My Top 5 Marvel Movies

1. Captain America: The Winter Soldier

This isn’t just my top Marvel movie, this is one of my top 5 movie movies. It makes my very short list of “perfect” movies that I have seen. I’ll write about those another day. This is the one movie poster that I own, and I’m proud of that fact.

Everything about this movie is perfect. The character introductions and reveals. Seriously, Steve giving Sam Wilson “on your left” is the best character introduction ever. The pacing. The horror of realizing what is actually happening. The road trip Steve and Nat take. The combat sequences (oooh, so perfectly choreographed and executed). The jaw-dropping moments (Fury’s car chase, elevator scene, fighting the Winter Solider on the highway!!!). This movie just makes you tingle from head to toe!

This movie features my favorite 3 Avengers: Steve, Nat, and Sam, and has the political thriller genre running strongly in its veins. The build-up and payoff are satisfying on every level possible. The quiet moments of reflection and resolve perfectly complement the big moments of sudden horror and “eat your failure” moments that get shoved in the villains’ faces.

But the best part is how this movie enables even the little guys to be the hero. That’s a big part of who Steve Rogers is, he believes in the little guy. He never sees himself as above someone else, and he’s all about using his gifts and strengths to lift others up. That’s true leadership, and his leadership brings Hydra to its knees. I love the throwing off of false morality and heroism, call crap what crap is and truth what truth is.

This movie is brilliant, unapologetic, heroic, and full of normal people doing amazing things because they believe in doing what’s right no matter the cost. It’s a movie of revelation, friendship, humor, glorious action sequences, and an extremely strong character heartbeat that keeps everything grounded.

2. Avengers

I never get tired of this one. The feeling I have when I watch it is something I haven’t felt so much with the more recent superhero movies. Things were simpler at this time, clearer, more fun.

And dang, if this movie isn’t just the most fun. Unlike DC (really? Justice League before the origin stories?) Marvel took the time required to properly develop a superhero team-up worth our while. We knew everyone, already loved them and wanted to see what would happen when we threw our favorite characters into the blender together.

Half of this movie is spent with everyone showing their worst side. They clash, misunderstand each other, or have their most vulnerable spots rubbed. It’s a hot mess. A beautiful hot mess. A hilarious hot mess. A delightful hot mess. I love this hot mess, and so does Agent Coulson.

Coulson. Y’all, Phil Coulson is enough of a reason to fall in love with this movie all on his own.

The hot mess almost completely falls apart (except Nat, she’s surprisingly put together minus that slight Hulk panic attack, but that’s Nat.). And then they come together with such a great show of humility, respect, and teamwork. It’s inspiring.

The pure glory and unabashed superhero swagger of this movie are unparalleled. From the soundtrack to the superhero poses and power moves, it’s just delicious. Absolutely delicious. And The Battle of New York is something I never tire of. Never ever. Never.

Even though it’s one giant glamor scene to the next, this movie still never sacrifices character development and interpersonal growth. Some of the best friendships, pairings, character clashes, and important Marvel moments are birthed in this movie.

And shawarma. Have you ever wondered how much shawarma sales spiked after this movie came out?

3. Ant-Man and the Wasp

If you just did a double-take, I ask that you rewatch this movie. See if you don’t finish your day feeling happier, fuller, and inspired to be a little bit more “out there”.

How can anyone spend time in the company of Paul Rudd for a few hours without coming out feeling happier? I’m also quite fond of Evangeline Lily and would like to see a LOT more of her. There’s not a single actor in this movie that I do not enjoy.

This movie arrived at a time in my life when I didn’t have as much to laugh about. It was a heavy time. This movie came right into the middle of my heavy, pulled me out of it, and gave me the gift of laughter that was grounded with heart. I literally felt like I’d gone through some healing for the 2+ hours I sat in the theater and laughed.

Scott Lang is one of my favorite characters. He’s an everyman. He’s us. He’s cool, but not so cool that he’s not also totally in awe of anything cool that comes his way. He wants to brag about knowing “Cap”. He’s going to learn online close-up magic sing karaoke and play a fake drumset.

Ahem, this is where I pause and I point out that Scott Lang lives in San Francisco and sings karaoke and is a cool dude. And Shang-Chi ALSO lives in San Francisco sings karaoke and is a cool dude. If these two don’t meet and team up I’m going to riot. I don’t care if people are worried that the combination of Luis and Katy might create a nuclear explosion, it’s worth it.

Infinity War (one of the 3 Marvel offerings in 2018) was a miserable watch. It had nice moments but mostly it was just echoing the heaviness and grief I was already dealing with in my own life. And while Black Panther was an absolute masterpiece, it was an extremely intense movie to watch. I wanted a break. I wanted to feel grounded again. Ant-Man movies are always more grounded (literally) and single-minded than other Marvel movies. Scott isn’t always trying to solve a whole world problem, sometimes he’s just trying to save one person. Hope and Hank just wanted to save their Janet. Bill Foster just wants to save Ava. Scott just wants to get his life together and to stop letting his loved ones down. Luis just wants their business to succeed and is willing to buy oatmeal packets to make it happen. Jimmy Woo just wants to be as cool as Scott (just wait a few years, Jimmy, then you’ll be cool all on your own).

Ant-Man and The Wasp takes a group of very sincere people who are flawed, sometimes dysfunctional, and throws them into a scenario that is both lighthearted, serious, and beautiful. It’s just about people loving people. There isn’t even a truly big “human” villain in this movie, the biggest battle is against Time. I love that even Ghost is redeemed.

This movie literally healed places inside of me and was salve on a very sad soul. I love it. I can watch it without feeling dragged down by larger Marvel events, it’s just perfect. The weight and enormity of the MCU has become a heavy burden at times, but Ant-Man and The Wasp never feels that way.

And who doesn’t need to see a hot wheels-sized car chase through the streets of San Francisco that also includes a larger-than-life Pez dispenser being hurled at the bad guy’s car? We all do, that’s who.

4. Guardians of the Galaxy Vol 2

I am not someone who likes or supports crass humor. I do not personally support every statement/joke/or attitude expressed in these movies. And I don’t recommend them for children. Morally gray characters are a line I think you have to walk very carefully and can easily take too far. But when they are done well they end up teaching you a lot.

The Guardians are definitely a mixed bag, but I learn a lot from watching them. Yondu is not someone I would hold up as a role model, neither would I hold Peter Quill up as a role model (Chris Pratt is another matter. Love him.) These people are desperately flawed, often annoying, and they know how to push each other’s buttons. They are not the crew you would invite to an elegant gathering or your child’s preschool show-and-tell.

Here’s the thing about the Guardians though, for how little sense they make, for how awkward and messy they are, I just love them. I saw Volume 1 and I was like…What. Is. Happening…oh crabapples! Suddenly I’m crying and have a huge lump in my throat. And that dang, that raccoon on screen worming his way past my emotional guard is in reality just a puppet. A PUPPET!

I kid you not, the characters most guaranteed to make me cry are the Guardians. I could see that special moment that was coming, the hand-holding that reminded Peter of his mom that was going to contain the Power Stone that followed the dance-off that was going to save Xandar! The fact that the previous sentence is the actual plot is really a thing of beauty.

But Vol. 2. Volume 2. Wow.

For the first 2/3s of the movie, I was like, “What are we doing here? Nothing means anything. Everyone is losing their mind, being a jerk, or all over the place. Sylvester Stallone is definitely still a knockout, but beyond that, why am I here?”

And then I hit the last 45 minutes, and it all came together and I saw it and was mindblown. Oh, wait! This whole movie has been all about meaning! It’s been about love, forgiveness, and healing. It’s been about friendship, sisterhood, fatherhood, giving yourself permission to love and be loved. Letting go of the things that keep people from getting close to you. It’s about loving people with their flaws and through their painful, vulnerable times. It’s about understanding what truly matters in life! It’s ordinary people loving each other, and that love creates an extraordinary strength that defeats the inflated, twisted agendas of those who think real meaning is about power and self.

Ego with his sick, twisted expansion missed the true meaning of everything that was right in front of his eyes. He could have stayed with Peter’s mom. They could have loved each other. He could have enjoyed being a dad. But he was blind to the meaning of anything, and he went so far as to destroy the beauty that did exist. He killed his children. He killed Peter’s mom. So Peter is gonna smash that perverted creep in the face with a giant Pac Man and doggone! I’m going to enjoy watching it!

I think the clincher moment for me in this movie was watching Peter mourn Yondu. I do not like Yondu. I still don’t “like” him. Yondu is unpleasant to me, but there are a lot of Yondu’s out there, and they are worth something and they need to be told so. They need to be seen and loved too. When Peter was grieving Yondu, I heard something in his voice. “I had a pretty cool dad.” I don’t think Chris Pratt was just being Peter Quill at that moment, I think he was being Chris Pratt. Chris lost his father far too soon, and I think at this moment he was being given the gift of feeling his own loss and love on screen. That was a very intimate moment that I felt lent gravity to the movie, and I felt honored that he was willing to share that with us.

I love the Guardians because on paper they make no sense, they are so messy, and yet they love so hard and they don’t quit. I can respect that. I learn so much from them that I don’t from other characters. I know the love they are learning to have comes less easy for them than it does for other characters. I was highly displeased with the Guardians’ portrayal in both Infinity War and a lot in (only Nebula and Rocket were handled well) Endgame. I felt they were not treated with the respect and growth their characters had earned. I’m hoping Vol 3 can fix some of these problems.

But yeah, I like my Guardians. I like them a lot.

5. Shang-Chi

It does not hurt that this was the first movie I’d seen in theaters since Far From Home in the summer of 2019. You know, a thousand years ago before the Dark Ages of Covid and everything else that has happened since. I didn’t mean to stay away from the theater so long, it just happened that way.

Shang-Chi was a treat that I got to go see with my mom as a celebration for my 25th birthday. I’d had a really good feeling about it going in, but wow. Wow, was I ever right!

This movie is amazing. I mean, AMAZING! It’s been a while since we’ve seen a completely new character with no prior introduction in the MCU make their debut. Shang-Chi did it and did it so well I’m still amazed. Nothing about this story was wasted. Every aspect of the movie, from the script to the humor to the costuming to the martial arts was all working in harmony to tell a very fantastical, very human story.

I loved the fantasy elements. I loved the bright colors. I loved how Chinese legends and otherworldly elements were seamlessly blended with some very American-tasting characters/conversations. I LOVED the characters. Shaun and Katy are what got me out of movie blog retirement.

This movie was powerful in its messaging, handled flashbacks with fine dexterity, and never lost the momentum. It used visual symbolism as well as honest dialogue extremely well. You could see the character growth portrayed in multiple ways. The story had deep moments of trauma and darkness, but they were well-integrated alongside moments of hope and humor.

Also, I just think Shaun is really cute. Like, REALLY cute.

I also like where he landed at the ending. His choice to stay true to the beauty and light inside of him, while also acknowledging the skills and history from both sides of his family was a more sustainable, mature approach to life. A lot of people think in terms of black and white and they don’t take the time to pick through the pieces of what’s worth keeping vs what you throw away. Living with extremes is usually an exhausting and dead-end way to live. It’s certainly NOT how you successfully woo the magical rings away from your father in a one-on-one battle.

It was nice to see a new origin story that felt like a Marvel movie, but more like the old ones used to feel. Exciting, fresh, making you hungry for more.

I don’t know if you’ve picked up on this yet or not, but I have some MCU fatigue. Endgame was a big movie, no one can deny that, but I was disappointed in many regards. The need for the story to keep getting bigger and bigger than the last thing has caused a lot of complications and overwhelm. Some things have been done that can’t be undone and I’m not happy about it. Often when a story grows to this point, it can get out of control. I am not enjoying the MCU the way I used to when things were simpler and more defined. Perhaps it’s naive or silly to expect/want it to feel the same way it did when I first started. I’m not the same person I was in my teenage years any more than the MCU is the same “world” it once was. I would say where I am now is I try to focus on individual chapters/characters more than just the world as a whole.

And that’s why I loved Shang-Chi, it was a fresh start with someone new that I have no baggage with. He was a character I was 100% happy to root for, and even his introduction to other big characters like Wong, Captain Marvel, and Bruce Banner was far more honest. They told him what he was in for right up front. “Your life has just changed and it’s never going back.” “Welcome to the roller coaster.” That’s exactly how I feel about life in multiple areas, so I could relate with those statements a lot. I have 0 martial arts skills and a very normal human origin story, but on an emotional level, I connected deeply with large parts of Shaun’s story.

Honorable Mentions: Spider-Man Homecoming and Far From Home

I haven’t seen No Way Home yet. I’m honestly very sad at some (not all) of the choices made for the movie, I don’t see how leaving Peter friendless and family-less is beneficial. One of those things I could swallow even if it tastes bad, especially the death part because it was an unexpected thing for Peter. But to leave his friends in the dark? To lose them not just as Spider-man, but also as Peter Parker? To do both? Why??? How does that make sense? Why is that “necessary”? Why should he have to lose Happy after he lost his mother and father, his uncle, Tony Stark, and now Aunt May????

What are we learning here? It’s “safer” or “nobler” to be on your own? What people don’t know can’t hurt them and it’s better that way? That’s crap and we know it. Marvel has proven it time and again, together is better. Family is better. Stick together, make it out the other side or die protecting each other. It’s worth it. #avengersassemble

The only reasonable thing I can think of that would justify causing Peter separation from everyone is Sony is hoping for another trilogy. Otherwise, I think it’s inexcusable.

But yeah, I love Peter Parker. I love his humility and his kindness. His stories are so easy to learn from and he’s so endearing. That’s why the Spider-Man movies get an honorable mention from me.

These are my top 5 Marvel movies. I chose them because they are movies I still want to watch more frequently. They are ones that still echo in my mind and I know I will enjoy them. I watched them and had a uniquely warm experience, or, they came at a very pivotal moment in my life and touched me more deeply than other chapters of the MCU.

These movies are not necessarily my most nostalgic Marvel movies (Captain America: The First Avenger and Thor have that honor). I like many installments in this series (Age of Ultron is a highly underrated Avengers film). And Captain America: Civil War has some of the best footage in the MCU. And the Marvel Disney+ series is a whole other ball of wax. But when I sat down and I thought about it, these were the 5 that rose to the top. I found my answers both expected and unexpected.

So, what are your top 5 Marvel movies? Why are they your top 5?

Review of Disney+ Marvel 2021

2021 is almost over (holy cow!) and it’s been a busy year for Disney+ and the Marvel franchise. In order to try and be really relevant, I’m going to give my drive-by review and score of each show.

WandaVision (7/10)

I always felt that Wanda Maximoff was a character who was horrendously underused. She had been through so much and yet still had such a tender heart. Tenderhearted characters often get pushed to the background, especially if they are women, for fear that we might view these characters as “weak”. That’s a broken philosophy and the film industry/culture is suffering for it. Wanda is incredibly tender and incredibly strong. Tenderhearted women are often stronger than everyone else around them.

Vision as a character is one I’ve never focused on but always enjoyed. Back in the Civil War days of the Marvel, I wrote how Vision’s failure in Civil War when he accidentally shot War Machine was the doorway to him discovering what it means to be human. He’s only continued that trend since then, and grown more likable every time we see him.

The beauty and humanity of Wanda and Vision were shown quite briefly in Infinity War, but it made an impact. It made me hungry for more. On that note, WandaVision absolutely delivered. I had no idea that Paul Bettany and Elizabeth Olsen were so funny, I was constantly surprised by their incredible comedic delivery. However, their comedy wasn’t even paralleled by the depth of emotion and heart both leads brought to the table. They poured their guts out into the show and I felt it. Tears ran down my face multiple times as I watched them process love, fear, grief, curiosity, and hope. It was layers and layers of humanity unfolding and it was beautiful.

WandaVision was revolutionary in terms of TV-style. I’ve never seen anything like it before. I grew up watching sitcoms of much older decades, so I am right at home in a world influenced by The Dick Van Dyke Show, The Brady Bunch, and more. The architecture, clothing styles (Elizabeth Olsen was MADE for the 70s look), and pop culture references of WandaVision were like a love letter to American television and culture through the years. I enjoyed watching these larger-than-life, otherworldly characters interact with a world that I already felt at home in.

That being said, WandaVision got weird. Like, weird weird. Do y’all remember back in Spider-Man: Far From Home when Mr. Dell was asked his opinion on the strange happenings around them? His response

As a man of science? I think it’s witches.

was incredibly prophetic. The MCU has just gotten weird, and I’m not a fan of all of it. In full disclosure, I didn’t watch part of the second-to-last, and the final episode of WandaVision. Once we got into the territory of deeper witchery and dark magic, I was out for personal reasons (which I may share someday). I liked it better when we thought Wanda’s powers came from the Mind Stone. The show took her character to places I was not interested in going to.

*I do appreciate the fact that her new costume has more body coverage though. It’s about time!

I would be remiss in speaking on this show if I didn’t mention my favorite part. Or rather, my favorite character. Am I the only girl who walked away with a bit of a crush on Jimmy Woo? For real, he is the biggest surprise I have had in the MCU yet! How they took Jimmy Woo from being the funny but oblivious FBI agent in Ant-Man And The Wasp, to a dogged, smart, still hilarious character in WandaVision is close-up magic at its finest! I couldn’t wait for him to show up on screen and I want to see him so much more! And the pairing of Jimmy Woo with Darcy Lewis was yet another surprise. It’s like putting together two foods you think have nothing in common, and discovering that they were actually made for each other.

I’m 100% voting for a Jimmy Woo + Darcy show and I totally ship them. They were such a surprise and a delight. I enjoyed Monica Rambo’s character as well, though she didn’t hit me in a deep place. I admired the fact that she let her compassion and intuition drive her interaction with Wanda, even when Wanda pushed her away. That’s an important side of being a hero and Monica was worthy of that title.

All in all, I give WandaVision a 7/10. But I have no interest in delving deeper into the witch side, and I will not be a viewer of the newly announced show featuring Agatha. She played her role well, but no thank you! WandaVision was something incredibly unique, but not something I will watch again. It was a once and done for me.

This much handsomeness in one place is almost dangerous.

The Falcon And The Winter Solder (6/10)

I loved this show because Captain America: The Winter Soldier is my favorite Marvel movie. In fact, it’s not just my favorite Marvel movie, it’s one of my top 10 movies of all time. I think it’s one of the most perfect movies ever written and carried out. Steve Rogers was the character who carried my heart into this new world of Marvel that I first entered into as a teenager. Steve, Sam, and Nat were my favorite Avengers. Sam’s introduction into the MCU is my favorite character introduction.

All of that to say, I love this window into the Marvel world and this side of the story matters to me a lot. I was pleased that Steve chose Sam to carry the shield, even as I was grieving the loss of my Avenger. I was also angry at the huge lack of answered questions in Endgame regarding the details of Steve’s…I don’t know, return? Disappearance? Is he living on the moon? I’m happy for Peggy and Steve, but sad for me.

As I said above, the MCU has just gotten weird, and I don’t like all of it. Captain America stories were always very down to earth, very human. The trend continued in The Falcon And The Winter Soldier, and my heart just really needed it.

Here’s the funny thing, in terms of overall plot and story execution, I think large parts of TFATWS were actually terribly weak. The show struggled to gain traction for the first episodes. There were a few places that didn’t fit well with Sam and Bucky. It didn’t deliver well or clearly on the villain front. Neither Karli Morganthau or John Walker fully occupied that space. And once we broke Baron Zemo out all we cared about was that fabulous dance scene, so nevermind on him. I just kept waiting for the reveal, the hand holding the puppet strings behind the smaller characters. I thought that person was going to be The Power Broker, who would be revealed as a Big Bad from the comics. But no…

My biggest beef with the entire show was the very lazy (in my opinion) choice to make Sharon Carter The Power Broker. We got a big fakeout build-up “oh guys it’s probably Sharon but we’re gonna make you think that’s the red herring” and then it actually turned out to be Sharon! But the execution of her character wasn’t even done well. It was too harsh, jarring, and obvious. So obvious it seemed like the lie they wanted us to believe, and then just decided it would be so. As a Sharon Carter fan, I felt gypped. It’s not my fault that the entire MCU creator group forgot about her existence since Civil War, and it’s certainly not Emily Van Camps’ fault. In fact, I read that they intended to make The Power Broker the Big Bad for Captain America 4 (yay!), but after the poor fan reaction they may be reducing that role (internet rumor). Well, if that’s the case, then that’s on you, Marvel creators. The way you treated her character stinks and I didn’t even believe it while I was watching it unfold.

While I felt the overall plot elements were shaky and messy (potentially due to changes made after COVID hit), I think the nuances of this show were done really well. Like, really well. I was noticing everything and there was a lot to notice.

I need to address the Bucky elephant in the room. I’ve always liked Bucky, always rooted for him. But I wouldn’t say I ever loved him. And now? OH MY SEBASTIAN STAN, SWEET GLORY WOULD YOU LIKE TO STAY FOREVER? We’ve never gotten to see Bucky like we got to see him in this show. The layers and levels of emotion, humanity, and joy that this man displayed left me breathless every time! I just wanted to keep staring at his face when he smiled, or laughed, or made a breakthrough. I couldn’t get enough of Bucky and I want SOO much more of him!

The nuances of this show where character developmental storytelling happened was excellent. They made use of everything: body stance and choreography, the script, costuming, soundtrack, location, everything! Every layer and detail told you what a character was currently bringing, feeling, or needing. Even the props were used to tell a story behind the story. I don’t have time to jump into the details in this post, but in this regard The Falcon And The Winter Soldier excelled.

I found the ending (aside from the Sharon thing) very satisfying. It was nice to end a show where two characters are actually happier and at peace with long-standing issues. It’s not that every problem has been solved, every war won. But the personal war Bucky and Sam had going on inside of them / with each other is over. They’ve taken their places as brothers of the shield and have become family. I could watch the barbecue on the pier scene over and over and over again. That was something special and it needs to be protected. Despite the fact that I think that in many ways WandaVision was better executed, I don’t want to revisit that show. But I will be rewatching The Flacon And The Winter Soldier in days to come. Love can be forgiving like that. I wrote in-depth articles on each episode for my personal social media back when they were released. Some day I may clean those up and take you on a deep dive into this series, but for now I will end with this.

Ahem. #releasethebuckysarahcut

Loki 9/10

I was nervous about this series. I’ve been so disappointed by Loki in the movies over and over again. Every time it seemed like we took a step forward with Loki, something stupid made him slide two steps back and we started all over again. If Tom Hiddleston wasn’t so incredibly adorable I would have given up sooner.

I hated his ending in Infinity War. The movie just went downhill from that moment on. It felt incredibly meaningless and worthless. What a waste of talent and potential! Once we found out about Loki after Endgame, I waited with skepticism. Fool me once, shame on you. Fool me a bazillion more times with one of Britian’s finest, shame on me for thinking you had changed.

I didn’t watch Loki as it came out, I waited until I had more information. The reports I received plus the research I did gave me enough of a reason to give it a chance.

Wow, just wow.

Again, I have never, ever seen anything like this show. It was like the weirdest scifi/fantasy trip mixed with some sort of 70s show featuring a beaurocratic government agency, all while bringing game-changing plot elements to an entire franchise! It wrestled with questions involving the value of every life and free will. And above all, this show actually changed Loki for the good.

Storytelling-wise, I think this show did a bold thing by having so many “just talking” scenes. In book storytelling, a long conversation doesn’t raise as many eyebrows as it does in visual storytelling. Writers and directors can love these scenes, cinematographers can hate them. Many viewers can complain about them as well.

I’m a writer so I love talking scenes. But even more than that, a good conversation is something that will attract me more than anything else. I have talked with people for 5-8 hours before and not gotten bored. Conversation is a foundational layer of relationship and growth (with God or with people), and one reason we all are struggling so much is we don’t know how to converse well.

Loki embraced conversation wholeheartedly. And when someone as talented as Tom Hiddleston is the speaker, that conversation becomes like an action scene to me. The way he and Owen Wilson (Agent Mobius), or he and Sylvie tossed words back and forth felt like active, stirring story.

To cap it off, one of the scariest scenes I have ever witnessed in the entire MCU took place during a seemingly normal conversation. He Who Remains gave the worst download of information. It was like Gandalf telling Frodo how all of Middle Earth is about to go to hell in a handbasket if he doesn’t destroy that oh-so-normal looking ring his uncle left him. He Who Remains was so casual about life and death and the fate of the universes, it was awful.

Loki’s transformation throughout his show set the stage for some of the best storytelling to come. The introduction of characters like Sylvie and Agent Mobius (and He Who Remains) all gave such unique viewpoints. I cannot wait to see what happens next and I am still in awe of how well this show was made.

I think what we are discovering with both the Marvel and Star Wars Disney+ shows is that some stories are told better in a episodic format, where more time and attention can be given to details and subtle development. Loki was absolutely proof of this as it accomplished for the character of Loki in 6 episodes what 5 movies could not.

Despite my dislike for the show, I acknowledge the animation is quite beautiful.

What If 3/10

Whew! Harsh rating eh? Well, it’s my blog, I can do what I want to. Full disclosure here, I only made it through a few episodes. 4 to be exact and I didn’t even finish the zombie episode because it was terrible. I cannot believe that episode is the inspiration for a whole new series on Disney+.

I am likely not the target audience for this particular show, I’ll give them that much. This show is for deeper Marvel fans than I am, and for people who don’t mind the rearranging of their characters. I have a friend who absolutely loved this show and we have still remained friends despite our differing views.

The stars I do give here are in honor of T’Challa’s Starlord episode. That one I truly did enjoy, probably because it was actually an episode that had a happier outlook than the main MCU timeline. The other episodes I tried I just felt more depressed and found them dark. Also, it felt like the characters had no real emotions. They were cardboard cutouts of the characters we’ve come to know and love. I felt that things were done just for a cheap joke that were actually disrespectful to the characters. I also felt that some of the voices didn’t adapt well. Sebastian Stan’s voice acting left something to be desired. Hayley Atwell, on the other hand, fit it like a glove.

But T’Challa’s episode was beautiful (visually), happy, genuinely funny, and it made me feel really glad to know that Chadwick Boseman’s family gets to enjoy that episode in memorial of him.

Beyond that, I really have nothing to say. I may try a few more episodes and if I change my mind I’m not above updating a post with new info. I think this show was for a niche audience and that’s who enjoyed it.

The colors of this series already look amazing!

Hawkeye (Prediction) 11/10

I know, Hawkeye hasn’t even come out yet, but I have a feeling. I have pretty good instincts on these things, plus, I can read the room. Everything is aligned to make Hawkeye the most successful and beloved Marvel show yet.

Clint Barton has never gotten his day in the sun that he deserves. He’s been around in the MCU almost longer than anyone (who’s still alive that is), and he’s still been waiting for that spotlight. In fact, Jeremy Renner said that in the first 2 weeks of filming Hawkeye he had more lines than all of his previous movie appearances.

Clint Barton is our last original Avenger who hasn’t gone through radical physical changes, been killed, or travelled back in time to marry his sweetheart. Clint is also radically normal compared to every other superhero. He’s a family man (cheers for the family men!). He’s got a farm. He just oozes dad feels everywhere he goes, often taking in the strays and giving them a chance to succeed.

Clint Barton is a hero for the deaf community. He’s a hero to the normal people (which we all are). He’s a hero to those who have suffered grief and loss as well as regrets. He’s a member of the “cool movie dads” Hall of Fame. He’s also hilarious. Oh yeah, and this show has a DOG and IT HAPPENS AT CHRISTMAS TIME IN NEW YORK CITY!

The world is ready for this. We want some normal. We want a dad. We want a good guy who doesn’t have it figured out but is doing his best. We want a dog (okay, I want a dog). We NEED a little Christmas, right this very minute!

We. Need. Hawkeye.

And finally, we are being given Hawkeye.

This show is going to be incredible.

What are your thoughts? How would you rate the Marvel Disney+ shows so far?

Loki Odinson and Claire Dearing: How to Advance Plot Without Compromising Character Growth (Part 1 of 2)

As writers, we often face a challenge when trying to figure out how to usher in Big Bad plot elements, but do so in a way that does not also compromise character growth. Typically these game-changing plot elements take place in a larger narrative like a series or franchise where a story has been building up to this climactic point. Both Marvel and Jurassic Park/World are excellent examples of a continuing storyline where the single-story installments fit into a larger picture that is always building upon itself.

In recent years, some big changes needed to happen in both franchises. We’re talking huge, world-changing plot elements.

For the Jurassic series, we needed dinosaurs to be set loose on the mainland and to begin mixing with people on a global scale.

Ian Malcolm Welcome to Jurassic World… #fallenkingdom #jeffgoldblumforever

For the Marvel Cinematic Universe, we needed a bigger problem and evil than Thanos wiping out half of all life in the universe. 10 years had built up to Endgame. We needed something bigger. Enter…the multiverse!

Coincidence is not a strong plot mover, every good writer knows this. Neither is it good or honest storytelling to only have the villain characters be involved with dramatic and damaging events. We’re all flawed, broken people. Sometimes those with the best of intentions can create terrible scenarios *coughs* Tony Stark. The triumph of these deeply-human stories comes when a character grows and is able to face the new challenges with a fresh perspective that leads to victory.

Two protagonists for recent installments in the Jurassic and Marvel franchises are a perfect example of how to not compromise character growth for the sake of plot advancement.

Claire Dearing is the primary protagonist for Jurassic World and Jurassic World: Fallen Kingdom

Claire Dearing is all business, even at the expense of her own humanity. She’s not mean, she’s not visibly evil or a “villain”, but she has a broken perspective on life that blinds her to the dire consequences of her choices.

The protagonist is the character that changes the most throughout a story. While many characters have life-changing revelations throughout the two Jurassic World movies, Claire Dearing is without question the character that undergoes the most change.

The running theme of the entire Jurassic franchise is this question: how do we value life? We see characters and animals interact with this theme in both positive and negative ways in every movie. Even the short film Battle at Big Rock faithfully follows this theme. One day I will discuss this franchise and its message in depth.

When we first meet Claire Dearing she is the director of the larger-than-life theme park, Jurassic World. Finally! John Hammons’s original dream for Jurassic Park has been realized and it is magnificent!

Claire is a cold and removed person when it comes to human relationships, and she has zero connection to any of the animals under her care. In short, Claire does not have value for life. She fails to see its beauty, purpose, or hope. Her nephews come to visit and she cannot even spend more than five minutes with them. She’s got a disdain for the very human character of Owen Grady and disregards his good advice about understanding her own animals. Without thought, she is a party to the creation of the Indominus Rex, the chief animal antagonist of this story.

Throughout the beginning of the movie, we see Claire make choice after choice that is irresponsible and emotionally removed. The worst decision she makes in conjunction with the park’s owner, Mr. Masrani, is to send a containment team after the Indominus with non-lethal weapons. They ignore the warnings of Owen Grady – the character with the most accurate worldview – and send the team in any way. Claire’s hard shell begins to crumble as she watches one person after another get violently killed by the dinosaur.

Throughout the rest of Jurassic World we watch Claire change. Her attention turns from the park’s reputation to just saving lives. She goes running off into the dangerous forest (IN HEELS) with Owen in pursuit of her nephews. She lets herself feel the grief and pain of a dying brachiosaurus that is mauled for sport by the Rex. She does insane things to protect what matters – life! By the end of the movie, Claire is functioning as a fully engaged human being.

Claire throws everything she has into protecting her nephews and Owen from the Indominus Rex. She lets herself be touched by the pain, the beauty, and the wonder of life. Claire is fully awake by the end of Jurassic World.

Has she learned her lesson? Has she grown?

When we see Claire in the next installment, Fallen Kingdom, she is employing the same drive we saw in the first movie, only this time it’s about protecting the dinosaurs that are left. Isla Nublar is about to be destroyed by a volcano, and all of the dinosaurs will die, becoming extinct once more. Claire’s life mission is to try and ensure that doesn’t happen. It’s a noble goal, and it’s a joy to see Claire giving her energy towards preserving life instead of exploiting it (and this time she does it in boots like a sensible human).

But Claire still exhibits some of the same recklessness we saw her use at the beginning of Jurassic World. Her panic to make up for her past mistakes and guilt has caused her to pendulum to another extreme – a very common reaction among humans. She’s overcorrected too far, and this leaves her in a broken relationship with Owen Grady, and vulnerable to being manipulated and used by Eli Mills, the primary human antagonist.

Claire has thrown herself fully into the mission of saving the dinosaurs, but it’s gotten beyond her reach at this point.

Crazy things happen, and at the end of the movie a large collection of dinosaurs has ended up on the mainland in California. Multiple species have already been sold via an illegal auction and shipped around to world to be used for nefarious purposes. The dinosaurs that remain are trapped in a large facility that is filling up with toxic fumes. It’s a horrifying scene, dinosaurs wailing and trying desperately to get out as they are dying at the expense of greed.

Claire discovers she can free them with the push of a button, but to do so means they are set loose on the general population.

Owen Grady Claire, you press that button there is no going back.

A beat…Claire We can’t let them die.

Her hand hovers over the button…but then she steps away in tears. Finally! Claire Dearing has learned her lesson at a horrific cost. It’s a terrible decision to have to make, but her lack of restraint (along with others) has helped create this mess, pushing that button will only further it. It’s awful, but it’s solid proof – Claire Dearing has grown, her character arc is intact.

The agony of having to say no to pushing the button…

Aha! But for the overall story plot we still need the dinosaurs to get out…so what do we do now?

Loki is the primary protagonist for the show Loki. Obviously.

This character is only beloved because Tom Hiddleston IS SO CRAZY ADORABLE!

To say Loki is a stinker would be putting it mildly. He’s wild, unpredictable, violent, cunning, and constantly keeping you guessing as to whether he will help you, or betray you. Unlike Claire Dearing, Loki definitely fits into the villain category. If Tom Hiddleston wasn’t so everlastingly adorable, Loki would not have been the fan favorite he is. His character was brought to a tragic and emotional end at the very beginning of Infinity War. It was unsatisfactory and Loki fans were devastated. Then in Endgame, a freshly butt-kicked Loki managed to escape through time right after the first Avengers movie. This Loki is raw, unedited, and still the jerk that killed 80 people in just a few days + invaded New York because he’s Loki.

The running theme for the show Loki is this question: are we trapped by destiny or do we also have free will?

It’s a hard question to answer in a pretend universe that doesn’t have the true, gloriously good God in it. I don’t have time to dive into that topic today.

Loki finds himself quickly taken into custody by the TVA – Time Variance Authority – and taken to a place outside of time. He is shown the story of his whole life beginning to end, told that his entire life purpose is for his worst to bring out others’ best. He’s also told that as a Loki, he is “destined to fail”. Loki learns that he is just one of the thousands of other Loki’s from thousands of other universes. The TVA is the organization assigned to protect the “Sacred Timeline” and ensure that all events go according to the instructions of the Time Keepers, who somehow know more about everything than everyone else. It’s rather vague and full of bureaucratic red tape.

Also, now that Loki has stepped outside of the “Sacred Timeline” by escaping from his story, he has created a timeline branch and as a rogue variant, he could quickly be scheduled for pruning. A nice word for – execution. Loki, doing what he does best, negotiates for a chance to help Agent Mobius track down another Loki variant that’s been kidnapping TVA agents and wreaking havoc.

The best of Britain paired with the best of America on one screen. It was SOOO GOOD!

Loki’s initial desire and character goals are pretty standard for him. He wants to conquer the TVA and rule the timeline/worlds/everything/everyone.

The funny thing is how small Loki appears in the eyes of all he comes across. The only character who shows any interest in Loki as a person is Agent Mobius, the kindest person we run across at the TVA. And even Mobius isn’t overawed or impressed by Loki’s grand statements or drastic threats. A Loki is a Loki, they always lose, right?

Loki crosses paths with the other rogue Loki and discovers she’s actually a woman named Sylvie who, unlike other Loki’s, has zero desire for ruling anything. She wants to kill the Time Keepers and end the TVA once and for all as payback for them kidnapping her as a child. Apparently, she was a variant who didn’t “belong” on the Sacred Timeline and therefore was scheduled for pruning. It’s horrific but shows something true that happens in our real world. More on that another day.

A very sad little girl is now a very angry grown woman.

Loki has not previously been known for quick character growth, but in the course of just 6 episodes, he is confronted with the ugliest, darkest, most vulnerable parts of himself. He’s drunk on his own selfish ambition. He hurts other people in order to appear powerful. He’s self-obsessed, angry, scared, and doesn’t know how to create healthy relationships. And the worst part is this, according to everyone he comes in contact with besides Sylvie, this is just his destiny. He’s destined to never be happy, to never succeed at anything, to always be this terrible person.

Throughout one of the craziest and most brilliant shows I’ve ever seen, Loki finds himself pushing back against this empty version of himself, which is actually his own antagonist. Loki, as he’s always been, IS Loki’s own worst enemy! What if he can be more? Who says he has to be the villain in everyone else’s story? As the show progresses, Loki begins to care more about the needs and well-being of characters like Mobius and Sylvie even more than he thinks about his own selfish needs.

Watching layer after layer of Loki unfold as he spends more time with Sylvie was a joy. THIS is the Loki we have been hoping for! Not the petty, selfish, angry Loki. No! The Loki who uses his brilliant mind, witty humor, and genuine strength to protect, uplift, and do good. It was always possible, but now we see him fighting for this better version of himself.

Loki and Sylvie reach the End of All Time and discover He Who Remains. In a quiet discussion held in an office, we hear the most frightening story yet revealed in the MCU. This man is from the future. He is a scientist who discovers the multiverse and connects with other variants of himself. Things are great for a while and the multiverse enjoys travel and communication among the universes. Until, of course, a variant of He Who Remains decides he wants to rule all, and multiverse wars ensue. It’s apparently so awful that He Who Remains decided the best way to solve the problem was to create the Sacred Timeline and control everyone’s lives. He created the TVA to protect this timeline and quickly prune and reset any timeline where something gets out of line. He has been doing this for millenniums. But now he’s tired. He gives Loki and Sylvie two options (1) kill him and unleash the timeline and the multiverse (2) take over his job and rule.

Sylvie still wants to kill He Who Remains as he is responsible for her kidnapping and erasing her life. She believes he is lying just to save his own skin. She is about to kill him when Loki stops her. A back and forth of passionately emotional dialogue, magic, and fighting ensues where Silvie is trying to reach He Who Remains, and Loki is trying to intervene.

Sylvie Ah, you want the throne.

Loki No, that’s not it, no. Sylvie, the universe is in the balance, everything we know to be true. Everything. I know that the TVA has hurt us both, but what if by taking him out, we risk unleashing something even worse? I promise you from my heart, this isn’t about a throne.

More fighting.

Loki Sylvie, the cost of getting this wrong is too great.

Sylvie Fine, then kill me and take your throne.

Loki Stop. I’ve been where you are. I’ve felt what you feel. *crying* Don’t ask me how I know. All I know, is I don’t want to hurt you. I don’t want a throne. I just…I just want you to be okay.

NO ONE IS SOBBING HERE! NEVER MIND, WE ARE FINE! IT’S TOTALLY OKAY THAT LOKI IS LOOKING AT HER SO SOFTLY WITH SO MUCH COMPASSION AND TENDERNESS! WE ARE FINEEEE!!!

They kiss, it’s gorgeous and no one is sobbing on the floor. We’re fine!!! And then Sylvie shoves him through a portal back to the TVA, removing him from the situation entirely. Determined and dreading what is coming, Loki runs to find Mobius to fill him in on the drastic changes that are about to take place.

Loki He’s terrifying. He planned everything. He’s seen everything. He knows everything. It’s complicated, okay. But someone is coming. Countless different versions of a very dangerous person. And they’re all set on war. We need to prepare.

These two were just the greatest.

Loki went from rampaging around the universe, causing wreck and ruin all because he was burdened with glorious purpose, to suddenly only caring about others’ needs and future. He now only says “I” in reference to his selfless feelings for someone else. He uses the term “we” when speaking of himself and Sylvie, or himself and his allies/friends at the TVA. Loki is no longer alone and no longer seeking a throne. His life actually is burdened with glorious purpose now. He’s free, Loki won over Loki.

The ironclad proof of Loki’s character growth was his attempt to restrain Silvie from destroying He Who Remains. Whether that was the right choice for the future of the universe or not, it was the right choice for Loki’s character arc. He said no to the throne, and yes to what he believed someone else needed. Loki has grown.

I love that turned-up collar, it’s so him.

Aha, but we still need the timeline to be unleashed…so what do we do?

The answer is simple, we bring in the “innocents”. We solve our plot problems with the innocents. I’ll explain in Part 2.

Katy and Shaun, Shang-Chi’s Real Superpower

Marvel’s recent origin story Shang-Chi and the Legend of the Ten Rings was good enough to pull me out of movie blogging retirement.

I could spend article after article talking about the depth, meaning, and symbolism of this movie. Everything from the costuming to the scenery was full of purpose and interest. The character work was excellent. Shang-Chi carried a balance of sadness, triumph, humor, and potential.

But what actually got me to put words on the page is the relationship between Shaun (Shang-Chi) and his best friend Katy. They are probably one of the best things the MCU has created in a long while. Here’s why – warning, spoilers ahead.

Katy and Shaun are the defining relationship of the movie.

That may sound funny given how many other turbulent and dominating relationships we see Shaun experience throughout this story. But Katy and Shaun’s relationship is the most important one in the entire movie; and every other relationship (good or bad) can be contrasted or compared to it.

His relationship with his father is a twisted one. It’s defined by abuse, sick expectations, deep desire for something genuine, broken heartedness, and whatever true love is left in his father’s heart. It’s turbulent, nauseating, angering, and aggressive.

His relationship with his sister is one of broken promises, a broken heart, bitterness, coldness. At the root is a little girl who lost everything/everyone. It’s sad.

His relationship with his mother is one of remembered sweetness and meaning and beauty that he once had. He can’t reach her, he can’t get her back, and he couldn’t save her. It’s full of guilt and longing. It’s tragic.

Shaun’s new relationship with his aunt brings back some of the light he’s had hidden inside of him from his mother. It helps remind him of who he is, but it’s still much more of a mentor relationship.

And then there’s Katy. Quirky, witty, adorably awkward, forever faithful Katy. Katy is Shaun’s defining relationship throughout this entire movie. He deals with every demon (literally) of his past and present. From the bus fight in San Francisco to a magical valley in China where a dungeon full of soul-eaters exists, Katy is there. She’s Shaun’s reference point, his only constant, the anchor. He orbits around her as he faces everything else.

Unlike his father, Katy isn’t always about what Shaun has to do for her in order to earn her love. Unlike his sister, their friendship has been one of constants. Unlike his mother, Katy is very real and in the present. And unlike his aunt, Katy is facing some of the same struggles he is when it comes to being grounded in her identity and life direction.

We see Shaun experience many relationships in this story. We meet many layers and versions of Shang-Chi/Shaun, but we always return to Katy and Shaun. The way they laugh together, the way they tackle problems, the fears they both have, the way they listen to one another. It’s a healthy, life-on-life kind of relationship that keeps Shaun from jumping off of a character cliff. Katy grounds him even as she helps him fly. For a character with no superpowers, Katy is one of the most powerful characters in this movie.

It’s subtle, well-written, and woven logically and beautifully into the story. It feels real. Katy and Shaun are forever even if other things/people are not.

Katy saved Shaun

No, I’m not just talking about when she jumped in between him and the bully (honestly, she saved that jerk’s life). I’m talking about Shaun. He’d been through horrific things and had no where to land – until Katy showed up. She gave him a home, a family, a friend, and a sense of normal he lost the moment his mother was killed.

We see just how much this one friendship has defined Shaun when we see the contrast between him and his sister – Xialing. Where Shaun is warm, Xialing is cold. Shaun is gentle, Xialing is harsh. Shaun is normal, Xialing is very much abnormal.

You can’t really hold it against her. Shaun got to spend more years nurtured by their mother. Once their beautiful mother was gone, their father didn’t just see Xialing as a neutral presence, he treated her like a negative. She became someone lesser, someone to step over. He looked away from her in pain for something that wasn’t her fault. Even though his relationship with Shaun was perverted and full of abuse, he still affirmed Shaun in a twisted way. Xialing never got any of that. The only place where she found affirmation was in the gross underworld of using force to gain respect and admiration. For how much she hates her father, she has learned to be very much like him.

At the end of the movie, Shaun goes back to his normal life of karaoke and storytelling over drinks and appetizers with Katy – until Wong comes along with what is essentially a gold-lettered invite to the Avengers. Shaun has maintained the ground he’s gained and grown a few sizes larger as well. But he’s still Shaun. He’s a pretty amazing knight-in-shining-armor character.

Xialing isn’t as far along as he is. While at her father’s compound (where Shaun thinks she’s cleaning up the mess) we see Xialing uncovering the wall in her room. It’s full of angry, dark, violent pictures/posters/images. Half of the wall is uncovered, revealing a beautiful painting of a sad little girl. Xialing sits in normal clothes on the floor (the first time we see her this way) clutching a beautiful drawing of her mother. It’s symbolic – half of her heart has been uncovered – but the other half is still caught in darkness.

Her scene ends where we see that she is actually taking over the Ten Rings name and running the thug group on her own. The black leather is back, she’s still chasing affirmation and identity through force. She hasn’t learned as many lessons as her brother has, her future is still more in question.

What’s the difference between the two siblings? Shaun had a Katy, Xialing didn’t. Katy’s tiny family apartment in an old corner of San Francisco represents more genuine wealth than the entire stone compound Xialing possesses. The life that Shaun has where he gets to argue with Katy’s grandma about where the whiskey went, gulp down cereal before taking the bus to their shared valet job is more real, beautiful, and genuine than anything Xialing has. For a movie about the child of a 1000 year old warlord and his magical, soul-sucker fighting wife, Shang-Chi gave a place of great honor and value to the everyday beauty of a normal, loving family.

When Katy stepped in between Shaun and that bully she was saving his life. She was bringing in beauty, truth, life, warmth, hope, and a future. She didn’t know that, she doesn’t overthink it, she’s just herself and that’s what he needs.

Shaun’s mama used to sit at a table with him and make construction paper dragons and tell him stories from her homeland. That kind of beauty is what had literally caused his evil father to put the rings away and act normal for a while. It’s magic – powerful magic woven into ordinary, extraordinary, everyday kind of love. I finally found something worth growing old forXu Wenwu

Shaun lost that life the moment his mama died, but he was given it anew the moment he met Katy. It didn’t matter if his mama was from a magic corner of China with fantastical creatures, and Katy is the self-described “Asian Jeff Gordon”. It’s the same magic presented differently, but the fruit produced is just as good.

Katy and Shaun are a perfect team.

Are they perfect as people? No, they are beautifully flawed and that makes the story that much more enjoyable. But they are a perfect team.

A mistake many people make is they create a normal character like Katy, and a super-character like Shang-Chi, but then they don’t know how to keep the two together throughout a story. The Katy’s of the world get pushed off to the sidelines to ooh and ahh at the wonders of the Shaun character.

Shang-Chi didn’t do that once. Katy was always as relevant and important to the storyline as Shaun was. It isn’t because she is crazy brilliant, superpowered, rich, famous, etc. She’s just a good friend who doesn’t give up, and that’s an overlooked and under-utilized power. Her loyalty and faithfulness to Shaun is what made her the perfect boom to his pow. They need each other and they give to each other.

Shaun gets attacked on the bus and fights back – so Katy drives the bus.

Shaun has to go face his deadly family – Katy buys a plane ticket. So what if we are going to a seedy corner of Macau? Girl’s got a fanny pack, she ready.

They have to escape his father’s compound – Katy drives full speed towards a cement door trusting that Shaun is gonna get a henchman’s bio print on the screen in time to open it.

Shaun admits to murdering someone at the age of 14 – Katy is the first person to point out what a bad situation he was in and how he needs to be kinder to himself.

Shaun is about to lose to the soul-eater as it’s sucking the soul out of the dragon – Katy fires an arrow at the soul-sucker’s throat and causes a pivotal interruption.

Shang-Chi (Simu Liu) and Katy (Awkwafina)

Shaun and Katy are a one-two punch, on and off the battlefield. They fill in each others gaps, listen to each other’s problems, and have each other’s backs. They develop together, something that many movies struggle to portray. Their friendship naturally produces growth in both of them even if they take turns supporting each other. They are a both and kind of relationship, not an either or.

The director of the film (Destin Daniel Cretton) said very clearly that Katy and Shaun are just friends for the majority of this movie. Shang-Chi is going through a lot and Katy’s friendship is what he needs, there isn’t room for anything else….But now? Who knows?

I could easily see (and let’s be real, AM TOTALLY ROOTING FOR) them becoming more in the future. Shaun and Katy are one of those legendary kind of relationships that are quite simply, best friends forever that slide smoothly from one phase of friendship into another. They are never gonna find someone else to connect with at the level they connect with each other, and they don’t need to. What they have is powerful and the world needs more of it.

The friendship of Katy and Shaun created this base rhythm for the rest of the movie to build off of. Their humanity and love for each other gave a heart and soul to a story that without that human base could have felt very bizarre. But with them in the center of it, it was just perfect. The strength and health of their friendship created a measuring mark for every other character interaction. As a writer and a fan who is always looking for character-first stories, I was incredibly pleased.

What did you think of Shang-Chi and the Legend of the Ten Rings?

The Chosen

The Chosen. A TV series that shows the life of Jesus, told through the stories of those who knew Him best. The largest crowdfunded media project of all time.  A show about Jesus paid for by people who love Jesus. I’m not going to share all of the technical details, instead, I’m going to tell […]

The Chosen.

A TV series that shows the life of Jesus, told through the stories of those who knew Him best.

The largest crowdfunded media project of all time. 

A show about Jesus paid for by people who love Jesus.

I’m not going to share all of the technical details, instead, I’m going to tell you a piece of my story and share my heart.

This article is for anyone who will read it, regardless of your religious background or your beliefs about God. I’m just a person, like you, and this a conversation from my heart to yours.

I have known God is real my entire life. My parents are believers, and I was raised in a home where Jesus was a regular part of the conversation.

My mama read me Bible stories and I watched Bible stories onscreen.

But it goes deeper than that. God called me to Himself. He chose me. 

Many children who are now adults have many of the same ingredients to their origin story that I do, and yet they have never met God for themselves. Nor do they realize the value of who they were created to be.

To them, Jesus was just another topic around the dinner table, or maybe He is merely their parent’s “thing”. Here’s a common one, “He was a good man and teacher with good ideas but nothing more“. Calling Him something as wild as the Son of God on earth is like something out of a fantasy story, right?

I beg to differ. My life is not built on a fantasy, in fact, it has been quite the opposite. My life has been just as grounded and down-to-earth as anyone else’s.

I’m mature enough now to honestly tell you this, “I have a lot to learn.”

But there is one thing I am confident of in this crazy world of unknowns.

God is real Person, He is GOOD, and He called me.

How did God call me and how do I know it was Him?

God is the Creator of the Universe, He knows all things, He knows all people because He created all people.

He speaks your language before you do. Each person has a unique collection of interests and dreams that set them apart from others. Where do those things come from? From a Creator, Someone Who lovingly made you an individual.

He has a reason for you being here, a special purpose that only you can fulfill.He would choose us all if we would take Him up on His offer. We all have the opportunity to become one of the chosen.Some of us sa

Because I am a storyteller, God called me to Himself with the stories of the Bible. God touched my artistic soul with my love for the beauty of the world that I felt came from somewhere deeper. He used my strong memory and intuition to communicate things to me that some would say I was too young to understand, but I did.

At five years old I asked Jesus into my heart. And the joy I experienced on that day is something unearthly, my friends. It was like a shot of liquid excitement to the soul, so bubbling and fierce it almost hur

I have never experienced anything like that anywhere else. It was more real, more wonderful, and more powerful than anything we humans can create on our own.

Life in a fallen world happens, we grow and we are faced with pain, suffering, and broken people. Doubt enters the picture and creates room for lies that hide the truth of God’s love.

And tragically, a loving and kind Father becomes Falsely labeled as an angry and harsh judge Who barely tolerates our existence.

During my walk with the Lord for the past 19 years, I have fallen prey to many of the lies that made me doubt His love.

God as a “Loving Father” seemed more like a phrase used to sell Christian calendars rather than what God actually was.

I felt that He was far away, harsh, and constantly disappointed with me. I was really good at failing as a Christian/human, I must be a shame to Him. I didn’t believe I was going to hell, but I didn’t really think God liked me that much. Nor did I feel that I could trust Him with the deep needs and desires of my heart and life.

It's hard to live with joy and gusto when that's how you view your Heavenly Father. We live out of what we believe, so if you believe yourself to be unloved and a source of shame, guess how you live_ (1)

You live frightened, confused, angry, sad, judgmental, and empty. That’s how I felt so much of the time. And so have so many others.

This is not the entire summary of my walk with Him during those darker years, He still reached me where I would dare to open up to Him. But it was a slow, sometimes really painful process.

My heart was longing for more.

The things I had experienced as a child, the things God had used to call me to His heart were still in there, but they were buried. I had a deep heart cry, a question that I carried with me.

Is there more? God, are you more???

The Chosen series Season 1 gently inserts us into the lives of normal, broken people living in first-century Judea.

A rascally fisherman who has a wonderful wife and a good brother...who's up to his neck in debts and life or death troubles.

God feels distant and unreachable, while his problems are threatening to tear his life away from him. Does God really care about his needs, or has he already failed so badly that God will never acknowledge him again?

A broken and battered woman who has been mistreated, abused, and is thrown around by the demons who possess her...the darkness is suffocating her and she has lost her hope.

She once was loved, she once believed, but she has fallen so far, had so much taken from her. The words of prophecy regarding a Savior her father taught her seem like useless garbage in the face of her constant torment.

An autistic tax collector who is brilliant in his work...but a despised outcast from his fellow Jews.

He’s alone in his own little world where no one understands him, nor do they care. He’s considered a traitor to his own people, so why would God acknowledge him?

A highly respected and noble Pharisee who has spent his life learning and teaching God's law...and yet he continues to carry the question, _God, are you more__

Everyone around him seems content to carry on with the traditions they have been taught for generations, he desires to respect what he knows but he keeps hoping against hope that God is more.

As if life isn’t hard enough, Rome’s conquering presence is all around them, fear is a regular part of every character’s daily reality.

Quietly, a stranger named enters their world. He looks like them. He is from their country. He is a craftsman. He is a son. He is a brother. He is a friend. His name is Jesus.

And their lives are suddenly turned upside down.

You’d think that people who lived 2,000 years ago would have nothing in common with those of us living in this futuristic world of the 21st century. While the show creators do an excellent job of painting the first-century world with great detail and richness, the core elements of the story and characters confirm this: these people are just like you and me, and they are asking the same questions we ask today.

“Am I going to be okay?”

“How do I get through tomorrow?”

“How do I take care of myself and my family?”

“Does God actually care about me and my needs?”

“Am I worthless? Should I just end it and be done?”

“Is this truly all there is? I feel like there should be more.”

Israel was the nation of God’s chosen people. They had known God for literally thousands of years. Their story was God’s story, His miracles and words are a part of their very DNA and culture. You would think out of everyone on planet earth THESE people would have it figured out! Much like the Church today, you would think these people would understand God!

One glance at these characters in their various walks of life testifies for the opposite.

Simon (the fisherman) fears God’s judgment and believes in His disinterest.

Mary (the broken woman) feels forgotten and unloved by God. She’s too unworthy to be saved.

Matthew (the tax collector) struggles with anything he cannot explain, but this Jesus keeps doing the inexplicable. Matthew is fascinated, but he expects to be rejected by Jesus as he is by all Jews.

Nicodemus (the Pharisee) wonders if he is just an old fool for wanting God to be more. He also fears what his peers will say about him for seeking beyond what they already know.

Does any of this sound familiar? Whether you are a Christian or not, this is familiar to the human struggle with questions about God and our relation to Him.

I myself have asked many of these same questions, even though I have known God is real my whole life. Even though I met Him and His true heart at age 5, I still had/have questions.

And the older I got the more I became desperate for answers, much like The Chosen characters are at various levels of desperation when we step into their lives onscreen. 

Enter Jesus.

Let me show you something really special from Episode 4, The Rock On Which It Is Built. 

Andrew, brother of Simon the fisherman, comes to him in a flurry of excitement. He’s seen Jesus. “It’s Him, it’s the Messiah. The Lamb of God.”

“I don’t need a Lamb, I need fish.” is Simon’s reply. (The Chosen, Episode 4 – The Rock On Which It Is Built)

Simon is out of options, he’s so in debt to the tax collectors that if he cannot pay an exorbitant amount by the next day he will be taken to prison, or be killed. His family will likely fall into ruin without him. It’s an awful, awful circumstance to be trapped in. He’s desperate, and God seems to be ignoring him, and he believes he deserves it.

His brother and fellow fishermen help him cast nets all night. Nothing.

Jesus arrives on the shore of the lake in the morning following an entire night of desperate, useless fishing. See what happens.

At Jesus’ word, he lets his nets down one more time.

And his boat almost sinks for how many fish are in his nets.

Jesus watches in pure delight as 5 grown fishermen splash and scream for joy because their desperate need has been met by the Lamb of God.

This God whom Simon has been avoiding out of shame and fear came to him in his moment of need and loved him like no one else has, unconditionally and overabundantly.

He didn’t expect it. He didn’t think he deserved it. He as much as said he didn’t need a Lamb. He’s broken so many rules of the religion and done much that he knows is wrong.

If God is who Simon had expected Him to be, angry and judgmental and only rewarding of those who always “do” good, Jesus would have walked right past him without a second glance.

He doesn’t.

Jesus loves Simon so much, and that love is captured in this scene in such a raw and beautiful way.

smiling jesus

This kind, beautiful, compassionate, humorous Jesus is taking people by surprise. It’s both beautiful and sad all at once.

Our world and our perspective are so broken that we are truly taken by surprise when the Man who literally came to earth to die an excruciating death that we might be saved actually loves us

To see this truth of a loving, real-life Jesus played out on screen the way it is portrayed in The Chosen is shocking people, many of them Christians.

As for non-Christians, this is probably a new version of Jesus to you too.

What happened to that really solemn, super “holy” guy? Where’s the Jesus who is constantly put out by the disciples’ failings? What happened to that angry God who hates you because you are sinful? Whatever happened to earning your rewards, your favor, your place in the world? Whatever happened to someone wanting something from you before they help out?

You know, like how our world works. Whatever happened to the Jesus who barely tolerates us?

What is it with this guy who just shows up on people’s worst days and completely changes everything with a heart so kind it almost frightens our abused, broken hearts?

I know, it's the most bizarre, most insane, most upside-down thing in the world.

Romans 5: 6-8

For while we were still weak, at the right time Christ died for the ungodly. For one will scarcely die for a righteous person—though perhaps for a good person one would dare even to die— but God shows his love for us in that while we were still sinners, Christ died for us. (ESV)

I can hear potential accusations from some very confused people in the Church.

That’s not really Who Jesus is, this is Dallas Jenkin’s (creator of The Chosen) version of Jesus, a watered-down mushy version aimed at getting people in the door without actually convicting them of their sin! 

ragnarok is it though

I can hear the doubts of people who are suspicious of all things Christian.

He can’t be that good, you all are just making up a really shiny story so that we get sucked in by a lie! And then we’ll end up as miserable as you all are because your God is mean! 

its a trap gif

To the first group, my brothers and sisters in Christ, I reply to your doubts and criticisms with my testimony.

In 2016 I was less than a year out of being graduated from high school, and I was searching for the next thing in my life. Little did I know that my world was also about to fall apart dramatically and everything I thought I could count on would be turned upside down.

It was at this time that my need to know if God was more began to burn to a point where I couldn’t ignore it anymore. I couldn’t bury it for fear that I would be disappointed.

That’s what had held me back all of these years, fear that God would be just as miserable as I thought He might be. Fear that the loving God I hoped for would just be another instance of my unrealistic idealism. And if that was the case, would I give up?

Perhaps it was because I was already asking a lot of new questions as a green adult that there was a new space for God to move in my life.

I believe He knew it was time, and I was ready.

One day I saw a documentary called Finger of God. It was about God and His heart for us, His Created Ones.

I saw things that blew my mind. I saw people being touched by a love so radical, so pure, so joyful, so unearthly that it changed the entire course of their future in a moment. I saw people being healed, inside and out. I saw people tasting what I had tasted the moment I had asked Jesus into my heart.

Radical, unearthly joy and a love so powerful that you can literally feel the warmth of on your skin.

As I write this it is a shiny new year, 2020. In the four years that I have lived in between that day in 2016 and now, I have walked the hardest, darkest, most shattering days of my life. 

And God has never been so real, so good, or so full of love. 

Logic says that if someone is going to fall away from God, it would be when the worst of life and people smack us in the gut and leave us bleeding out. We see this happen all the time. And we know the questions that get asked,

God, if You really are good then where are You? What happened? Why did You let me down?

But we are talking about human logic here, human logic based upon broken perspective and limited experience. God logic works differently, He goes beyond what we expect and loves us more than we know what to do with. He comes bursting into our worst moments in surprising ways. He doesn’t base His decisions upon a small window of experiences or choices, but rather upon His never-changing Heart for us.

I got desperate and curious enough to reach, and this is what happened.

I reached for the more of God, and He was RIGHT THERE! He always has been and He will never leave. Each day has just been another step into a relationship with Someone so sweet, so kind, so generous, so uncondi

Jesus was God on Earth, and He only did what He saw His Father (God) doing. He didn’t walk in His own agenda, He walked in His Father’s will. (John 5)

So to those who fear the Jesus portrayed in The Chosen, this is what I have to say to you.

The Chosen does not scare me because I already recognize the Jesus I see portrayed here.

I know this guy! I see the Heart of God that I have been getting to know apart from this show for the past 4 years!

In 2016 The Chosen was just a twinkle in God’s eye and Dallas Jenkins hadn’t even crossed paths with the idea yet. I cannot blame the Jesus I know on Dallas or anyone else involved with the show, because I have already met Him in my own life.

Let me clarify, The Chosen is not meant to be a replacement for Scripture. The creators of the show have said this repeatedly. The stories told in The Chosen, the miracles shown are 100% true. The characters were real people that even secular authorities will confirm existed.

Some of the arrangement of these stories and the fleshing out of these characters has been worked with and adjusted by a team of people to create a watchable show.

But I recognize the fingerprints.

There are more than just men and women working on this show, I believe that God’s Hand and Heart are woven into it as well. I think God is tired of seeing His children fear Him. I think He’s tired of seeing the lost people in the world only view Him through lies. His heart is bursting with love for us and by its very nature Love needs somewhere to go and someone to touch.

It's time to fall in love with the truth of Jesus. It's time.

Now, to the second group, my brothers and sisters of the human race who are not Christians.

I get it, there are a ton of really mean and really unhappy Christians out there. There have been so many instances of cruelty, harshness, and hurt in the Church. I get it, I have been touched by it myself. But to you, this is what I want to say.

So many Christians do not understand their own Father's love and heart, and that makes them miserable because they live out lies instead of truth.

Having worked with children in professional settings before, I can attest to the truth of this statement.

The children who are more confident in their parents’ love and their own identity in their family are far calmer, more secure, and less easily given to offence. They are far easier to get along with and they have a greater trust for authority. Often they take direction better and are teachable. They are more likely to treat those around them with kindness even if the person is different from them. While not perfect, they stand apart as someone enjoyable to be around.

The children who feel less confident in their parents’ love and their place are either very shy and insecure or very loud and insecure. Their feelings can be easily hurt, they are often harder to manage, and they expend a lot of energy trying to be admired or at the very least noticed. It’s harder for them to trust and harder to get them to respond to instruction or discipline. They can be mean very quickly and form fast grudges. These children, while every bit as precious as the first type of child, require a lot more energy and patience to be around.

There have been thousands of people throughout the history of the Church who have never understood their own Father’s love for them.

Therefore, they are miserable, and they often spread that misery to others.

That’s why. And on top of that, just know this, Christians aren’t perfect.

I, a Christian, make mistakes. I make choices that are wrong, sometimes consciously, just like anyone else. The difference is that because of Jesus inside of me, I am counted as righteous in God’s eyes and He looks on Jesus’ sacrifice of blood on my behalf, not on my shortcomings.

There is a whole array of characters shown in The Chosen that represent each one of us where we are at right now, Christian or not. We have only begun to meet them, and over more seasons (8 Seasons are planned) even more beautiful characters and more incredible stories will be shown.

As a summary for Season 1, this is the message I hope to convey to those reading this review.

If God isn't for us than what hope is there_ If you can't trust the God Who made you to love, I mean REALLY love you, who can you trust_ If God is only confined to what we tiny humans can explain, is He rea (1)

Each one of the characters represented by the above questions finds their answer.

And it’s the same answer I myself have found.

The answer is, and always has been, a Person. His name is Jesus, Son of God and Savior of the World.

Yeah, I know, it’s crazy different. Different from what we have known, what we have heard, and often what we have experienced. But to quote an awesome line in Episode 7: Invitations.

Get used to different.

Friend, whether you are already a Christian, or at least brave enough to read this whole article #youareawesome, this is what I want you to walk away with.

You do not have to be afraid of God.

You do not have to be afraid of His Son Jesus.

Love has come, and His name is Jesus.

The Chosen has created a beautiful open door for people all over the world to step into an introduction to get to know the beautiful, radically loving heart of Jesus our Savior and of our Father God.

God is already using The Chosen powerfully to reach people in some of the darkest places and in every country in the world.

People in Iran who have lived a life without hope are watching it. People in China living through the coronavirus are watching it. People living in the US who have everything and yet nothing are having their hearts broken open by Love.

God is the one on the move, but I believe that The Chosen is a beautiful vessel that He is using to bring forth His plans in the earth. I recommend it to anyone, regardless of your background.

If you want to give the first episode a watch it is completely free on The Chosen‘s YouTube channel.

You can follow The Chosen on:

Facebook

Instagram

YouTube

And you can download TheChosenApp for FREE to watch all 8 episodes of Season 1.

TheChosenApp on GooglePlay! 

TheChosenApp on The App Store!

Also, check out the gorgeous soundtrack on Spotify! This soundtrack has already made my “you’re obsessed with it what is your problem” list made for me by Spotify. I hope you enjoy it too.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Pixar Spark Shorts – “Smash and Grab” Awesome Things You Didn’t Know Were on Disney+

Everyone had their own reasons for getting excited about the arrival of Disney+.

The old favorites released from the mysterious “vault” such as classic Princess movies like Sleeping Beauty and Snow White.

Fan-favorite Disney Channel shows That’s So Raven, Lizzie McGuire, and The Suite Life of Zack and Cody. Can I admit that I watched all of the seasons of The Suite Life On Deck without seeing The Suite Life first?

New favorites such as the over-the-top successful AladdinI can confirm that the movie is at least as good the 6-7th time you see it as it the first time.

And then the pièce de ré·sis·tance, the first original live-action Star Wars series The MandalorianA show that has exceeded our expectations and is worth every bit of hype it was given.

There are a few gems on Disney+ that I wanted to spotlight for those looking for something that they may not have heard of before, but would definitely enjoy.

Spark Shorts: Smash and Grab

spark shorts

If you have not checked out Pixar’s section of Spark Shorts, you must do so immediately. Pixar more than any other studio has taught us that compelling stories with deep messages can be told in less than 10 minutes but remain in our memories forever.

Smash and Grab : After years of toiling away inside the engine room of a towering locomotive, two antiquated robots will risk everything for freedom and for each other.

smash and grab

This short is one of the best shorts I have ever seen in my life.

In less than 10 minutes we are introduced to a beautiful and complex dystopian robot society where some robots live in freedom and luxury while others are enslaved.

A deep connection of love and brotherhood is made apparent between our two main characters. They have been enslaved together, and they will be free together, or they will die trying.

big robot s and g

The personalities of these robots are communicated through simple eye-shape changes, robot sounds, gestures, and movement. You understand who these characters are, what motivates them, and what they mean to each other without a single word being spoken.

little robot s and g

You fall in love so fast with these characters that you immediately feel the fear when they are put into peril by their decision to reach for freedom. The fear they feel for each other is worse than the fear they have for themselves.

Y’all, there have been dozens of movies that cost millions of dollars who couldn’t accomplish in 2+ hours what this one short is able to accomplish in 7 minutes.

weapon robots s and g

An entire world/society is clearly communicated, injustice is seen for what it is and a decision is made to do something about it. Two distinct personalities are established as well as their connection and meaning to each other. These characters step out of their comfort zone and all that they have known to reach for something better, no matter the cost. They have a complete and full character arc in 7 minutes time.

And all of this is communicated without a single word being spoken. The world, a problem, main characters, decisions, a battle, sacrifice, love, endurance, and the ending?

I’ll let you watch the short to find out what happens. It’s glorious.

Plus, just check out how gorgeous this world is. The colors, the textures, the lighting! The artistry is purely stunning and takes its place on the stage of excellence right alongside the storytelling and music.

s and g concept

s & g concept art

train sm and gr

Everyone involved in creating this short should be dang proud of themselves.

Check it out today on Disney+, Smash and Grab! 

 

Flynn Rider: Reimagining the Disney Prince

The 2010 Rapunzel story Tangled was an instant classic and remains in a place of high honor.

Much of this is due to the charming and roguish Flynn Rider, adorable crown thief- turned into the adventure partner and harmonizing prince we ladies dream about.

Was it his gorgeous face that caught our attention? Uh, well, yeah, that certainly helped.

His sense of humor? Mmmhhmm.

The smolder? It certainly did not damage his cause.

the smolder

As much as we love his charming exterior, what really sold us all on Flynn Rider was the way he changed the “face” and expectations for the classic “Disney Prince”.

The character that came closest to Flynn Rider before he hit the screen was most definitely Aladdin. Not only was he also an adorably mischevious thief, but rather than just a pretty face with a castle we were given a more 3-dimensional character who had his own backstory, own dreams, and own failures.

Still, Flynn Rider, or shall we say Eugene Fitzherbert took it to the next level.

Flynn Rider started out as a self-seeking jerk.

You are talking to a girl who loves the good guys. I have only fallen for the “bad boy” twice in my life and those two bad boys ended up becoming the best of the good boys. #edmundpevensie #captainhook (Apparently I go for dark good looks as well? Hmm…)

But it is wise to admit to ourselves that everyone is human, male or female.

We have imperfections, we have broken places, we have pockets of selfishness or places of retained anger. There are things about ourselves we would like to change and things in others we find hard to overlook. We’re really messy, and sometimes kind of ugly.

Flynn Rider is something of a scoundrel. He double-crosses his own partners-in-crime in order to keep the crown for himself.

When Flynn arrives at Rapunzel’s castle, he has an initial moment of awe over her beauty, but it passes like a cloud over the sun and then he’s back to scheming again.

Can I just say how much I love the fact that Flynn and Rapunzel broke the “love at first sight” Disney couple trope?

I 100% believe in love at first sight. It happens all the time in real life. I just think it’s a good idea to present more than one way for a couple to fall for each other. Many couples discover each other over time, building one step upon another. Such is the case for Flynn and Rapunzel.

Flynn Rider has eyeballs, anyone with eyeballs can see how beautiful Rapunzel is. He has a normal human reaction to her appearance and then he starts trying to pull one over on her. His own selfish needs and desires trump whatever reaction she just created in him.

#canayoneelserelatetothis

Let’s be honest, people, we’ve all been Flynn Rider before (maybe even like 2 minutes ago). Humanity, apart from Jesus, is inheritently sinful, broken, and definitely selfish!

Flynn's agenda.png

Flynn’s plan to frighten Rapunzel at The Snuggly Duckling ends up placing them in a situation of danger where Rapunzel’s indomitable spirit and open heart earns Flynn’s respect.

She takes a roomful of gross and scary (and anatomically incorrect) men and turns them all into mush by seeing beneath the surface and touching their hearts.

Follow that up with an epic escape from multiple foes that succeeds when it shouldn’t…

…yeah, Flynn looks at Rapunzel with new eyes.

He is impressed, there is more to her than he at first thought. The sweetest thing is that Rapunzel does all of this without the intention of winning someone’s approval or respect. She is merely being herself and is entirely guileless. It’s refreshing, tantalizing, and touches a long-hidden part of Flynn Rider.

Enter, Eugene Fitzherbert.

First respect, next we go to a new level. Vulnerability.

Flynn and Rapunzel find themselves in a dark cave with water rising. #thisismyworstnightmareminussomesharks

The idea that they are facing death gives Flynn the courage to reveal one of the most precious and tender parts of himself…his true name.

Eugene Fitzherbert. It’s soft and sweet. Rapunzel listens with such kind respect. She proves to Flynn that not only is she someone he can rely on in a pinch, but she is also a safe person to trust himself with. His true self.

The theme of revealing their inner selves continues by the fireside where Rapunzel reveals the story of her magic hair. Then Flynn tells her about a special book that gave him oxygen to dream during the tragedy of his childhood as an orphan.

Whoa, a sad orphan who used to read this book to the younger orphans? A kid who grew up and took on the name of his literary hero to try and build a life of plenty for himself to replace the history of lack and lovelessness?

I. Am. Intrigued.

We begin by seeing Flynn through the mask he has invented for himself – a careless and debonair thief who needs no one. #funnybutnotmarriagematerial

Within the course of about two scenes of tender and revealing moments, our perception is entirely changed to match what is this character’s truth.

eugene fitzherbert

Flynn is not a typical Disney prince. He is just as broken and in need as the princess is. He needs her as much or more than she needs him. They need each other in different ways.

It’s a beautiful picture of so many real-life relationships where you take two extraordinary individuals who each bring something neat to the table, but together they create something wonderful.

Together they end up helping each other heal.

Together, they dream a new dream.

We started with respect, leveled up at vulnerability, and now we bring in attraction.

Flynn is sooooo attracted to Rapunzel. She has had a deprived life in a way that is different from his, but no less real. However, her deprivation has made her kind, patient, and eager to enjoy every little thing.

The word that best describes Rapunzel is “wonder”.

The biggest dream of her life has just been to go and see these beautiful lights that fill the night sky on her birthday.

Flynn has been everywhere and thinks he’s done everything, it was all old news to him until he met her. 

Rapunzel reintroduces Flynn to the idea of wonder, and during that process, he finds himself deeply attracted to her.

I love the montage of this glorious day in the town that leads up to one of Disney’s best romantic songs in existence. It shows Eugene and Rapunzel falling for each other in such a sweet, specific way that celebrates life.

Falling in love with Rapunzel doesn’t just bring stars to Flynn’s eyes, we get to go so much deeper into the why behind his love for Rapunzel that we do with many other Disney princes.

Rapunzel reawakens the Eugene within him, reminds him of who he is, and gives him the courage to dream something far bigger than just a castle of his own.

Rapunzel and Flynn’s story reminds us the power of human connection to create change as well as the healing capability that true love can bring.

And what is true love? It has been said in passing in so many stories, but we actually get to see it lived out in Tangled in a way that blew my mind.

True love is a sacrifice.

Flynn first respected her, then he allowed himself to be vulnerable with her. His attraction grew alongside hers, but Flynn’s love was proven to be real when he sacrificed himself for her without a single selfish thought…

…he actually dies for her.

Flynn’s sacrifice is not pretty, he gets stabbed in the back and is bleeding out on the floor. #thisscaredmesobad #disneybrokealltherules

There were no grandiose words or declarations of valor. There was no masterful sword fight against a dragon (the dude lost a frying pan duel to a horse, y’all), no sweeping in on a vine to rescue the girl. No magic shoe to gallantly slip on her foot.

He is weak and bleeding out on the floor. In hoarse tones he calls her to come close to him, and in one swift motion he uses the last of his strength to take a shard of glass and cut off all of her hair! Freeing her forever from her lifelong bondage.

The shock of that moment hit me like a tidal wave in the same way it does for the other characters. Rapunzel can’t even comprehend the fact for a moment that her hair, the source of her magical strength as well as her hideous bondage, is gone. Mother Gothel dies a very disgusting/ugly death, and then Flynn DIES! 

As Rapunzel cradles a dying Eugene in her arms, they have such a broken and tender moment where they tell each other “You were my new dream.”

eugene dying

I love this! The word “dream” gets thrown around so often in our stories and our real world. It gets watered down, misused, abused. So many people practically kill themselves in the pursuit of what they believe to be their “dreams” only to reach the end and find themselves with no one.

Flynn Rider, or rather, Eugene Fitzherbert thought he knew what a dream was, and then he met Rapunzel. And she became his new dream.

The word “dream” is redefined for both of them as they realize that the true dream to is share a lifetime of meaning and purpose with someone you love. Together you create something bigger than yourself.

Flynn’s entire life has been about achieving his “dreams”. He actually finds out what his true dream is, and he gives it all up without hesitation in order to ensure that the woman he loves is safe.

This is pure love. This kind of dream and this kind of love make so many other cheap fakes called “love” seem so empty compared to the rich potential of Rapunzel and Flynn’s love for each other.

It makes the moment when Rapunzel’s teardrop heals him all the more amazing as yet again, she does the impossible by simply being herself. The payoff of this movie is incredible.

We went deeper, therefore we celebrated bigger.

flynn and rapunzel rescued gif

Respect. Vulnerability. Attraction. Sacrifice. Joy.

flynn and rapunzel in tower

He’s the “perfect” man, physically the man has 0 faults. But Disney secreted a real-life, 3D human in a perfect package.

Flynn Rider completely reinvented the way we looked at Disney men and opened the door for characters like Kristoff, Kit (Prince Charming), Prince Adam (live-action Beauty and the Beast), Finn (Star Wars: Sequel TrilogyAladdin (live-action Aladdin), and so many more to come.

Flynn was so perfect it wasn’t even real, and yet, they managed to take the “perfect man” and teach us the beauty of imperfection as well as the depth and meaning of a true dream and the true definition of love.

To one of the greatest Disney characters ever created.

Flynn Rider, we love you.

flynn rider kind face

Endgame: Sam Wilson the New Captain America

…I do what he does, just slower. (Sam Wilson/aka Falcon) Captain America: The Winter Soldier

#foreshadowingmuch

Marvel has me pretty paranoid by now with how intense their line foreshadowing game is. It’s scary on point.

on your left

The meeting of Sam Wilson and Steve Rogers is my favorite introduction of two characters in the entire MCU. The Winter Soldier is my favorite Marvel movie, it’s almost my favorite movie period. Every aspect of that film is absolute perfection.

From the first moment we met Sam Wilson, it felt right. He clicked. He and Steve Rogers were immediately on the same page, walking to the same rhythm. Have you ever met a kindred spirit and just known somewhere inside that you two fit together like puzzle pieces?

I have, and that is what happened when Steve Rogers met Sam Wilson. They clicked and they have never been out of sync since.

steve and sam.png

Sam may not have super serum like Steve does, but they have the same heart. The same resolve. The same courage.

If it had been just Sam still standing in front of Thanos and his horde of invaders in Endgame he would have acted no differently than Steve did. He would have taken a breath, tightened the strap on his shield, and stood his ground against an army, even if he had to do it alone.

When I saw Steve hand the beloved shield over to Sam, I was delighted inside. I know some people were rooting for Bucky to receive that honor, but in truth, that was never supposed to be Bucky’s place.

Bucky Barnes is an incredible character and a good man. He’s been through hell and he’s still standing. I am very much looking forward to getting to see more of his story and his future in Wakanda under the name of White Wolf

Bucky has been a good friend to Steve, but he is not cut out to be Captain America. The differences between Bucky and Steve made them powerful as a team; however, they are not similar in the way Steve and Sam are.

sam and steve 2.png

Since Day 1 of meeting Steve, Sam Wilson has been right by his side. He’s listened, encouraged, and understood Steve when no one else could. Sam fed the poor man breakfast when he showed up looking like an abused golden retriever. Not once did he worry about the threat “Everyone we know is trying to kill us.”.

I can’t ask this of you, Sam, you got out for a good reason.

Dude, Captain America needs my help, there’s no better reason to get back in the fight.

It wasn’t his fight, but he chose to make it his own without complaint or hesitation. From that moment on Sam has never left Steve’s side.

Sam was the one keeping vigil at Steve’s hospital bed waiting for his new friend to wake up.

on your left gif.gif

He signed up to search for Steve’s other best friend, the guy who almost killed them very violently. Why? Because it’s important to Steve, so it’s important to him as well. He was even working on the search when Steve had to be busy tracking down leftover Hydra goons with his cool Avenger friends. Sam wasn’t bitter in the least, he was happy to help.

You’re a good man, Sam.

In Civil War Sam was Steve’s closest ally. He’s right beside him at Peggy’s funeral, he’s got his friend’s back physically and emotionally. Seriously, folks, we need more supportive friendships like this in the world.

sam and steve at funeral

Sam willingly goes into exile with Steve and their other buddy Natasha post Civil War and they do some pretty cool Secret Avenger work up until Infinity War. 

Even after Sam is gone we still see the similarities. Just as Sam was doing with veterans when Steve met him, Steve begins a support group to help people in need. He cares about the individual grief and stories of everyday people, and he’s willing to take the time to help them. The scene is very similar to the one we see in The Winter Soldier where Sam is coaching veterans through their trauma.

Cap, can you hear me? Cap, it’s Sam, can you hear me? On your left.

on your left endgame

Steve has never been so tired or looked more alone than he does right at the moment when Sam’s garbled radio message reaches him in Endgame. He’s gonna face an army alone if he has to because he will never quit. That’s who he’s always gonna be until his last breath. But he’s not alone…

On your left. 

And his faithful friend Sam arrives…along with everyone else the Avengers just fought tooth and nail to bring back.

Sam was ready to follow his friend through time and share the burden of replacing the Infinity Stones, that’s what he’s been doing since Day 1, sharing Steve’s burden regardless of how hard or messy it got.

I think Bucky knew that Steve planned to stay in the past. There is a level of internal understanding between those two that is entirely unique to them. He knew and understood it.

Sam was the more agitated of the two best friends when Steve didn’t immediately return. Unlike Bucky, fighting alongside Steve has been Sam’s entire life for the past few years. When both men look over to see a more elderly (and still very handsome) Steve seated on the bench, Sam looks to Bucky to give him room to approach first, he respects the seniority. #puninteded

Bucky nods and lets Sam go, he knows that this is more important to Sam’s life right now than it is his. He’s giving permission for Sam to get to be the best friend he’s been for the past several years. He’s earned this. He’s proven his worthiness over and over again with no thought of personal gain. He’s just being himself.

falcon captain america

It’s never been the super serum that made Captain America what he is, it’s always been Steve Rogers’ heart.

I am looking for qualities beyond the physical.

Whatever happens tomorrow, you must promise me one thing. That you will stay who you are. Not a perfect soldier, but a good man. (Dr. Erskine) Captain America: The First Avenger

You’re a good man, Sam.

They’ve been telling us all along, it was always Sam who was destined to take up the shield.

Sam and Steve have the same heart, and that is why Sam is our next Captain America. He will not be Steve Rogers, no one can ever replace that man, but…

I’ll do my best.

We know you will, Sam.

sam cap 2

Ant-Man and the Wasp: Exactly What It Needed to Be

 

The Last Jedi: Where No One Had Gone Before

The Last Jedi went into uncharted territory. It scared the crap out of us. It broke the “rules”. It challenged our expectations and cliches. It was bold with the Force. It took our characters and tossed each of them into their worst-case-scenario. It showed broken heroes and villains.

Can I even venture to say?

The Last Jedi was the deepest main saga Star Wars movie to date.

It is not a perfect movie with zero flaws, nor do I say the most beloved. There is something magical about A New Hope. My personal favorite for a long time was The Empire Strikes Back (best time ever), and now TESB is tied with The Force Awakens in my affections.

The most basic piece of writing advice storytellers are given is this…

Find out what your character wants…and then do everything in your power to keep them from getting it.

Harsh, huh? And yet, it’s compelling.

Kylo Ren wants peace.

Ben Solo aka Kylo Ren feels thrown about by his life. He wants to finally feel he is in control of his destiny. The turmoil inside of him is eating it up. He believes he can reach this place of “peace” by resetting the game board and crowning himself king. Control everyone and everything…that’s the answer, right?

Rey wants a sense of belonging and identity.

Rey has felt abandoned her whole life. She’s been waiting for people to make her belong, to give her worth. Now she has this whole new can of worms called The Force and she wants someone older and wiser to guide her in it. Secretly she is hoping that Luke as her mentor can give her that sense of belonging and value.

Leia wants a legacy.

She’s been in this fight since the day of her birth. She has sacrificed everything. Her beloved husband is gone. Her son is now her enemy. Her brother is missing. Her people are few in number and on the run. Will there be anyone to take up the gauntlet and continue this all-important battle for freedom that has been her life’s work?

Poe wants his people to survive.

Poe has natural giftings as a leader. He’s brave, he’s kind, he’s insanely talented. He knows he can make a difference in this fight that he’s grown up in. He’ll give his last drop of blood to ensure that happens.

Finn wants the one person he loves most to be okay.

Finn has found one thing to fight for up to this point: Rey. She’s his primary object and sole focus. Rey has to have somewhere safe to return to.

Luke wants to die alone and bitter. He wants to punish himself for his failure.

At least…that’s what he thinks he wants.

Rose wants her sister’s sacrifice to count for something, and she’s sick of people dying.

She’s lost everything up to this point. She’s done with that.

Hux wants respect.

He gets treated like a buffoon…huh, wonder why that is?

Snoke wants…uh…he wants…control?

Yeah, ahem, Mr. Rian? You kinda left us hanging on that one. Hoping Abrams can fill in the gaps here, Snoke was too big a presence to just disappear from the story after one highly efficient lightsaber stroke.

Vice-Admiral Holdo wants her people to survive.

Huh, sound similar to anyone else we know? How about SHARING SOME INFO UP FRONT WITH YOUR PEOPLE ON THE SAME SIDE??? C’mon, Ellie!

Chewbacca wants a new friend.

*aggressive sobbing*

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BB8 wants to be a part of everything.

Our baby droid is really the only one who gets what he wants from start to finish and has an utterly fantastic time all the way through.

bb8 thumbs up

It was like pulling teeth with pliers for every character to attempt to reach their goal in this movie. It was almost like Alexander and the Terrible, Horrible, No Good, Very Bad Day made into a Star Wars film.

Somehow, if it could go wrong, it did go wrong…right until the very end.

Because here is the follow-up piece of writing advice to the one I mentioned previously.

The characters must prevail, and they come out having defeated the obstacle, lie, villain, etc, and have grown in the process.

Let’s start with the heroes. How did they end up?

Rey chose her identity apart from her past or any other person.

rey the last jedi

She wanted a mentor. She wanted a dad. I get that. But people let you down, sometimes you cannot find what you want. What do you do then? You decide. “Who am I going to be regardless of what happens around me?” Rey decided, and she emerged as a shining beacon of new hope and the future for the Jedi.

Leia has a legacy.

leia on crait

We see it in the mentorship she gives her surrogate son Poe. She trains him on how to become a leader that will last. We see it in the determination of new Rebel recruits such as Finn. We see it in the enduring fire of characters like Rose and Holdo. We see it in the gleam in Rey’s eyes as she rejects Kylo Ren’s offer of power and instead chooses freedom. Leia’s life work has not been in vain, the fight will continue.

Poe leads his people to survival.

Yes, there are like 7.5 of them, but…

poe dameron hope

Poe was pushed far beyond his comfort zone, and he rose to the occasion. He’s already got incredible talent but in the end, he was going to lead his people to destruction if he did not learn the wisdom required to lead. He learned, and the future of the Rebels will now be secure.

Finn’s original goal was to make sure Rey was safe. He at first believes that to be his only mission. By the end, he chooses to join the Resistance for his own sake. This does not mean he loves Rey any less, it just means he has finally come into his own.

finn the last jedi

And as a delightful bonus, because Finn chooses to stick with the Resistance despite the “loser” circumstances, he was right where he needed to be to reunite with the person who feels like home to him.

finnrey hug last jedi.gif

Yes, a FinnRey post is totally in works. And no, I will not disclose how many times I have watched this hug. That’s none of your business.

Luke dies…but not the way he thought he wanted to. He instead dies in peace, a legend who has forever changed the galaxy. This is the fulfillment of the original goal he had as a youth who stared off into the sunsets and dreamed of adventures.

luke skywalker the last jedi

It’s poetic, it’s epic. Luke dies, but he is not completing the shallow and self-piteous arc of his elder years. No, instead he completes the much deeper and meaningful arc that we began in A New Hope. We have come full circle. And in all honesty, can we actually say that this giant of the Force is actually gone?

Rose saves the people she loves, making her sister’s sacrifice and everything up to this point worth it.

rose the last jedi

Rose is a simple and straightforward character, but she represents a new attitude for this fight. Surviving to fight another day is just as if not more valuable than sacrifice.  We’ve watched single to entire casts of beloved characters (*coughs* Rogue One) sacrifice themselves for the cause. FYI, I’m still hurting over Caleb Dume.

We admire and respect their sacrifice, and those deaths had their place. But winning is also about life, not just death. Rose represents life.

Ahem, yes, she saved the people she loves. Yeah, I saw that kiss too. That one, tiny little kiss that sent a whole crowd of people like sheep to the slaughter with the belief, “Well, I guess she’s with Finn now?” C’mon, guys, don’t be so gullible. If a single one-sided kiss was enough to seal the deal then half of you would be married to your little crush from kindergarten. More on that in the FinnRey post.

Vice-Admiral Holdo’s people survived. Barely. In spite of her. Really we all almost died but hey, she did that cool lightspeed thing! Plus, I have never seen purple hair look so chic.

holdo the last jedi

Holdo as a character, or rather, the idea and look of Holdo was utterly fascinating. She represented a larger group of people who like Leia, have fully committed themselves to this fight. Supposedly she’s another kind of Force-sensitive character who uses her abilities outside of the Jedi method.

I do not believe her character was done proper justice, she was fascinating in the creation, less effective in the execution. Her character was responsible for the biggest plot holes in the movie, and that’s a crying shame. Still…did I mention that awesome purple hair?

Chewbacca kept his new friend.

chewbacca the last jedi

We were amazed that he was willing to drop his new girl off to meet up with Ben Solo after how splendidly that went the last time, but Chewie is loyal to a fault. He obviously trusted that she could handle it. Chewie is one original character that we can rely on sticking around.

BB8 was a part of EVERYTHING.

Can this droid get any cuter?

Onto the villains.

DJ and Captain Phasma barely get an honorable mention. They got exactly what they signed up for.

DJ’s only purpose was to serve as a darker reflection of what Finn could have become, someone who is only in it for themselves. He was not useless, per se, but he was also not deep.

Phasma had the character arc of a yardstick. She served as a great few seconds of external conflict that made for some really hot Finn fight scenes. *golf clap*. Nice, but nothing to write home about.

Now for the REAL villains.

Hux is still a laughingstock.

hux the last jedi

In true villain form, Hux was thwarted yet again at the moment that should have been his triumph. He’s a rather interesting figure to me, he’s both fanatically frightening and laughably ridiculous all at once. He’s both bold and cowardly. He’s just weak enough to be dangerous and I think Kylo Ren is wrong to underestimate him. Hux’s defeat in this movie is going to make him even more dangerous in Episode 9. 

Snoke is dead. So, there’s that.

snoke the last jedi

Unexpected, cool, and also disappointing? Snoke was too malevolent and overpowering to just be forgotten. We need more information on what his bigger picture was. At the same time, he’s dead, so any agenda he may have had is in pieces. Literally.

I saved the most intriguing for the last…Kylo Ren aka Ben Solo.

kylo ren the last jedi

Like the heroes of this movie, Kylo Ren gets exactly what he wants…control. And yet, he ends the movie more desperate and villainous than he began it. Why?

What Kylo/Ben actually wants deep down inside is peace. Peace cannot be gained through murder and control, that only creates more chaos. Kylo’s blazing path of bloodshed and fury have not given him what he thought they would. Instead, he is left angrier and emptier than before. He’s a classic case of trying to achieve what you want/need the wrong way. This approach always leaves you in a worse situation than you began.

The Last Jedi went deep on multiple characters. It took our oh-so-familiar Star Wars moments such as the Darth Vader redemption scene and added a new twist to them. What if Vader kills his master but then decides to take control for himself?

We ended this movie where our heroes had nothing more than a hunk-of-junk and a smile to their names, and yet they felt that they had won while their enemies were left licking their wounds. Why?

Not all victories begin physically, the battle between good and evil is a battle of mindsets, ideals, and endurance. Our Rebels are winning this war, and the First Order knows it.

The Resistance is reborn today. The war is just beginning. And I will not be the last Jedi.

I truly value the previous main saga movies that have led us to this point, but Rian gave us a fresh perspective on an age-old battle. He highlighted characters outside of just “the big three” and somehow managed to leave us full of hope after a dreadful day. While there are glaring mistakes in this film, I am also amazed by all he accomplished.

Our heroes went through the fire and emerged as legends. Our villains went through the fire, some of them burned, and some of them now burn with a vengeance. The stage is set for an epic conclusion to this saga.

the last jedi poster

More in-depth on aspects of this film coming soon!

Other articles you may like…

Avengers Endgame: Steve’s Past, Or His Future

Solo: A Star Wars Story

How to Train Your Dragon 3: The Hidden World

 

 

Star Wars: Every Story in the Galaxy

Back in the 1970s a creative guy named George Lucas made a little movie called Star Wars.

No one expected it to be a big thing. Sir Alec Guinness (who played the original Obi-Wan Kenobi) acted in the film because he’d always wanted to be a “children’s movie”. 

At best, they thought they might make a sci-fi cult classic that would gather a small but fierce following who met in basements and had mini-conventions. That was all they expected.

This is what happened instead…

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The world exploded, and we have never been the same since.

Why is Star Wars so popular? I had a friend of mine ask me a question along these lines recently. She’s an adult with grown children, and not super into many movies. But she loves Star Wars. “What is different about Star Wars?” she asked.

I could list hundreds of reasons why Star Wars is all that and a bag of credits, but we don’t have time for all of that today. Instead, I’m going to list the biggest reason I think Star Wars has resonated so deeply with millions of people internationally for generations.

Star Wars tells us every classic, cliche story we’ve ever heard, but they do it in an unforgettable way.

Star Wars is one of the most cliche-ridden sagas ever. We started our journey with a young hero possessing a unique “ability”, the old sage mentor, a rogue with a big heart, a princess, and a cute animal (or droid) sidekicks.

Original trio

They joined forces with the underdog (the Rebellion) and go up against Goliath (Darth Vader and the Empire). The hero uses his unique abilities at just the right moment to destroy the story’s greatest threat against all odds.

It’s not the first time this story has been told. Star Wars borrows from many classic stories, established religions, and other known influences. And yet, the world exploded.

See, we “complain” about cliches, stereotypes, and classics. But there is a reason those things became so well known. It’s because they are real, and we experience them on a regular basis.

Star Wars tells us all of the old stories. An underdog story.

A New Hope 3

A redemption story.

Luke and His father

People bravely fighting against all odds for a better future.

rogue one cre

Questions about free will.

the clones

Darkness vs the light. Free will vs destiny.

ben and rey

The danger of allowing your emotions to be manipulated.

anakin becomes vader

Mentorship. Family. Friendship. Growing up with grace in times of hardship.

our rebels

Choosing to not give into victimhood, but instead to stand on your own feet.

rey

Making the hard choices. Becoming a part of something bigger than yourself.

Han Solo

Stormtrooper Finn

Learning what true leadership is.

poe in trouble

And on, and on, and on.

And these classic stories are told in the most exciting and colorful way. With spaceships, planets, aliens, blasters, lightsabers, dark and light, good and bad. They are told with heart, with humor, with a connected history, a force that binds all of these stories together. With characters that feel like old friends.

Star Wars tells our stories.

I love our galaxy. I love the characters, the history, the messages, the hope. The fact that by now generations of families have all gotten to enjoy the same world and story as it is continually told. I love it all.

Happy May the 4th, may the force be with you!

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