My Thoughts on Pirates of the Caribbean; Dead Men Tell No Tales

SPOILER FREE REVIEW of Dead Men Tell No Tales (2017) TO FOLLOW: 

 

I would like to begin by explaining what Pirates of the Caribbean means to me, as it is integral to the remainder of this review:

I saw the first film, The Curse of the Black Pearl for the first time in theaters when I was eight years old. Despite not understanding every intricacy with the oftentimes complex storyline (heck, I’m still uncovering hidden facets when I watch it fourteen years later), I can clearly remember loving it. It was something that me and my father shared a passion for, which is ironic, as writer and publicist Michael Singer, in his book Disney Pirates; The Definitive Collector’s Anthology, states that the relationship between parents and children remains “a subtextual tradition in the Pirates of the Caribbean movies.” This certainly bled over into my own life, as both the ride and the films are a shared love between my and my own parents.

As the franchise continued, I developed a need to understand how the filmmakers accomplished the incredible visual artistry, which made me love studying movie magic and behind-the-scenes wonders. Pirates took me to other worlds, giving me a colorful cast of characters to follow along with and, subsequently, inspired me to make my own. Story-wise, it showed me that the lines between good and evil can be blurred. People are capable of change, villains can be good, and everyone needs love. As both I and my appreciation for Johnny Depp grew, his acting became the gateway to other artists and forms of cinema, thereby fostering my want to be heavily involved in creating these incredible cinematic worlds for other daydream-prone kids like me in the future.

When I think of my inspiration, it’s Pirates. It’s always been Pirates. That’s what these movies did for me.

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Why then, is it that I feel the need to apologize and justify my love for them every time it comes up in conversation? The reactions I get from others are more often than not, “Wait really? Pirates? Why?” and as someone studying film seriously for a career, these reactions have caused me to doubt my own tastes in cinema, as though liking the franchise makes my analyses and opinions less valid. Why these reactions? Any number of reasons: Disney’s an easy target as the entertainment industry’s current world superpower, the movies are intended as frivolous, big budget entertainment, or my personal favorite, franchise fatigue, which is currently threatening to sink Hollywood’s Summer Blockbuster season this year.

Allow me to explain:

The first Pirates film was made entirely out of love. Love for the 1967 Disneyland attraction, love of actual 18th century nautical history and mythology, and love for truly creating something out of nothing, with a handful of small to medium-sized names who made magic together. The formula not only worked, it thrived. The second and third films continued to foster this atmosphere of love by delivering upon storylines built from the first film and seeing them through to some very unforeseeable and genuinely surprising conclusions. The fourth and fifth films were afterthoughts, made only for the sole purpose of steady, reliable income. And their stories and execution mirror that attitude, as jokes fall flat, narratives get repetitive, motivations get blurred, and everything feels stale. This in turn creates a chain reaction; Audiences become polarized or disappointed, critics lash out, and the quality of the franchise as a whole is diminished.

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Maybe I put too many expectations on Dead Men Tell No Tales. After the highly criticized spin-off/sequel fourth film On Stranger Tides became the worst rated and worst received of the franchise, maybe I just needed Dead Men Tell No Tales to not only right its predecessor’s wrongs, but to boost the quality of the series collectively. It failed, and it failed hard.

If this film was meant to redeem the franchise, it wouldn’t be the shortest in the series. If this film was meant to redeem the franchise, it would have spent time with its characters, their motivations, and made us care even slightly for them. If this film was meant to redeem the franchise, it wouldn’t have rewritten its own canon, completely ignoring plot points established in the original trilogy. If this film was meant to redeem the franchise, it would have been carefully handled.

“Rushed,” is how I would describe Dead Men Tell No Tales in a word, despite its principal photography being completed over two years prior to its release. The story is rushed, the pacing is rushed, the character development is rushed, and the ending is rushed. The film backtracks on its own canon in two major regards, and fails to explain its mythology in any way that would be considered coherent. Furthermore, new characters Henry Turner, Captain Salazar, and Carina Smyth, all of whom were promised repeatedly by cast and crew to be intriguing new additions to the series, were completely forgettable and lackluster. This isn’t a problem with directing. Much like On Stranger Tides, I believe directors Joachim Ronning and Espen Sandberg (just like #4’s director Rob Marshall) were dealt a difficult hand; How do you possibly lead a franchise equally as strong as predecessor Gore Verbinski? This is the fault of an extremely calculated plot, devised to be simple, form-fitted to match a tried and true structure, and extremely concise.

The shorter run time of this movie is one of the few consistent praises critics agree upon, but I argue that what makes the former films so great is the time they take with every character and detailed explanations of their universes. Dead Men Tell No Tales shows that shorter does not mean better. Rushed is rushed.

What wasn’t rushed? What took two years to complete; the graphics. Consequently, what is the strongest part of the film? You guessed it – the graphics. What was lost from this film versus the others was that 90% of its scenes were done on controlled stages with extensive use of computer generated imagery. The first four movies, while all demonstrating incredible usage of CG effects and characters, were filmed on location or at sea. While it was sad to see this no longer be an element of the fifth film’s production, the resulting graphics were absolutely gorgeous and stunningly detailed. All joking aside about the Pirates films quite literally, “jumping the shark,” with their added CGI ghost sharks, these creatures were genuinely the most interesting design of the film, along with a glittering island, The Silent Mary and her ghostly crew, and a Ten Commandments-esque parting of the sea sequence.

What else this movie does right is its emotional hooks, which is what has always made the series stand out. Barbossa gets a fantastic character arc, really emphasizing just how far he has come from being the primary villain in 2003. And, anyone with the ability to breathe most certainly knows this by now, but the reintroduction of original characters Will and Elizabeth to the film bookends it perfectly, and in my opinion, makes the entire movie worth every moment. The problem with Dead Men Tell No Tales is that there isn’t enough of this. While these two instances are great, there’s nothing else to hold onto, and therefore, no connection to really anything else.

I know I put too many expectations on Dead Men Tell No Tales, and I’m feeling the consequences now. Without giving too much away, the ending allows for more films. And this is perhaps what makes me the most upset; Its blatant refusal to die. Some argue that they should have stopped after the first film. I and most others argue after At World’s End, uniting the trilogy from 2003-2007. But to keep it going at this point would make my beloved films into even more of a joke than they already have become to most people. Since the studios seem to toss quality by the wayside, however, let me make this earnest plea in a way they in which they would listen; Continuing these movies would result in significant financial risk. Franchise fatigue has hit these films long before it was a recognized trend. Keep it up, and you lose your source of income.

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For the past six months, I decided to throw all caution to the wind, buffeting any questioning of my taste in movies with hype for the upcoming film and completely embracing my excitement for it. I inundated my friends’ newsfeeds with blog posts, links, pictures, trailers, you name it, speculated wildly about the plot to my poor roommate, didn’t rest until I finished my long-running fan fiction, and more. But every time I did, I attached an apology. “I know I’m obsessed with these movies.” “I know I’m crazy.” “Thanks for humoring me.” No longer. Despite their imperfections, I still love the Pirates of the Caribbean movies and I forever will because of who they made me. I will go see Dead Men Tell No Tales again, maybe even tonight. It is by far my least favorite of the series, but I will watch again to see if somehow this initial response is wrong or miscalculated. This was a lesson; Expect less, hope more, know when to quit, and finally, embrace what you love.

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I’m tired of apologizing. I love Pirates of the Caribbean because it is an entertaining, creative, innovative, trailblazing, emotional, layered, complex feature that has made me me. They’re not perfect. Yes, they should have ended years ago. But they do matter.

 

All photos by author.

I Wrote a Piece of Fan Fiction for 10 Years and Here’s What Happened…

Fan fiction gets a bad rap, and that’s mostly because of some of the more…strange products that end up on the internet. While we often see cringeworthy, oftentimes hilarious outcomes that freak out celebrities like James McAvoy and Michael Fassbender, or even have entire Twitter accounts devoted to some of the more outlandish musings (and let’s not forget “My Immortal”), “fan fiction” is generally used as a derogative term that denotes something exceedingly derivative or poorly written. Even I thought ill of fan fiction at first.

 

This was before I published some.

…and no surprise, it’s Pirates of the Caribbean related.

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Let’s start at the beginning:

I was twelve years old, visiting the Disneyland Resort. This was in the months immediately preceding the release of Pirates 3, which everyone thought at the time would be the final installment of the franchise (oh how wrong they were). I liked the movies quite a bit, and was enchanted by the new additions to the park including Jack Sparrow and Barbossa animatronics inside the Pirates attraction, as well as the complete revamp of Tom Sawyer Island to Pirate’s Lair.

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And you can bet that I will absolutely be recreating this photo when the island reopens, given that the bone cage is still there.

Inside the Pirate-themed Pieces of Eight store in New Orleans Square, I bought a book called, Bring Me That Horizon, a compendium of cast and crew bios, on set and behind-the-scenes details, and exclusive set photos from unit publicist Michael Singer. It covered the entire trilogy, and as I had been interested in film from a young age, I was proud to have bought the book with my own money that I had earned from chores.

I started rifling through the book as soon as it was mine. I can clearly remember sitting at a waterside table at the Hungry Bear restaurant with it as I waited for my parents to bring back lunch. It was also at this table that I started thinking about a story. I wanted to write about a new character who was always a part of the Pirates stories, but was never seen, and I wanted her connected to my two favorite characters from the movies, Jack Sparrow and Tia Dalma.

The summer began with me seeing the third Pirates movie (which quickly became my favorite), getting a cat I named Calypso (because I had no self-control), and then spending the remainder of the season writing my story. I wrote on pieces of brightly colored construction paper and stuck them in all possible pages of the Singer book and carried it with me everywhere I went. So loved is that book, there are pages currently falling out of it.

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Myself and said hero, Michael Singer, along with a satchel gifted to him by Mr. Depp himself.

I named my original character Rose Hexfury, a name randomly generated for my player from the short-lived World of Warcraft-esque virtual game Pirates of the Caribbean Online. She was to be Jack’s half-sister and Tia Dalma would be her mentor. I wanted her to be a gypsy from France, interact with all of the characters in the franchise, and somehow have mystical powers by the end.

…sounds pretty lame, doesn’t it? I was twelve. Shut up.

Well, I agreed with you. Life moved on, and within a year, I was over it. My love for the Pirates movies continued to grow, but I felt silly writing this story, which I had devised into filling FIVE books (an ambitious little one, I was!). I wasn’t Ted Elliot or Terry Rossio, I was a preteen from Nevada without any writing experience whatsoever. What was the point of writing this story? Anyone who would ever read it would find it ridiculous, I thought. So I stopped. I put it down and intended to never return, and I never told anyone what I had been working so hard on that summer.

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Aforementioned well-loved book. Don’t judge it by its cover–it’s most definitely falling apart on the inside.

Word about a fourth film began years later, and at the age of fifteen, I saw the finished product of On Stranger Tides. Even though it had been years since I had written a word of Rose Hexfury’s story, I found myself worried that the movie would interfere with the canon of what I had planned. I remember feeling relieved that it hadn’t, and I even started thinking about how I could add Penelope Cruz’s character Angelica to my story. This newfound interest in picking it up again failed, however, as now I was midway through high school and really considered it childish.

I was just about to graduate from my senior year in high school when I found myself on the then still-untitled Pirates of the Caribbean 5 IMDb page. I nearly fell to the ground when my eyes drifted to the rumored cast list, which included Johnny Depp and Geoffrey Rush (obviously), as well as Orlando Bloom as Will Turner and GASP!…JACK DAVENPORT AS NORRINGTON! “But how?” I thought. “Norrington (who by that point had grown to become another favorite character of mine) died in Pirates 3!”

In considering ways in which this could be possible, I felt once again the familiar stir of my story begin to resurface. Even though the iteration of the script featuring Norrington’s return to the story would ultimately be rejected, I started trying to find a way to bring him into mine.

That’s when I realized that Rose Hexfury’s voice was still inside me, and somewhere deep down, a twelve-year-old version of myself refused to shut up until I finished the story. So, that summer after I graduated, I got to work, vowing to finish it once and for all. Would I publish it? Never. Would I tell anyone? DEFINITELY not. I still found the whole thing rather embarrassing. I just wanted it done so that I could print out the final product, stick it in a drawer somewhere and forget about it completely.

Then I came to college, and I began to meet people just as impassioned by film and television as I was. I met writers, nerds, fans, and fellow minds who were incredibly witty and creative. Many of these friends had dabbled in fan fiction, and one of them convinced me to put my work online via fanfiction.net at the start of 2015.

I will say, were it not for the Dead Men Tell No Tales release date tomorrow, I would have had no impetus to finish the story. But I can clearly see that the film’s plot threatens to completely destroy the ending of my now ten-year-old story. So with a hard deadline of May 26, 2017, I have finally completed Rose Hexfury’s journey, and my, how far it’s come. I can’t believe a decade-long project has finally come to a close.

This process has been absolutely invaluable to me, and I would like to tell you why:
  • The discovery that I can write! Not only that, but I like it. It’s been so interesting to go back through the old pieces of construction paper and map how my vocabulary and syntax has grown far more dynamic in the passing years. I now feel so much more certain of my abilities.
  • Learning to write in another’s voice. I tell you what, it’s surprisingly hard. It’s been so much fun but also such a challenge to visualize the performers of these established characters saying the words that I am penning. I give credit where credit is due to fan fiction writers who can do this well. It’s no easy feat.
  • Learning to keep true to another canon. My story attempts to be 100% canonically correct to ten full hours of a movie franchise, something I put down in 2007 and have stood by throughout the process. This has also proved challenging. I’ve had to know what I’m talking about, and still haven’t totally succeeded. After the storm passes, I will launch into edits to fix a few missteps, rogue typos, and inconsistencies, as I really want the story as airtight as possible.
  • Feedback. I am usually scared to death of criticism, but feedback from users of fanfiction.net has been absolutely key to my work and has helped me grow significantly. I now better know what an audience responds to, as well as times when I’m being far too vague or not giving a character enough attention.
  • The people. Branching off of this thought, I have learned to be far more open-minded about this facet of the internet. Fan fiction isn’t embarrassing. It’s not worthless or lesser, as I originally thought. People from all over the world contribute, and how amazing is it that that many people are so inspired by someone else’s work to write a continuation or a spinoff or a crossover with some other work? Yes, it most definitely can get weird, but for the most part, these sites are an epicenter of creativity and passion, and I think that deserves to be supported and treasured.
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My fic’s cover image. Phone filters these days…

My story is based on the work of Ted Elliot, Terry Rossio, Stuart Beattie, Jay Wolpert, and Jeff Nathanson, the screenwriters who built such a wonderful world for me to play with, as well as everyone involved in the creative teams of the films and the Imagineers who designed the original 1967 Disneyland attraction. I further was inspired by the work of Robb Kidd, who did an amazing job with his Jack Sparrow and Brethren Court series, which I have also looped into my story several times.

I thank my friend for forcing me to put my work online for people to read, and the handful of people who ever knew it existed in the first place and the readers on fanfiction.net.

Ten years and 196,835 words later, I am finally embracing my work. I’m not ashamed anymore. In fact, I’m proud and relieved that it’s over. If you would like to read what I’ve done, below is the link. While you’re there, I encourage you to poke around the site find stories from your own favorite movies, books, television shows, games, and more. There’s so much out there, much of it very good.

https://www.fanfiction.net/s/11382703/1/The-Legend-of-Rose-Hexfury

All photos by author. Gifs from giphy.

I Might Have a Theory About Who Carina Smyth Is…

Yes, it’s another Pirates post. Yes, I’m sorry, but only somewhat. Please bear with me for another month, then I SWEAR I’ll shut up.

We’re a little over a month out from the movie I have been waiting four years for; the fifth (and with any luck, final) Pirates of the Caribbean film, Dead Men Tell No Tales. The film has opened to some pretty stellar reviews out of CinemaCon last month, and it seems with every passing day, Disney gives diehard fans like myself a little sliver of more information to properly tease us before the big release; Brenton Thwaites’s new character who was once simply known as, “Henry” has been confirmed as Will and Elizabeth’s son. Just yesterday, an international trailer 100% confirmed Keira Knightley’s return to the franchise as Elizabeth Swann (AND I’M STILL SCREAMING!). But last night, as I was talking with a friend and fellow Pirates fan about these new revelations, I had a revelation of my own with a crazy direction this movie might take.

Call me a sentimental fool still all choked up over Loganbut I love father/daughter relationships in movies and TV. They are some of the most complicated, strong and loving bonds to portray, and they never cease to make me a blithering mess.

Well I got pretty intrigued upon reading Michael Singer’s new book, Disney Pirates: The Definitive Collector’s Anthology. In the chapter regarding DMTNT, Singer writes that the series has always been about “parents and their children” (109). Be it Elizabeth and Governor Swann, Will and Bootstrap Bill, Jack and Captain Teague, or Angelica and Blackbeard, the series has always had a strong focus on parentage, particularly fatherhood. Jerry Bruckheimer elaborated upon these parent-child dynamics as they appear in DMTNT as follows:

In the fifth [movie] both Henry Turner and Carina Smyth are either trying to liberate or searching for their fathers.

We know that Henry is clearly trying to “liberate” his father, Will, from his cursed, slimy state upon The Flying Dutchman, so that means that Carina is the one Bruckheimer suggests is searching for her father.

So now the question becomes, who is Carina’s father? Recreating a virtual version of The Maury Show is becoming a rather popular pasttime in nerd media nowadays, what with debate still going on about Rey’s parentage in the Star Wars universe and Peter Quill’s upcoming Daddy issues being a prevalent part of Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2 due in a few weeks, so we may as well keep it going in the Pirates universe as well!

So without further ado, Carina Smyth? Who’s your pops?

Jack Sparrow

Okay, this was my first thought, and was actually what prompted me to write this post. Let’s break down all the reasons why Jack COULD be her dad.

  • AYE AYE! The last name.

In one of his very first scenes in Curse of the Black Pearl, Jack Sparrow encounters two Naval officers and reports that his name is “Smith.” Her last name is “Smyth.” COINCIDENCE? Perhaps…

  • AYE AYE! She resembles him.

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Carina and Jack share dark eyes, dark hair, and pronounced cheekbones. This could be a coincidence in casting, but it’s interesting to note nonetheless.

  • AYE AYE!  Her mother could literally be anyone.

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Jack’s a promiscuous guy. He has had a ton of liasons…it was bound to happen eventually!

  • AYE AYE! She’s the proper age.

Carina appears to be a love interest for Henry, who we can assume is 17 – 20 years old in this film. She could be anywhere around that age. While Jack’s age is never explicitly stated, it can be assumed that he’s either the same age or slightly younger than Johnny Depp, who is going on 54.

  • AYE AYE! She’s the exact opposite of him.

Scodelario has stated that Carina is, “an astronomer and an academic.” That is not Jack in the slightest. From the trailers so far, she appears to be very headstrong, intelligent, and no-nonsense. She tells Jack that she’s “Not looking for trouble,” to which he replies, “What a horrible way to live!” All of these render her the direct opposite of Jack, and could make for an interesting complement.

  • BELAY THAT! …ew. Jack’s totally checking her out.

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There are some pretty convincing arguments here, but overall, I’m not sure that the filmmakers would give such a irresponsible, wacky character the responsibility of a daughter. Overall, I’d have to say:

Jack Sparrow, you are…NOT the father! 

 

Will Turner

Could Henry have a sister? Short answer? No.

  • BELAY THAT! Henry too is checking her out.

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SORRY, GEORGE LUCAS. NOT TODAY!

  • BELAY THAT! Pretty sure that given his home life, Henry would know if he had a sister.

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Elizabeth and Will only see each other once every ten years because of the curse. As Carina and Henry are roughly the same age, they would have to be twins to be brother and sister, and if so, where the hell was Carina in the post-credits teaser of At World’s End, locked in a closet? So no, she’s not a secret Turner… at least not mothered by Elizabeth.

  • BELAY THAT! That would mean Will Turner was unfaithful and NO. IT’S TRUE LOVE. HE’S PERFECT, SHUT UP.

Will Turner, you are…NOT the father! 

 

Joshamee Gibbs

Could Carina be the daughter of Jack’s most trusted ally? It’s not impossible…but not likely.

  • BELAY THAT! Not enough emotional impact.

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Sorry, Gibbs. I love ya, but the initial responses to Carina’s character were too positive for her character to have anything less than an impactful presence. The most impact would be a relationship with an established, prominent character, and you’re not it.

Joshamee Gibbs you are…NOT the father! 

 

Captain Teague

Could Jack have a sister? …it’s not too far fetched.

  • BELAY THAT! Too large of an age gap between Carina and Jack

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It’s not impossible, but I just don’t find it super believable.

  • BELAY THAT! Keith Richards will most likely not make an appearance.

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Unless the film has killed Teague offscreen or has a surprise cameo from Richards planned, what would the payoff of having it revealed that Teague is Carina’s father if Teague isn’t even around to react to this revelation?

  • AYE AYE! However, a young Captain Teague HAS been cast…

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…and I really don’t see a reason why that would be unless he’s going to be used in the young Jack Sparrow/Captain Salazar flashback scenes. Hmm…

  • BELAY THAT! Jack is still checking her out in that scene, and even if he has no idea, that’s still mighty unsettling.

Once again, not today, George Lucas!

Captain Teague…prolly not! 

 

Some Rando We Haven’t Met

Carina could very well be the daughter of a new character we haven’t met yet. Maybe we’ll never meet him over the course of the narrative, and the search for him is merely a part of Carina’s character.

  • AYE AYE! This might make for a less cliche plot.

What are the odds of all these various relationships getting more and more interwoven with each other in the same place in the Caribbean? I know I’m talking about fictional pirates in a Disney movie, but Carina’s interconnectedness might strike people as a bit cliche.

  • AYE AYE! A character written independent from the previous films would be far easier to write.

By making Carina and her parentage entirely original, it becomes far easier to write a fresh-feeling story that doesn’t need to take precedence from previously established character story lines.

  • BELAY THAT! Once again, no emotional connection.

Yeah. Who cares if Joe-Blow is Carina’s dad? We need something to connect to, and I think that overrides believability here.

Rando, you are…NOT the father! 

 

…let’s bring out the big guns, now.

 

Barbossa:

Hector Barbossa has had quite the journey throughout these movies, going from primary villain, to twist ending, to antihero, to tragic hero. He has been Jack’s nemises and ally, and he has changed dramatically in each film. Could fatherhood be his new role in DMTNT? 

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  • AYE AYE! Carina is of proper age.

We don’t exactly know how old Barbossa is, but the dude’s been around. He could have grandkids and I’d believe it.

  • AYE AYE! She has a strong, fiesty personality.

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Just like her dad! Her sharp quips and biting sarcasm (“Are all pirates this stupid?”) could make her a deadringer for Barbossa’s daughter. She’s a sass bucket in the making, and I think that is absolutely genetic!

  • AYE AYE! She seems to have a knack for sailing.

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The newest international trailer shows Carina taking the wheel like a pro…something her dad is also very fond of.

  • AYE AYE! She’s the exact opposite of Jack.

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Just as I said before as a reason why perhaps Jack could be her father could make her a better candidate as Barbossa’s daughter. Barbossa generally loathes Jack and finds him to be an inept nuisance. What if Carina felt the same?

  • AYE AYE! It was in the original draft of the script.

YUP. THAT FEELS LIKE A BIG INDICATOR.

  • BELAY THAT! …exactly.

You know what else was in the original draft of the script? James Norrington. But that’s okay, I’m not bitter or anything. The fact that this has been made common knowledge might be a clue that the production has moved on from this concept, as also Carina was intended to be older and a love interest for Jack, yet Scodelario’s age and character seem to be jiving more with Thwaites’ Henry.

  • AYE AYE! The book!

Okay, here’s the hook: Disney has released a children’s book about Carina’s past written by Meredith Rusu called, The Brightest Star in the North: The Adventures of Carina Smyth. The story opens with Carina being left at an island orphanage as a baby with a notebook and a note that reads, “Her mother died. Her name is Carina Smyth.” But it is the description of the man who delivers her there that alerted me that this might be Barbossa; The man is described as having a large feathered hatand a hobbling gait. Who likes big hats and has a peg leg?

That’s right! Good ole’ Barbie!

So….

Hector Barbossa, you…ARE the father!  Barbossa, how do you feel?

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We have a winner ladies and gents! I think that Barbossa is going to be Carina’s father after all, and my, what an interesting dynamic this will make! I cannot wait to see how this all unfolds!

Until next month, my friends!

All gifs from giphy.

 

What I Need from the MST3k Reboot

One of my earliest memories was playing in my grandfather’s living room while he watched TV. I remember him laughing merrily at the screen, and I would occasionally look up. I couldn’t tell you for the life of me what the film on the screen was, but I distinctly remember three silhouettes sitting in the bottom right corner of the screen; A cylindrical object that looked like a gumball machine, a man, and a beaked creature with an unusually shaped head.

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This faint memory was lost to me until the age of twelve, when I sat down in my middle school uniform with a bowl of cereal balanced in my lap as I went channel surfing for a few moments before having to leave for school. I found the title of a movie that sounded familiar to me, but I didn’t quite know why. I felt as though my mother, or uncle, or grandfather had spoken of it before… So I clicked on the channel. I saw those same silhouettes at the bottom right hand corner of the screen. Two robot puppets and a man told jokes over a terrible B-movie from 1955 called, This Island Earth. That’s when my perspective on comedy changed forever. That’s when I discovered Mystery Science Theatre 3000; The Movie. 

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I recorded the rest of the film and watched it three times, sometimes laughing so hard that I was unable to breathe. I didn’t know then that Mystery Science Theatre 3000, or MST3k, was formerly a TV show. I didn’t know that the movie I had watched first was actually a dark mark upon the show’s history as a whole, their typical quality of jokes and production stifled beneath studio control. I didn’t know that it began as a small, local project in Minnesota in 1988, I didn’t know that it had a cult following on two popular TV stations, and I didn’t know that Mike Nelson wasn’t always the host of the show. As I rented more and more episodes of the show from the library, iTunes, and any other means by which I could get my hands on new content, I soon became weirdly protective of the show; Team Mike over Team Joel, Team Servo over Team Crow, Team Sci-Fi channel era over Team Comedy Central era, and Team “The Brain That Wouldn’t Die and Werewolf are the best episodes of the series” (BECAUSE THEY ARE.).

That summer, I was sitting in my local movie theatre with my mom, watching previews for upcoming theatre events. An announcement stopped all conversation between us when we heard, “From the team that brought you Mystery Science Theatre 3000 comes Rifftrax Live; Plan 9 From Outer Space!” 

Rifftrax? What’s that?

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Mystery Science Theatre 3000 was cancelled in 1999, and the cast and writing staff went on to other projects, including the short-lived series, The Film Crew,  publishing several books, and hosting a movie review segment on NPR. Creator and first host Joel Hodgson and most of his original MST3k team (J. Elvis Weinstein [the original Tom Servo], Frank Coniff [TV’s Frank], Trace Beaulieu [the original Crow/Dr. Forrester], and Mary Jo Pehl [Pearl Forrester]) reunited to make Cinematic Titanic, a live riffing group that would tour the country. The second generation host, Servo, and Crow (Mike Nelson, Kevin Murphy, and Bill Corbett) reteamed to make a riffing on a larger scale. Now they could do movies that were more mainstream, not restricted to public domain B-movies alone. Twilight, Pirates of the Caribbean, Roadhouse, Harry Potter…you name it! The way they got around legal issues was by recording their riffs in time with the movie and releasing them as MP3 tracks that could be synched up by each individual customer with the corresponding movie. Their live shows, broadcasted across the country through Fathom Events, were just a further extension of their comedy.

I went to the Plan 9 From Outer Space live show, Rifftrax’s first, and it stands out as one of my favorite movie theatre experiences of all time. These shows introduced me to performers like musician Jonathan Coulton and comedian Paul F. Tompkins, who have also aided in shaping my sense of humor. The Rifftrax team now have done twenty two live shows, one of which was a Mystery Science Theatre reunion, and have three more on the way, including their most recent, Samurai Cop, which I will be attending in a matter of minutes.

 

For almost a decade now, I have been a proud MSTie, trying my best to explain concisely a nearly thirty year-long history of these comedians to friends of a generation that has never seen the showBut then talk began of rebooting the show, bringing this unique comedy to an enitirely new audience…on NETFLIX no less!

But when Joel announced the reboot, I was worried. Which Servo would he use? Which Crow? Which HOST for that matter? Mike took Joel’s spot only when Joel left the show over creative differences with the producing staff. With Joel at the helm once more, what would this new project look like?

The answer that Joel arrived at was the best possible solution; An entirely new staff. For Crow, he chose comedian Hampton Yount, who is an absolute deadringer for the character and is himself a diehard fan of the original series. For Tom Servo (the love of my life in puppet form) he wisely chose Baron Vaughn, who I approve of wholeheartedly; He’s got Tom’s sarcastic wit and is an excellent singer, and that’s all I can really ask for! The new host is Jonah Ray, a brilliant writer, stand up comedian, and close friend of my idol, Chris Hardwick. So at least in terms of our lead cast, I very much approved.

I got a bit more concerned with casting of the new “Mads,” the show’s antagonistic dynamic duo or trio that sends our heroes the “cheesy movies” to monitor their minds. The characters themselves are a fantastic addition, as they will be the offspring of original Mads Dr. Forrester and TV’s Frank. The performers were a bit more confusing…playing Kinga Forrester is internet icon Felicia Day and TV’s Son of TV’s Frank is Patton Oswalt. Both of them are established names with many popular projects under their belt, rather than the relative unknowns who originally performed these roles.

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The reboot’s fourteen new episodes drop at 12:01 AM tonight, and with new press coming out this week, my concern has grown significantly. Weinstein, Murphy, Beaulieu, and Corbett, the four previous “bot” performers always handled the puppetry themselves. Now, the bots are wrangled by professional puppeteers from the Jim Henson Studios. Vaughn and Yount only provide the voices and manipulate the mouths of their respective bot to match their movement.

Joel also said in an interview that the riff style has also changed from the original production, stating:

I think the biggest change for the new series is that we really collaborate with the movie more, in that we don’t really talk over the movie. We’re really careful about letting the movie deliver its dialogue. I think we were just a little sloppier before. Personally, I feel like the audience now listens faster and absorbs more so we really wanted the movie to show through and we used the negative space to collaborate with it.

This overall feels like a slicker, more professional presentation for the Netflix audience, but  I’m not sure that that’s a good thing. Call me a purist, but what made MST3k so great and gave it the cult following it got was how improvisational, inexpensive, and homegrown it was. The key performers weren’t established actors. Errors were made in the puppetry and in the joke delivery. It felt like a group of friends coming together to make a funny project. That’s what it began as, at least.

So I need this new MST3k to prove to me that it’s still homegrown. I need this new team of professionals to respect its predecessor and original spirit. I am eager to see how the comedic style has changed in eighteen years of the show being off the air, and I can’t wait to see the third generation players of Ray, Hampton, and Yount interact together. And finally, I can’t wait to see Mystery Science Theatre 3000 find an audience in an entirely new generation.

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…just do it right. That’s all this MSTie asks.

 

All gifs from giphy.

All the Times I Wept #2: Logan (2017)

SPOILERS, FOOLS. Keep your bloody adamantium claws off this page if you don’t want Logan to be utterly ruined for you.

Welcome to the second installment of my “All the Times I Wept” series. This blog could also be subtitled, “Need a Hug After Seeing Logan? C’mon. Bring it in.”

Okay. It’s been a a few days, and I am just now ready to talk about Logan (Mangold, 2017). I genuinely thought I was ready for another Wolverine flick, and especially with all of the production’s promises to be edgier, grittier, and more emotional than anything that we’ve ever seen before in the Marvel X-Men Universe. Plus, one of my very favorite actors and League Member #3, Hugh Jackman!

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Boy, was I wrong.

It’s hard to be a severe emotional empath and also be a student of film. As a film critic, one should be able to separate themselves from the manipulative techniques used by the filmmakers to influence their audience in order to more objectively judge the quality of the film. However, every time, I have utterly failed in this endeavor. If there’s a well written and performed character in either a massively happy or sad circumstance, I’m a goner. Cue the water works.

So, I was left with the position to use this quality of mine. And hey, now I know that if a movie gets me, at least it was successful in creating a great emotional charge through good writing, powerful images, swelling music, an authentic performance, or some combination of the four.

This was the greatest strength of Logan, and I want to break down the specifics of all the times I wept here:

  • The revelation of Charles’s frail state.

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Professor Charles Xavier, whether in Patrick Stewart or James McAvoy form, was always a consistent badass. It didn’t even matter if he was constricted to a wheelchair – it was Charles’s incredible intelligence that was always the glue that held each particular X-Men team together. He was the heart and soul of each film.

So seeing him weak, slowly losing his mind, and spending a lonely existence in a toppled-over tank was heartbreaking. It’s a sight most everyone can relate to; Many of us have watched the decline of physical and mental state of someone who at one time was a strong, healthy, powerful person. It’s a scary thing to witness that reminds us of the frailty and impermanence of life. I heard audible cries of pity in my theater when Stewart whimpers out the line, “You’re just waiting for me to die,” in his first scene of the film. Gut-wrenching.

  • Charles, unable to control his powers, injures civilians and tearfully apologizes.

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Charles experiences seizures when he doesn’t take medication, and his powerful mind adversely affects all people and things around him when these attacks happen. The film alludes to, but never explains well, that one of these attacks apparently killed some of the other X-Men? I don’t know? I’d watch it again, but then again I am not interested in putting myself through more emotional trauma, thank you.

Anyways, one of these attacks occurs in a busy hotel, rendering all guests and employees within temporarily paralyzed. After Logan and Laura successfully inject medication into Charles, thereby stopping the attack, they flee the hotel, wheeling Charles through the wreckage. Seeing what his mind has caused, Charles, in tears, cries out, “I’m sorry,” to shell-shocked patrons struggling to recover. Once again, P-Stew’s performance got me bad. He is powerless to stop the damage he creates, and is just as powerless to help fix the consequences.

  • The attack at the farm.

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Dammit. Nothing happy can ever last in this movie, can it? An innocent, nice, happy family welcomes Logan, Charles and Laura in for dinner and an overnight stay. This leads to two separate groups attacking the farm and the members of the family all are killed in the process. And let’s not forget the most horrible moment; Charles remembering that his uncontrollable actions destroyed the X-Men (once again, still not sure about this. It was rather lazily thrown into the dialogue), but saying aloud that this night he, Logan, Laura, and the farm family spent together was absolutely perfect.

Then what flipping happens? Charles gets to watch LOGAN HIMSELF STAB HIM WITH HIS CLAWS. We quickly discover that it’s not Logan, but a replicated model named X-24 (also played by Jackman) created by Transigen, but that’s what Charles gets to see before he dies: What looks to be his ally stabbing him through the chest on what was, “the best night in recent memory.” And to make matters INFINITELY WORSE, as Charles dies, Logan keeps whispering, “It wasn’t me. It wasn’t me,” and it’s never clear if Charles actually hears him. Kill me.

  • “The Sunseeker”

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Charles dies in Logan’s arms, but not before whispering, “The Sunseeker,” the boat that Logan was planning on buying for the two of them to live out their days in peace aboard.

…I was wrecked (no boat puns intended).

  • Wolverine struggling to keep it together at Charles’s funeral.

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Hugh Jackman is an incredible performer. The first movie I ever saw him in and what ultimately led me to consider him for League inclusion was Les Miserables (Hooper, 2012), where he’s practically sobbing in every scene he’s in. So watching him as Logan, the Wolverine, the unbreakable, unkillable force who’s as tough as nails, struggle to hold back tears as he buries Charles, was incredibly tragic.

  • Wolverine grows steadily weaker.

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So in the climatic final battle, Logan takes all of the medicine which makes him completely heal and charge into battle with incredible strength (a moment which rendered cheering in my theater), but once the medicine quickly wears off, he’s weaker than ever. It was so hard throughout this entire film to watch the self-healing, 200 year-old mutant struggle with physical ailments, but this particular moment evoked so much pity.

I also want to take a moment and compliment the makeup on this film as well. I actually found myself extremely concerned for Jackman’s well-being during Logan; I legitimately thought he was just as haggard and exhausted as his character appeared. It wasn’t until X-24 appeared that I was reminded how Jackman really looks currently, which is stronger than ever. Good god, man.

  • Laura calls Wolverine, “Daddy.”

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I was waiting for this moment for the entire film. Yet when it happened, I was NOT ready.

Father-daughter relationships in film and theater are some of my favorite dynamics to follow. It’s just such a unique bond that ranges between protectiveness, love, fear, and pride. I was not expecting Logan to take the father-daughter route, despite the trailers making it clear that Laura shared Logan’s DNA. I thought that it would be more of the “she’s a clone,” sort of relationship between Laura/X-23 and Wolverine in the comics. So when Logan surprised me with the former alternative, I was so much more emotionally invested in their bond.

Watching Logan and Laura’s progression throughout the film from strangers to parent and child was a beautiful, well-paced transition. And as Logan, impaled by a tree branch, lay dying in his daughter’s arms in Canada, the country of his origin, my heart exploded in my chest as Laura cries out, “Daddy!” as he takes his final breath.

This was when I started sobbing.

  • THE X. 
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This gif is my attempt to be witty, but it’s actually just me masking my grief. I’m bereft.

Laura and her next-generation mutant team bury Wolverine (by a lake, just like Charles. #Rekt), and honestly, I was ugly crying so hard and trying so hard to keep my sobs inaudible that I didn’t hear Logan’s final words or Laura’s eulogy. I know it was a quote taken from the 1953 Western film, Shane, that she and Charles were watching in the hotel room earlier in the film, but I maybe heard a total of three words of her speech.

As they walk on towards freedom, Laura stays behind. She pulls the cross out of the ground that the children have fashioned together. She then turns it slightly and places it back in the earth, forming an “X” as Logan’s headstone.

I couldn’t breathe. Honestly, as I’m typing this out tears are in my eyes again. For a movie that was generally excessively long and not very well written in terms of plot, this last five-minute sequence utterly destroyed me.

  • The cruel reminder that this is Hugh’s final time as Wolverine.

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As I watched the finale of the film and the credits rolled, my sobbing was also influenced by the reminder of why Logan had to die. This was Hugh Jackman’s last time as Wolverine (shut up, Ryan Reynolds. I know you want Hugh in the Deadpool-verse, but let the poor man rest). X-Men (singer, 2000) was Jackman’s first film role ever. It’s what made him a star. It was investigating the X-Men series that convinced me to include him in The League. He played the role for 17 years. His final scene on the film was his final scene as the character – his death was the last time he’ll ever play Wolverine (once again, shut your mouth, Ry-Ry).

It’s a good thing, though. Hugh throws himself body and soul into every character he plays, sometimes with very dangerous outcomes. He’s had many health scares recently with skin cancer, and he’s nearing 50. As a fan, I’m worried about him, and if that means him taking a breather on the crazy stunts, that’s fine by me. However, that doesn’t mean that it hurt any less to see him turn in the claws. All good things must come to an end though, and even though Logan was a pretty average film with some very big flaws, what a way for a nearly 20 year-old career as a single character to go out. I bet Hugh is incredibly proud.

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As I stated before, it is highly unlikely that I will be watching this film again anytime soon, if at all. Making Professor X and Wolverine mortal and ending their cinematic lives were hard reminders about the fleeting nature of human life, and made me draw parallels to not only people I know, but also people I don’t, nor probably ever will. I’ve talked before in this blog about why celebrity deaths can affect fans so adversely, but this movie emphasized a fear: We live with these characters and the people who play them temporarily. We see them only a few hours at a time, a few years at a time, but in that moment they make us feel real emotions, and we connect to the humanity they express. They don’t know us, and therefore cannot judge or hurt us. We don’t really know them, so we never see their flaws.

Logan and Jackman made me feel throughout ten films and five years, and some were there for all 17 years of this character’s life. So when Logan died, we too lost a friend. We lost a hero. Despite being fictional, for about twenty hours of our lives, Logan was real, and now he’s gone.

That’s my eulogy for Logan, James Howlett, the Wolverine, Hugh Jackman’s very first film role, or whatever you want to call him. Overall not a great film, but damn did it bring the feels.

So long!

All gifs from giphy. 
Cover photo taken from a photo taken of a MontBlanc in Auckland, NZ.

Reading Too Much Into Trailers #3: Pirates of the Caribbean; Dead Men Tell No Tales

Post originally appeared on Chapman Club 55’s Blog.

Hello. My name is Jessica Johnson. And within maybe an hour, MAYBE an hour of meeting me, you’ll always discover that I am a psychopath: my nerdom for the Pirates of the Caribbean ride, franchise, even nautical history is…a lot. A lot to even handle, sometimes. It’s a wonder I still have friends, honestly. 

Well, this is a big year for Pirates fans…the few of us who remain. The fifth installment of the franchise that was definitely supposed to end in 2007…then again in 2011…and now maybe 2017 (we’ll see? I guess?) will grace our lives on May 26th of this year. Minutes ago, the first full length trailer was dropped during the Super Bowl. This production has been shrouded in mystery from the start, so I’m going to go ahead and break down what is probably going to go down with the plot, and what direction I need this film to go. DO NOT DENY ME THIS, DISNEY. 

  • The Cast:

What Disney Says: In early 2014, POTC 5‘s IMDb page postulated the return of Johnny Depp as Captain Jack Sparrow, Geoffrey Rush as Barbossa, Kevin McNally as Joshamee Gibbs, Orlando Bloom as Will Turner, and Martin Klebba as Marty. These returns were all confirmed at the 2015 D23 Expo. However, three more cast members were on the rumored list, but disappeared only a few months later: Mackenzie Crook as Ragetti, Lee Arenberg as Pintel, and my personal favorite (because I’m a sucker for a good villain-turned-misunderstood-good guy) Jack Davenport as James Norrington. The page’s Trivia even had a rumored plot line which made my heart so happy: 

“This will be the first Pirates of the Caribbean film to have Johnny Depp (Jack Sparrow), Geoffrey Rush (Captain Barbossa), & Jack Davenport (James Norrington) teaming up together.”

That fact is now long gone off the page, but not before I preserved it because how flipping cool would that be!? Those three despised each other! And even though Norrington died at the end of POTC 3; At World’s End, he died at sea, which allowed the caveat that perhaps his soul joined the crew of The Flying Dutchman. Just imagine him serving under Will Turner’s command! Talk about conflict!

Alas, these rumors of were dispelled with one fell Tweet from Lee Arenberg- he and Mackenzie would definitely not be coming back: 

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However, new characters joined the scene. Confirmed in the cast was Javier Bardem as our new villain, Captain Salazar, Brenton Thwaites playing a character simply known as “Henry,” and Kaya Scodelario playing a young scientist named Carina Smyth

What I Say: Keira Knightley, who played the damsel-turned-Pirate King Elizabeth Swann, ruled out ever returning to the franchise back in 2008. HOWEVER…

That’s right! Knightley was seen shooting very secret scenes in a sound stage in London! The original gang (almost) is most-assuredly all back! 

  • The Plot:

What Disney Says: Here’s the official plot synopsis released by Disney

“Johnny Depp returns to the big screen as the iconic, swashbuckling anti-hero Jack Sparrow in the all-new Pirates of the Caribbean: Dead Men Tell No Tales. The rip-roaring adventure finds down-on-his-luck Captain Jack feeling the winds of ill-fortune blowing strongly his way when deadly ghost sailors, led by the terrifying Captain Salazer (Javier Bardem), escape from the Devil’s Triangle bent on killing every pirate at sea – notably Jack. Jack’s only hope of survival lies in the legendary Trident of Poseidon, but to find it he must forge an uneasy alliance with Carina Smyth (Kaya Scodelario), a brilliant and beautiful astronomer, and Henry (Brenton Thwaites), a headstrong young sailor in the Royal Navy. At the helm of the Dying Gull, his pitifull small and shabby ship, Captain Jack seeks not only to reverse his recent spate of ill fortune, but to save his very life from the most formidable and malicious foe he has never faced.”

…nuh uh. There’s more. 

What I Say: Well, there’s a few things to consider here, fam. 

New cast member Brenton Thwaites began the Rumor Train with a simple slip of the tongue: 

“It’s about a young man who wants to reconnect with his father, Davy Jones. There’s a curse that prevents him from doing that. I think it’s about how he goes around that and tries to fix it and he has to save his dad. I’m looking forward to it. It’ll be a lot of fun!”

HA!! You know who Davy Jones is now, Brenton? WILL TURNER. Plus the odd way that his character only has a first name…yeah. He’s most definitely Will and Elizabeth’s son. 

Now let’s take a look at the trailer that just dropped this afternoon: 

…now besides screaming at the top of my lungs, there’s a few things I noticed and want to point out to inform what is my plot synopsis. 

One…oh no.

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Poor Will! Get some ointment for that, dude!

Will Turner has barnacles on his face, and that’s not good at all. POTC 3 clearly lined out the conditions of Calypso’s curse upon the original Davy Jones and the crew of The Flying Dutchman: If you don’t do the job (ferrying souls lost at sea to the other side), you get all tentacly. So this means that Will stopped doing his duty and is getting punished for it. Orrrrrr….there could be another reason Orlando’s beautiful face has been compromised. Here it is, MY prediction for how this will all go down. 

My Plot Prediction: 

Captain Salazar has escaped from the Devil’s Triangle to wreak havoc upon pirate-kind. This includes the three most powerful pirates on the seas: Captain Hector Barbossa, Captain Will Turner, and most of all, Captain Jack Sparrow. Henry Turner, son of Will and Pirate King Elizabeth Swann, has grown up seeing his father only once every ten years and is tired of it. Just like his father before him, he bravely ventures off to find a means by which he can free his father from his cursed state; a mystical artifact known to be the Trident of Poseidon. Astronomer Carina Smyth seeks the trident for her own means, and Jack seeks it in order to free The Black Pearl from its constricting bottle. This common goal brings these three together. Meanwhile, Salazar reaches Barbossa (…I have a bad feeling about his fate, I’m sorry to say…Sorry, Barbossa fans.) and Will. Seeing as Will is immortal, the only thing Salazar can do is make him and his crew gradually decompose back into barnacles and sea creatures. The clock is ticking for our heroes…THEN NORRINGTON SAVES THE DAY! 

okay, I may have projected my own dreams there at the end, but that’s overall what I think is going to happen, plus an amazing Elizabeth Swann reappearance! Meanwhile, we all must wait for what will hopefully make a great (and final) installment of this billion-dollar franchise! It’s killing me slowly, but hey, all good things to those who wait, I suppose!

For an awesome, nerdy, fun blog related to all things Disney, please visit www.chapmanclub55.com for more reading from some talented Chapman students!

All the Times I Wept #1: Cinderella (2015)

I cry. A lot. Something sad? Tears. Something touching? Tears. Something scary? Tears. Something even remotely pretty or poignant? All the tears. Because of this, I’m starting a new blog series I like to call, “All the Times I Wept,” where I break down all of the times I lost my mind during a movie or TV show. Spoiler alerts, before I continue. Please proceed only if you have seen this film. 

It’s currently raining buckets outside, and I’ve spent the day watching the storm from my couch, curled up in a blanket, drinking tea. Now I am currently enjoying a warm meal and for no reason at all decided to put on one of the first of many, many, many many live-action adaptations of classic Disney animated movies, and one of my favorites, Cinderella (Branagh, 2015).

When this movie came out, I could not have cared less. Growing up, Cinderella was never a favorite of mine and, looking back on the movie, only 20% of it actually has to do with Cinderella. The rest is an elaborate Tom and Jerry cartoon of sorts featuring the mice and Lucifer the villanous cat. In contemporary times, the movie has gained criticism from feminists for portraying Cinderella as only a victim whose victories come from either her mice friends or her fairy godmother and who falls in love instantly for a man she met in a single evening.

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So while I was intrigued by what director Kenneth Branagh would bring to the table with this film, my expectations remained low. What I saw blew me away. While the movie isn’t perfect, it tugged at my heart-strings in a way I couldn’t describe, and I wept profusely throughout the majority of it. I have seen it upwards of ten times since then, and it still makes me tear up in all the same places.

So without further ado, lessgo.

  • When literally ALL THE PARENTS DIE. 

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In keeping with Disney custom, Branagh and writer Chris Weitz did not shy away from killing literally every parent. Ella’s mother? Dead within the first ten minutes. Ella’s father? Twenty. The Prince’s mother is already dead once we meet him, and even the King, who played a rather large role in the animated version, gets ill and quickly expires!! It makes for some great drama, and it certainly worked on me!

  • When this heartbreaking line happens: 

Cinderella. Names have power, like magic spells. And all of a sudden, it seemed to her that her stepmother and step sisters had indeed transformed her into merely a creature of ash and toil.”

– Narrator/Fairy Godmother

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To their credit, the filmmakers made the impossible happen: They succeeded in making Cinderella a character that is more relatable and inspiring to girls of a modern age while still remaining true to the source material. She does so much more than cook, clean, and be pretty: She reads, she’s kind to everyone she meets, she has flaws, she grows, she learns, and she meets the Prince long before the ball and develops a bond with him before ever knowing about his status.

Another amazing element that gets me every time is an added factor of insecurity to Cinderella’s character. Once her nickname is adopted by her malicious family, it tears down her confidence and she looks at her reflection in a copper pot. Distorted, she believes herself to be unworthy and unattractive. I feel personally connected to these feelings, as this insecurity follows her through to the end of the film, which we’ll return to later.

  • THE DRESS.

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Good lord am I obsessed with this dress. It’s glorious, and so much better than I could have ever imagined for Cinderella even though it technically should be silver, as that’s what the animators originally designed. I don’t know why all subsequent versions of Cinderella depict her ball gown as blue, but I digress.  And the animation makes this moment of transformation just as magical as it was in 1950.

  • When she leaves for and arrives at the ball

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Okay…yes, feminism, but personally, it’s my dream to have that fairy tale ball moment. This entire sequence was expertly done, and Lily James looked so beautiful.

  • The dance. 

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ROBB STARK FROM Game of Thrones AND LADY ROSE FROM Downton Abbey ARE DANCING. IT’S MY NERDOM UNITING.

And speaking of which…

  • All of Lily James and Richard Madden’s scenes together. 

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From their meet-cute in the woods to their reunion at the ball, Kit’s initial infatuation with Ella to his opening up her and showing her his secret garden, it was such a pure romance. I adore them.

And let’s not forget the most important scene in the entire film, and the moment that leaves me a blithering moron…

  • This scene.

The score by Patrick Doyle beneath this scene is crushingly beautiful, and underscores such an important moment with a beautiful message. Here we return to the added element to this version of Cinderella that I referenced earlier; Ella’s insecurities.

“Would who she was really be enough? There was no magic to help her this time. This is perhaps the greatest risk any of us will ever take—to be seen as we truly are.”

– Narrator/Fairy Godmother

Here, Ella is nothing more than a girl in love with a boy. She has nothing to offer him but her love, and he accepts that wholeheartedly. I find it poignant and touching.

  • The lyrics to the credits song, “Strong.”

In a perfect storybook the world is brave and good

A hero takes your hand, a sweet love will follow

But life’s a different game, the sorrow and the pain

Only you can change your world tomorrow

Let your smile light up the sky

Keep your spirit soaring high

Trust in your heart and your soul shines forever and ever

Hold fast to kindness, your light shines forever and ever

I believe in you and in me

We are strong

When once upon a time in stories and in rhyme

A moment you can shine and wear your own crown

Be the one that rescues you

Through the clouds you’ll see the blue.”

-Sonna Rele, “Strong”

I have talked about this song before, but its message is just as pertinent two years later as it was upon its release. This song encompasses the entire message that this new version of Cinderella was trying to convey: You are the one who rescues you, and your life will not play out like fairy tales do. It is up to you to use your kind heart and strength to make your ending a happy one.

And finally…

  • The overall message of courage and kindness.

#havecourageandbekind

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Once again, I have talked about this before, but I have tried to adopt the film’s constant moral of “Have courage and be kind” into my life in every respect. If everyone was like that, the world would be a much more accepting, gentle place.

This film’s production even started the Cinderella Words of Kindness Project, where you can share words of kindness via social media. It was an important campaign, and I encourage you to visit the site and see what other Cinderella fans contributed.

 

 

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And that’s all. …yes, I know. That’s pretty much the entire film, but hey, it’s nostalgic, and beautiful, and really hit home for me.

Rest assured, folks, I will be bringing eight boxes of tissues to this year’s Disney live action remake, Beauty and the Beast, which remains my favorite Disney animated movie! I will be a hot mess, and you can most definitely expect another one of these blogs come March!

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…and who knows, maybe my Dan Stevens-Downton Abbey-related angst will temporarily subside! …no guarantees.
Cover photo by author. All gifs from giphy.

 

Saying Goodbye to the Shows That Made Me Love TV

Sherlock. Once Upon a Time. Bates Motel. 

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In the winter of 2013, I found a renewed faith in TV thanks to the recommendation (or, rather, the persistant insistance) of a good friend. As luck would have it, it would appear that all three of these shows are coming to an end at around the same time. I wanted to pay tribute to them for making me appreciate the television medium.

Growing up, I was a reality show junkie. Be it Survivor, The Apprentice, The Amazing Race, or American Idol, my family and I watched all of the major network game shows in their prime. As for scripted television, we watched one show: The Office. It was our favorite, and we absolutely had to tune in every week. Personally, I only watched three shows on my own: Pushing Daisies, which was swiftly cancelled after two seasons, Ghost Whisperer, which had a long life but whose final season’s quality caused me to abandon it, and Glee, which…yeah. Two seasons, and I was out.

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Don’t give me that look.

I had all but given up on TV post-The Office. My shows were tiresome or gone, and the reality shows were reliable mindless after-dinner entertainment, but nothing more. Little did I know that after a few years of ignoring television altogether did the medium hit the start of its still-flourishing renaissance.

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I would not have discovered this had it not been for my aforementioned friend. Upon learning that I had access to Netflix and HBO, she gave me four shows to watch: Sherlock, Once Upon a Time, The Walking Dead, and Game of Thrones. It took me awhile to get on board with the latter two, as I heard that The Walking Dead was “gross,” and Game of Thrones was “gross and with a ton of boobs.” (For the record, while both of those analyses are perfectly accurate, they certainly don’t do these shows justice).

So I started simple…or so I thought. My plan was to binge BBC’s Sherlock, ABC’s Once Upon a Time, and A&E’s Bates Motel concurrently. Bates Motel was a show of my own interest, as Freddie Highmore grew up alongside my generation starting off as a child actor and now taking on the classic role of Norman Bates in a prequel spinoff to one of my favorite Hitchcock films, Psycho (Hitchcock, 1960).

Once Upon a Time was intriguing to me because it reminded me of stories I would devise playing with dolls and toys as a child: It placed all of these classic fairy tale characters in a single setting and blended their lives and relationships. I knew I would have loved it at a young age, but I was still intrigued as an adult watching the plot unfold. Only a few months later, I found myself quite suddenly at the red carpet of the next season on Hollywood Boulevard with a few new friends.

I sense, like so many others, that the show will soon be coming to an end. Now in its sixth season, it has yet to be renewed for a seventh. This is a bad sign, especially since we’re already into the second half of the season and the news of its renewal has yet to surface. The show’s star Jennifer Morrison has a contract that is also up for renewal, and she too is uncertain of her fate at this point. I project that this will be Once Upon a Time‘s final season, and although I personally think that it is high time, as the show has recently decreased in quality significantly, I will be very sad to see it go.

WARNING. The following paragraph about Bates Motel reveals spoilers from Season 4. Skip the paragraph if you are not caught up.

I’m fairly certain that I had the insane fortunate to hear the very first utterance of Bates Motel‘s plans to end in person. In April 2015, a panel on Women in Television at Chapman University featured producer Kerry Ehrin. While there, she casually let it slip that “Bates will only have five seasons,” and that she was eager to move forward with other projects. Shortly afterwards did the news go wide that, at the time, Bates Motel only had two seasons left. That time has now arrived, and all the chips are falling into place for the show to create its own incarnation of the Psycho storyline. Norma has died, Rihanna will be taking on the legendary role of Marion Crane, and Norman is as creepy as ever.

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This show put me in turmoil: It was like someone had an idea for a drug smuggling drama and someone else had the idea for a Psycho prequel series, and on their way to their pitch meetings, they both were trapped in an elevator together and decided to blend their shows. Despite it’s unique structure, it never ceases to surprise me. Plus, Vera Farmiga and Freddie Highmore are incredible as the infamous mother-son duo. This was the role that made me fall madly in love with respect Highmore enough to place him amongst my “league” of favorite actors. Plus, the upcoming season’s most recent promo had me shrieking in my apartment just last week.

Once again, while this show isn’t perfect, I certainly will miss the motel, the mansion, Norma and Norman. And I certainly can’t wait to watch this show go out with a bang in mid-April!

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Bring it onnnnnnnn.

Now here comes the hardest goodbye, although, like Once Upon a Time, it remains unconfirmed. I fell utterly in love with Sherlock upon binging the first two seasons and then immediately watching the third live. Much like Bates Motel, this show made me adore the show’s lead performer Benedict Cumberbatch, and he too is now one of my favorite actors.

This show is flawless. I’m not sure we’re ever going to see a show again so perfectly cast and so expertly written. Cumberbatch and Freeman are Sherlock and Watson, and their chemistry is electric. The writing by Mark Gatiss and Steven Moffat not only maintains the integrity of Sir Arthur Conan Doyle’s original stories, but also has modernized it and adapted it so that we as the audience get an inside look at Sherlock’s deductive, amazing mind.

I won’t spoil anything from tonight’s episode, but I will confirm what the cast and crew have been saying: the Season 4 finale ended in a way that felt more like a series finale. Sherlock has always been a unique show in that a new season is never promised. Gatiss and Moffat work quietly and around the ever-increasing work schedules of Cumberbatch and Freeman, making fans wait years for a continuation of the show with but three episodes at a time. Once again, a Season 5 is not promised, and I don’t think there will be one. Not after tonight.

So I cried when it hit me. The shows that made me love television again are ending. Since them, I have watched so much more: The Walking Dead, Game of Thrones, Parks and Recreation, 30 Rock, Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt, Downton Abbey, Daredevil, Luke Cage, Jessica Jones, The Crown, Westworld, Friends, How I Met Your Mother, House of Cards, Stranger Things, Bob’s Burgers, Crazy Ex-Girlfriend, and most recently, A Series of Unfortunate Events. It wouldn’t have happened were it not for these three disparagingly different shows, all (most likely) ending only weeks apart.

I got to have three years with them. And, as they say, “all good things must come to an end.” And there will be many more amazing shows to come in this “Golden Age of Television,” but I just wanted to take a moment to thank the shows that made a difference to me.

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Thank you.

 

All gifs from giphy.

Another Day of Sun: A Tribute to 2016

Well, that’s a wrap on a pretty insane year all told. I want to look back at 2016, warts and all, the good and the bad.

I’m gonna do so in the only way I know how: through a movie reference. My favorite film of 2016 was undoubtedly La La Land (Chazelle, 2016), and my favorite song from the film was the exuberant, remarkably choreographed song “Another Day of Sun,” which serves as the opening number that takes place in gridlocked traffic (an experience LA inhabitants know all too well).

The song is the main supporting element to the title, “La La Land.” It depicts the stories of thousands of people who still come to Los Angeles based on a dream that began with the advent of Hollywood; to chase their dreams of fame and fortune in the Mecca of the entertainment industry. I’m one of these dreamers living in “La La Land.” The dream persists, despite an excess of competition, uncertainty, and adversity. I feel like this translates to what we all just went through in 2016:


Behind these hills, I’m reaching for the heights…

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“2016 is going to be SO much better than 2015!” we all said. Ah, what a simpler time December 31st, 2015 was!

2016 began with its typical new year’s surge of confidence, hope, and resolutions. 2015 in my mind at the time,  was a horrible year. The latter half of it included the death of a grandparent, the death of the family dog, three consecutive illnesses, a sprained ankle, and a smashed pinkie finger JUST as the year wrapped up.

2015 could burn in hell for all I cared. I was ignoring the good things, however: I got to see my favorite actor in person twice. I worked at an amazing production company. I went to The Tonight Show with Jimmy Fallon AND The Late Late Show with James Cordan. I survived 24 Hour Night at Disneyland and attended two red carpets. But it’s so easy to forget the good and focus on the bad, and that’s exactly what I did. 2015 was the worst, and 2016 would be full of new possibilities and new beginnings.

…And chasing all the lights that shine.

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This was the spring that I studied abroad for a semester in New Zealand. Things were going so incredibly well. I made a new group of international friends, learned my way around a new country and culture, and did things that, now looking back, I cannot believe I had the courage to do!

I went to Fiji and Australia entirely by myself! I completed the foremost item on my Bucket List; jumping off the Auckland Sky Tower-on LEAP DAY no less! I directed an original play in a theatre group I was entirely unfamiliar with. I learned the native Maori language. I threw all caution to the wind and chased experiences I never otherwise would have chased!

I even chased a deeply personal change. I told someone I had feelings for them that I had been repressing for years. Even though, unfortunately, nothing came of it or will ever come of it, for the first half of the year, this was just another bout of hope that was putting wind in my sails as I returned to back home and to Los Angeles to finish out the year.

When they let you down…

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Auckland Sky Tower illuminated in solidary with Belgium. Photo by author.

I’d like to say that upon returning, that’s when everything changed for the worse, but that would be a lie. Despite being surrounded by new and exciting experiences while abroad, the entire world was rattled by countless terrorist attacks. Throughout the year and especially within the past week, celebrity deaths seemed to follow one another endlessly.

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Alan Rickman, Anton Yelchin, and most recently Debbie Reynolds hit me particularly hard. There was a beautiful quote from Tiia Ohmen, one of the co-creators of the website Fangirl Quest, a photography and travel advise website that maps movie and television shooting locations. This quote offers a perspective about why celebrity deaths affect us so:

Could it be because they’ve given us something to laugh about? To cry about? Because they’ve inspired us to pursue some career ourselves, in acting or music or in whatever it is they did well? Or because they used their publicity to support those who are suffering, inspired us to do good, or told us fight for our rights? Or maybe because they just told us “it gets better”, or “always keep fighting”, and helped us through a rough patch in our lives?

Could it be that they made us feel, and by making us feel they actually made us feel more alive?

The mourning seemed without end: David Bowie, Prince, Gene Wilder, George Michael, Carrie Fischer… And then I lost another grandparent in the blink of an eye.

Loss led into heartbreak, heartbreak led into frustration, frustration led into fear. This fear was also felt universally. I was in a country under the British crown when the United Kingdom left the EU, and I was in the U.S. when voting in my first election; the election that will forever be known as the most divisive since the days of the Civil War. Fear is rampant right now and will continue to be if we let it get to us. But the responses to the adversity that have emerged gives me so much hope.

Get up off the ground…

Kind actions followed every tragedy. Hopeful words lifted everyone’s spirits. Charitable deeds restored hope in humanity.

It is human nature to seek constant improvement and to have hope for the future. I too tried to improve bad situations. Unfortunately, good intentions did not go unpunished, for all attempts to better myself were thwarted by more nonsense: A repeated attempt to join an important group fell short. A career changing competition resulted in disqualification beyond my team’s control. Fitness progress was halted by a contagious disease and then a sprained knee. Before I knew it, 2015 seemed like a blessed memory compared to the things 2016 was dishing out.

Morning rolls around…

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But, once again, we are at the end of another year and the start of another, and already there is much buzz about how much better 2017 will be than 2016:

As I stated before, the need for self-improvement seems wired in humans. That’s the reason why New Years resolutions exist in the first place: It’s a chance to start again and use a finite amount of time to spark a better change for oneself and one’s community.

…And it’s another day of sun.

But the fear remains in my mind: What if 2017 doesn’t deliver upon the promises we wanted 2016 to deliver? What if it’s just as full of grief, disappointment, and uncertainty…or worse?

But a best friend put it well when I voiced these concerns:

I think all we can really do is stay positive and keep sending out good vibes into the universe, and hope that others are doing the same.

And so morning will roll around tomorrow, and it shall be another day of sun in a new year. At the end of the day, 2015 didn’t do anything to us. Neither did 2016. In order to make sense of our situation, we as a people have characterized these years as having their own identities and wills to make our lives better or worse. When it comes down to it, we are the ones who control our fates. Terrible things happen, but so do the good.

2016 was the year I actually committed to increasing the quality and number of posts featured in this blog, which has been in existence since 2013. This was the year I made friends who live in over a dozen countries around the world. 2016 was the year I was brave. 2016 was the year I was one step closer to figuring out who I am.

So here’s to a better 2017 for everyone. I hope that every resolution is met (c’mon, self. The gym is not a punishment) and that problems that arise can be met with level-headedness and an easy resolution.

It’s another day of sun. 

Header image from StockSnap. All photos by author. All gifs from giphy.

Why Betty Haynes from “White Christmas” Will Forever Be #LifeGoals

Five years ago, I decided to pop in the old VHS tape of White Christmas (Curtiz, 1954) my family had always kept, but had never gotten around to watching. I was in the last three minutes of the movie when the tape broke, to my horror! By complete coincidence, the movie was also playing on television, and when I switched back and found it, it was right at the part where the tape broke down.

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I loved it so much, from then on I have made it a tradition to watch White Christmas annually on Christmas Eve. This year, I watched it as I alternated between eggnog and tea while partaking in yet another Christmas Eve tradition; coloring one page  each year of a 26 page Christmas coloring book (almost done!!). As I multitasked, I realized that while I adored the film’s comedy, the music of Irving Berlin, and the fantastic display of singing and dancing talent, I took a particular liking to the elder Haynes sister in the movie, Betty (played by Rosemary Clooney).

Below is a list of points I have compiled regarding why Betty Haynes is #lifegoals for me:

  • She keeps herself (and her heart) guarded.

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Betty is described by her sister Judy as being “slow,” to love. When she first meets her love interest, Bob (Bing Crosby), she instantly bickers with him. Her main focus is on her career and her sister. I love that about her: Even though you can tell that she would like a special someone in her life, he’s not necessary.

It takes her a lot of persuasion (and some pushing from master matchmakers Judy and Phil) to open up her heart to Bob. I relate so much to this personality trait. While in the movie, this characteristic is seen as a hindrance to her finding love, being guarded is just like anything else- if used too much in excess, it becomes cumbersome. Otherwise, it isn’t a terrible thing to want to protect your heart until you truly feel comfortable opening up to someone special.

  • She is the world’s best sister. 
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“Lord help the mister who comes between me and my sister. And Lord help the sister who comes between me and my man.”

Betty will do anything for her sister Judy. They complement each other incredibly well in their sister act (“Sisters,” is better than it has any right to be), and Betty actually makes significant sacrifices for the sake of Judy. Judy herself comments on these sacrifices, saying that Betty is like a “mother hen,” who wants to see her safe, cared for, and happy before she even considers any of those things for herself.

This characteristic is in line with the aforementioned point; if in excess, it becomes problematic. Here, Betty is a bit too concerned for Judy, not allowing herself even the slightest bit of joy. However, even though I’m an only child, I am so lucky to have friends close enough that I consider them family. I take Betty as an example of how to be an amazing, selfless friend.

  • She stands up for what she believes, and will not adjust her morals no matter what.
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Byeeeeee.

When Betty gets news that Bob and Phil are going to take a charitable performance and broadcast it on television, she mistakenly assumes that they are only doing the show for profit. She is then told by Judy that she is engaged to Phil, and no longer things that their sister act is necessary. This is the tipping point for Betty. Certain that her sister will be taken care of, she has no problem abandoning her budding relationship with Bob for the sake of adhering to her moral code.

In sum, she rocks.

  • I mean, those dresses. Good lord. 
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FAB.

This gif does not do her dresses justice. I want her entire wardrobe from this shoot and then some. The costumes for White Christmas were designed by Edith Head, who was nominated for 35 Oscars and won eight. This is the epitome of awesome.

  • When the going gets tough, she goes solo and kicks ass. 
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Who needs one man when I’ve got four right here?

After she leaves the inn in Vermont, Betty goes solo and quickly starts getting her own gigs. She performs a song called, “Love, You Didn’t Do Right By Me,” which I used in an audition that scored me a dream role in my senior musical in high school (moral of the story: When in doubt, Irving Berlin).

This move is so cool. This goes to show just how powerful she is: Now that Judy and Bob are no longer concerning her, Betty has complete autonomy over her own life, choices, and career. And she’s excellent!

 

Ultimately, Betty discovers that she was mistaken in assuming that Bob and Phil were using the show for their own gain and returns to Vermont to join her sister, performs in the show, and rekindles her relationship with Bob. Despite the fact that she ends up not only in an ensemble act, but also with a man, her brief solo stint is so indicative of her independent spirit.

And this is just one of the many things I love about White Christmas. I could go on and on about the film’s spectacle, or its beautiful message about giving back, or its commentary on the fate of veterans who return home from war and their struggle to assimilate back into civilian life, but I will leave it at this: Betty is an awesome female character who was written in the 1950’s, a time commonly considered a regressive time for feminism.

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So I will continue watching and enjoying White Christmas this Christmas Eve, and here’s hoping that you all have a very happy holiday season! And may all your Christmases be white!

Photo by author. All gifs from giphy.com.