Fantastic Beasts: Maybe Just Read the Books Again Instead

Warning: I’m going to write down just about everything that I can remember from this movie, so if you’re hoping to see The Crimes of Grindelwald unspoiled, then you should absolutely keep reading and see if I can’t persuade you to save yourself twelve bucks.

Or you can just go watch the movie first, I guess. But, staying or going, you’ve been warned. Here there be spoilers.

The fiancée and I went to see Fantastic Beasts: The Crimes of Grindelwald tonight. She’s a big Harry Potter fan. Me? Not so much, although I do like the books, especially when narrated by Jim Dale. Still, we’ve had a lot of stress in our lives recently, and so a quiet night with a fun movie seemed like it should have been just the ticket we needed.

Instead, we left the movie theater very, very sad.

The Wizarding World of Harry Potter started as a magical place, full of butterbeer, chocolate frogs, and silly make-believe words like “quidditch,” “muggle,” and “Hermione.” Unfortunately, the most recent Wizarding World stories don’t seem to be interested in the fanciful, fairy-tale nature of their source material, instead opting for the hyperactive blockbuster shenanigans of the lucrative Marvel Cinematic Universe. And, like the other franchises trying to snatch the throne from Marvel, they haven’t quite managed it.

I can already hear counter-arguments forming: “Harry Potter has grown up with its fans!” “This is the Empire Strikes Back of the franchise!” “What did you expect from a movie named after the biggest mass-murderer in the entire Wizarding World series?”

And… yeah, I concede that there’s always been a bit of darkness to the Harry Potter stories. There’s a murder or two in just about every book. Heck, the action that kicks the entire story off is the attempted murder of a baby.

But you know how that worked out? We spent the entire series following the exploits of “The Boy Who Lived.”

Right from the very beginning, there was a sense of optimism permeating through the story of Harry Potter. Tragedy never occurred simply for tragedy’s sake. When someone died, people mourned. They were shocked, grieved, angry… and, eventually, they healed. Our heroes experienced sadness, as do we all, but the sadness never felt cheap.

Well, except in The Deathly Hallows, I guess. Maybe that should have been a warning for where we’ve found ourselves now.

The violence in The Crimes of Grindelwald feels exploitative, but that in and of itself isn’t necessarily a crime. After all, fiction is, by its nature, somewhat exploitative. It pushes our buttons to give us that moment of emotional catharsis when the good guys finally win. Worse than exploitative, The Crimes of Grindelwald is cruel. Full stop.

Yes, Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone starts with the attempted murder of an infant. Crimes of Grindelwald slides in, says “hold my beer,” and actually MURDERS the tyke. And then, to make sure we know just how serious Harry Potter is now, the movie kills ANOTHER baby. ON SCREEN.

And we’re just scratching the surface here. Remember the lovable flapper Yankee witch from the first Fantastic Beasts movie who falls in love with the bumbling yet charming muggle? Well, she’s evil now, and I’m not referring to her eventually siding up with Grindelwald. Her first act, just before the movie begins, is to mind-rape her beau to get him to marry her WHEN HE ALREADY SAID NO. I mean, consent is important, QUEENIE.

Oof, and we haven’t even touched on Grindelwald’s master plan to prevent the LITERAL NAZI HOLOCAUST by… orchestrating the mass slaughter of an entire population based solely on their lineage.

I haven’t been this angry at a movie since Batman v. Superman saw Jimmy Olson get shot in the head. Crimes of Grindelwald spends so much time committing the above war crimes that I haven’t gotten to the rest of Santa’s naughty list:

  • Why is Voldemort’s evil snake suddenly a sympathetic Asian lady now?
  • How the heck is Newt Scamander, of all people, suddenly in the middle of a love pentagon?
  • Why is the movie edited like an action scene from Transformers: Revenge of the Fallen?
  • Why does the movie seem to think we care about Leta Lestrange, a woman we have literally never seen before now and will likely never hear of again?
  • Why is the climax of the movie kicked off by a bad episode of PBS’s Finding Your Roots?
  • When did Johnny Depp turn into bargain-bin Jared Leto?
  • Just how many secret siblings does Dumbledore have?
  • Wait… did they manage to slip in a SECOND rape plot?

And finally:

  • Why couldn’t Eddie Redmayne be in a GOOD movie?

See, the biggest problem with the Fantastic Beasts movies is that they have a legitimately lovely protagonist in Newt Scamander, but they have no idea what to do with him. As portrayed by Redmayne, Scamander is awkward, shy, and bumbling, but he remains consistently sweet and charming. He’s not one of the slick, antisocial sociopaths that we so often get in nerd media – the type of person who claims to be too good for human interaction. No, Scamander is a genuinely good man with a deep affection for all living things.

In short, he’s the type of protagonist we desperately need more of, especially in our escapist fantasies. Unfortunately, such a character simply has no business being in a summer blockbuster with a half-hour action climax. Because, seriously, how is Scamander going to defeat Grindelwald? “Empathize” him to death? Don’t be ridiculous.

So to sum up: No, I didn’t like Fantastic Beasts: Special Victims Unit. But that doesn’t mean the movie is completely without redeeming value. In fact, there was one little moment that got me genuinely smiling, and, in the interest of spreading at least a little positivity, I’m going to share that here:

Newt Scamander and his love interest from the first movie, Tina Goldstein (played by Katherine Waterston) have hit a rocky point in their relationship. The reason for their estrangement is… well, it’s pure plot contrivance. Utterly ridiculous. It’s…

NO! BAD BRADDY! POSITIVE TIME!

Anyway, during his adventures, Newt interacts with this curious monster that looks more than a little like Falcor the Luck Dragon. He manages to calm the beast down by dangling a cat toy in front of it and adopting a playful posture. It’s a pretty charming moment that feels like a return to some of the best moments from the first film.

(A brief aside: the Braddy cut of the Fantastic Beasts franchise would just be all the scenes where Redmayne interacts with the creatures. That’s it.)

Anyway, at a later point in the film, Newt and Tina have raided the French Ministry of Magic, searching for some bit of Lestrange family lore. They get briefly distracted by their personal drama. The ensuing awkward exchange has both of them talking over each other. We learn here that Tina read the book that Newt had been working on during his visit to America.

Soon, the movie decides it needs another action set piece, and out comes Falcor for a romp about the library. Newt and his friends escape, riding on Falcor’s back, and the beastie has a hard time calming back down. This time, however, it’s Tina to the rescue. She produces another cat toy and adopts the same pose and mannerisms that Newt used previously to calm the Luck Dragon down.

How did she know what to do? She read his book.

It’s a tiny moment, but that scene – heck, that one shot of Tina with the cat toy – beautifully illustrates the affection Tina felt for Newt even during his absence. Even more, though, it shows that Newt’s empathy is contagious. Newt’s defining characteristic is kindness. Kindness is what makes Newt special, but it is not unique to him. Anyone can learn to be kind. Including Tina. Including me and you.

As for how effective that kindness is in combating literal magic Nazis… well, that’s unfortunately a whole different discussion.

Cheating at Inktober ‘18: Charlie Chaplin

I’ve loved silent comedies ever since I was first introduced to Charlie Chaplin’s Modern Times during an American literary history survey course in college. Modern Times still ranks as one of my favorite movies of all time. I’ve branched out from then, developing an appreciation for Harold Lloyd and Buster Keaton (who I may actually like better than Chaplin), but I’ll always hold a candle for the Little Tramp.

The Edison Street Organ Loft is probably the best-kept entertainment secret in Salt Lake City. The girlfriend and I went there on Friday night to catch a Chaplin double-feature: The Idle Class and A Dog’s Life. The last time we went to the Organ Loft, we had trouble finding a good seat, so we made sure to arrive plenty early this time. To keep ourselves entertained while waiting for the movies to start, we worked on a crossword puzzle on the girlfriend’s phone.

“I dunno that one.”

“Wait, what was five down again?”

“I think the answer there is ‘Nasir,’ but I’m not sure.”

Then, from in front of us, we heard a little voice ask, “What are they doing?”

A little blonde girl, maybe six years old, peeked at us over the back of her chair. Her mother sat next to her. The door now opened, we made conversation.

Her name was Sariah, and we quickly became her best friends. We showed her our crossword puzzle, and she quickly said she knew how to do those.

“No,” her mom said, “you do word searches. Those are different.”

Undaunted, Sariah continued to chat with us. Somehow, the conversation shifted to flossing (I think it might have been one of the crossword answers?) and Sariah immediately chimed in, “I don’t know how to floss.”

“Stephen does,” my girlfriend volunteered.

Of course, she wasn’t actually talking about dental hygiene. And thus an impromptu dance lesson broke out in the aisle at the Organ Loft.

The conversation eventually fragmented. Sariah’s father, a literature professor, showed up, and he and I began to talk about the narrative hidden in every research paper while Sariah continued to chat with the girlfriend. They grew so attached that Sariah moved back to sit with us during the movie, which she spent cuddled up under the girlfriend’s arm.

It was a cute experience, but it’s hard for me not to feel a little resentful. I mean, dates go to movies to have an excuse to cuddle. I wanted to cuddle with the girlfriend.

😦

Anyway, Chaplin’s great. The end.

Cheating at Inktober ‘18: Winnie the Pooh

Lemme tell you a story about my cute girlfriend.

Last month we took a trip to Disneyworld. I had never been. The girlfriend, on the other hand, used to live down there. She worked at Disneyworld as part of a college program. While she was there, she was especial friends with Tigger. If you know what I mean (no not like that).

Anywhoo, when we travel, the girlfriend has a tendency to set the whole agenda and then rush us through everything. We determined to make Disneyworld a bit more laid back – ample time for moseying, maybe we stop and catch a show now and again. However, the one thing we absolutely had to do was get breakfast at the Crystal Palace, where Winnie the Pooh and his friends would come say hi.

The girlfriend and I made small talk and ate some pretty good food (the sausage and croissants were amazing, but the omelet left something to be desired), but the minute Tigger came into view, there was only one thing worth her attention. She got up, gave him a big hug and chatted with him briefly. Also, I took several photos. You know, for the memories.

We sat through visits from Eeyore, Piglet, and Pooh as well, and you know what? I really like those guys. Pooh especially was adorable. He got all self-conscious when we asked for his photo, adjusting his shirt to make sure he looked his best. He was more than happy to pose with us.

Did I have a point to this?

Yes. Winnie the Pooh is awesome. And so is the girlfriend.

I harbor a lot of mistrust towards anything that purports to be “non-fiction.” If I know you’re lying to me, I can figure out what you’re trying to say. But if you say you’re telling me the truth, then I’m immediately suspicious.

I have a complex.

Thus, you’d expect that I wouldn’t go out of my way to catch a limited-release documentary – and you’d generally be right. However, we’re talking about Fred Rogers here, the closest America has ever come to producing a universally-acknowledged saint. The man has a reputation for being one of the kindest, most sincere individuals to ever rise to public prominence. I guess I was looking for a little kindness and sincerity.

I don’t have enough of a reference pool for documentaries to know if this one is a good one, so if you’re here for deep, insightful film criticism… I mean, I liked it. Of course I did. Go see it. See it twice. Take your dad. He misses you.

I didn’t come away from Won’t You Be My Neighbor? trying to figure out what it was trying to sell me on. I didn’t walk away looking for inconsistencies, or questioning whether everything I just saw actually happened, or if the subjects interviewed really believed what they said about Fred Rogers. I came away questioning MYSELF, more than anything. And I found myself wanting.

Fred Rogers had a ministry, a calling from God, to teach and support children. He vowed to help children cope with the difficulties of life so that they could grow into stronger, braver adults. He wanted (and I apologize for the cliché) to “make the world a better place.”

I’m not sure he ever felt like he succeeded in that ministry.

In one of the most striking moments of the film, Rogers questions whether the good he does is enough. In the wake of 9/11, he sees the immensity of evil in the world, and, for a moment, he feels defeated. Sure, he pulls together in the end and delivers a hopeful message, just as we all knew he would, but that doubt was there.

At the end of his life, Rogers questioned, “Am I a sheep?” Meaning, will I be saved, or will I, like the goats, go to hell? Was my ministry enough, or did I disappoint my creator?

I don’t know that I have ever related to a cultural icon more in my life. I know, objectively, that my little corner of the world is in better shape than it’s ever been before. However, I see so, so many problems, and I feel this great desire to try to do something about them, fix them. And it never, ever feels like its enough.

Thus, I feel like a failure. Like so many people do. Like Fred Rogers did, despite all his extraordinary success. What can you do?

Well, one thing you can do is maybe take to heart a little wisdom from the man himself: “…for all the rest of your days and nights, I hope you can remember that you never have to do anything sensational for people to love you.”

It seems apparent to me, reading this now, that I waited a few days after seeing Won’t You Be My Neighbor? before writing. Coming out of the theater, I felt cheery and uplifted. Today, however, I feel worn down, tired, and frustrated. And that’s shaped my perspective on the film more than a bit, I’m sure.

It’s true: you will never do enough good to outweigh the bad. It’s literally impossible. Hopefully, however, we don’t look at the enormity of the task and give up. Rather, we should take it as a challenge: “We can never do ‘enough’ good, so why should we ever stop?”

Do whatever good you can, wherever you can, however you can. Bolster the fearful. Comfort the mourner. Stand by your friends, and have patience with those you disagree with.

And, seriously, call your dad. Don’t make me ask you again.

Who Tells Your Story: My Hamil-thoughts

I’ve wanted to write this post for a couple of weeks now, but I haven’t quite figured out the best way to approach the subject. My girlfriend bought me a ticket to the touring production of Hamilton, which further demonstrates that she is just the best you guys! I left the theater with dozens of thoughts swirling around in my head, and I’ve been trying ever since to put them in a coherent, pseudo-intelligible order.

And this is why my blog post about Hamilton visiting Salt Lake City is going up well after Hamilton has moved on.

So what follows is a random jumbling of thoughts, with very little connecting them other than the source material. I wish I had something more profound to say about one of the most profoundly affecting productions I have ever watched, but I’m afraid I can’t be quite that insightful. Here we go:

When my cousin first told me that someone put together a hip-hopera about the life of Alexander Hamilton, I thought for sure we had reached peak Broadway self-parody.  I could easily see a Hamilton musical sliding neatly into Simpson’s episodes, right between that time they did a Planet of the Apes musical and Mark Hamill singing, “Luke, be a Jedi tonight!”

Still, I’m interested enough in both rap and history that I tuned in to a CBS special on the production and was immediately blown away. Snippets of particular songs caught my attention and imagination – bits of “Yorktown” and “You’ll Be Back,” in particular. It would be months before I heard anything more substantial about the show, and almost two full years before I finally heard the soundtrack in its entirety, but from almost the very beginning, Hamilton proved itself to be an earnest, moving, and relatable exploration of the life of one of the founding fathers of my nation.

Even more than the music, though, the bit from the above-linked special that got me was when musical author Lin-Manuel Miranda mentioned that the story of the founding fathers would be told by “America, now” – meaning a multi-racial cast would play the nearly all-white congresses and cabinets of the nascent U.S.A. I latched onto this idea and loved it from the very start. See, Alexander Hamilton, George Washington, Thomas Jefferson, and the rest are part of the heritage of all American citizens, regardless of when they or their ancestors came here. So why shouldn’t all American citizens have the opportunity to play these founding fathers and honor their own heritage? It’s a lovely sentiment, and one I’m happy to support.

I am, unfortunately, one of those white boys who really likes to listen to hip-hop and rap. I love poetry, and I especially love complicated, clever rhymes. You just don’t get those sorts of rhymes outside of hip-hop anymore – and, frankly, you don’t get them often in mainstream hip-hop, either. Hamilton, though, is chock-full of deliciously clever rhymes and wordplay. Read this bit from “The Schuyler Sisters”:

I’ve been reading Common Sense by Thomas Paine

So men say that I’m intense or I’m insane

You want a revolution? I want a revelation

So listen to my declaration:

“We hold these truths to be self-evident

That all men are created equal”

And when I meet Thomas Jefferson

I’mma compel him to include women in the sequel!

Work!

The first two lines in particular are loaded with internal rhyme – somehow, “so men say” winds up rhyming with BOTH “Common Sense” and “Thomas Paine.” And this is just one small section of one small song. The whole show is filled with moments like this.

The best moments, though, are probably not even the lengthy verses of intricate rhymes and masterful spitfire delivery. Rather, they’re these the little, almost incidental lines. Some are repeated leitmotifs – emotionally-charged statements that recur repeatedly throughout the show, each time with a slightly different meaning. Others are just one-off utterances that manage to land with the impact of a fist. Any one of these could easily be someone’s favorite line in the show:

  • “I am not throwing away my shot!”
  • “It must be nice to have Washington on your side.”
  • “In New York, you can be a new man.”
  • “Look around, look around at how lucky we are to be alive right now.”
  • “History has its eyes on you.”
  • “Well, he’s never gon’ be president now.”
  • “Who lives, who dies, who tells your story.”

And my personal favorite:

  • “Immigrants: We get the job done.

I guaran-dang-tee that I missed somebody’s favorite in there.

If you haven’t seen the show or heard the soundtrack, these lines probably don’t mean much to you. If you have, though, you now have about a million great songs stuck in your head. And, for that, you’re welcome.

As a younger, more naive student of literature, I assumed that a lot of the themes and messages of great literature was accidental – that writers just composed stories they liked, and readers extrapolated themes from those stories based on their own experiences. Turns out that’s typically not true. Writers put an exceptional amount of effort into crafting themes and braiding motifs together, and you can see that clearly in the way Hamilton took shape.

The hip-hop conventions used throughout the show are more than a gimmick. Rather, the rap sections demonstrate actual, significant character development. Take, for example, the character Lafayette. The first time Lafayette appears on stage, he speaks uncertainly in English mixed with French. He has a heavy accent pauses to ask how to pronounce certain words. But then, when he appears again in the song “Guns and Ships,” he delivers a ridiculous line in three seconds:

“And I’m never gonna stop until I make ’em drop

And burn ’em up and scatter their remains.”

Eighteen words. Three seconds. All English.

Miranda confirmed that this machine-gun of a line was meant to demonstrate how Lafayette had mastered the English language since the start of the revolution. The way Lafayette matures into an eloquent polyglot is the apotheosis of “show don’t tell.”

Whenever an actor plays two roles in a single show, I perk up and pay attention. Usually, this decision is made due to a lack of available talent; however, smart directors and producers know that such casting can add a lot to the themes of a particular show. For example, most productions of Peter Pan cast the same actor in the role of Wendy’s father who later goes on to play Captain Hook, thus forcing one to consider that the villain in Peter Pan may actually symbolize adulthood as a concept, and not just a pirate who is literally afraid of the passage of time (oh wait…).

In essence, such casting practically begs for a slew of compare/contrast essays. And if there’s one thing that I, as a recovering English major, love, it’s a good compare/contrast essay.

Four of the main cast wind up playing two different parts. The actors who play Lafayette, Mulligan, Laurens, and Peggy in Act I come back in Act II as Jefferson, Madison, Phillip, and Maria Reynolds. Now, I’m no historian, but it seems to me that these pairings are at least a little deliberate.

In part, the dual-casting illustrates how Hamilton, during his rise, was defined by his friends (his fellow revolutionaries and his sister-in-law). However, during his decline, he was defined by his rivals (Jefferson and Madison) and the people who threatened to destroy his personal life (Maria).

The one outlier here is the dual casting of Laurens and Phillip. Laurens was, as far as I can tell, Hamilton’s closest friend during his formative years. Phillip, Hamilton’s son, was perhaps the person Hamilton loved most in the world, as evidenced by how excitedly he anticipates Phillip’s birth. Both, of course, are killed tragically, and way too young. In both rise and fall, Alexander Hamilton’s life revolved around tragedy.

There’s an interesting lyrical conceit employed in Hamilton. Certain motifs are drawn out and prolonged, only to be truncated a second later for emphasis. From “That Would Be Enough”:

HAMILTON:

Will you relish being a poor man’s wife

Unable to provide for your life?

ELIZA:

I relish being your wife.

Again, this works better with the accompanying score and with the performance of the cast.

It’s a neat trick, one that pops up in the hip-hop inspired numbers as well as the more melodic pieces, and it’s put to great effect in “It’s Quiet Uptown,” the song which might be the most under-rated piece in the whole show.

“It’s Quiet Uptown” immediately follows a long stretch of turmoil for Hamilton and Eliza. Hamilton’s affair with Maria Reynolds drove a serious wedge between the two, and they have now relocated to mourn the death of their son, who died defending his father’s reputation in a duel. The grief these two experience is repeatedly referred to as “unimaginable” – and, indeed, it is.

It would be so, so easy for Eliza to make this the final straw that permanently drives her away from her husband. Instead, though, their mourning brings the two back together. Eliza acknowledging Hamilton is greeted with the chorus singing about forgiveness with the line, “Can you imagine?” This line uses the same rhythm and melody as accompanies the word “unimaginable” so many times in the song to that point, but the phrase is left incomplete, never resolving the tension created in the penultimate chord.

Normally, this tension would create a sense of unease or apprehension; however, in this song, the tension creates a sense of excitement and wonder at how Eliza was able to forgive her husband after all the things he had done to wrong her. He apologized in tears and pledged to make amends, but it’s Eliza’s willingness to forgive that is treated as the miracle, and it well might be.

After getting hooked on Hamilton, I went nearly two full years before listening to any of the songs past “Burn,” which means that my last impression of Eliza for the longest time was that she was someone who, in anger and with a broken heart, took herself “out of the narrative.” My girlfriend finally coerced me into listening to the rest of the soundtrack, including the finale, where Eliza inserts herself back into the narrative and carries on Hamilton’s work: she fundraisers for the Washington monument, she fights slavery, and she starts an orphanage. Her forgiveness empowers her to become a vital force for good, and that forgiveness takes place during “It’s Quiet Uptown.” Hamilton’s story is incomplete without the sizable contributions Eliza made, both during his life and after.

There’s so much more to be said about Hamilton – and not all of it is positive. It takes a lot of liberties with the history it portrays (it may actually go too easy on Aaron Burr, the chief antagonist). Despite how central race is to the conflict, the actual racism present at the founding of the U.S.A. is only addressed cursorily. And then there’s that looming accusation that, by choosing only to cast non-white performers in the most significant roles, Hamilton itself is racist. I have thoughts on each of these topics, not to mention dozens of little nitpicks and criticisms that accompany me to nearly every movie or play.

The thing is, though, I don’t want to get into any of that. Not yet, anyway.

The time will come to critically re-evaluate Hamilton. Better writers than I will have to tackle those subjects, though, because there’s very little about Hamilton that I want to pick apart. The show may not be perfect, but it’s perfectly inspirational in so many ways that the tiny griefs I usually focus on seem, more so than ever, to completely miss the point.

The seat I had in the nosebleeds cost about $90. I’ve been asked a couple of times if the ticket was really worth that price, and, if I’m answering honestly, I have to say, “Yes.” The experience of seeing Hamilton on stage was beyond wonderful. As crazy as it sounds to say – after all the accolades, all the attention and controversy, all the theater kids learning the Cabinet Meeting raps – despite all the hype, Hamilton may still actually be underrated.

March Madness: Disney Songs Bracket

Not much time for preamble today. If you spend any time on Twitter at all, you’ve probably seen a slew of different brackets making the rounds, usually pitting great movies or Internet boyfriends against each other. Yet of all the brackets, though, only one truly begged for completion:

ROUND ONE

Now, I imagine I would have seeded this a little differently, but we play with the memes we’re dealt. First round went pretty quickly. Wherever possible, the edge went to the iconic song over the merely nostalgic.

A few items of note:

  • The behemoth “Let It Go” lost in an early season upset to “Part of Your World.” Whether this demonstrates the strength of longing over empowerment, or whether the judge was simply some random thirtysomething unable to set aside his childhood, we may never know.
  • Classic dad-rockers Phil Collins, Billy Joel, and Elton John all survive into Round 2. Joel is probably the biggest surprise there, but even “Why Should I Worry” performed well against the cut-rate Prince ripoff from The Goofy Movie.
  • The defeat of “I See the Light” hurt far more than I expected. Although Tangled is one of my all-time favorite animated movies, “Part of Your World” is easily among the best Disney songs ever composed and readily curbstomped the competition.
  • On the other hand, “Go the Distance” and “How Far I’ll Go” aren’t even close to the same level. The Hercules song is fine enough, but, thematically, Moana just hangs together so much better, and “How Far I’ll Go” plays an indispensable part in that film’s execution.
  • “You’re Welcome” and “Friend Like Me” made for a tougher competition than I expected. The difference came down to performance. The Rock does well enough, but there’s no world at all where he out-sings Robin Williams.

ROUND TWO

Something really interesting happened this round: I realized just how much I esteem the songs of A Little Mermaid. I can’t discount the fact that Mermaid was one of the first movies I ever saw in the theater, but I also suspect that there’s something objectively timeless and classic in the songs from that film.

Some more notes:

  • Perhaps no song in Disneydom is more revered than the villain song, and “Hellfire” is among the best of those, easily trouncing the iconic “Beauty and the Beast.” Given a choice between love and damnation, leave it to me to make the… questionable choice.
  • This same tendency is on display again on the other side of the bracket, as “Poor Unfortunate Souls” wins out over “Remember Me.”
  • Of the dad rockers, only Elton John endures. Likely this is due to the relatively weak competition. “Heffalumps and Woozles” worms its way into your brain, but “Can You Feel the Love Tonight” managed to pull ahead, perhaps demonstrating some awareness that it alone remains to represent the best film of Disney’s second golden age.

ROUND 3

Let’s jump straight to the commentary:

  • The Little Mermaid continues to impress, sending two of its numbers to the Final Four. Its third representative, “Part of Your World,” loses its footing against “Hellfire,” but it goes home with its head held high, having made a good showing to this point.
  • “When You Wish Upon a Star” may carry a questionable message, but it’s undoubtedly classic. Not even Elton John stands a chance.

ROUND FOUR

At this point, there is nothing more I can do but be true to myself. When forced to pick between a pair of villain songs, one of the most charming and romantic Disney songs of all time, and a song that is arguably the MOST Disney song of all time… how I could I not pick the villain songs?

And now, we come to…

ROUND FIVE – THE FINAL ROUND

“Poor Unfortunate Souls” is a delightfully, unapologetically wicked number, easily among the best Disney songs ever composed. Its opponent, “Hellfire,” lacks the tongue-in-cheek fun of “Poor Unfortunate Souls,” but it makes up for it with deep feeling and pathos. So who wins in the battle between earnestness and camp? In the end, there was really no question:

Well, I Guess I’m Old Now (or: How I Broke Myself Trying to Impress a Pretty Girl’s Family)

I texted my boss today:

I managed to sprain my ankle pretty badly this weekend. I should be okay to work, but I would like tomorrow off, just in case.

He responds:

Please do. A sprain is no joke, especially when we aren’t 12 years old anymore. Get wel.

And then:

Well

You know, like you do.

This probably isn’t the first time that I’ve sprained my ankle, but it’s definitely the first time I’ve sprained it so severely that I felt the need to run to urgent care. A few hours had passed since the injury, and I was trying to muscle through the pain with the help of a cheesy Netflix martial arts movie and some Little Caesar’s pizza (which I stood in line for fifteen minutes to get) (yes, that means I stood in line on a sprained ankle) (no, it was not worth it) (I mean, how could it be?). After a while, I decided I probably ought to at least wrap the thing up, and I think it was my frustration with trying to wrap my own ankle that finally led me to get in my car and drive to the urgent care, about twenty minutes away.

The doctor was nice. He wore a green scrubs top and khakis, and he had a very strong vibe that said, “As me about my trip to Amsterdam.” We bonded over a mutual interest in the “Yoga with Adriene” YouTube channel, and he joked about charging me hundreds of dollars more than he was supposed to. You know, normal doctor stuff. He did some X-rays to confirm that it was a sprain and not a break, gave me an ankle brace, and wished me luck. Pretty sure the luck was for dealing with the ankle brace. It’s a complicated tangle of cords and velcro that took both me and the nurse poring over the instructions to figure it out.

So I’ve been dating someone fairly seriously, which is incredibly important to the story, because of COURSE me hurting myself involves trying to impress a girl, right? Well, only sort of. See, at this point, we’ve been dating for about ten months, which I think is probably enough time for her to see right through any attempts at flattery. Her family, on the other hand, doesn’t know me that well yet. So this is really about me trying to impress them. Specifically, the two people whose negative opinion of me would put our continued couplehood in jeopardy.

No, not them. I’m referring to her six-year-old nephew and her four-year-old niece.

Saturday night finds me with my lady friend at her cousin’s wedding reception. Her niece and nephew, hopped up on youth and wedding brownies, decided that they were done sitting around and wanted to run outside to play. The girlfriend and I joined them, and we tracked around the grounds surrounding the church where the reception took place, our feet unsteady in the wet grass.

“Boy, this ground sure is soft,” I said, demonstrating a little principle known as dramatic tension.

The game we wound up playing is a popular one among all kids of a certain age. It’s called, “Watch the grown-ups do silly things.” The grown-up in this case was me, and the silly thing was attempting to chop down a tree using a bunch of those long, brown seed pods. You know, these ones:

Darn things are everywhere.

After slapping the side of the tree a few times, the pods would break, leaving me with a comically short stub pinched between my fingers. The kiddos, of course, thought this was hilarious, and I, pleased with the impression I was making, started playing up the comedy by employing increasingly ludicrous wind ups. Truly, a great time was had by all…until I bashed my hand into the tree.

The shock and pain from the impact sent me staggering back a couple of steps, where my ankle decided to do a Gordon Hayward (don’t look that up). My memory of the immediate aftermath is a little fuzzy, but I’m reasonably sure that’s right when my ladyfriend’s parents came out to get us for the cutting of the cake. Which means that they, and the girlfriend, and her niece and nephew, all beheld the exact moment I realized that I’m not a kid anymore.

When I was younger, of course, I’d walk of a rolled ankle like it was no big deal, because it wasn’t. I tried to play it off the same way last night, turning down my girlfriend’s offer to pick up some drugs and an ankle brace from Wal-Mart. I even lied to myself about it (hence the standing in line at Little Caesar’s). Eventually, though, I realized that I no longer have the resiliency of a six-year-old, and so I drove myself to urgent care.

When the girlfriend found out, she was… frustrated, to say the least:

Dude!!!! Why didn’t you call me?? Sheesh, you shouldn’t be driving.

And:

Oh brother. If you weren’t hurt I’d be so mad at you right now. But you are hurt and it’s kind of my fault so I can’t get mad.

And:

Ugh. Men are the WORST.

So there you go. I guess part of the process of getting older is learning to accept help again after striving so hard to be independent for so long. I eventually accepted some help from my parents, who brought me ace bandages and an old prescription for Ibuprofen 800 mg, which is GREAT STUFF.

Seriously, I’m not much for taking medicine, even when I need it, but nowadays, I’m all singing, “Ibuprofen! He be profen! She be profen! We’re all profen! Wouldn’t you like to be a profen too?”*

I even let the girlfriend finally help me – she brought me a pair of crutches, which was absolutely lovely of her to do. I could have saved myself a big headache by simply accepting her help in the first place. Which means.. which means… all that time spent watching Home Improvement as a kid taught me not a blasted thing.

Thanks for nothing, Tim Allen!

===

Apologies to Dr. Pepper.

Opera Night: Pagliacci

When I was a child, I remember seeing this commercial on PBS on a Saturday afternoon about opera. Specifically, about how ridiculous it is that the opera has a reputation for being “boring,” especially since the most famous operas are chock full of sex, violence, and murder. I get where that reputation comes from. It’s difficult to get engaged in a plot where you don’t understand anything the major characters are saying. Heck, I went to the opera once in the Czech Republic. The singing was in Italian, while the supertitles were in Czech, so I was utterly lost in two languages at once.

That said, I’ve been at least curious about getting into this opera thing for years. For example, a song from Madame Butterfly inspired the only bit of writing I ever got paid for (a poem which netted me a whole dollar bill!). I’ve attended a broadcast from the Metropolitan Opera, which was great, although somewhat pricey. However, when I finally got the chance to go see a real, live opera (with supertitles I could actually understand), I leapt at the opportunity.

Utah Opera put on a double feature at the Capital Theater. One of the shows, a comedic little episode called Gianni Schicchi, provides some much needed context to the operatic standard “O Mio Babbino Caro.” It is not, as I first suspected, a lullaby sung by a mother to her baby. Rather, it’s a plaintive plea from a young girl to her father, claiming that she will die if she can’t be with the man she loves. It’s, you know, dramatic and all, but in the context of a comedic opera, it carries about as much depth of emotion as Veruca Salt demanding that daddy buy her a goose that lays golden eggs NOW.

The real draw to me, though, was the classic Pagliacci. I’m pretty sure everyone’s heard of Pagliacci by this point. You know, it’s the opera about the sad clown.

I first encountered Pagliacci in that one episode of Batman: The Animated Series where the Penguin tries to show off for his date by singing “Vesti la Giubba.” From there, I associated the song with the cliches of opera – stilted, boring, overly dramatic, and inaccessible. And yet… in the context of the show, “Vesti la Giubba” is really unbelievable. A brutish man, completely and utterly destroyed by his wife’s infidelity, has to dress up in a clown outfit and make a buffoon of himself, because that’s what show business demands. It’s a real gut punch of a number, and it’s absolutely worth checking out.

But go to a live show, if you can. Operatic recordings are nice and all, but there’s something to be said for seeing the production live. If nothing else, watching the singers overpower the orchestra with nothing but their voices (no mics) is truly awe-inspiring.

Also, in commemoration of the occasion, I drew a sad clown: