The musings of a feminist pop culture fanatic

Archive for May, 2012

Undefeated

Cuddled on one of the comfiest couches ever, John and I settled in at Ragtag to watch the 2012 Best Documentary Oscar winner Undefeated. The film centers on the football team at Manassas High School in Memphis, Tennessee. The school is one of the poorest sections of the city and is mainly populated by impoverished African-Americans. The football team is typically known as one of the worst programs in the state and has never won a playoff game. In the past several years, the team has done good to even win one game in a season. In one season, however, that all changed. The team suddenly went on an unprecedented winning streak, even making it to the playoffs. The film primarily centered on Coach Bill Courtney and three of the players, Chavis, O.C., and Money.

Courtney is a local business owner who volunteers his time to coach the team. Although he is not paid to coach, he views it as his job and most importantly, his passion. He treats the boys as if they were his own. When one of them does not show up for practice, he follows up with them and figures out why. Courtney says that growing up without a father made him cognizant of how important a male role model can be in a child’s life. Even though he curses at the kids and yells at them when they do something wrong, he also praises them and tells them that he loves them. He’s like one of those perfectly idealized coaches. Think Eric Taylor, but a little bit more gruff.

The three players the film focuses on come from similar backgrounds, naturally. They are all extremely poor and the odds are stacked against them. Chavis, a junior, just returned to the team after spending fifteen months in a youth penitentiary and has severe anger issues. O.C. is an extremely talented football player who wants nothing more than to go to college and get a degree in education so that he can become a coach. Unfortunately, O.C. struggles a lot in school and especially has a hard time getting a good enough score on the ACT that he could be eligible for a football scholarship. Finally, Money is an extremely intelligent young man who is not quite good enough for an academic scholarship, so he needs a football scholarship in order to attend college. After a potentially career-ending injury, Money gets extremely frustrated and almost drops out of school when he feels like all is hopeless.

The film had the potential to be extremely saccharine to the point of eye-rolling. At times, it felt like things turned out too Hollywood, particularly with what happened to Money. There were certainly instances where I felt like things turned out so perfectly that it verged on unbelievable. Everything fell together so well that it felt like the filmmakers were choreographing things in order to evoke the most emotion. While that was certainly true for the editing of the film, the filmmakers did not manipulate the outcomes of the games or the attitude changes in the young men on the team.

At times, I wished the filmmakers focused more on the boys’ home lives and did more to illustrate the ways in which poverty affected them. While they certainly conveyed that the boys were deeply influenced by poverty, I would have preferred more glimpses into their individual households. I did appreciate how they highlighted that athletic scholarships were essentially the boys only chance at getting an education after high school. I also loved that O.C. and Money did not view college as a stop on the way to professional football, which is what I feel so many high school football players consider it to be. In poor communities, too many young boys are told to work hard and become professional football players in order to get out of poverty. Unfortunately, that only happens for a handful of them. Meanwhile, there are all these excellent football players that have very few skills applicable to other jobs. When they asked O.C. what he wanted to study, I was so excited when he had an actual career in mind and did not have delusions of making it to the pros.

High school athletics can be a great tool in order to help kids build a community or family when they might be lacking that sense of unity at home. Sports do promote valuable character traits, like cooperation or sportsmanship. It always saddens me, though, when I see sports treated as an end, rather than a means to an end. There is no denying that some people have the talent to make it in the pros, but that is not a realistic goal for 99% of the people who try for it. To see these boys using sports as a way to further their education and try to break out of the cycle of poverty was so incredibly uplifting. Even though I know coaches like Mr. Courtney are few and far between and not everyone has the Cinderella story that Manassas had that year, it still provided a ray of hope. The face of poverty is overwhelmingly dark and depressing. This film showed that through all the darkness, light sometimes does shine through.

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The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel

On a much-needed bestie night outing with the fabulous Caity, we decided to go see The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel. It was a Saturday night showing and walking into the theater, we quickly realized we were about 30 years younger than the target demographic for the film. Regardless, it’s full of adorable British people (McGonagall! Dame Judi! Bill Nighy!) and it’s also got the gorgeous Dev Patel (most famous for starring in Slumdog Millionaire). The previews looked hilarious and I love the scenery of India, so it looked incredibly promising.

The plot centers on a group of elderly British people who travel to India to stay at The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel for the Elderly and Beautiful. The run-down hotel is managed by Sonny Kapoor (Dev Patel) who dreams of running a place that is so beautiful the elderly simply refuse to die. Sonny is young and idealistic and just wants to make his elderly guests as happy as possible. The hotel is not quite what the brochures described to his guests (as he tells them, it presents a dream of what the Marigold could be). He convinces his guests to stay and give it a shot, although not all the rooms have doors and the phones are not yet working. When they complain about the hotel, he just tells them, “We have a saying in India: Everything will be alright in the end. So if it not yet alright, it is not yet the end.”

The hotel is populated by seven British guests who are there for various reasons. There is the couple whose marriage is on its last legs. The new widow who has come to India to try to start an independent life and get her first job. The elderly, super racist woman who has come to get a hip replacement and recuperate. The gay man who is returning to India to try and reconnect with an old lover. The horny old man who just wants to get laid. The woman who just wants to find a rich India husband. I will keep the actors separate from the descriptions, so as not to spoil anything too much.

The seven guests make up the primary plot, although Sonny’s story is also extremely prominent. Sonny is the “screw-up” son whose tendency to dream big does not fit in with what his traditional Indian mother wants for him. He wants to marry a young woman named Sunaina that works in a call center, which is not quite the match his mother wanted for him. Sonny’s two older brothers and him each own one-third of the hotel, and when Sonny’s brothers threaten to team up and sell the hotel, one of the guests naturally figures out a way to save it and get the hotel turning a profit.

Obviously, there are a ton of plotlines in this film. Since it comes in right at two hours, none of the plots get too in-depth. As a result, the whole film feels a little bit scattered and one-dimensional. If they had eliminated one or two of the guests, they could have tightened things up and gone more in depth with the most interesting characters. The funniest parts of the movie were, naturally, in the previews. It was not a bad film. It was just average and had the potential to be much better. The cast they assembled was fantastic and deserved better. Of course, the Indian scenery was absolutely beautiful and they could have capitalized on that even more.

Overall, it was a good-enough film, but it had the potential to be great. It just did not quite achieve its potential.

Firefly

When I tell people I have never seen a full episode of Firefly, many of them look at me as if I have just said that I like to kick puppies for fun. It’s not that I wasn’t interested in it. I just had not gotten around to watching it yet. I’ve only been even vaguely interested in anything related to sci-fi since I started college (I thank Fringe for helping me cross over into the genre). Firefly premiered in 2002, so I was in 7th grade at the time. At the time, unless it was on The WB or was CSI, I probably did not watch it. While I have always enjoyed television, I did not really begin to view myself as a connoisseur of it until high school. Although I heard of Firefly much earlier than now, it stayed on my “couldn’t be less interested” list through most of high school, in favor of shows like Gilmore Girls and The OC. By the time I decided I wanted to actually sit down and watch it, I was in college and bogged down with lots of other things. I decided that it was more important to me to catch up on currently-airing shows, so that I would be able to participate in conversations about it.

Obviously, this has been unacceptable to many people around me (*coughmyfianceecough*). As an Arby’s drive-through worker told John today, we obviously can’t get married until I a) watch all of Firefly and b) enjoy it. So, after a slow start to our marathon this morning, we are up to episode 5 of 14. I’m still getting characters straight (even though I pretty much knew every actor that is on it) and trying to figure out exactly what I think of it. Rest assured, friends and Whedon fanatics, I do like it and understand why people are such devoted fans. I just do not yet know if I will end up as one of those devoted fans.

I know how hard it is to hear that someone is just a casual fan of or does not like something that you hold dear. It is exactly how I feel when someone tries to tell me that they like Harry Potter, but could take it or leave it. When someone crosses the line from fan to fanatic, it becomes hard to hear that someone else does not consider it the way of life that you do. There are some things, most particularly Harry Potter, that are the closest I have to a true religion. Whenever I say that, many people call that blasphemous or sacrilegious. However, Harry Potter is what I look to when things are tough and has been there for me through many dark times. I am not a person that seeks solace in traditional religion. Instead, I look to various forms of entertainment, particularly rereading Harry Potter.

So, I know what it is like to be such a devoted fan of something that you cannot possibly understand how anyone could feel differently about it. So far, I definitely am enjoying the show. It has the standard Whedon witty repartee. The characters are intriguing. There are some strong female characters. At this point, I think my favorite character is Kaylee. I love that she comes across as a flighty girly-girl who gushes over pretty dresses, but then turns around and fixes anything that is wrong with the ship and gives older men advice on what different models of ship to buy.

I like Inara’s character, but do get irritated by a lot of the slut-shaming that comes from others, especially Mal. Although she is a strong, independent businesswoman, I would like to think that 500 years from now, no one will care what a woman does with her vagina. I like Zoe and her marriage with Wash. They seem to have a very egalitarian relationship and have fantastic chemistry. Shepherd is also interesting, but I don’t yet feel one way or the other about him.

I enjoy Mal, mainly because Nathan Fillion is awesome. He still has certain characteristics that annoy me, though. He is extremely judgmental and comes across as chauvinistic in some ways.

I love Jayne, though after watching “Chuck,” Adam Baldwin feels like a very one-dimensional actor. Summer Glau and the River Tam storyline very much intrigues me. I normally hate seeing women portrayed as insane or weak and helpless, but I just feel like there has been significant trauma in her life and she is actually exceptionally strong. I like River’s relationship with Simon and think it is always interesting to see a male character in a caretaker role.

After five episodes, I like it, but don’t yet love it. I am remaining open to the possibility of loving it, but also accept that I might not think it is the greatest thing since sliced bread. I just hope the hordes of angry Firefly fanatics will let me live if I don’t join them in their enthusiasm.

Hello again, my old friends

I know, I know. I’ve updated this blog just a handful of times since August. I have no excuses, other than life got in the way. This time last year, I was two days away from leaving the US for the first time. I completely hated my major and was extremely pessimistic about what senior year of college would bring. Well, senior year has come and gone. I found new excitement for my chosen career, thanks to the best social work practicum and now job that I could never have imagined. I’ve walked across that stage and received my diploma (in 12-14 weeks, for now, I’ve got a really fancy folder that contains info about how to join the alumni association). I’ve watched my two best friends from college pack up and leave town for bigger and better things. Meanwhile, I stay here in Columbia, trying to figure out how to exist in a world without school.

That’s been the dream for years. I’ve talked forever about what I would do in a world without homework. In a world without the next paper deadline or final exam. Now, it’s here and I have no earthly idea what to do. Over the past seven years, there have only been two summers where I did not have any form of summer homework or summer classes. Even those two summers, though, I was looking ahead to reading lists and preparing for the upcoming semester. Call me a nerd or a teacher’s pet, but I always legitimately enjoyed school. Even when it stressed me out or was a dull subject, I enjoyed doing the work. My parents had me in Parents as Teachers from six months old and I started doing preschool-type classes at age three. Even before preschool, I wanted to play school and have homework assigned to me. I literally do not know how to exist without the possibility of schoolwork.

Since I walked across that stage nine days ago, I’ve been in this weird sort of shock. I go home from work every day and have nothing else to do with my time. I know the possibilities are endless. I have a whole stack of books I’ve been dying to read. I can bake random things. I have a Groupon for 10 yoga classes. I could finally learn how to play a song on my guitar. I could take up knitting. I could actually clean my room. I could do everything I have talked about doing for years. But every time I open a book or make plans to do something non-school-related, it just feels wrong. The days feel so long now. It’s like I feel lost, but not really. I have a very clear plan for things. I made random tasks for myself, but since I know there’s nothing riding on it, it just feels wrong to do it.

In time, I know, I’ll be longing for days where I have time to read for fun or find new hobbies. I know this seems like the silliest problem to have. It’s not even a problem. It’s a new reality. And I don’t know what to do with it.