, and you might feel that the filmmakers weren’t accurately portraying my disability.

One thing I’ve observed over time, is that the feelings of disabled people aren’t really valued. You can be in agonizing pain with no end in sight, and you will be called selfish for wanting to die. If people are emotionally invested in you, what happens to you affects the emotional investors, and they think they have a say in your being — much like investors in a business own that business.

If you have epilepsy, depending on what you think it means to feel normal, other people’s happiness might require your misery. I’ve had plenty of seizures by exercising typical college student bad behaviors, but they were worth it because those bad behaviors made me feel normal. Talk to my family and friends, and they’d wish I religiously followed some seizure-repellant lifestyle. Waking up in the hospital sucks, but for me it’s just boring, and it might’ve happened after a night of getting sloshed, or not sleeping to binge watch TV shows, or both. While my hospitalizations might’ve been merely boring to me, they have emotionally hurt my family.

A long time ago I made a decision to make my epilepsy mean nothing, and I’ve since followed the recommended seizure-controlling rules (below) only when they don’t get in the way of what I want to do. For example, if I want to stay awake for more than two days participating in a 50 Hour Tweetathon to raise money for a film, I’m going to do it. In the past — before I became seizure-free — my attitude did result in seizures, some bigger than others. I’ve been told by everybody from family to friends to teachers to classmates to my neurologist that those seizures weren’t worth ignoring the rules. The rules (for my particular brand of epilepsy) don’t actually veer too far from the average person’s health tips:

  • Have a consistent sleep schedule and get at least 8 hours of sleep every night.
  • Eat at least moderately healthy and don’t starve yourself.
  • Exercise.
  • Take prescription medication at the same time every day.

While for the most part those are guidelines people tend to follow, there’s a difference between guidelines and rules (as Pirates Of The Caribbean has taught us). People can deviate from them and expect to not have a seizure, unlike me when I was seizure prone. So while it might not seem like a big deal to get sleep and take pills at the right times, imagine that you wouldn’t ever be able to deviate from your routine, and that your life will always be managed in the context of your disability.

While it’s possible to be healthy and live well — my lifestyle since becoming fruitarian proves that — it’s also possible that living healthy requires sacrificing happiness. For some people, a life lived short but happy is better than a life lived long but unhappy.

I can’t speak too confidently for Hazel’s character in The Fault In Our Stars, but I’d wager that she’s in a similar situation with her cancer as I am with my epilepsy. She wants to do things that might have consequences with her condition, but will make her happy. Hazel’s family wants her to mind her condition and not risk expediting death. In other words, for Hazel to be happy the people around her have to be distraught. For the people around her to be content, Hazel must be miserable. What we see in the movie is the conflict between the two sides, from Hazel’s perspective.

The Fault In Our Stars touched me because I felt, for maybe the first time, like I saw my own attitude on screen. That what has been probably unanimously misunderstood by people in my life was understood by the people involved in this film. It’s very possible that I’m reading too much into it and I’m seeing what I want to see, but I’d wager that the people who cite this film’s problem as not accurately portraying cancer, are wrong. As a person who’s grown up disabled, I know that not everyone’s opinion about disabilities are equally valid. Suffering from a disability is very different from suffering because someone close to you suffers from a disability.

Catch The Fault In Our Stars if you get the opportunity, it’s not a bad movie, and even ignoring everything above it stands alone as a good romance flick. Also click here to check out my buddy Jeff Nelson’s review of the movie, he’s a good critic and he generously contributed his time in editing this article.

Review: Maleficent

Friday, May 30th, 2014

Ah, Sleeping Beauty, the classic tale showcasing the power of true love between princess and prince… is a fraud! At least that’s what Disney Circa 2014 wants us to think, and Maleficent is its attempt to show us the side of the story we didn’t ask to hear. The big question is, does first-time director (but long-time special effects artist) Robert Stromberg and writer Linda Woolverton convince us that we’ve been living a lie, or is Maleficent just Sour Apple-colored eye candy?

As the story goes, a young fairy named Maleficent (Isobelle Molloy) falls in love with young Stefan (Michael Higgins) — a human — and grows to trust him with all her heart. When that trust is broken years later by an older and greedy Stefan (Sharlto Copley), adult Maleficent (Angelina Jolie) becomes filled with hatred and erupts a wall of thorns between her magical kingdom and Stefan’s, breaking all interaction between humans and mystical creatures. That is, until Stefan’s daughter Aurora is born, inspiring Maleficent to punish Stefan by cursing his daughter to fall into a death-like sleep on her sixteenth birthday. What follows is a casual race against time to save a teenage Aurora (Elle Fanning), accompanied by irritating/clueless fairies (Imelda Staunton, Leslie Manville, and Juno Temple), wicked imagery, and a search for love in the wrong places.

I like saying positive things, so I’ll start with this: Visually, Maleficent is amazing. Whenever a vengeful Angelina Jolie with horns uses her power to manipulate the beings and earth around her — all in a sexy green glow, no less — I was like whoa! This flick’s saving grace is how it looks. Much of this movie would make a great wallpaper for your desktop, the imagery overall is just beautiful, be it the mystical landscape or evil-fairy-magic. Maybe an awesome visual direction is something that comes with having a director who’s made his career as a visual effects artist, though maybe that’s why poor direction comes nearly everywhere else.

While I was vaguely entertained by Maleficent, there’s a lot of not-entertaining stuff about it. It’s more fair to call the flick endurable if you have your expectations set medium-to-low! The first and second acts are paced very slowly, and drawn out enough to the point where the final act feels very rushed. In a bid to show us what we don’t know, Maleficent teaches us more than we need or probably care to know at a misguided pace.

The notes I write while watching movies are sometimes cryptic even to me — for Maleficent I had written “Another D film”, which was puzzling. While this movie didn’t have me jumping for joy, it’s probably worth more than a D rating! After some thinking I realized that “D” meant “Disney”, which is really true. Maleficent is simply another typical Disney fairytale in a number of tried-and-true ways, and the ideas that aren’t typical resemble Frozen enough that it can’t be coincidental. There’s next to nothing original in Maleficent, it’s all been in Disney films past.

And (!!!) the high majority of the cast are expressionless from start to finish. It’s clear that they had as much fun being in the film as I had watching it, which is probably the biggest problem Maleficent has. When watching a movie, our enthusiasm is directly tied to the energy of the cast, and if everyone on screen showed some moxie, I’d be able to say that this film is a dumb popcorn flick that looks really cool but has its flaws. Instead, I’m here telling you that Maleficent is merely endurable and unoriginal, despite some cool CGI.

I appreciate the effort to add some originality to the Sleeping Beauty story and if executed well Maleficent could have been really great. I kind of made fun of the idea above, saying that we didn’t ask to hear another side of this story, but there’s no better time to erase the past than when the current generation of kids don’t know the original. It has the right cast (if they would do more than phone it in), an awesome visual effects team, and it’s the right time to do this movie if it’s going to be done. Unfortunately Maleficent was just taken in a poor direction overall.

Tl;dr: Maleficent looks sexy, but it’s beauty is skin deep and it’s maybe worth renting on a lazy day.


Review: X-Men: Days Of Future Past

Sunday, May 25th, 2014

As part of my X-Men: First Class review, I wrote “The most amazing thing about this film is the casting, which couldn’t have been more perfect.” One of my biggest worries going into X-Men: Days Of Future Past was that it would suffer from too much perfect casting. With two different eras worth of characters mostly played by actors who can command the spotlight, there might be too many to focus on! Thankfully my fears didn’t come to fruition, and watching X-Men: Days Of Future Past was a delightful way to spend a Friday afternoon.

X-Men: Days Of Future Past takes place in two different timelines, set fifty years apart. In the later timeline, Mutants have been all but exterminated by the Humans and their Sentinel weapons. All that remain of the Mutants are a select few of the smartest and strongest, though not even they can survive for much longer. With time running out, Professor X (Patrick Stewart), Magneto (Ian McKellen), Wolverine (Hugh Jackman), and Kitty Pryde (Ellen Page) hatch a plan to send Wolverine’s consciousness to his younger self — fifty years in the past — to stop the event which leads to the Mutants’ extermination.

In the earlier timeline, Wolverine awakens in a waterbed which he gets massive groovy points for. One thing leads to another and Wolverine finds the young Professor X, Charles (James McAvoy), and the young Beast, Hank (Nicholas Hoult) in the then abandoned school. After some yelling and Charles dropping the F-Bomb, Wolverine convinces Charles and Hank that he is, in fact, from the future and that they need to work together to save it. This takes them on a mission to free a young Magneto, Erik (Michael Fassbender) from the Pentagon which — thanks to a teenage QuickSilver (Evan Peters) — turns out to be one of the most rad prison breaks I’ve ever seen.

Things spiral out of control from there in both timelines, and it’s a blast from start to finish. Other notable cast members include Peter Dinklage and Jennifer Lawrence, who play the slimy Dr. Trask hellbent on exterminating Mutants and Raven/Mystique, respectively. In addition, despite having a small role, Mark Camacho plays an excellent President Nixon — it’s easy to mistake Camacho for the real Nixon! All in all, everyone aforementioned and otherwise performed very well and I didn’t find myself wishing anyone away… except maybe Toad played by Evan Jonigkeit, though the character is kind-of designed to be repulsive.

Speaking of design, the special effects in X-Men: Days Of Future Past are fantastic. Every time Magneto manipulated metal structures, or Mystique transformed into someone else, or Professor X used Cerebro, or a Sentinel showed up to fry some Mutants, it was like visual sex. And it makes sense, if you sit through the End Credits, you’ll find that the Special Effects team takes up probably one quarter of the Credits Crawl time! The set designers performed admirably well also — I wasn’t alive in the 70’s, but based on what I know they did a really good job recreating the atmosphere for the past. Recreating the look of history probably isn’t the easiest task in the world particularly when you’re working on a larger scale.

Despite my not mentioning every single character, X-Men: Days Of Future Past does feature quite an ensemble. However, as mentioned at the top of this review, this film is written (Simon Kinberg) and directed (Bryan Singer) in a way that doesn’t let us lose track of who and what is most important, even as Storm (Halle Berry) is kicking arse. The actors themselves deserve a lot of credit, too — as with X-Men: First Class, the performances by the cast are this film’s brightest shining light. Interestingly, this film features obvious-and-not-so-surprising good performances alongside a surprise or two.

The biggest fault I can find — and I say this as someone who hasn’t ever read an X-Men comic and might not know what he’s talking about — is that X-Men: Days Of Future Past might not completely fit with past X-Men films. If the event that Wolverine was sent back in time to stop, happened as it had, one of the main characters from the earlier films might not have been alive to be in them. But maybe that isn’t a fault of this film, but rather a fault of the earlier ones? I don’t know, time travel is confusing!

Tl;dr: Stop wasting time reading blogs and go see X-Men: Days Of Future Past if you haven’t already! It’s exciting, emotional, funny, and beyond satisfying.


Review: Scary or Die

Friday, March 8th, 2013

Scary or Die isn’t a title of many options. As far as I see it, it’s either scary, or we the innocent viewers die. After enduring it for 94 minutes, I’m assuming that I’m typing to you from beyond the grave. Scary or Die is an outright boring affair, with one vaguely entertaining scene and three vaguely gruesome scenes. Combined it’s not-bad points amount to less than two minutes in total.

Scary or Die is a Horror anthology of five short films, none of which are original. The segment The Crossing is a lesson in why racism is a bad idea. Taejung’s Lament is about a slightly creepy man looking for love in all the wrong places. Re-Membered could have used being re-thought out. In Clowned, a drug dealer learns that getting bitten by a clown isn’t funny. And finally, Lover Come Back teaches us that cheating on our partners can yield unfortunate consequences.

Often the sound is muffled and the characters are incomprehensible. The acting is sub-par at best — although I’m not sure it would matter since the characters aren’t likeable anyway (in some cases the main character is the antagonist!). The writing (courtesy of Bob Badway and Michael Emanuel) isn’t half good and the direction (hat tip to Badway, Emanuel, and Igor Meglic) is short-sighted.

Scary or Die isn’t scary at all. True to its title, it’s a hazard to your health.

Kudos to Corbin Bleu for stepping out of the Disney zone for a role in this, though.

Review: James And The Giant Peach

Friday, February 22nd, 2013

1996 was a good year. I was five years old for most of it, Bill Clinton beat what’s-his-name and was reelected President, and, of course, James And The Giant Peach was released. This is actually an interesting film for me to review since James And The Giant Peach is probably the most defining film of my childhood — of every movie out there, it was the one most responsible for my imagination and my nightmares. There is no movie that I look back on as fondly. Sadly, at 22 years old I have to question and criticize.

Directed by Henry Selick and based on Roald Dahl’s book of the same name, James And The Giant Peach is a mostly-claymated feature about a British boy’s escape to New York City with some interesting friends. James (Paul Terry) loses his parents to a “rhino” shortly before a trip to NYC, meaning plans changed and he has to live with his evil aunts Spiker (Joanna Lumley) and Sponge (Miriam Margoyles). Abused and slave-driven, James isn’t all that thrilled about his life — that is, until an old man (Pete Postlethwaite) shows up and gives him a bag of magic worms. One thing leads to another and James is sailing to NYC in a giant peach with a giant spider (Susan Sarandon), centipede (Richard Dreyfuss), grasshopper (Simon Callow), ladybug (Jane Leeves), earthworm (David Thewlis), and glowworm (Margoyles).

As one would expect from a Selick flick, some musical numbers turn up and one character — a pirate skeleton — bears a striking resemblance to Jack Skellington in The Nightmare Before Christmas. Interesting. Honestly, I wish that I had left this movie in my childhood. It really has been a very long time since I’ve seen it, and I hate that I have to make some judgements about it… I almost want to lie as I don’t have many positive things to say. It hurts to type these words and it will hurt even more to see them on display. So! Moving on.

James And The Giant Peach has a 79 minute runtime — in other words, it isn’t the longest running film one can find. It’s single (although big) problem is that the movie doesn’t feel even that long. Typically it’s a good sign when a movie “feels” shorter than it actually is, because it could mean that it engrosses the viewer so much that time is lost. In the case of James And The Giant Peach, however, it feels short because so little happens. If the actual runtime were longer, this movie would feel endless. Perceived length is an extremely interesting thing, and it’s exemplified here.

The claymation is great. The voice acting is great. Aside from those, I can’t find many more good things to say about James And The Giant Peach. I haven’t read the source material, but this movie is just boring. I can only speculate what fascinated me so much when I was a child — either I’m an anomaly or the way ideas presented — giant talking bugs, a liveable floating peach, and giant cloud rhinos — tap into the mind of a developing kid. In the case of the latter, if you’re a parent to a young kid(s), James And The Giant Peach might be a good thing to show him or her or them.

The only nightmare (or, rather, series of nightmares) I can remember are of rhinos killing me and/or my family. I remember them very clearly despite having been so long ago, and they are the direct result of James And The Giant Peach‘s “rhino”. On the exact flipside, I’ve spent a lot of time gazing at clouds and trying to make out shapes — another direct result of the movie. Something about James And The Giant Peach touched me, and, who knows, maybe it can touch other children (key word, apparently).

James And The Giant Peach is available for streaming on Netflix as of this writing if you still want to catch it. I, sadly, can’t say that I’ll be catching it again. I’m still very thankful for its existence and its role in improving my imagination — it’s an aspect of my life that I’ll never let go of, no matter how many of the movies I used to like are mediocre.

Review: Kim Possible (TV, 2002 – 2007)

Wednesday, February 20th, 2013

Editor’s Note: This review is up a day late. It’s the first review I’ve done in a long time, and the first TV show I’ve ever reviewed. In other words, I don’t know much of what I’m doing! Lateness won’t happen again in the near future. :-)

I’m not one to review (or even watch) TV shows, but Kim Possible has earned a special place in my heart, and it’s my civic duty to tell you about it.

For the uninitiated, Kim Possible is a Disney cartoon that ran from 2002 to 2007, with two movies (A Sitch In Time and So The Drama) mixed in. The show and movies follow Kim Possible (voiced by Christy Romano), her sidekick Ron Stoppable (Will Friedle), and his naked mole rat, Rufus (Nancy Cartwright), as they save the world from an array of villains. Did I mention that they’re in high school? The theme song Call Me, Beep Me by Christina Milian is catchier than it has any right to be, and at 22 years old I love everything about the cartoon.

(For the non-believers, Kim Possible has a supporting voice cast of names which you might recognize, including but not limited to: Patrick Warburton, Gary Cole, and even Patton Oswalt. Believe it or not a bit of care was put into this show’s four-season run.)

Kim Possible is a normal teenage girl — captain of the cheerleading team, mostly straight-A student, awkward around cute boys, etc. — except for the fact that she saves the world regularly. With the unexplained ability to go from high school to anywhere in the world and back in a matter of minutes, she manages her schedule pretty well. Honestly, this show is very feminist and the writers deserve a lot of credit for making the lead character someone who girls should look up to; not just a hero, but a (mostly) straight-A hero.

Ron Stoppable — again, Kim Possible’s sidekick — is my favorite protagonist by far. He’s a socially awkward “loser” who doesn’t let anything deter him. Despite being in his mid-teens, he trick-or-treats without a second thought because it’s fun and he gets free candy. He wins talent shows despite having little-to-no talent other than his confidence. Ron Stoppable is the archetype we should strive to be; honest not just to the people around us but also to ourselves. His naked mole rat is also the coolest pet to ever grace a screen, so there’s that too!

The primary antagonist is Dr. Drakken (John DiMaggio), a mad scientist bent on conquering the world with his glowing green sidekick Shego (Nicole Sullivan). While his schemes don’t always (read: ever) go un-foiled, “Doctor D.” can rock the mic like no other when the situation calls for it. Other as-unsuccessful villains do recur, however, including (but as always, not limited to): a Monkey Kung-Fu master, a billionaire in search of a hobby with his son, and — I’m not making this up — a Scottish golfer who golfs with exploding golf balls.

My favorite villain is that aforementioned Monkey Kung-Fu master, Lord Monty Fiske (Tom Kane), AKA “Monkey Fist”. He’s witty, sarcastic, has a great monkey-esque evil laugh, and is bloody British. Also, I like monkeys and we kind of share a name — “Monty” is my given nickname — so I can relate to the guy on some level. Without any desire for world domination and only out for personal gain Monkey Fist is one of the most level-headed villains in the series. He is also the arch enemy of Ron Stoppable, which makes his presence so much more entertaining.

If you’re one of the people who doesn’t watch kids’ cartoons strictly because society tells you it’s unacceptable, you’re doing humanity a disservice by not being who you are! I don’t follow societal norms and I turned out alright, didn’t I? (Don’t answer that.) Embrace your inner kid and tell the monotone adults to shove off!

If you like fun, witty Disney kids’ cartoons — even if you don’t want to admit it — check out Kim Possible. It’s a fantastic affair and I’m proud that it’s the first thing I feature on this blog’s return.

All of the Kim Possible episodes and the movies are available on YouTube, although you’ll have to search for the episodes by name since a lot of accounts don’t list the episodes in the right order. I’ve found “Deaconu GG-Marius” to be pretty reliable, but tap or click here for the correct episode listings. Have fun!