Author Archives: Heather Nichols

About Heather Nichols

Heather is an all-around entertainment buff (with the exception of male-dominated Westerns), though she has a special affinity and encyclopedic knowledge of all things Japanese: J-Horror, Anime, Manga, and above all Miyazaki films.

Heather’s top 10 Anime of 2018

By Heather Nichols, Tawfik Zone Contributor

Hey guys, 2018 was the year we decided to invest in some great anime streaming services (thank you VRV). I figured it was time to give my personal top 10 picks of the year. Also this might be the time to announce that in 2019 I am planning on launching an anime Podcast based off of my panel at Connecticon 2018, “Anime That Changed the Game.” Stay tuned for more details. Now for this list it’s just my personal picks of the year, they’re not necessarily worthy of critical acclaim or what I would classify as game changing- though I will specify if they are since a couple of them would make the cut. For a series to qualify it had to premiere in 2018; sequels and new seasons of continuing series do not count and we’re counting this by Japanese release date, not American air date. Also I haven’t seen every single series that came out so if it looks like I missed a pretty cool one, feel free to leave a comment with your recommendation. Alright so here we go!

10. Hataraku Saibou (Cells at Work!)

            Summer 2018

            Episodes: 13, 23 minutes per episode

            Genres: Comedy, Shounen

            Full disclosure, I haven’t had the chance to finish this series yet which is why I have to put it at number 10. Purists may cringe but I actually stopped because I wanted to wait for the dub to finish before watching this one. The premise is pretty neat; it’s a depiction of the inner workings of the human body starring a red and white blood cell. Viruses are appropriately depicted as these creepy alien invaders and platelets look like kindergartners, so cute. If you remember that movie Osmosis Jones from the 90s, it’s like that but more anime if that makes sense. Clever and comedic. I’m looking forward to getting the chance to finish this one.

9. Ramen Daisuki Koizumi-san (Ms. Koizumi Loves Ramen Noodles)

            Winter 2018

            Episodes: 12, 22 minutes per episode

            Genres: Comedy, Slice of Life

            This is a total guilty pleasure pick. Koizumi-san is a sub-genre of anime referred to as “cute girls doing cute things.” Typically these aren’t valued for their depth or character development. The plot is incredibly simple. Ms. Koizumi’s favorite food is ramen and each episode depicts another of her favorite ramen joints. Oh and one of her classmates seems to have a thing for her and follows her to said ramen places and then more cute girls start eating ramen. Yeah it sounds dumb, so why did it make the list? The sequences with broken English and German are hilarious. I give voice actress Ayana Taketatsu props, she really made the character fun. Also found out there’s a lot of ramen in Hawaii so more incentive to go, haha.

8. Karakai Jouzu no Takagi-san (Teasing Master Takagi-san)

            Winter 2018

            Episodes: 12, 23 minutes per episode

            Genres: Romance, Comedy, School, Slice of Life, Shounen

            Most of the time anime is known for being weird, but sometimes a series comes along that’s just super wholesome and a gem of the slice of life genre. Which gave us Takagi-san, about two school kids Takagi and Nishikata and their constant trying to one up each other with a better prank. With Takagi being the master of this and always 5 steps ahead of Nishikata. Cute, simple, a feel good show reminiscent of childhood memories. 

7.  Tensei Shitara Slime Datta Ken (That Time I Got Reincarnated as a Slime)

            Fall 2018

            Episodes: 24, 23 minutes per episode

            Genres: Fantasy, Shounen

            Back to what you usually think of when someone says anime, a fantasy adventure that takes place in a world outside of our own. The set up for this one is a little dark for such a light hearted series.  37-year-old human Satoru Mikami is killed on his way to work one day and in his dying breath hopes to be reincarnated as “someone cool, like a wizard or great sage.” Next thing he knows he wakes up in a RPG like world as a slime monster, an incredibly overpowered one at that. And so begins the adventures of Rinmaru Tempest. This series has not yet finished and will continue in 2019.

6.  Ninja Batman

            June 2018

            Feature Film: 1 hr 25 minutes

            Genres: Action, Martial Arts, Samurai

            So the anime community on the whole has found Hollywood adaptations of anime to be underwhelming to say it nicely. We won’t even mention that “thing” Netflix barfed out and tried to label as “Death Note,” we’ll see about Alita in the coming months… So Ninja Batman is interesting because this reverses that concept with an American property getting the anime treatment. It delivers in the way that a Jim Dandy sundae delivers everything you could possibly want on your ice cream and as many calories as it takes to break your suggested daily allotment. It’s got Batman working with a ninja clan that worships a legendary Bat-Shogun who is said to come from another world and save feudal Japan. Batman becomes said shogun, oh and there’s a giant mecha fight. It’s fanfiction quality, and you can tell the team behind it just had a whole lot of fun working on this project.

5. Hinamatsuri (Hina Festival)

            Spring 2018

            Episodes: 12, 23 minutes per episode

            Genres: Comedy, Supernatural, Sci-Fi, Slice of Life, Seinen

            This show caught me off guard. The trailer did a good job of peaking your interest but then the actual show was just so earnest and fun with a very anime premise. One night, a strange object falls on the head of Nitta, a member of the yakuza. Inside the box is a strange young girl named Hina. She has tremendous supernatural powers, and Nitta finds himself reluctantly taking her in. So Nitta ends up becoming a father figure for Hina and heartwarming comedy ensues. It’s a show that hits a bunch of high notes especially in terms of character development and character relationships. Highly recommended.

4. Gaikotsu Shotenin Honda-san (Skull-face Bookseller Honda-san)

            Fall 2018

            Episodes: 12, 11 minutes per episode

            Genres: Slice of Life, Comedy

            A delightful series from the Fall season which no one saw coming. Based on a manga based on the author’s actual life when he worked as a clerk at a bookstore, the skeletons are avatars for the author and all of his co-workers. The show follows their day to day activities working in a Japanese bookstore, hilarity ensues. The show is also clever and brings up some interesting aspects of Japanese culture- such as the difference between how there is a difference in Japan between Gay Romance Books and Boy Love. While these sound like the same genre, they are not. Think of a high budget Biopic versus a Lifetime movie- this is the level of difference between those two genres. Also another great sampling of some hilarious Engrish scenes.

3. Poputepipikku (Pop Team Epic)

            Winter 2018

            Episodes: 12, 12 minutes per episode (with a rebroadcast of each with different voice actors)

            Genres: Comedy, Parody, Dementia

            The best way to describe this is “internet memes” the anime. This was also one of my featured series for Anime That Changed the Game. Adapted from a 4-koma or 4-panel manga, think Sunday morning comic strips- it follows the exploits of Popuko and Pipimin through different sketch comedy pieces. With pop culture references from video games, other anime and even a parody of Earth Wind and Fire’s Let’s Groove Tonight; it’s a series that’s a whole lot of fun.

2. Mahou Shoujo Ore (Magical Girl Man)

            Spring 2018

            Episodes: 12, 23 minutes per episode

            Genres: Comedy, Fantasy, Magic

            I’m surprised this series wasn’t received as well by the anime community on the whole only scoring a 6.7 on My Anime List. Admittedly it did take about 3 episodes to really get the whole set up going, but once it did it so delivered. The series is also very LBGT friendly like in a progressive way that doesn’t feel like pandering. Okay so you’ve got you protagonist who has a crush on a guy, well the guy likes her in her man form but doesn’t realize it’s the same person, then the protagonist’s best friend is hard core crushing on her and doesn’t care if she’s a girl or in Ore form. Hooray for love triangle equality. Simultaneously displaying and deconstructing some of the biggest anime tropes, a commentary on the idol industry as a whole- it just feels like a giant love letter written to those anime fans who are approaching their 30s and older. It will leave you wondering what Mahiro’s song was all about with lyrics including, “I don’t really like carrots, but I like them better then cellophane tape.” The world may never know…

1. Miira no Kaikata (How to Keep a Mummy)

            Winter 2018

            Episodes: 12, 24 minutes per episode

            Genres: Comedy, Slice of Life, Supernatural             We made it to my favorite series of the year. Oh my god I can’t get over how cute this show is. Another one with a very simple set up, our protagonist’s father is an archaeologist and sends a mummy home for him to take care of. But since this is anime the mummy is pint sized and absolutely adorable. Oh and he barks. Like a puppy. SQUEEEEE. The series is cute in a feel good way and features some other adorable critters such as a baby ogre, a dragon and a baku. Baku is a Japanese dream eater for those who have never heard of them. My only complaint is the show gets really dark in the end of the second to last episode just to give a cliffhanger that gets resolved in the first 2 minutes of the finale and then it’s back to being cute. It was just an odd curve ball to throw in there at the last minute. Granted there were some hints at darker things having happened in the human character’s pasts but it feels more forced than a plot twist. Otherwise it’s a fun show, the characters are likable and you just feel happy when you watch it. It’s a good escape from the daily grind.

Review: Bohemian Rhapsody (2018)

A Night at the Cinema- A Bohemian Rhapsody review

By Heather Nichols, Tawfik Zone Contributor

So right off the bat I just gotta say, this whole movie is very reminiscent of that VH1 Behind the Music series they used to do, but on a larger budget. Also this review is coming a bit later because I had to see it twice to really break it down. By the way if you haven’t seen it yet and you’re a fan of Queen, just go see it because there’s no real point in putting up a spoiler warning. I’m going to talk about the whole film.

There are a couple of things I have to get right out of the way: how the film handled its PG-13 rating and its portrayal of Freddie Mercury’s sexuality. I am one of the few in camp that think you can make an adult movie with a PG-13, and after seeing the end result I stand by this statement. I also would like to applaud the MPAA for not slapping films with an automatic R just for showing a same sex couple share a kiss; they’ve finally arrived to 2018. While the film doesn’t cover up that Freddie Mercury certainly didn’t live a PG-13 life, it doesn’t feel the need to show all the sex or the drugs. 

As for Freddie’s sexuality, if there’s one scene that really captures the film’s stance it’s where the band is being interviewed and Freddie is clearly on drugs and all the reporters want to know about is his sexuality when in reality the focus should have been on his struggle with the celebrity lifestyle. Some other reviewers have deemed the film “a conservative’s campaign ad against the homosexual agenda.” Politics aside I honestly have no idea what film they were watching. The film doesn’t demonize being gay or even try to point the finger and say he contracted AIDS because he was gay. It takes an almost aseptic approach towards celebrity in general; the constant drugs and the parties and having someone around who isn’t really invested in your well-being is just the perfect destructive combination that has claimed the lives of more than just Mercury.

This is probably a good point to talk about the portrayal of Paul Prenter. For the sake of the film he is the villain and a damn good one.His undermining leads to both the separation of Queen and his drug pushing and enabling guides Freddie Mercury down a destructive path to almost no point of return. In reality Paul Prenter’s relationship with the band played out differently; in the film Mercury fires him for not informing him of Live-Aid,which made for a great cinematic moment. Prenter was believed to have been sexually involved with Freddie Mercury and did threaten him with blackmail as shown in the film but a lot of the rest seems to have been embellished for the sake of the film. Do I think he falls back on an old Hollywood stereotype that depicts Gay men in a bad light? No and I think the film actively tries to avoid that as well. He’s more of a representation of “the wrong crowd” that all kids are told not to hang out with because they’ll get into trouble. In this instance the trouble is cocaine, pill popping with a side of binge drinking.      

So now that we’ve got the hardest parts out of the way let’stalk about the rest of the film. Performance wise I’m very glad that Rami Malek was cast as Freddie versus Sacha Baron Cohen. Not that it wouldn’t have been interesting to see the man who gave us Borat put his spin on Freddie. Evidently Cohen had signed on in 2010 to play the lead role but departed in 2013 due to creative differences with the band as they could not agree on what sort of a film they wanted to make. Cohen wanted to focus on the wilder part of Mercury’s lifestyle and the band really wanted a film about the band and its music. The band also stated in an interview that for the portrayal of Freddie to feel real, the audience had to believe the performer is Freddie and that Cohen’s own sense of theatricality would greatly clash and take away that suspension of disbelief. Malek is really able to sell the character and most critics have agreed no one could have done it better. The fact that the music wasn’t dubbed over and it was actually Queen was something I was unsure of, but really no one can top Mercury’s vocals so another good decision on the part of the filmmakers.

As for the rest of the band, my god if they don’t get hair and makeup awards for transforming those actors into lookalikes of Brian May, Roger Taylor and John Deacon I’m going to throw by popcorn at the TV this awards season. Also fun fact, Joseph Mazzello who played John Deacon, was the little kid in the original Jurassic Park.

We of course have to talk about the portrayal of the two major loves of Mercury’s life, Mary Austin and Jim Hutton. Mercury said in a 1985 interview. “The only friend I’ve got is Mary, and I don’t want anybody else. To me, she was my common-law wife. To me, it was a marriage. We believe in each other, that’s enough for me.” He loved her and she was always his best friend which comes across so strongly in the film. The scene where Freddie says he might be bisexual and she says no Freddie you’re gay, according to interviews is more or less how that conversation went down in real life. The film hooks them up in this sort of a meet cute moment when in reality it was Brian May who introduced them. It also omits the aftermath of their separation where she had asked him to have a child with her and he refused (but said he wouldn’t mind getting another cat). But there’s only so much ground one can cover in a 2 hour and 14 minute run time. Had the film tried to cast all the other women that Mercury had dated there just would have been far too many characters and the focus would have pulled away from the band and just been more focused on his sexuality so again, I think it was a conscious effort to show the film for the artist and the legacy he wanted to be known for.

As for Jim Hutton, the film really doesn’t have a whole lot of him in it but given the private nature of the couple’s relationship it makes some sense. He’s also a nice counter to the portrayal Paul Prenter, as another gay man who isn’t into the drug or party scene and there’s a sense of respect between he and Mercury. Did the scene with Freddie Mercury’s parents meeting him and being all accepting of their relationship happen in real life? I couldn’t say, but I know that their religious background was not accepting of homosexual relationships and that was a big part of why Mercury was closeted for so long, there just isn’t an interview with them to state if this scene has any basis in reality. For the film though it is a nice moment and creates this nice book end because it’s just before Live Aid he makes his father proud because he performs for the benefit of other people.

So all in all it’s a solid film that really shows some of the band’s most important moments. While some liberties are taken, it doesn’t try to really judge Freddie Mercury for the lifestyle he lead or even use him as a cautionary tale. It’s more about the friendship of the band, how they were like a family and how at the end of the day it’s your real friends that you can always count on.

Review: Star Wars The Last Jedi 2017

Amid backlash and controversy Heather weighs in on Star Wars The Last Jedi

 By Heather Nichols, Tawfik Zone Contributor

Courtesy of aramajapan.com

There are SPOILERS in this review…You’ve been warned

Wow it has been a while since I reviewed a film, not that I haven’t been seeing films (though I totally missed the American Ghost in the Shell). There’s been a lot of things in my personal life and it hasn’t left much time to write so apologies, I’ll try to do more in this year.

The reaction to this film was certainly unexpected. After reading a handful of articles and fan reactions I wanted to take a moment to try and make sense of why this latest installment in the Star Wars franchise has brought such fan dissonance. Without further ado I’m going to dive right in. Given the nature of the backlash there will be spoilers abound so if you want to see it, do so and read this later.

I must start off by saying Critical Dissonance is nothing new to fandom in general (looking at you Game of Thrones) and certainly not new the Star Wars franchise. The direct prequel, The Force Awakens, has generally positive reviews from both critics and fans. But if you went to a convention and asked people in the fandom how they felt you may find as many people who enjoy it as there are who thought it was terrible.

Because there was such a huge gap in time between the conception of The Force Awakens and Return of the Jedi, many fan works had been created and many in the fandom consider them to be canon and were left feeling disappointed when Disney announced that all of those spinoffs would be discounted which rendered them into essentially published fanfiction. Obviously this has set off a chain reaction in terms of expectation versus what is actually canon which is something I’ll delve more into a little later on.

Star Wars: Episode I – The Phantom Menace (1999)
Directed by George Lucas
Shown from left: Liam Neeson (as Qui-Gon Jinn), Ewan McGregor (as Obi-Wan Kenobi), Jar Jar Binks (voice: Ahmed Best), Keira Knightley (as Sabé, a handmaiden disguised as Queen Amidala), unidentified handmaiden, Natalie Portman (as Queen Padmé Amidala, disguised as a handmaiden)
© Lucasfilm Ltd.

The best example of dissonance comes from the now infamous prequel trilogy, it’s important to point out was produced before Disney gained the rights, which was always rated higher by film critics then by the general fanbase. My personal take: producing them was always going to be a challenge because you only have so much film to show how things got to their inevitable end point. From Episode 1 to 3 there is a gradual improvement. Really.  Watch them in order and you see they learn but the unfortunate part is that by the time that they did they had more than a dozen plot threads that needed to be wrapped up in about a two hour time frame…

However there is one thing the prequels executed well and kept consistent which was how the Jedi’s belief in a prophecy became their undoing. Well okay that’s putting it a bit too simply; it’s really how the Jedi misinterpreted a prophecy which led to their undoing. I could write an entire article on this but I’ll give you the nutshell so we can get to The Last Jedi and why this is relevant. The Jedi believed there would be a person born who would bring balance to the force.

Well, here’s the thing, all the Jedi trained to that point were essentially on the Light Side with only a small handful of Sith’s representing the Dark Side so really to bring balance, an actual balance to all this Light Side, essentially meant the birth of Darth Vader. The Jedi really didn’t read the fine print on that one.

Courtesy of etonline.com

Okay so now we have Last Jedi and instead of an Aesop revolving around prophecies and the consequences therefore within this film takes an approach to Iconoclasm and oh boy is this going to be a fun to break down because it functions both within the film and it’s targeted at the audience. So let’s start within the film when we last left our heroine Rey she found the legendary Luke Skywalker who has become a hermit in the middle of the galaxy waiting for death.

Again, LEGENDARY HERO, Luke Skywalker, is a grumpy old man who is living in isolation and is drinking nasty ass blue milk and has given up on teaching the ways of the Jedi. I can’t remember the exact quote but at some point Luke asks Rey if she expected him to just run up to the Republic waving a giant light sword and that would bring peace to the galaxy. Hey fandom, you know why you’re so pissed off? It’s because the film is calling you out for your belief in Luke Skywalker being put up on a pedestal.

Yes, that scenario sounds cool but while no one likes a Mary Sue fic, essentially this is what Skywalker has come to represent in the extended universe and for him to essentially become the exact opposite in a way is like going up to Adam West at a convention center and extending your hand because you’ve been in awe of him since you were a child, only for him to turn you away and look past you as if you’re not even there… that wasn’t awfully specific now was it?

Courtesy of IndieWire

Oh but wait there’s more. People were put off by the humor in the film. Really? People are getting sliced in half with light swords and the Resistance has been mowed down to only a handful of people, not to mention our beloved General has died in real life- I’m sorry but I welcome these light hearted parts because when you go from laughing to the silence there was when Laura Dern’s Vice Admiral Holdo’s kamikaze of an imperial starship, it creates a wallop of an impact.

While we’re here let’s talk a bit more about the female representation in the film because it seems that this is one of the other divisive aspects of the film. The women are as diverse in this film as they are fierce. On the side of the Resistance we have General Leia, Admiral Holdo, Rey, Rose and to a small extent Maz. On the opposite side we have Captain Phasma. All are strong and capable in their own ways bringing their own set of skills to the fray. In a time where all female reboots of popular films are being produced as quickly as hotcakes, some accuse the film of pandering to the millennial generation.

I’m not sure what exactly it is that makes this eligible for “pandering,” but I do know that pretty much any and all characters received some sort of fan backlash. Rey received backlash for being “too perfect of a character,” by virtue of she is a strong force wielder that came out of nowhere. Isn’t this true of most of the Jedi? And it’s not like she’s some magical prodigy or she would have wasted Kylo Ren in The Force Awakens. I’ll say she’s not entirely developed yet and leave it at that.

Another point of contention revolves around Admiral Holdo. Many on the forums say and I quote, “she’s just a complete bitch.” Okay so she’s an authoritative female leader in a military organization, got it. Many arguing she should have just told Poe what the master plan was, okay now despite how ragtag the resistance is- they’re still a military organization and Holdo is Poe’s superior officer and thus doesn’t owe him any explanation. As for the other issues of her seemingly coming out of nowhere this actually ties into the next outcry in regards to a very different female leader.

Courtesy of NME.com

There’s no better way of saying Phasma has gotten the short end of the stick in both of these films. After appearing so menacing in the trailer it took audiences aback in both this and the previous film that she was defeated so abruptly reducing her appearance to essentially a cameo. I did some digging- in both the cases of Holdo and Phasma they are much bigger figures in the novelization and graphic novels that accompany the films. The film makers said in interviews that Phasma’s development while crucial was just too complex and rich of a character that would be worthy of her own film series entirely. And so they’ve actually created a graphic novel to enrich the backstory of Phasma and it sounds like something I’ll want to check out in the near future.

Fans also had many issues with the Finn and Rose storyline. Complaints including their love story felt forced, that one of them should have died and that their whole storyline was for nothing- except that was the entire point and many people seem to have missed it. The love story I personally could take it or leave it, but think about this, emotions are running high and everyone thinks they’re gonna die so it makes some sense.

As for offing a major character- we’ve already lost thousands in the resistance and Luke Skywalker, let the two kids live (for now). A common trope in the fantasy genre (which Star Wars totally is) is the heroes will have to go through a series of tasks that seem impossible to acquire the Macguffin that is the key that will assure their victory. Except this movie pushed the bleakness up to eleven by denying them a victory and in fact leaving them worse off than when they started. It’s completely defied the expected tropes and brought the story to a very dark place. This film isn’t pandering to anyone and its left us on a cliffhanger at the bleakest moment.

So we don’t have a story that is pandering by creating diversity, we have two opposing factions; we have a group led by women, prominently featuring a Latino man, an Asian woman and a black man against an evil organization led by two white men. This of course is over simplifying it but to simply call it a millennial thing is missing the point entirely. (Also see Rogue One, this is not the first time a diverse cast has been used in the Star Wars Universe.)

Two throw away lines in the film actually explain why the stage has been set this way and do so beautifully. The first is when Luke says, “This is not going to end the way you think.” The other is after Kylo Ren has slain Snoke and wants Rey to join him, “Let the past die. Kill it, if you have to. That’s the only way to become what you are meant to be.” This ties into a previous point of contention, remember when I mentioned expectation versus what is actually canon? Here we go…

Courtesy of nerdist.com

Immediately following the release of The Force Awakens, internet message boards were absolutely flooded by fan theories, among them, where did Snoke come from and who are Rey’s parents? (My money was on Palpatine). The film answers this, by not answering either, which even I’ll admit I feel cheated in some ways but it’s understandable given the theme of the film again tying back into Iconoclasm.

Star Wars is such an important fandom to so many people and the film essentially has just said, “we don’t care about your theories or nostalgia- we’re here to tell you a story.” This is not the same as saying “we don’t care about the fandom,” but unfortunately a large portion of the fandom seems to be taking it this way. The Force Awakens was often called out for relying too much on nostalgia and meeting fan expectation by essentially rehashing the plot of A New Hope, the original film.

This film takes characters on an unexpected journey and I too am feeling the divide, in fact I only give the film a 3/5 because to me it doesn’t stand alone. Instead, it’s part of a bigger picture. I’ve already touched on expectation versus reality but the one point I didn’t really delve too far into was the hacker character. He points out in a scene that the people who are getting rich sell weapons to both sides of the conflict and at the end of the day they both profit.

Well obviously you can make the argument about gun manufacturers but what if we applied that to Disney. It funds good movies, it funds bad movies- at the end of the day they’re making money regardless, except by that logic The Last Jedi is the film equivalent of giving the fanbase the finger because they know they’ll make money regardless… well we won’t know until episode IX…

Courtesy of The New Yorker

The biggest thing to take away is that visually the film is stunning, the effects and animation departments have outdone themselves. The score is moving, invoking the classic themes and providing a great accompaniment to the film on the whole. The plot only takes place of the course of a few days and in that time we really delve more into the characters, learning more about their motivations and raising the stakes in who is or isn’t going to make it out.

It’s also a giant social commentary. I sincerely hope the makers of the film aren’t making it simply to milk a cash cow and that by going against the grain they are really trying to forge a new story, a new legacy for the film saga that is 40 years in the making. Maybe at the end of the day Rey’s parents really don’t matter because the film makers don’t want us to root for her based on where she came from, but rather who she is.

A quote from the first Pokemon movie might best encompass this, “I see now that the circumstances of one’s birth are irrelevant. It is what you do with the gift of life that determines who you are.” Rey is her own character and the hero of the story and honestly I am still excited to see where episode IX is going to take her. In life you don’t have to come from a great family in order to do great things. Think of it from the perspective of someone whose family name has been tainted by shame and disappointment. Recently I read an article written by someone who was raised within the Kl Klux Klan and for a while they too were an active member until one day they realized the people you come from do not define you, that only you can define you.

Review: Beauty and the Beast (2017)

Beauty and the Beast: A modern adaptation of a Tale as Old as Time

By Heather Nichols, Tawfik Zone Contributor

Courtesy of Disney Movies UK

If your peer group is anything like mine, odds are you’ve heard some very mixed reviews about the latest Disney live action adaptation of Beauty and The Beast. I’ll preface by saying if you’re curious please go watch the film because I’m going to break the entire thing down which involves potentially spoiling it.

I have to say there are some things that the film did right and there were some choices made that derailed it. That’s why I’m going to break it all down and as you’ll see I’m really on the fence about this one. A good attempt, but maybe they would be better off if it wasn’t a musical? Anyway here we go…

We’ll start with the opening scene. The live action version has the same backstory as the 1991 animated version, but expands it further. We open with the Prince, who the studio still won’t tell us his name is Adam (seriously they never say it out loud). Anyway the Prince is being made up as fabulous as glam-era David Bowie for a big soiree.

Courtesy of trailers.apple.com

We start with an original opening number which really didn’t do it for me, I’d much rather it just be a grandiose Viennese waltz as the lyrics were distracting and overall just not very good. So we sit through a minute of that before the enchantress shows up and you already know how that goes down. Then the film does something I really liked. They explain the outlines of this curse because the one thing that always bothered me in the original no one knew who the Prince was even though the castle is clearly within walking distance. So there, mystery solved they’re all cursed.

We cut to the village and meet Belle. (I can forgive for the lightly auto tuned singing because I actually really enjoyed how she is portrayed). But the musical sequence for the song “Belle”, oh dear god how could they ruin that? The original cartoon version gives us so much of Belle’s character in this sequence- the fact that her house is just far enough away from the village and that she’s the only person wearing blue really establish her as an outsider – here, her home is stuck right up in there and practically 60% of the cast is wearing blue.

However a few things that worked well, Belle wearing boots to work in as opposed to flats give her a more practical look as she is working on a farm and the flats would get shredded. Also nice, they have added in a couple of scenes to show Belle’s inventiveness as well as a scene where she’s teaching a young girl to read. I think these scenes just solidify her as a good role model which is what made the women of the Disney Renaissance stand out from the early era princesses.

Courtesy of Cinema Thread

Little things about the village bothered me. The Bimbettes who fawn over Gaston look awful. I get it, it’s a kid’s movie but they just look like porcelain dolls and they have the worst costuming in the whole film. To me it just didn’t look good, but maybe it works for other people. As for Gaston, Luke Evans is clearly a tenor and Gaston was originally a baritone so he just didn’t… wait for it… hit the right note for me. Seriously I did not like his singing or Josh Gad’s as Lefou, and I like Josh Gad, but every time he sang it was like listening to the snowman from Frozen all over again.

I’m also on the fence with Maurice, Belle’s father. Nothing bad about Kevin Kline’s acting, it’s just Maurice was this slightly eccentric inventor and this characterization is not that. He’s a man still grieving over his wife so overall he has a somber tone. Nothing about him would make him less trustworthy to the villagers which is why the town siding with Gaston to lock him away doesn’t make sense to me in this version. But first, I have some things I actually really enjoyed about the film.

Courtesy of www.cinemag.gr

Visually stunning, the animation was great especially on Cogsworth and I personally think Ewan McGregor steals the show as Lumiere. They also made a nod to the original fairy tale where Maurice gets into trouble for trying to acquire a rose for Belle- something that didn’t make it into the animated version but is present in the silent French film. One thing I was sad to see missing was the song “Human Again” which was originally missing but made its way back into the animated film after its original release because they had run out of budget for it in 1991. Instead we get a song, “Days in the Sun,” which made me want to barf, it was that bad.

Another strength the film has is it really builds on the relationship between Belle and the Beast. It feels more like the two are connecting because of that added backstory and the added interaction. It also helps that the two actually end up having shared interests. The costuming was great; I like how the Beast’s wardrobe becomes less animalistic and torn as he begins to embrace his humanity. Belle’s gown is just amazing.

The ballroom scene though has a couple things I found less than agreeable. For one I love Emma Thompson’s acting, but I did not enjoy her singing at all. If James Earl Jones is coming back for the Lion King I don’t understand why Angela Lansbury couldn’t just dub the singing. The other thing was the camera work… oh yes I hadn’t mentioned it until now but there were times where someone needed to slap those cameramen. Issues with focusing, too much blur, too much motion- it was nauseating. Especially in the library, likely there are no actual books to focus on but making a giant blur of stuff with no object in focus just made it so much worse.

Courtesy of www.harpersbazaar.com

Now the big beef most people had was the Beast’s big solo number, “Evermore,” an original, but really clunky song that is in the scene where Belle rides off to save her father from the villagers who are all standing in line to give Gaston a hand- shake. Gaston’s evilness is more subtle in the animated feature. Here he is as subtle as your car alarm going off at 4am on a Saturday and your neighbor pounding your door to get your butt out of bed.

We’re near the climax. Gaston pulls out a flintlock pistol which is proper for the time period. The thing is he fires 3 rounds and it was too quick to be realistic because he’s in the dark and there’s just no way he could have done it that fast, unless he’s got extra guns in his belt but that wouldn’t make sense since he rushed to collect this one after it was dropped.

Then the Beast turns back into the Prince. I can’t help but feel he was more attractive as the beast which is weird because Dan Stevens isn’t an unattractive actor but the make up just makes him look so, eww. Kinda like he’s trying to cosplay Lestat from Interview with the Vampire and used too much baby powder. Fun trivia for you, the Beast is reading King Arthur in one scene and Dan Stevens plays Sir Lancelot in Night at the Museum 3, I thought that was pretty meta. (On a side note, Night is not a fantastic movie but it’s a lot of fun if you haven’t seen it yet and it was Robin William’s final role.)

This review wouldn’t be complete without discussing some of the alleged controversy. So odds are if you’ve seen the news or turned on a computer in the last 30 days you’ve heard that Disney was proud to have its first gay character coming to terms with their sexuality and even have a love scene featured in the major film… except the problem is they totally don’t and there totally isn’t.

Courtesy of Are You Screening?

The character in question is Lefou; I wasn’t totally on board with making him gay but I wasn’t opposed to it. I figure if you’re going to have representation it should be a more positive character or at least one who is more prevalent in the film. In the cartoon Lefou is just Gaston’s little lackey who does some of the dirty work. The way it was pitched was Lefou is supposed to realize that his admiration for Gaston is actually attraction and that he truly wants to be with him… yeah maybe in a different movie but certainly not in this one. I don’t sense any sexual or romantic desire.

During the raid on the castle there’s a scene where the wardrobe attacks and three men end up fully made up wearing dresses and one of them seems to like it as he offers the camera a wink. At the end of the film this man is seen dancing with Lefou at a ball. There’s no alleged love scene- no kissing, not even a gentle caressing, nothing! If that’s what we’re calling a ground breaking moment for LBGTQ community then I’m calling bologna. I’m honestly not sure which upsets me more- the fact the advertisements were pandering, the fact that these occurrences got the film banned in certain theaters, or the fact that this was a poor excuse for diversity in film.

In sum I guess the best way to describe 2017’s Beauty and the Beast is this… imagine a beautiful tiered cake, it’s got gorgeous frosting work and the cake is super delicious and moist but on top you have all this decorative crap that you can’t eat and inside they’ve filled the damn thing with potpourri which smells lovely but isn’t edible. They took a good source material and buggered it up with all this extra unnecessary stuff. I only hope that the fact that’ve made the executive decision to not make the live action Mulan a musical will only help them focus on telling a better and more cinematic story.

Review: The LEGO Batman Movie (2017)

Everything is [still] awesome: The LEGO Batman Movie review

By Heather Nichols, Tawfik Zone Contributor

Editor’s Note: The delayed release of this review was entirely my fault, not Heather’s. This film is still in theatres in some locations. From the sound of it, you might want to check it out.

Courtesy of Bricks To Life

Right from the get-go you know you’re in for a treat when you sit down to The Lego Batman Movie. “Black. All important movies start with a black screen. And music. Edgy, scary music that would make a parent or studio executive nervous. And logos. Really long and dramatic logos.” Literally, this is how the film opens with Will Arnett’s bass Bat-voice speaking over the opening sequence, which even he acknowledges seems to go on for a really long time.

Similar to last February’s Deadpool, the film establishes a tongue in cheek approach to the superhero genre, finding itself in a happy medium between campy 1960’s Batman and Nolan’s neo-noir approach to the brooding Dark Knight. And no matter what your level of interest in Batman- whether you’re a fan of the comics, the games, the animated cannon, the various film franchises or Adam West’s version- Lego Batman gives a shout to all of them and essentially deems all of it as canon. I’m surprised I’m saying this, but they’ve managed to pull off a film that has something for everyone- so long as you’re interested in Batman of course.

Now most of you know I’m a fan of the superhero genre so my surprise may come off as a little odd. Let me explain, or rather just bluntly put this out there, the whole superhero thing has grown into a massive cash cow. When The Lego Movie came out, Batman was the scene stealer so they immediately green lit this movie after opening weekend (by the way, you don’t have to watch The Lego Movie before this one to understand it, only know that they are set within the same universe).

Courtesy of Moviepilot

My concern was this would easily be another cash grab sequel, which is still my biggest concern for Spiderman Homecoming after his appearance in Captain America Civil War. Thankfully I can say as far as Batman goes that fear is put to rest, but I’m still worried for Spidey. Especially after the rush job they did on the Andrew Garfield films but I’ll try to remain optimistic for this new one… So getting back to Batman, let’s break it down and talk about what makes Lego Batman so super special awesome.

First of all the movie doesn’t weigh itself down by trying to pass itself off a reboot or slow down the plot by constantly referring to the backstory. In fact this may be the only theatrical Batman film that doesn’t show Thomas and Martha Wayne getting gunned down in the alleyway outside the theater. Rather it makes the most subtle reference via a family photo where they are outside of said theater with a street sign for “crime alley” in the background.

As the trailer shows, the film is centered on Batman’s greatest fear, to have a family again after the loss of his parents. This has never directly been tackled in any other Batman story yet it has always been his driving force, even shown recently in the DC animated canon’s The Killing Joke when Barbara’s greatest frustration is that he never lets anyone get close.

Courtesy of Game Informer

It’s a great setting for a kid’s movie because it has a positive message. At the same time it gives the older audience the benefit of knowing the source material so it doesn’t constantly stop to explain things, a problem that is rampant in many children’s movies is they often stop the plot to explain something which just messes with the pacing, a giant pet peeve of mine. (Other animation studios need to step it up and stop treating kids like they’re stupid.) Like seriously, kudos to the screen writers; they clearly were fans and knew what they were doing and executed it darn near perfect.

Speaking of the screenwriters (there are 5), they have thrown in so many delightful Easter eggs for the fans. One of my personal favorites happens early in the film. Killer Croc, one of the lesser Batman villains makes the statement, “Hey look I’m actually doing something.” The movie is full of these little lines that are just shouting out to the fandom, including thoughts that many have had such as how Gotham city is the most dangerous place in the entire world, and yet a plane full of explosives flies over, with no resistance or panic.

Of course the big question a lot of people have been asking, how does Zach Galifianakis do as far as playing the Joker. This is the first time this iconic character has really been the focus since the late Heath Ledger’s performance and while I do know that Jared Leto played him in Suicide Squad, that was more of a cameo, an appetizer rather than an entrée so I hold off on judging him for now and at the same point in time that’s a really hard comparison to make because both studios have a different interpretation of the character.

Courtesy of MovieWeb

Since this is a kid’s movie the level they were aspiring to would be more of a mix of Cesar Romero and Mark Hamill’s performances and while the character is written this way, Galifianakis brings his own unique flavor to the character. This Joker comes off as a fanboy portrayal, with details like asking Batman about their “ship.” Casual fans will take this as slang for relationship the rest of us who have read Batman fanfiction know there’s a little more to this so it becomes a double entendre. For the record I do not ship Bruce/Jack, nor do I ship Madlove (the name for Harley/Joker) but at the same time Batman and the Joker have this thing going on between them, I just don’t see the lust that other fans seem to infer. But that’s a subject I could devote an entire article to. Bottom line, it’s a good interpretation of the character that is PG friendly while still remaining loyal to the source. I can imagine this looks great on a home cinema screen, my friend told me he watched this film on his home cinema screen he recently got from home cinema installation london. But I digress.

Courtesy of The Verge

As for the other thing I really loved in the film, it delves into spoiler territory so if you’re good at inferring things leave now and go watch the film and then come back. If not, carry on. The beauty of these Lego movies is they remind us of being kids and playing with our figurines in the back yard. (I can’t be the only person who had Goku and She-Rah team up to help the Power Rangers take on the WWE, true story.)

Lego has the rights to certain characters and Warner Brothers has the rights to certain characters and that whole concept comes into play and it’s handled in such a fun way. I had to explain to mom what the “British Robots” were and at the same time a character in the film someone asks the Joker what they are and he responds with “go ask one of your nerdy friends.” All in all this movie was so much fun and I look forward to Lego Ninjago the movie; they’ve proven that they’ve got a pretty good team on board.

My next review is going to be a bit of a doozy so expect it later than the release weekend of the film. I’ll be tackling America’s interpretation of the anime classic Ghost in the Shell. Now here’s the fun thing, it’s one of those films/series I’ve meant to watch for years and haven’t gotten around to, so I’ll be going into the American one with little to no knowledge of the plot and little to no bias. From there I will view the original films and then the Stand Alone Complex series, and then I’ll write my review. My friend told me