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Thursday, October 11, 2018

CP470A: The Boondocks, Animating Race and Humor

By On 8:50 AM

What makes The Boondocks so funny? Many people deem it racist and moreover, most humor that addresses race happens to more than often to be racist. In the age of political correctness and the word "woke" being at the forefront of everyone's vernacular, you would think that a show like this would not be able to run for more than a single season, much less than four. However, the humor and messages that the Boondocks are communicating are far from racist. In fact, the show is one of the most honest, progressive and thought-provoking shows about race that has been released in a long time.

In class, we watched a couple of episodes of Fat Albert and the Cosby Kids and a couple of episodes of The Boondocks. The differences in the humor and people's perception of the shows' humor were evident. Fat Albert produced laughter in more slap-stick manner. The kids play in the dumpster, their appearances are overtly dramatic for comedic effect and moreover, they say silly things and bully one another. For a child, it's straight-forward and funny. For an adult, there is something else almost sinister about it. For example, the kids live in a garbage dump. They play with trash and they swim around and bathe in dirty water. The simple fact of the matter is that they come from a poor neighborhood and live in poverty and it's made a joke out of. The Boondocks is quite different as the characters' disparity and the disparity of the African American community, amongst many other issues, are made out to be a discourse.

It's a satirical discourse, but with some contextualization, it makes sense and it is fewer people are likely to be offended. The reading by Sarah Turner even illustrates the ways in which the "moment of decoding" occurs in which enables audiences to engage in an alternate reading of the text. This is what allows us to comprehend and explore the different animated works through a multitude of lenses, interjecting or reading through the lines by whatever means we choose to. For examples, when talking about The Boondocks, there is some historical/racial context that could be taken at face value, but in certain episodes, we are allowed to view things a gender-based or sexuality-based lens, especially with the introduction of future characters, like Thugnificient, who comes out as gay later on the series, or Tom, who has a perpetual fear of being gang-raped. There are things to say about each of these things, but decoding a work allows for a better, well-rounded understanding of it.

Thursday, September 20, 2018

CP470A: The Problem With Apu and Animating Race

By On 12:08 AM

The 2017 documentary by Hari Kondaboli titled, The Problem With Apu, forced a lot of people to confront their conflicted relationships with the long-running animated series, The Simpsons. In the film, Kondaboli tackles the characterization of Apu Nahasapeemapetilon by interviewing several South Asian people and seeing how his characterization affected them. As one may have thought, many people have grown tired of Apu and would like to see his character retired, along with the rest of the show altogether. 

This is because they feel that the show has not only gone on far too long but also because Apu's characterization is based on a racially charged stereotype. The chapter on"Animating Race" that we were assigned discusses the ways in which these stereotypes are created and how they affect the individuals they are supposed to represent. "Cartoons frequently portrayed explicit forms of racism, utilizing stock motifs and images such as the lazy Latino, the cannibalistic native, the rotund and dutiful Mammy, and the wily 'Oriental,' " writes the author. "From the silent era to the early years of animation’s golden age, cartoons produced for either adults or children both reaffirmed and taught American audiences how to think and speak about race." Therefore, when audiences see these images, they will then begin to associate these characteristics with the real-life individuals and the culture they represent. And moreover, the depictions in these animations are more-so depictions of minstrelsy than anything else and Kondaboli makes this clear by comparing Apu's character to scenes featuring blackface, which defines each character not by their personality, but by their voice and face, which also serves as the punchline.

In the case of the Simpsons overall, the punchline surrounds the fact Apu is that he is Indian. Kondaboli takes note of this and criticizes the Simpson's comedy in the documentary. Though ethnic stereotypes have become a staple part of comedy, the issues with Apu is that he is eternal. Therefore, the stereotypes affiliated with him are as well. Unfortunately, the Simpsons are not making any strives to improve this issue, as they've unofficially released a statement that essentially attempts to justify Apu's character.

When asked about a book of hers that has not become problematic, Lisa's character in the show responds like this: "It's hard to say," she starts. "Something that started decades ago, and was applauded and inoffensive, is now politically incorrect. What can you do?" She then looks to a photo of Apu and the scene ends. A lot of this has stirred up controversy and many people want the Simpsons to end because of it. Whether or not The Simpsons can be saved is one question. Whether or not they're correct about Apu is another. There's discourse on both ends about what to do about the situation, but there's only so much that can be done since so much damage as already been caused. 

Thursday, January 4, 2018

Film Review: I, Tonya (2017) and America's Fascination with Scandals and Villiany and The Elusive "Truth"

By On 5:33 AM

"I mean, come on! What kind of friggin' person bashes in their friend's knee? Who would do that to a friend?"

 Starring: Margot Robbie, Sebastian Stan, Allison Janney
Written By: Steven Rogers
Directed By: Craig Gillespie
Release Date: December 10, 2017

America has had a long history of fascination with scandal and the wrongdoings of others, (see: the increasing popularity of true-crime narratives/documentaries like American Crime Story, Becoming JonBenet, Making a Murder) but behind every headline, there’s a person with a story to tell; one that we’re more than happy to devour up mindlessly until we're forced to make a choice about that character based upon the evidence we're given.  
The protagonist in this comedic reimagining of the great American ice skating scandal is none other than Tonya Harding herself, played impeccably by Margot Robbie. Robbiei shines at depicting both Harding’s hardened resilience and charming determination during this disjointed recollection of her rise to fame. Tonya Harding was a spectacle of a woman, looking for love and acceptance in all the wrong ways. Physically beaten into her at an early age by her mother, LaVona (Allison Janney) Tonya was a girl bred to win. Heckled by men her mother paid and forced to skate covered in her own urine, LaVona did everything she could to make her daughter a star, even at the cost of Tonya's mental health. Tony acknowledges this very fact as she relays what she believes to be the psychology of her abuse to us as it occurs at the hand of her then-husband, Jeff Gillooly (Sebastian Stan). However, Tonya not only interrupts the scenes of her abuse by breaking the fourth wall directly, but she also finds a way to interject her bitter commentary even further by cutting back to her being interviewed years later and commenting on what's occured. While this makes us question the legitimacy of her experiences as we, too, are being jolted back-and-forth with contradictory claims, the point of it all is to allow the audience a chance to make a choice on who to believe. “I never hit her,” Jeff says, “But boy did she hit me.” The scene then cuts to Jeff being shot at by Tonya, who then turns to the camera and denies it ever happening.

So, where is this elusive “truth”? Tonya likes to believe that it doesn’t truly exist. “It’s bullshit,” she states, “Everyone has their own truth and life just does whatever the fuck it wants.” This is further reiterated by the inconsistent shuffling of both the camera and the commentary of the film as each character chimes in their take on the story. For example, after Tonya’s relays her experience in landing the triple axel and the eventual success that came with it, the screen splits to reveal both her and Jeff being interviewed separately on the matter. Though they both state that it changed everything, it’s obvious that these statements evoke very different connotations and it’s up to us to make a choice. 
Tonya’s life off the rink dominates the film just as much her skating does, but they do not drive the film singularly. Her abusive marriage, her abusive childhood, and the insecurities that she has about her background are what all push her to skate, but unbeknownst to her, they’re also what holds her back. She wishes her scores just reflected her skating and nothing more. However, we inkling that we get of the industry’s bias against her self-proclaimed redneck personality, which prompts the idea that she never even had a chance, but  the film shifts from this dynamic far too early on for the sake of reminding the audience why they’re there in the first place – to witness the assault of Nancy Kerrigan. 
Skating is not only the film’s driving force but it’s ultimately an unconscious backdrop to Tonya’s transformation into the slightly deranged woman that the audience knows she will become due to prior news coverage. Thankfully, this time around, we’re given an explanation for it. To Tonya, a win in figure skating also won her hearts of everyone watching, which ultimately resulted in her achieving the love she was denied at home as a child and as an adult. Though this love only lasted a while, it was love that the millions of Americans watching her willing to dish out at a moment’s notice to whoever was in the spotlight that drove her to do what she did. And ultimately, it’s the reason for Tonya’s claim to fame after being villainized for the attack years later, which she throws rightfully back in our faces towards the end of the film.“It was like being abused all over again, only this time it was by you,” she states. “All of you. You’re all my attackers, too.” Meaning: her downfall just was much as our fault as it was hers. It was up to us whether or not she was the villain and while she is capable of being excused from her actions depending on how we read the film, we can not be for making them excusable in the first place.

Tuesday, January 2, 2018

My Top 10 Films of 2017

By On 10:20 PM

Dear readers, welcome to 2018! Now that we're in a new year, it's time for me to make proactive resolutions about my life that I more than likely will not keep! However, I cannot move forward with my future procrastinations without reflecting on the vast multitude of films that I actually took the time out of my schedule to see, but this isn't just a list of all the films that I saw last year. This is a list of the "Best of the Best." Best, being completely subjective to the fact that both cinematic and literary merit remains as my only criteria in picking films for this list.
 And while I've done this compilation for the last couple of years now, as per usual, I did miss out on some (a lot) films that probably would have made this list had I seen them. Therefore, unfortunately for all of us here, I will not be mentioning the likes of masterpieces like Call Me By Your Name or The Shape of Water. That being said, there were still tons of other films that I saw that captivated me for one reason or another and here they are:
10.  The Lovers
 Though I initially held a disdain for this film upon viewing it for its stage play antics, I've grown fond of this film after viewing it again for class. There's something quite interesting and even quite humilifying about the eerie tonality of this film and the simultaneous humor and excessive melodrama that it encompasses to achieve all that it does. 
9. Your Name (Kimi no Na wa)
Though disjointed in both tone and thematics, this film brilliantly interweaves dreams, time and reality in a way that's both beautiful, mentally exhausting and ultimately, quite surprising for what it had been marketed as, all of which make up for its complicated premise.
 8. Mr. Roosevelt
Noël Wells’ high energy directorial debut soars as one of my favorites from the plethora of  mumblecore films that have been released this year. Most mumblecore films tend to draw on this element as their driving force, but none seem to hit home to both the on-going dysunfunctionality of reality impacting with the irreality of our own desires as this film.
7. Okja 
Some may call it preachy, I venture it being a spectacle of profound cinematic politics bringing forward principal elements of modern day capitalism, loyalty and friendship and being as environmentally aware as I am, featuring Okja on my list this year was a no-brainer. 
 6. Beatriz at Dinner
The most cathartic element of a film like Beatriz at Dinner is that it gives even the most divisive audience members various moments of poignancy and pathos on the inconsistencies within of the society that they live in, even though it fails to draw any conclusions based upon the issues it brings up.
5. Lady Bird
I laughed and cried and then laughed all over again throughout the entirety of Lady Bird. It’s a deeply personal film that preys on nostalgia to get by. However, these nostalgias are not solely drawn from the highlights of adolescence alone, but the sole tragedy of the process and the collateral damage that can occur in taking ahold of one’s life as well.
4. The Big Sick 

Not only does The Big Sick mange to breathe new life into the rom-com genre, it does so beautifully while simultaneously channeling the true-life events of its writers. Though it takes the risk of almost being too long through its multiple subplots like that of an Apatow-attached comedy, The Big Sick shines at is making every minute of the film worthwhile.
3. Get Out  
You know a movie has done something well when you notice something brilliant about its filmmaking each and every time you watch it. Politically charged, witty and visually stunning, Get Out is one of the most important films to be released this year and moreover, its one people will be talking about for a long time.
2. Good Time
 Good Time gets a spot at the top of the list primarily because it came as quite a surprise to me. Being not well versed in the Safdie brother's work, I didn't expect to be as floored as I was after seeing this film. Robert Pattinson's nightmarish, high energy adventure sheds some much-needed and exhilaratingly, panic driven insight to life on the streets and its one I will continue to watch whenever I feel the need for a penetrative adrenaline rush.
1. Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri
3 Billboards Outside Ebbing Missouri begins with quite the literary homage while relating the inspiration for Mildred Hayes’ (Frances McDormand) grand idea. Though it occurs mere minutes into the film, it’s significance as an inspiration is one that’s hard to miss for those familiar with the tale. 3 Billboards is a film that’s not only darkly comedic as O’ Connor’s, but it is also one that is surprisingly poignant in both its tone and dialogue as McDonough draws from his own theatrical background to expose the struggles in trying to comprehend things that are out of our control.

Tuesday, December 26, 2017

Film Review: Beatriz at Dinner (2017) is a Film For Thought in 2017

By On 10:30 PM
"No, where are you really from?"
Starring: Salma Hayek, Connie Britton, John Lithgow
Written By: Miguel Arteta
Directed By: Mike White
Release Date: June 9, 2017
Conversational battle lines are drawn between a working-class, Mexican woman and the group of upper class white Americans as issues of class and race are divulged during a fancy dinner party. However, divided as they may be, the film stands behind the idea that something larger holds them together, regardless of whether or not they choose to see it. The most cathartic element of a film like Beatriz at Dinner is that it gives even the most divisive audience members various moments of poignancy and pathos on the inconsistencies within of the society that they live in, even though it fails to draw any conclusions based upon the issues it brings up.
Beatriz, played wonderfully by Salma Hayek, is our woeful protagonist who finds herself trapped at the sordid dinner party. Though she is headstrong in nature and sticks up for her beliefs adamantly against the wrongs and injustices done by people like the billionaire developer, Doug Strutt (John Lithgow), she, too, cannot help being constituted as a caricature. Doug reads like an unapologetic Trump-like surrogate who boasts about his forthcomings, both in his finances and his hunting. “I have opinions,” he explains to Beatriz after she cannot recall who he is, “and because I have money, people listen.” Beatriz reads as one as well as she continuously tries to make amends for her wrongs to heal the pain of others and the world around her through her work as a holistic healer and massage therapist. However, her conversations on nature and empathic blend well enough against Doug's direct disdain for her philosophies for an added level or realism as they mirror conversations happening across America as we speak. 
The film is essentially about a clashing their various values as Beatriz holds contempt for Doug for his disregard for those beneath him, people and animals alike, while Doug simply wants is doing what he was made to do: to win. The world was built by people like Doug for people like him to succeed. He blatantly takes advantage of this and holds no shame for doing so, especially since it has gone on for so long. "The world is dying. We won’t be around much longer. There’s nothing we can do." There's a bit of fear about the end of the world in this sentiment, which is why he's confidently selling the idea that he can do what he pleases with the privileges he's been allowed. Doug is here for a good time, not a long time, so screw everyone else, which is a similar sentiment that the others around him hold. He, however, is just very frank about it. 
But even before the other party goers have even arrived, it is evident that Beatriz is at a disadvantage in this kind of setting. Her client, Cathy, (Connie Britton) who is hosting the party, even asks her if she would like to change before they get there. She declines which leads to Doug assuming she's the help. In asking her to change, Cathy means well because she knows just how Beatriz will be viewed in her own attire. She understands the socioeconomic and racial differences between women like her and women like Beatriz and she understands the assumptions that men like Doug with make of her due to him. Though Beatriz is a working-class woman with a full-time job that migrated to America legally, she's seen as no different than Cathy's uniformed Hispanic housemaid, whom Beatriz is surprisingly standoffish with due to the little amount of privilege she has over her. However, instead of attempting to bridge the gap between Cathy and Beatriz's evident differences, Cathy ignorantly pushes Beatriz back down by attempting to kindly force her to assimilate, even though it will not work because of the color of her skin. Cathy overlooks Beatriz' lack of privilege to sustain the look and power of own in the face of her peers and it's her lack of being able to accept their differences within the social pecking order that's set the scene for her dinner party that puts them at odds. 
Similarly to Kathy, the wives of the other both Doug and the young mogul walking in his footsteps also recognize their privilege, but instead of attempting to smother it under the pretense of kindness, they brandish it like weapons of their own with their blatantly, ignorant additions to the conversation, they just don't direct it towards Beatriz as Doug does out of respect for Cathy. "France is like a third world country. You can't get anything done there," says Chloe Sevigny's character, Shannon. Everyone laughs, except Beatriz, who just smiles in awkward discomfort.
That is, until she's had it. Beatriz eventually lets the crowd have it and she is promptly kicked out by Cathy's husband. The film's overly ambiguous ending proves to show that maybe we all have a bit of Doug in us, regardless if we would like to believe so or not. Everyone is privileged in some way, but what matters the most is how we deal with our differences and move forward productively. Beatriz at Dinner goes to show that we still have a long way to go before that can actually be achieved, but it also makes one ponder if we'll ever be able to do this and more importantly, do we really want to?

Thursday, December 21, 2017

Film Review: Lady Bird (2017) The Pangs of Adolescence and Finding Out Who You Are

By On 2:56 PM
"We’re afraid that we will never escape our past. We’re afraid of what the future will bring. We’re afraid we won’t be loved, we won’t be liked. And we won’t succeed."
Starring: Saoirse Ronan, Laurie Metcalf, Timothée Chalamet
Written By: Greta Gerwig
Directed By: Greta Gerwig
Release Date: November 3, 2017
There's a lot to get behind in Greta Gerwig's directorial debut, Lady Bird. From the hedonism that derives from the film's sunny Sacramento setting to feeling of uncomfortability that arises from seeing the monster that is adolescence take yet another victim, it's obvious that Gerwig has penned a deeply personal film; one that takes on multiple tones to balance out life's many challenges, while simultanously allowing us the space to try and comprehend them as well. 
Lady Bird is largely an introspection to love, life, family, and California living. When we met our titular lead, Lady Bird (Saorise Ronan), she is in her final year of high school. She wants to leave Sacramento and move to the East Coast to New York or New Hampshire, "where writers live in the woods." Although she presents herself as strong-willed, tough and ultimately, certain about her environment, her future and the people she surrounds herself with, we know that this is all a facade. Though she does not realize it, in all of the encounters that she has, most importantly those involving her mother, she's unconsciously becoming a different person in every scene. The Lady Bird we meet at the beginning of the film is significantly different from the Lady Bird in the middle of the film and ultimately, the same goes same for the newest version of herself that appears at the end of the film. "My name is Lady Bird", she demands from her nagging mother, played by Laurie Metcalf, "Call me Lady Bird like you said you would." Though her mother ignores her pleas and she throws herself from the car, this act of defiance is completely different from the reaction that we see from the end of the film when she calls her mother to apologize from New York. The childish, impulisivity of throwing herself from a moving car also differs vastly from her actions in the middle of the film that involve her her passive-aggressively telling her mother that she would pay her back raising her and leave her alone.
However, these are all prime examples of simply how teenagers behave and Lady Bird behaves as teenagers will. She's naive, thoughtless and, selfish, but who wasn't this way when they were her age? We roll our eyes and laugh as she relentlessly pursues Kyle, a laidback musician that refers to cell phones as tracking devices. We do the same as she contiguously tries to impress a popular girl in her grade by lying about where she lives. These events, though they may not have exactly happened to us, have a certain element of truth to them and in turn, they resonate with us. However, as life tends to do, everything shifts just as quickly as it came and the very thing that we were chuckling at, now has us holding back tears. There's sadness and disappointment that follow Lady Bird's eventual relationship with Kyle. We feel the same tinge of sadness as the popular girl ultimately ditches Lady Bird when she finds out about her deception. But, again, these instances move past us as quickly as they came and we're left to follow Lady Bird continue on her journey to get rid herself of her Sacramento roots.
But while Lady Bird's identity is seemingly built around knowing who she is and what she wants, she still has a long way to go before she is fully able to understand the world around her. Her biggest struggle is not in her desire to leave Sacramento, but in how she fails to realize just how much the people around her have touched her life and vice versa. "Do you like me," she asks her mother during a thrift store shopping excursion. "Of course, I love you," her mother retorts frankly. "No, but do you like me?" Lady Bird continues. The scene ends without her mother answering her question and it's honestly the most dynamic moment of the film, which is a tragic contrast against the fact that they were bonding over a dress just moments earlier. Of course, Lady Bird's mother loves her, but she never admits so due to her pride. Their back-and-forth dynamic is a major catalyst for the changes that Lady Bird goes through as she unconsciously continues to try to please both her mother, who doesn't want her to go, and herself. In the end, she's given the space to step out of her mother's shadow to fully find herself, but the film suddenly ends before she can actually do so. It's a bittersweet moment, but it is also one that makes us question the progress she's supposedly made. Does Lady Bird really know who she is at the end of the film? Perhaps that just what she wants us to believe and perhaps it's what we want to believe about ourselves as well. 

Tuesday, November 21, 2017

Film Review: The Big Sick (2017)

By On 11:23 AM
"Can you imagine a world in which we end up together?"
Starring: Kumail Nanjiani, Zoe Kazan, Holly Hunter, Ray Romano
Written By: Kumail Nanjiani, Emily V. Gordon
Directed By: Michael Showalter
Release Date: June 23, 2017 
Based upon the real-life story of their relationship, Emily V. Gordon and Kumail Nanjiani (who also stars in the film) have penned a surprisingly touching and complex narrative that stands as a breath of fresh air for the slowly dying rom-com genre. Though it takes the risk of almost being too long like that of an Apatow-attached comedy, what The Big Sick shines at is making every minute of the film not only worthwhile, but strangely personable and touching.
When Emily (played by Zoe Kazan) and Kumail, who plays a fictional version of himself, meet at one of Kumail's stand up shows, they immediately hit it off regardless of the differences in where they are in life. Emily is a divorced, psychology student with two lovingly dysfunctinal parents, played by Ray Romano and Holly Hunter. Kumail is a part-time comedic and Uber driver with a strict Pakastani family that constantly badgers him about his love life. They set him up on dates he never intends to call back, but he subjects himself to their guilt trippy dialogue and weekly critiques of his lifestyle in order to keep them happy. Though Kumail and Emily intially agree to not see each other again after spending a night together, a relationship slowly begins to develop over the course of a few months as they get to know one another. However, through the laughter and joy they share with one another, the looming presence of Kumail's family threatens to destoy all that he's built with Emily. Ultimately it does when she finds out that he's kept her a secret from his parents, but shortly after they break-up, she falls gravely ill and is placed in a coma while all he can do is sit and wait for her to wake up.
A majority of the film revolves around Emily's stay in the hospital and Kumail's interactions with her family as they oversee it along with him, which gives Romano and Hunter the space to elaborate on parental character figures that wouldn't get much screen time in any other romantic comedy. Traditionally, parents are depicted as the root to all of a protagonist's issues, which can be seen in the opening of Apatow's Trainwreck which depicts young Amy Shumer's father warning her not to ever fall in love. They're simply plot devices, if anything else. Here, that convetion is seemingly followed as Kumail's parents threaten to ostracize him from their family if he falls in love with a non-Pakastani woman, but this all done for the sake of exploring the stuggles of a group of people that typically aren't portrayed on-screen. Though Apatow's films typically rely on the protagonist learning how to navigate the adult world in a immature manner, there is surprising pathos that lies in the cultural element involved in Kumail's journey. The cultural obstacles that Kumail has to overcome lie not only his own traditionalist family and their interference in his progressive lifestyle, but those that involve the changes he has to go through to be accepted by Emily and her family after he's hurt her due to his inability to commit. 
Films like Knocked Up and This is 40, depict the everyday lives of immature men trapped in mundane existences that seem to be going nowhere. Kumail relates to the men in these films because before he meets Emily, he is content with forever lying to his family and doing comedy shows. Though his friends present the idea of doing something bigger to him and it interests him, he is, once again, held back by his family's disapproval for his career choice. The events that drive the film's narratives in both of the previously mentioned films are seemingly mundane events that everyday people can relate to like going bankrupt and expecting a child. However, they are also events that ultimately will change their lives forever, forcing them to grow up for the sake of their familes. Here, Kumail has more of a choice and its his family that is inhibiting him from growing up. He has no moral obligation to assist Emily in the hospital after they've broken up, as he's painfully reminded his by her family, he chooses to stick around. In both Knocked Up and This is 40, though the protagno find meaning in their existence,  they are still meandering through a stunded adolescecnt phase in their lives at the end of the film, while Kumail eventally moves on from this with the help of  Emily's seasoned and idiosyncratic parents. Their energy, eccentricty and authenticity when it comes to caring for their daughter clashes the image of family practices that he's used to. These minor characters are brought to life through their constant bickering with one another and their frustrating dialogues with the doctors and Kumail, who is just doing his best to help. And it's because of their cultural differeces and the amount of time they spend together exploring them that Kumail realizes that everyone is simply trying to do their best, as well.


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