Monday, November 26, 2012

REVIEWED: Yoshimi Battles the Pink Robots

Before leaving La Jolla Playhouse, I got to see one final show for free: the epic jukebox musical Yoshimi Battles the Pink Robots, based on The Flaming Lips album of the same name.

Funny thing about dates, I never remember when exactly, but once someone tells me when something happened, I can recall quite a bit about that time.
The album came out in 2002. I didn't remember that, but it was released that summer, which was headed into my sophomore year of high school, something I do remember.
Some psychological research seems to suggest that 14/15, around that time, is a crucial time in forming our identities, particularly when it comes to our tastes in popular culture. Music specifically, we begin to move away from the music our parents exposed us to, and take in more of what our friends listen to, and begin to form our own loves and hates.
That being said, Yoshimi came at an ideal time in my life. I'd not heard Flaming Lips previously, and this was my introduction to them. The electronica, the slightly more psychedelic nature of their rock sound, it was like the studio-locked, experimental Beatles truly crossing with something like Modest Mouse or The White Stripes.
I wasn't such a fan of stuff from my friends' realms, and the Lips actually provided an easier transition for me from stuff like the Beatles or Dylan.

That said, Yoshimi is honestly the only album I still listen to of theirs. Despite my love for the album itself, I never truly got behind the band.
The lyrical content of the album is what I'd call musing, the melodies are meandering. It's complex, conceptual, and ambiguous. With my predisposition to open-endedness and curiosity, I hooked into the album's questions and possible answers quickly.

Do You Realize? was the album's single, and it's been overused to death since (it used to be on the GAP playlist when I worked there in high school) but that doesn't reduce its impact and musicality. The song is beautiful, and simple.
A quirky, rather upbeat, accompaniment plays proudly behind hauntingly unnerving lyrics:

Do you realize that you have the most beautiful face?
Do you realize we're floating in space?
Do you realize that happiness makes you cry?
Do you realize that everyone you know someday will die?

And instead of saying all your goodbyes 
Let them know
You realize that life goes fast
It's hard to make the good things last
You realize the sun doesn't go down
It's just an illusion caused by the world spinning round

Flash forward to 2012. I'm working at the Playhouse, and they announce that a musical is being discussed to premiere in San Diego, involving the Flaming Lips and Des McAnuff, formerly LJP's artistic director responsible for pretty much everything good that came out of that theater for the past two or three decades or so.

McAnuff only recently vacated his position, choosing to head the Stratford Festival in Ontario. He returned briefly last year in triumph to import his Canadian revival of Jesus Christ Superstar before its Broadway run. Needless to say, the show, I believe much more because it was McAnuff than because it was Superstar, sold like crazy, was extended, and even managed to sell out Christmas Eve and New Year's Eve, when the run concluded. (I know, because I had to say, "I'm sorry, we're sold out," A LOT).

Despite its pretty brief run on Broadway, McAnuff was in a prime spot to return to San Diego again, and when we heard it was for the Flaming Lips musical, it caused a whole new buzz.
Flaming Lips is an entirely new demographic and it brought a new audience to the theater to see it.

Yoshimi was, first and foremost, a visual spectacle and a technological achievement.
It was a musical second.

The plot concerns the title character, a young Japanese girl who is diagnosed with an aggressive form of cancer, battling for her life while her successful boyfriend and head-in-the-clouds ex-boyfriend battle for her love.

Much of the hype surrounded the second-billed title characters, but the true stars of the show, the Pink Robots. Representing this dangerous cancer in Yoshimi's body, she suits up to fight back.
Actors dressed in fiber-optic suits took over the dark stage, illuminated in pink, flashing, strobing, kicking, and flipping in their initial appearance.
Even their second time onstage was pretty breathless, with the robots seemingly teleporting across the stage, besting Yoshimi in combat. A couple even managed to take to the air.
And of course, the big reveal was the "giant" robot, about 15 feet tall, walking across stage, requiring several people to puppeteer.
This, along with several other effects including a floating romantic dinner, a hologram globe, and projections and moving screens put to good use, were the obvious centerpiece of the musical.

Everything else is truly what got second-billing.

Despite the entire musical being sung-through, some of the ambiguous lyricism of the Flaming Lips fails to translate on to the stage, where we expect characters who aren't flat, but they are a little more one-track minded. Adding a plot and characters we are meant to care about clouds this, and highlights the lyrics' neutrality.

Also, with everything being sung-through, there isn't much room for character development. A musical can always benefit from strongly written dialogue and scenes (though they more often suffer, to be sure), but the narration from Chicago, or the charm and wit of a script like Wicked, lends to the idea that a musical needs a book.
The prospect that Aaron Sorkin was once attached to write a script for the project is extremely promising, and the decision is extremely disappointing that they moved to have it sung-through.
Several scenes fail to convey any sort of meaning without more explicit dialogue.
In particular:
An interlude song by the parents of Yoshimi as they attempt to continue their daily lives accomplishes nothing, as we have made no connection to the parents thus far before the song comes in.
The second act opener is probably the most exciting song of the show, but never connects to anything else.
And a scene where Yoshimi's successful boyfriend (who leaves her during the course of the show) returns and visits her and the ex- (now her current boyfriend, again...) in their new apartment seems forced and unnecessary. It also reduces the impact of the two men appearing together at the end of the show after  
Yoshimi dies.

 A lot of this, plus most of the show, could have benefited from some strong dialogue. Sorkin especially is masterful at fitting in character development while moving a story forward. His scenes could have been kept brief, if they wanted to emphasize the music. But speaking of the music...
After seeing Cirque du Soleil's Love, an amazing tribute to The Beatles, I'm uncannily obsessed and righteously indignant with the idea that if we are to have jukebox musicals, something more innovative should be done with the music.
The official tracks in Love numbers maybe around 16, but you will hear upwards of maybe 50 or 60 distinct Beatles melodies if you are listening closely. That's because within each of the numbered tracks is wrapped up maybe 5 or 6 different elements from distinct songs: a guitar riff from this one, the original backing track from this one, plus a hook from this song, and another hook from this song, played backward.
Basically, a lot of time and thought went into that. A lot of time and thought goes into writing songs for a musical.
No time and thought is spent taking preexisting numbers from an existing artist and placing them in a show. And I'm sick of it.
Oh, but David, you say. Surely, time and thought is put into their order, their inclusion and exclusion.
Well, I'd say in return, shut up.
I contend that it's not the same effort. There is slightly more in a jukebox musical that includes an artists' catalog, rather than a single album. But once you have the plot, it's a matter of sticking the songs in where they'll be good.
In an Elton John musical, if you have a guy falling in love with a young girl who dances at a club, you would use "Tiny Dancer"; why on earth would you use "Elderberry Wine"?

For the Flaming Lips musical, the song list added a few numbers, and no cuts as far as I could tell. A slight re-ordering of the songs was done, but for the most part, the musical is extremely reverent to the source material, which I find pointless.
I can just listen to the album if I want to hear the songs sung in the same way in the same order as they are on the CD.
With a musical, with storytelling in mind, with drama as the foundation, with innovation and spectacle as your centerpiece, why not strive for something more in the music? It is a musical, after all.

In particular, the successful boyfriend, in the song that leads up to him leaving Yoshimi for good, "Waiting for a Superman" is probably the most intriguing and toughest moment in the show.
The scene I mentioned earlier, featuring the parents, "Suddenly Everything Has Changed", I think would have benefited from combining these two numbers.
In counterpoint, we see the parents bewildered but unselfishly attempting to regain their lives, while this boyfriend of Yoshimi's decides to do the same, albeit perhaps more selfishly. The contrast of the viewpoints would have enhanced both numbers, cut some time from the show, and made for some a refreshing musical number, rather than a straightforward song performance.
Several times through the show, a song here or there could have been overlaid with a song elsewhere, as they were accomplishing the same goal without adding anything new the second time through.

That leads to a bigger problem, with the musical running about 2 hours, with an intermission. I personally found it too long. There wasn't enough drama to sustain a second act. She gets sick, she gets better, intermission, she's fine, she's not, she's worse, she's dead, the end.
All of that could have been accomplished without an intermission. The arcs were all completed by the end of the first act, making me wonder what they were going to explore in the second act. It turned out that it was nothing new, that it was essentially a reprisal of the first act, with even less.
The reformation of Yoshimi with her ex- could have been handled entirely within the hospital, and perhaps within her first week of leaving it is when she unexpectedly has a relapse. It brings us closer to the ex- character, because he never truly gets what he wants, losing the girl he loves, and brings the return of the other guy much more sympathetic, at least in my mind. The fact that he comes back to visit when she's seemingly healthy screams, "I fucked up, I thought you were gonna die, can we get back together now?" to me.

And with the overly long proceedings, it leads to yet another problem. The Robots are over-exposed. They become a fixture throughout most of the second act, returning for almost every scene even when they're not used. The novelty quickly wears off.
Something like that has to deliver every time it appears. My example is the Star Wars prequels. I know, I know...a million voices screamed out at once at their mention and then silence...But let me explain...
The lightsaber battles were given an opportunity to be faster, fresher, and more kinetic than they had been in the original series. These were young Jedi and Sith in their physical prime, battling for the galaxy, not an old man and a cyborg having a pissing contest for the well-being of a whiny farmboy.
Phantom Menace inadvertently set a rather high bar: two athletic Jedi (Obi-Wan Kenobi earned a reputation for one of the fastest lightsaber duelists in the galaxy) facing off against a frightening, intimidating Sith Lord, who possessed a previously-unseen weapon that proved lethal. The fight was fast-paced and unexpected, unlike what we had seen from the original Trilogy, where a lightsaber was used to deflect blast bolts, cut open a Tauntaun, and redecorate furniture.
For Episode 2, we were excited to see something even better, and despite skepticism, we got it. Attack of the Clones featured a brief exchange between Dooku and the greatest Jedi of all time, Master Yoda, in his first ever lightsaber battle in the series. Yoda flipped, spun, and grunted into our hearts, and we were left wanting more as the exchange lasted all of thirty seconds. Perhaps Dooku versus Obi-Wan and Anakin, with Anakin using a lightsaber in each hand (sadly for an even shorter amount of time than the Yoda/Dooku exchange) was more disappointing than building, but the Yoda prospect exceeded that.
One problem.
There was one last Episode. And it had big shoes to fill. Yoda would surely have to fight again, how would that be even better than the first exchange we saw? Had Lucas released that sure-fire hit too soon? What more could be added to a now-classic lightsaber duel?
Drama, that's what.
The Dooku/Anakin exchange at the outset is at least a build in momentum and storytelling for Anakin. The first Palpatine fight, culminating in the duel with Samuel L. Mace Windu Jackson is shocking, at least for the Jedi.
The intercut Palpatine fight with Yoda is at least scenic, and somewhat symbolic, with them fighting through the Galactic Senate chambers, seeing both the demise of the Jedi as well as benevolent political order in the galaxy.
But it is the main Obi-Wan/Anakin exchange that that fight shares screentime with that we have been leading up to all along. This is the true master meets student. This is good-hearted Light side meeting well-intentioned, misguided Dark side. Obi-Wan, ever the peacemaker, ever the diplomat, ever the "there are alternatives to fighting", has exhausted every alternative. He is going to stand his ground against a much faster, more driven, more rage-filled Anakin. The storytelling is amazing, besides the sword-work being the best of the series.

ANYWAY, all this to say... There needed to be something that the Robots were building towards. What was the point of the momentum? The first scene showed the features of the suits, what they were capable of, their potential. They were posing for spectacle. Their second scene was their full realization, I was awestruck, people were audibly gasping in the audience. Third scene...okay, well, two flew around, but they were obviously on sticks, it wasn't wire work or anything too advanced...
Fourth scene, giant robot! Great build. But then all of them, including the giant robot, made at least three more appearances. And then quite a few more throughout the second act.
Instead, what we got was overexposure to a really cool idea that ultimately lead nowhere.

It's easy for me to be critical. It's so much more fun being negative than positive. But ultimately, Yoshimi was not a trainwreck, by any means. I really loved my viewing experience of it. As I watched, I was really taken in by the spectacle. Like I said, the projection and moving set pieces were all put to amazingly good use.

I LOVE the music and despite the lack of innovation, it was very cool getting to hear the music in a new context.

The actors were extremely talents. Nik Walker made that "Waiting for a Superman" song both poignant and heartbreaking, I saw his character as a jerk and a coward, but at the same time a more complicated, frightened soul, unable to cope.
Paul Nolan, who thrilled me last year as Jesus for the Jesus Christ Superstar revival at the Playhouse, I think was even more impressive here. He seemed to embody this character more (perhaps, too challenging in general is the role of the Son of God?) and have more fun with it. His voice was also much more fitting for this music and he brought a lot of weight and meat to the overused role of optimistic, romantic dreamer loser.
I had a small crush* on Kimiko Glenn who played the title character, especially after hearing her sing "Goin' On." She was sweet, and spirited. I think most of the role is letting things happen around her, which I think made the fight sequences with the Robots much more important, because they gave Yoshimi something to do.

* Having a crush on an Asian girl, kind of a big deal for me...
The parents too, as well as the two doctors, rounded out the cast really well.

And I still can't say enough about the set. Some of the pieces were just amazing.
And again, that second act opener, it was exciting and different, and was the only non-Robot dance number of the show, and it was awesome to see some great choreography. 

So, all-in-all, it's far from perfect, but it's well-worth seeing live, especially as a practical effects fan, a Flaming Lips fan, or a fan of quirky robots.
I think it's a cool indicator of where musical theater COULD head, if jukebox musicals continue to be a trend, if they are handled correctly. There's a lot of potential here, and I just hope creators of these shows see that potential, and continue to grow and innovate in all aspects of a theatrical production.

I leave you with the lyrics to my favorite non-Yoshimi Flaming Lips song:

Love in our life is just too valuable
Oh, to feel for even a second without it
But life without death is just impossible
Oh, to realize something is ending within us

- "Feeling Yourself Disintegrate", The Soft Bulletin

Sunday, November 11, 2012

Shaken. Not Stirred. -- Part 6 -- The Films

Bond On Film
It's a really visceral call when trying to name the best of the franchise as well as the worst. There's characterization to think about, plot believability (not necessarily plausibility...most of them would be awful at that if it was a criterion), all the Bond elements (gadgets, girls, villains) and how they're handled, and then of course Bond himself. At the end of the day, is it an entertaining movie? Here are the 4 Worst and the 5 Best.

The 4 Worst Bond Films...
4.) Live and Let Die 
Gadget-heavy, meandering plot, boring Bond girl (sorry, Jane Seymour), and a new Roger Moore playing it safe, plus some awkward moments like the New Orleans funeral procession or the voodoo festival (plus the train at the end! What the hell?) make for an inconsistent, and pretty bland first adventure for the Moore-Bond.

3.) Die Another Day
Product placement abounds, self-congratulation abounds (it was the 20th film, after all), and Halle Barry owns all the screentime. Halfway through I forgot Brosnan was Bond and that it was a Bond film. When the car turned invisible, I almost left.

2.) Moonraker
A shoe-horned plot with a boring villain, horrible special effects, and flimsy writing keep Moonraker from taking off with anyone. 

1.) The World is Not Enough
Again, the villain is petty and the stakes are pretty low for this Bond outing. Between Marceau's unbelievable villain and Richards' unbelievable physicist, plus Brosnan completely lost to the background, I find this to be the worst moment in Bond movies.

...And the 5 Best
5.) From Russia With Love
Very often ranked higher than even Dr. No, From Russia with Love is a big foundational step, introducing us to the persistent Blofeld, as well as the unforgettable Rosa Klebb. Connery does a damn fine Bond, and the action sequences (the iconic helicopter fight) are wonderful.

4.) Skyfall
Again, there's little complaint I find with the movie, though the third act could have been condensed slightly, but Bond films are famous for their drawn out plots. Anyway, the villain is outstanding, as well as Judi Dench's performance of M, where she truly gets to remind us what an amazing actress she is. Craig's Bond is fantastic as well, and drives the movie throughout. The supporting cast of Rory Kinnear, Ralph Fiennes, Ben Whishaw, Albert Finney, and Naomie Harris are also a fine ensemble and add weight and relevance to the these roles. See it.

3.) Goldfinger
Some point to Goldfinger as the definitive Bond template. The villain is entertainingly maniacal ("No Mr. Bond, I expect you to die!") and who could forget the iconic image of Shirley Eaton, playing Jill Masterson, encased in gold? Oddjob keeps me from ranking the film higher, but Honor Blackman's Pussy Galore keeps me from ranking it lower. All-in-all, a strong step forward for the Bond franchise, one where Connery is a strong Bond, and the movie's elements serve the plot well.

2.) Thunderball
One of my favorite Bond films, with a great spy plot, plus Connery's Bond only got better. Domino is a great Bond girl, and we also get to see Felix Leiter, played by Rik Van Nutter, one of my more favorite actors in the role (besides David Hedison, most notably in License to Kill). I also love Largo as a villain.

1.) GoldenEye
Again, there's not enough I can say about this movie. Years later, it's still a great Bond film, and a wonderfully acted film by any standard. Brosnan, Bean, Dench, Llewelyn, Jenssen, Scorupco, even Robbie Coltrane as Zukovsky, and the wonderful Alan Cumming as Boris, all add considerably to a great movie with a solid plot, some great action sequences, and a wholly satisfying Bond adventure.

In the end, what do you say about James Bond? Ever the quirky mix of adventure, humor, and glamor, the ride may not always make sense or may even be annoyingly inconsistent for whatever reason, but there's little doubt in my mind that there's a little something in the franchise for any movie fan.

Saturday, November 10, 2012

Shaken. Not Stirred. -- Part 5 -- The Man Himself

"The name is Bond. James Bond."
Everyone has a greatly differing opinion on this one. Honestly, I really don't have a best and worst, because I greatly respect each man's performance in it. Yes, some are better than others, but for the most part, it speaks to the movie more than the actors a lot of the time. But for better or worse, there are just actors who brought more to the part than others. 
Will the real James Bond please ready their gun? Oh, damn it. Now come on, guys.

The 3 Best Bonds...
Sean Connery, Daniel Craig, and Timothy Dalton
CONNERY will always be Bond for almost everyone. Even people who are introduced first to a different-era Bond will come around to loving the Connery performance, the ideal mix of rough-and-tumble gruffness, smooth charm and charisma, and the right light touch humor.
Weakest Performance: Diamonds Are Forever. Coming back, he phoned it in, and it paled to his previous five films as Bond.
Best Performance: I'm a huge fan of Thunderball as a whole. But I also think Goldfinger is his iconic performance for audiences and fans. He was so immediately strong, but Goldfinger was where he first hit his stride, though Thunderball was where the franchise really caught up with Connery's Bond.

CRAIG, though initially met with much hesitation, did not have much to live up to, if I'm being honest. Brosnan's ability in the role had slipped considerably by the end of his run, and I was looking forward to a fresh take on Bond. A grittier and rougher Bond, doing away with much of the humor and levity (save for some very well-timed moments) Craig is easily the most believable as a secret agent with a license to kill.
Weakest Performance: Casino Royale. Craig is mostly stoic through the performance, rather than any sort of nuance.
Best Performance: Skyfall, no doubt. While his Quantum of Solace Bond is more fully realized, the movie is severely underwritten, and Skyfall fits the universe better. Craig is bent on revenge, driven, and fighting for relevance. He is haunted and fierce.

DALTON was inconsistent, but he was attempting to bring a more hard edge to Bond after suffering from the kiddie final days with Moore at the helm. A lot of people find little redeeming about Dalton's performance in his two-Bond run, but I find some genuinely wonderful moments in his movies, like refusing to kill Kara in Living Daylights or his promise to Felix in License to Kill. I think the world just wasn't ready for an edgier Bond, and it wouldn't be until Craig they'd find out what they missed out on. Dalton for me though, is wonderful, but I do see where his performance edges towards irritated rather than dangerous.
Weakest Performance: The Living Daylights is just eh. Also, the ski sequence in the Cello case is pure ridiculousness. Again, he's mostly annoyed throughout the movie, rather than dark and brooding.
Best Performance: License to Kill, the original revenge plot, is fantastic, though at times pretty needlessly violent. However, it's the better realization of Dalton's abilities and potential as a brooding, disturbed Bond.

...And the 3 Worst
Pierce Brosnan, George Lazenby, Roger Moore
BROSNAN is my Bond and for many years, far and away my favorite. He surpassed Connery for me, simply because he was my first experience with Bond and everyone remembers their first. However, the plots and characters slowly became more and more outlandish over the years and Brosnan made no attempt to deepen his characterization, and it became obvious to me at least that he simply had no more tricks up his sleeve in terms of performing Bond.
Weakest Performance: Die Another Day, where he loses much ground to Halle Barry as his opposite, but really that's pretty indicative of his subsequent performances following his...
Best Performance: GoldenEye. It had been such a hiatus from the Dalton-era, and the end of the Cold War brought into question if Bond could stay relevant without a sure enemy in Russia. The KGB had been an ever-present problem in prior Bond films. Also, was there anyone who could save the Bond franchise after the waning Moore years and Dalton's mishandling? Brosnan proved in one movie that he was more than worthy. Brosnan was cool, calm, funny, and believable. I blame the subsequent movies more for drowning out Bond but partly Brosnan too, for allowing himself to be overshadowed.

LAZENBY had some difficult shoes to fill. He came after one of Connery's solid performances, also he was the second guy. It's like whatever villain had to follow Heath Ledger's Joker in Dark Knight. He would be inevitably compared, and he would inevitably fail. Taken on its own though, the film is not a strong showing for Bond, rather uncharacteristic, and should not have been handled by someone fresh to the role. Lazenby ultimately too, added nothing to the role.
Weakest/Best Performance: On Her Majesty's Secret Service features some great moments by Lazenby but also some of the weakest. Like I said though, in the end, Lazenby's biggest crime was adding nothing to the role. Unlike...

MOORE, whom I credit with almost singlehandedly bringing Bond to an end. The movies became much more reflective of the time they were being shown in (Live and Let Die was a blaxploitation, Golden Gun was a kung-fu movie, Moonraker took advantage of Star Wars) and lost Bond in the way. Unlike Brosnan who let it happen, Moore became more foppish and foolish as he smirked and pranced through each successive Bond film (the most of any Bond actor to date). As he became garishly more cartoonish and less believable as Bond, the series slipped into more and more meandering plots, and some good moments were lost along the way. Christopher Walken and Christopher Lee were villains during this time! Squandered on a wholly unbelievable Bond.
Weakest Performance: Where do I start? If I had to pick one, A View to a Kill. I can't believe for a moment he overpowers Mayday or outsmarts Walken's Zorin. But Octopussy is easily his most inconsistent performance.
Best Performance: I have a soft spot for The Man With the Golden Gun. But the best one is For Your Eyes Only. It's just too bad it was too late to restore Moore's credibility in the role.

Friday, November 9, 2012

Shaken. Not Stirred. -- Part 4 -- The Villains

The Bad Guy
The key to a successful Bond villain is giving him a hellbent reason to destroy the world or take over the world or steal whatever important he's stealing, and give him a relatively good motivation to do so. On top of that, hiring a strong actor is pretty key. Of course, it's not always perfect. Christopher Lee is undeniably great as Francisco Scaramanga in Golden Gun, but the villain's desire is a little flimsy. And sometimes, there are surprises. Yaphet Kotto was kind of a small time player until his turn as Kananga in Live and Let Die and while I also thought he didn't have much to work with, he ended up putting in a pretty frightening, unnerving performance. Here are my 4 favorite successes and 3 failures.

The 4 Best Villains...
4.) Elliot Carver - Jonathan Pryce (Tomorrow Never Dies)
I have an infinite soft spot for Carver, this villain crafted by a great actor in Jonathan Pryce. Though the plot is left a little wanting (a media domination these days seems a bit more plausible with the expansion of the internet, though how territorial it could be remains questionable) Pryce turns in one of my favorite cerebral villain performances. He's not going to out-punch Bond, but he's undeniably brilliant, and he has one of my favorite lines of the entire franchise:
"The distance between genius and insanity is measured only by success."

3.) Raoul Silva - Javier Bardem (Skyfall)
Good f'ing Lord. Bardem created something pretty iconic. I haven't been too impressed with the villains of the current Craig-era, until Bardem was announced for the role for Skyfall. That got me excited. Could he bring something new? Could he deliver something different from his villainous assassin in No Country for Old Men? He answered the questions, and exceeded expectations. Bardem gave a beautiful, legitimate, demonic performance. I wouldn't say he was affably evil, but in a vein similar to Anthony Hopkins' Hannibal Lector, I found myself captivated and compelled. I left amazingly fulfilled.

2.) Ernst Stavro Blofeld - Various, though Charles Gray plays my favorite (Diamonds Are Forever)
Head of SPECTRE, a constant villain for various films, Blofeld was a featured antagonist in six Bond films. My favorite performance however, is Charles Gray's in Diamonds. He's charming, smart, and frightening. His smile is so deceitfully dangerous. I love it.

1.) Alec Trevelyan (Janus) - Sean Bean (GoldenEye)
An emotionally driven character, Trevelyan, formerly 006, is revealed as a traitor and prepared to stop at nothing to destroy England for what he perceives as war crimes of World War II, leading to his parents, and countless others', deaths. Sean Bean is endlessly brilliant in the role, just as charismatic as Brosnan's Bond but with hell in his eyes.

...And the 3 Worst...
3.) Elektra King - Sophie Marceau (The World is Not Enough)
Though a beautiful Bond girl, I find it hard to believe anyone couldn't see the twist coming from a mile away. Also, Marceau just didn't convince me at all as the villain. The whole plot was seemed really petty to me and was nothing but a spoiled brat getting what she wanted (and eventually getting what she deserved). 

2.) Dominic Greene - Mathieu Amalric (Quantum of Solace)
A completely forgettable performance in the middle of a pretty weak movie. Quantum of Solace's "stealing the water" plot seems hilariously irrelevant and Almaric convinces me not for a moment as the villain.

1.) Georgi Koskov and Brad Whitaker - Jeroen Krabbe and Joe Don Baker (The Living Daylights)
These two are the most unconvincing villains of any movie. No wonder Dalton had nothing to work with, the silly worry wart Koskov and the obnoxious brash Whitaker are his antagonists. Koskov is completely nonthreatening as a villain, and Whitaker is endlessly irrelevant.

...And my favorite Villainous Sidekick
I am just not a fan of Oddjob or Jaws. Jaws becomes a friendly oaf and Oddjob was never threatening in the least to me. Most of them are just there for laughs, though Baron Samedi from Live and Let Die is pretty frightening to me. Rosa Klebb in From Russia with Love is a very close second, but in the end...
Xenia Onatopp - Famke Janssen (GoldenEye)
A little more clever with the name, infinitely dangerous and undeniably insane, Xenia is the most threatening of the villainous sidekick to me, and easily one of the best parts of GoldenEye.  

Thursday, November 8, 2012

Shaken. Not Stirred -- Part 3 -- The Gadgets

Pretty omnipresent is the use of completely bonkers gadgets throughout the films to help in oddly specific situations. Q Branch has always supplied Bond with a varying degree of technology, again, ranging from the surprisingly useful (read as: lethal) and the unsurprisingly dangerous (read as: broadly useless). While Desmond Llewelyn as Q was always my favorite part of any classic Bond movie, it was quite refreshing to see a stripping down of gadgets and leaving Bond with the bare bones minimum to succeed in Skyfall. Product placement dominated much of the gadget-touting of the Brosnan-era, while some truly genre-bending nightmares led to some ridiculous cameos of gadgets early on. Some thankfully were not used on missions but instead were comically misused in the lab as Bond was briefed on his actual weaponry.

The 7 Best Gadgets...
7.) The Lotus Esprit - The Spy Who Loved Me, For Your Eyes Only
Its most memorable appearance was when it became a submarine in Spy Who Loved Me. Impossible, implausible, but also, endlessly cool.

6.) The Aston Martin V8 - The Living Daylights
Once again, an appropriate car for the mission, outfitted with spiked treads and outriggers to drive on ice and snow, perfect for a winter-based chase scene.

5.) The BMW 750 - Tomorrow Never Dies
Product placement notwithstanding, the cutting edge BMW is controlled through James Bond's mobile phone, making for some funny moments and an action sequence during the movie.

4.) "Killer Case" - From Russia With Love
One of the first truly spectacular gadgets, the Q Briefcase featured a rifle and ammunition, a concealed throwing knife, gold, and a booby-trapped bottle of tear gas, set to go off if the briefcase was tampered with.

3.) X-Ray Glasses - The World is Not Enough
How is Bond not issued with these on EVERY mission?

2.) The Exploding Pen - GoldenEye
Easily my absolute favorite gadget. Three clicks...4 huge explosion. "The pen really is mightier than the sword."

1.) The Aston Martin DB5 - Goldfinger, Thunderball, et al.
Perhaps the most famous mode of conveyance ever that's not some special vehicle (like the TARDIS, or the bed from Bedknobs and Broomsticks) it has appeared several times over the years, most recently in Skyfall, much to the delight of the entire audience that saw it with me.
Rotating license plate (don't remember why that's cool), machine guns in the headlights, bulletproof rear plate, and the ejector passenger seat. The fact that it is the definitive Bond car even 50 years later speaks to its staying power.

...And the 5 Worst
5.) The Rolex Submariner - Live and Let Die
The Moore years were pretty gadget-laden (with the exception of For Your Eyes Only, an attempt to show Moore could pull off a grittier Bond, though by then it was definitely too late) and while the Submariner's armaments are useful, I found them to be pushing the limits of suspension of disbelief. In the same movie, the Submariner is a mini buzzsaw and an electromagnet. I find no reason both those things can exist on the same gadget and still tell time.

4.) The Ski Pole Gun - The Spy Who Loved Me
Some people will list this as their favorite James Bond gadget, I do not. I find it cumbersome and utterly useless outside of a snow situation and though Bond seems to find himself in many of these, he seems to do just as fine with just a Cello case (see: Living Daylights).

3.) The Crocodile Submarine - Octopussy
One of the most infinitely laughable gadgets ever, Bond was given a submarine disguised (badly) as a crocodile for infiltration. By this point in the run, everyone had once again given up.

2.) The Whistle Keychain - The Living Daylights
At first the keychain, introduced by Q, seems to have potential. It's the scene where it is actually used that shows exactly how pointless it is. Activated by whistling Hail Brittania, the keychain releases knockout gas. Cool, you think. An easy getaway, a method of incapacitating multiple opponents in no time, with a seemingly innocuous piece of technology that almost anyone would be carrying. But when you see the scene in the movie, you'll know what I mean. First, Bond has to get his captors to hold the keychain. He has to whistle a couple times to activate it, which arouses no suspicion in the guards who are now in possession of it. Then it only knocks them out for about two seconds, just barely enough time for Bond to run over and knock them out and one of the guards has enough time to almost fully recover and ruin the whole damn thing.

1.) The Scuba Suit with a Duck on Top - Goldfinger
Even Bond laughs at the suit at first, only to use it successfully later, but the question is why? It's simply a joke for the audience and nothing else. Why put a duck as part of a disguise for a scuba suit? Why not just dive more deeply underwater? Or not? You're underwater, who's going to see you? I believe the scene also takes place at night, so why would you want to draw attention to yourself by being something visible when you would otherwise be invisible? Ugh.

Wednesday, November 7, 2012

Shaken. Not Stirred. -- Part 2 -- The Women

The Bond Girl
The Bond Girl has always been a pretty broad defining term, because it eventually extends to any female in the movie Bond sleeps with, and ostensibly, any female in any Bond movie is there to be slept with because that's just how the Bond universe works.
However, most "purists" will more narrowly define the Bond girl as either the ever-present sidekick (often a fellow spy, but occasionally just a pure love interest, maybe initially working for the other side) who may or may not be completely useless, and the more villainous female lead who Bond eventually woos through some sort of Mr. and Mrs. Smith-style brawl that leads into a Mr. and Mrs. Smith-style sex scene. The Mayday scene from A View to a Kill is the one that comes most readily to mind, mostly because she's so damn scary and Roger Moore by this point is the dandiest of Bonds, I don't believe for a moment that the gender roles are stereotypical. These are my 4 favorites and my 2 least.

My 4 Favorite Bond Girls...
4.) Honey Ryder - Ursual Andress (Dr. No)
Not even Halle Barry in Die Another Day could compare when they tried to recreate Andress' iconic emergence from the water in the very first Bond movie.

Andress was beautiful, smart, and secure. She had that faint accent and even when she wasn't, always looked like she was posing. And every mark she hit was stunning.

Honey Ryder, while not as overtly sexual as some of the names that were to come later, is still pretty indicative of the role of women in the Bond universe. More recent movies have attempted to make more progressive strides in this (the aforementioned Barry was much more of a co-star than a sidekick for that movie). But what I find most striking is how Ryder was actually quite useful, strong, and independent. If they'd followed that template more closely sooner, I think the modern Bond girls would've evolved more logically.

3.) Andrea Anders - Maud Adams (The Man with the Golden Gun)
Ms. Adams has the unique distinction of being two different Bond girls during the Moore-era of Bond films. While she would return later as the titular Octopussy, it was her more tragic turn as Andrea in Golden Gun that first made me take notice of her.

Adams' role in the film was a difficult one, and easily one of the more nuanced turns of a Bond girl, skirting both sides of the law in her attempt to make her own life meaningful. I find it to be one of the more interesting Bond girls, especially with "Dead Woman Walking" performance throughout. As soon as she first sleeps with Bond, she, and we by extension, know that she is not surviving to the final act of the movie. Especially when contrasted in the same movie with the utterly useless Mary Goodnight (played to utter airhead perfection by Britt Eckland), Adams' Andrea Anders becomes even more a thing of beauty years later.

2.) Sévérine - Bérénice Marlohe (Skyfall)
When she first appeared onscreen during the movie, I was immediately taken. I try very hard not to objectify, but I mean, just look. They made her look absolutely stunning.

As the movies have progressed down a darker path over recent years, the Bond girls have followed in a more haunted and complex line, going off that Maud Adams line I was talking about in the previous entry. Severine follows this pattern. Very close to the villain Silva, she quickly falls for Bond and again understands pretty soon how doomed she is.
Her moment as a Bond girl is shocking and brief but in her little screentime, she makes an intense impact with some great acting and of course, striking beauty.

1.) Teresa "Tracy" di Vicenzo Bond - Diana Rigg (On Her Majesty's Secret Service)
Speaking of haunted and doomed, my favorite Bond girl is the Contessa herself, eventually the Mrs. Bond.
Diana Rigg, along with Honor Blackman in Goldfinger, were two of the first women who were already more established prior to becoming a Bond girl. Interestingly enough, both found their fame in the same TV series, a comedic spy serial called The Avengers (opposite the infinitely-more-charming-than-Bond Patrick Macnee as John Steed). Blackman had played partner Cathy Gale on the show, before becoming Pussy Galore for Goldfinger (see, I told you the names quickly got more overt), and Rigg was and is probably more famous as Emma Peel, fan favorite partner of Macnee on the Avengers.
Needless to say, we knew she was more than capable of handling a more action-heavy Bond film, but what we got instead was a subdued and dramatic script in On Her Majesty's Secret Service. One of the longer films, and undeniably the most emotional, Rigg reminded us that she was also a phenomenal actress in addition to beautiful, in addition to strong and sassy. While she maintained all of those things in the movie as well, it is most remembered that she didn't make it to the end of the movie, and occasionally served as a haunting reminder for Bond in later films as to why he never allows himself to get close to anyone. It simultaneously connected us to him and somewhat rationalized his womanizing in a complex and not immediately empathetic way.
To play the woman that made Bond fall in love, give up his ways, and almost give up what he loved doing the most, you needed to be a damn fine actress. And Rigg made us as well as Bond fall in love with her over and over again each time she appeared onscreen.

...And My 2 Least Favorite
2.) Christmas Jones - Denise Richards (The World is Not Enough)
The name was done simply for the innuendo line at the movie's conclusion ("I thought Christmas only comes once a year.") and then the casting was done simply because nobody cared anymore. I'm not sure what happened, but Izabella Scorupco as Natalya in GoldenEye was unbelievably smart as a Russian computer hacker (Famke Janssen as Xenia was no laughing matter either, a strong, smart, capable, and somewhat crazier version of Mayday), then Michelle Yeoh was the more than capable sidekick in Tomorrow Never Dies (with Teri Hatcher not being completely useless either), and then we get to World is Not Enough, and we cast Denise Richards as a nuclear physicist, and they gave her not-even-a-good-stripper name? Wrong, wrong, wrong.

1.) Mary Goodnight - Britt Eckland (The Man with the Golden Gun)
While the name may not be as egregious as Christmas Jones (or for that matter, Holly Goodhead from Moonraker) Goodnight the character is completely, utterly useless. She screws everything up, she doesn't do anything, and she's supposed to be a fellow agent! What an unforgivable backward step for the Bond Girl. Goodnight almost gets Bond killed at least twice in the film's proceedings and nearly unravels the entire plan that the heroes so painstakingly put together.

Tuesday, November 6, 2012

Shaken. Not Stirred. -- Part 1 -- The Music

Stop looking at me through your gun. That's the worst way to kill someone.
With the release of 23rd Bond film, I took to watching all the lead-up movies in quick succession. It was quite the ride, indeed. In a fifty-year lifespan such as Bond's, there are bound to be missteps, weak links, and duds, but there are also some high points, some defining and definitive moments, and a good mix of action, humor, sex, and whimsy thrown into a diabolical plot to take over the world.

Twenty-three films is nothing to laugh at, and it's twenty-five, if you count the original Casino Royale with the endlessly charismatic David Niven as Bond, (and Woody Allen as a particularly nebbish villain Dr. Noah) and the Sean Connery-driven "spin-off" Never Say Never, Again (an unfortunate rehash of  the full-stride Connery-Bond era Thunderball). And the legacy it leaves and continues to leave on spy movies specifically and action movies as a whole is something more to be regarded than trivialized, although we do have to acknowledge some glaring miscalculations along the way (like is it impressive or awkward that two separate movies portray stereotypical Asians?)

I've made some lists ranking, in my opinion, the most important Bond elements.
Here is the first.

The James Bond Theme Song
The Bond theme song has always played an important role in the reception of the movie it represents. Played over the opening credits, the imagery depicted has ranged from abstract violence, broad references to plot points or settings, fire and guns, the female form, often water. Like one of those odd music videos played in the background of a dark dance club, the relevance can often be questionable, but the music over the years has always been strong. Revealing Adele to be the singer for Skyfall was almost as big of an announcement as the release of the movie itself.
The theme is often reflective of the time period, but has always conveyed a certain amount of bravado and bombast. The songs, like the movies themselves, rarely convey subtlety and nuance, but speak to Bond as a character, the movie as a thrilling piece, and music as a mood-setter.
Live and Let Die and Nobody Does It Better, and even We Have All the Time in the World, grew much bigger outside the world of Bond and are undeniably great songs, but I wanted to get more specific to the Bond universe. 
Here are 5 of the most interesting songs to me, and 3 of my least favorite.

My 5 Favorite Bond Theme Songs...
5.) "Another Way to Die" - Jack White and Alicia Keys (Quantum of Solace)
An unlikely choice maybe to some, but the quirky collaboration of White and Keys is intriguing enough alone. I love that the theme has a grittier spy feel, the discordance is oddly harmonious, and the pieces all come together in a curious but satisfying way, much like a Bond film. It's definitely one of the better "departures" of the more modern Bond themes that started with Madonna's. This, like my number 4 choice, is the saving grace for a sub-par Bond outing.

4.) "Diamonds Are Forever" - Shirley Bassey (Diamonds Are Forever)
Of the three Bassey-sung tunes, this one captures her style most of all. Many see Bassey as the definitive Bond theme singer and while I don't deny her crown as the most prolific, there's a certain timeliness in the songs that leave something to be desired years later. But nonetheless, it's still obviously one of my very favorites, I mean that voice has undeniable power and strength, and it saves a pretty lackluster movie. 

3.) "License to Kill" - Gladys Knight (License to Kill)
Something about Ms. Knight has always fascinated me. Perhaps it's that huskier, darker tone she has, that adds more soul to anything she sings, but I always get very excited when I see her perform or realize she's singing on the radio. When I first saw License to Kill, I had no idea she sang the theme until the credit sequence started. It was strong, soulful, and stirring. Later, I looked back on it as a template for what a Bond theme could be. Still a strong female singer, but changing with the times (I've always mostly preferred a female singer for the theme: Bassey, Nancy Sinatra, Carly Simon, even Rita Coolidge though the song wasn't that great). For me, Gladys is the voice. 

2.) "Skyfall" - Adele (Skyfall)
Again, a female singer just seems to bring it all together for me. I was damn impressed with Adele's take on a Bond theme, a refreshing mix of throwback to the Bassey days, while using the intricate orchestrations of the more modern takes.

1.) "Thunderball" - Tom Jones (Thunderball)
I know, I know...not a female singer. But. This theme is just the best. Most of the themes for me reflect more on the villain or the abstracted themes of the movie. Thunderball is one of the rare cases where the song is truly about Bond. Also, Tom Jones. You just don't have a male performer like him anymore. Groban is in the neighborhood, Buble is interesting, and Vandross was probably the closest we ever had, but Jones. I used to use this song to psyche up before shows. Also, I haven't seen him do it, but I'm willing to bet anything that he can still sing this with the same agility and quality as he did decades ago.

...And My 3 Least
3.) "For Your Eyes Only" - Sheena Easton (For Your Eyes Only)
Bland and inoffensive, not particularly bad for any reason, Easton sounds great, but the song is really more like a montage backing than a full theme. Completely forgettable.

2.) "The Living Daylights" - a-ha (The Living Daylights)
Just a year before, there was a great idea to take the biggest band at the time and have them do the theme. A View to a Kill by Duran Duran is an arguably strong theme, though not of my favorites personally. But when they attempted strike twice with the "Take On Me" band, I think they completely missed the mark. The Living Daylights theme is pure poppy trash.

1.) "The Man with the Golden Gun" - Lulu (The Man with the Golden Gun)
What first disappoints me about the theme is the blatant attempt to recreate a Shirley Bassey theme, both in performance and construction. For as talented a performer as she may be (and to be fair, I have nothing else to judge her on) Lulu possesses none of Bassey's chops and she gets lost in the bombastic orchestration she is attempting to sing over. The second thing that disappoints me is that of all people, Alice Cooper was the runner-up who wrote and performed his own Golden Gun theme. When I heard that one, I was even more severely disappointed by this choice.

That does it for the Music! Up Next: The Bond Girls.

Tuesday, October 16, 2012

What's the point of having a bucket list if it's not hilarious?

Most of the entries on my Bucket List sound like premises to a sitcom bit:
  • Pretend to be a conductor of an orchestra for at least one movement.
    The conductor was not knocked out of my accord.
    It should be the first or third movement of a symphony.

  • Rip up a test in front of a professor's face, saying, "Here's what I think of your grades!"
    Optional: Professor says, "No one's ever stood up to me before. You pass!" Slow clap from the students as I leave.

  • Wake up in a domestic setting and a non-domestic animal walks by me.
  • If it somehow worked out to be a dolphin, that'd be amazingly cool.

  • Be told I'm fired so I can say, "Fire me!? You can't fire me! I QUIT!"

  • Prank call a girl and have it lead to a date.

  • Take in a local sightseeing tour in a country where I don't speak the language and wind up missing my tour bus.

  • Get hit on by a gay guy and call his bluff, find out he was doing it on a dare, and then we are each other's wingmen for the night.

  • At some point, get set up to say, "But if you're out here, then who...uh-oh..."

  • Dress up an animal as a person to get it into some sort of concert where we eventually reunite it with its owner, who is the frontman of the band playing, and we get to go backstage.
  • Spontaneous acapella, harmonized road trip sing-along initially starting from silence.
  • Be mistakenly presumed dead and read my obituary. (And/or attend my own funeral in disguise.)
  • Forced to take care of an unlikely small animal, like a monkey.
  • Drinking contest with my estranged biological father.
  • I wake up and everybody I know is an alternate version of themselves, but appropriately cast into whatever genre we are doing.

Saturday, October 6, 2012

True Love Story

Recently, friends and I were hanging out and the discussion came around to Disney movies, as it often does, when you get a bunch of twentysomethings together who lived through the Disney Renaissance.

People don't give us enough credit sometimes. Yes, we were aware that these were fairy tales, that they were unrealistic, fantastical, and whimsical. No one I know with half a brain grew up on Disney movies believing that at any moment, a Prince would swoop in, or the Princess would appear, giving them unrealistic expectations about love and happily ever after.

I never appreciated the backlash about them either, and I equate it to people villainizing Video Games, believing them to cause aggression and more violent children and teens. You shouldn't have to be sat down and told, "Happily Ever After doesn't happen. Life's not a Disney movie."

We all know that. And we love that. It's what makes Disney movies fun to watch, and makes us remember them fondly years later.

But our discussion soon involved a serious examination of which movie best constituted a pure love story. Which one ultimately had the best? The one that taught something positive about love, where the characters were only influenced by themselves to fall in love, and that maybe taught a lesson to the lovers at some point or another?

And by that, we eventually landed on the following criteria:
- The characters fall in love with each other for who they are, not for what the other character thinks they are, or for anything specific about them.
- Neither character changes who they essentially are to be with the other person.
- The love story does not have any sort of weird undertones, mostly from our reality, as opposed to the reality of the story. I'll explain what I mean in a bit.
- The love story, by all accounts, is accepted by everyone except the villain, who in classic storytelling fashion, attempts to keep them apart.

Really, these reasons for failing to meet our expectations arose as we went through each movie one-by-one and realized some inherent flaw with the love story.

Let's take a look at the big 3. Of them, only one of them succeeds.

The Little Mermaid 

Ariel, the youngest of the mermaid princesses, and the prettiest, finds a statue whose likeness she falls in love with and soon finds the exact person the statue is of, a Prince by the name of Eric.
She goes to the Sea Witch who grants her people legs, so that she may meet him. But she must give up her voice to do so.
Eric falls in love with her anyway (I mean, she is the prettiest), but lo, the Sea Witch is playing them all for fools. Her charade is brief however, and she is thwarted. Ariel and Eric live happily ever after.

Why it fails:
...They stay on land. She becomes not-a-mermaid to be with the one she loves. They don't discuss it, she just does it, which I guess is cool, but she changes something that is inherently part of who she is for someone. A stunt that works out for absolutely no one. It may be overthinking it, but the idea is to hold these stories up for scrutiny.
Ariel's falling in love with a statue first makes it verge on idealization, but it is actually the likeness of the statue that she meets, so I guess it evens out.
The story is fine for our reality, although it does bring up the Mermaid Problem. But this is Disney, so we'll pretend all they ever do is kiss in the Ever After.
And Urusla actually tries to marry the prince herself. Everyone else is cool with the prince.
But the characters are each living on a falsehood. Eric loves a girl who has legs, and Ariel is not a girl with legs, she's a mermaid. Therefore, it falls just short for the criteria.

Beauty and the Beast
Belle is a bookworm and longs for something more than a provincial life, when one day her father gets imprisoned by an angry Beast who lives in an enchanted castle where everything talks, except the walls (that's a different movie).
But lo, the Beast is a man, cursed for his arrogance and selfishness. When Belle goes to rescue her father, she unselfishly trades her life for his and the Beast selfishly accepts her offer to be a prisoner instead. Because nothing improves your reputation like taking away the life and innocence of a young girl.
But the talking appliances have a plan. If he keeps the girl, he could get her to love him and break the curse. They have until rose-wilts o'clock to do so.
Of course she slowly gains an affection for the Beast, and soon realizes she is in love with him, especially as he learns to change his ways. But the townspeople try to kill him and only true love's kiss brings him back, and double brings him back, because he turns back into the Prince, who if I'm not mistaken is named Steve. Belle and Steve live happily ever after.

Why It Fails:
Shouldn't be too hard to explain. I mean, he's a dog. Sure, he's human underneath, but what good does that do? There's a lot of shady implications to this story as a whole: Belle could be under some sort of prisoner shock, Belle's into bestiality, the Beast is into really, really angry fetishes...
It's all a lot to ignore: the way in which they meet, the whole sequence of courting events, the suspension of disbelief...Beauty and the Beast pushes the envelope. And because everything talks, the envelope says, "No."

Now, I hate to go on an unrelated rant here, but on a side note, how does no one in the town remember the prince/the beast? The rose blooms until his 21st birthday. So, what is he in the prologue, like 18? Maybe, 16. Even if he's younger, let's say 10...That's only 11 years later! Now, when I was 21, I don't think I could have told you about everyone I'd met when I was 10, but I think I'd certainly remember THE PRINCE. That's the equivalent of forgetting who the president was when you were a kid.
And if he's a prince, where's the king and queen!? Why is that castle abandoned? Why do the townspeople who live right next to it, and I must assume were once governed by it, talk about it like it's been under the ownership of a heartless beast for a half a century? Almost like it's haunted?
I give the town no respect. They're adults, they should remember. But even Belle should probably vaguely remember they once had a prince in town! She was 6!
What the H, France? What the H?

Aladdin's a guy with nothing to live for, because he's a street rat, and only his fleas will mourn him.
Princess Jasmine is a beautiful princess who tires of the palace life and goes on the run. The two meet and there is a spark between them, but it is soon revealed she is the princess and Aladdin accepts that he has no chance with her, falling into the same pit of despair me and every other guy feels about a girl at every moment of our lives.
Aladdin is sent into the Cave of Wonders where he rescues a magical genie (you know, as opposed to all those non-magical genies out there) who turns him into a prince.
Prince Ali goes to win the hand of Jasmine, who is unimpressed, until one fateful ride on a magic carpet (you know, as opposed to all those non-magical carpets...oh wait). But when he's revealed as simply Aladdin, all hope seems to be lost. Until it's not, because Aladdin is smart and scrappy.
Jasmine convinces her father to change the law so she may marry anyone she chooses and Aladdin and Jasmine live happily ever after.

Just follow the criteria:
- Characters fall in love for who they are, not for what the other character thinks they are, or for anything specific about them. Aladdin and Jasmine initially fall in love and stay in love with each other regardless of revelations. When they initially meet (if we are going off the idea that all Disney love stories are love at first sight) then Jasmine meets Aladdin as a street rat, and though Aladdin meets Jasmine in disguise, she changes nothing of her personality and eventually reveals herself, without having lied about who she is.
- Neither character changes who they essentially are to be with the other person. Aladdin initially pretends to be a prince because of a law forbidding Jasmine to marry anyone not of royalty. But not only does this fail, he also learns an important lesson: to beeeeeee himself. Seriously, he does what Little Mermaid does, being somebody he's not, and then learns that it's BAD. At the end of the story, he's himself and Jasmine loves him.
- The story lacks weird undertones, mostly from our reality. No bestiality, no idol worship, they're of a reasonable age as far as we know. They meet under normal circumstances, there's no creepy stalker vibe from Aladdin, and Jasmine has no daddy issues (I'm looking at you, Cinderella).
- The love story, by all accounts, is accepted by everyone except the villain, who in classic storytelling fashion, attempts to keep them apart. Jafar is the quintessential villain, who finds Aladdin's secret and drives the two apart. The Sultan has no qualms about Aladdin, except that he's at first bound by the law, which he soon realizes he can change.

Honorable Losers
Cinderella - Remember, Daddy issues?
Sleeping Beauty - If she's asleep, she can't say no!
Hunchback of Notre Dame - At least it teaches us that the ugly guy never gets the girl. That's the most realistic lesson you will ever, ever learn.
Pocahontas - Remember that she was 14 when the story is supposed to take place. Let's ignore the fact that the whole thing is grossly inaccurate, historically. But also, they don't really end up together at the end.
Hercules - Hot girl falls for the big guy. Sounds like high school to me.
Tarzan - Hot girl falls for the big guy and changes him by making him join society. Sounds like college to me.
Princess and the Frog - I have a problem with this one because the whole movie tends to lean the way of teaching us that if you go after true love, everything else will sort itself out, rather than going after your dreams and letting love sort itself out. While the romantic in me always says to go with what your heart says, if we're talking about the criteria and teaching a strong lesson, then Tiana should not have lost sight of what was actually important to her, because it had been important to her her whole life: owning that restaurant, fulfilling a dream, making her father proud.

Honorable Winners
Tangled - Can't really fault Tangled. The characters don't change for each other, they love each other despite revelations, and brunettes are better than blondes.
Rescuers Down Under - Bernard and Miss Bianca get engaged! Mice understand true love!

Saturday, July 28, 2012

4 Pretty Girls from Commercials

I want to indulge my lighter side as well as my more shallow side and say this:
Guys, I fuckin' love commercials.

Yesterday, I had a brief conversation with a friend of mine. I had told him a while back about the new ad campaign by Wendy's with a redheaded girl who I thought was, quite honestly, very pretty.

Now I hate commercials with girls eating things in slow-motion. Or at any speed. In general, I hate commercials where they try to make the girl look sexy. I want everyone in commercials to just look like normal people. I think that helps me relate to the world of the commercial, whatever it may be. If it's about this girl, I just want her to be cute and for the most part, NORMAL. Like I said, I'm gonna be sorta superficial right now and talk about 4 Pretty Girls From Commercials.
THESE FOUR ARE COOL. (Click their pictures to watch the commercial.)

....Ladies? (Leans on bar.)