Film and Television: Golden Globe Predictions | “Because I Need to Question My Judgement

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Award season is underway! This Sunday is the 72nd Golden Globe Awards, a night full of Tina Fey and Amy Poehler comedy, celebrities getting to drink, and people watching at home pretending to understand what the Hollywood Foreign Press Association does. For most people who follow film awards, this is the ceremony that kicks the entire shebang off.Trying to predict the Golden Globes is often a bit ore chaotic than predicting the Academy Awards, mostly because the GG audience seems to be harder to read. Most years, the awards go to some weird choices, and some of the nominees come right out of nowhere. In 2011, they nominated The Tourist, a spy drama, for Best Musical/Comedy and nominated its stars Angelina Jolie and Johnny Depp for leading roles, even though the film was poorly received and not a musical or comedy. It’s that kind of blatant rating stunt that threatens the legitimacy and dignity of such an awards show.

So while the Golden Globes are harder to predict, especially since they have no previous awards shows for reference or betting, I will make an attempt to predict. I’m not going to predict the TV awards since I don’t feel as qualified to judge them, nor do I think they’re as relevant as the film categories. Here we go:

Best Picture-Drama: My pick is Richard Linklater’s Boyhood. I’ve written about the film at length, but in short, I think it’s got a little more going for it than the other four nominations. It’s more experimental and probably something that could hold up years from now. I have a feeling The Imitation Game could be the surprise winner, though, simply due to its hype, but I’m hoping it’s Boyhood.Best Picture-Musical/Comedy: My pick is The Grand Budapest Hotel. I haven’t seen Birdman, which I think could be the surprise winner, but The Grand Budapest Hotel has that timeless charm and energy to it. Wes Anderson has a unique style, one I think will be appreciated years from now, and I think this film is such a prime example of his oeuvre that it’s worth giving the award to.

Best Actor-Drama: I’m going to be shooting in the dark because I haven’t seen any of the movies nominated, and I have reason to assume it could be any of the five men in this category. If I have to give my best guess, it would be Benedict Cumberbatch in The Imitation Game. I’m going to an old trick when picking award winners; pick the person who seems obscure, mostly from not being a previous winner, but has enough star power that winning an award would pull people in their fan base to watch the ceremony. Yes, I’m relying on the Sherlock fan base to give Benedict the win. That’s where I’m at.

Best Actress-Drama: It’s Rosamund Pike in Gone Girl. I legitimately believe she’s the best out of the five and did a phenomenal job playing one of the most complex characters in a movie last year. I’m not sure if any of the other nominees can challenge her, but once again, I’m hoping for the winner to be someone who doesn’t normally win awards to get it.

Best Actor-Musical/Comedy: This one sucks. I honestly like all five people nominated, and even though I haven’t seen all their movies, I think all of them could win. I’m probably feeling the strongest for Ralph Fiennes in The Grand Budapest Hotel, but I also have heard enough buzz to see it go to Joaquin Phoenix in Inherent Vice (which I am absolutely reviewing for this site once it finally shows up in my area.) I’ll probably be fine with the result to whoever it goes to.

Best Actress-Musical/Comedy: This one also sucks, but for other reasons. Whereas the last one had people whose roles I’ve seen enough acclaim for and could understand any of them winning, this one is a lot harder to pick. My guess is that it will be Julianne Moore in Maps to the Stars if only because she won the same award at Cannes (although American award shows almost always ignore Cannes). I really don’t know who else it could go to, although I always feel Amy Adams deserves more awards than she gets, and Quvenzhane’ Wallis is so adorable she deserves to have a long lasting career.

Best Supporting Actor: My pick would probably be Ethan Hawke in Boyhoodmostly because this was a role he spent twelve years on, managing to show how he could grow as an actor over twelve years and use that to show his character’s growth over the period of time as well. Hawke is really great in Linklater’s hands, and I think he should be rewarded for that. I’ve heard really good things about J.K. Simmons in Whiplash, so I could see him winning too.

Best Supporting ActressPatricia Arquette in Boyhood, for the same reasons as Hawke. Keira Knightley is probably her biggest threat.

Best Director: I don’t want to sound biased, but probably Richard Linklater for Boyhood.  I think the other four directors were well chosen and I think they all brought a unique point of view and style to their films. To me, Boyhood is just more audacious and well made. This project could have gone wrong in so many ways, but for it to have such consistency and style makes it the best pick. I feel like David Fincher for Gone Girl is probably a popular choice and could win it as well.

Best Screenplay: I think I’d choose Gone Girl, written by Gillian Flynn. Again, I think all the scripts in this category are good. I think Flynn’s is more interesting because she wrote the book the film was based off, so it was a challenge for a novelist to write a screenplay (which I can tell you from personal experience is not easy). She had to transform her book into a new medium, changing a lot about the story and the style and making it adaptable for film. Was it a complete success? No, but I think it’s still really impressive.

Best Score: I never feel like I can predict this one because I always think it’s going to go to the most unique and exciting one, but it instead goes for the one that makes the best music that you never really think about while the movie is playing. At the same time, I think it’s also about picking a composer and not the music, so it can lean towards certain composers as opposed to what kind of music they made and how it fit with the film. Trent Reznor and Atticus Ross’ score for Gone Girl is probably my best guess, but I’m pretty sure I’ll be wrong.

Best Original SongEverything is Awesome from The Lego Movie. Oh, wait. That’s not nominated. Damn. Okay, in all seriousness, this one is easier to judge since they put the songs on YouTube, so I can make an educated guess without having to see the movie. A few of the artists nominated are fairly current, and I can see the appeal in awarding it to one of them for being timely. I’m honestly fairly unimpressed with these five songs, two of which are funeral dirges and two of which reek of award bait. I’d probably go with “Yellow Flicker Beat” by Lorde from The Hunger Games: Mockingjay: Part 1 for sounding the most unique and being somewhat tied to the movie. I don’t even think that’s the best song on that soundtrack (my personal favorite is CHVRCHES’ “Dead Air”), but I think Lorde will get it.

Best Animated Feature: I feel this is a fairly good crop, especially since the big Disney film in this group is Big Hero 6, which I honestly didn’t think was that great, meaning a more independent studio (or Dreamworks) could win. If I had to pick, I’d go with The Lego Movie, because this could have just been a cheap cash-in, but ended up being one of the most postmodern and existential children’s films in a long time. It was also really funny and had one of the best voice casts in a long time. I really liked How to Train Your Dragon 2, so I’d be happy to see that win as well.

Best Foreign Film: Ehhhhhhhhhhhh. I wanted to see a few of the movies here, but never could. Just from what I read, I’d guess it’d be more likely to be Force Majeure (Sweden) or Ida (Poland/Denmark), since those have both received similar amounts of acclaim from a variety of critics and festivals.

After Sunday, this will either look hilariously misinformed or surprisingly accurate. I’ve never been really good at award show betting, and those two options are generally how it goes.

This article originally appeared in Quail Bell Magazine.

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Books: Colorless Tsukuru Tazaki and His Years of Pilgrimage | “A Burst of Color”

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I mentioned in my 2014 review that I had hoped to read more by Haruki Murakami in the upcoming year. Thankfully, I continued to mention this around family, so one of my Christmas gifts was Murakami’s latest book. Colorless Tsukuru Tazaki and His Years of Pilgrimage was a highly anticipated book before it came out. In Japan, the book had become one of the fastest selling books on the Japanese version of Amazon and sold over one million copies in its first month. It topped several U.S. bookseller lists, including The New York Times.As someone who had read Murakami’s The Wind-Up Bird Chronicle, I was somewhat excited to see what he would do in this book. It was about half the length of The Wind-Up Bird Chronicle, and I was curious if it would have some of the same elements in that book. Thus, with my new hardback edition in hand, I dove into Colorless Tsukuru Tazaki, wondering if this tale would be filled with as many wells, cats, and enigmatic women as Murakami novels were known for. It wasn’t exactly traditional, but I was very much interested in what I read.

Colorless Tsukuru Tazaki and His Years of Pilgrimage follows the 36 year-old protagonist, a railroad station designer who lives in Tokyo. He tells his new girlfriend, Sara, about a group of friends he had in middle school, and how they were the tightest and happiest group of people he ever knew. However, when Tsukuru returned from college for summer vacation, he received a call from one of them informing him that they wanted nothing more to do with him, forbidding him from seeing or speaking to them ever again. Sensing that this event has left her boyfriend very emotionally damaged, Sara suggests Tsukuru track down his former friends and try to figure out exactly what happened sixteen years earlier, in hopes that this emotional closure will allow Tsukuru and Sara to go to the next stage with their relationship.

The novel goes back and forth between Tsukuru’s youth and current life, showing his life with his friends and how he lives as an adult. We get a real sense of community among Tsukuru and his five friends, from the nicknames they shared (all of his friends had a surname that contained a character for a color, such as Akamatsu [Aka=Red] and Shirane [Shiro=White], while Tazaki has no color, leaving him the “colorless” member), and we also see how devastated the expulsion left him. The book opens with an emotionally devastated Tsukuru contemplating dying months after being abandoned, and while he no longer actively thinks about dying, his time with Sara shows how the emotional scars make it difficult for him to mature and settle down.

I’m going to be completely honest here: the first part of the book really messed me up. Right off the bat, Murakami wants you to know exactly how messed up the protagonist is because of this event, and spends roughly 100 pages doing so. With the character of Tsukuru Tazaki, you realize that this was a man who put so much faith and trust in these four people. When he loses it all, you can see that he becomes full of self-doubt and fear about how his relationships will go. We see him have a very close relationship with another person, but you can tell that most of that friendship hinges Tsukuru believing that this guy will want to hang out with him. We also see how this comes to affect his relationships with his family, his coworkers, and his romantic relationships, with Sara being his first serious attempt at connecting with a woman.I think what’s fascinating about this tale is that I feel Murakami abandons a lot of what he is used to using in his novels in an attempt to make this story more universal. People at times do feel completely isolated and do have feelings of low self worth when their relationships, whether platonic or romantic, change. Murakami could have had more of a magical realist touch to this story, whether it be a character having supernatural abilities or a weird natural event happening, but chose not to. Now, there are some weird events in this story, but they’re mostly kept to dreams and fantasies, where there can still be a separation from reality but that can be explained as “dream logic” or something similar.

I feel like there’s a lot to understand from this story because there’s a lot of sense to be made from the actions of the characters. Not everything in this book is explained, but from what we do learn, we get a sense of why the characters made the decisions they did. Although there’s never a true explanation for why the group broke up (there’s a solid one, but details are missing to prevent the characters from truly finding closure on the matter), the characters are able to explain why they made the choices they did, and even acknowledge whether or not they were right to do so. The novel is quick to make it clear why this plan failed so miserably and how it affected all five members of the group well into their adulthood.

What saves this book from being a complete pile of misery, regret, and cynicism is that there is at least a sense that some good could come out of it. The five friends all have varying degrees of success in their adult life, whether it be in their careers or family lives. They’re all aware of what was lost, but you do get an idea that they can do something about it now. Yes, not everything can be the way it was in the past, but there’s still a chance to grow from the experience and make amends.

This book was very easy to read and very engaging. I wanted to see where Tsukuru would go next and what happened to his friends. I found everyone to be pretty human and sympathetic, something that I don’t find often in literature. I’ve come to see how a lot of Japanese fiction tends to lack complete closure to its narratives, as well as lacking traditional tropes in their story. This was a tale with no traditional three act structure or even a villain. If anything, the real antagonist of the story is poor communication and self-doubt. The group couldn’t completely trust each other despite how close they were, and because of all those doubts and worries, they let it destroy their bond and any potential future the five of them could have had together.

I’m very happy I read this book, especially since the hype surrounding it seemed to support what I read. If anything, I’m glad I’m starting to see the kind of range present in Murakami’s work, from his really bizarre stories to his more realistic ones. It’s making me see a diverse form of storytelling, and it’s starting to become something I hope to be influenced by later in life as I try to write more. Stories like Colorless Tsukuru Tazaki and His Years of Pilgrimage are ones I hope to remember as I try to tell stories about people and the complications of life, and I hope other people are as well.

This review originally appeared in Quail Bell Magazine.

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2014 in Review: My Year in Pop Culture | “A Year of Gods, Aliens, and The Unknown”

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It’s that time of year, when critics like myself attempt to look back at the past twelve months and try to rate the events, people, media, and notable occurrences on some arbitrary scale. As Quail Bell Magazine‘s film critic, I wanted to try and publish a best of list for the films I saw in 2014. My plan was to find the ten best movies I saw, write a small critique of each, and give an idea of why I felt these films were worth remembering in the years to come. As I attempted to rank the films I saw, I came to a shocking (well, for me) realization: I haven’t seen enough movies this year.This is an issue that comes from being a 22-year-old film critic who doesn’t get paid to see movies (Quail Bell writers are volunteers, but your shop purchases could change that) and lives in an area that does not get enough foreign or art house cinema within the year. Because I live in Hampton Roads, Virginia, I do not have places to see films like Winter Sleep, Maps to the Stars, or Two Days, One Night that places like New York City or Los Angeles would get easily. Because a lot of the award buzz films come out in late December or early January for wide release, it also means I won’t get to see them until 2015, which makes it impossible to rate for a 2014 list and disqualifies them from a 2014 list. I’m not noteworthy enough to get screeners, and most of these films are difficult to find online if I want to cheat the system. Because of that, I can’t see films early to have a review ready for when the film comes out.The other issue I had was when I tried to remember what I saw this year. For these kinds of lists, I try to make sure it’s specifically films I saw in 2014 and in theaters. This meant that some films I saw (like Her, Nebraska, and The Wind Rises) are disqualified because I didn’t see them in 2013 when they were originally released. That meant I only saw 12 movies in theaters this year. While I didn’t dislike any of those films, I came to realize that I couldn’t put some of them on a list because I didn’t believe I would put them on the list if I had managed to see films likeBirdman or God Help the Girl this year. So while I enjoyed How to Train Your Dragon 2, Captain America 2: The Winter Soldier, The Fault in Our Stars, Guardians of the Galaxy, and Mockingjay Part 1, I honestly don’t think I would put them on an end of the year list.

But what about the films I did see that I would put on the list? That created another problem. When I started writing movie reviews for Quail Bell, I approached it as a chance to write about movies I thought the audience should know about, and that included films I saw in theaters. While I could rank those, the truth is that most of the films I would put on the list were things I’ve already written about. I would put Boyhood, The Grand Budapest Hotel, Gone Girl, and Dear White People on a list of the best movies I saw this year, but my opinions of them haven’t really changed since I wrote about them, so I don’t want to rehash my thoughts on those films when you could easily read my reviews of them and get the same information.

If you’ve been counting, that leaves three films I haven’t mentioned. These are films I really liked, but I never wrote about for Quail Bell, even though I think there are among the best films I saw this year. Because of that, I decided to widen my net and try to look back on what 2014 meant for me as a consumer of popular culture. Aside from the three films I still need to review, there were some books, TV shows, songs, and figures I really got into that I am really glad I got exposed to this year. I’m going to go over what I was introduced to and what I’ve really become interested in this year, some of which is 2014 related, some of which isn’t. Thus, here’s a look back at the media I should have written about in 2014, and what I’m hoping will continue to be relevant years from now.

Best Animated Film I Saw: The Tale of Princess Kaguya (Kaguya-hime no monogatari)

I went to New York City back in November, and while I had a free day to walk around the city, I stopped by IFC Cinemas, an independent movie theater in The Village area. Some friends of mine recommended the theater, and looking at their selection, I realized that this was a theater where I’d be able to see movies I’d be unlikely to watch in Virginia. With that, I decided to watch The Tale of Princess Kaguya, an anime film by Isao Takahata of Studio Ghibli.The film is a straightforward adaptation of an ancient Japanese folktale, The Tale of the Bamboo Cutter. An old bamboo cutter discovers a tiny young woman in a bamboo stalk he cuts down, so he and his wife adopt the girl, later naming her Kaguya. Kaguya brings luck to the family, the bamboo cutter soon finding gold in the stalks he cuts down, allowing the family to become more prominent. The film is largely plotless, showing how a country girl like Kaguya has to adopt to being a lady of high Japanese society in ancient Japan and the struggles that come with it, especially as her supernatural origins seem to come into play.The film is one of the prettiest animated films ever. The entire film looks like a fluid watercolor painting, making everything look very soft, colorful, and fantastic. The English dub was really good, with Chloe Moretz doing an incredible job as Kaguya. It’s really a visual experience, full of tons of emotion and atmosphere. It’s a treat for animation fans, and a really good film to come from Studio Ghibli.

Best Documentary I Saw: Life Itself

I’m able to see classic, foreign, and art films at the Naro Cinemas in Norfolk, VA, but in September I got to see something really neat. The theater presented Life Itself, a documentary about film critic Roger Ebert, with the director present. Steve James, director of documentaries like Hoop Dreams, was at the theater to show the film and also do a Q&A after.  James was a former resident of the area who graduated from James Madison University, so it made sense to bring the film to the area he got his start.The documentary itself was really good. It showed Ebert in his early days, to when he achieved fame with At the Movies, and showed him in his last few months of life, especially as his physical condition began to worsen. It showed his personal life, particularly his marriage to the wonderful Chaz Ebert, and really allowed the viewer to get an idea of how important this man’s life was and how influential he was as a critic and journalist. It made me cry (a lot), and it reminded me of why I love to be a critic, so I’m very glad I got to see it.

Best Art Film I Saw: Under the Skin

 I did review this movie for another project that didn’t come to fruition, but I’m still interested in talking about it. The film follows an alien played by Scarlett Johansson as she roams around Scotland picking up men to…devour? Experiment upon? It’s not really clear, but then again, nothing in the film is. It’s very abstract, moving from one scene to the next without any clear idea of what’s going to happen next. That doesn’t mean the film gets boring though. In fact, it’s quite fascinating.Johansson owns the film, and she’s slowly becoming one of my favorite actresses and probably the most successful actress in 2014 thanks to roles like this, Captain America 2, and Lucy. She says so little, and she’s very hard to read, but she’s incredibly fascinating to watch. Even though she looks like a normal woman, you get the idea of how alien she is by how she wordlessly reacts to things around her. You’re watching her try hard to understand the world around her, and you’re waiting to see what she’ll do next.This was a movie that required me to spend a lot of time thinking about it after I saw it. I saw this when I was still living in Richmond and would walk to the movies. The day I saw this, I decided to take a different way home from the theater, letting myself absorb the city around me. It was pretty incredible, and it was definitely something I could only experience from a film like Under the Skin.

Favorite New Actor/Actress of 2014: Lupita Nyong’o

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When I first saw her in 2013’s 12 Years a Slave, I was intrigued by Miss Lupita Nyong’o. It’s exciting to see a new actress appear on the scene and immediately take everyone by surprise. Her role as Patsey the slave brought the Kenyan/Mexican actress to the public eye and soon everyone was talking about her. She started picking up accolade after accolade, including the Oscar for Best Supporting Actress, which she even dedicated to the real life Patsey.Since then, Lupita has been on a whirlwind tour. She was named People‘s Most Beautiful Woman, landed roles in the upcoming Star Wars film, an adaptation of The Jungle Book, and an adaptation of Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie’s Americanah, and done lots of modeling work, gracing the cover of Vogue and landing a deal with Lancome. She’s also spoken against the development of a new minor league baseball stadium in the Shockoe Bottom neighborhood of Richmond.What’s really charming and inspiring about Lupita is her dedication to image and representation. As a dark skinned African woman, she’s spoken about how she didn’t feel beautiful as a child because of her skin. However, thanks to people like Whoopi Goldberg and supermodel Alek Wek, she’s embraced her appearance, speaking about the importance of young black girls liking their skin, even on Sesame Street. This was also the year I really started paying attention to fashion, and Miss Lupita proved herself to be one of the most glamorous celebrities around, killing it in Prada, Gucci, Ralph Lauren, and more.

Lupita is already shaping up to have a fantastic career, and I’m really hoping she has a long and exciting one. She’s someone who I admire a lot and think will be very inspirational in the years to come. Here’s to hoping she keeps at it.

Best TV Miniseries I Saw: Over the Garden Wall

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I didn’t watch True Detective this year. I had someone trying to get me to watch it, but I never got around to it. I know that’s the miniseries everyone was raving about, but I never found enough cause to look into it, even though I’ve managed to avoid spoilers for it (somehow). I do also regularly watch American Horror Story, but to be frank, that’s never going to be a best in anything, especially not on a list I make.Thankfully, I found Over the Garden Wall, a ten episode animated miniseries on Cartoon Network. Created by Patrick McHale (whose previous animation credits include work on The Marvelous Misadventures of Flapjack and Adventure Time), the series follows two brothers who are lost in a fantastical woods and are trying to find their way home, running into various characters and settings that blend Grimm’s Fairy Tales with early 1900’s Americana and a touch of Hayao Miyazaki.It’s a gorgeous series, one full of great animation, music, and voice acting, including a voice cast that includes Elijah Wood, Christopher Lloyd, John Cleese, and Tim Curry. It’s also fascinating to me because it has so much rewatch value. There’s tons of foreshadowing to the story’s big reveal and of other details relating to some of the characters. It’s also a series that’s helping to usher in the new wave of animators that sprung out these last few years that are all weirdly connected to each other, namely Thurop Van Orman (Flapjack), Pendleton Ward (Adventure Time), Alex Hirsch (Gravity Falls), Rebecca Sugar (Steven Universe), and Natasha Allegri (Bee and Puppycat). I really like all of those shows, and Over the Garden Wall has simply become another series for me to really enjoy as animation changes over this decade.

Best TV Series Finale: The Legend of Korra

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This just ended, but I really need to talk about it. This year, The Legend of Korra faced episodes getting leaked, Nickelodeon airing two episodes a week, the new episodes being moved entirely online, and for only two months between the third season and the fourth (and final) season of the show. It meant that the viewers had less time to take in the adventures of Korra and her allies as they faced various enemies in an attempt to keep balance in their world.Despite the fact that Nickelodeon completely botched their handling of the series, the third and fourth seasons of the show were some of the best of the entire Avatar franchise. The show did get a lot darker, but it did so in a manner that was very mature and showed a real willingness to challenge what you could do in a children’s animated series while still telling a compelling and mature story. These were the seasons that dealt with anarchy, totalitarianism, political assassination, torture, post traumatic stress disorder, and more.More importantly, the series reached its peak because it really showed what kind of story this was. It was about Korra, and how she had to grow into the role of the Avatar. These seasons are brutal on her, and we actually see her at her most depressed and downtrodden. However, she manages to grow through all of that and become a much more actualized being. The Korra of the first season is nothing at all like the Korra at the end, and the viewer can realize that they watched a teenage girl evolve into a confident, diplomatic, and strong woman.

Also, the very last scene of the show got me. I’m not a shipper, but I was so happy with how they ended it. The show really pushed the envelope in many respects (which is probably why it’s been entirely online for the last season and a half), but for them to pair two female characters together, make them realistically attracted to one another, and to have it so accepted by the fanbase is amazing. Both creators have confirmed on their blogs that the pairing is canon, so I’m glad they ended the series with confirmed bisexual characters and in a relationship that is heavily supported by the characters and their history together on the show.

Favorite New TV Personality: Bianca Del Rio

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Of all the reality comptetition series on television, RuPaul’s Drag Race is honestly the best one. It’s got a great mix of camp, drama, humor, and emotional resonnance. One thing that helps it stand out is that it tends to avoid one of the pitfalls of reality competition programming: that the people who compete fail to find success after the show. While many American Idol winners have faded into obscurity and only one Project Runway contestant can put himself in the same league as designers like Donna Karan and Betsey Johnson (Christian Siriano), most contestants on Drag Race manage to find post-show success. They use the publicity and the boost from the show to be able to tour the country and perform in drag bars, some of whom are even able to break out into television acting, web series, and release albums.If this is the case, then this year’s Next Drag Superstar will hopefully find her own career rising to something great and entertaining. Bianca Del Rio, the drag character played by Roy Haylock, managed to survive weeks of competition, never receiving a low score in a challenge or having to lip sync for her life. This record is demonstrative of the kind of persona Bianca created for herself.Bianca entered the competition as an insult comic who wasn’t there to make friends. Instead of alienating all the contestants and becoming the bitch of the season, Bianca showed tons of versatility and humanity. Sure, she’d read someone to filth, but she’d also compliment that person when they won a challenge or revealed a serious issue from their personal history. While Bianca was on the show, she even allowed some of her fellow contestants to blossom under her guidance, particularly Trinity K. Bonet and fan favorite Adore Delano. After winning, Bianca managed to gain more of a social media following, managed to successfully crowd fund a film on IndieGogo, and recently launched a web series with World of Wonder.

It was during her run that I also began to look up some of Bianca’s stand up videos online. The character of Bianca Del Rio is a “take no prisoners” kind of comic. She won’t be nice, she’ll not take things easy, and she’ll say whatever she wants in order to shock and bring a laugh. It might not be safe for work or the most politically correct form of comedy (and since when was drag ever that?), but it’s hilarious, and it shows just how much depth and personality a performer like her can have.

Best New Author I Discovered This Year: Gillian Flynn

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This year, I wrote a review of Gone Girl, aware that it was going to be one of the biggest book-to-film adaptations of the year. Before I saw the movie, I made sure to read the book. What I found was a very unique spin on disappearance stories, with a blend of noir and psychological drama that made one of the most complex and dark novels of recent years. This was all achieved by one of the best new contemporary authors around, Gillian Flynn.A former Entertainment Weekly writer, Flynn has written three books to date, with Gone Girlbeing her most successful. It’s a story that dives into the psychology of marriage, presenting two fundamentally screwed up people and how their marriage was challenged by a recession and infidelity. It’s a story about how difficult it is to truly know someone, and the kinds of roles people chose to assume rather than be open and honest. This is best illustrated through the “Cool Girl” monologue that people really took from the story.While Gone Girl proved to be a very compelling read, I was also given the recommendation to read Flynn’s debut novel, Sharp Objects. Sharp Objects is very similar to Gone Girl in that it’s a spin on a detective story and with plenty of Midwestern elements, but had an interesting mystery to it. A reporter is given an assignment to return to her hometown and write about the deaths of two preteen girls, who both died under similar circumstances. Writing about this story forced her to confront dark aspects of her past, particularly involving her estranged mother and her weird half-sister.

I managed to read all of Sharp Objects in one sitting (God bless eight hour train rides), and I didn’t want to put it down. The mystery was very unique, and had that sort of Twin Peaks vibe where the murders come to reveal a lot of darkness lying beneath a quiet rural town. The heroine, Camille Preaker, is also interesting because of how Flynn characterizes her. Camille is someone who wants to do her job right, but due to past trauma is incredibly self conscious and prone to self-harm, something that makes it very difficult for her to connect to others.

Thanks to these two books, I’ve managed to read two-thirds of Flynn’s bibliography, and now I want to check out Dark Places. Flynn has also managed to receive acclaim for writing the screenplay for Gone Girl, including a Golden Globe nomination, and will write a miniseries for HBO called Utopia. She’s a writer worth checking out and I can’t wait to see what she does next.

Best Authors I Knew About and Finally Got Into This Year: Neil Gaiman and Haruki Murakami

Knowing I’d be on a train for over sixteen hours over a weekend, I decided to buy some books to read in order to pass the time. Sharp Objects was the first, but it was also in this time I decided to try and read books by authors I had been meaning to check out for the longest time. Because of that, I purchased copies of American Gods by Neil Gaiman and The Wind-Up Bird Chronicle by Haruki Murakami. These were authors I wanted to check out for a while, and I was very satisfied with what I discovered.
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The first I read was The Wind-Up Bird Chronicle, which I purchased because it was the only Murakami book I hadn’t spoiled for myself (blame bored nights surfing the internet for that). The book follows Toru Okada, a house husband in 1980s Japan whose cat goes missing. Soon, his wife goes missing as well. The story involved Toru trying to make sense of everything that happens, as he meets a pair of psychic sisters, a morbid teenage girl, a war veteran, a dirty economist, a fashion designer and her mute son, and other strange characters. The story drifts between the fantastic and the mundane, with no clear idea on why some of this stuff is happening, all while offering a commentary on the Japanese invasion of Manchuria and the state of Japanese people’s lives in the 1980s.
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After that was American Gods. The book follows Shadow, a convict who is released from prison only for his wife to die in an accident before he gets home. He is soon hired by a man named Mr. Wednesday to act as a bodyguard, driver, and errand boy. Shadow soon learns about that all gods, mythological figures, and beings created by belief and fantasy truly exist in the world, and that a war between the old world gods (including Odin, Anansi, and Czernobog) and the new American gods (including the Internet, the Media, and Government Conspiracy) is brewing.It was interesting to read both books in a short span of time simply because of how the authors wrote their stories and showed their unique spin on doing so. Both authors wrote in first person, making it so the reader can only know as much as their characters. Since both stories carry a fantastic element to them, that means that some aspects of the tale are impossible to explain. They’re also both experiences and journeys for their POV character. Toru and Shadow both have defined arcs and are noted for how they react to the world around them. They’re both ordinary, but they each possess unique attributes that allow them to react and exist in the strange worlds they’re caught in.I was very happy to read both books and hope to read more of their works in the future. Murakami released a new book this year (Colorless Tsukuru Tazaki and His Years of Pilgrimage) which received tons of acclaim and sold millions of copies. American Gods is being adapted for a pilot for Showtime by Bryan Fuller of Hannibal fame. These books are good gateways for getting into their author’s work. They might not work for everyone, but since I took a gamble on reading these books, I’m very pleased with what I read, and I hope to look into more of their work in 2015.

Favorite 2014 Pop Song: “Froot” by Marina and the Diamonds

I might be cheating a bit on this one because the album for this song doesn’t come out until next year, but it was released digitally this year, so I’m counting it. I really got into Marina and the Diamonds this year, something I’ve already written about for this site. Her music appealed to me, and it had a lot of interesting composition, lyrics, and subject matter that I thought was interesting. This was notable in her Electra Heart album, which played with the problems from fame and being a current pop star.Marina released the first song from her upcoming album of the same name, “Froot,” on October 10, her birthday, and I quickly got hooked. The song starts with a guitar riff before going into the electronic. The song, which plays a lot on fruit/sex imagery, is very catchy, including great lines like “I’ve been saving all my summers for you” and “Living la dolce vita, life couldn’t get much sweeter.” It don’t really have a ton of reasons for why I like this song beyond the fact that it came out at the right time for me. It came when I was really getting into the artist, and it’s giving me an idea of what her next album will be like. It’s catchy and fun, and I want to hear more.
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Film: Favorite Women in Cinema | My Seven Most Important Female Characters

 

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Around the time I began to seriously study film, I was starting to identify as a feminist. Movies allow the underrepresented—such as women—to speak and have their stories told. Many foreign films use the medium to show the troubles women have faced throughout their country’s history. Female characters are also often tied closely with periods of change, such as the fall of a regime or the rise of liberal attitudes. While not every female character serves a progressive cause, some of my favorite female characters do inspire change. With this thought in mind, I began to wonder who were the fictional women who most shaped me as a person and as a writer. After careful consideration, these are the seven most influential ladies I’ve encountered in my 22 years—heroes, villains, and everyday people worth celebrating:

1. BELLE, BEAUTY AND THE BEAST (1991)
This was the first movie I was obsessed with as a child, I think I connected to Belle very easily. Like Belle, I was a strange kid, one who preferred intellectual pursuits to socializing. Occasionally, I felt weird for not fitting in, something Belle struggles with since no one else in her village enjoys reading with her same enthusiasm.

Belle really fascinated me in how she handled challenges. Belle is never really a damsel figure in the story. Sure, she’s imprisoned by the Beast, but she still manages to take some control of her situation. Because of her talents for observation and insight, Belle sees the troubled person beneath the Beast’s fangs and fur. Some viewers may read Belle’s emerging compassion for the Beast as Stockholm Syndrome, but it’s not really she who changes. Belle changes the Beast. As a strong, intelligent woman, Belle is my favorite Disney princess.

2. CHIHIRO OGINO, SPIRITED AWAY (SEN TO CHIHIRO NO KAMIKAKUSHI) (2001)
When I discovered Spirited Away, I was transitioning to a new stage in life, just like Chihiro. Chihiro was moving to a new town and I was dealing with the harsh reality that is middle school. Chihiro mostly works as a character because she is realistic from the start. She acts as a child would normally: whining and crying when things are hard, but also showing the determination to prove she’s capable of doing things on her own. Her adventure in the spirit world forces her to grow up quickly in order to save her parents, but she learns to accept it.

Overall, I think Chihiro helped me get through middle school, while also introducing me to foreign cinema. Sure, it was hard for me to grow as quickly as she did (I didn’t have a Noh mask spirit trying to eat me), but there was a glacial change I think she and the movie inspired in me.

3. ELLE WOODS, LEGALLY BLONDE (2001)
I don’t think I understood how amazing Elle Woods was until years later, but even from my initial viewing, I came to adore the character. Elle Woods was every bit as goofy and weird as someone from her background was normally portrayed on film. She was a fish out of water, one who normally should have everything handed to her and shouldn’t face any real troubles in her life. However, she was being challenged by going to Harvard Law, and all because she chose to be challenged.

Elle got into Harvard for a boy, but then realized she could do and be better than him. She took the pressure and the task that was law school and learned to adapt. She became more studious and learned to be a good lawyer, but she never had to compromise her own identity in the process. She learned to work the system and be successful, all while looking fabulous in a pink suit. I wanted to believe I could be like that and manage to survive. I was unordinary in middle school and got made fun of a lot. It was a challenge, but it was something that made me appreciate Elle Woods as a character.

4. REGINA GEORGE, MEAN GIRLS (2004)
Regina fascinates me because of the role she played in the school ecosystem. I saw this movie as I was entering high school, and began to realize how much of Regina’s character I saw in my school. Regina was a bitch, but she was simultaneously loved and feared for that. Some people are awful human beings, but those same people can get everything they want. Regina had it all: rich parents, girls who obeyed her, a hot body, a handsome boyfriend, and the ability to win Spring Fling Queen every year.

When things start to fall apart, she moves into hyper mode and quickly plots a riot at her school. It’s frightening, but compelling. She’s someone who figured out how to make things go her way. She’s in no way a good person, but she’s an example of how ambition, looks, money, and fear can sway the masses and turn the tide for their own use. I had trouble accepting this, but came to look at is as just how the world worked. 

 

 

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5. KELLY, THE NAKED KISS (1964)
Kelly is a character I immediately latched onto when I first saw The Naked Kiss in college. Equal parts beautiful and tough, Kelly is a prostitute who gives up the trade and settles down in a small town as a nurse. Despite her attempts to start anew, she begins to realize the corruption that lies beneath the surface of the idyllic town, causing her to strike out against pimps and other criminals like a total badass.

The film brings up a lot of issues about womanhood and sexuality, and in a time when attitudes towards sex were starting to change. For me, it was important to watch this movie because Kelly did some things that might not be considered socially acceptable, but she’s still a very moral person. The Naked Kiss was the first movie I saw that tried to humanize a sex worker in the non-comedic or romantic sense like Pretty Woman or Milk Money, showing how difficult and unpleasant it can be to be a prostitute. Part of how well that is delivered is because of Towers’ performance as Kelly.

6. AGRADO, ALL ABOUT MY MOTHER (TODO SOBRE MI MADRE) (1999)
In this film, a woman named Manuela loses her only son in an accident and returns to Barcelona to find his father, meeting old friends and making new ones along the way. The friend who most stood out to me was Agrado, a prostitute and a transvestite.

Agrado is equal parts comic relief and emotional support. She often lightens the mood whenever things get tense and she’s there to talk to friends when they need it. Most of the good characters immediately accept her for who she is, but of course, there are people who treat her like a prostitute even after she quits and judge her for having a penis. Nonetheless, she’s completely confident in who she is.

Her sexual identity is never made to be the only aspect of her character. It’s simply part of who she is. I envy her self confidence and wish that more people could feel as little worry about their identity.

7. CELINE, RICHARD LINKLATER’S BEFORE TRILOGY (BEFORE SUNRISE, 1995; BEFORE SUNSET, 2004; BEFORE MIDNIGHT, 2013)
Céline is a French woman grows from wide-eyed college student to jaded environmentalist to beleaguered mother over the course of the trilogy. She faces a lot of the issues a person faces as they enter adulthood, something I was also going through watching these movies in my last year of college. Hers is the common crisis of attempting to start a life of your own while realizing just how little you are certain of and wondering if you can make it on your own.

Céline goes through all the usual stages of life, but throughout the journey, she has someone to talk to about it. She is someone with big dreams and expectations who feels like a failure when she didn’t immediately feel maternal instinct towards her daughters. Of the women on this list, Céline is probably the closest to a real person, echoing a lot of issues an adult in the 90’s and early 2000’s faced.

((This article originally appeared in Quail Bell Magazine. This article was also featured in Quail Bell Issue No. 6. Illustrations credited to Vicky Leta.))

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Poem: When I First Saw Her

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When I first saw her,
it wasn’t anything like in the movies.
Time didn’t slow down to a crawl,
the music didn’t go silent,
and there wasn’t a change in lighting.

My heart didn’t freeze,
nor did it pick up in rhythm.
I could breathe easily looking at her,
my throat clear and open.

I know that tales of meeting your wife
are supposed to be more exciting.
But I didn’t feel that shock when I met mine.
It was a simple meeting, free of spectacle.

However,
my eyebrows did raise in surprise,
so I took that as a good sign.

This poem was originally published in Quail Bell Magazine.

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Manga: Koe no Katachi | Listen Closely

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When you think of manga, you don’t normally think of it as containing social commentary or as being socially conscious. Part of this is because the Western audience isn’t aware of how Japanese society differs from Western society. While you can pick up on some cultural and social differences, such as school lasting six days a week, there are some matters you don’t normally see in manga that tell you about certain practices in Japanese society. This is something that the slice-of-life genre, which follows daily lives of the characters without having too many fantastic elements to it, can show, and one recent series shows a side of Japanese culture that most Western readers may not be aware of.

Koe no Katachi, which roughly translates to The Shape of Voice or A Silent Voice depending on the translator, is one such series. The story is about a girl named Shouko Nishimiya, a deaf girl who enrolls in a normal elementary school. There, she is bullied and tormented by her peers for her disability, until she is finally forced to transfer. Instead of addressing the problem head on, the class and teachers elect to push the blame on one bully, Shouya Ishida, and find him solely responsible for Shouko’s treatment. This leaves Shouya friendless, and he spends the next few years full of self-loathing and suicidal depression. It isn’t until Shouya reunites with Shouko that he starts to make amends for his actions and tries to find out how he can live a better life for her sake.

The series originated as a one shot (a single chapter manga) story by newcomer Yoshitoki Ooima. Ooima won several awards for her story, but had trouble getting the story picked up for serialization. A group raised a lawsuit in an attempt to prevent the series from being published, claiming it showed a negative side of Japanese society. The series was picked up eventually and given endorsement by the Japanese Federation of the Deaf, allowing the series to run for seven volumes and 62 chapters, running from August 6, 2013 to recently ending on November 12, 2014. The lawsuit and struggle to have Ooima’s manga published does show why the series needed to be made.

Japan has a very different take on disabilities, most of which is shown in the manga. Generally, people with physical disabilities are treated like burdens for their families and peers, or are often blamed for the disability. Ooima apparently based the series off situations her deaf sister had to face growing up, and similar issues can be seen with how Shouko is treated by her peers. In school, her classmates hated her because she had to continually ask for clarification in lectures and blamed their class losing a choral contest on her tone deafness. Even when she gains a regular group of friends, most of them (particularly the ones who don’t know sign language) often don’t take her seriously, nor do they seek her input or try to converse with her.

Later, when her family is introduced, we learn she lives with her mother, grandmother, and younger sister. It’s not until midway through the series that it’s revealed her father was pressured by his parents to divorce his wife after she gave birth to a deaf child, heaping all the blame on Shouko’s mother and Shouko for her disability. While it’s clear that this was not at all acceptable (especially since it’s after the divorce Shouko’s mother learns she’s pregnant again, so the bastard abandoned two daughters instead of one), you see that her father and his parents think it’s based on karma, as well as finding a way to entirely blame Shouko’s mother without considering how it can be his fault (just to be clear, it totally was. Her mother contracted an illness from him while pregnant that led to Shouko being deaf. They still think it’s her fault for that, claiming she should have been vaccinated).

However, Koe no Katachi is not only a series about how deaf people in Japan suffer, it’s also about how bullying and peer pressure can affect all parties involved, even if they aren’t given proper punishment for their actions. Shouya was the most active bully in elementary school, but he wasn’t the only one involved. When he was made the scapegoat, all his friends were perfectly fine putting all the blame on him and even gaslighting him as time passed to make him feel even more guilty. This results in him turning away from everyone in the world and even planning on killing himself before he reunites with Shouko. Even after he starts to make new friends, Shouya is constantly kicking himself for his actions and acting as though he’s not allowed to be happy. It takes a while for him to even accept the idea that he can be happy despite what he did in the past.

Even some of Shouya’s old friends suffer because of the bullying. One in particular, Naoka Ueno, had a crush on him but was pressured into bullying him when the tides turned. Ueno’s actions towards Shouko and Shouya also suggested deep jealousy as she feels Shouko was playing for pity, and so she blamed Shouko entirely for Shouya’s treatment. Even years later, Ueno is completely unrepentant to Shouko and even has trouble understanding why her attitude towards Shouko might push Shouya away from her. This only torments her further and even adds to her own feelings of self loathing, showing how even as the bully who got completely away with harassing someone, she got very little out of it. At the same time, while some bullies like Ueno suffer for what they did, some even get completely away with what they did and are never given any indication that they think they did wrong or that they’ve ever considered making amends.

As you can tell, this is a really heavy series, with a lot of gut wrenching moments. The series released new chapters on a weekly basis, and starting with Chapter 38, everything got a lot harder to read. I remember starting to breathe really heavily while reading some chapters, as the series started to go really deep into the psyche of its characters and had a lot of terrible moments occur. It got really hard to read, and I started to really wonder if and when things would get better. Fortunately, this isn’t a cynical series, although there are some characters you will pray death upon as you read.

Still, I am really glad I read this series. I liked that I was challenged to keep reading even as things got worse, and I was able to empathize with the characters. I do think it was silly for a lawsuit to try and prevent this series from being published because I feel it’s good to highlight these sorts of issues. Some children are horribly treated for being disabled, sometimes schools do a really poor job at handling cases of bullying, and sometimes bullying can lead to suicidal tendencies and depression later in life. It’s a harsh fact, but it does need to be addressed and it shouldn’t be lightly glossed over.

I wanted to wait until this series finished before reviewing it, and I’m really glad I did. It’s probably one of the best manga series I’ve been reading lately, and I really did feel a connection to it. If anything, I wanted to see where it went and wanted to know everything would turn out okay for everyone involved. It touched on a lot of the feelings of isolation and loathing one can feel growing up, and I think it handled the subject matter really well. I also liked that it didn’t have an easy solution to its issues, but at least worked to make the characters grow with the story. It makes me want to seek out other series that challenge social issues and show a real depth and understanding of the matter while still being entertaining to read.

Koe no Katachi can be read in full on Crunchyroll (or any manga scanlation site if you don’t want to pay for Crunchyroll). An anime series is in the works, although no release date has been set.

This review was originally published in Quail Bell Magazine.
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Television: America’s Next Top Model and Project Runway | “Auf Wiedersehen to the Days of Smizing”

 

Illustration by Samantha Dale

Illustration by Samantha Dade

Whenever I find myself watching reality television, I realize I tend to go for the ones with the most creative output. I can easily go watch people sit in a house, imbibe, then argue/fight each other, but I always much preferred the competition series where artists were challenged in some way. Whether it was watching the contestants on Top Chef make dishes for a charity event, watching make up artists on Face Off create original monster creatures, or watching drag queens square off as celebrities in The Snatch Game on RuPaul’s Drag Race, I’m often intrigued by seeing these kinds of competitions. These contestants have to creative something or do something that requires a lot of skill and talent in a short span of time, and the results were always fascinating.

In my middle and high school years, two of the shows I would often watch that fit this genre of reality competition television were America’s Next Top Model and Project Runway. The former followed young aspiring models being judged by supermodel Tyra Banks and a panel of judges as they competed in challenges and photoshoots designed to find the next best fashion model.Project Runway pitted fashion designers against one another in order to see who was the next best fashion designer. Both shows had their peak years, and both have been airing for so long that they’ve shifted the field of reality competition programming.

Now, I will admit that neither show was ever truly “great.” They both had good years and weak years, and the longer they aired, the more each series faced issues. Project Runway took a big change when Bravo had to sell the show to Lifetime. America’s Next Top Model faced series redesigns as UPN became The CW and the audience for the channel became obsessed with series like Supernatural and The Vampire Diaries. There were plenty of times during these years where I would take breaks from the shows, usually looking up photos of each show online in place of watching them.

Lately, I’ve dived back into each show as their new seasons aired during the summer/fall 2014 season. Project Runway aired its thirteenth season from July 24, 2014 to October 23, 2014, while America’s Next Top Model is currently in its twenty-first season (or cycle, as they arbitrarily insist on calling them). I tuned into both series in hopes that I would come to enjoy each. Sadly, I’ve come to realize that both shows are starting to spiral out of control, and at this point I’d consider ending them so we can move on.

I don’t think both shows are the worst on television, nor do I think they’re the worst of their fields. The problem is that both have suffered such a sharp dive in quality that it’s really apparent that both series are struggling to stay on and stay relevant. I feel this partly has to do with the success rate of both series and the people who compete on them. The shows tout the idea that the winner will become a big name in the fashion industry, either as the model every designer will want to wear their clothes or as the designer every magazine will want to include in their pages. Well…that’s not really how it works.

Just because a reality show judge says this person is the best does not mean the real world will accept this person. Sure, there are some girls on Top Model who have successful, if moderate, modeling careers, and some designers on Project Runway get to have celebrities wear their clothes. But no model who won Top Model has every become as noteworthy as Linda Evangelista or Kate Moss, and of the Project Runway winners, only Chrisitan Siriano has managed to really break into the fashion scene and show regularly at New York Fashion Week.

Thus, I decided to dive into the new seasons of both shows to try and see what would happen. Sadly, I’ve found myself disappointed with how both shows have progressed in their recent seasons. This isn’t because I disagree with the judges decisions (although there are some issues I do have with how some decisions are made, that’s practically guaranteed at some point), but rather because neither show is managing to be that interesting or even relate to the industry they’re trying to push the contestants into.

Project Runway‘s thirteenth season had everything that should have made it work like previous seasons. 16 designers, one of whom was voted by the fans to be on the show after having competed in a previous season, go to Parsons School of Design in New York City to compete in challenges to see who could make the best clothes based on various parameters given to them. This involved regular challenges like “make a dress for host Heidi Klum” to the popular unconventional materials challenges like “make an outfit out of stuff found in a storage locker.”

What went wrong? The time frame. The first several challenges all had the time limit of a single day. One day challenges hae happened in past seasons and does add a bit of pressure to the designers. However, these weren’t that common, and most challenges were generally two days to construct a garment and then a few hours on another day to present the outfit to the judges. This season was rushing every challenge, most of which was impractical for the standards given. A red carpet dress or a wedding gown require a lot of precision and clean details. What the judges got were very rushed and messy clothing, causing a curve where mediocre looking outfits won out.

It also didn’t help that the rushed time frame meant there wasn’t much time to get to know or like the contestants. The last season was filled with a lot of unpleasantness from the contestants, with cases of bullying and interpersonal drama that made it really hard to attach to any of them. Thus, when it came down to the final four, you come to realize that you’re looking at a cast filled with designers who reached this point through mediocre or uninteresting work or who aren’t that interesting as people. This isn’t how everyone would view the cast, but this critic found it really hard to play favorites when the contestants constantly fluctuated in quality and personality.

These same issues have also plagued America’s Next Top Model. This current season is the second season in which male models compete against female models (the first nineteen cycles were all female models), and the third where a new judging system was in play. Putting male and female models in the same house has turned the show more into The Real World than a modeling competition. This season has had many weird contestant hook ups and drama caused by models arbitrarily claiming another model as his/her partner. It’s really annoying, and at times it becomes easy to forget that they’re supposed to be models instead of random hot people.

But how do they fare as models? If I’m to compare this cycle to past cycles, this is honestly a pretty weak bunch of models. There are good ones, and some do turn out good photos, but there’s been nothing truly fantastic. A lot of it has to do with the weird standards being placed on these models. Despite the constant claims of “you have to be ready for anything in the fashion industry,” I doubt most of these models will ever have to walk a runway completely nude and covered in silly string (because when has silly string ever needed to be modeled?) or ever have do a photo shoot where they are posing with a guy in a Robocop outfit who has his ears digitally removed while the models wear random articles of clothing that refer to their heritage (and yes, they went for some really awful ethnic stereotyping with this one i.e. the one girl with Native American blood wears a feathered headdress). That excuse is more plausible when they’re posing in a tank of water or walking on a runway carrying a large teddy bear, but this is just pushing it.

ANTM also altered its judging to make the audience more engaged. Now, the models are rated on a scale from 1-10 in their challenges, how the judges rate their photoshoots, and based on social media scores. Before, it was Tyra Banks and four-five judges around a table talking about the pictures. By putting everything on score, it removes some of the drama and also makes each part kind of unnecessary. It doesn’t help that the judges scores feel really arbitrary, like the judges don’t want to be too mean (except for the times when they want to be really mean, like when Tyra gave one girl a 1/10), so even if they harshly judge a photo, they give it a 7. It’s kind of baffling, and I feel like you could remove one of those score fields and it wouldn’t really change a whole lot for the final result. This scoring also means that some models skate far into the competition with a really lousy portfolio.

So why are both of these shows failing so much lately? It pretty much all comes down to the network. Lifetime and The CW are networks with very few hit shows, so they would have to alter the shows greatly in order to pull in ratings. America’s Next Top Model has cut a lot of the expensive elements from the previous cycles, mainly through removing likable cast member with high salaries and changing sponsor contracts. Project Runway has to struggle to keep certain sponsors around, hence why the accessory wall is different each year.

It’s a real shame both series have become less fun. While never great, there used to be a lot of fun watching them. There were some really awesome creative elements in the past seasons, and you could tell there were some really creative people involved. Once in a while something neat will happen, but now both series are mostly about trying desperately to stay alive. It’s not about trying to have a competition to find an undiscovered talent, it’s about a network not wanting to give up on one of its franchises. Until they wise up, we’ll just have to deal with Tyra Banks creating meaningless lingo like “Pot Ledom” (the “Bazinga!” of reality competition catchphrases) and designers getting applauded for being the only designer who had a garment with an even hem. Sit down and enjoy!

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