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Month: November 2016

More Moana Thoughts

More Moana Thoughts

I’ve finally gotten over the “this is the best thing ever!” phase of consuming a new piece of media, and now I’m wrapped up in the “I have thoughts about it now” phase. So I’m not sure who’s going to read this entire thing, but this is my blog and I’ll write what I want. Whatever.

One of the criticisms I’ve seen about Moana is that Disney seemed to pick and choose what they wanted to portray in terms of Polynesian culture, and I understand that some Pacific Islanders felt that this belittled their unique cultures because it made it seem like it was a monolith and not as diverse as it actually is, and that Moana should’ve been better off just portraying one culture (whether it be Samoan, Tahitian, Fijian, Maori, or Hawaiian, or any of the myriad Pacific Islander cultures). I understand the concerns of these comments, and I do respect them. I sympathize with them. It must hurt to get excited over a Disney movie and then find out they got some things wrong.

I’ve read criticisms about the portrayal of Maui, who is considered THE Hero of the people among many Pacific Islanders and apparently feels more like a lunk-headed buffoon in the movie, and this is far from how he’s portrayed in the real stories. That this is a Maui who is palpable and acceptable to white audiences and  it might have been better not to have Maui in the movie at all and just focus on Moana.

I think I’d actually prefer a movie like that too. Maui was kind of superfluous to the story, and Moana could’ve learned about wayfinding from anyone else and it would not have affected the outcome. The whole Macguffin about returning the heart of Te Fiti and Moana restoring the balance of life could’ve been done without Maui getting his redemption arc. I imagine that Disney wanted Maui in it because he was there at the inception of the story, where the directors wanted Maui to be the main character and Moana be the supporting role, but then their roles were switched. Somewhere along the line, maybe they felt they had to sacrifice direct authenticity for a more feminist reading of the story? I’m not sure if this is what happened; I don’t know the details of the development of the movie, but it’s like they felt they couldn’t do both? Have an authentic Maui and a strong heroine as well? I don’t know.

It could just be a westernized reading of the Maui stories that got it completely wrong. Disney did collect a group of experts on the region so that there’s cultural authenticity, but perhaps it wasn’t enough. Whatever Disney did, they must have satisfied this brain trust, otherwise they wouldn’t have still been involved in the movie and not have their names in the credits, right? Did Disney dupe these people? Again, I don’t know. But some Pacific Islanders are very disappointed with the movie. I’m not sure if Disney could do anything else to make a movie that would satisfy everyone, because that’s impossible.

I think the most obvious thing would’ve been to get Pacific Islanders to be in charge of the production and not just Disney asking some experts about the culture, but there’s a Catch-22. Hardly any Pacific Islanders are in the animation industry and the animation industry doesn’t support Pacific Islanders. It’s either, Disney risks getting stuff wrong in order to make a movie that’s based on Polynesian culture, or Polynesian culture doesn’t get represented in mainstream popular culture at all. The animation industry absolutely needs to change and maybe someday we’ll look back at Moana the same way we look at Pocahontas in a “nice try” sort of way. There has to be a start, and maybe Moana will encourage more Pacific Islanders to go into the animation industry to tell their own stories and it will be better for everyone.

But I’m kind of worried about what’s going to happen with Disney’s next animated feature, Coco, which is supposedly based on Mexican culture and specifically Day of the Dead motifs. To me this sounds like a step backwards from Moana, just thinking that all the skull painting and whatnot looks cool so that’s a must for animation. I don’t know. Polynesia has such a rich cultural and mythological heritage, I’m kind of surprised that it hasn’t been the focus until now. But with Coco, there’s already Book of Life, which is a movie that was made by Latinos, starring a mostly Latino voice cast, and I know one shouldn’t pit one movie against another but I can’t see how Coco could be a better movie than Book of Life was. Again, it’s bringing an aspect of a different culture to the mainstream, but again, I don’t think it’s being made by people who are of the culture? I don’t know. I’m torn Book of Life did decently at the box office, but a Disney movie has built in cache which would probably make Coco monstrously successful because…it’s Disney.

And that’s the conundrum. Disney is a major popular culture force in the world, but it shouldn’t be the only one.  Representation matters, and now Disney has placed Polynesia in the mainstream consciousness. It’s given Pacific Islanders a world stage and it will be interesting to see what happens next.

Moana [Review]

Moana [Review]

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Somewhere while watching Disney’s latest movie, Moana, I just sort of marveled at the audacity of it. How far Disney has come from mining the riches of European fairy tales and legends to a story of a long ago Polynesia. I mean, the name itself literally means “many islands” and is the all-encompassing name for the diverse cultures of the South Pacific. I grew up in Hawai’i. I learned about the legends and myths of the ancient Hawaiians through picture books. I recall having a Maui book once upon a time, so I was already kind of aware of the stories, though as a Filipino-American, I of course couldn’t embrace the stories as part of my culture. I loved them, still, and living in Hawai’i, there’s a sense of some sacredness out in the wilderness once you left the confines of the city, something out there in the wilds and in the ocean that couldn’t (or shouldn’t) be touched or encountered by humans.

The Hawaiians call it mana, the raw power of sacredness, the life force of the land, and it’s with this vague connection to an aspect of Polynesian culture that I went to go see Moana.

Shockingly, I loved it.

I’m not sure if it’s a sense of nostalgia for when I lived in Hawai’i, when I was surrounded by green. When every Sunday I could hear lofty voices from afar – my childhood home isn’t too far from a Samoan church – and those same sweeping harmonies echoed in Moana’s soundtrack. I’m not sure if it’s the stories I remember, of the lizard who lost his tail (which became the triangular island of Mokoli’i. I remember seeing the deep gouges on the sides of the Ko’olau mountains and hearing stories that they were made by Kamehameha’s sailing canoes as his army dragged them across the islands. I knew the stories of Maui the trickster, who had a soft spot for humanity, who stole fire for us, who stopped the sun from speeding across the sky so that the days and nights would be the same number of hours.

And on and on and on…

I got teary-eyed with the scenes of canoes gliding across the ocean, of the representations of the long-ago voyagers who would explore the vast Pacific searching for islands to colonize. They traversed the biggest ocean on the planet with just the stars to guide them, and the knowledge of the wind and the currents. It’s a feat of human ingenuity that’s never really been matched, and I was so grateful to see a movie based on their exploits. Their stories really need to be told. I’ve seen criticisms that the diverse cultures of Pasifika had to be diluted down into a hodgepodge mix for the movie, but I don’t know how else one could tell the story without pinpointing which culture was represented. I think Disney did the best it could, bringing in experts from all over the Pacific to go over the cultural details, creating a cultural trust/fount of knowledge to pull from. It’s pretty clear that they tried to be respectful while adhering to the Disney formula. For the most part, it worked. I really prefer to have Disney try to glean culture from people of the culture and not just guess. It shows that they’re trying.

Or at least it worked on me, who has more than a passing knowledge of one Polynesian culture.

And oh gosh Moana was the perfect spunky female protagonist. She fully embraced her role as leader, even if that meant going into danger in order to save her island from destruction. Even if it meant trying to find Maui, and I loved that they just became bffs without having the awkward romantic moments. I loved that Moana’s only goal was to save her people, and that the finale wasn’t just saving her people but SPOILER ALERT healing the entity responsible for all life. I loved the symbolism that the lava demon and Te Fiti were the same entity. Lava, after all, is the land devoid of life, and she just needed to be balanced again. I also love that it’s ultimately Moana who realizes what she needs to do, and with or without Maui’s help, she’s still going to do it.

And, well, Maui’s the Rock. There’s nothing more to it. Egotistical and strong and boastful and, well, the Rock. Mini-Maui was adorable though. I’d forgotten that one of the origin stories for Maui was that he was deformed at birth (I believe?) and tossed in the ocean because he wasn’t expected to survive. It made his need for approval and acceptance even more poignant.

I’m also pleased that Moana had the support of the other strong women in her life (most notably her grandmother) in order to fulfill her destiny. The whole “Remember who you are” thing echoed back (for me) to The Lion King and it got me to nearly crying in the theater.

So, in the list of where this movie ranks among favorite Disney movies, I think this one has an edge over Brave, but perhaps only because of my inherent nostalgia for Hawai’i.

I’m a little miffed, though, that some people seem to think that Frozen and Moana seem to be competing for…something. I don’t know what. Back in the day, we didn’t care about pitting Belle against Jasmine against Ariel or whatever. What was it about Frozen that made it so divisive among fans? I don’t know. I’m a Disney fan. I love all of it, and now I love even more that there’s a brown princess (okay, she’s technically not one, but close enough for marketing) for us. She has my skin tone and my nose. I’m more than pleased.

Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them [Review]

Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them [Review]

Hi I love them
Hi I love them

This isn’t the Harry Potter you know and love, and y’know what? I’m more than okay with that. Harry’s had 7 books’ worth of adventures (plus a play) so he and his friends are more than covered for a lifetime of story. But, I was definitely eager to get something completely new from the Wizarding World, and in this regard, Fantastic Beasts did commendably.

Read More Read More

In which there is food

In which there is food

It’s been ages since I last had pho, and I hadn’t really had pho since I left Hawai’i, which is a shocker. So, after watching Mike Chen of Strictly Dumpling attempt to eat a pho challenge, I got it in my head that wanted pho. A brief search of Yelp led me to Hello Pho, a Vietnamese restaurant in Concord and apparently one of the better places to get pho.

Luckily, it was a gloomy, rainy day and perfect soup weather. I had decided to get the combination pho, which has a mix of basically every single meat they offered: steak, flank, brisket, meatball, tendon, and tripe. I was sorely tempted to get an order of fried chicken wings (which looked delicious and fried chicken is possibly my most favorite thing). But I decided not to, which was good because even a small bowl of pho was extremely filling and I couldn’t finish it.

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Check out that tripe! There’s a danger with cooking tripe where it might turn out chewy if it’s not prepared right. But thankfully the tripe was soft and not chewy, and also there’s a crunchiness to tripe (which I guess is part of the structure of the stomach lining?) that I’ve always found appealing, (which I also assume is part of why many people who’ve never had tripe before are pretty wary of it. Anyway, the broth was nicely flavored, very beefy, I didn’t think it needed anything extra, though there was three types of chili sauce on the table: the ubiquitous Huy Fong Sriracha, a chili paste, and a house made chili sauce. But I preferred having the pho as is, for the first try, just to get a sense of how it tastes without anything else added.

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Long story short, it was very tasty and I imagine I’ll be going back to this place sooner or later, especially since winter is coming and I need more noodle soups in my life than just ramen.

The Grand Tour

The Grand Tour

It’s still television if it’s a streaming show, right? I mean, I do watch it on my TV. So….television.

Top Gear is back, but it’s not.

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Somewhere between the long parade of cars led by The Lads and the American (can we say Murrican?) audience, it’s somehow even more Top Gear-y. The banter between Jeremy, James, and Richard is even more prevalent, but there’s no need to stick to the Top Gear formula. They don’t have to review cars. They don’t have to do car news. They don’t have to have a celeb do a lap on their track and then attempt to interview them (very very painfully and awkwardly because who really cares about what weirdo car Wil.i.am. has this week. But the show was only accidentally a car show. I tuned in because I really really enjoy watching British people taking the piss out of each other, and the three hosts’ banter between them is so goddamn endearing that I can even forgive Jeremy being an asshole.

I know. It’s awful. He’s kind of an awful person, but he can be funny without being racist funny. He should focus on the funny and not the racist funny. It’s hard to explain. Also I do like Richard and James (who is my favorite, check out some of his solo tv work like Man Lab or Toy Stories or Cars of the People) .

But anyway.

The first episode of The Grand Tour, Amazon’s attempt at resurrecting the wonderfulness of Top Gear, is now available on Amazon Prime, and yes, I watched it. And yes, it’s like they took the best bits of Top Gear and cranked it up to the limit. The first episode is set in the middle of the southern California desert (no kidding, either, they have a tent that travels all around the world and houses the audience segments of the show). Not the biggest fan of Jeremy calling themselves “g*psys” though. Well, perhaps at least it’s a positive connotation?

I did enjoy the increased audience participation, like the bit where Jeremy says that the RAF is the best air force in the world, which riles up the American audience, (because USA! USA! USA!)  to the point where the audience begins to attack the hosts.

I also won’t spoil what happens to the three (or was it four?) guests who were invited to have a chat, but I laughed and laughed and felt a little awful for laughing but what the heck. These guys are at the top (heh) of my list for problematic faves and it just feels nice to have them back in these trying times, to make me laugh.